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 1108496571, 9781108496575

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Cambridge University Press 978-1-108-49657-5 — The Cambridge Companion to Rorty Edited by David Rondel Frontmatter More Information

the cambridge companion to

RORTY This Companion provides a systematic introductory overview of Richard Rorty’s philosophy. With chapters from an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars, the volume addresses virtually every aspect of Rorty’s thought, from his philosophical views on truth and representation and his youthful obsession with wild orchids to his ruminations on the contemporary American Left and his prescient warning about the election of Donald Trump. Other topics covered include his various assessments of classical American pragmatism, feminism, liberalism, religion, literature, and philosophy itself. Sympathetic in some cases, in others sharply critical, the essays will provide readers with a deep and illuminating portrait of Rorty’s exciting brand of neopragmatism. david rondel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada. He is author of Pragmatist Egalitarianism (2018) and co-editor of Pragmatism and Justice (2017) and Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will: The Political Philosophy of Kai Nielsen (2012).

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ABELARD

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ADORNO

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ANCIENT ETHICS

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ANCIENT GREEK AND ROMAN SCIENCE ANCIENT SCEPTICISM ANSELM

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Edited by brian davies and brian leftow

AQUINAS

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ARABIC PHILOSOPHY HANNAH ARENDT ARISTOTLE

Edited by peter adamson and richard c. taylor Edited by dana villa

Edited by jonathan barnes

ARISTOTLE’S ‘POLITICS’

Edited by marguerite deslauriers and paul

destre´e ATHEISM

Edited by michael martin 2nd edition Edited by david meconi and eleonore stump

AUGUSTINE BACON

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BERKELEY

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BOETHIUS

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Edited by thomas williams Continued at the back of the book

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Cambridge University Press 978-1-108-49657-5 — The Cambridge Companion to Rorty Edited by David Rondel Frontmatter More Information

The Cambridge Companion to

RORTY Edited by David Rondel University of Nevada, Reno

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University Printing House, Cambridge CB2 8BS, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, NY 10006, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia 314–321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – 110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06–04/06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781108496575 DOI: 10.1017/9781108678261 © Cambridge University Press 2021 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2021 A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. ISBN 978-1-108-49657-5 Hardback ISBN 978-1-108-73395-3 Paperback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

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Contents

List of Contributors

page vii

List of Abbreviations of Works by Rorty

xi

Introduction: The Unity of Richard Rorty’s Philosophy

1

dav i d ro n d e l 1 Rorty’s Metaphilosophy: A Pluralistic Corridor

19

c o l i n ko o p m a n 2 After Metaphysics: Eliminativism and the Protreptic Dilemma neil gascoigne

42

3 Rorty and Classical Pragmatism c h r i s t o p h e r vo pa r i l

67

4 A Pragmatism More Ironic Than Pragmatic b a r ry a l l e n

88

5 Rorty and Semantic Minimalism s i m o n b l ac k b u r n 6 Returning to the Particular: Morality and the Self after Rorty

110

129

a l a n m a l ac h ow s k i 7 Rorty’s Political Philosophy

155

m i c h a e l b ac o n a n d a l e x i s d i a n da 8 Tinkering with Truth, Tinkering with Difference: Rorty and (Liberal) Feminism susan dieleman

179

v

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vi contents

9 Rorty’s Insouciant Social Thought

201

james t. kloppenberg 10 Rorty and National Pride g e o r g i a wa r n k e

222

11 Rorty on Religion stephen s. bush

243

12 Rorty: Reading Continental Philosophy pau l pat t o n

261

13 Rorty’s Literary Culture: Reading, Redemption, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies a´ i n e m a h o n a n d e l i z a b e t h o ’ b r i e n

284

14 Wild Orchids

303

ro b e r t w e s t b ro o k Bibliography

323

Index

345

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Contributors

Barry Allen is Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University. His publications include Empiricisms: Experience and Experiment from Antiquity to the Anthropocene (2020). Michael Bacon is Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has published widely in the areas of pragmatism, pluralism and democratic theory. Simon Blackburn retired from the Bertrand Russell Chair of philosophy in the University of Cambridge in 2011. His books include Spreading the Word (1984), Ruling Passions (1998), Truth: A Guide for the Perplexed (2006), and The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (2016). Stephen S. Bush is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. His publications include Visions of Religion: Experience, Meaning, and Power (2014) and William James on Democratic Individuality (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Alexis Dianda is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Xavier University. In addition to a number of journal articles and book chapters, she is author of a forthcoming book on the concept of experience in the work of William James. Susan Dieleman is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. She is coeditor of Pragmatism and Justice (2017), and the author of several essays on Richard Rorty’s thought, epistemic injustice, and deliberative democracy. Neil Gascoigne is Reader in Philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is the author of Richard Rorty: Liberalism, Irony

vii

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viii list of contributors and the Ends of Philosophy (2008) and Rorty, Liberal Democracy, and Religious Certainty (2019). James T. Kloppenberg is the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. He is the author of Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870–1920 (1986), The Virtues of Liberalism (1998), Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition (2011), and Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought (2016). Colin Koopman is Professor of Philosophy and Director of New Media and Culture at the University of Oregon. His publications include Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty (2009), Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity (2013), and How We Became Our Data: A Genealogy of the Informational Person (2019). Áine Mahon is Assistant Professor in Philosophy of Education at University College Dublin. She is the author of The Ironist and the Romantic: Reading Richard Rorty and Stanley Cavell (2014), and the coeditor of Stanley Cavell, Literature and Film: The Idea of America (2013). Alan Malachowski is a research fellow in the Centre for Applied Ethics at Stellenbosch University. He is the author of Richard Rorty (2002) and The New Pragmatism (2006). His edited works include Reading Rorty (1990) and The Cambridge Companion to Pragmatism (2013). Elizabeth O’Brien is a second- and third-level educator in Ireland. She has published and presented on the educative potential of reading literature, care as a capability of concern in Higher Education, and the role of relationship, particularly mentorship, in the development of the educator’s voice.

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list of contributors ix Paul Patton is Hongyi Chair Professor of Philosophy at Wuhan University and Professor of Philosophy at Flinders University, Adelaide. He is the author of Deleuze and the Political (2000) and Deleuzian Concepts: Philosophy, Colonization, Politics (2010). David Rondel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the author of Pragmatist Egalitarianism (2018) and coeditor of Pragmatism and Justice (2017) and Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will: The Political Philosophy of Kai Nielsen (2012). Christopher Voparil teaches philosophy and political theory at Union Institute & University’s Graduate College, Cincinnati. He is the author of Richard Rorty: Politics and Vision (2006), and the coeditor of The Rorty Reader (2010), Pragmatism and Justice (2017), and a new volume of Rorty’s writings, On Philosophy and Philosophers: Unpublished Papers, 1960–2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2020). Georgia Warnke teaches in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Riverside. She works in the areas of hermeneutics, critical theory, and feminist philosophy and is the author of five books, including After Identity (2008). She is also the editor of the volume Inheriting Gadamer (2016). Robert Westbrook is the Joseph F. Cunningham Professor of History at the University of Rochester. His publications include John Dewey and American Democracy (1991) and Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth (2005).

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Abbreviations of Works by Rorty

AOC

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in TwentiethCentury America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

CIS

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

CP

Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of

EHO

Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers,

Minnesota Press, 1982. Vol. 2. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. MLM

Mind, Language, and Metaphilosophy: Early Philosophical Papers. Edited by Stephen Leach and James Tartaglia. New York: Cambridge University Press.

ORT

Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers,

PCP

Philosophy as Cultural Politics: Philosophical Papers,

Vol. 1. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Vol. 4. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. PMN

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.

PSH

Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

TP

Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

xi

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Introduction: The Unity of Richard Rorty’s Philosophy David Rondel

Richard Rorty (1931–2007) was perhaps the unique philosopher of his generation. Admired in some intellectual circles, reviled in others, he was unique for the sheer breadth of his interests and expertise. In an era when philosophy was becoming increasingly hyper-specialized, Rorty seemed more to resemble the great polymaths of the early modern period, writing on a dazzling variety of topics – both the recondite topics of specialist philosophers and, more frequently as he grew older, public-facing contributions on politics, literature, and culture. He drew from an equally dazzlingly diverse group of thinkers, from Darwin and Dewey to Derrida and Davidson, from Freud, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, to Nabokov, Orwell, and Harold Bloom. It puts the point mildly to say that Rorty’s litany of intellectual heroes was an eclectic and idiosyncratic one. Writing on figures within the so-called analytic and continental traditions with (or so it seemed) equal familiarity and facility, it is no embellishment to say that Richard Rorty had a range of interests simply not found among his philosophical contemporaries. Rorty’s uniqueness as a philosopher is also partially accounted for by the fact that, throughout his long and distinguished career, he wore different professional hats. Early on he was a “thrusting young analytic philosopher” (TP, 10n5), a highly professionalized Princeton professor, and the author of tightly argued essays on specialist topics in the philosophy of mind bearing

titles

like

“In

Defense

of

Eliminative

Materialism,”

“Incorrigibility as the Mark of the Mental,” and “Functionalism, Machines, and Incorrigibility.”1 Later on he was a world-famous man of letters whose books and essays were cited tens of thousands of times, a MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient whose 1

2 david rondel reputation and influence were felt far outside the narrow confines of professional analytic philosophy. Yet Rorty’s uniqueness as a philosopher owed most to the astonishing constellation of views he held. He was simultaneously a “postmodernist” in his repudiation of “representationalism” and the correspondence theory of truth, and a “bourgeois liberal” in his politics. A man of the Left who also believed in the value and importance of American patriotism. A “raucously secular” atheist who seemed, at times anyway, to express his humanistic and democratic hopes in a quasi-religious vocabulary (PSH, 12–13).2 A devoted follower of America’s greatest theorist of democracy, John Dewey, who also took inspiration from decidedly antidemocratic thinkers like Nietzsche and Heidegger. Rorty was both a “non-reductive physicalist” – a naturalist through and through – and someone who believed that poetry (in his expansive sense of that term) was at the apex of human accomplishment. Rorty showed reverence for what he called “Wordsworthian moments” in which one feels “touched by something numinous, something of ineffable importance” (PSH, 7–8), while simultaneously concurring with Wilfrid Sellars that, “all awareness is a linguistic affair” (Sellars 1997, 63). In different moods he was philosophical gadfly, literary critic, cleaner of Augean stables, “syncretist hack,” skeptic, political commentator, “ironist,” and practitioner of “cultural politics” (TP, 10n5). Sometimes Rorty was a debunker of philosophy itself: he seemed to take a certain pleasure in asking impolite questions about the grandiose pretensions of professional philosophers. At other times he maintained, in a more buoyant tone, that “changes of opinion among philosophical professors sometimes do, after a time, make a difference to the hopes and fears of non-philosophers” (TP, 45). One could be forgiven for thinking, given the imposing range of his thought and the diversity of his interests, that Rorty’s philosophy was ultimately scattershot and lacking in unity. I believe that the chapters in this volume, considered as a group, help dispel that thought. Together they address virtually every aspect of Rorty’s

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 3 oeuvre – from his youthful obsession with wild orchids to his philosophical views on truth and representation; from his ruminations on the contemporary American Left to his various assessments of classical American pragmatism, feminism, liberalism, religion, literature, and philosophy itself. Sympathetic in some cases, in others sharply critical, the essays can and will speak for themselves. Together they will provide readers with a deep and illuminating portrait of Rorty’s exciting brand of neopragmatism. In this Introduction, I offer a sketch of some major themes in Rorty’s thought and try to indicate how they hang together in a coherent (albeit controversial) whole.

darwinism, anti-authoritarianism, and pragmatism A loosely “Darwinian” outlook was central to Rorty’s philosophy, much as it was to Dewey’s.3 Like Dewey, Rorty denied that human beings are in possession of an “extra added ingredient” which other creatures lack (TP, 186). All life – from the paramecia to the penguins; from the hummingbirds to the Homo Sapiens – is related and continuous. Rorty would often claim that the only interesting difference between human beings and other animals is that we have “extra neurons” which make us capable of becoming language users. This is a difference that turns out to make an important difference. It suggests that, unlike other creatures, we can change ourselves – our self-image and our hopes – in part by changing the words that we use. As Rorty narrated the story, Darwin helped make possible a new way for humans to think of themselves and their relation to the rest of the cosmos. His hunch was that coming to see ourselves in broadly Darwinian terms – as “slightly-more-complicated-animals” (TP, 48); “clever beasts” in Nietzsche’s memorable phrase – would help liberate us from “the notion that there are nonhuman forces to which human beings should be responsible” (CIS, 45). The belief that there are such forces, Rorty argued, represents the least common denominator between a belief in God and realist metaphysics. Both

4 david rondel are symptoms of what Rorty would call “authoritarianism,” the idea that there is a nonhuman authority to which our respect and deference is owed. Rorty labored long and hard to repudiate the spell that this “authoritarian” idea (in all its various incarnations) has cast on our intellectual life. His great synoptic hope was that we might “try to get to the point where we no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi-divinity, where we treat everything – our language, our conscience, our community – as a product of time and chance” (CIS, 22). To see ourselves as just one more contingent product of evolution, as having only “(although to a much greater degree) the same sorts of abilities as the squids and the amoebas will make us receptive to the possibility that our descendants may transcend us, just as we have transcended the squids and the apes” (Rorty 1992a, 590). Just as evolution is “blind” and lacks a telos – just as “nature is not leading up to anything” (PSH, 266) – so is there no set of beliefs and practices that would provide a conclusive answer to Socrates’s famous question about the nature of a good human life. After all, it is hard to fathom that there might be a way of life or a set of beliefs and practices upon which it would be impossible to improve, even if only slightly. Thanks in large part to the legacy of Darwin and the Romantic poets, Rorty’s story goes, Western intellectuals have increasingly come to accept that we ourselves “have to dream up the point of human life” and that we “cannot appeal to a nonhuman standard” to determine whether we have chosen wisely (PSH, 266): [H]uman beings (in the richer and more powerful parts of the world) have shown an increasing ability to put aside the question What is the meaning of human life? and to substitute the question What meaning shall we give to our lives? Men and women in the last two hundred years have become increasingly able to get along without the thought that there must be a deep truth about themselves, a truth that it is their job to discover. This has produced an increased ability to brush aside the suspicion that we are under the authority

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 5 of something not ourselves: that there is a narrator (roughly, God or Nature) of our lives other than ourselves, a narrator whose description of us must necessarily be superior to any that we dream up on our own. (Rorty 1995a, 71)

These are all positive developments on Rorty’s view. They should be celebrated and encouraged. An anti-authoritarian perspective was at the very heart of Rorty’s philosophy, central not only to his more professionally abstruse views on truth, justification, knowledge, and rationality but also – and much more dramatically – to his histrionic retelling of Western philosophy’s recent trajectory. John McDowell provides a helpful overview of the anti-authoritarianism that runs through Rorty’s work and is worth quoting here at length: The sense of sin from which Dewey freed himself was a reflection of a religious outlook according to which human beings were called on to humble themselves before a non-human authority. Such a posture is infantile in its submissiveness to something other than ourselves. If human beings are to achieve maturity, they need to follow Dewey in liberating themselves from this sort of religion of abasement before the divine Other. But a humanism that goes no further than that is still incomplete. We need a counterpart secular emancipation as well. In the period in the development of Western culture during which the God who figures in that sort of religion was stricken, so to speak, with his mortal illness, the illness that was going to lead to the demise famously announced by Nietzsche, some European intellectuals found themselves conceiving the secular world, the putative object of everyday and scientific knowledge, in ways that paralleled that humanly immature conception of the divine. This is a secular analog to a religion of abasement, and human maturity requires that we liberate ourselves from it as well as from its religious counterpart . . . Full human maturity would require us to acknowledge authority only if the acknowledgement does not involve abasing ourselves before something non-human. (McDowell 2000, 109–10)

6 david rondel This was Rorty’s big “hedgehog” idea. “I think of my work,” he confessed in an interview, “as trying to move people away from the notion of being in touch with something big and powerful and nonhuman” (Mendieta 2006, 49). The claim was not that an antiauthoritarian future of this kind would be more rational or more in touch with the intrinsic nature of reality. It was simply a promising long-term cultural experiment, a trajectory along which Western intellectuals might, with encouragement and luck, continue to travel.

antirepresentationalism, truth, and metaphilosophy Rorty spent much of his time debunking the grand, self-congratulatory aspirations of traditional philosophy (with a capital ‘P’), arguing, as did Dewey and James before him, that philosophers should dedicate their energy not to the “problems of philosophers” per se, but to problems that matter to everyday people. 4 The debunking effort for which he is most well-known among philosophers is his attack on the correspondence theory of truth, and, more broadly, on the idea that language or mind has the capacity to “mirror” nature – the capacity to “represent” the way the world really is. Since truth is a property of our descriptions of the world, and since we lack the ability to get in between our descriptions of the world and the world itself to make a judgment about the “fit” between the two, he argued that the correspondence theory of truth – the ancient, intuitively banal idea that truth consists in the accurate representation of reality – should be jettisoned. In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity he put the argument pithily: 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 human beings – cannot . . . The world does not speak. Only we do. (CIS, 5–6)

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 7 Rorty would often suggest that in order to make sense of the idea of truth as correspondence to reality we need an account of how bits of language (viz., our descriptions) might stand in a mysterious relation called “corresponding” or “accurately representing” with bits of non-language (viz., “the world on its own, unaided by the describing activities of human beings”). What would that even mean? And how might this mysterious “correspondence” relation be understood? He would also frequently summon the familiar verificationist idea according to which, even if we could somehow explicate the notion of “correspondence,” we would remain utterly in the dark about when or if it had been achieved. “We do not know what it would mean for Nature to feel that our conventions of representations are becoming more like her own,” Rorty wrote in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, “and thus that she is nowadays being represented more adequately than in the past” (PMN, 299). This was ultimately no cause for despair on Rorty’s view. After all, he shrugged, “We should not regret our inability to perform a feat which no one has any idea how to perform” (PMN, 340). If we cannot parse better and worse descriptions according to whether or not they correspond to the intrinsic nature of reality, then we should distinguish them in terms of what they do for us, in terms of how well they facilitate our multifarious needs for “coping.” Rorty believed that coping, and trying to find new ways to cope better still, is all we clever mammals ever do. There is no point in our development at which we cease merely “coping” with our environment in various ways and begin doing something magnificently different, namely, “representing” it. “Coping” goes all the way down on this view. Our most elegant theories, our best literature, and our most sophisticated science are just more complex varieties of coping. There is no higher kind of activity that “coping” might contrast with. On this Darwinian, antirepresentationalist view, one description of the world can be judged superior to other rival descriptions if it serves us in ways that its rivals cannot. The “useful–useless distinction,” Rorty urged, “can take the place of the old appearance–reality

8 david rondel distinction” (TP, 1). No description enjoys an intrinsic superiority over another, for once the notions of “correspondence to reality” and “accurate representation” go, so too does the idea of “the world itself” or “reality” adjudicating between competing descriptions. All of this makes it pointless to ask, for example: “Is the carpenter’s or the particle physicist’s account of tables the true one”? (PSH, 153) If neither account gets any closer to the intrinsic nature of tables (Rorty would have stoutly denied, incidentally, that tables enjoy any “intrinsic nature” which might be more or less closely approximated), then we must only ask which of the two accounts would better serve certain purposes in certain contexts. Words and descriptions on this view are like tools: some of them are better than others in virtue of their usefulness for the accomplishment of certain tasks. Rorty wrote at great length about truth and representationalism throughout his career, saying many deflationary (and sometimes irresponsible) things about them along the way. The brief sketch offered here obviously does not do justice either to the sophistication of Rorty’s views in this area, or to the tidal wave of equally sophisticated criticism he would receive for those views.5 But I think it is important to see how Rorty’s repudiation of the “mirror of nature” idea connects with, and springs from, the Darwinism and anti-authoritarianism that were so central in his thinking. I have argued elsewhere that, despite his grouchiness about the idea that truth is an interesting concept for which a philosophical theory is urgently needed, Rorty “was no less cognizant of the importance of holding true beliefs than any other intellectually responsible person.” He did not think that truth was “dispensable or unimportant,” and he knew perfectly well that “a world in which we lack any true beliefs is a world in which we are all dead.” What he fundamentally opposed – and this brings the connection with his Darwinism and anti-authoritarianism into sharper focus – was the “hypostatization of truth as some kind of nonhuman power to which our allegiance is owed.” What he fundamentally rejected was “the worship of truth: the kind of (Platonic) outlook which makes truth divine, the paramount end at which humanity

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 9 can take aim, and the corresponding faith that grasping it will somehow make us free” (Rondel 2018, 5–6). In the end, then, the focal point of Rorty’s attack was not truth per se. Rather, it was the “authoritarian” idea that there is something great and nonhuman before which we should humble ourselves, and simultaneously a rejection of the widely held assumption that truth is a “profitable topic” to which philosophers should devote their energy. As Rorty put the point, “To say that we should drop the idea of truth as out there waiting to be discovered is not to say that we have discovered that, out there, there is no truth. It is to say that our purposes would be best served by ceasing to see truth as a deep matter, as a topic of philosophical interest, or ‘true’ as a term which repays ‘analysis’” (CIS, 8).

between irony and liberalism In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity Rorty offered a portrait of a certain kind of post-Philosophical intellectual: the liberal ironist. The liberal ironist describes someone who has come to embrace many of Rorty’s central philosophical theses, someone who has fully adopted the Darwinian and “anti-authoritarian” self-image that was so predominant in Rorty’s thought. With Rorty, the liberal ironist denies that our words and sentences stand in relations of “fitting” with or “corresponding” to a nonlinguistic reality. After all, if words are among the tools we clever animals have developed to enjoy more pleasure and less pain, then it makes little sense to say that some of these tools are more or less in touch with reality than others (PSH, xxiii). The liberal ironist denies that our beliefs can be given “foundations” and that the various things in which the world is replete (quarks, human beings, liberal democracies, consciousness, academic disciplines, and much more) can be tidily explicated with necessary and sufficient conditions. Crucially, liberal ironists are prepared to affirm the deep contingency of things – of their language, their self, and the various groups and causes with which they happen to be in solidarity. They concede that things might have easily been otherwise and that in rather nearby possible worlds they would be

10 david rondel radically different people than they presently are. The liberal ironist, Rorty says, “faces up to the contingency of his or her most central beliefs and desires . . . [and] abandons the idea that those central beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance” (CIS, xv). Rorty would frequently claim that what is distinctive about human beings is a capacity for language, and that this capacity is a prerequisite for projects of self-creation, for attempts to forge for oneself a unique and interesting identity: All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes. They are the words in which we tell, sometimes prospectively and sometimes retrospectively, the story of our lives. I shall call these words a person’s ‘final vocabulary.’ It is ‘final’ in the sense that if doubt is cast on the worth of these words, their user has no non-circular argumentative recourse. Those words are as far as he can go with language; beyond them there is only helpless passivity and resort to force. (CIS, 73)

The liberal ironist, Rorty tells us, has “continuing and radical doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses, because she has been impressed by other vocabularies, vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered” (CIS, 73). The liberal ironist would regret it if Socrates turned out to be right – if there really was a final, universal ordering of worthy human ends – because she delights in expanding her ethical horizons by learning about different goods, interesting modes of life, and new ways of being human. Above all, she is consumed by the prospect of making things new, rather than discovering what has been there all along. She is forever trying to enlarge her sympathies, extend her loyalties, and seek out new modes of life with which to experiment. The liberal ironist is perpetually struggling for what Heidegger called “the hope for authenticity” – the

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 11 attempt, as Rorty explains it, “to become one’s own person rather than merely the creation of one’s education and environment” (PCP, 90). Rorty’s ironist is inflamed by the Romantic impulse summed up in William Blake’s couplet: “I must Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Mans / I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create” (Blake 1977, 651). To this end, ironists are constantly in search of better, more useful redescriptions of themselves. Their hope is to make the best selves for themselves that they can (CIS, 80). The seemingly obvious rejoinder, Best selves in light of what? is, I think, one that Rorty would have regarded as misplaced. As he noted in a 2006 interview, “Irony isn’t a spiritual path you might pursue. It’s just a matter of sitting loose to one’s present self and hoping that one’s next self will be a little more interesting” (Rorty 2006, 56). There are no neutral, noncircular criteria to which we can appeal to sort out our more and less interesting selves (any such criteria, after all, will themselves be embedded in a particular final vocabulary and so cannot be used to adjudicate conflicts between different final vocabularies). Apodictic certainty is simply not in the cards. Imagination and courage, not some set of epistemic virtues, are the relevant considerations here.6 Rorty discusses a handful of “ironic” figures in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, but unlike Nietzsche and Heidegger, say (both of whom were illiberal to the core) Rorty’s ideal intellectual was a liberal ironist, someone who, in addition to adopting an ironic stance about attempts at self-creation, also happens to agree with Judith Shklar that “cruelty is the worst thing we do” (CIS, 74). This may seem like an odd way to gloss what it means to count as a “liberal” (it indicates nothing about a commitment to individual rights or principled limits on the coercive authority of the state, or any number of other core liberal ideas), but I think the invocation of Shklar here is ultimately intended to bolster the secularism and anti-authoritarianism that would be ascendant in Rorty’s ideal liberal culture. “To put cruelty first,” writes Shklar

12 david rondel in Ordinary Vices, “is to disregard the idea of sin as it is understood by revealed religion.” Regarding cruelty as the summum malum is therefore a judgment made from within the world in which cruelty occurs as part of our normal private life and daily public practices. By putting it unconditionally first, with nothing above us to excuse or to forgive acts of cruelty, one closes off any appeal to any order other than that of actuality. To hate cruelty with utmost intensity is perfectly compatible with Biblical religiosity, but to put it first does place one irrevocably outside the sphere of revealed religion. For it is a purely human verdict upon human conduct and so puts religion at a certain distance. (Shklar 1984, 8–9)

Ultimately, the contrast between “liberal” and “illiberal” in Rorty’s usage is intended to distinguish between those who take themselves to have obligations to others and those who do not – between people who take the suffering and humiliation of others seriously and those who more or less shrug it off. On Rorty’s Shklarian definition then, “liberal” is simply a convenient shorthand for the kind of person who recognizes a set of ends not entirely subsumed by private attempts at self-creation. Irony and liberalism are wholly separable on Rorty’s view, the former answering to a private proclivity, the latter to a public one. Commitment to the one does not impel a commitment to the other, and conversely. Rorty knew well that history has produced many “ironists” who were non-liberals and many liberals who were nonironists.7 The more important point for Rorty, however, is that the kind of project to which an ironic orientation answers (self-creation) and the kind of project to which a liberal orientation answers (the reduction of cruelty) may turn out in practice to have little or nothing to do with one another. A person can strive to make her private life beautiful and her public life humane without worrying about how (or if ) these different strivings can be consolidated at the level of theory. We should eschew the thought that, somehow, these different kinds

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 13 of projects must be brought together philosophically in a “single vision” (PSH, 7): [O]ne should try to abjure the temptation to tie in one’s moral responsibilities to other people with one’s relation to whatever idiosyncratic things or persons one loves one loves with all one’s heart and soul and mind (or, if you like, the things or persons one is obsessed with). The two will, for some people, coincide – as they do in those lucky Christians for whom the love of God and of other human beings are inseparable, or revolutionaries who are moved by nothing save the thought of social justice. But they need not coincide, and one should not try too hard to make them do so. (PSH, 13)

And similarly: It is one thing to say that, for most of us, our sense of what makes our life worth living is bound up with our sense of responsibility towards others. It is another thing to say that no human being can succeed in separating his project of individual self-realization from such responsibilities. Some people, not all of them sociopaths, have succeeded in doing so. Maybe such separation usually produces pretty nasty selves, but that is another question. (Rorty 2001, 221)

redescription and cultural politics “Cultural politics” is a phrase that Rorty introduced to cover arguments about what words to use, as well as “projects for getting rid of whole topics of discourse” (PCP, 3). Cultural politics stands in contrast to ontology and epistemology. Whereas ontology and epistemology pose the questions “What is the fundamental nature of reality?” and “How can we know anything about it?” cultural politics instead asks “What categories and descriptions should we deploy in order to best pursue our long-term cultural goals and hopes?” Whereas the former involves “claims to knowledge and appeals to self-evidence” the latter involves appraising our norms and practices in overtly

14 david rondel political-cultural terms and “suggestions about what we should try” (TP, 57). The dispute about whether we should search for descriptions which aim to “get things right” (ontology/epistemology) or descriptions that promote our long-term social and culture hopes (cultural politics) is itself a question to be settled by cultural politics. Cultural politics “should replace ontology,” Rorty says, “and . . . whether it should or not is itself a matter of cultural politics” (PCP, 5). The activities of philosophers and other intellectuals on this view should become explicitly and self-consciously politicized: they should be carried out in the name of the kind of cultural shifts we want to see enacted, the kind of social world we want to see made. Rorty notoriously claimed that, “anything could be made to look good or bad, important or unimportant, useful or useless, by being redescribed” (CIS, 7). This is because, on Rorty’s view, descriptive choice mediates social meaning. Describing X in one way rather than another influences the way that X is seen, experienced, and interpreted. Describing a 1948 Middle East war as “a glorious moment of national independence” or as “the Nakba” will greatly influence how one construes certain conflicts and events. To describe being gay as “a wicked lifestyle choice” rather than “a harmless and naturally occurring feature of the human condition” will make an important difference to whether or not gays and lesbians will be accepted as full-fledged members of society. From a cultural-political point of view, then, descriptive choice matters a great deal. “When we say that Frenchman should stop referring to Germans as ‘Boches,’ or that white people should stop referring to black people as ‘niggers,’” Rorty says, “[we are suggesting that] our “sociopolitical goals – increasing the degree of tolerance that certain groups of people have for one another – will be promoted by abandoning these linguistic practices” (PCP, 3). Rorty would frequently take a “cultural-political” perspective toward philosophy itself. Philosophy is not a natural kind, he thought. It has no essence which it is the business of experts to uncover. Philosophy on this view is neither a Fach nor a strenge

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 15 Wissenschaft. Philosophy is (and will be) whatever philosophers make of it. Rorty urged that philosophers give up their time-honored pretensions to timelessness, purity, and a supposedly unique methodological “rigor” that no one else really knows how to deploy. They should instead try to steer their discipline in more public-facing directions, with an eye to broader cultural relevance. “The more philosophy interacts with other human activities – not just natural science, but art, literature, religion and politics as well – the more relevant to cultural politics it becomes, and thus the more useful. The more it strives for autonomy, the less attention it deserves” (PCP, x). To this end, Rorty suggested that “we look at relatively specialized and technical debates between contemporary philosophers in the light of our hopes for cultural change” (PCP, x). But aren’t some descriptions more faithful to their objects than others? And wouldn’t “philosophy as cultural politics” only be plausible if one denied that this were so? Paradoxical though it may seem, Rorty would occasionally deny that this was so. Such a denial seems less paradoxical, however, when we consider not discrete sentences but whole vocabularies – when we move from the level of “criterion-governed sentences within language games to language games as wholes” (CIS, 5): When we consider examples of alternative language games – the vocabulary of ancient Athenian politics versus Jefferson’s, the moral vocabulary of Saint Paul versus Freud’s, the jargon of Newton versus that of Aristotle, the idiom of Blake versus that of Dryden – it is difficult to think of the world as making one of these better than another, of the world as deciding between them. (CIS, 5)

If the world itself does not decide between alternative language games, the decision must in some sense or another belong to us. Decisions like these are obviously never straightforward or uncomplicated, but they are invariably political. They are political because every descriptive choice has consequences. Every language game will

16 david rondel place cultural valence somewhere; it will malign or commend someone; it will create, critique or conserve social meanings of some kind. Contests between rival language games are, then, at bottom, disputes about the kind of social world we want to inhabit. And since there is no way to opt out of language games altogether – since we will never find ourselves outside all language games – these contests implicate and impact everyone. All of this helps clarify why Rorty believed that arguments about what words to use are a crucial element in campaigns for social progress, why he believed that “redescription” names an important political activity. After all, popularizing alternative descriptions in accordance with long-term cultural and political hopes is what “cultural politics” is all about: Something traditionally regarded as a moral abomination can become an object of general satisfaction, or conversely, as a result of the increased popularity of an alternative description of what is happening. Such popularity extends logical space by making descriptions of situations that used to seem crazy seem sane. Once, for example, it would have sounded crazy to describe homosexual sodomy as a touching expression of devotion or to describe a woman manipulating the elements of the Eucharist as a figuration of the relation of the Virgin to her Son. But such descriptions are now acquiring popularity. At most times, it sounds crazy to describe the degradation and extirpation of helpless minorities as a purification of the moral and spiritual life of Europe. But at certain periods and places – under the Inquisition, during the Wars of Religion, under the Nazis – it did not. (TP, 204)

Philosophy as “cultural politics” does not follow as a matter of course from Rorty’s repudiation of representationalism and his celebration of irony. But once again, the radical anti-authoritarianism that runs through Rorty’s thinking provides the glue that holds these various ideas together. For cultural politics is more or less what “irony” looks like in public (Rondel 2018, 168). Whereas irony is

the unity of rorty’s philosophy 17 meant to be private and idiosyncratic, cultural politics is public and operates in the arena of shared language and culture. Yet their motivating impulse is more or less the same. Both represent attempts to give up on metaphysics and epistemology, to follow through on the anti-authoritarianism that was at the heart of Rorty’s intellectual vision. Both are attempts to replace objectivity with solidarity, finding with making, to replace knowledge with hope. Both are attempts, in short, to undermine the idea that there is a nonhuman authority (Truth, Reality, History, Human Nature, or something else) to which respect and obedience is owed. People may reasonably disagree about whether the antiauthoritarian future Rorty envisaged would be as inspiring and attractive as he believed it would be. But it should be clear that articulation of and advocacy for such a future was at the very core of Rorty’s thought. Viewed through the lens of such advocacy, Rorty’s philosophy can be appreciated as a coherent and largely unified whole.8

notes 1

See Rorty 1970a, 1970b, and 1972. These papers are all reprinted in MLM. Daniel Dennett notes in his brief forward to MLM that these and other papers from the same period “shaped the field [of “analytic philosophy of mind”] for . . . decades” (MLM, vii).

