RICHARD MCKAY RORTY (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) was an
American philosopher . Educated at the
University of Chicago
Rorty saw the idea of knowledge as a "mirror of nature" as pervasive
throughout the history of western philosophy . Against this approach,
Rorty advocated for a novel form of
* 1 Biography
* 2 Major works
* 3 On human rights * 4 Reception and criticism * 5 Select bibliography * 6 See also * 7 Notes * 8 Further reading * 9 External links
"Nothing is sacred to Rorty the ironist. Asked at the end of his life
about the 'holy', the strict atheist answered with words reminiscent
of the young
Rorty enrolled at the
University of Chicago
Rorty was a professor of philosophy at
Rorty's doctoral dissertation, "The
Pragmatists generally hold that the meaning of a proposition is determined by its use in linguistic practice. Rorty combined pragmatism about truth and other matters with a later Wittgensteinian philosophy of language which declares that meaning is a social-linguistic product, and sentences do not 'link up' with the world in a correspondence relation. Rorty wrote in his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989):
"Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own unaided by the describing activities of humans cannot."(5)
Views like this led Rorty to question many of philosophy's most basic
assumptions—and have also led to him being apprehended as a
postmodern/deconstructionist philosopher. Indeed, from the late 1980s
through the 1990s, Rorty focused on the continental philosophical
tradition , examining the works of
According to Rorty, analytic philosophy may not have lived up to its
pretensions and may not have solved the puzzles it thought it had. Yet
such philosophy, in the process of finding reasons for putting those
pretensions and puzzles aside, helped earn itself an important place
in the history of ideas. By giving up on the quest for apodicticity
and finality that
In the last fifteen years of his life, Rorty continued to publish his
writings, including four volumes of his archived philosophical papers,
Achieving Our Country (1998), a political manifesto partly based on
readings of Dewey and
Shortly before his death, he wrote a piece called "The Fire of Life,"
(published in the November 2007 issue of Poetry magazine), in which
he meditates on his diagnosis and the comfort of poetry. He concludes,
"I now wish that I had spent somewhat more of my life with verse. This
is not because I fear having missed out on truths that are incapable
of statement in prose. There are no such truths; there is nothing
about death that
On June 8, 2007, Rorty died in his home from pancreatic cancer .
PHILOSOPHY AND THE MIRROR OF NATURE
Main article: Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty argues that the central problems of modern epistemology depend upon a picture of the mind as trying to faithfully represent (or "mirror") a mind-independent, external reality. If we give up this metaphor, then the entire enterprise of foundationalist epistemology is misguided. A foundationalist believes that in order to avoid the regress inherent in claiming that all beliefs are justified by other beliefs, some beliefs must be self-justifying and form the foundations to all knowledge.
There were two senses of "foundationalism" criticized in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In the epistemological sense, Rorty criticized the attempt to justify knowledge claims by tracing them to a set of foundations (e.g., self-evident premises or noninferential sensations); more broadly, he criticized the claim of philosophy to function foundationally within a culture. The former argument draws on Sellars's critique of the idea that there is a "given" in sensory perception, in combination with Quine's critique of the distinction between analytic sentences (sentences which are true solely in virtue of what they mean) and synthetic sentences (sentences made true by the world). Each critique, taken alone, provides a problem for a conception of how philosophy ought to proceed, yet leaves enough of the tradition intact to proceed with its former aspirations. Combined, Rorty claimed, the two critiques are devastating. With no privileged insight into the structure of belief and no privileged realm of truths of meaning, we have, instead, knowledge as those beliefs that pay their way. The only worthwhile description of the actual process of inquiry, Rorty claimed, was a Kuhnian account of the standard phases of the progress of disciplines, oscillating through normal and abnormal periods, between routine problem-solving and intellectual crises.
