Existentialism and postmodernism are two ideologies that have greatly shaped the way people view reality. In this blog post, we will discuss the main concepts of existentialism and postmodernism and explore the differences between the two.
What is Existentialism?
Existentialism is a philosophical movement that emphasizes individual freedom and choice, as well as the inherent meaninglessness of life. The existentialist believes that humans must create their meaning in life, as there is no inherent meaning in the universe. Existentialists should make rational decisions based on their own experiences and values.
The main concepts of existentialism can be summarized as follows:
- Life is inherently meaningless
- Humans must create meaning in life
- Humans are free and responsible for their actions
What is Postmodernism?
Postmodernism is a late 20th-century movement and “a way of thinking that is skeptical of narratives and ideologies of modernity. It also opposes the notion that certainty and meaning are stable. Claims of objective facts are dismissed as naive realism.” [Source]. It is also “a socio-cultural and literary theory that has shifted perspective in various social science, art, architecture, literature, fashion, communication, and technology disciplines.” [Source].
The main concepts of postmodernism can be summarized as follows:
- Skepticism of narratives and ideologies
- Meaning is unstable
- Objective facts are dismissed
Postmodernism is the “idea that reality is not mirrored in human understanding but rather constructed as individuals find their reality.”
How Existentialism compares to Postmodernism
Existentialism is a philosophy of individuals, while postmodernism is a theory focused more on society and less on individual existence” [Source]. These two concepts are similar in that “truth is relative to one’s perspective and, therefore, a person’s own identity must be established by the person himself.” Postmodernism is a broad spectrum that involves community-created meaning and morality. On the other hand, existentialism focuses more on individualist meaning and morality.
Advantages of existentialism
A common advantage of existentialism is that it focuses on people being free and making their own choices. According to existentialists, the world is meaningless and absurd. They believe that humans must create their own meaning in life. Free will is a cornerstone of existentialism, and humans must make choices even if those choices are difficult. Free will allows individuals to create their own significance and objective in the world. Existentialism means that people don’t have to be attached to any set meaning in life. They can find their own purpose and achieve it.
This also means that there is no universal meaning or purpose which unites people, but each person has their perspective. Educators are encouraged to instill the spirit of free will in learners to find meaning in life. Existentialism helps create the personality of people and be influenced by the state of the world.
Disadvantages of Existentialism
The disadvantages of existentialism are that it is described as pessimistic. In comparison with other philosophers, existentialists seem to concentrate more on negativity in this world. This clouds their judgment when appreciating the positive side of humanity and our world. Existentialism is very subjective because the solution to a meaningless life lies within an individual’s choices in dealing with their life. Also, it demands intellectual people who can assess the nature of the world and come up with ways to counter meaningless life. Existentialism has a weakness in terms of moral relativity and the aspect of quietism. Quietism relates “to what an individual cannot actualize: therefore, another individual should do it” [Source].
Advantages of Postmodernism
The strength of postmodernism is that it “recognizes the fluidity of current society and the changing relevance of the media, power structures, globalization, and other social changes” [Source]. Also, postmodernism “challenges some assumptions we make as a society. This may make sociologists approach research differently”. It tends to question the status quo and bring in new phenomena. Postmodernism is an analytical eye of modernism, so it seeks to correct all the flaws of modernism.
Disadvantages of Postmodernism
On the downside of postmodernism, some argue that we are not in a postmodern era but an extension of modernity. It is described as ‘late modernity and not postmodernism. It has been criticized for having vague concepts such as the ‘high and low culture, which creates confusion among people [Source]. Postmodernism is seen as a collection of ideas, so it is not a unified concept, which causes many problems in understanding it. Also, reality cannot change to fit one’s opinion, as stated by this concept. Postmodernism is despised for being too relative [Source].
Do Free Societies need Postmodernism.
Free societies can use postmodernism, and Kevin Currie-Knight argues, “Despite what you may have heard, postmodernism is not a threat to a free society, and the two aren’t necessarily enemies” [Source].
How does Postmodernism differ from Modernism?
The difference between postmodernism and modernism is that postmodernism was prevalent in the late 19th century and early 20th-century styles. Modernism was prevalent from the mid-twentieth century. History shows that modernism was influenced by the First World War, while postmodernism was influenced by the Second World War. Modernism is based on “using rational and logical means to gain knowledge since it rejected realism.” In contrast, postmodernism is based on unscientific, irrational thought processes, and “it rejected logical thinking” [Source]. Postmodernism utilizes a mixture of conventional styles, and modernism goes against conventional styles of prose and poetry.
How Postmodernism affects Society
Postmodernism has a huge impact on society since it affects how people perceive reality. It is a movement that fulfills the statement that ‘beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and gives an individual responsibility to perceive their reality. Key features of postmodern society are globalization, the media, cultural diversity, hybridity, a world in fragments (due to dynamism: rapid social change), and consumer society: individual freedom to choose one’s lifestyle [Source]. These aspects change how society operates in terms of interacting with other people, disseminating information using mass media, mingling cultures in the global village, and influencing individuals to perceive their reality.