2

Consider as one example this striking passage: “My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate” (Rorty 2005, 40).

3

See Rondel 2011a.

4

Rorty used “Philosophy” with a capital ‘P’ to signify “following Plato’s and Kant’s lead, [the practice of] asking questions about the nature of certain normative notions (e.g., ‘truth,’ ‘rationality,’ ‘goodness’) in the hope of better obeying such norms” (CP, xv). The aim of (small ‘p’)

18 david rondel philosophy by contrast, which Rorty approved of, is (quoting Wilfrid Sellars) “to understand how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term” (Sellars 1962, 35). 5

The essays by Jürgen Habermas, Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam, Daniel Dennett, John McDowell, and Akeel Bilgrami (and Rorty’s responses) in Brandom 2000 provide a taste of some of this sophistication.

6

Rorty was adamant that “ironism” not be confused with “relativism.” If relativism names the doctrine that any belief or moral identity is just as good or bad as any other, then Rorty thought that no one – save for the occasional college freshman, perhaps – honestly subscribes to it (CP, 166 and TP, 43–62). For people who have gotten beyond the hankering for metaphysical objectivity, the impulse to glimpse things from what Hilary Putnam memorably dubbed a “God’s-Eye View,” “there is no such thing as the ‘relativist predicament,’ just as for someone who thinks that there is no God there will be no such thing as blasphemy” (CIS, 50).

7

While the relationship between self-creation and liberalism is symbiotic on Rorty’s view, self-creation is afforded a certain normative primacy. The point of a liberal social order, Rorty has it, is to facilitate opportunities for self-creation. Yet self-creation does not necessarily owe anything back to liberalism in turn. After all, there is a space in Rorty’s utopia for illiberal self-creators like Nietzsche and Heidegger. “The point of a liberal society,” Rorty maintained, “is not to create or invent anything, but simply to make it as easy as possible for people to achieve their wildly different private ends without hurting each other” (EHO, 196). In Rorty’s ideal liberal society, then, “discussion of public affairs will revolve around (1) how to balance the needs of peace, wealth, and freedom when conditions require that one of these goals be sacrificed to one of the others and (2) how to equalize opportunities for self-creation and then leave people alone to use, or neglect, their opportunities” (CIS, 84–5). I take up some of these issues in Rondel 2009.

8

Portions of this introduction make use of material from my Pragmatist Egalitarianism (Rondel 2018) and a forthcoming essay, “Rortyan Ethics as Radical Pluralism,” in Handbuch Richard Rorty, ed. Martin Müller, Springer.

1

Rorty’s Metaphilosophy: A Pluralistic Corridor Colin Koopman

“unabashedly metaphilosophical” One of the most remarkable aspects of Richard Rorty’s legacy is the sheer variety of the philosophical imprint from which his thought was formed. The breadth of Rorty’s philosophical acquaintance is staggering. How many other philosophers of his generation wrote intelligently and imaginatively about figures as diverse as Davidson, Derrida, and Dewey? Of those, how many also discussed Darwin and Dickens? I can think of no other philosopher of Rorty’s generation whose writings delve into just those five giants whose last name starts with the letter D. There may be today, among the generations following Rorty’s, an increasing number of philosophical writers who seek a similar range in their work. The aspirations of these philosophers are in many instances a testament to the way in which Rorty approached philosophy as a kind of labyrinthine hotel whose many rooms were occupied by all kinds of fascinating figures working away on all manner of astonishing ideas. Rorty’s command of such a wide range of philosophies, and even more so his generous engagements across them, are expressive of a kind of metaphilosophical pluralism that was largely missing in his own philosophical milieu and which, despite increasing acceptance over the last two decades, continues to be sorely missed today. Looking forward, Rorty’s pluralistic metaphilosophy will be of enormous value just so long as philosophy remains unsettled about how to account for its disagreements, which is to say just so long as philosophy generates needs for addressing metaphilosophical questions, which is effectively to say just so long as there is such a thing as philosophy.

19

20 colin koopman The importance of metaphilosophy to Rorty was clear from the first moment at which his work emerged as a major philosophical influence, namely the publication in 1979 of his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Many of that book’s most significant contributions were developed on “the ethereal plane of metaphilosophy,” to borrow a phrase of Rorty’s from an obscure early essay that preceded his splash-hit book by almost twenty years (MLM, 43). If Part I of Mirror is about philosophy of mind, and Part II about epistemology, then Part III (as well as the Introduction) is about metaphilosophy, for instance in its contrast between “systematic philosophy and edifying philosophy” (PMN, 365). The centrality of metaphilosophy in Mirror was noted in an early symposium on the book at the American Philosophical Association meeting in December of 1980 and later published (without Rorty’s presented rejoinders) in The Journal of Philosophy.1 Ian Hacking opened his remarks with a characteristically straightforward and correct assertion: “Richard Rorty’s book is unabashedly metaphilosophical” (Hacking 1980, 579).2 The other panelist, Jaegwon Kim, noted in his first paragraph why it matters so much that Mirror is so metaphilosophical: “In the past two decades or so . . . philosophers have shown little concern for metaphilosophical issues, and have blithely gone about the business of ‘doing philosophy’” (Kim 1980, 588).3 Part of the splash, or crash, that was Mirror was its having raised discomforting metaphilosophical questions in a philosophical milieu that was pleased to just do its business without bothering to question what that business was for. Rorty’s widespread reputation as a Socratic gadfly was earned in large part because he did not refrain from asking sharp questions of the discipline that most of his colleagues at the time, and many of our colleagues still today, would decline to take up. Mirror elaborated a philosophical perspective that developed themes which Rorty found common across the work of, in his words, “the three most important philosophers of our century – Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey” (PMN, 5). Numerous of Rorty’s philosophical

rorty’s metaphilosophy 21 interventions have been traced back to influences originating in these three thinkers. Yet one crucial aspect of Rorty’s thought has not been traced to any of the three, and I believe could not be so traced. Though Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey all explain something about Rorty’s philosophy, they each also explain almost nothing about his provocative combination of their three philosophical perspectives at a metaphilosophical level. Despite the voluminous scholarship on Rorty’s work, the specifically pluralistic quality of the metaphilosophy that informs nearly all of his philosophical interventions remains incompletely surveyed. In particular, there is little understanding of the sources from which Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism flows. In what follows I characterize and assess Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism. I begin in the first section with an excavation of Rorty’s metaphilosophy, its meaning, and its merits. I offer a characterization of Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism in terms of his signature idea of vocabularies. In the second section, I turn to developing an argument concerning a neglected source of Rorty’s metaphilosophy. I locate this source in an unexpected branch within the philosophical perspective with which Rorty most frequently identified his own views, namely pragmatism. In the final section, I turn to the consequences of Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism for philosophy itself. This concluding discussion needs be very brief. For if my arguments in the first two sections are correct, then a detailed exposition of the consequences of Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism would require careful engagements with nearly every aspect of his work. I leave those engagements to the other fine contributions to this volume, hoping here only to provide them with a kind of metaphilosophical preface.

understanding rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism was the response of a philosopher deeply impressed by the sheer variety of orientations and options available to any philosopher. Anyone who takes this variety

22 colin koopman very seriously, Rorty thought, will be inclined to give up on the quest to find the one true philosophy that would put all the others into their proper place according to terms they reasonably ought to accept. As such, Rorty was deeply critical of the classical stance of metaphilosophical monism: “The attempt to state the nature or the task or the mission of philosophy is usually just an attempt to build one’s philosophical preferences into a definition of ‘philosophy’” (TP, 9). Debunker that he was, there was also in Rorty a more important, and certainly more positive, impulse to blend, combine, and recompose philosophies in pluralistic fashion. Rorty sometimes denied the originality of his pluralism, but even his denials belie the dazzling range of his philosophical acquaintance: “I have sometimes been mistakenly commended for originality, simply because I often put apparently dissimilar figures – for example, Nietzsche and James, Davidson and Derrida – in the same box . . . I get restless, look for new heroes while remaining reasonably loyal to old ones, and so have wound up a syncretist” (TP, 10). Rorty elsewhere described his syncretism as seeking “a beautiful mosaic” within which one could “admire both Blake and Arnold, both Nietzsche and Mill, both Marx and Baudelaire, both Trotsky and Eliot, both Nabokov and Orwell” (CIS, 81). As this list makes clear, Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism was also metaliterary, or better yet, to employ one of Rorty’s own terms, metavocabulary. Indeed, Rorty’s signature idea of vocabularies is crucial for grasping the very terms of his metaphilosophical pluralism. Rorty’s onetime student Robert Brandom has observed that the concept of a vocabulary “plays a pivotal role in the philosophical world-view . . . that Rorty has been developing over the past three decades” (Brandom 2000, 156). I am not sure Rorty’s work is helpfully described as seeking “philosophical world-views,”4 but certainly it is the case that the vocabulary concept was crucial to both Rorty’s philosophical and metaphilosophical itineraries. Nearly twenty years on from Brandom’s observation, Clayton Chin reiterates the point that, “The idiom of vocabularies . . . is the central device of Rorty’s

rorty’s metaphilosophy 23 metaphilosophical project” (Chin 2018, 35). Taking up Brandom’s and Chin’s leads, I offer in this section, first, an explication of Rorty’s conceptual tool of vocabularies and, then, an exposition showing how that concept is central to an argument that Rorty employed on many occasions to motivate metaphilosophical pluralism. Despite employing the concept of vocabulary frequently throughout his works, Rorty never really offers a straightforward definition of the term. In many of his usages, Rorty employs “vocabulary” in a sense that is meant to be analogous to Wittgenstein’s notion of “language games.”5 A Wittgensteinian language game for Rorty is “a set of agreements about what is possible and important” (CIS, 48). Presumably, such agreements in language are, for Rorty, correlative with, as Wittgenstein himself held, agreements in forms of life or practice.6 Seen in light of Wittgensteinian language games, Rortyan vocabularies are the linguistic dimension of shared and interrelated practices. Rorty at one point describes vocabularies as the “set of words which [people] employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives” (CIS, 73). This and other passages make clear that Rorty’s vocabularies are indeed primarily linguistic. Despite his having repudiated the “linguistic turn” as a philosophical methodology,7 linguistic categories were nevertheless quite central to Rorty’s approach to philosophy.8 Rorty’s central of idea of vocabularies exemplifies his lingualism about philosophy. With Rorty’s concept of vocabularies in view, I turn now to detailing its place in one of his signature arguments: that the choice between rival vocabularies cannot be adjudicated by any single metaphilosophical vocabulary. This argument is at the heart of Rorty’s rejection of the classic philosophical quest to “fit everything – every thing, person, event, idea, and poem – into a single context, a context that will somehow reveal itself as natural, destined, and unique” (PCP, 90). In numerous writings, Rorty develops his argument against this quest by way of making a distinction between two levels at which we might philosophize: the level of sentences and the level of vocabularies. I shall consider two examples.9

24 colin koopman In his 1979 presidential address to the American Philosophical Association, Rorty allows that a correspondence theory of truth looks plausible when pitched at the level of “short categorical sentences” (CP, 162). But, he argues, if we shift attention from assertions like “this is red” to the wider vocabularies within which any such assertion must be nested, the correspondence theory begins to look hopeless. Debates at the level of a sentence, say about whether a bread-box-sized object is really red, are usually very easy to resolve. But when debates open up at the vocabulary level, say between a physicist and a painter quarreling over how to best describe some patch of redness, we are unable to settle matters. For when such debates open up, we cannot simply adopt the one best, or one most correct, vocabulary. For that, which vocabulary would be best, is precisely what is at issue. Rorty’s most interesting employment of his sentence– vocabulary contrast came ten years later, in the opening pages of Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. To set the scene, it helps to recall that the general project of that book is a historicist affirmation of contingency, or more specifically an affirmation of the limitless supply of transformations that the contingencies of history afford (CIS, xiii). No matter how impressive are the philosophical castles of one generation, they are always susceptible to being floated up into the air by later generations who will marvel at their vapory dissipation. The historicism central to Contingency is related to the central argument of Mirror, namely the rejection of conflating the fact of being caused to believe something with the status of being justified in believing it. Chapter IV of Mirror deftly combined insights from Quine and Sellars to wreck this conflation beyond repair (PMN, 165–212). The world may cause me to believe that the sun is rising. But despite being so caused I may nonetheless be unjustified in holding that belief (perhaps my conversational peers show me that I am hallucinating or that I slept a very long time to rise only just before sunset, or perhaps I live in a culture where religious reasons prevent devotees from holding beliefs about the sun on particular days of the month).

rorty’s metaphilosophy 25 Furthering this central argument from Mirror, Rorty argued in Contingency that the common conflation of being caused to believe something and being justified in believing it “is facilitated by confining attention to single sentences as opposed to vocabularies.” At the level of the sentence, Rorty noted, “it is easy to run together the fact that the world contains the causes of our being justified in holding a belief with the claim that some nonlinguistic state of the world is itself an example of truth.” But at the level of the vocabulary, or the language game, such conflation begins to look ridiculous. For at this level, “the idea that the world decides which descriptions are true can no longer be given a clear sense.” At this level, “It becomes hard to think that the vocabulary is somehow already out there in the world, waiting for us to discover it” (CIS, 5). According to Rorty’s argument, it is not the world that wants to be described in any particular way, that is, according to the words comprising any particular vocabulary. It is always we who do the wanting. The world does not care if we affirm the germ theory of disease or a predestination theory of sickness. It does not matter to the world if we employ descriptions that lead to our illness or even our death. The world does not care if we live through a battle to raise a flag in glory or if we die fighting for a worthless cause. But presumably these things matter much to us. The world is indifferent. We are not. Now, at this point a kind of realist rejoinder might be entered by the metaphysician. If we are not indifferent to what our descriptions yield, then surely we ought to adopt those descriptions that give us from the world just what we want from it. We ought to be willing to admit, for example, that the world itself compels us to affirm the germ theory of disease. For if we do not, so the objection goes, then the world will cause our illness, perhaps even our death. And who would want to die for having believed the wrong thing? Powerful as this objection seems, however, it misses its target. For the objection is targeted at a general claim of Rorty’s regarding the indifference of the world to any vocabulary we might wield, whereas

26 colin koopman the force of the objection stems only from its applicability to some of the vocabularies we might wield. The silent shift in scope can be registered by noting that it simply cannot be assumed about all purposes and contexts that there is something like a default interest in any specific thing, including one’s own continued survival. To assume as much is to remain willfully ignorant of cases where people choose to forgo that supposed interest, for example cases where people choose to die (be it because of tragic suicide, heroic sacrifice for a just cause, or dignity in the face of future suffering). Rorty’s point is that the world itself does not care if we live or die. On his view, someone who dies because their belief in a valiant cause outweighed the scientific evidence at hand is not for that reason wrong in the sense that they failed to be in touch with the world itself. They were just in touch with a different part of it than were those who survived. There is no perspective we could adopt whereby we would put ourselves in a position to say, for all possible cases, that some particular vocabulary, such as that of medical science, gets to override all the others. Thus, that someone dies out of adherence to a vocabulary cannot be taken as disproving their vocabulary. That we sometimes want to think that it is a disproof is only a mark of the distance between their vocabulary and ours, which is why it would never occur to us to take it as a disproof when someone dies heroically for commitments we share. Rorty’s argument shows that people can of course be wrong to hold a particular belief within a given vocabulary and yet cannot be wrong to adopt a particular vocabulary. His way of putting these points is to say things like “the world does not provide us with any criterion of choice between alternative metaphors” (CIS, 20). The world itself does not want us to live (or die) in any particular way. That is our business. It is a massively important business, perhaps the most important that there is. But the world cannot settle such matters for us. Yet Rorty also of course thought that some vocabularies are better than others. His point, then, is that the relative worth of vocabularies is determined contingently as a function of

rorty’s metaphilosophy 27 sociohistorical practice, rather than being a function of necessity as adjudicated by an august philosophical tribunal. With all this in view, the step from Rorty’s argument about vocabularies to his metaphilosophical pluralism is but a small one. All it requires is the idea that philosophical traditions or perspectives are one species of vocabulary. Rorty’s point at a metaphilosophical level, then, is just that the world itself does not care which philosophical vocabularies we make use of. Some philosophies are surely better than others, but their relative worth is not set by the world itself so much as by our interests, pursuits, and the histories within which all our strivings and sufferings are entrenched. Rorty’s historicism helps clarify these matters, at least insofar as the application of historicism to the history of philosophy yields consequences for metaphilosophy. Those who think that the world itself tells us which philosophy is right must be deeply inattentive to the philosophical variety that constitutes the history of philosophy itself. What that history teaches, Rorty suggests, is that no matter how right we think we (or our heroes) are today, “nobody is so passé as the intellectual czar of the previous generation” (CP, xl). One of the most interesting illustrations of the connection between Rorty’s metaphilosophy and his attention to the history of philosophy is found in an unpublished typescript dated from January of 1974 that appears to have been at some point a draft of an introduction to Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.10 This piece is one of many early writings by Rorty in which he is searching through the metaphilosophical thickets in quest of a reasonable account of the notion of progress in philosophy.11 In this typescript, Rorty considers the possibility that the history of philosophy might function as a kind of metaphilosophical arbiter for discerning the true course of philosophical progress. The hope that it might would seem reasonable in light of the idea that “whatever genuine controversy there is about philosophical progress usually takes the form of repositioning historical figures.”12 Yet such retrospective repositioning, Rorty argues, cannot avoid being just as “controversial as any other philosophical

28 colin koopman subject.”13 Not even the history of philosophy can succeed in settling what counts as philosophical progress. Quite the contrary, this typescript suggests, what it furnishes us with is something like an inductive case for how unlikely it would be that this kind of question would ever get settled. Impressed with what we learn from being historicist about the history of philosophy, Rorty held of philosophical redescriptions what he held of all vocabularies, namely that “it is never very hard to redescribe anything,” and that “anything could be made to look good or bad, important or unimportant, useful or useless, by being redescribed” (EHO, 4 and CIS, 7). Only someone blithely ignorant of the redescriptions furnished by the history of philosophy could hope to deny this. Rorty concluded that the world itself does not tell us which philosophical vocabulary we must adopt. Certainly not a relativist about philosophy, Rorty was a metaphilosophical pluralist. We start where we are and reach out toward other philosophies by engaging them, arguing with them, and understanding them. Rorty’s metaphilosophy remains important just insofar as contemporary philosophy has yet to adequately internalize this idea into its implicit practice and explicit conception of itself.

sources of rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism Having digested its intellectual justifications and motivations, I now move on to considering how Rorty arrived at his metaphilosophical pluralism. Recall that Rorty’s Mirror boldly proclaimed Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey as its heroes (PMN, 5, 368). Indeed each of these three is a source for crucial components of Rorty’s thinking. The linguistic perspective central to Rorty’s vocabulary idea clearly owes something to Wittgenstein. The historicism central to his recognition of the transience of all philosophies perhaps owes much to Heidegger. And the affirmation of contingency as at the heart of us linguistico-historical creatures sounds a decidedly Deweyan tone. But the writings of none of these thinkers can easily explain Rorty’s provocative combination of ideas central to all three (not to mention

rorty’s metaphilosophy 29 the additional fusion of a host of other philosophers in Analytic, Continental, and Pragmatist philosophy). If any of these three would have an intellectual claim as the source for Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism, it would seem to be Dewey, at least insofar as neither Heidegger nor Wittgenstein seemed all that interested in developing philosophical perspectives that might be thought to be forged by a combination of other philosophers. Dewey is also the most likely source for biographical reasons. Engaging Analytic thought beginning in the 1960s and Continental thought from the 1980s on, Rorty’s immersion in pragmatism came much earlier, beginning as early as his undergraduate and graduate studies and appearing in his very first article in 1961, “Pragmatism, Categories, and Language,” the first sentence of which claims, “Pragmatism is getting respectable again” (MLM, 16). From the early 1980s on, it was also pragmatism with which he most often selfidentified, noting once that Dewey began to occupy more of his imagination than Wittgenstein and Heidegger (ORT, 16). Both biography and philosophy, then, suggest a source for Rorty’s pluralism in his pragmatism. This much I affirm, at least at a general level. The precise connection here is, however, somewhat more unexpected. The particular source within pragmatism from which Rorty’s pluralism can be shown to stem is one Rorty himself remained largely silent about throughout his career. Before excavating this unacknowledged point of connection between Rorty’s pragmatism and pluralism, I want to consider a potential objection against the very coherence of a connection between metaphilosophical pluralism and any particular philosophical position. Does Rorty’s getting to metaphilosophical pluralism by way of philosophical pragmatism mean that he held pragmatism to be the one true philosophy from which he, as it were, deduced a metaphilosophical pluralism? This objection, obvious as it seems, misses the point of pluralism. Rorty’s claim cannot be that any and all metaphilosophical pluralists must, in their hearts, really be pragmatists. The whole point of pluralism is to engender suspicion

30 colin koopman of such inferences insofar as they rely on the necessary universalization of one’s own philosophical perspective. Rorty developed his pragmatism in a manner consistent with metaphilosophical pluralism, as evidenced by frequent claims that “there is no way in which the issue between the pragmatist and his opponent can be tightened up and resolved according to criteria agreed to by both sides” (CP, xliii).14 Accordingly, all that can be claimed on this matter, and all that I here do claim, is that philosophical pragmatism is one way of moving into metaphilosophical pluralism. In Rorty’s case it was pragmatism, among all the philosophical sources from which his work drew sustenance, that most significantly led him to metaphilosophical pluralism. One could, however, push the objection a step further. Can one actually be a metaphilosophical pluralist and also at the same time affirm any single philosophical position, such as pragmatism? This fuller objection also misses much of the point of pluralism. For if metaphilosophical pluralism means anything, it must mean holding one’s philosophical positions with an avid interest in other philosophical positions. That is, it would be nonsensical for metaphilosophical pluralism to forbid the holding of any and all philosophical positions. A requirement to forswear philosophy would be not so much pluralism as rather something else, like committed nihilism, or perhaps, in some situations, total indifference. But Rorty was anything but indifferent about philosophy. His metaphilosophical pluralism involves not indifference about, but engagement across, multiple philosophies. Rorty’s contributions across and between multiple philosophies embody what Richard Bernstein, a longtime interlocutor of Rorty’s and a fellow undergraduate at the University of Chicago, called “engaged pluralism” in his 1988 presidential address to the American Philosophical Association (Bernstein 1991, 336). Bernstein’s call was for a form of serious, studied, and sympathetic philosophical engagement across rival philosophical traditions and perspectives. That form of pluralism can only be tonic in the context of contemporary professional congregations where philosophical insularity is groomed in the graduate

rorty’s metaphilosophy 31 students and celebrated by the tenured faculty. Rorty on occasion mocked the kind of philosophical clubbishness that his pluralism worked against: “Most analytic philosophers feel a vague contempt for continental philosophy without ever having read much of it. Many continental philosophers sneer at analytic philosophy without trying to figure out what the analytic philosophers think they are doing” (PCP, 121). Anyone who feels the pull of both philosophical styles knows exactly what he here means. Having dispensed with an objection to the very idea of a pluralistic metaphilosophy, I want to now move on to ask what it is about pragmatism that draws it toward metaphilosophical pluralism. One potential answer, already foreshadowed above, is that pragmatism’s historicism leads us to pluralism, especially to those above-discussed aspects of pluralism that are motivated by the historicist recognition of the changing philosophical currents. But there are no doubt numerous other features of pragmatism that also incline it toward metaphilosophical pluralism: for instance, antifoundationalism and anti-authoritarianism. In Rorty’s case, perhaps what stands out most is the antirepresentationalism that he did more than any other pragmatist to articulate.15 Yet we would do well to note that not all self-described pragmatists would endorse this suite of commitments. These are the commitments of a neopragmatism whose classical influences stem mainly from the work of William James and John Dewey. James’s writings offer some of the most memorable pictures of pragmatism’s metaphilosophical pluralism. Perhaps the most impressive is his vivid image of a corridor pragmatism: [Pragmatism] lies in the midst of our theories, like a corridor in a hotel. Innumerable chambers open out of it. In one you may find a man writing an atheistic volume; in the next some one on his knees praying for faith and strength; in a third a chemist investigating a body’s properties. In a fourth a system of idealistic metaphysics is being excogitated; in a fifth the impossibility of

32 colin koopman metaphysics is being shown. But they all own the corridor, and all must pass through it if they want a practicable way of getting into or out of their respective rooms. (James 1987, 510)16

One does not live or sleep or dwell in a corridor, at least not in the way that you would in any of the chambers attached to it. A corridor, rather, is primarily a place of passage. James’s metaphor thus captures the processual dimensions of pragmatism that stand in contrast to the typical philosophical aspiration for unmoving positions. James’s corridor offers a metaphilosophy of transit that leads between and among philosophies in the plural. Rorty’s work, moving deftly between differing philosophical vistas, expresses something of that transitional style. Clarifying as James’s metaphor is, there is however no particular evidence that Rorty arrived at his pluralistic metaphilosophy, let alone his pragmatist philosophy, by way of this particular image.17 Rorty did develop more extended engagements with other aspects of James’s work, in particular his moral pluralism, in which Rorty found a spirit of generous philosophical tolerance that resonated with his own metaphilosophical pluralism. For example, writing on James’s presentation of pragmatism as mediating between hardnosed scientism and soul-soothing religiosity, Rorty endorses the quintessential pragmatist strategy of interpreting seemingly contradictory vocabularies so that they “need not compete for the role of What Is There Anyway” (PSH, 156). We can have both religiosity and science, both idealism and empiricism, Rorty follows James in saying, so long as we do not buy into philosophical foundationalism as underwriting either. James’s potential influence on Rorty noted, surely the most obvious source for Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism among the pragmatists would be Dewey. It was Dewey who, for at least three decades, was Rorty’s chief spokesman for pragmatism, and therefore for himself. It was also Dewey who, on Rorty’s account, did the most to articulate pragmatism’s contribution to the pluralism internal to liberal

rorty’s metaphilosophy 33 democracy. Rorty saw in Dewey a champion of the idea that “philosophers were never going to be able to see things under the aspect of eternity; they should instead try to contribute to humanity’s ongoing conversation about what to do with itself” (PCP, ix). That conversation cannot but be pluralistic insofar as it “has engendered new social practices, and changes in the vocabularies deployed in moral and political deliberation” (PCP, ix). Pluralism, in other words, is for Rorty the most likely outgrowth of “the connection which Dewey saw between antirepresentationalism and democracy” (PCP, ix). The passages I have been quoting are only a few of dozens of potential examples of Rorty’s invocations of Dewey as sources of a moral, social, and political pluralism. Yet for a source that leads to Rorty’s pluralism at the specifically metaphilosophical level we would do well to turn elsewhere.18 For Dewey never really reached the metaphilosophical heights of Rorty’s level of rigorous reflexiveness. And though he came much closer than Dewey, neither did James. However, at least one other pragmatist clearly did. The most important source for Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism is the underappreciated mid-century pragmatist Richard McKeon, a student of Dewey’s at Columbia University and later one of Rorty’s teachers at the University of Chicago. Peter Simonson has recently noted that, “McKeon occupies a key position between Dewey and Rorty” (Simonson 2019, 45).19 If that is right, and I think it is, then McKeon’s pragmatism has something to offer to our understanding of Rorty’s metaphilosophy that cannot be wholly accounted for through Dewey’s pragmatism.20 This holds even despite Rorty’s own proclivity for amplifying the Deweyan influence on his thinking and leaving its McKeonite motivations understated. Even the most self-reflective of philosophers are prone to become exempla of the cliché that the scholar fastidiously tracks their debts to the grandparents’ generation whilst they rigorously disavow their debts to the parents’ generation. McKeon may not loom large in the letter of Rorty’s writings, but he is nevertheless a deep even if mostly silent influence in their

34 colin koopman metaphilosophical background. Evidence is found in those few moments where Rorty did pierce his silence about McKeon. One prominent instance is on the first page of Mirror. Though the book’s announced heroes are Dewey, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger and its central argument most clearly relies on Quine, Sellars, and Davidson,21 the very first name that appears in the text of the book is actually McKeon’s, where it can be found in the second sentence of the Preface (PMN, xiii). From McKeon, and other of his teachers, Rorty claims to have learned that philosophical problems are “a product of the unconscious adoption of assumptions built into the vocabulary in which the problem was stated – assumptions which were to be questioned before the problem itself was taken seriously” (PMN, xiii). This is Rortyan metaphilosophy par excellence, explicitly attributed to McKeon. A second example can be located through an early 1961 review essay on metaphilosophy. Rorty there canvasses a view that he attributes to “the metaphilosophers’ metaphilosophers” (Rorty 1961, 301). These metaphilosophers see philosophy as a game of unending “communication” whose primary duty is to “keep the series [of arguments] going, lest communication cease” (Rorty 1961, 301–2). Rorty does not name McKeon in this piece, but he refers to the view, which he clearly favors, as “metaphilosophical pragmatism” and associates it with Dewey (Rorty 1961, 302). Though one would be hard-pressed to find this exact view in Dewey, it is in fact abundantly available in McKeon. Consider that Rorty here attributes the “pragmatic approach” to a book on metaphilosophy by Henry Johnstone, and that in an essay published the next year he establishes a parallel between McKeon’s work on “the history of philosophical controversy” and Johnstone’s “metaphilosophical studies,” namely that both show how the “choice of terms in which to discuss philosophical issues can, and usually will, irretrievably prejudice the outcome of the discussion” (MLM, 60). The implication is Rorty’s mature view that there is no “one grand unified super-vocabulary” that can unite and order all philosophical vocabularies (MLM, 60).

rorty’s metaphilosophy 35 A third piece, a posthumously published autobiographical essay, offers further insight. Describing his studies toward his undergraduate degree and then his master’s degree, both at the University of Chicago, Rorty notes that it was McKeon who “dominated the philosophy department at Chicago in those days” (Rorty 2010a, 5). Describing his doctoral studies at Yale, he noted that his dissertation “owed less” to the influence of his adviser “than to McKeon’s” in the way it developed “comparisons and contrasts between philosophers of different epochs” (Rorty 2010a, 8). The dissertation itself offers evidence for this retroactive self-interpretation – its first footnote states plainly that McKeon “has influenced the method followed in this dissertation” (Rorty 1956, xi, n1). Rorty’s autobiographical essay summarized this period in his career with the thought that his graduate training instilled in him a “McKeontaught ability to show how any philosophical position could be rendered impregnable to criticism by redefining terms and adopting alternative first principles” (Rorty 2010a, 8).22 Despite a handful of such references, almost all of them very early or very late, Rorty did remain silent about McKeon for most of his career. His autobiographical essay even suggests that by the 1960s he had sought to abandon the metaphilosophical pluralism of his early graduate training in favor of “some more constructive way of doing philosophy,” specifically analytic philosophy (Rorty 2010a, 8). Even if this retrospective self-description were accurate, Rorty’s immersion in analytic philosophy in the 1960s and 1970s nonetheless culminated in a return to a recognizably McKeonite metaphilosophy in Mirror.23 That book, and nearly all of Rorty’s work over the next few decades, expresses a metaphilosophical pluralism that resembles McKeon’s own historiography of philosophy. There are at least four ways in which Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism resonates with McKeon’s: acceptance of the impossibility of philosophical consensus, navigation of this impossibility by turning to metaphilosophy, affirmation of the potential positive value of philosophical plurality, and emphasizing communication as a means for

36 colin koopman engaging philosophical plurality. On the first point, consider how much McKeon’s 1956 essay “Dialogue and Controversy in Philosophy” sounds like Rorty avant la lettre: “It is improbable that invitations to dialogue will lead to philosophic agreement or cultural uniformity, and it is doubtful whether such agreement or uniformity would be desirable if they were possible” (McKeon 1956, 123). Second, McKeon also anticipated Rorty in finding a way out from this broken dream of the philosophers by way of moving to metaphilosophy – if Rorty was unabashedly metaphilosophical, then McKeon in almost all of his work was unabashedly unceasingly metaphilosophical.24 Third, on that metareflective plane, both also sought a pluralism, such that Rorty can be seen as taking up McKeon’s invitations to “a pluralistic philosophy which establishes a creative interplay of philosophies” (McKeon 1973, 207).25 Lastly, in their work of developing these pluralistic interplays, both aspired toward metaphilosophical dialogue. Rorty’s famous proposal for seeing philosophy as a “conversation” (PMN, 389), and his much earlier claim for “the function of philosophy as making communication possible” (Rorty 1961, 301), is strikingly reminiscent of McKeon’s metaphilosophical pleas for “a means of communication among philosophies” (McKeon 1952, 181). This last point of resonance is particularly important, given how central was the notion, as well as the practice, of inter-philosophical conversation to Rorty’s work. Back in the 1920s Dewey may have emphasized communication as the best means for reconstructing our social problems in his claim that “communication can alone create a great community,” (Dewey 1927, 324) and indeed he may even have gone so far as to claim that, “of all affairs, communication is the most wonderful” (Dewey 1925, 132). But it really fell to McKeon in the 1950s to elaborate communication as a specifically metaphilosophical perspective. Rorty’s later development, in the 1970s and beyond, of a vision of philosophy as “continuing the conversation” owes much more to McKeonite metaphilosophical pluralism than it does to Deweyan deliberative democracy, even if it resonates with both (PMN, 394).

rorty’s metaphilosophy 37

consequences of rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism I have quite liberally employed the term “pluralism” to describe Rorty’s metaphilosophy. But this is not a term that he himself ever employed in this sense.26 The word he himself most frequently averred for this purpose was “ironism.” Beautiful stylist that Rorty was, that particular contrivance was ill-fated, as Rorty himself conceded on at least one occasion (Rorty 1996a, 74). Although “ironism” is unlikely to stick as a philosophical term, the label matters little if I am right that what Rorty sought with that word is in fact what I have been describing as metaphilosophical pluralism.27 Rorty defines his ironist as someone who “has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she uses” whilst realizing that “her present vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts” (CIS, 73). The ironist sees “the choice between vocabularies” as something that cannot be adjudicated by “a neutral and universal metavocabulary” (CIS, 73). Insofar as philosophies are paradigmatic instances of vocabularies, the ironist is in an excellent position to realize that there is no single best way of resolving the impasses that arise between clashing philosophies. Some such impasses may come to be surmounted, but this will be a contingent matter of piecemeal adjustment, accommodation, or accident. There is no metaphilosophical system that could correctly confront and overcome all such stalemates, not only those of the well-studied philosophical past, but also those of the ever-unpredictable philosophical future. The ironist, deeply impressed with philosophical variety, cannot but be a metaphilosophical pluralist. In its strongest forms, which is how Rorty himself often expressed it, this pluralism carries as its consequence a recognition of the importance of engaging with as many philosophies (that is, philosophical thinkers, traditions, arguments, styles) as we can: “the liberal ironist needs as much imaginative acquaintance with alternative final vocabularies as possible” (CIS, 92). This is exactly what

38 colin koopman Rorty himself did. Thus did his writings roam over an exceptionally expansive range of philosophical vocabularies. It is therefore nothing but puzzling that so many of Rorty’s readers have balked at what they regard as an antiphilosophical thrust in his writings. Rorty was never opposed to philosophy.28 All he opposed were metaphilosophical conceptions that give credence to the blustery idea that one’s own philosophy forever breathes the final word. It is actually the metaphilosophical monists, those foundationalists and metaphysicians against whom Rorty so eloquently argued, who seek to bring philosophy, understood as a tradition of discussion and debate, to a close. Rorty, as much a metaphilosophical pluralist as anyone, wanted philosophical conversation to continue. Indeed he may have done more than any other thinker in the past half-century to foster philosophy’s perseverance.

notes For comments on previous drafts of this material I am grateful to Clayton Chin, Wojciech Małecki, Peter Simonson, and Christopher Voparil. I am also grateful to Susan Dieleman, Tracy Llanera, and David Rondel for discussion at a presentation at the Pacific APA. 1

Rorty’s unpublished reply is focused in part on the metaphilosophical issue of whether philosophy itself can be taken as a natural kind (RRP, B13F12, p. 1). Richard Rorty Papers, Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California (abbreviated as RRP).

