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Rationalities in Philosophy and the Possibility for Social Change


G. Elijah Dann

Center for Philosophy of Religion,
University of Notre Dame

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The following paper was presented at Strategies of Critique XII: (in)justiced subjects, April 24, 1998, in the session entitled "Politogany and Social Change." The conference was organized by students of the Graduate Programme in Social & Political Thought at York University.

[It] is impossible not to see a temperamental difference at work in the choice of sides. The rationalist mind . . . is of a doctrinaire and authoritative complexion: the phrase "must be" is ever on its lips. The belly-band of its universe must be tight. A radical pragmatist on the other hand is as happy-go-lucky anarchistic sort of creature. William James 1


Even to the most sceptical mind, there is little doubt that over the past thirty years Western society has, incrementally, witnessed advances to understanding how (in)justice is articulated in culture. Some of these injustices have been brought from darkness into the light, and as a consequence spoken, challenged, debated, argued, and changed. This has, in turn, led to progress over issues of tolerance (not as a "putting up with" but, rather, as open acceptance for difference) and appreciation for diversity. Caution, without a doubt, must nevertheless be exercised in this evaluation. With every move forward on issues of human rights and dignity there has been resistance to advancement in social change.

There are many levels on which this tension is exhibited. Focussing on the university one may select from numerous disciplines and perspectives where the theoretical work that gives way to social change is performed, debated, resisted, and exerted. This change is often a forced change-transition which is eventually made public, dramatically exposed through the proliferation of the, so-called, culture wars.

The purpose of this paper is to focus attention on how this tension is exhibited in the context of contemporary philosophy, particularly in metaethics. I address this topic by examining traditional philosophy's metaethical approach to issues of social change and the challenge to this approach brought about by the philosopher Richard Rorty 2. In the first part of this paper, I will present the moral realist's approach to ethics. In part two, I will present Rorty's re-description of philosophy which, in part three, I will use as a framework which, I suggest, might be useful deployed in a search for ethics in the post-Philosophical sense. Here I will discuss why this latter view of philosophy, specifically in regard to doing ethics, has greater possibility for successfully bringing about social change.

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In order to have a clear sense of ethics, the traditional philosopher has claimed that we must be rational and objective. To be rational one eye must be kept on reality and the other on one's given beliefs. Beliefs about right and wrong are to be compared with "moral reality." This view implies a strong theory of truth as correspondence 3 coupled with an objective means of firm justification. Moreover, the philosopher, in order to show that real results in ethics are forthcoming must subscribe to methodology that is in accordance with the scientific method, assumed to be the means by which we are certain ethical decisions are rational, objective, and most importantly, true.

The moral realist argues that "the realm of moral values and norms is wider than our knowledge of it and that their validity is not dependent on individual attitudes or social contracts." 4 The ethical, so the story goes, cannot be reduced merely to the values, beliefs, or attitudes of the moral agent. As one theorist puts it:

The real (as opposed to the imaginary of routinely projected) structure of human interaction has an irreducible moral aspect which sets requirements for human behaviour. Human actions are always subject to evaluation by moral standards whether one acknowledges the reality of the moral order or not. 5

While there are different versions of moral realism (a red flag to the cautious) ranging from Kant 6, to Scheler 7, to the classical intuitionists 8,

The crucial point is . . . that moral knowledge is not essentially relative to culturally transmitted vocabularies, conceptual systems and justificatory conventions. The ultimate source of authority is moral reality rather than democratic consensus or the individual teacher. The development of moral consciousness is dependent on the unfolding of the capacity for moral discernment. 9

As one philosopher has argued in a recent text that attempts to access postmodernism from a Catholic perspective, "let me state baldly that both Nietzsche and Heidegger fail - and cannot help but fail - as moral thinkers because, whatever their other accomplishments, they have no place for absolute moral truths or universal principles of justice."10

