one mark of this period in philosophy is its realism, by which i mean that philosophy in this period is convinced of the existence of a world independent of consciousness (or, let's start with that; believe me i have worked more carefully on formulating this). now one would say it's a return to realism, only guess what? western philosophy has been profoundly and almost continuously anti-realist throughout the modern era. descartes, locke, hume, kant, hegel, husserl: all locked us in a world of ideas and impressions and sensations. carnap constructed a universe out of "auto-psychological objects". hermeneutics and much of pomo phil (rorty, e.g.; but, wittgenstein, derrida), went textual instead of phenomenalist; we build a world from language, which adds a social element. i think of rorty or gadamer as linguistic idealists. baudrillard in a way makes the obvious move, yet again: oh well there's no sense in holding on to this old distinction between simulacra and reality.
but here are some elements of the realist backlash: externalism in philosophy of mind a la andy clark or mark rowlands (well, or me), timothy williamson's epistemology and response to dummett, etc, bruno latour, speculative realism a la graham harman and levi bryant (and now many others), lee smolin arguing that time is real.
i'm reading coming to our senses, by viki mccabe, who is a cognitive psychologist. here's the nut:
Because we coevolved with and adapted to a world of complex systems in which we participate, our senses evolved to parse the structural information that specifies the properties of those systems. . . . Unlike most books about cognition and perception that focus primarily on us - what we think and how our brains work - this book takes its lead from the world itself. . . it is not about us and our ideas; it is about the world and the structural information its complex systems convey.
this, i have to say, is obvious when you think about it for a moment: on any sort of naturalistic account of human beings, our perceptual apparatus has to respond to real features of the environment: that is what our sensory systems are for, and if we were imposing space and time on the universe, for example, the real universe would long ago have expunged us. we experience space and time and causation (to begin with) because they are real features of the world external to us. (this is why i'm also arguing against half-assed interpretations of relativity, etc). lord knows how philosophy got away with not asserting that, for centuries. i have a notion that enlightenment-and-after philosophy as a whole is profoundly anti-naturalistic and anti-scientific, is fighting a rear-guard action on behalf of Spirit, Mind, or whatnot.
in a certain way, baudrillard becomes ever-more true. but all of this virtual reality sets up a yearning for an authentic reality: philosophy is also an index of what we need. i started out as a realist in this sense, but got more intense as time went on. studying with rorty and stanley fish or contemplating their heroes like gadamer or reading baudrillard, you just could not help longing for a reality external to consciousness; the pomo moment was so enclosing, and it explicitly had a sense of dead end: like, this is where we ended up. debord shows the dead end politically, for example. i always thought the backlash had to come. i felt totally alone trying to create some kind of realism in rorty and fish's grad seminars in the 80s, but i did try. i didn't seem to have much luck making it come in the early 90s or whatever - i still felt to myself like a lone voice - but i think it was actually happening all around by then. the full brunt of all this will emerge in entanglements.