2

Recent commentators concur, for example David Rondel in his claim that Rorty had “an unusually avid interest in metaphilosophy” (2011b, 150), and James Tartaglia in his that “Rorty’s work is distinctive in being primarily metaphilosophical rather than philosophical” (2007, 3).

3

Rorty’s book itself also noted “the present lack of metaphilosophical reflection” (PMN, 172).

4

As evidenced by claims of Rorty’s like “We do not need a synoptic view of something called ‘the world’” (PCP, 150).

5

For instances analogizing “vocabularies” to “language games” see CIS, 5, 48, 74; for a different analogy to Kuhn’s “paradigms” see CIS, 6.

6

Wittgenstein 1998, §23, §241 (pp. 11 and 88).

rorty’s metaphilosophy 39 7 In a 1985 address Rorty jokingly described his 1967 anthology The Linguistic Turn as “obsolete almost before it was printed” (1986c, 750); see also Rorty’s later afterword to a reprint of this anthology (1992c, 371) and his discussion of what not to take from the linguistic turn in a late essay titled “Wittgenstein and the Linguistic Turn” (PCP, 171). 8 There have been numerous superficial criticisms of Rorty’s lingualism – for a detailed discussion of why this perspective matters much see my arguments in Koopman 2011. 9 In addition to the two instances discussed below, see for other examples ORT, 5, 80 (vis-à-vis pragmatism); EHO, 38 (vis-à-vis Heidegger); TP, 74 (vis-à-vis Searle); and PSH, xxvi as a later example of how to be a pragmatist about the word ‘giraffe.’ 10 RRP, B9F4. This piece, dated 1/28/1974 on the final page, is titled “Chapter 8: Metaphilosophy” with the handwritten comment “Corrected Copy” at the top. Despite its labelling as an eighth chapter, it appears to have been written more as an early draft of an introduction to the project that would become PMN (in particular in its last few pages). In Rorty’s handwritten corrections, the original typewritten title of “Introduction” is crossed out and replaced with the new title of “Chapter 8: Philosophy,” but then in the same ink the word “Philosophy” is crossed out and replaced with “Metaphilosophy.” 11 See Rorty 1961; the two essays “The Limits of Reductionism” and “Realism, Categories and the ‘Linguistic Turn’” in MLM; the posthumously published “The Philosopher as Expert” printed as an appendix to the thirtieth-anniversary edition of PMN; and the unpublished “Philosophy as Ethics” (RRP, B44F12; undated draft material probably from the late 1950s or early 1960s). 12 RRP, B9F4, p. 4. 13 RRP, B9F4, p. 7. 14 See also CIS, 9. 15 Antirepresentationalism remains today perhaps the most influential philosophical impulse in Rorty’s oeuvre, as evidenced for instance by the deeply Rortyan cast of the important antirepresentationalist expressivism of Huw Price (2013). 16 The metaphor was not originally James’s – he borrowed it from “the young Italian pragmatist Papini” (James 1987, 510) who wrote of “una teoria corridoio” in a 1905 essay titled “Il pragmatismo messo in ordine”

40 colin koopman (“Pragmatism Tied Up”) which has never been translated into English. My thanks to Sarin Marchetti for discussion of the origins of this metaphor. 17 There are a few occasions on which Rorty referred to James’s corridor, but none approach a sustained discussion; the three instances I am aware of are 1991, 75; 1992b, 720; and 1999, 11. 18 There is, of course, a connection between metaphilosophical pluralism and moral-political pluralism. For discussion of this connection see Christopher Voparil (2014b), who notes that we cannot read Rorty’s metaphilosophy off of his moral-political thought. 19 For biographical details on McKeon’s place in Rorty’s thought see Neil Gross (2008, 106–11). To my knowledge, there are no full articles or chapters on the Rorty–McKeon relation, but only a handful of studies like Gross’s (2008), Simonson’s (2019), and mine (here) discussing this connection in passing. 20 My argument depends on affirming the strongly pragmatist dimensions of McKeon’s thought, a point on which not all commentators agree. I follow the account of McKeon’s pragmatism by Danisch (2015, 121–8). Given the contrary view that McKeon was not primarily a pragmatist in his approach to the history of philosophy, my argument would have to be adjusted to claim that Rorty’s metaphilosophical pluralism is informed by the pluralistic approach to the history of philosophy endorsed by McKeon. Such an argument would still need to address the place of pragmatism in the historiography of philosophy developed by Rorty in light of McKeon’s work on the same. 21 On the former trio, see PMN, 5, 368; on the latter trio, see PMN, xiii, 7, 317 and ORT, 1. 22 Rorty is, however, on the whole not very favorable toward McKeon in this piece; he is even more reticent in an earlier 1993 autobiographical essay (PSH, 8). 23 Rorty himself affirmed this in an interview where he described Mirror as playing “the old McKeonite trick of taking the larger historical view” (Mendieta 2006, 19). 24 McKeon’s metaphilosophy is at its highest pitch in his projects of historical semantics and philosophical semantics (see 1952, 170–92). Historical and philosophical semantics are also the two McKeonite methods that Rorty named as influencing his dissertation (Rorty 1956, xi, note 1).

rorty’s metaphilosophy 41 25 McKeon’s pluralism inflects nearly all of his work; see the essays in Garver and Buchanan 2000. 26 He does, however, come close in his discussion of “philosophical pluralism” in relation to pragmatism in PSH, 268–76. 27 For an alternative interpretation of Rorty’s ironism as “skepticism by another name” see Michael Williams (2000, 210). 28 Asked by an interlocutor if philosophy would come to an end, Rorty casually replied, “Certainly not . . . Philosophy will last as long cultural change does” (2000a, 218). For an argument that Rorty sought to transform, rather than terminate, philosophy see my discussion in Koopman 2013.

2

After Metaphysics: Eliminativism and the Protreptic Dilemma Neil Gascoigne

The reductive and eliminative versions of the identity theory are both merely awkward attempts to throw into current philosophical jargon our natural reaction to an encounter with the Antipodeans . . . they should both be abandoned, and with them the notion of the mind–body identity. Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature If as I was assuming people really could see someone else’s nervous system working, and adjust their behaviour toward him accordingly, then, I believe, they wouldn’t have our concept of pain (for instance) at all, although maybe a related one. Their life would simply look quite different from ours. Ludwig Wittgenstein, MS 169

naming, of necessity An early review (Nehamas 1982) of works characteristic of “midperiod” Rorty (PMN; CP) sets the latter’s opposition to the philosophical tradition against the backdrop of a most traditional response to antiphilosophical sentiment. In his Commentary on Aristotle’s Topics, Alexander of Aphrodisias attributes the following argument to the Protrepticus: if someone should say that one should not do philosophy, then, since “to do philosophy” means to investigate this very thing, whether one should do philosophy or not, and it also means to 42

after metaphysics 43 pursue philosophical study, by showing each of these to be appropriate for a human, we will entirely eliminate the proposal. (Wallies 1891, 149, in Hutchinson and Johnson 2017, 4)1

The question Nehamas goes on to pose is “whether Pragmatism can avoid the Protreptic Dilemma” in its attacks on traditional epistemology and metaphysics (Nehamas 1982, 401). More specifically, he asks if Rorty is successful in his attempt to bring about a “shift” from “Philosophy” with a big “P” to “philosophy” with a small “p”: from a genre named for “the study of certain definite and permanent problems” (CP, 31) to one that attempts to “see how things, in the broadest possible sense of the term, hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term” (Sellars quoted at CP, xiv, 29, 226). While acknowledging that Rorty takes these self-referential challenges “seriously,” Nehamas announces himself “rather pessimistic about the chances of . . . pragmatism escaping from . . . Philosophy,” albeit “quite optimistic about its place within it” (Nehamas 1982, 408). The influence of Rorty’s “late-period” works outside philosophy departments and their relative neglect inside them is evidence perhaps for the converse of Nehamas’s prophesy. In part this is because Rorty has empowered those located outside the discipline narrowly construed to simply ignore the sort of “big” technical issues that still serve to orientate many working within it. If, in response, the latter are inclined to judge the practices of these other intellectuals unworthy of the name of even a decapitalized version of “Philosophy,” a natural response might be: “Who cares? What’s in a name?!” This chapter is motivated by the conviction that the name is worth preserving because the work of Philosophers is important, albeit understood as contributions to philosophy. Correlatively, its claim is that Rorty’s “place” within Philosophy should be understood in terms not of someone who strived and failed to “avoid” the Dilemma but of someone who endeavored successfully to mount a proleptic vindication of its practice by redescribing it as part of that larger intellectual enterprise, “philosophy.”

44 neil gascoigne Before proceeding, there are two further points about Nehamas’s appraisal. Firstly, Nehamas is not drawing attention to the likely failure of Rorty’s attempt to change the conversation within – as it were – his own lifetime. Initially, his pessimism takes the form of an observation that Rorty’s use of terms like “scientific vocabulary,” “abnormal discourse,” “social practices,” and the related tendency to treat discursive activities as genre-variants of something univocal called “literature,” invite essentializing questions because they are themselves expressive of “a residual metaphysical commitment on his own part.” But it transpires that the inescapability of metaphysical thinking has a more elusive cause: “a very profound need indeed.” Nehamas doesn’t dilate on the nature of this “need,” nor on its relation to the compulsion to generalize expressed in metaphysical thinking, but it recalls Alexander’s formulation of the Dilemma. Accordingly, it is not the formal matter of Rorty’s purportedly “residual metaphysical commitments” that provokes pessimism but rather the diagnosis that the reflexive investigation into “whether one should do philosophy” is expressive of an imperative that is both “appropriate for a human” and which “is constantly pushing us” towards the sorts of generalizing practices that eventuate in such commitments (Nehamas 1982, 405, 408). The second point relates to what Nehamas characterizes as a “serious continuity in Rorty’s . . . intellectual development” between the “eliminative materialism” of the late 1960s (“early-period” Rorty) and the attempt to make the “shift” from Philosophy to philosophy (Nehamas 1982, 402). That “serious continuity” has subsequently been remarked upon by others. Robert Brandom thematizes Rorty’s contributions to philosophy from the “early period” onwards as so many iterations of the original insight that drives his eliminativism; namely, that “any normative matter of epistemic authority or privilege . . . is ultimately intelligible only in terms of social practices that involve implicitly recognizing or acknowledging such authority” (Brandom 2000, 159).2 Despite the “serious continuity,” however, Nehamas discerns what we might call a “shift” in the understanding

after metaphysics 45 of shifts in play here, for he sees the movement from “early” to “midperiod” Rorty as one that discloses the contrast between seeing such transitions in our patterns of linguistic usage as precipitating solutions to traditional problems of Philosophy (like the Mind–Body problem) to one that issues in a refusal to take them seriously. If we regard the latter refusal as expressive of the attempt to replace Philosophy with philosophy, the unstated implication is that the shift in “shifts” marks the track along which we see Rorty’s thought being “pushed” into the sort of metaphysical thinking that we noted above. Returning to our theme, Nehamas is correct to identify a shift in Rorty’s thinking about “shifts.” Rather than being the key to his failure to address the Dilemma, however, I will argue that the reappraisal of his own “eliminativist” response to the Mind–Body problem is crucial to understanding his vindication of the practice of Philosophy (as philosophy). In other words, Rorty’s response to his failed attempt to defend materialism highlights his awareness of the very determinants that Nehamas raises against his “revisionary” project for philosophy in the name of the Dilemma. From this perspective, the leveling that Brandom insists on in his retelling of the story of the continuity in Rorty’s thinking deprives us of the opportunity to identify the considerations which led the latter to problematize (what comes to be seen as) the “shift” from Philosophy to philosophy. But those considerations are what leads to the the discipline’s exculpation, so their neglect lends support to the view that Rorty’s post-Philosophical culture has no place for traditional problems. That is a mistake. Rorty’s “mid-period” works are important because they allow us to think of the work of Philosophy as part of something that is culturally significant. As such, they offer possibilities for pragmatism that are not constrained by Rorty’s own “blind impress” (CIS, 23). With that unaccustomed plea for the relevance of Philosophy in plain view, let us turn to the details of Rorty’s eliminativism, the problems it gave rise to, and the change it brought about in his thinking about the lure of metaphysical thinking.

46 neil gascoigne

the metaphilosophical significance of eliminativism According to Brandom, Rorty’s eliminative materialism was “the first genuinely new response to the traditional mind–body problem that anyone had seen in a long time” (Brandom 2000, 157). Rorty’s version of the identity theory, and corresponding defense of materialism, contrasts with the “translation” or “reductive” variety associated with Smart, Armstrong, et al. A proponent of a (mind–body) identity theory simpliciter maintains something like the following. It is “sensible to assert that empirical inquiry will discover that (I)

Sensations . . . are identical with certain brain processes.” (MBIPC; MLM, 106)3

According to the “disappearance” or “eliminative” theorist, the identity in question is not one whereby specific properties of sensations are redeemed as properties of brain processes; rather, the very existence of sensations is impugned, as when we identify unicorn horns with narwhal horns in order to eliminate any genuinely referring use of “unicorn” from our vocabulary. Writing two decades before Brandom, Rorty is less encomiastic about his achievement. Both versions of the identity theory are, he notes, “merely awkward attempts to throw into current philosophical jargon our natural reaction to an encounter with the Antipodeans . . . they should both be abandoned, and with them the notion of the mind–body identity” (PMN, 119).4 The moral Rorty appears to draw from his earlier work, then, is that in striving to “vindicate materialism” he was being “pushed” along a particular track by the “current philosophical jargon” (IMM; MLM, 169). This reflection is enlightening because MBIPC is presented as a “case study” in removing objections to (broadly) reductionist theories like materialism, the diagnosis being that these are motivated by categorical distinctions that appear inviolable only because our ordinary ways of speaking are as they are; that is to say, they do not reflect (how could they?) how we might talk in the light of future empirical discoveries (MLM, 106). The “shift” implied by Rorty’s retrospection suggests that his attempt to

after metaphysics 47 present such distinctions in a more contingent light was itself framed in a vocabulary that was insufficiently alert to its provisional status and therefore prone to being construed metaphysically (or Philosophically). To appreciate the broader significance of that “shift” is our task, so the first thing to note is that (I) is not a prediction that science will one day succeed in this endeavor; rather, the aim is to show that such a prediction “makes sense,” which involves removing the salient obstacle to such a view: the linguistic philosopher’s conviction that any “identification” of mental entities, properties, or predicates with physical entities etc. involves conceptual confusion. Since that in turn requires that one is able to distinguish changes in meaning from changes in belief, the argument for eliminativism offered in MBIPC is that a proposal like (I) appears to lack sense only because it is being judged from the perspective of a (current) vocabulary that could be changed by empirical inquiry. But if the current vocabulary enshrines the categorical distinctions that render expressions of (I) senseless, how in the absence of the actual discovery that would shape it can we conceive of that (future) vocabulary from the standpoint of which (I) is truth-apt? To get a better grip on the challenge here, recall the perceived shortcomings of the “reductive” version of the identity theory. When Smart asserts that “Sensations are nothing over and above brain processes,” the thought is that, although the identity in question is “strict,” since it is (or would be) an empirical discovery (like the water/H2O and material objects/clouds of molecules identities), it is nevertheless contingent – unlike purportedly synonymy-based identities (Smart 1962, 56–7). Now, in order to make the sort of empirical discovery required, one must have, as it were, distinct and nonsynonymous routes to the thing identified, as when one infers that: (II)

Scott is the author of Waverley.

However, if identity is indeed “strict,” then it would conform to Leibniz’s principle, according to which if two objects are identical then any property ascribed to one must be ascribable to the other. The

48 neil gascoigne concern is that in (I) the first-person (“reporting”) and third-person routes to the referent are in terms of properties that seem ill-suited to apply to each other. The putative conceptual confusion arises, then, because if my sensation can be nagging or dull or acute then the brain state with which it is identical must also be describable in those terms; and if a brain state can be located spatiotemporally and specified in terms of its neural complexity then so can the corresponding mental state. But as Cornman notes, in describing a brain state as dull, “we have predicated predicates, appropriate to one logical category, of expressions that belong to a different [one]. This is surely a conceptual mistake” (Cornman 1962, 77). Despite suggestions that specifications of the reporting/“mental” side could be given in “topicneutral” terms (Smart 1962, 61), variations on what is sometimes referred to as the “irreducible-properties objection” (IMM; MLM, 147) are generally regarded as “decisive against” “reductive” identity (Rosenthal 2000, 10). It is worth noting that the sort of theoretical identifications that Smart has in mind are not obviously in conformity to Leibniz’s principle: (III)

Tables are clouds of molecules.

(IV)

Water is H2O.

It seems “sensible” to maintain that while water is wet, slakes the thirst, and can look inviting, and material objects can be dropped from great heights, cut in two, and sat upon, these properties are inaptly applied to their complements. If asymmetries of this sort don’t undermine the intelligibility of the identity, then what the identity theorist needs to provide are not “topic-neutral” translations but some assurance that the property asymmetries that characterize mind–brain reductions are of this (metaphysically) benign form. Now, compare (II) with the identity that defines the theory (I). If the latter is taken as “strict,” we confront the “irreducible-properties objection.” But if we understand the identity in (III) and (IV) as “loose” rather than “strict,” we might then argue that, since a variant of the same

after metaphysics 49 “objection” could have been raised against them in the past, they should be the model for giving sense to (I). As we will see, there is a connection here with Rorty’s approach; but on the face of it at least, he proposes a more radical alternative to the “translation” form of the identity theory. Compare: (V)

Unicorn horns are narwhal horns.

Echoing Quine (1960, 241), Rorty suggests that in these cases the identity in question designates “the sort of relation which obtains between . . . existent entities and non-existent entities when reference to the latter once served (some of ) the purposes presently served by some of the former” (MBIPC; MLM, 108). The identities are elucidated accordingly: (I’)

What people used to call “sensations” are certain brain processes.

(V’)

What people used to call “unicorn horns” are narwhal horns.

On this form of explication, the relata of what are strict identities can belong to different “logical categories” without engendering the need for “topic-neutral” translations. Whilst first-order unicorn-talk involves the ascription of properties (purifying water, curing diseases, etc.) we wouldn’t ascribe to narwhals, the semantically ascendant version makes no such commitments. Similarly, the experiential properties reported in first-order sensation-talk will be the ones that disappear. And since these just are evidence of the mental on this account, the mind will disappear along with them and with it any opposition to Materialism. To return to the question that precipitated this philosophical flashback, the suggestion is that (I) appears nonsensical only if we insist on evaluating it from within our current practices. To propose a future use is to affiliate the associated standpoint with the retrospective evaluation (I’), much as we now regard unicorn-talk. Now, the very form of the explication What people used to call “Xs” = Ys

50 neil gascoigne is used to signify an in-principle elimination of X-talk in favor of Y-talk that would “leave our ability to describe and predict undiminished” (MBIPC; MLM, 114). As it stands, then, the argument in MBIPC turns on the intelligibility of explanatory equivalence. If in the future we could account for behavior at least as well by referring to brain states as by referring to putatively mental items, then reference to the latter might disappear from the language and we would conclude that – like demons and unicorn horns – there never were such things. However, the whole point of (V’) is to impugn the existence of unicorns and the legitimacy of corresponding beliefs. But if the referring use of “sensations” disappears, the obvious consequence – contrasting with our “loose” sense of identity – is that “people who have reported sensations in the past have (necessarily) . . . empirically disconfirmed beliefs” (MBIPC; MLM, 113). What distinguishes Rorty’s eliminativism from Quine’s (1960, 264) and Feyerabend’s, then, is his rejection of this implication: “people are not wrong about sensations in the way in which they were wrong about ‘unicorn horns’” (MLM, 113). Although contemporary critics commended this line for its relative subtlety (cf. Cornman 1968, 17), Rorty emphasizes its provenance: “all my new line amounts to is the suggestion that the reporting role of sensation-discourse could be taken over by a neurological vocabulary” (MLM, 203, n13). In this respect, what differentiates the argument in MBIPC from the competition is that it extends explanatory equivalence beyond the sort of descriptionprediction associated with the third person to incorporate firstperson uses of sensation terms. Accordingly, his proposal is that, under the empirical change envisaged, the referring use of “sensation” will in the future be taken over by the associated brain-talk. The “association” in question connotes the continuity of function: the brain-talk does all the describing and predicting that sensationtalk once did, but sensations qua sensations are eliminated. However, if sensation-talk does not commit us to necessarily false beliefs because we were unknowingly using it to refer to brain processes; and if narwhal-horn-talk fulfills some of the purposes

after metaphysics 51 now served by unicorn-horn-talk; why not conclude that folk had some true beliefs about narwhal horns even if they were using the term “unicorn horn”? That is to say, rather than risk vitiating the cognitive status of sensation-talk, isn’t the (relativistic) concern here that we render unicorn-talk respectable? Consider a further example: (III’)

What people used to call “tables” are clouds of molecules.

Although no one would conclude on this basis that tables don’t exist, let alone that beliefs about tables are false, the only difference that makes a difference between (I0 ) and (III’) and (V0 ) is one of degree. To account for the different elaborations of the basic eliminativist formula, then, Rorty offers a six-step schema (MLM, 116) by which linguistic practices might shift in such a way that an observation term might cease to have a referring use. Applied to (I’) and (III’), the key steps are from: (I’-2)

Sensations are identical with certain brain processes

to (I’-6)

There are no sensations

and from (III’-2) Tables are clouds of molecules

to (III’-6) There are no tables.

In the schema for (III’), “table” retains its referring function because no transition from (2) to (6) takes place. The “explanations formulated in terms of” tables are so good, “on the ground which they were originally intended to cover,” that we “feel no temptation to stop talking about them . . . it would be monstrously inconvenient to do so” (MLM, 117). And since “table” maintains its (inferential and noninferential) referential use, talk of tables remains true. This contrasts with (V’), wherein as narwhal-talk diverges from unicorn-talk,

52 neil gascoigne it becomes increasingly inconvenient to think of them as the same thing; so, while our linguistic practices might temporarily have sustained something like Donnellan’s (1966) referential use of “the unicorn horn” (reply: “it’s not a unicorn horn but I can see what you’re talking about”), that too will eventually disappear (reply: “sorry, but I’ve no idea what you’re talking about!”). Here the loss of the referential usage means there were no true beliefs about unicorns. What, then, of (I’)? Rorty offers as the explicit reason we don’t move from (2) in (I’) the same sort of pragmatic considerations as for (III’). But if “table” retains its referring function at stage (2) despite the “inprinciple” nature of the elimination outlined in the six-step schema, then why does “sensation” lose its referring use? Or conversely, if the in-principle nature of the elimination is all that counts, why doesn’t “table” lose its referring function? We’ll return to these concerns below, but let us reflect briefly on why they arise. As noted, the originality of Rorty’s eliminativism is to affirm a reporting role for sensation terms, albeit as unwitting reports of brain processes. But the intuition that drives the “irreducible-properties objection” is that the reporting role of sensation terms has uses supplemental to any explanatory role. Now, if it is to vindicate materialism, eliminativism must make sense of (I’) by pinning down each side of the strict identity. In MBIPC, the identity itself is asserted on the grounds of explanatory equivalence, but that doesn’t give us any way of capturing the distinctiveness of the lefthand side. Although Rorty recognizes that there is an epistemic “peculiarity” (MBIPC; MLM, 120) about first-person reports of sensations, his response is intended more as a diagnostic appurtenance, aimed at removing an obstacle to explanatory completeness. To that end he deploys Wittgensteinian considerations to show that attempts to hitch the concept of the mental to the authority of sincere firstperson reports through the notion of their “private subject matter” simply beg the question about the intelligibility of such a subject matter. That is to say, since epistemic authority (for example, about one’s being in pain) is the gift of concept-mastery, and such correct

after metaphysics 53 usage is a matter of meeting public criteria, one cannot be right or wrong about what is private. However, it is to IMM that we must turn for Rorty’s full account. Rorty acknowledges that the commonsense view of the mental – “the concept actually built into our language” – is “irredeemably Cartesian” in holding that it “must contain properties incompatible with properties of physical entities” (IMM; MLM 154, n16). The challenge confronted in IMM is thus to make sense of the mental–physical distinction by capturing the supplementary “peculiarity” of first-person reports and asserting thereby the required identity. But this must be done in such a way that it is evident how pragmatic concerns alone ensure that it doesn’t disappear, and along with it the referring use of sensation terms. The question is what is that “peculiarity” and how does its identification serve to vindicate materialism? The story here is much more familiar. Drawing on Sellars’s claim that “all awareness . . . even of . . . so-called immediate experience . . . is a linguistic affair” (Sellars 1997, 63) and the “Myth of Jones” wherein theoretical terms can take on a noninferential reporting role, Rorty concludes that the “criterion” of the mental – what makes the mental mental – is the epistemic property that certain reports have of being held incorrigible. But since “being held” thus and so simply nominates the “awareness” that members of a linguistic community have of the correctness of certain sorts of (contingent) linguistic moves, the normative authority invested in “being held” incapable of error is neutral with respect to content. If a community maintained that what variety of beetle a member had in her box was invulnerable to the scrutiny of entomologists, then “I have a whirligig” would be a (noninferential) report on a mental event (IMM; MLM, 167).5 Likewise, if there were no linguistic practices that invested reports with such authority, there would be no mental contents. According to IMM, then, the supplementary epistemic “peculiarity” of the first-person “route” to the asserted identity is elucidated as the contingent property of “incorrigibility.” But since their status as “mental” is vouchsafed to first-person reports by the

54 neil gascoigne linguistic practice rather than that practice merely representing an antecedent ontological order, there is nothing nonnatural about such contents. Of course, the fact that they are not nonnatural doesn’t quite get us to the full story. As we noted above, the aim is to vindicate materialism by showing that a proposal like (I) appears to lack sense only because it is being judged from the perspective of the present and not some (possible) future standpoint brought about by an (imagined) empirical discovery. Rorty purports to offer the materialist two proposals for thinking about that future: (ξ1)

The argument from MBIPC: It might come to pass that we are able to explain behavior “at least as well” without reference to mental states/features.

(ξ2)

The argument from IMM: It “might turn out that there are no entities about which we are incorrigible.” (IMM; MLM, 169)

Whereas in the event of ξ2 we would continue to use sensation terms but in the absence of the authority that marked them as “mental,” in ξ1 such terms might disappear from the language altogether and brain-process talk be used instead. But since “either of these changes would give the ‘eliminative’ materialist the right to say that it had been discovered that there were no mental entities” (IMM; MLM, 169), both ξ1 and ξ2 purportedly vindicate materialism. Beginning with ξ1: although this is intended to vindicate materialism, it can do no such thing, because the identity in question can only be asserted on the grounds of explanatory equivalence. But to take those criteria to exhaust what is relevant to establishing the identity in question is just to assume the truth of materialism. So the proposed future exemplifies the expectation that Peirce’s “method of science” will eventuate in a standpoint from which only the forms of inquiry associated with such a method will determine what is and what is not – what can and cannot be referred to.6 That future

after metaphysics 55 represents, as it were, the stage of thought at which the materialism that is true now comes to Geist-like “self-awareness.” Now, this Hegelian spin on Quine’s pragmatism is required to retain truth-talk for sensation terms, but it returns us to the concern noted above in relation to the schemas for (I’) and (III’): why does “table” retain its referring function at stage (2) but not “sensation”? For Rorty, the difference here is that while the in-principle elimination of “table” would not leave what “table” would as a consequence refer to at (2) – viz, clouds of molecules – belonging to a different ontological category, the in-principle elimination of “sensation” does. The identity in (I’) is not a change within materialism but seeks to show that a whole stretch of putative reality – the immaterially mental – would be eliminated. We can impugn existence and retain truth because, although the things we thought we were talking about (sensations; like unicorn horns) didn’t exist, we were referring to something (brain states). But since the (sensation) language we use continues to be fit for purpose, we won’t move to a point where – as with unicorns – we will displace such talk and as a consequence come to think of it as empty. But if we think of “fitness of purpose” in terms of answering to the appropriate norms for usage, then it is clear that strict identity requires that these are specified in terms of prediction and control. The truth of materialism is presupposed in order to impugn the existence of the nonmaterial. ξ1 highlights the tension between a pragmatic account of linguistic practices and a materialism that sets a priori limits on their associated standards of correctness. That becomes more acute when one turns to ξ2. On the face of it, Rorty is offering an account by which the supplementary “peculiarity” associated with sensation reports can be naturalized in terms of contingent but authoritybestowing linguistic practices. The fact that those practices might be – as it were – “de-Jonesed” without loss is thus intended to buttress the assumption of explanatory equivalence that underpins the affirmations of identity required to vindicate materialism; an approach presupposing the truth of materialism. But what Rorty’s analysis of

56 neil gascoigne the “mental” points toward is a radical pluralism in lieu of traditional ontology. After all, materialism is nothing if not the assumption that certain terms in our linguistic repertoire derive their authority from the world by virtue of the associated methods of inquiry. But if what makes something mental is related to its inferential role in our linguistic practices, then why not what makes something “material”? In that sense, Materialism can be contrasted with materialism (with a small “m”). We could say that in the future folk might be materialists, but the mere possibility that they speak materialese is no vindication of Materialism. Indeed, “materialism” is only a possibility on the basis of adopting the post-ontological pragmatist analysis of linguistic authority. And once we embrace the contention that what makes the mental mental and the physical physical relates to the acknowledged authority of social practices, then it follows that what makes something moral, aesthetic, or political is to be understood likewise. ξ2 makes evident the conflict between the pragmatist construal of normativity and the conviction that one is making a move within Philosophy (by vindicating Materialism). Purged of any association with explanatory equivalence and Materialism, the eliminative explication of identities associated with ξ2 becomes otiose. On the “loose” interpretation of (III) and (IV) mooted above, we rest content on the understanding that the property asymmetries are metaphysically benignant, and so are untroubled by the notion that “table” retains its referring function. Moreover, once we embrace the idea that the “ontological” imprimatur of a term relates only to its socially mandated normative standing, we can accept that all sorts of uses can be nonexplanatory without thereby sanctioning a non-Material realm. And as with tables and clouds of molecules, so for the association of sensations and brain states: the inferential roles of the respective terms can diverge without that precipitating ontological anxieties. Only the Philosopher qua Materialist is worried about such uses. We began this section noting Rorty’s deflationary assessment of his eliminativist vindication of Materialist identity. But what he

after metaphysics 57 latterly dismissed in terms of the “current philosophical jargon” registers an awareness that his thinking had been conditioned by a certain metaphysical picture. Rorty’s attempt to work through and out of that picture – the shift in “shifts” – can be characterized as an effort to elucidate the metaphilosophical significance of eliminativism.7 In any event, it characterizes the shift in his work that takes place in the early 1970s and which eventuates in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Key here are two deeply related bits of that Philosophical “jargon”: Reference and Truth. Recall that Rorty’s eliminativism is founded on the conceit that one might impugn the existence of certain items – and thus of what we can refer to – whilst redeeming the normative standing (truth) of claims made in their names. What seems to underpin eliminativist identity, then, is the following: (T)

“There are Xs” is true just in case what we use X-talk to really refer to exist.

