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Lyotard and Postmodernism - and Dooyeweerd

This page begins to relate Lyotard's ideas with those of Dooyeweerd, to explore similarities and differences, to mutual benefit of each. Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge is the key reference.

Some Notes

At present, there is only a few notes, which readers might (or might not!) find stimulating or interesting, but certainly in need of discussion.

The Rejection of Modernism

Both Dooyeweerd and Lyotard reject modernism, positivism etc. And the flaws in modernism which underlie their rejection are similar. ==== to be written.

The Basis on which Postmodernism Distances itself from Modernism

"the road is then open for an important current of postmodernity: science plays its own game; it is incapable of legitimating the other language games. The game of prescription, for example, escapes it. But above all, it is incapable of legitimating itself" [p.40].

This 'important current' echoes Dooyeweerd's view:

Postmodern Science as the Search for Instabilities

In 13, 'Postmodern Science as the Search for Instabilities', Lyotard sets out what he thinks we should focus on. Not consensus but 'instabilities' -

"Postmodern science - by concerning itself with such things as undecidables, the limits of precise control, conflicts characterized by incomplete information, 'fracta', catastrophes, and pragmatic paradoxes - is theorizing its own evolution as discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable, and paradoxical. It is changing the meaning of the word knowledge, while expressing how such a change can take place." [p.60].

While this is an important insight, I think Dooyeweerd would have disagreed. He might or might not have disagreed with the need to focus on these things, but he would have disagreed with the attitude of thought on which this proposal is based. It is a theorizing attitude, not a pre-theoretical (nave, everyday, lifeworld) one. Indeed, Lyotard admits it is "theorizing its own evolution". We can perhaps see this in the space he gives to this proposal. After 53 pages of arguing the failures of various types of modernism, he spends a mere 7 pages on this, which suggests an ready adherence to some underlying 'narrative', which is so obvious to Lyotard that he does not realise that it needs spelling out carefully. We can also see his theorizing in how he argues it. He provides illustrations from reference to such things as quantum physics, molecular physics, Mandelbrot's fractals, etc., in all of which the message is: "If you discard the everyday view of things, and look at them under the microscope, you will see that what appears continuous to the everyday view is discontinuous to the microscopic view. The microscope view is the 'correct' or 'true' one, while the everyday view is misleading and false." Dooyeweerd suggests we should give more respect to the everyday view and attitude, and not so uncritically accept that theorized views are 'true' or 'correct', as Lyotard does. (This is, of course, a paradox in Lyotard, since he purports to reject the notion of 'true' overarching views, but as Frederic Jameson, in the Foreword to Lyotard argues, even Lyotard has a 'master narrative', but it has gone underground as a 'way of thinking and acting'.)


This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 16 September 2009 Last updated: