Cheney and the Myth of Postmodernism

Smith, Mick
Environmental Ethics Vol. 15/1 (1993), pages 3-17

I draw critical parallels between Jim Cheney’s work and various aspects of modernism, which he ignores or misrepresents. I argue, first, that Cheney’s history of ideas is appallingly crude. He amalgamates all past Western philosophical traditions, irrespective of their disparate backgrounds and complex interrelationships, under the single heading, modern. Then he posits a radical epistemological break between a deluded modernism—characterized as foundationalist, essentialist, colonizing, and totalizing—and a contextual postmodernism. He seems unaware both of the complex genealogy of postmodernism and of those aspects of modern traditions that prefigure his own thesis. Second, Cheney’s account of primitive peoples is both ethnocentric (though positively so) and inaccurate. Third, Cheney reduces context or place to a concept of bioregionality. In this way, he reinstates a privileged foundationalism which, by his own definitions, makes his philosophy modernist. I develop these criticisms in order to suggest a less restricted contextual approach to environmental values.