The link below is to an article that represents the sum total of my knowledge of Jordan Peterson’s view of postmodernism. Everything I have to say about his criticisms of postmodernism is a response to these comments.
Postmodernism: definition and critique (with a few comments on its relationship with Marxism)
Jordan Peterson isn’t exactly wrong about postmodernism, but his account of it is oversimplified and exaggerated.
The version of postmodernism that Peterson has in his sights is what’s sometimes called “social constructivism.” As he presents it, the postmodern thesis is that there is an infinite number of ways the world can be perceived and interpreted, and all of them are equally valid (or invalid).
The idea, although Peterson doesn’t put it this way, is that when it comes to knowledge of what the world is like there is no fact of the matter. Instead, what counts as a fact is determined as such by an interpretation of the world. An implication is that something can be a fact for persons who share one interpretation of the world, and the opposite can be a fact for persons who share a different interpretation of the world.
For example, in the middle ages it was true that witches floated when thrown into the water. Nowadays, it’s true there is no such thing as witchcraft. For postmodernism, there’s no question of fact; these are merely two different interpretations.
According to Peterson’s version of postmodernism, when people argue that one interpretation is better than another, they are engaged in a struggle for power. Different interpretations benefit different groups because what count as facts relative to them will give an advantage to one group over another.
Peterson’s main criticism seems to be that, contrary to postmodernism, interpretations are not all equally valid. However, he doesn’t argue that some interpretations account for the facts better than others – at least not explicitly. Invoking Peirce and James, he says that a valid interpretation is one that achieves a “desired outcome.”
This is where he begins to go wrong. Continue reading