Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



No Future


Master of Arts




Schaffer, Scott


Postmodernism holds a contentious place in contemporary social theory and philosophy, and is often considered nihilistic. Using the work of Nietzsche and Nishitani, I argue that nihilism is a stage in the dialectical transition away from a dominant form of thought and towards a radically new one. Drawing on Sartre’s theory of dialectical praxis and other elements of existentialist philosophy, I argue that postmodernism can act as a bridge towards a theory of praxis and engagement that allows a movement away from the condition of postmodern capitalism. This allows for an understanding of the contemporary conditions that is amenable to a materialist theory emphasising human activity rather than relying on metaphysical approaches, facilitating some rapprochement with Marxist philosophy. To conclude, I argue that postmodernism allows the opening up of future possibilities in response to their foreclosure by the bourgeois philosophy of idealism and universalism that currently dominates society.

Summary for Lay Audience

This thesis deals with the issue of how the points raised by postmodernism relate to the possibility of social revolution. In sociology, the idea of revolution is often connected to the ideas of Marx, and Marxist thinkers make certain assumptions about how and why a revolution will happen. Many Marxists reject the claims of postmodernism because they challenge these assumptions and the worldview that supports the idea of revolution as unavoidable. One criticism that is made about postmodernism is that it is a form of nihilism, which these critics say only rejects values and does not offer any new values of its own. I agree that postmodernism is a form of nihilism, but say that nihilism is a more complicated philosophy than that. In this essay, I offer a model of nihilism that is based on the idea of rejecting dominant values in order to accept a very different set afterwards. By accepting these new values, I think we can develop a stronger theory of revolution and connect it more closely with how people live and act in the world. In the end, I contend that we have to change how we understand the present and the future in order to have a proper revolution. Because of this, I see postmodernism as a tool for getting away from the assumptions and limits placed on thought and activity by the powerful.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.