This way of setting up the problem begs the question from the very beginning. 11 Why believe, as a starting assumption, that moral standards are somehow beyond the decision making process of the moral agent? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what does it really mean to assert that there exists a moral reality somehow distinct from human agency? That the ethically true could exist without anyone knowing it? 12 Moreover, if such a realm (this way of speaking naturally conjures up Platonism) is something we are to somehow come in contact with to be moral, why does moral realism give way to different versions and different norms? 13 My hunch at this point is that in the end the moral realist will ultimately fall back on ad hominem - accusations that one's opponent in the discussion over ethics cannot agree because he or she has some sort of cognitive, psychological, or spiritual (or a little of each) malfunction which impedes seeing moral truth. 14

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Traditional philosophy, which undergirds the moral realist's position, has come under scrutiny. The leading protagonist in this manoeuvre is the philosopher Richard Rorty. In his metaphilosophical writings, Rorty makes a distinction in philosophy that is integral to his critique. By outlining this distinction we will see how it, in turn, problematizes the moral realist's claims.

Rorty distinguishes between two main approaches in philosophy: systematic philosophy and edifying philosophy. Systematic philosophy is the traditional view of philosophy that, among other things, concerns itself with epistemological issues and metaphysics. In the introduction to his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Rorty describes this view of philosophy from which moral realism follows:

Philosophers usually think of their discipline as one which discusses perennial, eternal problems - problems which arise as soon as one reflects. Some of these concern the difference between human beings and other beings, and are crystallized in questions concerning the relation between the mind and the body. Other problems concern the legitimation of claims to know, and are crystallized in questions concerning the "foundations" of knowledge. To discover these foundations is to discover something about the mind, and conversely. Philosophy as a discipline thus sees itself as the attempt to underwrite or debunk claims to knowledge made by science, morality, art, or religion. It purports to do this on the basis of its special understanding of the nature of knowledge and of mind. Philosophy can be foundational in respect to the rest of culture because culture is the assemblage of claims to knowledge, and philosophy adjudicates such claims . . . Philosophy's central concern is to be a general theory of representation, a theory which will divide culture up into the areas which represent reality well, those which represent it less well, and those which do not represent it at all (despite their pretense of doing so). 15

The strength and acceptance of systematic philosophy has largely come about by applying the success achieved in the sciences to philosophical problems. Rorty notes that:

Successive philosophical revolutions within this mainstream have been produced by philosophers excited by new cognitive feats - e.g., the rediscovery of Aristotle, Galilean mechanics, the development of self-conscious historiography in the nineteenth century, Darwinian biology, mathematical logic. Thomas's use of Aristotle to conciliate the Fathers, Descartes's and Hobbes's criticisms of scholasticism, the Enlightenment's notion that reading Newton leads naturally to the downfall of tyrants, Spencer's evolutionism, Carnap's attempt to overcome metaphysics through logic, are so many attempts to refashion the rest of culture on the model of the last cognitive achievements. 16

The systematic philosopher typically takes the success gained in one area of inquiry and attempts to apply this success to all other areas of culture. With proper epistemological understanding, so the story goes, where there was once superstition and convention there will be objectivity and rationality:

A "mainstream" Western philosopher typically says: Now that such-and-such a line of inquiry has had such a stunning success, let us reshape all inquiry, and all of culture, on its model, thereby permitting objectivity and rationality to prevail in areas previously obscured by convention, superstition, and the lack of a proper epistemological understanding of man's ability accurately to represent nature. 17

In contrast to this mainstream, or systematic view of philosophy, there is a peripheral view of philosophy. Those philosophers on the borders of traditional philosophy are described by Rorty as edifying philosophers. The edifying philosopher has a general distrust for taking a methodology that has granted success in one discipline and applying it, as a template, to another discipline. Rorty comments further that:

These writers have kept alive the suggestion that, even when we have justified true belief about everything we want to know, we may have no more than conformity to the norms of the day. They have kept alive the historicist sense that this century's "superstition" was the last century's triumph of reason as well as the relativist sense that the latest vocabulary, borrowed from the latest scientific achievement, may not express privileged representations of essences, but be just another of the potential infinity of vocabularies in which the world can be described. 18

Dewey, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger are archetypical of the edifying philosopher of the twentieth-century. These three philosophers in particular "hammer away at the holistic point that words take their meanings from other words rather than by virtue of their representative character, and the corollary that vocabularies acquire their privileges from [those] who use them rather than from their transparency to the real." 19 Herein lies the philosophical difference between systematic philosophers and edifying philosophers. The former attempt to represent their beliefs while the latter try to understand language within a holistic scheme.

Edifying philosophers drop the idea of robust representation. 20 The implications for moral realism are clear. Edifying philosophers contend that sentences are connected, not to the world, but to other sentences. "They do not accept the Cartesian-Kantian picture presupposed by the idea of 'our minds' or 'our language' as an 'inside' which can be contrasted to something (perhaps something very different) 'outside'." 21 As a result of this view of philosophy and language, edifying philosophers, like Wittgenstein and Heidegger 22, do not wish to be thought of as philosophers as having views about how things are. 23 They do not conceive their philosophical assignment as having to represent the world, in some deep sense, accurately, or as it is "in itself". By problematizing traditional or systematic philosophy, especially the philosophical fixation to represent reality, the picture of the philosopher as cultural overseer falls apart. "To drop the notion of the philosopher as knowing something about knowing which nobody else knows so well would be to drop the notion that [the voice of the philosopher] always has an overriding claim on the attention of the other participants in the conversation." 24

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Insofar as truth is concerned, Rorty admits his debt to Donald Davidson who convinced him that "nobody should even try to specify the nature of truth." Rorty goes on to note that "Davidson has helped me realize that the very absoluteness of truth is a good reason for thinking 'true' indefinable and for thinking that no theory of the nature of truth is possible. It is only the relative about which there is anything to say." 25 Bereft, then, of the traditional definitions of truth as correspondence and objectivity, how are we to proceed in doing ethics based upon on the post-Philosophical account?

As an antirepresentationalist Rorty desires to reduce issues of representation and objectivity to solidarity. If one does speak of objectivity it should not be an objectivity that attempts to move outside one's own society to glimpse "the intrinsic nature of moral reality." Objectivity should, rather, be understood as the attempt to extend an intersubjective agreement as far as possible: the desire "to extend the reference of 'us' as far as we can." 26 Those who do this are pragmatists. "Within the philosophical community, they are best known as holists." 27 Rejecting both metaphysics and epistemology, pragmatists view truth in William James' sense of "what is good for us to believe." 28 Rorty juxtapositions this image of truth against the definition of truth as the "accurate representation of reality." 29 Solidarity is the goal for the pragmatist. Instead of being preoccupied with the traditional concepts of objectivity and representation, attention is turned toward the needs of democratic society. This is Dewey's view of a society - one that is democratic, progressive, and pluralist. 30 The society endeavours to work toward intersubjective agreement and novelty. Rorty goes on to explain:

If one reinterprets objectivity as intersubjectivity, or as solidarity, in the ways I suggest below, then one will drop the question of how to get in touch with "mind-independent and language-independent reality." One will replace it with questions like "What are the limits of our community? Are the encounters sufficiently free and open? Has what we have recently gained in solidarity cost us our ability to listen to outsiders who are suffering? To outsiders who have new ideas?" These are political questions rather than metaphysical or epistemological questions. Dewey seems to me to have given us the right lead when he viewed pragmatism not as grounding, but as clearing the ground for, democratic politics. 31

But without a certain epistemological foundation, or some appeal to objective truth, should we not be filled with dread? - the dread that gives way to what Bernstein describes as "Cartesian anxiety" - "the dread of madness and chaos where nothing is fixed, where we can neither touch bottom nor support ourselves on the surface." 32 Here is the anxiety that unless we have The Truth we will have nothing to defend ourselves with when 'the Nazis come marching in'(an image commonly invoked).

But does this account of the philosophical task pave the way to relativism33 of the kinds one hears from students in an introduction to philosophy undergraduate course - typically articulated as "you have your truth, and I have mine". By removing truth and objectivity from our language, is totalitarianism around the corner? Without a robust definition of truth how does one ultimately refute, for example, the Nazi?

Posing the questions in this manner, Rorty contends, begs further theoretical questions. Having abandoned the language of the realist, the pragmatist cannot be forced to supply answers presupposed from within the realist's framework. Rorty, in fact, puts a twist on this inquiry by saying that pragmatists do not try to argue against the realists' answers, but against their questions. "Unless one were worried about the really real, unless one had already bought in on Plato's claim that degrees of certainty, or of centrality to our belief systems, were correlated with different relations to reality" 34 one would be hard pressed to make sense of these questions. Moreover, while the pragmatist will not speak of refuting Nazi's or fascists with the truth, it is deceptive to think that people of this sort need only be convinced of the truth to change their ways or that somehow the truth is needed to protect the society from their ideas. 35 It should be pointed out, as well, that history shows those who are utterly convinced that they have the "truth"êê to be those most likely to perpetrate crimes against humanity. As Paul Ricoeur has stated:

Rien ne prête plus à l'imposture que l'idée de totalité . On a trop vite dit: elle est ici, elle est là ; elle est Esprit, elle est Nature, elle est Histoire; la violence n'est pas loin; d'abord la violence sur les faits et bientôt la violence sur les hommes, si par surcroit le philosophe de la totalité ‚ a pouvoir sur les hommes. 36

Rorty contends that notions like "unforced agreement" and "free and open encounter" should not only replace disputes as the above, but also more convoluted and controversial notions such as "the will of God," "the moral law," "what our beliefs are trying to represent accurately," and "what makes our beliefs true." 37 Once this substitution is made the difference between a society that praises tolerance, open dialogue, and the free-exchange of ideas obtains its own justification. Admittedly, neither fascists nor fundamentalists may be convinced easily of the errors of their ways. But this is similarly the case with the pragmatist's account and on the realist's account of truth. 38

In conclusion, Rorty notes that "[m]oral progress is a matter of wider and wider sympathy. It is not a matter of rising above the sentimental to the ration al. Nor is it a matter of appealing from lower and corrupt local courts to a higher court which administers an ahistorical, non-local, transcultural moral law . . . [Y]ou cannot aim at moral perfection, but you can aim at taking more people's needs into account than you did previously." 39

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The moral realist has claimed that there is a difference between our beliefs about right and wrong, what can be considered just or unjust, racist or sexist, and what is in reality, right and wrong, just and unjust. We must, according to the realist's account, show how our beliefs and opinions correspond with, or in some manner mirror, moral reality.

Rorty, by contrast, argues that instead of trying to provide a metaphysical foundation for our sense of community we should "substitute a 'merely' ethical foundation for our sense of community . . . or, better, that we think of our sense of community as having no foundation except shared hope and the trust created by such sharing . . . ." 40 Rorty is one in a long line of philosophers who wants to unmask the pretension behind traditional philosophy that gives way to the moral realist's claim that only by reflecting on "moral reality" will our ethical beliefs be dependable. Historically, when this argument is made by the philosopher, theologian, or scientist, the rights of women, homosexuals, people of colour, the infirm, the Other are brushed aside in favour of "human nature", "God's design", "God's Will" or, in short, "The Truth". As Rorty has insightfully noted:

If the last few hundred years of human history have taught us anything, it is that the imagination of our ancestors has usually been inadequate to the achievements of their descendants. We have come up with many things that once seemed unimaginable: the rule of laws rather than men, nation-states whose citizens belong to many different religions, women holding high office. So we have come to distrust the people who tell us that 'you cannot change human nature' - a slogan that was employed against the education of women, interracial marriage, and gay liberation. I doubt that we should put more faith in natural scientists wielding this slogan than in the theologians and philosophers who did. 41

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Bernstein, Richard. Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983)

Dewey, John. Reconstruction in Philosophy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1948)

___________. Reconstruction in Philosophy (New York: The New American Library, 1950)

James, William. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1975)

Nielsen, Kai. "Class Conflict, Marxism, and the Good-Reasons Approach," Why Be Moral? (New York: Prometheus Books, 1989), pp. 123-142.

Mackintosh, H. R. Types of Modern Theology (London: Nisbet, 1937)

Owens, Joseph. Some Philosophical Issues in Moral Matters: The Collected Ethical Writings of Joseph Owens, edited by Dennis J. Billy and Terence Kennedy (Roma: Editiones Academiae Alphonsianae, 1996), pp. 1-500.

Puolimatka, Tapio. "The Problem of Democratic Values Education," Journal of Philosophy of Education, 31, 3, November 1997, pp. 461-476.

Putnam, Hilary. Realism with a Human Face (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990); from Richard Rorty, "Putnam and the Relativist Menace," The Journal of Philosophy, 90, 9, September 1993, pp. 443-461.

Ricoeur, Paul. L'homme fallible, Finitude et Culpabilit é I (Paris: Aubier, éditions montaigne, 1960)

Rorty, Richard. "Against Unity," The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1998, pp. 28-38.

____________. Contingency, irony, and solidarity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989)

____________. Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986)

____________. "Ethics Without Universal Obligation," unpublished manuscript

____________. Objectivity, relativism, and truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)

____________. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1979)

____________. "Putnam and the Relativist Menace," The Journal of Philosophy, 90, 9, September 1993, pp. 443-461.

____________. Truth & Progress (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)

____________. "Truth Without Correspondence to Reality," unpublished manuscript

Royal, Robert. "The Forgetfulness of Beings," Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy. Edited by Roman T. Ciapalo (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997), pp. 204-217.

Schall, James V., S.J. "Our Postmodernism and the 'Silence' of St. Thomas," Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy. Edited by Roman T. Ciapalo (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997), pp. 218-229.

Stout, Jeffrey. Ethics After Babel. The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents (Boston: Beacon Press); from Tapio Puolimatka, "The Problem of Democratic Values Education," Journal of Philosophy of Education, 31, 3, November 1997, pp. 461-476.


1 William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 124. return to text

2 Richard Rorty is Kenan Professor of Humanities at University of Virginia. He taught at Wellesley and, from 1961 to 1982, at Princeton University, where he was Stuart Professor of Philosophy. return to text

3 That is, the way things are apart from how we describe them. return to text

4 Tapio Puolimatka, "The Problem of Democratic Values Education," Journal of Philosophy of Education, 31, 3, November 1997, p. 463. return to text

5 Puolimatka, "The Problem of Democratic Values Education," p. 463. return to text

6 By attempting to derive moral knowledge from the principle of universalisability. return to text

7 By assuming that feelings communicate objective value-essences. return to text

8 Classical intuitionists employ the notion of self-evident intuitions. Some modern versions relax the requirement of self-evidence. [Puolimatka, "The Problem of Democratic Values Education," p. 464] return to text

9 Puolimatka, "The Problem of Democratic Values Education," p. 464. The Catholic theologian Joseph Owens reflects this position although he is careful to nuance it from being too strict: " . . . appeal may be made to philosophy - sometimes even in discussions in the popular press - when moral norms are challenged or ridiculed. Rational grounds are thereby sought for steadfast adherence to moral standards that have been handed down from generation to generation. This is the case today in regard to the nature and stability of marriage and family, or about the motives for respecting human life. In those areas traditionally accepted tenets have come to be regarded by many people as running counter to the progressive thrusts of a new age. The viewpoint for the opposition to the older standards may be either modern or postmodern. But in either case, it would indicate that the moral norms are being looked upon as open to philosophical discussion." [Joseph Owens, Some Philosophical Issues in Moral Matters: The Collected Ethical Writings of Joseph Owens, edited by Dennis J. Billy and Terence Kennedy (Roma: Editiones Academiae Alphonsianae, 1996), p.14] return to text

10 Robert Royal, "The Forgetfulness of Beings," Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy. Edited by Roman T. Ciapalo (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997), p. 209. See my review, Roman T. Ciapalo (ed.), Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy, Baltimore: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996, pp. 1 - 294. American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, forthcoming. At a recent conference sponsored by the University of Notre Dame Law School, Joseph Boyle, President of St. Michael's in Toronto began his lecture on religion and society with the talk of philosophical orthodoxy, using phrases such as: "principles of reality"; "fundamentally good and the true"; "objectively good"; "objectively, rational, religious demand"; and "the Transcendent perspective". During the question period my query (written beforehand) was this: "I can offer motivation for action, reasons for behavior, without reference to 'principles of reality' and the 'objectively good'. I am dubious that we must categorize issues of alienation, sin, and failure [his stated issues] under these principles because of the realization that the 'objective, rational, religious demand' is often used as a substitute for conversation and more often than not rhetoric to sustain religious conservativism. The rational appeal has been used historically for the justification of slavery, subjugation of women, and capital punishment. So my question is how much consideration have you given to the problematization of these terms as undergirding your sense of moral obligation?" Boyle could only say that the alternative is relativism or some sort of "postmodernism". return to text

11 Mackintosh, speaking about Troeltsch's rigid principles of historical investigation, put the problem in a way comparable to the moral realist view of ethical theory: "The possibilities have been fixed in advance; the facts are compelled to fit the method by which they are to be treated; just as, though an automatic machine when opened may disgorge nothing but unbent pennies, this is not because the outer world is made up of unbent pennies and nothing else, but because the selective mechanism at work will accept no other sort." [H. R. Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology (London: Nisbet, 1937), p. 203] return to text

12 For example, Puolimatka cites Stout who says "I deny that the wrongness of torturing innocents is simply a belief we have that is justified by some expedient social convention. Knowingly and willingly torturing innocents is wrong, impermissible, unjust. It always has been. It would still be unjust if, after the general collapse of civilization, everybody was justified in believing it permissible, given the expedient conventions of the day . . . That is the moral truth of the matter, whether we recognize it or not - a truth I deem more certain than any explanation I could give of it or any argument I could make on its behalf." [Puolimatka, "The Problem of Democratic Values Education," p. 463; from Jeffrey Stout, Ethics After Babel. The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents (Boston: Beacon Press, p. 245)] Stout is right here. The wrongness of torturing children is not simply a belief we have that is justified by social convention. It is more than that, even on Rorty's position. Rorty can say, like Stout, that this is "wrong, impermissible, unjust" - but it is something more to say that it would be unjust even if everybody believed otherwise. Rorty would undoubtedly say that this claim makes no sense because truthfulness can only be assigned to beliefs possessed by an agent. On Stout's account, moral truths have a life of their own. return to text

13 As Owens has further noted, "no overall agreement is to be found among philosophers, whether ancient or modern or contemporary, in their own explanations of the detailed ways in which philosophy influences human conduct. The views differ radically with each individual thinker. Also, the fact remains that people can be good citizens and good soldiers and good rulers without having had formal philosophical training. The track record of philosophy's conscious influence on the major events of human history does not glow with any notable brilliance." [Owens, Some Philosophical Issues in Moral Matters: The Collected Ethical Writings of Joseph Owens, p. 15] return to text