After rejecting foundationalism, Rorty argues that one of the few
roles left for a philosopher is to act as an intellectual gadfly,
attempting to induce a revolutionary break with previous practice, a
role that Rorty was happy to take on himself. Rorty suggests that each
generation tries to subject all disciplines to the model that the most
successful discipline of the day employs. In Rorty's view, the success
of modern science has led academics in philosophy and the humanities
to mistakenly imitate scientific methods. Philosophy and the Mirror of
Nature popularized and extended ideas of
Wilfrid Sellars (the critique
Myth of the given ) and
Willard Van Orman Quine
CONTINGENCY, IRONY, AND SOLIDARITY
Main article: Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989), Rorty abandons
specifically analytic modes of explication in favor of narrative
pastiche in order to develop an alternative conceptual vocabulary to
that of the "Platonists" he rejects. This schema is based on the
belief that there is no worthwhile theory of truth, aside from a
boring, non-epistemic semantic one (as Donald Davidson developed out
of the work of
This book also marks his first attempt to specifically articulate a political vision consistent with his philosophy, the vision of a diverse community bound together by opposition to cruelty, and not by abstract ideas such as 'justice' or 'common humanity,' policed by the separation of the public and private realms of life.
In this book, Rorty introduces the terminology of Ironism , which he uses to describe his mindset and his philosophy.
OBJECTIVITY, RELATIVISM, AND TRUTH
Amongst the essays in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1 (1990), is "The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy," in which Rorty defends Rawls against communitarian critics. Rorty argues that liberalism can "get along without philosophical presuppositions," while at the same time conceding to communitarians that "a conception of the self that makes the community constitutive of the self does comport well with liberal democracy." For Rorty, social institutions ought to be thought of as "experiments in cooperation rather than as attempts to embody a universal and ahistorical order."
ESSAYS ON HEIDEGGER AND OTHERS
In this text, Rorty focuses primarily on the continental philosophers Heidegger and Derrida. He argues that these European "post-Nietzscheans" share much with American pragmatists, in that they critique metaphysics and reject the correspondence theory of truth. When discussing Derrida, Rorty claims that Derrida is most useful when viewed as a funny writer who attempted to circumvent the Western philosophical tradition, rather than the inventor of a philosophical (or literary) "method." In this vein, Rorty criticizes Derrida's followers like Paul de Man for taking deconstructive literary theory too seriously.
ACHIEVING OUR COUNTRY
Main article: Achieving Our Country
In Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (1997), Rorty differentiates between what he sees as the two sides of the Left, a cultural Left and a progressive Left. He criticizes the cultural Left, which is exemplified by post-structuralists such as Foucault and postmodernists such as Lyotard, for offering critiques of society, but no alternatives (or alternatives that are so vague and general as to be abdications). Although these intellectuals make insightful claims about the ills of society, Rorty suggests that they provide no alternatives and even occasionally deny the possibility of progress. On the other hand, the progressive Left, exemplified for Rorty by the pragmatist Dewey, Whitman and James Baldwin, makes hope for a better future its priority. Without hope, Rorty argues, change is spiritually inconceivable and the cultural Left has begun to breed cynicism. Rorty sees the progressive Left as acting in the philosophical spirit of pragmatism.
ON HUMAN RIGHTS
Rorty's notion of human rights is grounded on the notion of sentimentality . He contended that throughout history humans have devised various means of construing certain groups of individuals as inhuman or subhuman. Thinking in rationalist (foundationalist) terms will not solve this problem, he claimed. Rorty advocated the creation of a culture of global human rights in order to stop violations from happening through a sentimental education. He argued that we should create a sense of empathy or teach empathy to others so as to understand others' suffering.
RECEPTION AND CRITICISM
Rorty is among the most widely discussed and controversial
contemporary philosophers, and his works have provoked thoughtful
responses from many other well-respected figures in the field. In
Robert Brandom 's anthology, entitled Rorty and His Critics, for
example, Rorty's philosophy is discussed by Donald Davidson , Jürgen
Although Rorty was an avowed liberal, his political and moral
philosophies have been attacked by commentators from the Left , some
of whom believe them to be insufficient frameworks for social justice.