As we have seen, the trick works only if we assume the (end-ofinquiry) Materialism required to ensure that what one refers to when one uses a sensation term is identical to what one refers to when one uses the corresponding brain-state term, because (i) they have the same explanatory role and (ii) that role exhausts the consequential. Without that assumption there is nothing to ensure an alignment of ontological commitments and justified statements: of what there are to really refer to and what can be said of them. The clearest example of Rorty’s development of an alternative “philosophical jargon” is his “Realism and Reference” (1976). In this he distinguishes three different uses of “reference.” Reference1 targets the casual usage according to which it means “talk about.” From this relaxed stance we refer to Harry Potter when we use Harry-Potter-talk and to injustice, SARS-CoV-2, and Donald Trump likewise. This contrasts with reference3, which carries the connotations of metaphysical tub-thumping associated with claims to have identified the actually existent. Whereas from the standpoint of reference3 the ontological order fixes the (“ready-made”) domain of what can be referred3 to in

58 neil gascoigne order to engage in truth-talk, from the commonsense, pluralistic standpoint associated with reference1, what we say truthfully about an X is determined by social norms and so, as a consequence, is what we “talk about” when we engage in X-talk. This disambiguation makes clear what went wrong with eliminativism; namely, that Rorty – under the influence of the “current Philosophical jargon” – conflated the ordinary and Philosophical uses of reference. That is to say, where the pragmatic analysis of the norms for the correct use of terms sanctioned the association of truth with reference1, (T) assumes that there must be some ontologically independent order to which one must ultimately be referring3 (albeit at the “end” of inquiry). Now, if the Philosophical use of reference3 is impugned in this way, what are we to make of articulations of the eliminativist formula? After all, they were used to “make sense” of conceptual changes. Purged of the old jargon, what status are we to accord the reflective stance of such formulations? Well, we have reference2. Like reference3, this is used to contrast present or past or prospectively past usages in order to contradistinguish their implied object with what is taken to be its real referent. But here the “real” does not indicate that the standpoint that is being adopted is metaphysically/ ontologically privileged, signifying instead that the linguistic practice in question is being reconfigured or redescribed in order to address inconsistencies and bring about (always temporary) coherence. So when one says What people used to call “Xs” = Ys this is not a matter of making the Philosophical claim that When people used to talk about (refer1 to) “Xs” they were really talking about (referring3 to) Ys but the philosophical claim that When people used to talk about (refer1 to) “Xs” they were really talking about (referring2 to) Ys.

after metaphysics 59 From this perspective, it is clear what the irreducible-properties objection amounts to. Recalling (I’), we now have two interpretations: (a) “Sensations” refers3 to brain processes. (b) “Sensations” refers2 to brain processes. If we ascribe brain-state properties using the referring3 term “sensation,” then sensations will turn out to have the same properties (a).8 But properties aren’t commutable in this way in (b), because the norms that determine what is said truthfully about (and thus determine reference1 to) sensations are not assimilable to those that serve likewise in the linguistic domain of brain-processes-talk. The metaphilosophical significance of eliminativism is that when Philosophy undertakes analyses that presuppose the intelligibility of reference3 it helps itself to the idea that it has available to it the criteria for determining the ontologically significant mode of existence (materialist, immaterialist, etc.). But the idea that what is is determined by social norms undermines this sense of privilege. Rallying calls for linguistic reform that express the eliminativist formula can then only be proposals for the “redescription” of current practices. With the abandonment of a “controlling” reference3 and the assumption of a monistic ontology goes the rejection of the idea that what the redescriptions are intended to ramify are the narrow purposes, values, or interests that the Materialist takes to be exhaustive. Accordingly, we might propose a linguistic reform that undermines incorrigibility in the hope that it will bring about a less individualistic and more collectivist culture; or, indeed, oppose such a reform for the selfsame reasons. “Redescription” knows no natural limits on its scope, then, but what does that tell us about philosophy as opposed to Philosophy? Before considering that question, we need to say something about truth. Intuitions relating to the Philosophical association of reference with truth go as follows: “There are Xs” is true3 just in case we use “X” to refer3. Instead we have “There are Xs” is true1 just in case we use “X” to refer1.

60 neil gascoigne We can associate true3 with the Philosophy’s “True.” Likewise, true1 is the pluralistic, entity-positing use associated with justification. But what about a correlate for the all-important reference2, which relates to the reflective standpoint from which redescriptions are proposed? Its role requires acknowledging that, since normative practices can change, the use of “truth” cannot be equated simply with justification. What is required is: “There are Xs” is true1 but it might not be true2. Rorty later nominates this the “cautionary” use of true, “reminding ourselves that justification [of S] is relative to, and no better than, the beliefs cited as [its] grounds” (ORT, 128). But that downplays its role in philosophy. True2 makes evident that to offer the sort of redescriptions associated with the eliminativist schema is to conceive of concrete communities of inquirers whose beliefs have been modified “in the interest of greater predictive power, charm, or what have you” (CP, 12). This may be Philosophically innocuous, but (contra Rorty) it is not “philosophically innocuous” (CP, 13). Rorty’s judgment that his dalliance with materialism was an “awkward attempt[s]” to “make sense” of “our natural reaction to an encounter with the Antipodeans” (PMN, 119) is typically revealing/concealing. As Wittgenstein would have it, such a meeting would be with a community whose “life would simply look quite different from ours” in divers and not fully accountable terms. The temptation to conceive wholly of such an alternative form of life in terms of some future standpoint derives from the seductive appeal of that “current . . . jargon,” which assumes that there’s a neutral frame of inquiry with which one can settle matters of truth3 and what’s real3. What Rorty comes to see, then, is that it is that jargon – the jargon of Philosophy – that has to be redescribed/eliminated. Whereas truth3 promises a standpoint on our linguistic practices – including the sentences of our Philosophical theories – that regards them as answerable to the World, truth2 concerns prophetic proposals for the sorts of sentences that linguistic norms might in

after metaphysics 61 the future come to sanction the use of. It nominates the standpoint from which philosophy is practiced.

splitting the de´ fe´ rance In “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,” Rorty writes: “I have spent 40 years looking for a coherent and convincing way of formulating my worries about what, if anything, philosophy is good for” (PSH, 11). If this appears to be at odds with my opening claim that Rorty’s “midperiod” works constitute a protreptic vindication of Philosophy (as philosophy), recall two points from Alexander’s formulation of the Dilemma. The first is that one cannot (as Cavell might say) mean what one wants to say if one attempts to pose the question “Should we do philosophy?” external to the practice of it. Making philosophy’s self-questioning intrinsic to its nature doesn’t render it immune from internal censure, of course. Since the self-questioning that is part of the way philosophy is being characterized is at the same time a source of instability, one might endeavor to “cure” oneself of philosophical restlessness by seeing philosophy’s task as to serve as a latter-day Pyrrhonian emetic. But as Kant says, such a “surrender itself to a skeptical hopelessness” would constitute no vindication of “a healthy philosophy” (Kant 1998, 460). The second point is that philosophy is to be exculpated by demonstrating that its selfquestioning practice is “appropriate for a human.” Given the centrality of human needs and interests to pragmatism, we can regard Rorty’s “worries” as attempts to conciliate the instability that derives from philosophy’s self-questioning with the requirement to satisfy some (perhaps “profound”) human need. In the period under consideration, this proceeded through an engagement with three thinkers in particular, and the motivating question ascribed to them is an expression of Rorty’s own “worries”: “‘Given that this is how philosophy has been, what, if anything, can philosophy now be?’ Suggesting . . . that philosophy may have exhausted its potentialities, he asks whether the motives which led to philosophy’s existence still exist and whether they should” (CP, 40). The “he” in question is

62 neil gascoigne Heidegger, whose views are helpfully played off against those of another member of the triumvirate, Dewey. As Rorty states, he has no “impartially sympathetic synthesis” (CP, 51) to conclude with: his sympathies are avowedly Deweyan at this point. Whereas Heidegger wishes to preserve something from the metaphysical tradition that we can attach the name “philosophy” to, Dewey sees no role for a post-ontological successor to that tradition (CP, 51). The idea that something goes missing in this reduction of Thought to metaphysical thinking recalls Nehamas’s criticism: Rorty’s rejection of Philosophy is at the same time a rejection of a deep human need that can itself eventuate in a regression into metaphysical thinking. But just as Rorty is critical of Dewey’s own lapses into metaphysics (CP, 72–89), his sense of what “shifting” reflection away from the Philosophical picture would be was (in part) born from his awareness that the attempt to vindicate Materialism itself constituted such a dereliction. What’s important here is the status of the “motives which led to philosophy’s existence.” Rorty’s objection is to seeing these as more than expressions of contingent human need by associating them – in the guise of Philosophy – with the “spiritual destiny of the Western world” (Heidegger 1959, 37, quoted at CP, 53). But if we think about the “spiritual” aspects of the “Western world” and its destiny in terms of the values and achievements of which we approve, and if we likewise read the works that make up the Philosophical canon as narrating a history of those achievements, there doesn’t seem to be much difference here. The objection is to the notion that texts of the canon offer us the only path to understanding “our” destiny. In other words, what Rorty rejects is the contention that they “speak” to us in the name of the truth3 about what is “appropriate” for the anti-humanistic “we” that we are. In their own ways, then, both Heidegger and Dewey make the same mistake: they assume that there is truth in philosophy. This brings us naturally enough to the third figure, who does indeed allow for some degree of synthesis: Wittgenstein. In “Keeping Philosophy Pure,” Rorty poses the Dilemma and our related question from a

after metaphysics 63 slightly different angle in response to David Pears (1969). Is there any way, he asks, to avoid the stark choice between regarding Wittgenstein as either proposing “one more dubious philosophical theory” or “not ‘doing philosophy’ at all” (CP, 22)? Crucially, he argues that this only becomes pressing if one reads Wittgenstein’s Investigations as a contribution to Philosophy. And the hallmark of Philosophical inquiry is that it centers on “attempts to . . . find something interesting to say about the essence of Truth . . . and . . . of criticisms of those attempts” (CP, xiv). Without a criterion of “philosophical truth” (CP, 22) – of what we’ve called truth3 – there is nothing to return metaphysics to “the secure path of science” (PMN, 384–5). But it is the restless, selfquestioning striving for that longed-for method or criterion that brings about the instability that precipitates what Kant calls the “euthanasia of pure reason” (Kant 1998, 460). What is required, then, is the discovery that “gives philosophy peace”: the one that allows the philosopher to “break off philosophizing” when she wants to precisely because, being “no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question,” it embraces a method according to which “Problems are solved (difficulties eliminated), not a single problem” (Wittgenstein 1998, 51). For Rorty, that “single problem” is the problem of truth3 and the metaphysical temptations that accompany it. He tops and tails his introduction to Consequences of Pragmatism with the following reflections: 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 . . . The question of whether the pragmatist view of truth – that it is not a profitable topic – is itself true is . . . a question about whether a post-Philosophical culture is a good thing to try for. (CP, xiii, xliii)

In terms of the eliminativist formula, What people used to call “truth3” is just truth1 (and that’s the truth2).

64 neil gascoigne To propose the redescription of Philosophy in the interests of a postPhilosophical culture is to suggest we replace a subject that invites metaphilosophical speculation “about its subject and method” (CP, 28).9 When Rorty designates the successor to Philosophy – “philosophy-as-vision” (CP, 31) – “Sellarsian,” the vision of “things” and how they “hang together” is of course wildly pluralistic. It designates “the sort of writing which generalizes so sweepingly that one has no other compartment for it” (CP, 28). But it doesn’t mean that involves the abandonment of whatever “profound need” or interests might be thought to have motivated Philosophy. Indeed, the proposed elimination What people used to call “Philosophy” is philosophy is advanced in order to vindicate what we find compelling still/appropriate for a human in that need under the heading of “philosophy.” But as we saw earlier, the “shift” that is proposed here is not metaphysically underpinned. We are still at the point where we use “philosophy” in this way in the prophetic mode of reflection associated with truth2. Indeed, Rorty’s proleptic vindication of philosophy (“asvision”) proceeds by proposing a standpoint for the reflective individual that expresses the human need to make sense of things in an expanded Sellarsian way but which does not suffer from the instability that the search for truth3 provokes. In his later writings, Rorty came to champion what we have been referring to as “philosophy” under the name of cultural politics. In his final collection of essays, he writes: “I want to argue that cultural politics should replace ontology, and also that whether it should or not is itself a matter of cultural politics” (PCP, 5). Instead of the above, we have: What people used to call “Ontology” is cultural politics. Rorty picked his terms to suit the times, but the reflective standpoint of the post-ontological eliminativist remains the same. There is no truth3, so all proposals are advanced in the prophetic mode of truth2. To return to our opening point, then: Nehamas’s pessimism is rooted in the

after metaphysics 65 assumption that Rorty fails to respond to the challenge of the Protreptic Dilemma because he is striving for an external standpoint on Philosophy. But it’s Philosophy that demands that standpoint in the name of (a criterion of ) truth3. And to reject that possible use of “true” amounts to a rejection of the very idea of such an external standpoint. Rorty’s erinaceousness (Rorty 2004d, 4) can be characterized in many ways, but this is the lesson learned from his dalliance with Materialism, and the understanding of conceptual change it gives rise to informs his subsequent work. At the risk of belaboring the point, this is not a rejection of what Philosophers do. Pace Heidegger, the metaphysical tradition is not redeemed because it lights a clearing in which we can see what we really are and what as a consequence is truly appropriate for us. It’s a seed bank of useful tools, a repository of wildly creative insights and proposals for how we might come to think of ourselves. Rorty’s “place” in Philosophy turns on the fact that he gives us a way of thinking about the history and technical aspects of the discipline that gives it a broader significance as part of philosophy. Writing about his “heroes,” Rorty observes that few philosophers indeed have had the audacity to suggest not only that Philosophy itself resulted from a mistake but that “we are not, even now, in a position to state alternatives to those false assumptions or confused concepts – to see reality plain” (CP, 40). The reason why Rorty’s work in the 1970s is of such importance to the destiny of contemporary pragmatism is that he vindicates the role of philosophy by presenting it with a different conception of what the reality in question “is.” It allows us to envisage a post-Philosophical age in which debates within technical philosophy continue to play a role in working out a vision of the future.10

notes Thanks to David Rondel and Michael Bacon for comments on an earlier draft. 1

Nehamas’s source does not include reference to what is “appropriate for a human.”

2

Likewise endorsed by Stout 2010.

66 neil gascoigne 3 MBIPC and IMM will refer to “Mind–Body Identity, Privacy, and Categories” (1965) and “Incorrigibility as the Mark of the Mental” (1970), respectively. Both essays are reprinted in MLM. 4 The Antipodeans are Rorty’s imagined race who, since they are raised to correlate verbal reports with the states of their central nervous system, have no distinctive role in their language games for sensation-talk and thus appear to lack one of the sui generis features of mental life. 5 See Wittgenstein 1998, 100. 6 For an exploration of Rorty’s relationship to Peirce see Voparil forthcoming. 7 In Gascoigne 2008, I refer to this “working out” as Rorty’s Kehre. 8 Note that “‘Brain processes’ refers3 to Sensations” might constitute an immaterialist expression of the same Philosophical standpoint. 9 On the metaphilosophy–philosophy distinction in neo-pragmatism, see Gascoigne and Bacon forthcoming. 10 See Gascoigne 2019.

3

Rorty and Classical Pragmatism Christopher Voparil

It may come as a surprise to those only recently acquainted with the pragmatist tradition that the figure most closely associated with its contemporary revival was, for decades, persona non grata in many pragmatist circles. As interest in pragmatism surged during the 1980s and 1990s beyond philosophy to other disciplines and across the globe, many were already sounding the alarm. The source of the concern was clear: Rorty’s alleged misunderstanding and even willful distortion of the core ideas and commitments of the classical pragmatists – specifically, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. As an analytic philosopher who had been seduced by the irresponsible thrills of postmodernism, the worries ran, his grasp of pragmatism was tenuous, and his motives suspect. At least one perceptive reader glimpsed the potential of Rorty’s work to “initiate a new stage of creative and scholarly work on pragmatism and the several pragmatists” (Brodsky 1982, 333). Much more dominant were laments that “Rorty threatens to undo Dewey’s work, rather than carry it forward” (Guinlock 1990, 266), and that his interpretations “threaten to affect the fortunes of the whole of American philosophy” (Margolis 2000, 535).1 Indeed, the figure of Rorty continues to function as a negative, fixed pole against which philosophers and intellectuals of all stripes position themselves. Virtually all pragmatists on the contemporary scene, whether Deweyan, Jamesian, or Peircean, “classico,” “paleo,” “neo,” or “New,” use Rorty as a foil to justify their stances. At times, his work seems an obstacle itself. Yet the wave of scholarship that has gained momentum since Rorty’s death in 2007 has buoyed hopes that his critical challenges and affirmations, still largely untapped, will be taken up in articulating the tradition’s contemporary relevance.2 67

68 christopher voparil This chapter aims to take Rorty seriously as an integral part of the pragmatist tradition by elucidating his efforts to reconstruct it. It eschews the overwhelmingly negative, critical tenor of most existing commentary on Rorty’s relation to the classical figures. Reading the classical pragmatists in nonpolemical dialogue with Rorty reveals limitations of the often static received images of Peirce, James, and Dewey that predominate in current debates, and promises to create space for new, fresher modes of understanding. It also establishes that Rorty’s stances on language, realism, the role of philosophy, and ethics owe more to the classical pragmatists than currently appreciated.3 Any mention of Rorty and classical pragmatism inevitably triggers questions about the divide between experiential and linguistic pragmatisms. The experience vs. language debate is too freighted with decades of baggage to attempt to settle here.4 Moreover, not only does the experience–language opposition obscure as much as it may reveal, it often blocks the road of inquiry. One way to clear a path is by historicizing rather than essentializing the opposition. Certainly, as Cheryl Misak has alleged, Rorty contributed to “setting up a false choice between language and experience” (Misak 2014, 29). Yet this choice was not always a live one for Rorty, or, lest we forget, for the classical pragmatists themselves. Misak’s reminder that both language and experience were important to the classical figures bears repeating. That both language and experience were important to Rorty would no doubt face firmer resistance. Yet an opposition between language and experience is not central to Rorty’s early work and is not a necessary axiom of his pragmatism, taken in full portraiture.5 That is, Rorty’s signature move to make conversation the “ultimate context within which knowledge is to be understood” (PMN, 389) is less a repudiation of experience than an affirmation of a social practice that includes linguistic and nonlinguistic behavior, as well as propositional and nonpropositional knowledge. Rorty’s social practice account of conversation, which in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature he dubbed, rather awkwardly, “epistemological behaviorism,” was not

rorty and classical pragmatism 69 based on a divorce of language from experience. Rather, it sets the linguistic against the isolated Cartesian mind and builds on a dispositional conception of meaning he gleaned from Quine, who in turn attributed it to Dewey’s naturalistic view of language and account of meaning as a property of behavior (Quine 1969, 27). Admittedly, I cannot defend these claims here.6 My aim is merely to enable sufficient suspension of disbelief to open a space where Rorty’s relation to classical pragmatism can be reconsidered.

rorty’s early encounter with classical pragmatism Hopefully, by now the once-common view that Rorty was an analytically trained philosopher who lost his faith and flippantly dabbled in postmodernist pragmatism has been successfully debunked. There is little to support the notion that Rorty was trained in the analytic style. The philosophy departments where he studied – the University of Chicago in the late 1940s and Yale University in the 1950s – were known for their pluralism and commitments to the history of philosophy.7 To be sure, Rorty made his initial mark as a professional philosopher through a series of influential analytic essays in the philosophy of mind, on topics like the mind–body problem, eliminative materialism, and the incorrigibility of first-person reports.8 But Rorty had picked up the analytic style largely on his own, for strategic professional reasons, without undergoing any deep indoctrination.9 Rorty was not only exposed to pragmatism but engaged it in significant depth prior to his forays into the analytic realm. At Chicago, the intellectual environment of the Hutchins College was decidedly not Dewey-friendly, given Robert Hutchins’s own crusade “against the pragmatist and ‘relativist’ legacy of Dewey” (Rorty 2010a, 5). Yet Richard McKeon, who may have had the greatest influence on the young Rorty, had studied at Columbia under Dewey and was familiar with debates between realism and pragmatism in the 1920s (Gross 2008, 107). Whiteheadian Charles Hartshorne, who supervised Rorty’s master’s thesis at Chicago, was a student of

70 christopher voparil Ralph Barton Perry and C. I. Lewis, who in turn had been students of William James and Josiah Royce, respectively. At Yale, pragmatism had a more positive presence. Rorty took classes with Roycean idealist Brand Blanshard and studied with Peirce scholars Rulon Wells and Paul Weiss, who chaired his dissertation committee. For a time, he was a graduate teaching assistant for John E. Smith (Gross 2008, 119–20; Rorty 2010a, 6–8). Rorty’s knowledge of Peirce was the most advanced by far. Yet he downplayed his early work on Peirce, recounting that he had devoted his “27th and 28th years” – roughly 1958 and 1959 – to a fruitless effort “to discover the secret of Charles Sanders Peirce’s esoteric doctrine of ‘the reality of Thirdness’ and thus of his fantastically elaborate semiotico-metaphysical ‘System’” (PSH, 134). A better indication is that by 1963 Rorty’s renown in Peirce circles, based on his teachers and early publications, was enough that Edward Moore and Richard Robin would invite him to contribute to the volume they were preparing to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Peirce’s death, an invitation nearly inconceivable even two decades later.10 In his earliest published essays, Rorty used Peirce (and Wittgenstein) to bridge pragmatism and analytic philosophy. In early writings, Rorty seemed to go out of his way to invoke Dewey’s name when he could, though without significant depth. Despite Rorty’s heralding Dewey as among the three most important philosophers of the twentieth century, neither Dewey nor pragmatism as such figures prominently in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, though he believed “there is a dialectical strand within analytic philosophy which fulfills itself in the American philosophers Quine and Sellars in a way which leads back to Dewey and the American Pragmatists.”11 As Rorty turned to social and political issues more directly in the 1980s and 1990s, Dewey became an abiding ally, often to the chagrin and even horror of Deweyans. James, understandably, doesn’t come up much in Rorty’s early work, as Peirce was the better conduit between pragmatism and analytic philosophy. But we know Rorty was exposed to James at

rorty and classical pragmatism 71 Yale via Smith’s seminars.12 Rorty’s teaching syllabi and book reviews from the 1960s display familiarity with James.13 His respect for James ran deep. When asked in an interview to name a philosopher he especially admired, he responded, “I think the one I admire most is William James. He never lost a sense of humor about his own writing. He wrote because he enjoyed it. There’s a kind of joyful exuberance to his work that I wish I could imitate” (Rorty 2003b). Richard Bernstein has described James as “one of Rorty’s heroes” (Bernstein 2010, 213). Nevertheless, one is hard-pressed to find any extended treatment of James until the mid-1990s. This later work on James constitutes the most significant site for constructive dialogue between their melioristic projects and reveals a central, often underappreciated, Jamesian ethical thread in Rorty’s philosophy. In broad terms, the fundamental insight that the early Rorty gains from classical pragmatism is the primacy of practice in philosophical discourse. The overriding preoccupation of his early work is how to avoid “the central paradox of metaphilosophy” associated with the impossibility of philosophical neutrality – namely, the fact that “each system can and does create its own metaphilosophical criteria, designed to authenticate itself and disallow its competitors” (MLM, 50). As he more bluntly put it, philosophy is “a game in which each player is at liberty to change the rules whenever he wishes” (Rorty 1961, 299). One reaction to this unhandsome state of affairs is skepticism. Another is realism, of one version or another, which holds that “adequacy to something external to one’s system” provides a check on the philosopher’s ability to redefine or redescribe not only her own position but that of her opponents. Dissatisfied with both these responses, he is drawn to a third option, which he calls “metaphilosophical pragmatism” (Rorty 1961, 299–301). Rather than attempting to flee or quell the philosopher’s creative ability to introduce new vocabularies, distinctions, and criteria of relevance, pragmatism makes a virtue of necessity and embraces it. In Rorty’s view, Peirce and Dewey authorize a pragmatic turn in philosophy through their respective recognitions of the dependence of

72 christopher voparil the theoretical on the practical. They grasp that philosophical discourse is embedded within the normative horizon of a community. This pragmatic turn’s chief consequence is a deflation of the privilege traditionally accorded epistemology and metaphysics.14 To those familiar with Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, this should come as no surprise. What is noteworthy is that already in the early 1960s Rorty had arrived at this critical posture via the classical pragmatists’ metaphilosophical orientation toward practice. To Rorty, for Peirce this means that “Veridical knowledge is never a starting point of inquiry . . . but only its ideal end” (MLM, 64). For Dewey, it amounts to “analyzing ‘truth’ as ‘satisfaction of needs’ (and then taking the need served by philosophy to be, pre-eminently, communication)” (Rorty 1961, 302). The pragmatic turn entails for Rorty a recognition of the fallibility, selectivity, and relativity of the knowing subject; affirmation of the irreducibility of indeterminacy, pluralism, and the ineluctability of interpretation; and a rejection of a permanent neutral matrix for inquiry. The sections that follow on Peirce, Dewey, and James highlight three particular insights that Rorty derives from classical pragmatism and which become defining characteristics of his mature thought. The first is his attention to language: “a conception of philosophy as something that lives, moves, and has its being within language” (MLM, 59). Given the philosopher’s agency to redefine and redescribe, any account of the philosophical endeavor must grapple with what he later calls vocabularies and our criteria for vocabulary choice. The second is that traditional conceptions of realism as correspondence are inadequate. As Rorty put it, pragmatism entails a “reversal of the traditional notion of the relation between language and reality” (MLM, 63). In simplified terms, the traditional realist view posits the existence of The Way Things Are (or things-in-themselves) and aims to discern the most accurate representation of this nonlinguistic reality to determine the right language to use to describe it. Metaphysics, for accessing this independent reality, and epistemology, for judging the accuracy of its descriptions and

rorty and classical pragmatism 73 establishing validity, are thus indispensable to the pursuit of knowledge. By contrast, on the view Rorty gleans from Peirce, “to propose a set of categories is not to offer a description of a nonlinguistic fact, but to offer a tool for getting a job done” (MLM, 61). An abiding concern for Rorty in his early work is eschewing realistic legitimations of knowledge that proceed by positing “something determinate underlying the indeterminate” that knowledge must match (MLM, 35). Once we acknowledge the philosopher’s metaphilosophical acuity for changing the rules and redescribing, such legitimation loses its force. The third implication is that epistemology is dethroned and made subservient to ethics. He called this “the dependence of criteriology upon ethical norms” (MLM, 50). The positions he critiques in the early work – reductionism, nominalism, and intuitionism – all share the assumption that we can “penetrate through language to non-linguistic data which will guide our choice of languages” (MLM, 59). Instead, he holds that norms to guide vocabulary choice and to judge relative worth derive not from epistemology but from the community of inquiry in which philosophical discourse is embedded.

rorty and peirce Given the long, unfortunate, shadow cast by Rorty’s infamous statement that Peirce’s “contribution to pragmatism was merely to have given it a name, and to have stimulated James” (CP, 161), readers might be surprised to learn that the early Rorty held that Peirce’s view that Scotistic realism and pragmatism reciprocally entail each other is “sound and important” (MLM, 16). Beyond the needless antipathy it activated in Peirceans, his dismissal distracted from Rorty’s own indebtedness to Peirce. Our understanding of Rorty’s mature pragmatism is impoverished if we overlook the residues of Peircean positions that continued to inform it. Indeed, without early insights derived from Peirce, Rorty’s pragmatism would not have developed along the lines that it did. I will focus on three such Peircean influences.

74 christopher voparil Rather than being a hollow invocation of a prejudice for language attributable to the linguistic turn, the well-known cornerstone of Rorty’s linguistic pragmatism – the idea that language cannot be transcended – derives from Peirce. For the early Rorty, the reason why Peirce’s pragmatic maxim and Scotistic realism entail each other is that they are both affirmations of “the reality of Thirdness” (MLM, 25). Peirce opposes scholastic realism to nominalism, which insists that vagueness is not real. Among the vague things that Peirce thought could not be reduced by nominalists are “Intelligence, Intention, Signs, Continuity, Potentiality, Meaning, Rules, and Habits.” What these things share, Rorty saw, is that “their adequate characterization requires a language which contains, as primitive predicates, the names of triadic relations” (MLM, 18). Our inability to transcend language is for Rorty a corollary of the inescapably mediated nature of thought Peirce dubbed “semeiotic.” Rorty is quite explicit that in stating, “language is incurably vague, but perfectly real and utterly inescapable,” he wishes to affirm Peirce’s claims that “there is no exception to the law that every thought-sign is translated or interpreted in a subsequent one” and that “no collection of facts can constitute a law” (Peirce, quoted at MLM, 21). The second important influence is that the early Rorty subscribed to a distinctly Peircean form of realism that affirms both the mind-independent existence of reality and the selectivity and fallibility of our efforts to represent it. If nominalists are those who try to reduce what Peirce called Thirds to Seconds, in order to eliminate the vagueness or indeterminacy that inheres in meaning, habits, intentions, and the like, the defense against this is to insist upon “the irreducibility of the indefinite and the indeterminate” (MLM, 26).15 Following Peirce, Rorty contends that since a sign is always “a determinate indetermination,” naming is “neither simply artificial (indeterminate) nor simply natural (determinate), neither forced on us nor performed by us in a spirit of pure whimsy” (MLM, 27). Signs, for Rorty, “while giving us latitude for interpretation, resist some interpretations more than others.” “Just insofar as we are ‘realists’ in

rorty and classical pragmatism 75 Peirce’s sense,” he held, we do not assume that “progress toward definiteness and determinacy is completable,” nor that “the fully determinate is somehow there already” (MLM, 26–7). The third significant Peircean element in Rorty’s early work is his openness to the possibility of a pragmatic metaphysics. Rorty thought that Peirce had found a way to solve the problem of how we can “maintain a philosophic thesis about the ultimacy of some given set of categories without falling into the dilemma of self-referential inconsistency on the one hand and circularity on the other” (MLM, 60). Peirce’s Categories are for Rorty a paradigm case of pragmatic naming for two reasons: as a theory of the nature of ultimate categories, it is not dictated by epistemology – that is, not an accurate description of a nonlinguistic fact – and it preserves a space for choice of vocabulary. Peirce eschews recourse to a theory “tailor-made to suit an antecedently chosen epistemology,” as Rorty thought Russell, Carnap, and Bergmann had done (MLM, 63). As Rorty explains, by reversing “the usual relationship between signs and what they signify,” Peirce shapes his categorical distinctions “around the requirements of the process of signification, rather than around a putative intuition of what it is that needs to be signified” (MLM, 63). Importantly, Rorty grasps that recognizing with Peirce that nature has habits or utters signs does not “take us any deeper into our own expecting and talking than we were already” (MLM, 29). That is, calling nature’s habits rational simply means that nature “contains the sort of determinate indeterminations that our mind does,” not that it “recognizes the same universals” or otherwise contains any necessary epistemic linkage between mind and world. (MLM, 29). Giving a name to “a batch of things” is simply “my establishing a habit of correlating tokens of a given sign with tokens of other signs” (MLM, 28). Following Peirce’s insights about induction, Rorty understands that this naming – “slicing up nature in certain ways” – involves reading off how “that nature has already sliced itself up by developing habits on its own” (MLM, 28).16

76 christopher voparil The importance of this cluster of Peircean influences goes beyond mere historical significance. Understanding the early influence of Peirce on Rorty reveals the philosophical coherence of later stances espoused with far less nuance. Without the distinct version of Peircean realism, Rorty’s critique of correspondence theories seems to leave his pragmatism wholly unmoored. Despite some polemical statements of his own to the contrary, Rorty should not be regarded as rejecting the idea that a mind-independent reality exists and constrains our interpretations.17 His early engagement with Peirce makes clear that he merely abandoned the foundational justificatory significance of the concept of an uninterpreted, unmediated reality.18 He rejected the assumption that external constraints carry truthvalue on the order of “intuitions,” as something that can get us outside of and settle conflicting theories, vocabularies, and interpretations, not the existence of Peircean Secondness. Even when he ceased relying explicitly on Peirce, in the 1970s Rorty espoused “relaxed” and “philosophically innocuous” conceptions of “true” and “real” that not only are consistent with his pragmatism but alleviate misplaced criticisms that he confusedly or irresponsibly abandoned commonsense uses of these notions.19 My aim in this no doubt too hasty foray into Peirce’s ideas is modest: to open a space where the possibility grasped by Vincent Colapietro can at least be entertained, that “Peirce can be read as preparing the way for Rorty in certain fundamental respects; in addition, Rorty can be read as carrying forward some impulses clearly integral to Peirce’s project” (Colapietro 2011, 40). The first step is resisting the urge simply to reinscribe the distance between them without rethinking our received pictures of each. In Peirce are resources that can be used to understand and even defend Rorty’s philosophical positions, especially to fellow pragmatists. Marshaling these resources has the potential to alleviate the confusion and consternation generated by Rorty’s more provocative assertions, particularly for philosophers who felt – and feel – that his positions lack depth and adequate philosophical coherence.

rorty and classical pragmatism 77

rorty and dewey Going against the grain of received views, I see Rorty and Dewey as holding more in common than most – specifically, a conception of philosophy as an instrument of social change. The fundamental motivation behind Rorty’s thinking and writing is profoundly Deweyan: promoting ethical, social, and political change by reconceiving our understanding of philosophy and its role in the culture. When Rorty objected to particular elements in Dewey’s work, it is because he believed they get in the way of reconstructing philosophy as an instrument of social change. In other words, he reconstructed rather than misread or misunderstood Dewey.20 There is no doubt, however, that Rorty enlisted Dewey into his own project of reconstruction, which involved philosophical and cultural transformation aimed at getting us beyond “the entire cultural tradition which made truth . . . a central virtue” (CP, 35). His critique of traditional philosophy in its rationalist and foundationalist registers follows from judgments about “causal efficacy” for “how best to bring about the utopia sketched by the Enlightenment” (TP, 172). If we recall the third implication of Rorty’s pragmatic turn to practice noted above, his decentering of epistemology and metaphysics in favor of ethics set the stage for what he called “the priority of democracy to philosophy” (see ORT). Dewey’s importance for Rorty, ultimately, was in developing a “strategy for shifting philosophers’ attention from the problems of metaphysics and epistemology to the needs of democratic politics” (Rorty 1998, 638). In Rorty’s use of Dewey we can identify the negative, critical, or therapeutic side mobilized in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, but also a positive conception of “philosophy-as-criticism-of-culture” (CP, 75). Rorty severs this idea of criticism of culture from the (much reformed) metaphysical and epistemological strands Dewey saw as necessary for this work.21 Unfortunately, during the decades when most scholarship on the Dewey–Rorty relation railed against the choosy nature of Rorty’s appropriation of Dewey, the normativity

78 christopher voparil driving Rorty’s selectivity was not fully understood and the extent of common ground they share in their positive conception of philosophy’s role went largely overlooked. Rorty’s attraction to the idea of philosophy as “culture criticism” is an important theme in Consequences of Pragmatism. He sought to revive the “celebrations of American democracy, naturalism, and social reconstruction” prevalent during the “great days of Deweyan philosophy and social science” between the wars, when philosophy took on a distinctly cultural role in the nation’s life, providing “moral leadership” and engaging “new problems arising from the social sciences and the arts” (CP, 61–4). As logical empiricism morphed into analytic philosophy during the postwar period, this socially concerned conception was displaced by the practice of philosophy as a rigorous, technical discipline modeled on the more narrowly professionalized mathematical and natural sciences. As a result, Rorty argues, the underlying social concern that animated Deweyan philosophy was abandoned and philosophy lost contact with both the social sciences on one side and the arts on the other. The attempt to recover these dimensions of the Deweyan pragmatic project is an enduring concern in Rorty’s work. In the second section of Philosophy and Social Hope, he returns to this positive role for philosophy, citing Dewey’s idea of “making philosophy an instrument of change” and the function of philosophy as “mediat[ing] between old ways of speaking, developed to accomplish earlier tasks, with new ways of speaking, developed in response to new demands” (PSH, 29, 66). It is echoed in his call in Philosophy as Cultural Politics for philosophers to “intervene in cultural politics” and to see this as “their principal assignment” (PCP, x). If this Dewey-centered reading is accurate, why were Deweyans so exercised by Rorty’s efforts? For one thing, they objected to Rorty’s suggestion that advancing the Deweyan project required dropping certain parts of Dewey’s philosophy that recent work had revealed as problematic (Koopman 2009). Rorty understood his reconstruction of Dewey as reconciling an implicit tension within Dewey’s own

rorty and classical pragmatism 79 practice of philosophy. One side is the Dewey that Rorty found inspirational: Dewey “the philosopher as social activist, concerned to keep the spirit of reform alive by constant criticism of the adequacy of current practices and institutions” (Rorty 1986b, x). The other side is Dewey “the philosopher as politically neutral theoretician – a specialist in, and authority upon, such peculiarly philosophical topics as the rules of logic, the nature of science, or the nature of thought” (Rorty 1986b, x). Rorty’s reconstruction of Dewey involves developing the philosopher as social activist side and combining it with Dewey’s critical anti-spectatorial, anti-Cartesian, and anti-Kantian thrust, while reading out the parts that either support, or purport to support, a conception of philosophy that flirts with violating Rorty’s historicism and anti-authoritarianism via givenism, privileged epistemic status, or a neutral matrix for inquiry. To be clear, there is much in Dewey that goes nowhere near these problems. After all, it is Dewey’s work itself that informs Rorty’s reconstructive project in the first place. Still, Rorty uses the two priorities noted above – attention to the cultural context of philosophy and its level of engagement with social and political questions – as a critical lens through which to analyze Dewey’s own project of developing a “metaphysics of experience” in Experience and Nature. Rorty’s claim is that a metaphysics of experience that finds its “generic traits” is not necessary to provide a philosophical basis for the criticism of culture.22 The basic problem Rorty sees is the contradiction between a naturalistic metaphysics that claims to identify the generic traits of experience and Dewey’s insistence on the necessity of attending to the cultural matrix in which inquiry occurs. Specifically, Rorty worries that Dewey’s metaphysical project assumes “there must be a standpoint from which experience can be seen in terms of some ‘generic traits’” (CP, 80). On Rorty’s view, Dewey never escaped the notion that “what he himself said about experience described what experience looked like” – that is, that the virtue of his method was that it is more empirical than that of his opponents (CP, 81). On this reading, Dewey set out to accomplish

80 christopher voparil two things with his turn to a naturalistic metaphysics: to undermine traditional philosophical dualisms by providing a more empirically sound alternative to realist and idealist metaphysics; and to “open up new avenues for cultural development,” as Rorty puts it, through a conception of philosophy as criticism of culture (CP, 85). For Rorty, the project of attaining a more naturalistic description of the generic traits of experience simply is not necessary for the latter aim (Voparil 2013b). What we have here, then, are two conceptions of doing cultural criticism: one that turns to a method and community of inquirers exemplified in science and one that embraces forms of narrative knowledge, each with an activist, though differently circumscribed, role for philosophy. It is possible to see these two accounts as complementary, the difference between what we might call normal and abnormal modes of discourse, where “normal” (Dewey) entails a state where shared criteria exist, communities are relatively stable, and inferential patterns are widely held, and “abnormal” (Rorty) connotes conditions characterized by higher levels of rational disagreement and social marginalization or exclusion, where recourse to shared criteria finds little traction. Because more thoroughly informed by the priority of democracy to philosophy, Rorty’s philosophical assumptions direct us toward the limits of our conceptions of rationality and community – i.e., to those whom we exclude – and toward making them more inclusive. By calling our attention to the importance of expanding the logical space in which inferentially based argumentation proceeds, Rorty helps make pragmatism more explicitly oriented toward extending our communal attachments to include previously excluded groups (Voparil 2013b). Pragmatism’s contemporary relevance could be enhanced by incorporating both Deweyan and Rortyan versions into an enriched practice of pragmatist philosophy as cultural criticism. For starters, pragmatist cultural criticism should continue to decenter socially uninterested forms of philosophy to become more pluralistic and open to interdisciplinarity. Rorty’s embrace of literature and narrative

rorty and classical pragmatism 81 can be seen as an extension of Dewey’s recognition of the role of poetry, the drama, and the novel in communication in The Public and Its Problems. Pragmatist cultural critics should recognize that all intellectual “moves,” including appeals to scientific method, rationality, and intelligence, take place within the game of cultural politics. Rorty’s recognition that our attempts to define criteria and define what is common are never metaphilosophically or politically neutral, acknowledges the effects of power and positionality on democratic discourse and social inquiry, even when Rorty himself did not perceive this clearly enough. Pragmatist cultural criticism should develop a keener awareness of the limits of rational discourse and of the importance of cultivating the imagination. For Rorty, the imagination, rather than rational argumentation, is “the cutting edge of cultural evolution” (PSH, 87). Dewey’s account likewise needs the imagination and interpretive novelty to generate growth and avoid the routine and unreflective. “Only when the facts are allowed free play for the suggestion of new points of view,” he tells us, “is any significant conversion of conviction as to meaning possible.” Yet in the very next sentence he reminds us, “Take away from physical science its laboratory apparatus and its mathematical technique, and the human imagination might run wild in its theories of interpretation even if we suppose the brute facts to remain the same” (Dewey 1927, 238).

rorty and james Rorty’s allusions to James prior to the mid-1990s are generally positive but thin gestures of affiliation – for instance, with James’s antiessentialism; his conception of truth as “what is good in the way of belief,” which Rorty glosses as recognition that “the vocabulary of practice is uneliminable” (CP, 162–3); his antiprofessionalism; and his sense of our human, all-too-human, lot (CP, 166). A turning point in Rorty’s engagement with James is the 1997 essay “Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibility, and Romance” (in PSH), where he moves from assimilating James into his therapeutic philosophical critiques

82 christopher voparil to developing positive arguments for “the ‘ethics of belief’ that I share with William James”(Rorty 2003a, 142).23 While affirming James’s ethics of belief, Rorty also reconstructs James, identifying tensions in his thought: between his Pragmatism and moral philosophy, on the one hand, and his Radical Pragmatism and Varieties of Religious of Experience, on the other. He claims that James was “for better or worse, more than just a pragmatist,” and aligns himself with James’s most pragmatic views (Rorty 2004c, 96). Somewhat surprisingly, the relation of James’s and Rorty’s philosophies remains relatively unexplored. Both James’s “unfinished” universe and Rorty’s recognition of contingency evoke a conception of knowledge in which humans are active participants in the construction of what is right and true. In a word, they are philosophers of agency. Their attention to agency is the result of a fundamental shift in orientation that James described as “[t]he attitude of looking away from first things, principles, ‘categories,’ supposed necessities; and of looking toward last things, fruits, consequences, facts” (James 1987, 510). Both James and Rorty eschew appeals to rationality and turn instead to emotions, sentiment, and the imagination. Because they turn away from, in James’s words, “bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins” (James 1987, 509), they are also philosophers of pluralism and irreducible difference, rather than of consensus and commensuration, eschewing any reduction of this heterogeneity to monisms and “The One Right Description” (CIS, 40). Both James and Rorty set themselves against dogmatism and authoritarianism, in all their forms. The prospect of anything shared names a task, something that must be actively strived for and achieved, rather than posited a priori or compelled by ahistorical essences or foundations. In Rorty’s parlance, they are “edifying” rather than “systematic” thinkers.24 James and Rorty articulate a pragmatist response to how we choose and how we can account for obligation and responsibility in a nominalist and historicist milieu where there is no “abstract moral order in which the objective truth resides” (James 1977,

rorty and classical pragmatism 83 616), no “order beyond time and change” to which we can appeal for “a hierarchy of responsibilities” (CIS, xv). As we have seen, Rorty’s initial interest in pragmatism centered on its recognition, beginning with Peirce, of how “the appeal to practice transfers the question of the acceptability of a philosophical program out of metaphilosophy and into the realm of moral choice” (MLM, 50). This recognition of the ineluctability of choice for Rorty generates the need for an ethics – “not a ‘substantive’ ethics, for it would not tell a man which arguments to propound, but rather a ‘formalist’ ethics which would tell him what his responsibilities were to any arguments which he found himself propounding” (Rorty 1961, 315). To an extent that has gone largely unnoticed, Rorty’s relatively late turn to James gives him resources from which to develop his ameliorative ethics, which features a conception of ethics as responsiveness and attentiveness to others.25 Rorty’s Jamesian ethics of belief comprises four key commitments. The first is a commitment to the irreducible pluralism of human life. He expresses this in various ways, including the idea of “polytheism” and Isaiah Berlin’s “well-known doctrine of the incommensurability of human values” (PCP, 29–30). The second is his antiauthoritarianism – his belief that there is no higher authority to which we owe responsibility than our fellow humans. From James, Rorty derives a non-Kantian conception of obligation that arises not from an impersonal moral law or Truth or Reason or Reality but from the claims of concrete human beings (PSH, 148). The third is a pragmatic conception of truth as what would be better for us to believe. For Rorty this means that “the utility of a belief is the only judge of its truth” (Rorty 2004c, 89) – namely, “the one that will do most for human happiness” (PCP, 5). The fourth commitment is to a conception of beliefs as habits of action rather than representations of reality, a view Rorty notes that “James took over from Bain and Peirce” (PCP, 34). Some have worried this pluralism culminates in a “hands-off,” live-and-let-live, Millean liberalism that counsels only tolerance and

84 christopher voparil noninterference in the face of difference. Yet James and Rorty both go beyond passive tolerance to promote active engagement with others and the cultivation of virtues and habits that facilitate such engagement. They advocate not only noticing but taking a sympathetic interest in the lives of others, including the ways our own habits and practices and even philosophical self-conceptions may wrong them. By shifting our attention away from representationalist views of knowledge and toward our relations to other concrete human beings, they understand that a live interest in the concerns – specifically, the suffering – of others is needed for the self-correction of belief to take place. Rorty conveys this stance in the only passage in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity where James receives more than passing mention. He likens the Freud-inspired account of the contingency of self-identity he has been elaborating, the idea that any idiosyncratic constellation of things can “set the tone of a life,” to overcoming “what William James called ‘a certain blindness in human beings’” (CIS, 37–8). Rorty credits James for recognizing that it is possible “to juggle several descriptions of the same event without asking which one was right . . . to see a new vocabulary not as something which was supposed to replace all other vocabularies, something which claimed to represent reality, but simply as one more vocabulary, one more human project, one person’s chosen metaphoric” (CIS, 39). As with Dewey, Rorty reconstructs James, both deriving his ethics of belief from key Jamesian notions and using them as a standpoint for criticizing other aspects of James that do not cohere with this ethics. For example, he suggests that James’s famous defense of the right to believe in the absence of evidence does not go far enough in affirming James’s own robust emphasis on human agency. For Rorty, James’s conception of the religious hypothesis “associates religion with the conviction that a power that is not ourselves will do unimaginably vast good, rather with the hope that we ourselves will do such good” (PSH, 160). Rorty also thought James harbored two distinct versions of the pragmatist theory of truth: one

rorty and classical pragmatism 85 in his famous claim that “the true . . . is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in our way of behaving”; and the other in his assertion that “ideas . . . become true just insofar as they help us get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience” (quoted in TP, 294). For Rorty, the latter theory’s privileging of “‘fit’ with the objects being described” undermines James’s salutary pluralism and the agency inherent in a right to believe (Rorty 1999, 14). As Rorty puts it, by the end of the Varieties, James suggests “that the experiences of religious virtuosi provide evidence sufficient to make it only rational for naturalists to give up their naturalism” (Rorty 2004c, 95). I have sought to reinterpret Rorty’s relation to classical pragmatism through the lens of reconstruction. My hope is that this reconsideration has the potential to identify and foster fruitful lines of dialogue and inquiry capable of overcoming current impasses generated, in small or large part, by Rorty’s prolific pen. Devoting so little space to differences that make a difference among them has its risks. Yet the existing body of scholarship on Rorty and the classical pragmatists already has this ground well covered. I by no means seek to cut the distance to zero. My aim is more modest: to reduce the distance – or at least the severity of the divergence – between his work and that of the classical pragmatists so as to make fruitful dialogue possible. Both Rorty’s thought and the contemporary relevance of the pragmatic tradition as a whole are enriched when the continuities as well as differences are present.

notes 1

For more in-depth discussion of Rorty’s reception see Voparil 2005 and 2014a.

2

See, for example, Bacon 2012, Bernstein 2010, Calcaterra 2019, Chin 2018, Curtis 2015, Gröschner et al. 2013, Koopman 2009, McClean 2014, Rydenfelt 2019, and Voparil 2006.

3

Certainly, there are other topics and figures that could be fruitfully pursued in relation to Rorty, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Josiah

86 christopher voparil Royce, F.C.S. Schiller, George Santayana, George Herbert Mead, and Randolph Bourne. For initial forays into these areas, see Goodman 2008 and Schulenberg 2015. 4 A recent journal issue devoted to the topic evidences how little the skirmishes have subsided. See European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 6.2 (2014). 5 Rorty certainly campaigned against the epistemological salience of experience as being irretrievably compromised by foundationalism and givenness, but also embraced a Deweyan understanding of language as a tool we put to work in experience (see Calcaterra 2019). The stance that language and experience are opposed does not emerge in Rorty’s writings until the late 1980s. See “Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Reification of Language” (in EHO), though this essay makes no mention of Dewey or classical pragmatism. The earliest statement of an oppositional view of language and experience that I have found comes in Rorty 1985. See Voparil 2021. 6 For a fuller explication, see Voparil 2021. 7 See Gross 2008 and Voparil & Bernstein 2010. 8 See Rorty 2014. For an account of this work that stresses the continuity with Rorty’s later, “mature” pragmatism, see Brandom 2013. While illuminating of certain strands of Rorty’s thought, Brandom’s reading overlooks the prevalence of pragmatic concerns in the period that precedes Rorty’s eliminative materialism that I highlight here. 9 See Gross 2008. At Chicago, Rorty took a class with Rudolf Carnap, from whom, he recounted in an interview, “I learned my first lessons in analytic philosophy,” which included Carnap assigning Ayer’s Language, Truth, and Logic (Voparil & Bernstein 2010, 512). 10 Moore and Robin to Rorty, March 6, 1963, Richard Rorty Papers, MSC017, Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California (hereafter abbreviated RRP). Box 31, Folder 1, accessed 2015. The volume is Moore & Robin 1964. Rorty ultimately was unable to contribute an essay due to illness. 11 Voparil & Bernstein 2010, 494. Rorty said that he “rediscovered” Dewey in the early 1970s (PSH, 12). 12 The surviving notes indicate that they read from Pragmatism, The Meaning of Truth, Radical Empiricism, and A Pluralistic Universe (RRP, Box 44: Folder 8).

rorty and classical pragmatism 87 13 Syllabi from his early years at Princeton show a regular presence of James, usually his Pragmatism, “The Will to Believe,” or Varieties of Religious Experience (see RRP, Box 48: Folders 3 and 5; Box 50: Folders 5 and 6). 14 Colapietro reminds us that “It is often missed that Peirce was no less than Dewey repulsed by epistemology (including the word itself )” (Colapietro 2011, 46). 15 As Rorty put it, “Peirce’s realism is simply the phrasing in metaphysical language of the unrestricted form of the doctrine that language cannot be transcended” (MLM, 26). 16 For more on Rorty and the possibility of pragmatic metaphysics, see Ramberg 2008. 17 This point has been recognized and elaborated in Bacon 2017, Curtis 2015, and Gascoigne 2008. 18 Rorty later admitted that it was “a mistake” on his part to fuse criticism of truth as accurate representation of the intrinsic nature of reality with rejection of true statements getting things right (Rorty 2000b, 374–5). 19 See, for instance, Rorty 1976, 1979. Understanding the Peircean realism in Rorty’s early work also makes his late reversal on whether we get things right and whether there are word–world relations less surprising. See Rorty 2000b. 20 For a full survey of existing work on the Rorty–Dewey relationship, see Voparil 2014a. 21 For an account of what was central to Dewey, see Boisvert 1989. 22 For a defense of the assumption that Rorty rejects, see Alexander 1980. 23 James, too, is central to Rorty’s “pragmatist philosophy of religion” (PCP, 34), a sustained rethinking of views initially expressed in “Religion as a Conversation-Stopper” (PSH, 168–74) and continued in Rorty 1999, 2003a, and 2004c. See also “Pragmatism as Romantic Polytheism” and “Cultural Politics and the Question of the Existence of God” (both in PCP). 24 This paragraph draws from the fuller analysis in Voparil 2016. 25 On Rorty’s conception of ethics, see Voparil 2014b and 2020.

4

A Pragmatism More Ironic Than Pragmatic Barry Allen

The principal difference between Rorty’s pragmatism and that of Peirce, James, and Dewey is his commitment to the nominalism that Peirce identified as the Achilles heel of modern empiricism. In their different ways, Peirce, James, and Dewey sought to eliminate nominalism from empiricism. That is their “radical empiricism.” Rorty, by contrast, was deeply impressed with the nominalism and antiempiricism of postwar analytic philosophy, in the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Donald Davidson, and Robert Brandom. He reverses the trenchant antinominalism of the classical pragmatists. The result is a pragmatism without much pragmatism (though a lot of nominalism), an ironic pragmatism, more ironic than pragmatic.

nominalism Nominalism is a medieval thesis associated with the fourteenthcentury scholastic philosopher William Ockham. Despite what textbooks say, the problem of universals is not the heart of the matter. Banishing universals from ontology is no more than an example of nominalism’s modus operandi. Ockham says that the error he wants to set right, “the basis of many errors in philosophy,” is the assumption “that a distinct signification always corresponds to a distinct word, so that the distinction among things signified is just as great as that among names or significant words” (Ockham, in Panaccio 2004, 147).1 Take for instance the distinctions in Aristotle’s theory of categories. They are sound, but philosophers make a mistake to suppose they are categories of being. They are not, they are categories of predication. The argument of nominalism is not about universals per se – no more specifically about them than about potentials, relations, motions, or durations. All of these nonactual nonindividuals 88

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 89 are redescribed as logical categories of predication; not differences in being, but differences in terms and modes of signifying. This is the heart of Ockham’s nominalism – to conceive the diversity of being (universal, individual, essence, existence, actual, potential, substantial, and accidental) as a diversity of terms (abstract, concrete, connotative, absolute, personal, and material supposition). The diversity of being is a diversity of terms variously signifying the same extramental nature. For Ockham, that nature is an order of absolute individuals – individual substances qualified by individual accidents. Only singular beings and their singular qualities are physically real; only they can be referred to, whether naturally by concepts or conventionally by words. The rest is redescription, and it is all in the mind, in the language, in an intentional, logical space of reasons. Not only are there no universals. There is no potential, nothing indeterminate in a world of actual, fully determined, absolute individuals. “Besides absolute things (res absolutae), namely substances and qualities, no thing (res) is imaginable either in act or in potency” (Ockham, in McMullin 1963, 330). It has been observed that Ockham felt a strong intuition of the autonomy or separability of real things, an autonomy from one another but all the more so from thought. In order to be real, a thing must be independent of our thinking of it. We must therefore be careful and not mistakenly attribute to things properties of the signs that signify them, which are not independent of our thinking. That is Ockham’s objection to “realism.” It populates the world with things that exist only for thought. For instance, relations. A world of absolute individuals is a world of completely separate singulars, any of which can exist apart from any other and none of which has anything real in common. Obviously, relations do not exist in the primary way that individuals do. Nominalist principle disallows physical, natural, de re connections among terms. Relations are concepts, notions, ficta. Nothing that natural knowledge puts together really belongs together apart from convenience to our thought. Hume’s thesis on causality merely waits to be made explicit. 2

90 barry allen Nominalism exerts pressure on everything in Ockham’s philosophy, including his unenthusiastic empiricism. The contingency of nature implies that effects can be produced by many naturally possible lines of causation. It is impossible to rule these out, therefore certainty is unattainable in natural philosophy. We can make sagacious conjectures, but “it is impossible to demonstrate that anything is a cause.” The emphasis falls on demonstrate. He is not saying that we cannot have error-free knowledge of causes. He is saying that we cannot demonstrate these causes in the way Aristotle stipulates as science (episteme, scientia). Ultimately, the reason is God’s power. “God is a free cause in relation to any effect.” It is impossible for mere logic to lay down a law for the sovereign will of God. Knowledge of nature therefore reduces to perceptual knowledge of existence – fallible, hypothetical correlations verified by experience or experiment (synonymous in his time). Experimental cognition is not full-dress Aristotelian scientia, but it is the best natural knowledge mortals can attain, and its logic can be respectably formalized (Ockham, in Adams 1987, 750, 788). Ockham’s nominalism has been fraying and redistributing threads for seven hundred years, as different parts appeal to different thinkers. Peirce emphasized this unraveling, though his image is of a wave. “There was a tidal wave of nominalism. Descartes was a nominalist. Locke and all his following, Berkeley, Hartley, Hume, and even Reid were nominalists. Leibniz was an extreme nominalist . . . Kant was a nominalist . . . In one word, all modern philosophy of every sect has been nominalistic” (Peirce 1958, Vol. 1, 19) – not for holding Ockham’s whole package, but for variations on the core nominalist idea that modes of being are modes of predication, judgment, or understanding. Peirce’s criticism of nominalism concentrates on its actualism, the exclusion of potential, indeterminacy, and generality from nature. He explains nominalism as the theory that possibles and potentials are determined by actuals and the only action is mechanical. Its “great error” is to suppose “that the potential, or possible, is nothing

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 91 but what the actual makes it to be.” He thought experimental science made a mockery of this stipulation. Reference to tendency, capacity, and power cannot be eliminated from scientific theory. They are what “laws of nature” are about, and why lawlike order exists to be found. They are Peirce’s “generals,” so-called Thirds, the potencies, tendencies, powers, and capacities that make their names something to reckon with. (Peirce 1958, Vol. 1, 422).3 Another consequence of nominalism is the “intellectualism” that Bergson and James resist. James’s principal engagement with nominalism is his criticism of mental atomism and fictionalism about relations, first in Principles of Psychology, then in the unfinished work on Radical Empiricism. Locke and Hume (and Ockham) were wrong to think that only the terms of relations are empirically real. Empiricism compromised itself – its empirical character – by this alliance with nominalism. Radical empiricism, as James imagined it, is a more consistent empiricism, purged of nominalism, which he calls intellectualism and lauds Bergson for exploding. The compulsion to disqualify experience has always come from some version of rationalism: Parmenides against the Ionians, Plato against Democritus, Plotinus against Aristotle, Leibniz against Newton, Bradley against James, Russell against Bergson, Sellars against the sons of Schlick, and Rorty against his pragmatist predecessors. Rationalism is an old theme in philosophy. The word “rationalist” (logikoi) was invented by Alexandrian physicians trying to align themselves with Greek philosophy, but the philosophers did not learn their rationalism from the physicians, unless it is true that Parmenides was a doctor. The rationalism of classical philosophy is the equation of being with the reasonably said or sayable, the being of the logos. To be is to be rational, logical, amenable to a truthful discourse. This is the motif of rationalism from Parmenides to Plotinus, opposed by the empiricism of Democritus, Epicurus, and the Empirical wing of ancient medicine, including the Skeptics.4 Medical rationalists acquired their rationalism in imitation of the philosophers. The rationalism of the philosophers identifies being

92 barry allen and logos. To explain or justify a thing is to make its rationality explicit. If you cannot do that, you understand nothing. That is how it could seem urgent for medicine to be rationalized. It is not enough that doctors know how to relieve suffering; they must understand what they do, which means they must understand the causes. If you do not know why medicine works, you do not really know that it works. It is just habit, so-called experience. You have to have a reason, and experience is never a reason. Memory is not a rational power, and much memory – Aristotle’s definition of experience – is not a reason. It is usual in Anglophone philosophy to equate “experience” with the conscious present – “my present experience.” Aristotle explains experience better when he says it is not mere awareness but perception combined with memory, a mnemic synthesis of past and present perception. “Sense perception gives rise to memory, as we call it; and repeated memories of the same give rise to experience (empeiria); because memories though numerically many are a single experience.” Experience is “much memory,” in the epitome by Thomas Hobbes, an Oxford graduate with a license to teach Aristotle’s logical works. (Hobbes, in Oakeshott 1946, 1.2) The conscious present is perception, which becomes experience as it is recollected and allowed to enhance action. Experience is not just a moment of conscious perception, it is having learned from perception, having been changed by perception. If you learn nothing, there is no experience. Experience is not something had, it is something recalled, perception deferred and belated, a quality of the remembered past that was never the quality of a conscious present. The passage of time adds something. It is called experience.5 It is in medicine that we find the first robust claims made on behalf of experience as an instrument of knowledge. Empiricism provides the alternative to rationalism, whether in medicine or philosophy. Democritus was the foremost empiricist whom Plato and Aristotle had to discredit, and his empiricism indicates collaboration with sources of the Hippocratic literature new in his time. It is clear from the example of Aristotle, Ockham, Hobbes, Carnap, and Quine that rationalism can

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 93 have an empirical moment. Allowing experience a place in natural knowledge is not the same as empiricism or, more precisely, not a consistently empirical empiricism, which is radical empiricism. Modern empiricism was from an early point tangled with Ockham’s nominalism, to the deficit of the resulting philosophy. Under nominalism, what we mean, think, conceive, or perceive is conditioned by the semantics of terms, the modern logos. Experience has nothing to do. That has made nominalism an obstacle to consistent empiricism at least since Hobbes picked it up and tried to shut down the experimental program of the Royal Society. Peirce and James saw pragmatism as a modern empiricism consistently abjuring nominalism. That was the point of James’s “Radical Empiricism,” which Peirce said “substantially answers to [my] definition of pragmatism.” (Peirce 1958, Vol. 5, 414). Empiricism becomes radical in eliminating vestiges of the nominalism that has dogged empiricism since the fourteenth century.6 Sellars and Davidson are more consistent nominalists than Hobbes, who was uninterested in semantics and thought Aristotle was the summit of logic. In aligning pragmatism with their nominalism, Rorty undoes what was radical about radical empiricism, reimposing the nominalism and rationalism that the pragmatists wanted to liberate empiricism from.

nominalism in sellars and davidson Ockham’s empiricism and nominalism pass into modern philosophy with Hobbes, Gassendi, Locke, and Leibniz, who adjudged “the nominalist sect” to be “the most profound among all the scholastics, and the most consistent with the character of our present-day, reformed philosophy” (Leibniz, in Pasnau 2011, 87). In the twentieth century, Ockham’s legacy bifurcates into a more consistent nominalism that eschews empiricism (Sellars, Davidson, Rorty), and a more consistent empiricism that eschews nominalism, which is the position of radical empiricism from Peirce and James to Bergson, Dewey, and Deleuze. The analytic philosophers find empiricism inconsistent with their

94 barry allen nominalism, criticizing “dogmas of empiricism” and the “myth of the given,” while the radical empiricists repudiate nominalism’s rationalistic evacuation of experience, and reaffirm its creative power.7 Nominalism entered postwar Anglophone philosophy with Wilfrid Sellars’s “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind” (1956). The program of the logical empiricists (e.g., Rudolf Carnap) was to construct “the world” (or science’s theory of it) from the irrefragable data of the given. The difficulty Sellars raises is that we cannot specify what these privileged moments evince without presupposing objective forms that supposedly have no determination until they are constructed from the given. Concepts ostensibly constructed from uninterpreted sensory data turn out to be presuppositions of the data. We cannot say what is given without tacitly relying on more than we say is given. Sellars reformulates Kant’s argument against cognitive immediacy in the then-new terms of linguistic philosophy. Nothing in experience, nothing in conscious awareness, is simply given, immediate, or spontaneously apprehended. Such awareness is invariably mediated, which Sellars understands in exclusively linguistic terms. “All awareness of sorts, resemblances, facts, etc., in short, all awareness of abstract entities – indeed, all awareness of particulars –is a linguistic affair” (Sellars 1963, 160). “There is [no] awareness of logical space prior to, or independent of, the acquisition of a language” (Sellars 1963, 162). Sellars identifies the thesis with nominalism and presupposes it without argument. He is a nominalist because he carries out a program of semantic reduction innovated by Ockham, and he is an anti-empiricist because he is more consistently nominalist even than Ockham. Experience cannot have anything to do with the things of the logos, which for Sellars means semantics. When we read Sellars’s argument as a criticism of epistemic immediacy, its conclusion is merely negative – knowledge is never not mediated. That is something pragmatism allows and even requires. The trail of the human serpent is over everything, James said. But add the nominalism, the assumption that all the epistemic

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 95 mediation belongs to language and follows its logic, a language game of giving and accepting reasons, and Sellars’s incidental pragmatism becomes the nominalism that Rorty esteems and which is his principal difference from earlier pragmatists. Donald Davidson found unexpected riches in the austere technicalities of Alfred Tarski’s semantic theory of truth. Before Tarski, it seemed inevitable to think of truth in terms of relations extending beyond language. With Tarski, truth becomes an artifact of the logic of language. The only way to explain what it is for a sentence to be true is to show how it relates to an infinite set of other sentences. The account never strays from relations of language to language. The result is an idea of truth that is as technically precise as a purist could ask for, and supports no metaphysical interpretation. Instead, the metaphysical idea of truth as some kind of relation, as “correspondence,” stands exposed as extravagant and superfluous. This is classic nominalism. The “metaphysical” idea of truth Davidson refutes – the idea that truth presupposes bits of language appropriately related to bits of something emphatically not language – is an example of the error that Ockham complained of. Philosophers attribute to nature qualities that have no existence apart from thought and its logic. Davidson exposes the traditional way of thinking about truth as logically superfluous and semantically indefensible. Like a good nominalist, he applies The Razor. “Nothing . . . no thing, makes sentences and theories true: not experience, not surface irritations, not the world, can make a sentence true . . . The sentence ‘My skin is warm’ is true if and only if my skin is warm. Here there is no reference to a fact, a world, an experience, or a piece of evidence” (Davidson 1984, 194). This triumph of nominalism eliminates the last vestige of the idea that the significant use of language depends on something that is natural, unconventional, somehow more than just more language. As a consistent nominalist, Davidson is also an anti-empiricist. Only a sentence can be a reason for a sentence. Experience has nothing to do with language meaning, and may as well be dropped.

96 barry allen That is his difference from Quine, whom he criticizes for thinking that somehow, somewhere, science is conditioned by sensory evidence. Quine balks at the idea that science might be no more than a consistent system of sentences. There has to be a source of friction, however global; something outside, something perceived and experienced, something altogether different from sentences and constraining their truth-value. For Quine, fitting the totality of experience “is what makes scientific method partly empirical rather than solely a quest for internal coherence” (Quine 1981, 39). Science has a touchstone in something natural, physical, not just more signs. “Science itself tells us that our information about the world is limited to the irritations of our surfaces” (Quine 1981, 72). Quine was a prominent critic of logical empiricism, but he remains loyal to two of its principles. First, that “whatever evidence there is for science is sensory evidence”; second, that “all inculcation of meanings of words must rest ultimately on sensory evidence” (Quine 1969, 75). These principles ensure that the ultimate evidence for science is empeiria. Davidson thinks that is precisely Quine’s mistake – “there is no such concept of ultimate evidence” (Davidson 2005, 49). The sources of truth are as many as the causes of utterance; there is no one, ground-scale truthmaker, especially not “sensation.” “No doubt meaning and knowledge depend on experience, and experience ultimately on sensation. But this is the ‘depend’ of causality, not of evidence or justification” (Davidson 2001, 146). In Davidson, and especially in his difference from Quine, assumptions that have knit empiricism and nominalism together since Ockham come apart. Davidson and James are mirror images of each other in philosophy. James eliminates nominalism for a more consistent empiricism, Davidson eliminates empiricism for a more consistent nominalism. He reoccupies the position of medical rationalism and tells doctors like James that their experience counts for nothing. They have to have a reason, the reason has to be reasonable, which means communicable, and once we have language to

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 97 assess we can ignore experience, which is at most a cause, determining nothing bearing on language meaning.

rorty’s version Rorty entitled a series of three lectures, subsequently published as books in German and French, “Hope in Place of Knowledge: A Version of Pragmatism.” He explains that it is a version “that delights in throwing out as much of the philosophical tradition as possible” (TP, 150). For instance, he finds “nothing worth saving in empiricism,” and “would rather forget empiricism than radicalize it” (TP, 292). Like Sellars, like Davidson, and against the grain of the American philosophy he is thought to renovate, Rorty disavows empiricism for a nominalism he advances as a new and improved pragmatism.

Against Empiricism Rorty repeatedly remarks on the need to bear in mind that we are “alone, merely finite, with no links to something Beyond” (CP, xlii– xliii). Metaphysical comforts must be exposed and derided. Sometimes he couches disapproval of this Beyond, a transcendent postulate, in the technical terms of theoretical philosophy. “As long as our beliefs are said to be answerable to something, we shall want to be told more about how this answering works, and the history of epistemology suggests that there is nothing to be said” (TP, 133). Epistemology is, of course, hopeless. But Rorty also suggests that something more is at stake. This transcendent reference is not merely a bad answer to a bad question. It is an idol, and arouses an iconoclastic emotion in Rorty. It preserves “an image of the relation between people and nonpeople that might be called ‘authoritarian’ – the image of human beings being subject to a judgment other than that of a consensus of other human beings” (TP, 135). Pragmatism is supposed to show that nothing in the practice of inquiry or the success of science requires references that pass beyond

98 barry allen conversational practice. All that is presupposed by the practice belongs to the same history as the practice and introduces nothing transcendent. Language is language games, a contingent historical economy of marks and noises. At no point do thoughts break out in a “relation to something not ourselves” (ORT, 156). Truth and knowledge are but games of “true” and “false,” as Foucault called them, with no “foundation.” Rorty coaxes from Davidson the apotheosis of nominalism, finally dispensing with the absolute individuals that were Ockham’s concession to ontology. One reason Rorty does not want empiricism in pragmatism is because he can’t imagine what empiricism is or was supposed to be if not another theory of transcendent reference. Isn’t “experience” just another name for the Being we need to be true to? “Empiricists tell us that we can break out from under the authority of the local community by making unmediated contact with reality” (PCP, 9) – which makes empiricism another resentful rationale for human selfabasement. Empiricism is one more “beyond” for minds unembarrassed by metaphysical comfort. Empiricists want to be slaves, they “hanker after answerability” (TP, 135). Another reason to eschew empiricism is that it is philosophically superfluous. It addresses a problem that should be dismissed rather than solved. Rorty’s understanding of empiricism and its concept of experience is largely that of British Hegelian T. H. Green in his (1968) analysis of Locke and Hume, the predecessor to Sellars’s argument in “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind.” Like Green and Sellars, Rorty draws a sharp line between “experience as the cause of the occurrence of a justification” and what he regards as the empiricist notion of experience “as itself justificatory,” as a power of noninferential acquisition of true beliefs “as a result of neurologically describable causal transactions with the world” (TP, 141). In other words, empiricists think experience is a privileged cause, a justification-inducing cause, but there is no such a thing. The idea confuses the mechanical movement of causes with the exchange of marks and noises in the space of reasons. This is the

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 99 essential error that Ockham directed his nominalism against, that is, attributing qualities of our signs, of our language, of our games, to the things language refers to and describes. Truth and justification are values internal to the economy of marks and noises. Their rationality and truth-value no more require a transcendent referent than a dollar bill requires a bit of dedicated gold somewhere to legitimately circulate as money. So there is nothing that needs doing and that only experience can do. Philosophy simply has no use for the idea or the empiricism that champions it. When he is careful, Rorty uses the word “experience” for nonverbal awareness, usually modeled on sensation, and epistemologically presumed incorrigible. This is the “given” with which Carnap proposed to construct the world. Rorty tends to equate Sellars’s refutation of this rather special epistemological given with a sweeping refutation of “experience” in any philosophically interesting sense. He says that in epistemology “experience” should not be understood as what Aristotle called empeiria but rather as the more Platonic-sounding ta phainomena, the appearances. He says that notions like experience and consciousness “were originally invoked to contrast something that varied independently of nature with nature itself. The philosophically interesting sense – the only sense relevant to epistemology – of experience is one that goes back to ta phainomena rather than empeiria, to a realm that might well be ‘out of touch’ with nature because it could vary while nature remained the same, and remain the same when nature varied” (TP, 296). Without being conspicuous about it, Rorty in effect makes Cartesian consciousness the model of experience. Empiricists may grumble, but Rorty is not listening. His is the “empiricism” of the critics of empiricism, the “empiricism” of Descartes and Kant, not of Bacon, Galileo, Gassendi, Boyle, or Newton, as if there were nothing more to empiricism than some egregious answer to the skeptic. That ignores empeiria, which has been central in the historical development of empiricism from antiquity to the eighteenth century. It gives “experience” a Platonic-Cartesian gloss that sets up a target for

100 barry allen skepticism, should we be so foolish to think that experience makes some contribution to knowledge. Rorty concludes that we do not require “experience” to explain anything that wants explaining about knowledge, truth, or science. Let us therefore invoke Ockham’s Razor and dismiss the notion from philosophy. For Rorty, knowledge begins, not with experience and not with innate ideas, but with discourse, language games, and social interaction in the space of reasons. Knowledge is not a causal transmission duly initiated by perception. It is a discursive, argumentative trajectory through the logical space of reasons. Experience matters only as much as a community agrees that it does, which is what matters most. To matter, experience has to matter to others, which requires communication, and then it is the language that matters, how statements stand in the logical space of reasons, not the experience of their putative cause. The argument emboldens Rorty to a vast linguistic reduction. Everything about anything is just something about language. Human beings are “nothing more than sentential attitudes – nothing more than the presence or absence of dispositions toward the use of sentences phrased in some historically conditioned vocabulary” (CIS, 88). Since “language provides our only cognitive access to objects” (PSH, 55), it follows that “all our knowledge is under descriptions suited to our current social purposes” (PSH, 48). The success of pragmatism depends on appreciating both the power and the contingency of language games. It is not as easy as Rorty makes it look, and sometimes even he has doubts. “Can the ubiquity of language ever really be taken seriously? Can we see ourselves as never encountering reality except under a chosen description?” (CP, xxxix). The challenge is to live with the implication that anything, really anything, can “be made to look good or bad, important or unimportant, useful or useless, by being redescribed” (CIS, 7). Anything is good or bad, right or wrong, true or false, only under a description. Redescribed, their value may change. That is the power of redescription. There is no power greater. It does what we used to

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 101 think only a god could do. But it is not a god, not an idol of transcendent reference. It is merely your neighbor and your neighbor’s neighbor, endlessly reiterated in the ever-changing play of language games. Rorty is adamantly averse to the radical empiricism James shares with the adamantly disdained Bergson. In an ironically selfeffacing passage, he writes, “The philosophers of today who speak well of James and Dewey tend to speak ill of Bergson. They tend to talk about sentences a lot, but to say very little about ideas of experiences” (TP, 291). Professionally, Rorty sees no point or value in a concept of experience. There is no problem in philosophy that “experience” solves. So why keep alluding to it as something precious? It is a word, only a word. Rorty defines the bounds of the philosophically interesting rather professionally. James tended to define them more personally. Problems were problems he felt, not professional problems, or at least not only them. Jean Wahl calls that James’s romanticism, which he explains as fidelity to a philosopher’s experience rather than to a professional consensus. He describes James’s pluralism as “a sort of empirical romanticism. To the pluralist, experience is romantic, facts are hard, strange, threatening . . . It is observation, fidelity to what the pluralist sees and feels, that we see at the origin of [James’s] romantic theories of volunteerism, of temporalism, of vaster consciousnesses absorbing consciousnesses of a lesser span” (Wahl 1925, 280). All of that is for Rorty the very worst of James, an aversion fueled not by more consistent pragmatism but more consistent nominalism.8

The Higher Nominalism Rorty’s nominalism is self-ascribed. It begins with Sellars’s psychological nominalism, which Rorty extends in the direction of what calls a “higher nominalism.” Sellars says “the categories of intentionality are, at bottom, semantical categories pertaining to overt verbal performances” – Rorty’s “marks and noises.” This is a variation on Ockham’s nominalist agenda. Categories of being are categories of prediction. What used to seem like ontology (a question of what

102 barry allen exists) becomes a matter of semantics, a question of how we should talk or formalize our talk. In Sellars the nominalism is “psychological,” because the “beings” it abolishes are mental entities (e.g., “self-authenticating awarenesses”) existing in advance of language and making its meaning possible. Psychological nominalism implies that “if you have semantical talk you have all the intentional talk you need” (TP, 125). Minds do not exist. Instead, we have the logical space of reasons and the language game of argument (Sellars 1963, 180). Rorty’s “higher nominalism” extends psychological nominalism to a comprehensive anti-essentialism that Sellars did not make explicit. Rorty expresses the extended claim when he explains psychological nominalism as “the doctrine that there is nothing to be known about anything save what is stated in sentences describing it . . . there is no knowledge by acquaintance, no knowledge which does not take the form of a sentential attitude” (PSH, 54). To him, that implies a world of relations without substance of any kind. Things have no intrinsic character that it is our responsibility to grasp. We are advised to “brush aside all questions about where the thing stops and its relations begin, all questions about where its intrinsic nature [stops] and its external relations begin, all questions about where its essential core ends and its periphery begins” (PSH, 57–8). Thus extended, psychological nominalism becomes a version of “the pragmatist doctrine that truth is a matter of the utility of a belief rather than of a relation between pieces of the world and pieces of language” (TP, 127). Solely convenience and consensus, no nonhuman authority, makes the use of a word or an entire vocabulary right or wrong. (Rorty 1986a) This is consistent nominalism, more so even than Ockham. It was not nominalism that made Ockham retain the category of substance. It was to save the theology of the Eucharist. A more consistent nominalism might eliminate substance, as Rorty and Hume do. Ockham allowed substance, but not knowledge of it. “We can naturally cognize no external corporeal substance in itself” (Ockham, in Pasnau 2011, 120).9 Wittgenstein quipped that a nothing is as good as a something we can say nothing about. Nominalism thus implies

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 103 anti-essentialism – not that essences exist but are unknowable; rather, there is no essence, no veiled subject, no thing-in-itself. There is nothing more to the presuppositions of meaningful language than regularities of behavior. The right idea about language “according to us nominalists,” is “that ‘recognition of meaning’ is simply ability to substitute sensible signs (i.e., marks and noises) for other signs, and still other signs for the latter, and so on indefinitely” (EHO, 115). “Nominalists see language as just human beings using marks and noises to get what they want” (EHO, 127). Nothing is more historically contingent than language games. That may be why Rorty tends to mention nominalism and historicism together, not as equivalent but complementary, Hegel finishing what Ockham started. For Rorty, “historicism” means the historical contingency of language games, and with them all epistemic values. He says that “on a historicist account, there is no description of nature that is more or less accurate or concrete than some rivals” (TP, 294). He says that “by ‘historicism’ I mean the doctrine that there is no relation of ‘closeness of fit’ between language and the world: no image of the world projected by language is more or less representative of the way the world really is than any other” (TP, 293–4). The opposite of historicism is an aspiration “to escape the vocabulary and practices of one’s own time and find something ahistorical and necessary to cling to,” that slavish hankering to bend the knee and be idolatrously true to something nonhuman, an otherworldly aspiration Rorty attributes to “the Western philosophical tradition” and “the culture for which that tradition speaks” (CP, 165). Consistent historicism can only be ironical. One must be true to the conviction that there is nothing to be true to, and live with it. Rorty’s ironists cheerfully (or is this also ironic?) abandon the idea that their most cherished convictions are made to be true by “something beyond the reach of time and chance” (CIS, xv). A “historicist and nominalist culture,” one in which such individuals write the table of values, would idealize the proliferation of Freedom over convergence toward an already existing Truth (CIS, xvi).

104 barry allen

why not nominalism? Rorty’s version of pragmatism restores the nominalism James and Dewey chased out, foreclosing their radical empiricism. And so what if he does? The criticism Rorty expects and is prepared for is that he does violence to experience, whereas James and Dewey have a better idea of what experience is really like. Rorty’s ready answer refutes the idea that experience is something “in itself,” something with a nature that might be represented more or less adequately. Practically every word of the assumption names one of Rorty’s polemical themes – “nature,” “representation,” “adequacy.” None of these notions has credibility in his pragmatism, and they have been discarded with the arguments of the higher nominalism. The proper question to ask at this point, as it is the only one Rorty acknowledges, is What difference does it make? “For pragmatists, the question should always be ‘What use is it?’ rather than ‘Is it real?’” (TP, 45). Do not say I do violence to experience. Show how introducing a reference to experience would do something worth doing that we cannot do so conveniently without it. “Some relevance to cultural politics . . . needs to be demonstrated before a problem is taken seriously” (PCP, 149). What evidence establishes such relevance? It asks too much to expect some actual practical change due to one’s cultural-political argument. Would that we had such power! But it asks too little to accept any story, however fanciful, about how a given idea might change the future. Would that it were so easy! Just because a theory does not seem likely to change anything soon, who is to say what its long-term prospects are? The best rule in cultural politics may be anarchy. Be that as it may, what difference does experience make? For one, it makes the difference between learning and not having learned, and between having tried and not having tried. It is the difference between experiments and thought experiments, or trials and fantasies. A fantasy is not an experience, because experience involves

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 105 actual sensory perception and not just imagination (phantasia). To say that experience makes this difference implies something about perception and something about memory. It refutes the tendentious equation of experience with present awareness. Empiricism is concerned with the experience from which we learn, and that experience (empeiria) is not a quale, tingle, or self-authenticating awareness. Experience requires memory, living through trials, a history of being changed by surprising encounters. Without surprise and change, nothing is learned and there is as yet no experience. Rorty thinks the idea of experience is simply futile in philosophy. There is nothing we need that it does – whoever “we” are! This is, of course, quintessential nominalism. We do not require it in our ontology; it is superfluous, adds nothing, explains nothing that we do not understand without a reference to experience. Perhaps not. Certainly only a belief, not an experience, can be a reason for a belief, and only a sentence a reason for a sentence. But who would say that only a belief can create a belief, or only sentence inspire a sentence? The only thing that creates new beliefs and inspires new sentences is experience. If we feel dissatisfied by concepts, motivated to experiment with new and different ones, it is not because of logic, which accommodates anything (with compensatory adjustment). Nor is not because of what others say, or not only that; for we do not have to take issue with them. Why do we insist, even at some price to consensus? The reason (I mean the cause) is experience. Without experience there would be no life of the mind. Without experience there would be no history, no art, no culture. That’s the difference experience makes, and radical empiricism is its most consistent philosophy. A look at Rorty’s idea of metaphor reaches a complementary conclusion. He describes metaphor as “a voice from outside logical space . . . a call to change one’s language and one’s life” (EHO, 13). He places metaphor on par with perception and inference as ways of adding new beliefs and motivating the reweaving of belief and desire (EHO, 14). How is metaphor so effective? He explains that a metaphor on first appearance is nothing but an unfamiliar noise. We recognize

106 barry allen the parts, familiar words, but not the juxtaposition. I call it a metaphor, but it could be misspoken or a coincidental combination. What it primarily is, is unfamiliar. Metaphors are unfamiliar noises. That is all metaphors are, merely unfamiliar noises. Rorty proposes to “give the highest flights of genius the same metaphysical status as thunderclaps and birdsongs” (ORT, 168): mere stimuli, mere evocations. The event may be ephemeral, but if the noise becomes a formula and is repeated, it gradually becomes normal and semantic, eventually taking its place as a literal meaning and not a metaphor at all. Until then, it is merely an unfamiliar noise. Everything depends on repetition. What Rorty seems to overlook is that metaphor is motivated, both in production and repetition. It is an unfamiliar noise to you, but not to the speaker, who means it. One makes a metaphor to do something, to express something. That is not to say there is a metaphorical sense that captures the meaning. And it is not to say that some non-metaphor might express the same sense. The point is not about metaphorical senses or meanings at all. It is about why people produce those unfamiliar noises and why we pay attention to them. Metaphorical speech is expressive action. The noises are sufficiently familiar to elicit linguistic interpretation, rather than ignoring them as we do irrelevant environmental noise, unfamiliar though it may be. What motivates a metaphor will be as different as the metaphors, but one thing we can say about all of these occasions – they are motivated by someone’s experience, some memory of perception, some repetition of sensation recollected. What is the difference between unfamiliar noises that turn out to be metaphors and unfamiliar environmental noises? It comes down to repetition. If we wanted to, we could establish instruments and notations that would enable us to repeat practically any sound we can hear. But we do not. Why do we select these few special “unfamiliar noises” for repetition? Under this description, the behavior seems bizarre. But if we consider expression, it is less strange. Going by our experience, we recognize that we have heard more than an unfamiliar noise; we have heard an expression: something – call it

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 107 thought or feeling, impression or sensation – has been expressed. The motive for doing so was the speaker’s experience, and the motive for repetition (if it happens) will be the audience’s experience. That is not to say the same experience; for who can ascertain such sameness? But that it is their various experience that motivates the metaphor no less than its repetition seems to me beyond doubt. In response to experience, something that is not a verbal structure becomes a motive to change verbal structures. Without experience, what motive would there be? Mere logical consistency is not a challenge, or not the right sort of challenge. This is the point on which Quine, in the name of empiricism, resisted Davidson’s more consistent nominalism. The rational efficacy of marks and noises depends on something other than more of the same. It depends on experience. With experience, what has been said and said ad nauseam can come to seem ill-motivated, motivating unfamiliar noises. The noises are not merely unfamiliar; they are oriented, pregnant, expressing and exploring virtualities of thought not hitherto probed, actuated by the experience of dissatisfaction and problems in knowledge as we know it. Returning radical empiricism to pragmatism would make it less rationalistic than Rorty’s version. His critics may balk. Would that he were more rational! Philosophy is rationalistic in the way empiricism traditionally criticizes when it turns away from experience toward discourse and formalism cut loose from experience. Carnap tried this one way, Rorty, infinitely more genial, tries another. “All descriptions of experience, nature, and their relation to one another will be evaluated simply in terms of expediency – of suitability for accomplishing the purpose at hand” (TP, 301). Either you are efficient, economical, prosaic, practical, pragmatic, and justified in the eye of one’s peers, or you are sentimental, a private poet, a solitary religieux. Sometimes even Rorty wonders whether he overdoes it. “I need to put a leash on my nominalism” (TP, 349). With nominalism leashed, pragmatism would have no motive to exaggerate the value of language. It could dispense with the dichotomy of reasons and causes, and convert the logical space of reasons into the technical

108 barry allen space of mediation, open to infinity. Such pragmatism would be more consistently empirical, not that Rorty values that. It also affords a more consistent relation to classical pragmatism, and does not require pragmatists to behave like vandals with respect to their own tradition, or pass everything through the filter of nominalism. *** Should we abandon empiricism and dismiss talk of experience in philosophy? That is the wish of nominalists like Sellars, Davidson, and Rorty. But we still respect and insist on experiments and expect to learn from experience. Certainly, there is more to experimental science than logical empiricism avowed. That has been the consistent message of the history and sociology of science since T. S. Kuhn. But there is also more to experience than logical empiricism averred, mutilated as it was by nominalism. Peirce and James saw pragmatism as empiricism liberated from nominalism and made consistently experimental. That was James’s radical empiricism, in which Peirce recognized his pragmatism. By dismissing radical empiricism, Rorty’s version devolves into utilitarian nominalism. Its credibility as pragmatism requires the ironic acknowledgment that it is not what pragmatism ever was before or wanted to be. Rorty labors to make pragmatism say as little as possible, and make what it does say as banal as possible, producing something pragmatism’s founders never dreamed of – a philosophy for those who have lost faith in the value of philosophy. For a reason not well explained, this demoralized nominalism is all that pragmatism has a right to be anymore.

notes 1

On nominalism and Ockham see also Pasnau 2011, 83–8.

2

See Boler 1985; Adams 1987, 53, 67, 537–8, 743–6, on the difference from

3

On “actualism,” see Adams 1974. On Peirce’s objections to nominalism,

Hume on causation. see Wilson 2016.

a pragmatism more ironic than pragmatic 109 4 On rationalism, see Frede and Striker 1996. 5 See Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, 99b and Metaphysics, 980b–81a. 6 On Hobbes and the Royal Society, see Shapin and Schaffer 1985. 7 On Rorty’s relation to earlier pragmatists, see Allen 2000 and 2004; and on Deleuze, Allen 2015. 8 I study this side of James in Allen 2017. On James and Bergson, see Allen 2013. 9 On Ockham and the Eucharist, see Pasnau 2011, 406n.

5

Rorty and Semantic Minimalism Simon Blackburn

two teams As all his readers know, Richard Rorty painted his picture of Western philosophy with a very broad brush. It resolved that history into a battle between two sides. In one corner, we have rationalists and metaphysicians, including most analytic philosophers. These are followers of Plato, Descartes, and Kant, who conceive themselves as dealing with independent facts and structures and talk unblushingly of reasons, arguments, analysis, distinctions, objectivity, and truth. These are wedded to the view that in many of their endeavors people manage to get things right, and that often enough later endeavors, by refining and building on earlier achievements, get them more nearly right, or sometimes more totally right, than their predecessors. In the other corner, Rorty places himself alongside pragmatists such as James or Dewey, not to mention Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Sellars, Davidson, Quine, Foucault, and Derrida. These are said to think differently. They are ironically resigned to history, contingency, and forces of social and linguistic change whose effects cannot be anticipated. They have no interest in epistemology and reason; they see discourse in terms of politics, not accuracy of representation. They may call themselves relativists or social constructivists or pragmatists or nihilists, but the labels are not important, and can safely be brushed aside. For in face of the crucial distance between the two orientations, fine details and potential differences between the members of these teams scarcely matter. All that matters is whether you share the delusive selfimage of the first team, conceiving yourself as a servant of logos, or whether you are a clear-sighted player in the second team. As with all crusades, you have to choose sides. Rorty was nothing if not a great team builder. 110

rorty and semantic minimalism 111 I always recall at this point a remark the great literary critic F. R. Leavis said about a similar choice: “When people line up so promptly one suspects not only that the appeal of the chic has something to do with it, but that the differences are not of a kind that has much to do with thinking” (Leavis 1986, 42). But do the teams in fact line up so quickly, or was the belief that they do so merely an illusion due to the broadness of Rorty’s brush? Others have effectively, and with some amazement, criticized a taxonomy that makes Descartes look just like Kant, and Kant look just like Plato (Rosenberg 1993). I incline as well to worry about exactly what is supposed to unite the bad team, and exactly how their opposition to the good team works. There are, of course, many pointers in Rorty’s work: the bad team might adhere to a correspondence theory of truth, to a myth of the given, to a realistic notion of “the world,” to an analytic– synthetic distinction, to truth in the surprising sense of “truth taken apart from any theory,” to a distinction between receptivity and spontaneity, or experience and theory, to a mysterious theory or irresoluble “hard problem” of consciousness. The good team throws all these out. But when we have no use for these things, what else goes missing?1 Sometimes, it appears, quite a lot. For it becomes easy to move from abjuring high philosophical theory to appearing to forswear much of the everyday with what to my eye is often an alarming nonchalance. On his best behavior, Rorty can be clear-eyed about avoiding this slide. For example, in one seminal paper, “The World Well Lost,” he contrasts the philosophers’ (alleged) notion of “the World,” the one that he wants us to lose, with the world of “the stars, the people, the tables and the grass,” which is supposed to be just fine – as presumably are events like the people observing the stars or the tables or the grass (CP, 14). But in many other places the contrast seems to blur or disappear, such as when we are told that it is only the raggle-taggle bunch of Kantians and that lot who share the “ingenuous image of themselves as accurately representing how things are” (CP, 92–3). For when people minutely observe the grass and see,

112 simon blackburn perhaps to their surprise, a bumblebee in it, what is so ingenuous or naive about them supposing that their report that there was such a thing “accurately represents how things are”? They put themselves, surely, in a position that, given their background abilities, makes it near enough certain that they believe that there is a bumblebee there if and only if there is, and telling this is exactly what is meant by accurately representing this bit of the world. When Rorty asserts that “There is no way to get outside of our beliefs and our language so as to find some test other than coherence,” is he also forgetting that in a perfectly everyday sense you have to get outside and go where the grass grows in order to observe whether there is a bumblebee there? When he tells us that “Nothing counts as justification unless by reference to what we already accept,” is he denying that the activity of observation not only helps but often provides justification (PMN, 178)? If asked whether there are bumblebees in the grass, am I supposed to answer simply “by reference to what I already accept,” excogitating an answer even if I have never been near the grass nor received intelligence about it? Apart from the inverted commas, Rorty is on stronger ground when he tells us to “see justification as a social phenomenon rather than a transaction between ‘the knowing subject’ and ‘reality’” (PMN, 9). He is right that justification is a social matter in the sense that it is only people who give verdicts allowing that people are justified in saying or believing what they do. Nobody ever has to defend themselves as being justified to a tribunal made up of the stars or the grass. We can say, with only a little imprecision, that justification is an element in solidarity, maintaining your status in the eyes of others, although of course you can also justify yourself to yourself. But very often the verdict of others hinges precisely on whether they suppose that the defendants had seen what they claim to have seen, as well as whether they interpreted it in the light of shared habits and principles. In a court of law, that’s the difference between being a credible witness and being a fantasist, fraud, or impostor. When he lets his hair down, Rorty is not enamored of that distinction either: “To treat

rorty and semantic minimalism 113 beliefs not as representations but as habits of action, and words not as representations but as tools, is to make it pointless to ask ‘Am I discovering or inventing, making or finding?’” (PSH, xxv). As I write this in the United Kingdom, a liar and fantasist, Carl Beech, has been sentenced to eighteen years in prison for neglecting exactly that distinction as he spun libelous stories incriminating many of the great and the good in horrible pedophile goings-on. I do not think this is proof that courts and jurors have been taken in by any of Plato, Descartes, or Kant. To be fair, Rorty might not have meant that sort of invention. Perhaps he meant the invention of new vocabularies, for example. But first of all, while lots of people make discoveries, such as the bumblebee in the grass, very few invent new vocabularies. And when they do, it typically results from a discovery, when new terms (“New Zealand,” “muon”) are needed to refer to what has been discovered. (It would be mischievous to dwell on the thought that Rorty’s paradigm intellectual activity, literary criticism, perhaps along with other hermeneutic studies, is one place where vocabulary inventions seem sometimes to be substantially independent of discovery.) In earlier work, I puzzled over similar slides by one of Rorty’s heroes, Donald Davidson, who says very similar things: “There is, then, very good reason to conclude that there is no clear meaning to the idea of comparing our beliefs with reality or confronting our hypotheses with observations” (Davidson 1986, 324; emphasis added).2 As I said, here, too, something that starts life supposedly as a deep philosophical objection to a high-flown correspondence theory of truth instantly metamorphoses into what sounds like the rejection of a crucial everyday activity. Davidson goes on to explain that “No such confrontation makes sense, for of course we can’t get outside our skins to find out what is causing the internal happening of which we are aware” (Davidson 2001, 144). But in any ordinary sense, confronting a hypothesis with observation is not a matter of starting with an awareness of internal happenings. It is a matter of, for instance, going and looking and possibly revising what we were inclined to believe in the