14 An example of this is Schall who argues that "the denial of God is not primarily an intellectual problem about proving God's existence but a spiritual problem, a murder in fact. There are basic questions that we refuse to ask so that our problem is not really intellectual but spiritual, a problem of will and not of intellect." [James V. Schall, S.J., "Our Postmodernism and the 'Silence' of St. Thomas," Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy. Edited by Roman T. Ciapalo (Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997), p. 209] Rorty's response is appurtenant: "We are quite justified in thinking as we do, but we cannot check our view of the matter against the intrinsic nature of moral reality . . . Nor will we get anywhere by telling those who think differently that they are out of touch with reality or that they are behaving irrationally." [Richard Rorty, Truth & Progress (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 7] return to text

15 Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 3. John Dewey described this view of philosophy in language very similar to Rorty's description: "Philosophy is therefore the last and highest term in pure contemplation. Whatever may be said for any other kind of knowledge, philosophy is self-enclosed. It has nothing to do beyond itself; it has no aim or purpose or function - except to be philosophy - that is, pure, self-sufficing beholding of ultimate reality." [John Dewey, Reconstruction in Philosophy (New York: The New American Library, 1950) p. 99] return to text

16 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, pp. 366-367. return to text

17 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 367. The logical positivists serve as the paradigm case in this regard. Rorty notes that "[t]hese philosophers were impressed by the fact that science had explained a good deal about how the atoms came together to make up molecules, molecules to make cells, cells to make organs, and so on . . . They thought that science was coextensive with empirical knowledge, and that those parts of the academy that were not scientific - should hang their heads in shame. They believed that the philosophers who disagreed with them should be especially ashamed, for these philosophers were, they claimed, producing "cognitively meaningless utterances." [Richard Rorty, "Against Unity," The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1998, p. 31] return to text

18 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 367. Elsewhere Rorty states that "[t]he world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not." [Richard Rorty, Contingency, irony, and solidarity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 5] "[W]e should view inquiry as a way of using reality. So the relation between our truth-claims and the rest of the world is causal rather than representational. It causes us to hold beliefs, and we continue to hold the beliefs which prove to be reliable guides to getting what we want." [Richard Rorty, "Truth Without Correspondence to Reality," unpublished manuscript, p. 7] And, "[t]he world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not." [Rorty, Contingency, irony, and solidarity, p. 5] return to text

19 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 368. return to text

20 That is, "Sometimes, of course, they [sic] are pictures or representations, as when we use an illustrated dictionary or field guides to identify birds or wanted posters identifying criminals. Then we have representations in the proper sense - items some of whose parts can be correlated one-to-one with parts of the thing being represented (a condition that obviously does not hold for most sentences or beliefs.)" [Rorty, Truth & Progress, p. 96] return to text

21 Richard Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 12. The sense in which the moral agent is affected by his or her cultural environment and tradition is especially important to recognize. As Luk…s stressed, "human agents, as historical agents, act not as isolated individuals but as members of a group who both constitute history by their collective actions and understand what they are doing. This entails, Luk…s and Goldmann claim, that our knowledge of man in society will not in its most important aspects be an objective non-normative knowledge." [Kai Nielsen, "Class Conflict, Marxism, and the Good-Reasons Approach," Why Be Moral? (New York: Prometheus Books, 1989, p. 131] return to text

22 Rorty notes that "Heidegger suggests that our sense of exasperation is just one more product of the notion that philosophy is supposed to be a competition between arguments, a notion which we get from Plato and whose consequences, two thousand years later, were positivism and nihilism." [Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 38] return to text

23 Rorty contends that "edifying philosophers have to decry the very notion of having a view, while avoiding having a view about having views." On this point he notes that Heidegger's Die Zeit des Weltbildes (translated as "The Age of the World-View" by Marjorie Grene in Boundary II (1976() is the best discussion of this difficulty that he has seen. (Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 371( return to text

