Postmodernism Across the Ages: Essays for a Postmodernity that Wasn't Born Yesterday. Ed. by BILL READINGS and BENNET SCHABER. New York: Syracuse University Press. 1993. xvii + 279 pp. $34.95 (paperbound $16.95).
Zygmunt Bauman's Postmodern Ethics attempts to answer the question of how we can be moral beings in a world in which ethical behaviour can no longer be universally grounded and encoded. As with much other recent writing on the contemporary, Bauman makes the case for the postmodern as a letting go of the 'no longer possibles' of the modern and utopian aim of universally 'seizing hold of reality' (Lyotard), and argues instead for a repersonalization of morality.
Beginning with an exploration of the irredeemable ambivalence of morality, and of the irresolvably contradictory nature of modernity's attempt both to acknowledge autonomy and to regulate it socially according to an ethical code, Bauman suggests that because 'human reality is messy and ambiguous--and [...] moral decisions, unlike abstract ethical principles, are ambivalent' (p. 32), the modern impulse to find a universal ethical code can never work. Thus: 'Postmodernity [...] is modernity without illusions (the obverse of which is that modernity is postmodernity refusing to accept its own truth)' (p. 32).
But Bauman is not arguing for a shrugging acceptance of moral relativism. On the contrary, he argues that postmodernity brings about a 're-enchantment' of the world. In this re-enchanted world, it may be more possible to acknowledge and act upon the frankly irrational 'mystery of morality inside me' (p. 35). Bauman suggests that postmodernity may offer a radically new way of thinking about the ethical field (as moral acts not subsumable under a code) and that, as a result, our moral practices 'may--who knows?--be enhanced' (p. 3). At whatever cost of psychological difficulty (or pain, one might add) and the all too reasonable fear of deregulation,...
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