Rorty was also criticized by others for his rejection of the idea
that science can depict the world. One criticism, especially of
Contingency, irony, and solidarity is that Rorty's philosophical
'hero', the ironist , is an elitist figure. Rorty claims that the
majority of people would be "commonsensically nominalist and
historicist" but not ironist. These people would combine an ongoing
attention to the particular as opposed to the transcendent (nominalism
), with an awareness of their place in a continuum of contingent lived
experience alongside other individuals (historicist ), without
necessarily having continual doubts about the resulting worldview as
the ironist does. An ironist is someone who: 1) "has radical and
continuing doubts about their final vocabulary"; 2) "realizes that
argument phrased in their vocabulary can neither underwrite nor
dissolve these doubts"; and 3) "does not think their vocabulary is
closer to reality than others" (all 73, Contingency, irony, and
solidarity). On the other hand, the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo
alongside the Spanish philosopher Santiago Zabala in their 2011 book
Hermeneutic Communism: from Heidegger to Marx affirm that "together
Rorty often draws on a broad range of other philosophers to support his views, and his interpretation of their works has been contested. Since Rorty is working from a tradition of re-interpretation, he remains uninterested in 'accurately' portraying other thinkers, but rather in utilizing their work in the same way a literary critic might use a novel. His essay "The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres" is a thorough description of how he treats the greats in the history of philosophy. In Contingency, irony, and solidarity, Rorty attempts to disarm those who criticize his writings by arguing that their philosophical criticisms are made using axioms that are explicitly rejected within Rorty's own philosophy. For instance, Rorty defines allegations of irrationality as affirmations of vernacular "otherness", and so—Rorty claims—accusations of irrationality can be expected during any argument and must simply be brushed aside.
* Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature . Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979. ISBN * Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. ISBN 978-0816610631 * Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-521-35381-6
* Philosophical Papers vols I-IV:
* Objectivity, Relativism and Truth: Philosophical Papers I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 978-0521353694 * Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN * Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN * Philosophy as Cultural Politics: Philosophical Papers IV . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
* Mind, Language, and
Metaphilosophy : Early Philosophical Papers
Eds. S. Leach and J. Tartaglia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
2014. ISBN 978-1-107-61229-7 .
Achieving Our Country : Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century
America. Cambridge, MA:
* The Linguistic Turn, Essays in Philosophical Method, (1967), ed.
by Richard M. Rorty,
University of Chicago
New York City
* ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rorty/#1
* ^ "Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher".
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* ^ Bernstein, Adam (11 June 2007). "Richard Rorty, 75; Leading
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* ^ A B C Bruce Kuklick. "Neil Gross, Richard Rorty: The Making of
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* ^ A B "Jürgen Habermas: Philosopher, poet and friend
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* ^ Marchetti, Giancarlo. "Interview with Richard Rorty."
Philosophy Now Volume 43, Oct.-Nov. 2003.
* ^ Ryerson, James. "The Quest for Uncertainty Richard Rorty's
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* ^ A B "Richard Rorty, distinguished public intellectual and
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* ^ A B C Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
* ^ A B C "Richard Rorty, Philosopher, Dies at 75" (NY Times
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* ^ Ryerson, James. "Essay: Thinking Cheerfully." The New York
Times Book Review . July 22, 2007: p 27.
* ^ Rorty, Richard (November 2007). "The Fire of Life". Poetry
* ^ "Richard Rorty," (short obituary), June 9, 2007.
* ^ Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers,
Volume 1 (1990), p 179
* ^ Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers,
Volume 1 (1990), p 196
* ^ See Barreto, José-Manuel. "Rorty and Human Rights:
Contingency, Emotions and How to Defend Human Rights Telling Stories."
Utrecht Law Review, Volume 7 Issue 2 April 2011
* ^ (Last sentence of the introduction)
* ^ Amazon.com: Rorty and His Critics (Philosophers and their
Critics): Robert B. Brandom: Books
* ^ Scruton, Roger (2007-06-12). "Richard Rorty\'s legacy".
openDemocracy. Retrieved 2012-09-26.
* ^ In the preface to
* What We Mean By Experience / Marianne Janack, 2012
* '\'Feminist Interpretations of