Article

Richard Rorty

Neil Gascoigne

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online March 2014 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0190
Richard Rorty

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Richard McKay Rorty (b. 1931–d. 2007) began his career as a promising analytic philosopher at Wellesley and Princeton, making contributions to the debate about reductionism in the philosophy of mind. He went on to become a major public intellectual whose writings cut across the cultural divide between the European and Anglo-American philosophical traditions and ranged in their concerns from epistemology and metaphysics to political philosophy, ethics, literary theory, psychoanalysis, and religion. Unifying these disparate interests was a developing commitment to replacing a model of human self-understanding that developed out of the philosophy of the Enlightenment with one better suited to consolidating and ramifying the liberal and democratic values taken to be its legacy. Since these values are made manifest in the idea of America, there is a muted “exceptionalist” backdrop to Rorty’s work, which is expressed through his desire to revitalize the socially transformative version of pragmatism espoused by William James and (in particular) John Dewey. What is often referred to as Rorty’s neo-pragmatism is thus characterized by the development of a particular sort of dialectical structure. Firstly, the model of self-understanding to be replaced is subjected to critique by drawing on and radicalizing the work of certain key figures. Secondly, an alternative view is proffered in the spirit of pragmatic experimentation. This developing structure is brought out in the differing emphases of Rorty’s major works, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Rorty 2009 and Rorty 1989, respectively, cited under Monographs). In the former, the work of Willard van Orman Quine, Wilfrid Sellars, and (to a lesser extent) Donald Davidson is used to help “deconstruct” the Cartesian and Kantian imagery of a knowing subject and its constitutive concerns with objective knowledge, truth, and reality to make way for a conception of philosophy (and of the philosopher) as the discipline charged with creating new ways of talking. In the latter, Davidson’s work on truth, language, and agency is used to undermine the idea of a meaning-constituting, autonomous self to make way for a conception of the subject divided between incommensurable public and private commitments, with poets and radical thinkers taking on the role of culture’s meaning-makers. In Rorty 1999, an autobiographical reflection cited under General Overviews, Rorty characterizes his intellectual life as the search “for a coherent and convincing way of formulating . . . worries about what, if anything, philosophy is good for.” His final judgment in the preface to Philosophy as Cultural Politics (Rorty 2007), cited under Rorty’s Works: Collected Papers, is that philosophers can take their place alongside the meaning-makers only to the extent that they are willing to play a role in the great debates that shape culture with an eye to making “a difference to the way human beings live.”

Article.  9380 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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