24 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 392. Then what is Rorty's post-Philosophical role for philosophy? While he has been accused of trying to jettison philosophy in its entirety, Rorty's position is quite different: "To say that philosophy might end is not to say that holding large views might become unfashionable, or that philosophy departments might be plowed under, but rather to say that a certain cultural tradition might die out." [Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 32] Moreover, "[t]here is a difference between hoping for the end of 'Philosophy 101' and hoping for the end of philosophy . . . I hope that we never stop reading, e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Dewey, and Heidegger, but also that we may, sooner or later, stop trying to sucker the freshmen into taking an interest in 'the problem of the external world' and 'the problem of other minds'." [Richard Rorty, "Putnam and the Relativist Menace," The Journal of Philosophy, 90, 9, September 1993, pp. 446-447] return to text

25 Rorty, Truth & Progress, p. 3; emphasis his. It is worth noting that "Granted that 'true' as an absolute term, its conditions of application will always be relative. For there is no such thing as belief being justified sans phrase - justified once and for all - for the same reason that there is no such thing as a belief that can be known, once and for all, to be indubitable. There are plenty of beliefs (e.g., "Two and two are four"; "The Holocaust took place") about which nobody with whom we bother to argue has any doubt. But there are no beliefs that can be known to be immune to all possible doubt." [Rorty, Truth & Progress, p. 2] return to text

26 Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth, p. 23. return to text

27 Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth, p. 64. return to text

28 Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth, p. 22. In another place Rorty has a slight variant on this statement by James; namely as "what is better for us to believe." (Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 10; emphasis mine) return to text

29 Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, p. 10 return to text

30 "I have often cited Dewey's doctrine that 'the distinctive office, problems and subject-matter of philosophy grow out of stresses and strains in the community life in which a given form of philosophy arises.'" [Rorty, Truth & Progress, p. 5; from John Dewey's, Reconstruction in Philosophy (Boston: Beacon Press, 1948), p. v] return to text

31 Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth, p. 13. return to text

32 Richard Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), p. 18. return to text

33 Rorty, charged with relativism by Putnam, states, "I entirely agree with, and fervently applaud [Putnam's] relativist - bashing remark: 'Relativism, just as much as Realism, assumes that one can stand within one's language and outside it at the same time.'" Rorty adds, however, "But I do not see how this remark is relevant to my own, explicitly ethnocentric position." [Richard Rorty, "Putnam and the Relativist Menace," p. 450; from Hilary Putnam's Realism with a Human Face (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 23.] return to text

34 Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth, p. 52. return to text

35 "[Philosophers] vaguely feel that it is their birthright to preside over the rest of culture, but they cannot figure out how to justify their claim." [Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 148] return to text

36 Paul Ricoeur, L'homme fallible, Finitude et Culpabilit‚ I (Paris: Aubier, editions montaigne, 1960), p. 66. return to text

37 Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth, p. 42. return to text

38 And it is unlikely that there will be any significant movement on either side. Rorty's observation about how each side sees this reluctance is psychologically insightful: "So the normal man sees the abnormal as not quite up to it - more to be pitied than censured. The abnormal sees the normal as someone who never had the courage to come out, and so died inside while his body lived on - more to be helped than despised." [Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 108] return to text

39 Richard Rorty, Ethics Without Universal Obligation, unpublished manuscript, p. 19. Characterizing further the edifying philosopher, Rorty states that he wishes to replace Habermasian universalism "with a story of increasing willingness to live with plurality and to stop asking for universal validity. I want to see freely arrived at agreement as agreement on how to accomplish common purposes (e.g., prediction and control of the behavior of atoms or people, equalizing life - chances, decreasing cruelty), but I want to see these common purposes against the background of an increasing sense of the radical diversity of private purposes, of the radically poetic character of individual lives, and of the merely poetic foundations of the 'we-consciousness' which lies behind our social institutions." [Richard Rorty, Contingency, irony, and solidarity, p. 67] return to text

40 Rorty, Objectivity, relativism, and truth, p. 33. return to text

41 Rorty, Against Unity, p. 36. return to text
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