Nietzsche and postmodernism in geography: An idealist critique

Philosophy and Geography 6 (1):97 – 116 (2003)
Abstract
The suitability of a new philosophical paradigm for geography needs to be assessed in the context of the questions it was designed to address and on the basis of clearly articulated criteria. Postmodernism, the latest contender for the attention of geographers, is here assessed in relation to Collingwoodian idealism. As an intellectual movement postmodernism arose in the unique circumstances of academic life in post Second World War France. In this rigidly structured academic environment a new generation of French scholars, well schooled in the philosophies of Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger and the ideas of Marx and Freud, discovered the radical nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and drew upon his ethical and philosophical writings to address contemporary issues of power, knowledge, truth and modernity. All the central anti-humanist ideas of what was to become postmodernism are to be found in Nietzsche: a distrust of science and knowledge truth claims, the notion of multiple interpretations and the subordination of knowledge to power. This situated knowledge, set in the traditions of Continental thought, is not easily incorporated into the empiricist philosophies that have hitherto defined the mainstream of Anglo-American science and humanist scholarship including geography. Geographers need to retain a commitment to the foundational value of science, recognize human agency in the form of the conscious, thinking individual, and continue to affirm the empirical nature of human geographical research.
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