Question 6: Postmodernism and Scientific Philosophy

Hi Folks,

Here it is the final question. You can see the video here (but I warn you may wish to put dark glasses on before viewing).

Here is the text version and hopefully this will give you something interesting to consider over the next two weeks!

Felix Guattari (1930-1992) was a radical analyst, social theorist and activist-intellectual. The 1996 book “The Guattari Reader” (Genosko,1996) quotes one of his positions:

“We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on the author, and this multireferential, multi-dimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously.”

Such expositions have been described as both illuminating (Genosko, 1996) or (as in the opinion of Sokal and Bricmont, 1996) “the most brilliant mélange of scientific, pseudo-scientific and philosophical jargon that we have ever encountered.”

Many of my colleagues would describe Guattari’s and others post-modern philosophical approaches as having revolutionised approaches to nursing science in the 21st century, as they move us toward a more humanistic and intuitive understanding of the world, and move us beyond positivism. In the book “Nursing Research: a qualitative perspective” Patricia Munhall suggests:

“Feminists like postmodernists have sought to develop new paradigms of social criticism that do not rely on traditional philosophical underpinnings. She notes that “feminist theories like other forms of postmodernism should encourage us to tolerate and interpret ambivalence, ambiguity and multiplicity as well as expose the roots of our needs for imposing order and structure. (pp. 139)”

I would probably question the assumption that feminism and postmodernism are somehow synonymous but, my question is; “Is this just another example of postmodern diatribe? For example, if we adopt a post-modern perspective on healthcare science, then surely both views on female circumcision (both for and against) are equally valid, and if so, it would seem we should be offering this as a therapeutic intervention in our health service provision to those who request it?”

What are your thoughts? Discuss in your pairs and post your responses as normal.


Genosko G. (ed.), 1996 The Guattari Reader Blackwell,Cambridge, MA
Munhall P/L. 2007, Nursing Research: a qualitative perspective, Jones & Bartlett, Sudbery, MA
Sokal A. & Bricmont J., 1998, Fashionable Nonsense Picador Books

3 thoughts on “Question 6: Postmodernism and Scientific Philosophy

  1. Yesterday I was asked to help moderate a series of student presentations for a module on Global Education. One group did their presentation on Peace Education and concluded that all religions should be equally respected and celebrated within the National Curriculum. At the end we pointed out that if that was the case children would do little else at school but celebrate, which is OK, but wouldn’t leave much room for anything else. From there we had a very interesting debate about the value of cultural pluralism and whether all cultures and religions (even those promoting intolerance, subjugation and even genital mutilation) were worthy of equal respect. Generally the students thought they were and some even seemed to imply that such views had a sort of higher moral authority. It struck me during the debate that post-modernism has actually not only become deeply ingrained in our perspectives, but is now regularly confused with libertarianism. To argue against it is almost seen as being anti-liberal, or anti-egalitarian. I think we need to tread quite cautiously here, because if we’re not careful we begin to lose ‘universals’, such as human rights and human responsibilities. The original idea of human rights was that they are universal and apply to every member of our species (first described as ‘Natural Law’ as far back as Aristotle). They are above everything – government, religion and cultural practices. We don’t enforce them in any way, they have little direct utility, but they do provide an invaluable context.
    Equally important (and increasingly recognised) are human responsibilities. Without these where does science in particular go? Do we abandon control structures on research? Is everything up for grabs? I think that we can do a lot worse than try to build a science based on universals such human rights, ethics and responsibilities however corny, unfashionable and 60’s utopian that sounds.


  2. Well, better late than never I suppose. I should start out by saying that I have a weak background in philosophy, though I do find these types of questions very interesting. Postmodernism. Are there morals and ethics attached to this idea? Or does this idea attempt to remove such judgement values.

    Leaving aside the female circumcision idea for a moment…I think a s a student I am very much in favor of this concept. I can’t imagine being graded poorly on any future paper if a professor must truly grade me based on the postmodernist idea of accepting a wide variety of answers and options to a topic!

    OK, back to serious issues. It seems to me we have a question of whether to accept “classic” scientific approaches to health-care or move toward (or back to) a more liberal viewpoint, liberal meaning that we sometimes will do and accept things we cannot prove “scientifically”.

    And then Dr. Garrett decides to throw us a moral curve-ball. Well, do we allow/provide other types of services to people, say procedures we may find personally objectionable (western world), ok, now it gets even more convuluted if we start to consider the cultural aspects of this theory…and really, does it even end here.

    That being said, we do accept many things in our society not proven by science as everyday life.

    I really don’t think I have an answer, just many more questions for now…

Comments are closed.