and Social Hope by
A superb introduction to one of today's leading and most
Since Plato most philosophy has aimed at true knowledge, penetrating
beneath appearances to an underlying reality. Against this tradition,
Richard Rorty convincingly argues, pragmatism offers a new philosophy of
hope. One of the most controversial figures in recent philosophical and
wider literary and cultural debate, Rorty brings together an original
collection of his most recent philosophical and cultural writings. He
explains in a fascinating memoir how he began to move away from Plato
towards William James and Dewey, culminating in his own version of
pragmatism. What ultimately matters, Rorty suggests, is not whether our
ideas correspond to some fundamental reality but whether they help us
carry out practical tasks and create a fairer and more democratic
Aimed at a general audience, this volume offers a stimulating summary of
Rorty's central philosophical beliefs, as well as some challenging
insights into contemporary culture, justice, education, and love.
About the Author
Richard Rorty is a professor in the Department of Comparative Literature
at Stanford University and the author of many books of philosophy,
and the Mirror of Nature; The Linguistic Turn - Essays in Philosophical Method;
and Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (Philosophical Papers),
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By Richard Rorty
The essays in this book are attempts to draw
consequences from a pragmatist theory about truth. This theory says that
truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a
philosophically interesting theory about. For pragmatists,
"truth" is just the name of a property which all true
statements share. It is what is common to "Bacon did not write
Shakespeare," "It rained yesterday," "E equals
mc2" "Love is better than hate," "The Allegory of
Painting was Vermeer's best work," "2 plus 2 is 4,"
and "There are nondenumerable infinities." Pragmatists doubt
that there is much to be said about this common feature. They doubt this
for the same reason they doubt that there is much to be said about the
common feature shared by such morally praiseworthy actions as Susan
leaving her husband, America joining the war against the Nazis, America
pulling out of Vietnam, Socrates not escaping from jail, Roger picking
up litter from the trail, and the suicide of the Jews at Masada. They
see certain acts as good ones to perform, under the circumstances, but
doubt that there is anything general and useful to say about what makes
them all good. The assertion of a given sentence -or the adoption of a
disposition to assert the sentence, the conscious acquisition of a
belief -is a justifiable, praiseworthy act in certain circumstances.
But, a fortiori, it is not likely that there is something general
and useful to be said about what makes All such actions good-about the
common feature of all the sentences which one should acquire a
disposition to assert...
By Gary Brent Madison
...Rorty, it must be admitted, has not had any great
trouble knowing what to do after the end of Philosophy. Of the three
thinkers I shall be considering, Rorty has been the least discomforted
by the heavy burden of Nietzsche's legacy. Indeed, in the light-hearted
joyfulness of his new-found philosophical innocence, he has
wholeheartedly embraced Nietzsche's pronouncements about the demise of
Truth. If he is anything at all, Rorty is a carefree, happy-go-lucky
nihilist who is not about to let himself be bothered any more by the old
concerns of philosophy. Nietzsche's word about the "death of
God" seems to have been the liberating news he had been awaiting
throughout all of the years of his exile in the arid waste lands of
analytic philosophy. He tells us now that reading philosophy books is
mostly a waste of time (it doesn't contribute to human solidarity): Who,
he asks, was ever convinced in ways that matter by a philosophical
argument? We ought to read novels instead, people like Nabokov and
Orwell, Dickens and Proust. Rorty fully endorses Lyotard's claim that
philosophical metanarratives are out, mininarratives are in. What counts
is not to say something "truthful" but something
"interesting," something "edifying." We should
also change the conversation as much as possible, lest it become boring
(we do this, according to Rorty, by continually inventing new
"vocabularies," "simply by playing the new off against
the old"). Not Socrates' "Don't tell a lie," but Johnny
Carson's "Don't be boring" seems to have become Rorty's
by Scott Stossel
Stossel: The title of your book is Achieving
Our Country. Is that a title you chose? And what do you mean by it?
