Thursday, January 31, 2013

Shiping Tang - Neo-Modernity: A Manifesto


According to Shiping Tang, neo-modernity is "a new meta-theory about the relationship between theories of knowledge and theories of society, underpinned by a social evolutionary approach toward human knowledge and society." Further, neo-modernity embraces Foucault's idea of “permanent critique” and a "scientific/critical realism in the Popperian-Bhaskarian sense."

It feels as though there is some integral thinking inherent in this manifesto, especially in its embrace of social evolutionary ideas (culture is always changing, evolving) and the recognition of the interplay between "critical realism" in science and "permanent critique" in social theory to prevent the radical post-modernist collapse into "empty space."

Neo-Modernity: A Manifesto

Fudan University - School of International Relations and Public Affairs (SIRPA)
January 17, 2013

Abstract:
Neo-modernity is a new philosophical stand that transcends the modernism vs. post-modernism debate. Neo-modernity is a new meta-theory about the relationship between theories of knowledge and theories of society, underpinned by a social evolutionary approach toward human knowledge and society. Neo-modernity also embodies the spirit of “permanent critique” in the Foucauldian sense, underpinned by scientific/critical realism in the Popperian-Bhaskarian sense. The two aspects of neo-modernity sustain each other: The spirit of permanent critique requires scientific realism as its foundation, whereas scientific realism demands the spirit of permanent critique to uphold an open society that protects liberty and prompts progress.

Full Citation
Tang, Shiping, Neo-Modernity: A Manifesto (January 17, 2013). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2202213 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2202213


Introduction

In the past decades, the debate between modernism and post-modernism has dominated many quarters of philosophy of social sciences, and the debate does not seem to have a resolution in sight. This article advances neo-modernity as a new philosophical stand for transcending the modernism vs. post-modernism debate.

Fundamentally speaking, the debate between modernism and post-modernism is a debate regarding the relationship between human knowledge and the human society, or as Gellner’s aptly titled Thought and Change (1964) put it, the relationship between knowing and being/becoming. Neo-modernity is a new stand toward human knowledge and human society. More precisely, neo-modernity is a new meta-theory about the relationship between theories of knowledge and theories of society, underpinned by a social evolutionary approach toward human knowledge and society [1]. Neo-modernity also embodies a spirit: the spirit of “permanent critique” in the Foucauldian sense, underpinned by scientific/critical realism in the Popperian-Bhaskarian sense. These two aspects of neo-modernity form an organic whole: each sustains the other and neither can travel far without the other. The spirit of neo-modernity requires the neo-modernity theory toward human knowledge and society as a foundation for permanent critique, whereas the neo-modernity theory toward human knowledge and society demands the spirit of neo-modernity as a venue toward human progress via advancing human knowledge.


I. Neo-Modernity versus Modernity and Post-Modernity

Modern utopianism, embodied in the “irrational exuberance” of modernity, is ultimately a static theory toward knowledge and society. Utopianism wants us to remain in a space with full knowledge and perfect institutions (Tang 2011, chap. 5) [2]. In a state of full knowledge and perfect institutions, nothing can be changed, because changes mean imperfect knowledge and imperfect institutions.

Radical post-modernism, as a counter-revolution to the “irrational exuberance” of modernity, too is a static theory toward knowledge and society [3]. Radical post-modernism denies the possibility of any certain knowledge, thus eventually leading us to nihilism. By doing so, radical post-modernism condemns us to an empty space. In a state without the possibility of any certain knowledge, critique becomes word game and change becomes aimless child play.

Both modern utopianism and radical post-modernism are thus underpinned by an un-evolutionary, if not anti-evolutionary, approach toward knowledge and society [4]. Yet, because both knowledge and society itself are evolutionary social systems, the only valid approach toward knowledge and society is a social evolutionary approach, which informs neo-modernity.

Before I move on, a key caveat on truth is in order. Truth here is defined as (true) knowledge corresponding to natural or social reality (Searle 1995, chap. 9) [5]. Truth does not necessarily entail happiness at any given time: Truth merely entails self-enlightenment, which will lay down part of the foundation for human happiness and progress. Truth does not have to be universal or absolute, especially in social sciences [6]. In human society, many, if not most, truths are context-dependent. Yet, local knowledge too should be subjected to critical scrutiny: permanent critique admits no boundary, and local knowledge is no exception.

Notes:

1. A more detailed elaboration on the meta-theory itself and the social evolutionary approach will have to be provided elsewhere. I do offer a brief statement on the social evolutionary approach below. Some major threads of the meta-theory too become clear below. 
2. Institutions are social rules, informal or informal (North 1990, 3). The institutional system of a society is the social structure (Tang 2011). 
3. Radical post-modernism has been labeled as relativism (e.g., Gellner 1992). I reject labeling radical post-modernism as relativism because relativism can be at different levels: ontological, epistemological, and moral. Scientific realism rejects ontological relativism whereas radical post-modernism holds ontological relativism. Scientific realism is compatible with epistemological relativism and moral relativism. Indeed, if we subscribe to scientific realism, only epistemological relativism and moral relativism can be defended although we have to reject judgmental relativism (Bhaskar 1988[1979], 62-63; 164-174). 
4. In addition, modernism and post-modernism, although seemingly far apart, actually originated from the same starting point: an anthropocentric view of the world, as Norbert Elias (1940-50 [1991] and Roy Bhaskar (1978; 1979) pointed out (see also Laudan 1996; Gellner 1998). 
5. This is the so-called “correspondence theory of truth”, submitted by scientific realism. Unfortunately, however, Bhaskar rejected the “correspondence theory of truth” (1978, 248-50). This will essentially nullify his realistic stand. For a critique of Bhaskar’s stand on truth, see Collier (1994, chap. 8). 
6. Truths in natural sciences are more likely to be universal (for earth) or even for the whole universe.

Read the whole article.


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