114 simon blackburn light of what we find. I confront my happy belief that the grass is safe to sit upon with observation when I look and notice the bumblebee. I postpone giving a diagnosis of these extraordinary doctrines for the moment. Meanwhile, similar worries beset some of the things that Rorty claims about truth and representation. He roundly tells us that “A pragmatist in the philosophy of science cannot use the truth of Galileo’s views as an explanation either of his success at prediction or of his gradually increasing fame” (TP, 226). Perhaps “truth” here is intended in the upper-case sense allegedly common to Plato’s team, and we know that Rorty would, rightly, not allow truth in that sense, completely beyond our ken, ever to explain anything. Nor would most other people. If we entertain Cartesian doubt, worried in case the stars and the grass and indeed the whole world of space and time is but a Matrix-like virtual reality, a veil obscuring the Truth that is beyond us, we would presumably admit that it cannot be that Truth, as opposed to truth about the stars and the rest, that explains Galileo’s success. Indeed, it would be a standard part of the skeptical package that we couldn’t give any such explanation. But truth in the world of stars and people and tables and grass, Galileo’s world, the world we talk about, can certainly help to explain successes at prediction and gradually increasing fame. Perhaps the point is instead that the truth, for instance, that the acceleration of a falling body does not vary with its weight, does not by itself explain why Galileo got interested in the topic and found out about it. But then the claim is completely uninteresting, and certainly not the private insight of pragmatists, or any other philosophical school.3 In any more interesting sense, the claim is manifestly indefensible. The truth that there was a bumblebee in the grass clearly helps to explain why I believed it was there, even if the reason I was investigating the grass remains unclear to people. The astonishing accuracy of Captain Cook’s charts of different coastlines is exactly what explains his fame as a navigator, exactly what explained the habit of seamen seeking out and using those charts to navigate, and exactly what explained the fact that they

rorty and semantic minimalism 115 coped so much better when they did so. And, fortunately, Cook did not excogitate the topography “by reference to what he already accepted.” He had to go and measure. Of course, it was already accepted by navigators long before Cook that you do indeed have to go and measure. But it wasn’t joining in that acceptance that explained Cook’s success. It was how he acted upon it and, because of the accuracy of the newly invented chronometer, how he was able to do so scrupulously and with unprecedented precision. Rorty tells us that “Instead of seeking ‘vertical’ relationships between language, or ourselves as language users, and the world, we must concentrate upon ‘horizontal’ or inferential processes, whereby we advance and accept reasons from each other. Justification becomes a ‘social phenomenon’ rather than a transaction between a ‘knowing subject’ and ‘reality’” (PMN, 9): solidarity, not copying. I would find it very difficult to see Cook’s procedures and success in terms of this opposition. As we have already seen, justification is indeed a matter of justification to yourself and others. But this is not in contrast to putting yourself in touch with reality. It is largely determined by it. Not being, as sometimes mapmakers before him and since him have been, a fantasist or a fraud, Cook carefully put himself into an interesting relationship with different coastlines of the world. It was only his having done so that justified him in publishing his charts and gave them their utility. When he did so, they were taken up and read. There wouldn’t have been much social to-and-fro about his justification for what they tell. He produced and others consumed – after all, they were in no position to conduct a trial of his sayings. They hadn’t been there. They trusted him, and their trust was well placed. Here, semantic terminology swims into view. A good, precise way of putting it is that the people who could read knew what the symbols and signs on the chart represented. They had to learn to do this kind of thing, and it is not a trivial matter. The booklet that currently enables this in the United Kingdom is entitled Symbols and Abbreviations Used on Admiralty Charts. My 1984 edition contains thirty-seven densely packed pages,

116 simon blackburn interpreting twenty-two categories of symbols and abbreviations. Without knowing what those symbols represent, a chart is useless. Knowing what they represent is indeed a success in the social world, putting the reader in touch with the cartographer, and if you cannot navigate this bit of the social world, you cannot navigate at all. If you go to sea, it would not be the world that is lost, but the sailor.4 That is your motivation for putting yourself in touch with Cook, or nowadays with the Admiralty, by learning their language. One symbol on a chart represents a dangerous rock that covers and uncovers at different phases of the tide. If we find semantic terminology mysterious, or have some philosophical animus against it, we might look for analysis or paraphrase. Consider the nonaccidental coordination between author and reader. The author has put into the public domain a sign, and this enables the reader to make appropriate inferences and responses. We might wish to talk of intentions, as Grice did, or habits or conventions, as I would prefer. Neither approach would undermine the simple fact that the chart works by representing a rock that covers and uncovers at a certain place, and the reader has had to learn as much. So why did representation, together with reference and truth, become such a target for Rorty’s second team? Part of the diagnosis must be that Rorty and Davidson have absorbed Sellars’s distinction between the “space of causes” and “the space of reasons,” and taken it to imply that since observation is a causal process the processes of observation cannot have anything to do with reason and justification. It is as if there is no difference between looking and seeing the bumblebee and being caused by something else, such as a blow on the head or a mad brainstorm, to form a conviction that there is a bumblebee in the grass. The different causal etiology can make no difference to the justification of the belief. Cook would have been equally justified in publishing his charts if he had hallucinated the coastlines of New Zealand and New South Wales from his bed. Surely, however, this implication only has to be exposed to reveal its absurdity. Our senses are adaptations for increasing the probability

rorty and semantic minimalism 117 that beliefs formed using them are true; brainstorms are not. We do not have to be bog-standard empiricists to be aware that such an increase in probability has a great deal to do with justification. A glimpse, a bark, or a whiff might any of them justify me in suspecting the presence of Fido in my vicinity. Even more discreditably, perhaps, the doctrine that observation is theory-laden confused some people into thinking that there is no significant difference between relying on observation and merely relying on the lore you bring with you, as if good observation is entirely a matter of shuffling words and thoughts. Or is it that the bogey of the indeterminacy of translation led to despair as to whether the symbol really indicates the presence of a rock that covers and uncovers, or something else? It doesn’t do to despair over that when you are in a boat. And in spite of Nietzsche’s alignment of truth and metaphor, there is nothing metaphorical about what the chart tells the sailor. If I said that a sometimessubmerged rock threatens to sink Rorty’s semantic boat, the metaphor would need to be unpacked, but there is no unpacking to be done when using the chart. Nor is there anything to deconstruct, only something to read. Irony is not in place. Since these explanations only seem to give weak excuses, it might take hard work from the admired Edinburgh school to understand why in the late twentieth century people began to say these extraordinary things, and to be heard and applauded for doing so. Perhaps, though, there is another issue in the background, which Rorty may have inherited from Dewey.

misunderstanding dewey? John Dewey wrote that the basic fallacy in representative realism is that while it actually depends upon the inferential phase of enquiry, it fails to interpret the immediate quality and the related idea in terms of their functions in inquiry. On the contrary it views representative

118 simon blackburn power as an inherent property of sensations and ideas as such, treating them as “representations” in and of themselves. Dualism or bifurcation of mental and physical existence is a necessary result, presented, however, not as a result but as a given fact . . . psychological or mental existences which are then endowed with the miraculous power of standing for and pointing to existences of a different order. (Dewey 1938, 514–15)

Dewey’s target here is the idea that representative power could be the intrinsic property of a particular thing. If we thought that, then we would soon notice that ordinary things around us, such as arrangements of marks on paper, or sounds in auditory space, or for that matter arrangements of furniture or flowers, have no such intrinsic powers. We might then be in danger of thinking that since such things are, as it were, disappointingly inert, the real power must come from some other kind of thing: mental existences of a different order, such as ideas or concepts. Wittgenstein had a similar target in the passages on rule-following. Our dispositions to apply or withhold terms in new contexts can only be contingently associated with any particular thing, whether on the page or in the head. It cannot be explained by the range or extent of a presence in the mind or anywhere else. Dewey calls his target “representative realism,” but that was misleading. Firstly, on the face of it the problem has nothing to do with realism: the difficulty over intrinsic or immediate representational power would be just as serious if it were applied to representations of Santa Claus or fairies instead of sometimes-submerged rocks. But secondly, and I think more importantly for a discussion of Rorty’s philosophy, the target is not representation as such, but a particular account of what representation requires. The target is not our ability to represent coastlines with charts, foodstuffs with menus, or times of departure with timetables, but the idea that we do such things by making present to our minds one or another entity with an intrinsic, self-standing, and miraculous, power of doing it for us.5

rorty and semantic minimalism 119 I think there is no doubt that Rorty rightly absorbed Dewey’s criticism of this kind of theory of representational power. That much is visible in his dislike of semantic atomism and his rejection of semantic nominalism, that being any theory that construes all meaning in terms of a name–bearer relation, forgetting that it is only by having been given a use that a word has meaning. But there is a question whether Rorty himself misconstrued Dewey, by imagining that his target included the very idea of representation itself, as if, having decided that maps, menus, and timetables don’t work one way, we conclude that they don’t work, full stop. That would unfortunately reveal enslavement by the theory Dewey is attacking, supposing that if it does not tell us the way representation works, it cannot work any way at all. Twentieth-century pragmatism itself barred any such inference in the case of truth. Ramsey, Wittgenstein, Quine, and numerous followers offer deflationist or minimalist conceptions of this. They confirm the innocence of the notion by ensuring that it smuggles no metaphysical luggage, and implies no doubtful philosophy of its own. So it cannot be a sensible target of philosophical critique. Not too far from these deflationists stand other philosophers such as Davidson, who, without subscribing to full-scale minimalism or deflationism, nevertheless admit that truth and representation are so tied in with concepts such as belief and assertion that they could not be jettisoned without at the same time abandoning all the rest of our intentional vocabulary, denying ourselves the title of thinking and believing things at all. Nevertheless, many pragmatists of a generation following Rorty have inherited some of his nervousness about “representationalism.” One manifestation of this, perhaps encouraged by deflationism about truth, is what Huw Price calls semantic minimalism, and in the rest of this chapter I shall offer some remarks about any such program.6 In the hands of Paul Horwich, perhaps its most influential defender, deflationism about truth is applied to propositions, not sentences or inscriptions or words on a page. As such, it comes at

120 simon blackburn the same time as interpretation, not before it. That is, at exactly the same time and by exactly the same process as we learn to interpret a sentence on a page, we learn what does or would make the thought it expresses true. There is no grasp of the one without the other. But deflationism about truth is utterly silent about what might be needed for this process of interpretation to take place. In other words, it does not concern itself with what it is to learn to hear or read what is being said to you. If we are allowed to use the terminology, we could say that it is a priori that the proposition that there is a sometimessubmerged rock at some place is just the same as the proposition that it is true that there is a sometimes-submerged rock at that place. But it is not a priori that any particular sign or symbol or sentence means that. It is entirely contingent whether anyone grasps that. There are familiar kinds of thing that might be said by someone giving the semantics of some term, or terms, or sentences, or other fragments, of some language. Let us say that doing this is giving a semantic description of these terms or fragments or sentences. Such semantic descriptions offer interpretations. Familiar examples might be: “Schnee” in German refers to snow. “Snow” in English refers to snow. “London” in English refers to London. “Santa Claus” in English refers to Santa Claus. “Good” in English is true of good things. “London is a good city” is true in English if and only if London is a good city. “London is a good city” means in English that London is a good city. Although familiar, such sentences can spawn confusion. One such might arise if we do not notice an ambiguity in what is being talked of as “English” or “German.” Are these identified syntactically, in the way that a logician would identify a formal language – that is, by their

rorty and semantic minimalism 121 lexicons and by whatever tells competent speakers that such-andsuch is a grammatical construction within the language, corresponding to a well-formed formula in a logical calculus? Having specified a formal language in this way, logicians can choose whatever interpretation they wish for symbols of the language, and it is contingent which ones they do choose. By parity, if this is the model, our specimen sentences are plainly contingent: had history been slightly different, “snow” in English might have referred to hail. There are quite nearby possible worlds in which it does so. The speakers of English are, together, sovereign in just the same way that the logician is, and their collective habits could have been different. A different policy would identify languages by some larger set of capacities exercised by their users – some combination of syntax and interpretation, so that, strictly speaking, it would not be English if “snow” did not refer to snow. In this case interpretation-giving statements, such as those just listed, are necessarily true, or made true by the definition of what counts as English. On this way of thinking, just as it wouldn’t be chess if the King could move two squares at a time (it would not really be a King, either) it wouldn’t be English unless the whole panoply of words and sentences used by English speakers had the meanings they do. Presumably, we are free to define English or German whichever way we like, just as we could decide to let in variant versions of chess as chess, not as some other game (we do this with bridge or poker, which have different versions with different rules). And it is familiar that the contingency that is subverted if we go in for a partially semantic identification of a language reappears at a different place. If, instead of saying that it is contingent that “snow” in English refers to snow, we say that it is necessary because it is an essential property of English that it does so, we have made English into an abstract structure implicitly defined by its totality of lexicon and semantics. But in that case, of course, it is contingent that English is the actual language implemented in the speech of any particular population – just as, if we define chess by its totality of rules, it becomes

122 simon blackburn contingent that anyone has ever played it. So there is still a contingency that needs identifying and perhaps explaining and justifying, namely the contingency that people like me speak and read and understand English.7 It cannot be something minimal, but something substantial in my dispositions and abilities that makes this true, just as it is a substantial and unfortunate gap in my dispositions and abilities that makes it true that I do not speak Mandarin, for example, and it must be something about a player’s dispositions and their guidance that makes it true that he is playing chess and not some little-known or private variant. It might seem, then, that there is no space for real semantic minimalism. Nevertheless, one way of sympathizing with it (perhaps not the only one) takes off from a basically Davidsonian approach to thinking about meaning, in which we imagine a Tarskian truth theory for a language that simply gives interpretations for some basic expressions and then “chases truth up the tree of grammar” as Quine nicely put it (1986, 35). When our project is to describe the actual language of some population, we proceed empirically and holistically, adopting a methodological principle of charity. Tarski’s T-sentences are of course extensional, but the fact that a T-sentence is a suitable entry in an interpretative theory of English is not. That is, the sentence “‘snow is white’ is true in English iff snow is white” is a suitable entry, whereas the extensionally equivalent sentence “‘snow is white’ is true in English iff grass is green” is not. The first is suitable because we could embed it in a systematic system for interpreting many, many English sentences, delivering results that make English speakers appear both rational and truthful. Reference comes into this story because as well as clauses for whole sentences we need clauses determining their makeup from their contributing constituents. Only if we do this can we track the way in which the contributing ingredients can be reshuffled in order to generate new sentences that are also part of English, and that can be more or less automatically understood by competent users of the language on the basis of what they have already

rorty and semantic minimalism 123 absorbed. Then the idea is that these atomic entries are only implicitly defined by their role in the whole overall picture of the language. That is, there is no need to ask, and no point in asking, whether “reference” is the same whether we talk about an abstract object, a physical place, a real person, or a fictional person. Reference becomes a bookkeeping notion, necessary to help us keep accounts rather than itself a source of semantic capital. It is as general as the capacity of humans to pay attention to things, or have their attention drawn to them. It is perhaps easier to grasp this idea if we proceed in terms of Sellars’s dot notation. With this we say that “x” is a •X• where x is an expression of the object language, X is an expression in the language we are using to describe the object language (these may be the same), and the result of putting X between the dots is to denote the conceptual role that, contingently, is the one played by X. We might put this by saying that •X• is a rigid designator denoting the role of the term inside the dots that works by giving us an instance or a sample of the role in question. The dot notation gives us a rigid designator in the metalanguage, fixed to the role some specific word or sentence of the object language has. Using it gives us what Peter Strawson (1949) called degenerate contingent metastatements: contingent given that we think that English might have evolved with words having different roles than those they actually have, meta since they are statements about object-language terms and sentences, and degenerate in the sense that unless you already know the role played by the terms or sentences inside the dots, they would not be intelligible to you. As information-giving sentences about those roles, they are therefore useless, but they are true, and, of course, fitted to play a role in a systematic semantics, satisfying Quine’s ambition. These semantic clauses are themselves minimal – we might say, disappointing, degenerate, or, in one terminology, “modest,” in the precise sense that they take the roles of the expressions in the metalanguage for granted. They are simply silent about what those

124 simon blackburn roles are, and they are similarly silent about the nature of the rapport between utterer and reader or hearer. From this beginning, minimalism might now transmute into the doctrine that I called “quietism,” denying that philosophers can find genuinely informative things to say about the terms central to our schemes of thought. It may not be possible to say anything interesting about •chair• or •cause• or •good•. We may be able to use these terms, like others, without being able to say what their use is. Any philosophical commentary could only be making explicit something that is normally implicit, and there is room for uncertainty whether this can be done.8 This is certainly not so across the board. If we want to know what these roles are, sometimes there is plenty of space for commentary to come flooding back. So, consider examples like “Fore!” in English is a •Fore!• or “Abracadabra” in English is an •Abracadabra•. These are both true, and both degenerate in the sense that each takes reference to its respective role for granted. It is up to the reader to supply knowledge of that. But of course we can go on to make explicit the information implicitly supplied by the knowing reader of such clauses. The •Fore!• role is that of a warning most frequently used on a golf course to warn people of an oncoming ball. The •Abracadabra• role is that of a term mostly used by stage magicians to herald the unveiling of a surprise. We might say that this commentary is itself part of semantics, or we might choose to call this an exercise of metasemantics, a commentary on the minimal truths contained in semantics proper. I cannot see that anything hangs on this choice: either way, the explication of the roles obviously gives us something more than the minimal clauses, and something that we clearly need in order to be able to say informatively how these terms function in English. The role •refers• seems to be one which is quite amenable to a clarificatory story. Michael Williams (2013) has helpfully suggested that pragmatists should distinguish three elements in an explanation of meaning in terms of use (an EMU). There is to be an

rorty and semantic minimalism 125 epistemological element describing how claims using the concept can be justified or established. There is to be an inferential element describing the conditionals that link them to other claims or other mental states, and there is a functional element describing what job is done by having such terms in our repertoire. In the case of reference, the three components would firstly describe how you come to know that a term “a” refers to some object of thought a. The second would describe the inferences in which this piece of knowledge is embedded (this is what the predicate calculus provides for us). And the functional clause would explain the utility of knowing this kind of thing, which is that it enables you to understand what others are talking about, and in many cases enables you to anticipate what you will find as you move around the world. Reference, representation, and their kin need not surface as primitives, but as useful concepts telling of the role that particular terms play in the communicative habits and communicative successes of the users of a language. In this way, pragmatism should not be hostile to representation, but should enfold it. We might now face a choice. We might want our concepts of reference and representation to be entirely catholic, covering anything that might be a topic or intended focus of shared attention – anything at all in fact, echoing the thought that if a reader or hearer is to understand the producer of a term then they must literally know what the producer is talking about. Or, we might wish to be discriminating about where such terms are appropriate. At the beginning of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein makes it plain that he rejects Augustine’s name–bearer picture of language in general. But he does not say that it never applies: indeed the “primitive” language of his builders, one of whom calls for and the other of whom delivers deliver blocks, pillars, slabs, and beams, is presented precisely as wholly Augustinian. But Augustine, we might say, does describe a system of communication; only not everything that we call language is this system. And one

126 simon blackburn has to say this in many cases where the question arises “Is this an appropriate description or not?” The answer is: “Yes, it is appropriate, but only for this narrowly circumscribed region, not for the whole of what you were claiming to describe.” (Wittgenstein 1998, 3)

Unfortunately, it is not clear what circumscribes the region. Is it that the builders are dealing with visible objects, present in their environment and within a close causal range of them? It seems unlikely that Augustine did not realize that we refer to a huge variety of things outside our present ken. Wittgenstein goes on to say, “When we say: ‘every word in language signifies something’ we have so far said nothing whatever; unless we have explained exactly what distinction we wish to make” (Wittgenstein 1998, 7). In other words, taken by itself, Augustine’s picture is utterly bland rather than pernicious. Similar points can be made about all semantic vocabulary. There are truths to be had about every subject matter under the sun. Equally, we can be said to express ourselves on any subject matter whatsoever, which raises the worry that “global expressivism” will no more identify a definite doctrine than “global representationalism.” After all, we are always trying to express something when we communicate. The detail has to come in the contrasts we draw and the distinctions we make. But which contrasts and distinctions is a poor philosopher equipped to make? Does a kind of minimalism resurface here? We say that a symbol refers to or represents something when, amongst some set of people, in virtue of conventions or regularities in their behavior, it has the power reliably to coordinate attention on that thing. Hence, reference and representation are as wide-ranging as our abilities to fix attention on the same thing. Those abilities include having attention to things in an environment, like rocks and coastlines, but extend across the whole field of thought, including attention to abstract objects, fictional objects, properties, functions, and so on. There will also be cases where we think we are focusing attention on one object, but there is no object there. This is when

rorty and semantic minimalism 127 reference fails, and some version of the theory of descriptions is at hand to tell us what we are doing instead. There is therefore scope here for the semantics or metasemantics to lead us to exorcizing unnecessary metaphysics: values, necessities, numbers, selves, and other suspects can be revealed not, as appears at first sight, as objects of attention, but as reifications deriving from our inferential or other practices. It would be legitimate to talk of semantic minimalism if, but only if, the phenomena of shared attention were themselves wholly intralinguistic. In other words, the only criterion of success would be that onetime hearers or readers go on to imitate the linguistic behavior of a producer, becoming themselves producers in turn. But as Sellars or Wittgenstein should have taught us, this is by no means so. To be sure, a symbol will be embedded in inferential practices, mastery of which is signaled by equivalence of linguistic behavior. But it is hostage to shared entry rules (response to observation) and exit rules (coordination of nonlinguistic activity as a result of sayings). Learners demonstrate that they can now read a piece of music not by saying the right things but by playing the right notes often enough, and mariners demonstrate they can read charts when they plot safe courses by using them. The prime criterion of understanding the notion of causation is that you use causal judgments to determine how you expect events to unfold or how you manipulate them to unfold in a desired way. I see this story as pragmatist in spirit. It vindicates the idea that words are tools – tools for coordinating attention and action. It also vindicates the view that anything more substantial that needs saying will be at the local level, where Wittgenstein hoped to uncover it. It redeems semantic vocabulary by placing it where it should be placed, in the mundane communicative abilities of people. If it suggests that further understanding of those abilities is not to be found only in linguistic behavior but will require an injection from the philosophy of mind, telling us more about our intensional powers, that may surely be no bad thing.

128 simon blackburn Wittgenstein also said that, in some cases but not all, the meaning of a word is its use (Wittgenstein 1998, 20). I think he should have done without the qualification.

notes 1

As Jay Rosenberg says, “When such a torrent of bathwater hits the pavement, it’s easy enough to overlook the occasional discarded baby that goes floating by” (Rosenberg 1993, 196).

2

I discussed Davidson’s pronouncements in Blackburn 2005, 148–62.

3

In a footnote, Rorty commends philosophers of the Edinburgh school of sociology of science for bringing in the background history of Galileo and his readers’ interest in such a matter. But the no doubt fascinating history of why I should be interested in the denizens of the grass does not topple the presence of the bumblebee from its role in explaining why I thought it was there (TP, 226, n43).

4

Rorty sometimes describes human beings as no more than “incarnated vocabularies” (CIS, 88). But you cannot imagine a vocabulary of any kind hitting the rocks and drowning.

5

We might remember Frank Jackson’s famous jibe that that “he has been at conferences in which people attacking representation nevertheless have in their pockets pieces of paper with writing on them that tell them where the conference dinner is and when the taxis leave for the airport” (Jackson 1997, 270).

6

These remarks overlap to some extent with a discussion with a slightly different focus in Blackburn 2019.

7

Carnap was nicely clear about the choice between these two ways of thinking of a language, distinguishing between a “pure” semantics in which we have made the logician’s choice, identifying a language purely by its lexicon and formation rules, retaining the authority to interpret the symbols however we wish, and an “applied” semantics in which interpretation is beholden to the actual behavior of some identified population (Carnap 1942).

8

Price, for one, is not a semantic minimalist in this sense. He applauds the Wittgensteinian emphasis on differences of linguistic function, quoting the famous image of the levers in the locomotive to suggest the way forward.

6

Returning to the Particular: Morality and the Self after Rorty Alan Malachowski

Richard Rorty’s handling of morality generally receives less concerted attention than his treatment of other topics considered central to the concerns of Western philosophers. One unfortunate reason for this is that, from very early on, commentators and critics have tended to assume the force of their objections to his views on the other topics such as the foundations of knowledge or the nature of truth automatically carries over to those on morality, so these warrant little further discussion. This is a mistake, but one of some interest. Leaving aside the issue as to whether those objections are damaging to their primary targets, they do not automatically invalidate Rorty’s views on morality. And, in any case, they fail to address interesting complexities and developments in his thinking. Nevertheless, the error is an understandable one. For Rorty’s pragmatist approach to moral matters can appear to derive initially from the epistemological behaviorism he advocates in what he rightly regards as the pivotal chapter – chapter IV – of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. At that stage, it also seems to depend on the epistemological picture of philosophy’s development painted throughout at least a third of the book. In Rorty’s overall approach to morality, the most striking feature is undoubtedly his downplaying of the philosophical emphasis that is placed on both principles and rationality within the Kantian ethical tradition or under its influence. He insists principles are best generated out of, and hence conceived as, attempts to cope with our changing world and, especially, with each other. We build them into our adaptive strategies, so they should be thought of as contingent rules of thumb, not timeless, unimpeachable rules. To say “they are rational” as an intended gesture of ultimate approval can be to say no more than: “there is currently sufficient general agreement that they 129

130 alan malachowski work for us.” There is no higher court of appeal for their validation and no formula for deciding in advance exactly what “sufficient general agreement” entails. Rorty’s estimation of principles is well summed up by Jerome Schneewind when he tells us Rorty “particularly dislikes the attachment philosophers have to universal principles. His attitude rests in part on his view that principles are only summaries of what has been found to be acceptable in the past” (Schneewind 2010, 496). And this clearly falls in line with John Dewey’s definition: “Principles are empirical generalizations from the ways in which previous judgments of conduct have worked out” (Dewey 1922, 240). Rorty’s distaste for the philosophical elevation of principles also fits in with his rampant anti-authoritarianism and his overarching enthusiasm for what we can call “radical self-reliance,” according to which human beings and their cultural practices are beholden to no trans-social authority and certainly not to what he dubs “the quasi-divinity”: Reason.1 For the most part, the present chapter sidesteps the theme of “principles and rationality” to instead reconsider Rorty’s way of dealing with morality and the self. But it first visits the question as to whether his approach needs, from the outset, to incorporate a more robust conception of rationality than his epistemological behaviorism seems to allow. We make this detour because the critical reception of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is swamped with complaints that Rorty’s behaviorism and his related views on knowledge, morality, reason, and truth add up to no more than an ill-disguised form of self-defeating relativism. At the time of writing, he recognized that such negative responses are to be expected: “To say that the True and the Right are matters of social practice may seem to condemn us to a relativism which, all by itself, is a reductio of a behaviorist approach to either knowledge or morals” (PMN, 178). And, as we might expect, Rorty takes steps to forestall accusations of blatant relativism. These demurrals are mostly ignored or regarded as transparently unsuccessful.

returning to the particular 131 But in all fairness, they are not particularly robust. Since similar complaints have lingered throughout Rorty’s career, I thought it would be a good idea to see whether his approach to morality could have been made less assailable in this respect from an early stage. I initially suspected that the best way to do this would be to squeeze more objectivity into Rorty’s conception of morality by bringing his conception of radical self-reliance closer to the Kantian notion of autonomy and then to somehow realign it with epistemological behaviorism, even though Rorty pits this against Kant’s views. My hunch here was that without impinging on the practical upshot, Rorty’s take on morality could be given a face-lift, one that made it more formally acceptable in the manner of simply not appearing to be so vulnerable to distracting charges of relativism. But, in reviewing Rorty’s various responses to Kantian morality alongside what he perceives to be the benefits of his own approach, I realized that such a face-lift is neither required nor, in fact, possible. It turns out that Rorty’s treatment of morality stands firmly enough on its own pragmatist feet, as intended, not as a putative refutation of Kant’s account, but rather as an incommensurable, down-to-earth alternative to it, one that caters for morality at ground level as a cultural practice evolving from, and subject to, particular historical pressures. At the same time, it becomes clear that complaints about relativism are invariably beside the point because they tend to assume Rorty’s approach to morality has to answer to universal constraints Kant envisaged, or ones that are narrowly exacting in kind. Such complaints fail to acknowledge that Rorty’s conception of morality is expressly designed to meet pragmatic criteria of success. Then, they ignore the fact that it succumbs to the particular pressures exerted by these criteria only when they are filtered through the demands of a liberal democratic political framework. Indeed, we might also describe these demands in terms of a need for morality to comport with the kind of self that Rorty believes liberalism both gives birth to and depends on. These latter requirements, these “liberal demands,” are not brought to the table until Rorty affords

132 alan malachowski political realism priority over morality as it is usually philosophically depicted and develops a corresponding notion of the self. This prioritizing is something he conceives during a journey that begins with writings such as “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy” (ORT, 175–96), takes an engaging trip through Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, and ends with Rorty’s enthusiastic endorsement of what he terms “Cultural Politics.”

morality and the epistemological enterprise In Chapter IV of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, the pivotal chapter, Rorty defines epistemological behaviorism, rather casually it may seem, in societal terms: “Explaining rationality and epistemic authority by reference to what society lets us say, rather than the latter by the former is the essence of what I shall call ‘epistemological behaviorism’” (PMN, 174). However, as so often with Rorty, the insouciant surface appearance is deceptive. This formulation is the precipitate of his understanding of salient themes in the work of Quine and Sellars, which are outlined in Chapter IV. And it embodies, as he also points out, “an attitude common to John Dewey and Ludwig Wittgenstein” (PMN, 174). This attitude regards presumptive foundational phenomena, such as those identified in metaphysical frameworks or at ontological base camps, to be surplus to philosophical requirements. The kernel of what Rorty extracts from Quine and Sellars is the idea that “truth and knowledge can only be judged by the standards of the inquirers of our own day” (PMN, 178, emphasis added), and that an adequate epistemology needs to be thoroughly holistic, because “there is no way to get outside our beliefs and our language so as to find some test other than coherence” (PMN, 178). Rorty spends time showing us that there is a path leading from both Quine and Sellars to what might best be termed “social practice holism.” He takes it that Quine’s attack on the analytic/synthetic distinction invites us to get away from thinking that there are words the meanings of which are “super stable” because they cannot be overturned by empirical considerations in the to-and-fro of life.

returning to the particular 133 Philosophers can, then, and ought to, give up their dependence upon and the search for anything of that incontrovertible kind to serve grounding purposes or to rationalize how sensory input should be organized to the satisfaction of philosophical rectitude. As for Sellars, here Rorty finds support for his own pragmatist view that the justification of knowledge claims is primarily a social, interpersonal concern rather than one involving relations between minds and the world and/or their own contents. He takes it that Sellars’s famous account of science as a “self-correcting enterprise” (Sellars 1963, 170) shows “rationality is a matter not of obedience to standards (which epistemologists might hope to codify), but rather of give-and-take participation in a co-operative social project” (Rorty 1997b, 6). But we do not need to retrace Rorty’s steps along this path, because what is more interesting and to the point here is (1) how he gets from the backing he extracts for his conclusions regarding epistemic authority to talk of “the Right” alongside “the True,” and then (2) whether this talk actually involves a behavioral conception of morality. Epistemological concerns dominate much of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Indeed, the chapter preceding Chapter IV is even entitled “The Idea of a ‘Theory of Knowledge.’” Epistemology is dominant because, according to Rorty’s understanding of the role Kant played in the progress of philosophical thought within the West, it came to dominate philosophy. There are two key elements. First, Rorty credits Kant with having virtually single-handedly reinvented philosophy by professionalizing it as an epistemological enterprise, thus enabling “historians of philosophy to make the thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fall into place as attempting to answer the question ‘How is our knowledge possible?’” (PMN, 132). Second, he submits that given the all-embracing nature of the Kantian epistemological enterprise, morality is exigently subsumed under its jurisdiction. This means that if epistemology is relieved of its obsessions with certain notions concerning what rationality and truth must involve, then morality gains similar relief.