Rorty: It's an allusion to James Baldwin's use of the phrase. I
thought of Baldwin as throwing himself into the project of the
classless, casteless America, and so I guess "achieving our
country" means achieving a casteless and classless society...
Stossel: The two most prominent figures in your
book are Whitman and Dewey, and Dewey is for a number of reasons a
distinctly American intellectual. There's a strain of
intellectualism in American life that is more anti-intellectual than
Europe's. Do you think that's true? How would you characterize the
difference between a European intellectual and an American one?
Rorty: I don't see Dewey or Whitman as anti-intellectual. I think
of an intellectual as just being bookish, being interested in history
books, utopian ideas, that kind of thing. Whitman and Dewey were bookish
in the relevant sense. I think that if there's anything distinctive it's
the thoroughgoing secularism of Dewey and Whitman, which is described in
my book. There's no God, no reality, no nothing that takes precedence
over the consensus of a free people. What I like about Dewey and
pragmatism is the anti-metaphysical claim that there's no court of
appeal higher than a democratic consensus. It's the same idea Jurgen
Habermas has been putting forward for the last thirty years in Germany,
but we did it first...
Richard Rorty is not an unknown philosopher in Poland.
His books were recently translated into Polish and published; the first
was Philosophy as a Mirror of Nature, the second came Contingency,
Irony and Solidarity, and then Consequences of Pragmatism.
Where does the interest in him come from? Is also Polish philosophy
subjected to americanization? After all, it is American, Harold Bloom,
who insists that Rorty is the most interesting philospher in the world
today. However, the reasons of his popularity can be found easily in his
texts. First, they present a unique ability of linking unusual erudition
with the art of writing. Second, they expose quite attractive
philosophical views, which we could call the apology of democracy
without going into excess, the apology from antimetaphisical positions.
Such beliefs, rare in Europe, where antimetaphisicians are usually
politically radical, and not reformist, are the reasons of reading and
commenting on Rorty.
By John Haber
Philosophers are always telling people how they think and
how to live. Now one of the best philosophers in America is lecturing
women, and he thinks they should like it, too. Does that make
philosophy, not to mention the male ego, sound more out of touch than
ever? Richard Rorty has a provocative answer.
Rorty is opening demanding territory, the relation of
philosophy to moral and political transformation. He knows that it will
not do to haul out the old logical machinery in answer. Instead, he
offers philosophy's support for a specific social and political program,
is about time.
In fact, whenever philosophy starts talking, Rorty
argues, it is time to act. Along with him and Nancy Fraser, a feminist
who refuses to take Rorty's yes for an answer, I want to look for the
point at which the talking stops. Only it never will, and that is why
men have a place in feminism...
By Robert Cavalier, Carnegie Mellon and Charles Ess,
While rejecting the metaphysical and ethical
foundations of the Enlightenment, Rorty seeks to preserve its
classically liberal intention of expanding the circle of personhood to
include all persons, over against more traditional hierarchies which
exclude specified "Others" (e.g., women, people of color,
etc.). In his terms, he urges "that we try to extend our sense of
'we' to people whom we have previously thought of as 'they.'"
On his account, the Enlightenment built this extension
on the philosophical assumption of a core self, an essential humanity in
all human beings. In particular, this extension of humanity for Kant
(whom Rorty takes up as the exemplary liberal Enlightenment philosopher)
rests upon the assumption of a shared reason as such a central core.
On Rorty's account, however, such reason and its moral
obligations are divorced from feelings, e.g., of pity and benevolence.
Over against this view, Rorty argues for a sense of human solidarity
based precisely on feeling...
Charles Ess, Drury College
and Modernity, edited and with an introduction by Richard J.
Bernstein. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985. 161-175
Rorty gets it right, I think, when he notes that, over
against Lyotard's notion of "postmodern" as an incredulity
towards metanarratives (which provide the legitimating frameworks of
modernity including the Enlightenment metanarrative of liberation
endorsed by Kant through Habermas, and including Marx and Freud, but
explicitly rejected by Lyotard),
More Essays on Richard Rorty