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James K.A. Smith on Metanarratives

Who's afraid of Postmodernism? (Baker Academic : 2006), p69-70.

What characterizes the postmodern condition, then, is not a rejection of grand stories in terms of scope or in the sense of epic claims, but rather an unveling of the fact that all knowledge is rooted in some narrative or myth… The result, however… is what Lyotard describes as a “problem of legitimation”… since what we thought were universal criteria have been unveiled as just one game among many. If we consider, for instance, the reality of deep moral diversity and competing visions of the good, postmodern society is at a loss to adjudicate the competing claims. There can be no appeal to a higher court that would transcend a historical context or a language game, no neutral observer or “God’s-eye view” that can legitimate or justify one paradigm or moral language game above another. If all moral claims are conditioned by paradigms of historical commitment, then they cannot transcend those conditions; thus every moral claim operates within a “logic” that is conditioned by the paradigm. In other words, every language game has its own set of rules. As a result, criteria that determine what constitutes evidence or proof must be game relative: they will function as rules only for those who share the same paradigm or participate in the same language game. The incommensurability of language games means that there is a plurality of logics that precludes any demonstrative appeal to a common reason. Recognition of the incommensurability of langauge games and the plurality of competing myths means that there is no consensus, no sensus communis. Many ? especially Christians ? lament this state of affairs… But is the problem as bad as we think? … In the face of this problem, we must not lose sight of the fact that what constitutes the postmodern condition is precisely a plurality of language games ? a condition in which no one story can claim either universal auto-legitimation (because of the plurality of “the people”) nor appeal to a phantom universal reason (because reason is just one myth among others, which is itself rooted in a narrative). And this plurality is based on the fact that each game is grounded in different narratives or myths (i.e. founding beliefs).