134 alan malachowski Notice, however, that in playing along with the Kantian jurisdictional claim and not clearly distancing his own approach from its epistemological capture of morality, Rorty seems to be echoing an underlying assumption of his own critics: “What goes for behavioral epistemology also goes for morality.” At the same time, he is ambiguous throughout Mirror whenever he discusses morality in conjunction with epistemology. We said earlier that Rorty’s approach to morality can appear to derive from his epistemological behaviorism, but at times he writes as if the derivation goes the other way. That is to say, without providing independent confirmation of such a move, he appeals to analogies with morality to bolster his account of epistemology. At a minimum, he then appears to be implying, “If justification by social means works for morality, why should it not work for epistemology?” A clear-cut instance of this reverse derivation involves Rorty’s appeal to moral philosophers’ differing outlooks on the status of human rights, where he points out that they are generally inclined to agree these are needed and should be granted, but are divided over “whether there are ‘ontological foundations’ for [them]” (PMN, 178). Rorty suggests the analogy involved “lets us focus on the issue about behaviorism in epistemology.” It does this, he maintains, because it shows that what is at stake is “not adequacy of explanation of fact [because the existence of, or necessity for, human rights is accepted], but rather whether a practice of justification can be given a ‘grounding’ in fact.” Then the pertinent question is “whether the idea of epistemic or moral authority having a ‘ground’ in nature is a coherent one” (PMN, 178). Rorty insists that for the pragmatist, it is not. “For the pragmatist in morals, the claim that the customs of a given society are ‘grounded in human nature’ is not one which he knows how to argue about. He is a pragmatist because he cannot see what it would be like for a custom to be so grounded” (PMN,178). But to the alert reader’s eye, this unwittingly raises the possibility that morality can be handled separately from epistemological behaviorism. Moreover, without further argument and

returning to the particular 135 elaboration, Rorty’s appeal to the pragmatist’s inability to discern how customs connected with morality are grounded in nature sheds little light on, nor provides any direct support for, his antifoundationalist behavioral contentions regarding knowledge.

an independent conception In Chapter VI of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, one of the places where he explicitly responds to the charge of relativism, Rorty drives a further wedge between epistemology and morality, by distinguishing two senses of “good”: a philosophical sense and an ordinary “shopworn” sense. It is only in the first sense that problems such as relativism arise, he tells us, because such problems are caused by the very way in which the philosophical tradition has treated words such as “good.” They are, so to speak, philosophical creations, “designed precisely to stand for the Unconditioned – that which escapes the context within which discourse is conducted and inquiry pursued and purports to establish a new context” (PMN, 309). Philosophical problems such as “relativism” only occur when such words, though invoked in full philosophical plumage, inevitably fail to live up to absolutist expectations. Here, as elsewhere in Mirror, Rorty seems to be entirely confident that just as the use of the ordinary version of “good” to commend things requires no philosophical elucidation or backup, its moral counterpart is correspondingly self-sufficient. Indeed, for him, there is no sharp line dividing the two, and “one is not going to find a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for goodness which will enable one to find the Good Life, resolve moral dilemmas, grade apples, or whatever” (PMN, 307). We are equally entitled to call something good whether we regard it as commendable or it satisfies our current moral intuitions. Philosophers have no genuine incentive, and certainly no inherent right, to try to interfere in a definitive way in either case. However, if we read between the lines here, and it does not always have to be between them, we can see Rorty is floating a

136 alan malachowski conception of morality that is independent, and not just of epistemological behaviorism. When, for example, he says that it is highly unlikely that “none of our moral intuitions are right” (PMN, 305), he is assuming this can be accepted simply as said, that is without support from the kind of arguments he lifted from Quine and Sellars. Rorty is, or so it appears, already thinking of morality as an autonomous social practice, one that incorporates its own standards of efficacy, adjusting these as it develops over time in its own particular ways, which means beyond the reach of philosophy, even the epistemological behaviorist’s kind. It is out of reach presumably, although Rorty does not state this outright, because as a participatory social practice morality cannot only be properly understood from the external perspective that has to be adopted by philosophical theory. There are three immediate consequences of Rorty’s tendency to think of morality as independent in the sense considered here. I alluded to the first earlier. However, it follows not from him thinking of morality in this way, but rather from his failure to be clear from the outset that he is thinking of it in this way. As a result, Rorty’s approach to morality, to say it again, is frequently not differentiated by critics from his approach to epistemology and the related roles of rationality and truth. They are therefore inclined to take Rorty’s conception of morality even less seriously than they take his avowedly “Deweyan conception of knowledge” (PMN, 9). At best, as we also said, they assume their complaints about Rorty’s handling of epistemological issues carry straight over to his treatment of moral matters, which they can then ignore. And, to repeat, Rorty does little to discourage this. The second consequence is more positive, but because of the first, it is often overlooked. Rorty treats morality as a sociohistorical phenomenon constituted by cultural practices over which philosophers as such have no special authority because Kant was simply wrong to claim that moral concepts “have their seat and origin fully a priori in reason” (Kant 2002, 28). An ethical life is, as Hegel maintained, “a life arising out of history and culture, not an a priori

returning to the particular 137 system” (Bates 2010, 4). Indeed, it is an integral part of, to borrow Herbert Marcuse’s memorable phrase, “the living substance of history,” something which when thought about philosophically needs to be thought about on such particular terms (Marcuse 2005, 106). And Rorty suggests this involves engaging with a greater variety of fruitful questions than those normally addressed within the theoretical confines dictated by traditional moral philosophy. These questions cater for the practical complexities of morality, and concern such matters as how and why it changes, what natural authority it has, and what lends it stability. They are also closely connected, as we intimated earlier, with a notion of the self that Rorty unfolds throughout various writings, a notion that takes it to be “centerless” and thereby dispenses with “the idea that we have a true self, one shared with all other humans, and . . . that the demands of this true self – specifically moral demands – take precedence over all others” (EHO, 155). And again, further fresh questions arise. For example, instead of considering whether it is morally correct for us to do X, Rorty suggests we can often more fruitfully wonder, “What kind of person will I be if I do X?” or “How will doing X impact on my sense of who I am and who others take me to be?” The third consequence here is that, since Rorty locates morality in social practices, he has to be happily committed to an innocuous relativism of a limited kind: a relativism of difference.2 This follows from the fact that the practices where he locates morality differ over time and, as it were, geographically. Since he believes there are no universal sources of moral justification that transcend culture and history, this is not a philosophical problem for him. Where moral differences between communities have notable consequences, the only possible means of redress is persuasive negotiation with no pretense to transcultural authority. Philosophical problems only arise under the misapprehension that there is such an authority. What we find, then, in Rorty’s approach to morality, even early on, is a prior appreciation of it as a set of sociohistorically

138 alan malachowski specific practices that are both self-sufficient and open to change in the winds of history – prior, that is, to any traditional philosophical appreciation of what morality is, what it is supposed to be, and how its content, so to speak, should be represented or codified and, where possible, refined. This can make it look as if Rorty is taking up the sort of hands-off stance with regard to morality that the later Wittgenstein is often accused of doing in respect of language when he makes claims like “Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation (justify it) either. It leaves everything as it is” (Wittgenstein 1998, 49). But, although Rorty is skeptical about the value of theoretical inference and the standard philosophical positions from which it has been carried out, his approach is more complex, and ultimately less reticent, than any such comparison with Wittgenstein suggests. This becomes clearer when he leaves talk of epistemological behaviorism behind and discusses morality in other contexts. In those various discussions, a host of common characteristics emerge. These provide a backcloth to most of what Rorty says about moral concerns and need to be considered together to provide a full picture of what his approach to morality involves in its maturity. They include: (1) Dewey’s influence, (2) the setting aside of Kant’s views, (3) pragmatic considerations taking center stage, (4) the downplaying of philosophical pretensions in the arena of practical moral life, (5) taking the implications of revisionary accounts of the genesis and motivational foundations of morality (e.g. those by Freud and Nietzsche) seriously, (6) the importance of nonphilosophical sources of moral inspiration and instruction (e.g. literature), (7) the factoring-in of liberal political considerations, (8) an emphasis on the role of the imagination, and (9) the exploration of morality’s relationship to the self.3 Each of these plays a significant part in Rorty’s thinking on morality, but for reasons of space, I am only going to say something very briefly about (1) and (2) before concentrating on (9) in order to

returning to the particular 139 highlight what I take to be some of the most problematic and yet still importantly interesting features of that thinking. The first two “characteristics,” (1) and (2), can be profitably considered together. Though it is tempting, there is little point in trying to discover detailed arguments in Dewey’s writings that prompt Rorty to formulate his own views on morality. For what Rorty finds there are, he believes, useful ways of talking about morality that, putting it bluntly, enable us to ignore Kant, and do so in good philosophical faith. Rorty acknowledges that Kantian morality is important, not least because it has exerted, and continues to exert, a major influence on philosophy. But, he does not think it has to be confronted directly on its own terms. To be sure, he believes Kant commits large errors, notably in conjuring up a “baroque faculty psychology” (PCP, 189) and making moral demands unconditionally binding even after dispensing with divine authority as the source. However, Rorty is not interested in exploiting, still less exploring, such mistakes, because he believes that when Dewey’s approach to morality is embraced, they need no longer interest us. Now of course, inciting a loss of interest in Kant’s moral views or encouraging a propensity to talk past those views is not necessarily a laudable achievement. It can be done by invoking distractions that feed off, and into, ignorance. But, Rorty insists a philosophical account of morality ought to answer to how it is lived, and how it can be lived in particular circumstances, rather than to normative ideals, which in floating above its natural domain require some theoretical spin-doctoring from on high to establish their relevance and authority. He insists that by talking about morality in social practice terms, a Deweyan approach meets the answerability requirement, thereby obviating the necessity for assessing the merits of a Kantian, or any other, theoretical alternative that does not. At work again here, and we will have to return once more to this point, is the thought that morality involves independent social practices – “independent” in that they spontaneously generate their own sphere of influence, their own locus of authority and practical utility.

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morality and the self without pessimism Key elements of Rorty’s mature approach to morality are prefigured, indeed at times presciently illuminated, by the literary critic Lionel Trilling in his once celebrated, and perhaps still provocative, essay on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, an essay which shares the novel’s title (Trilling 2000).4 A principal theme of this work, first published in 1954, concerns the emerging nature of modern morality, covering its multifarious aspects, how and why it changes, and what personal costs it levies. Trilling deals with the advent of a change in the morality of the developed West, that is, morality both as it is coming to be understood in Austen’s time and as he believes it can, and should, still be understood until some historically disruptive perturbations of culture determine otherwise. In unfolding this theme, he sheds light on elements of the above backcloth, quickly making it clear, for instance, that since “literature offers the experience of the diversification of the self” (Trilling 2000, 302), and explores the ensuing complexities of its moral standing, Rorty is absolutely right to pay close attention to the works of novelists and poets as sources of moral inspiration and discrimination.5 But toward the end of the essay, Trilling is also especially insightful, again in advance, on certain consequences of morality’s independence, with an emphasis this time on its flight from religion, that Rorty pays scant regard to. And, Trilling is then equally instructive on why it is both necessary and valuable to explore the connections between morality and the self, while even managing to indicate that this has Dewey’s imprimatur. With regard to the issue of independence, Trilling shows how Austen captures and negotiates the additional complexity and depth that morality has to assume when it aspires to the status of autonomy involving, in Hegel’s terms, the secularization of spirituality and then the consequent separation from religion. Trilling suggests, with credibility, that Austen is the first novelist to explore in detail what this transfiguration amounts to. It embodies the emergence of what he

returning to the particular 141 terms “the specifically modern personality” as well as the culture in which “it [has] its being.” But more than that, he tells us, it engenders fresh demands upon the nascent personality, for “never before [has] the moral life been conceived to be so complex and difficult and exhausting” (Trilling 2000, 308). Rorty is well aware of the historical process of secularization. The phrase “de-divinization of culture” encapsulates one of his highest hopes for liberalism in the modern world: “in its ideal form, the culture of liberalism would be one which was enlightened, secular, through and through. It would be one in which no trace of divinity remained” (CIS, 45). But his take on the process itself is somewhat different. It appears unrealistically utopian compared to Trilling’s. He does not acknowledge the extra burdens imposed upon those who are intent on living a resolutely secular moral life or just happen to live it. Rorty passes these impositions by, and pays attention instead to what he perceives to be the benefits of extracting control of morality from the clutches of philosophers who wish to enclose it within theories, ideally so they can recommend modifying cultural practices accordingly. Trilling, by contrast, is willing to risk hyperbole in this connection. He says, for example, that Austen is “the first to be aware of the Terror which rules our moral situation” (Trilling 2000, 309). Dire warnings from Nietzsche and Dostoevsky obviously lurk behind this, but Trilling is alluding specifically to the demands our judgmental sensibilities will tend to impose upon others and, indeed, ourselves when unconstrained by traditions of religious forbearance: “We learn from her [Austen] what our lives should be and by what subtle and fierce criteria they will be judged, and how to pass [judgment] upon the lives of our friends and fellows” (Trilling 2000, 309). Without a shield of dutiful religious observance, our agency, or rather the personality it is represented by in public, comes under greater moral scrutiny. For secularization “requires of us that we judge not merely the moral act itself but also, and even more searchingly, the quality of the agent” (Trilling 2000, 309). Trilling reminds us that Hegel

142 alan malachowski envisages exactly this when he takes so much trouble to forge his distinction between character and personality and “show how the development of the idea of personality is one of the elements of secularization” (Trilling 2000, 309). Trilling elaborates on this point about Hegel in a pungent preface to The Opposing Self: Hegel understood in a remarkable way what he believed to be a new phenomenon of culture, a kind of cultural mutation. This is the bringing into play in the moral life of a new category of judgment, the category of quality. Not merely the deed itself, he said, is now submitted to judgment, but also the personal quality of the doer of the deed. It has become not merely a question of whether the action conforms to the appropriate principle or maxim of morality, but also of the manner in which it is performed, of what it implies about the entire nature, the being, of the agent. This is what Hegel had in mind when he instituted his elaborate distinction between “character” and “personality,” the latter term having reference to what we might call the manner and style of the moral action. (Trilling 1955, i–xii)

He also notes, again in his essay “Mansfield Park,” that Dewey, much influenced by Hegel, follows suit by insisting moral choices should be made according to the sort of self we want to be and not dictated by supposedly more appropriate rules, maxims, or principles.6 If we assume that “perturbations of culture” have not yet created a credible conception of morality that recognizably renders Trilling’s observations otiose,7 we can see how they help explain why Rorty is correct to put an emphasis on the self when he discusses morality. But Trilling’s darker appreciation of the relationship between the self and secularized morality raises some cautionary thoughts that can make Rorty’s perception of it seem rather cavalier by comparison. This also applies, though we can only mention this in passing, to the relationship between the self and liberalism. Having granted that we are liable to assume “placing the personality at the center of the moral life is a chief glory of the spirit in its modern

returning to the particular 143 manifestation,” Trilling then reminds us “we at times become aware of the terrible strain it imposes upon us, of the exhausting effort which the concept of personality requires us to make, and of the pain of the exacerbated sensitivity to others” (Trilling 2000, 309). Rorty, contrary to Trilling’s grave reservations, often gives the impression that the prospects for a happy communion between morality and the self are only darkened by the twofold failure of modern moral philosophers. First, under the influence of Kant, they have failed to follow through on secularization. In preserving the unconditional force of moral obligations despite forswearing their sanctity as divine commands, philosophers “are up to their old Platonic tricks . . . trying to shortcut the ongoing calculation of consequences by appealing to something stable and permanent, something whose authority is not subject to empirical test” (PCP, 192). And second, they are prone to proceeding as if moral philosophy has a peculiar autonomous authority stemming from reason that enables it to sanction and guide interference in cultural practices, thereby undermining morality’s own independence and perhaps the possibility for its congenial union with liberal modes of social being as Rorty conceives them, which also need to be free of interference “from above.” The thinking behind this negative depiction of moral philosophers in the second consideration is explicitly set out by Rorty in his late essay “Kant vs. Dewey: The Current Situation of Moral Philosophy” (PCP, 183–202), where he indicates that as far back as 1974, he was, as our reading of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature suggests, already regarding morality as an independent practical, cultural concern of little philosophical interest rather than “the name of a still rather mysterious entity that requires intensive study” (PCP, 188). Rorty’s guiding thought here seems to be that since it is a social practice, morality is not, and cannot be, so elusive that it is best understood from the outside. He is therefore highly skeptical of philosophers’ claims to possess special expertise concerning moral matters, the kind that enables them to produce theories capable of changing people’s minds on key issues: “I think the notion of a moral

144 alan malachowski theory based on something sounder than a set of moral intuitions as dubious as the idea that moral concepts have a special nature that the experts understand better than the vulgar, and as the idea that moral argument has a special logic that philosophical training enables one to appreciate” (PCP, 185). Rorty holds that moral progress generally is not, and should not be, dictated by philosophical theories. We spoke earlier of an ambiguity in the way Rorty handles morality in Mirror. However, a more preponderant dubiety in his approach to morality is introduced by his article “Freud and Moral Reflection” (in EHO) and lingers later without resolution. Rorty distinguishes two meanings of the term “morality” or, in effect, two kinds of morality: “‘Morality’ can mean either the attempt to be just in one’s treatment of others or the search for perfection in oneself. The former is public morality, codifiable in statutes and maxims. The latter is private morality, the development of character” (EHO, 153). Rorty, of all people, should perhaps have recalled Durkheim’s solid reservation: “Society is not a simple aggregate of individuals who, when they enter it, bring their own intrinsic morality with them; rather, people are moral beings only because they live in society” (Durkheim 1972, 311). Now, of course, an important private/public distinction comprises the centerpiece of Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, but that is primarily a politico/cultural distinction concerned with a partition between the realms of life that the self inhabits rather than morality. Rorty’s intentions in this respect have been well captured by Nancy Fraser: This then is the strategy of Rorty’s partition position: to bifurcate the map of culture down the middle. On one side will be public life, the preserve of pragmatism, the sphere where utility and solidarity predominate. On the other side will be private life, the preserve of Romanticism, the sphere of self-discovery, sublimity and irony. In the public sphere, one’s duty to one’s community takes precedence; social hope, decency and the greatest happiness of the greatest

returning to the particular 145 number are the order of the day. In the private sphere, by contrast, the reigning cause is one’s duty to oneself; here, one may disaffiliate from the community, attend to the fashioning of one’s self and, so, deal with one’s aloneness. (Fraser 1990, 311)

By putting morality on the back burner, Rorty is moving beyond the admission he makes immediately after introducing the previously mentioned division between public and private morality: “Like Freud, I am concerned only with the latter” (EHO, 153). It seems he is exclusively interested in private morality because he finds the public version, as instanced in “the search for justice,” to be “relatively simple and obvious” (EHO, 153) and not worth making a big deal about, philosophically or otherwise. The reasons for this assessment do not emerge until the “Kant vs. Dewey” article, as just discussed, but they blend in with Rorty’s perception of morality as having the independence earlier described. In the light of Freud’s account of idiosyncratic contingencies that determine the development of the self, Rorty discerns greater possibilities for personal moral growth. These involve a form of selfknowledge that abjures the quest for identifying an essential or pure self and concentrates instead on learning how to broker relationships between different beings inhabiting each of us, in keeping with a multiperson account of selfhood. On this account – and here Rorty is extrapolating from Freud while also leaning heavily on Donald Davidson’s (1982) interpretation of him – we should think of each person as being inhabited by a number of selves, all of which are sufficiently rational to hold beliefs and have desires: “What is novel in Freud’s view of our unconscious is his claim that our unconscious selves are not dumb, sullen, lurching brutes, but rather the intellectual peers of our conscious selves, possible conversational partners for those selves” (EHO, 149). Rorty does not say, or even speculate as to, how many such selves there are or where they stand with regard to Freud’s famous tripartite structure of the mind involving the id, ego, and superego. Nor does he explain whether the barriers put up by

146 alan malachowski defenses and the forces of repression hypothesized by Freud can be surmounted outside psychoanalytic therapy to allow “conversational partnerships.” We also need an idea of how the prospect of such partnerships maps onto, or replaces, Freud’s therapeutic techniques. And there is the further thorny question of how, since they do not participate directly in worldly life, the various extra inhabitants of the self acquire enough beliefs to satisfy the Davidsonian holistic demand that since these must feed off one another they can only accrue in massive tranches. Finally, Rorty does not explain how the additional selves, while not being active members of any moral community, can gain an understanding of moral questions or have any incentive to take an interest in them. Those not inconsiderable issues aside, when Rorty discusses how Freud can have a salutary influence on the private version of morality, his grip on this as a version of morality is tenuous. For that discussion ostensibly introduces the fresh modes of self-definition Freud makes available to the conscious self. To accept that these have a moral significance, we must first at least accept that Rorty is right to say “finding out about our unconscious motives is not just an intriguing exercise, but more like a moral obligation” (EHO, 145). While it is not difficult to think of reasons why it can be morally important to uncover our unconscious motives in specific circumstances, it is not at all clear why there should be a more general obligation of this kind so that, in principle, everyone ought to undergo, or somehow undertake, psychoanalysis or its proxy. Rorty does not give reasons in either case. Instead, he simply assumes that Freud’s undeniable contribution to morality is first to help demystify it along the genealogical lines we alluded to in (5) above, and then to provide fresh ideas and new words that enable us to extend our “vocabularies of moral reflection” (EHO, 154). Moreover, when Rorty provides examples of the sort of words that might make up such vocabularies, they appear to be words of comparison and judgment for sure, but there is nothing distinctively Freudian or moral about them. Nor, we might add, do they have anything to do with privacy:

returning to the particular 147 By “a vocabulary of moral reflection” I mean a set of terms in which one compares oneself to other human beings. Such vocabularies contain terms like magnanimous, a true Christian, decent, cowardly, God-fearing, hypocritical, self-deceptive, epicene, self-destructive, cold, an antique Roman, a saint, a Julien Sorel, a Becky Sharpe, a red-blooded American, a shy gazelle, a hyena, a depressive, a Bloomsbury type, a man of respect, a grand dame. (EHO, 154)

Rorty suggests vocabularies containing such terms are suited to resolving questions of character, both that of others and one’s own. Consequently, they can help us answer the kind of questions we earlier alluded to as Rorty’s additions to the standard repertoire of moral questions: “What kind of person would want to be like that?”, “Would I want to be like that?” and so forth. Rorty further claims the terms involved are those “one uses when one tries to resolve moral dilemmas by asking ‘What sort of person would I be if I did this?’” (EHO, 155). Here, Rorty is conjuring up some unnecessary muddles. Moral dilemmas cannot normally be resolved by non-moral means. To resolve such dilemmas by asking the sort of questions Rorty recommends, it is necessary to have at least presumed moral reasons for wanting to be such-and-such a type of person and/or for there to be moral consequences attending such a choice; otherwise, if it is a matter of moral indifference whether we want to be, or are, that type of person, morality drops out of the picture. But, then the moral difficulty is thrown back at what motivates such reasons and/or explains the consequences. And that difficulty cannot be resolved by asking more of these questions, and certainly not by answering them in private. In addition, the very notion of private morality is itself fraught with problems. If it is genuinely private (and not parasitic on public morality), then it is vulnerable to objections akin to those Wittgenstein voiced against the notion of a private language: without external reference points, then whatever seems morally right is going to be morally right.

148 alan malachowski So at the time of “Freud and Moral Reflection,” Rorty’s approach to morality is problematic. Interestingly, he can smooth things out by taking the route that Lionel Trilling takes through his career-long ruminations on the self, its powers of self-constitution, its moral significance, and its place in culture. From his vague, but pregnant, intimation of “moral issues having something to do with gratuitously chosen images of personal being” (Trilling 2000, 388), Trilling finally cashes out the notion of “gratuitous choice” in aesthetic rather than moral terms, making the selection of forms of selfhood entirely a matter of style. The ideal self is then “the experience of art projected into the actuality and totality of life” (Trilling 1955, xiv). This, in effect, privatizes self-creation and externalizes morality. Trilling is cognizant of difficulties accompanying this duality, and of the resistance it is liable to provoke. Indeed, he reads Mansfield Park as at least partly an ironic protest against it, as a forlorn elevation of moral principle over style’s dominion over the self, a protest achieved by depicting the personage of Lady Bertram as a “self safe from the Terror of secularized spirituality,” one that experiences “the bliss of being able to remain unconscious of the demands of personality” (Trilling 2000, 230). Rorty is more unabashedly enthusiastic about self-creation, apparently seeing no downside to “the demands of personality.” And, in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, he revisits what he regards as Freud’s contributions to our vocabularies of moral reflection, this time providing examples that seem at first more pertinent: He gives each of us the equipment to construct our own private vocabulary of moral deliberation. For terms like “infantile” or “sadistic” or “obsessional” or “paranoid,” unlike the names of vices and virtues which we inherit from the Greeks and the Christians, have very specific and very different resonances for each individual who uses them. (CIS, 32)

But when he shows us how these terms are supposed to be put to work, it is again unclear how they provide an alternative moral

returning to the particular 149 vocabulary: “They enable us to sketch a narrative of our own development, our idiosyncratic moral struggle, which is far more finely textured, far more custom-tailored to our individual case, than the moral vocabulary which the philosophical tradition offered us” (CIS, 32). What is missing here is an explanation of what makes the particularities of our private “idiosyncratic struggles” into moral struggles, how Freudian terminology translates into moral language, and how it can gain moral status if it replaces existing examples of such language. In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty leaves behind this muddle by implementing the sort of aestheticizing move that Trilling makes. Taking his cue from Trilling’s claim that Freud “showed us that poetry is indigenous to the very constitution of mind, being, in the greater part of its tendency, exactly a poetry-making faculty” (Trilling 1967, 89), Rorty then talks about self-creation as being a matter of poetic choice rather than a moral consideration. Such personal, or private, morality as remains in play becomes more or less monotonic: avoid cruelty (although Rorty is acutely sensitive to the many forms this can take and the corresponding necessity for intricate strategies of avoidance). Rorty arrives at the same destination as Trilling, but does not take the same route. Trilling reaches the apotheosis of his extensive ruminations on the self, which are his considered responses to what he perceives to be the sociohistorical circumstances of his time and the foreseeable time to come, using literature as his main guide and under the imposing shadow of his interpretations of Freud, all the while working, as he puts it, “in the dark and bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet” (Trilling 1951, 11). He finds in the works of poets and novelists different models of the self that themselves respond to or anticipate those circumstances. In the novels of E. M. Forster, for example, he discovers a conception of self that is liberalminded in the classic political sense and yet acutely aware of its own deficiencies and blind spots. This conception provides something of an antidote to the complacency that Trilling detects in the

150 alan malachowski imaginations of the liberal progressives of his day. When he takes the sense of selfhood in American society to be suffering from a lack of gravitas, the kind of weightlessness diagnosed by Nietzsche as one momentous consequence of secularization, Trilling seeks historical redress in imperturbable, deeply rooted figures such as Wordsworth’s Leech-gatherer in his poem ‘Resolution and Independence.’ But, in the midst of considering a variety of such models, Trilling is always acutely aware of the costs and the paradoxes involved, looking to minimize these without hope this can ever be achieved or despair because it cannot. There is a sense in his writing, almost entirely absent from Rorty’s, that a severe degree of pessimism regarding personal being is not just necessary, but something it would be perilous to forfeit. It is necessary because the self, even when gratuitously chosen, must evolve in culture, and culture always extracts its price. Trilling’s immense attraction to Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents (Freud 2004), especially its thesis about the toll exacted by instinctual repression, determines this bleak outlook in conjunction with his own advocacy of moral realism, which involves “awareness not of morality itself, but of the contradictions and dangers of living the moral life” (Trilling 1943, 11–12).8 The Freud that Trilling echoes “conceives of the self,” as Philip Rieff rightly tells us, “not as an abstract entity uniting experience and cognition, but as the subject of a struggle between two objective forces – unregenerate instincts and overbearing culture” (Rieff 1979, 28).9 Trilling believes giving up pessimism is perilous because it answers faithfully to inevitable features of life that rightly disturb us, and so should not be ignored. But, it would be equally perilous if pessimism were to become unnecessary. Such features are required for shaping a worthwhile self, one of significant weight. The contrast with Rorty’s lack of pessimism in this regard is important because it helps us to get a fix on how seriously we can take his utopian aspirations for self-creation and, in the end, his liberalism. It is tempting to put the contrast down to the historical gap between Trilling and Rorty. Although they were born only

returning to the particular 151 twenty-six years apart, Trilling’s earlier birth in 1905 at the turn of the century makes it understandable that the catastrophic events of his time would lead him to suggest “the activity of the mind fails before the incommunicability of human suffering” (Trilling 1951, 265). This also means Trilling is closer to an era when it was more common to admire strong selves unflinchingly, selves tempered by adversity, pain, and tragedy. So it should not be surprising that he takes a somber view of the prospect of such selves disappearing together with any genuine appreciation of the role of the circumstances that generate them. If we consider that by the time of Trilling’s death in 1975, it had become less and less feasible to take such admiration seriously, and even less so such selves, we might find it perfectly understandable why Rorty handles self-creation and its moral significance with a lighter touch. But there is more to it. Rorty’s contrasting attitude, his altogether lighter touch, is philosophically motivated, or at least he takes it to be. For Rorty’s writings are infused with intentions to liberate such that anyone of us who takes their message on board should feel life’s load has lightened. And, “anyone,” though it cannot mean “everyone,” is still the right word here, for the message is not just directed at philosophers. Trilling’s view, as we said, is that the cultural mutation identified by Hegel places new burdens on the self, including the tasks of constructing its own personality, sitting in judgment on the personalities of others, and dealing with the judgments passed upon it. And he argues that Jane Austen displayed an acute understanding of this not just in Mansfield Park, but in all her novels: [She] perceived the nature of the deep psychological change which accompanied the establishment of democratic society – she was aware of the increase of the psychological burden of the individual, she understood the new necessity of conscious self-definition and self-criticism, the need to make private judgments of reality. (Trilling 1967, 54)10

152 alan malachowski But Rorty writes as if these difficulties, which Trilling still agonizes over in his last writings, are largely anachronistic or at least agonizing about them is. Acts of self-definition and judgments of reality are simply constitutive of life in modern democratic communities. Moreover, they can become easier, he believes, if certain constraints are thrown off. This involves the adoption of vocabularies in which they play no substantial role. Living then becomes lighter, because questions that were previously so irksome no longer need to be asked. In Mirror, Rorty is mainly concerned with the constraining effect of certain traditional philosophical questions and the questionable assumptions he believes are generating and feeding them. But, though he continues to discuss these, he soon realizes that it is not enough simply to become a philosophical escape artist. He is then concerned with questions of more general social import, questions of “Cultural Politics.” Moral questions worth addressing belong in this category. What makes Rorty’s approach to morality interesting, and importantly so despite the problem we have identified, is that it opens up the field of moral reflection by initiating new conversations and making fresh demands on its resources. These demands recognize that morality concerns the identities people can create and the sociopolitical arrangements they can construct to ensure not only that such identities are possible, but that the relationships between them are just. This approach calls for less involvement in the competitive arena of high-level moral theorizing and more attention to the particularities of morality in its own right, as it is forged and lived by selves that can, and should, be encouraged to be more aware of the opportunities they have to fashion their ways of being in the world.

notes 1

Compare: “When we ceased to agree with Dostoevsky that if God did not exist, everything would be permitted, we should have put aside the morality–prudence distinction. We should not have substituted “Reason” for “God” as the name of a law-giver” (PCP, 187).

returning to the particular 153 2 The relativism is limited for familiar Davidsonian reasons that Rorty endorses. It is innocuous because it is, as it were, a relativism of relative differences. There can be no absolute differences specifiable as between moral practices, because if there were (and this is the Davidsonian line), the meaning of “moral” could not then span those practices. 3 I leave irony out of the picture, because, as Rorty came to accept, it can play no useful role in a pragmatist approach to morality, and actually only adds confusion to his own approach, which, in any case, works better by reverting to a more traditional fallibilism. For his retraction, see Rorty 2010b. 4 Austen’s novel has been much criticized on political grounds concerning, for example, her alleged complicity with imperialism. Although there is no space to comment in any detail on the controversial issues involved, I am inclined to agree with Frainman’s view that in Edward Said’s influential (1993) critique of Mansfield Park, its “particular complexity, including its moral complexity, has been sacrificed.” Indeed, I would go further and suggest that this view applies to much of the criticism Austen has generated in this respect (Frainman 1995, 807). 5 Consider also: “The function of literature, through all its mutations, has been to make us aware of the particularity of selves” (Trilling 1967, 98). For a comprehensive, but nuanced, account of Trilling’s approach to the relationships between literature and the self, see Krupnick 1986. 6 “The moral assumption on which Dos Passos seems to work was expressed by John Dewey some thirty years ago: ‘This is the question finally at stake in any genuinely moral situation: What shall the agent be? What sort of character shall he assume?’” (Trilling 2000, 8). 7 The pervasive invasiveness of social media has, for many it seems, actually increased the burdens on the personality Austen originally envisaged, a consideration that perhaps makes her insights (and Trilling’s) more important than ever. 8 This moral realism also has its own distinctively Freudian tinge: in his introduction to Ernest Jones’s The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud, we find Trilling remarking on how much of Freud’s therapeutic effort is “directed upon the harm that is done by the extravagant claims of the moral life” (Trilling 1964, 14). 9 Rieff emphasizes Freud’s belief that human life is inherently cruel and painful in ways that cannot be avoided, but only at best endured.

154 alan malachowski Although Rorty was familiar with Rieff’s work on Freud (it is cited at CIS, 36), he ignores the claim that Freud perceived the human situation to be inescapably tragic. Moreover, Rieff mines subtleties in Freud’s views that Rorty leaves unexamined. He explains, for example, that on Freud’s understanding, the instincts cannot be handled smoothly by sociocultural conditioning as Dewey (and no doubt Rorty) holds, because they are ambivalently structured and have “their own built-in vicissitudes” (Rieff 1979, 31). Jean Bethke Elshtain also objects that Freud’s pessimism and sense of tragedy disappear from Rorty’s account (Elshtain 2003, 148). 10 Rorty does reveal a darker side in various writings about recent developments in modern politics, but, unlike Freud, does not accept that the relationship between human beings and their civilizing projects could be inherently problematic.

7

Rorty’s Political Philosophy Michael Bacon and Alexis Dianda

Rorty’s liberalism is heterodox. It often strays so far from its classical form that one might wonder why we cluster him together with thinkers like Locke, Kant, or even more recent liberals like Rawls. Clarifying the particulars of Rorty’s political philosophy – his particular liberalism – requires one to enter into a set of debates about metaphysics, epistemology, and social thought that go beyond liberalism itself, veering into literary criticism, critical theory, and Marxism. What we lay out here is an attempt to give the broad contours of Rorty’s philosophical commitments, and how they come together in what he calls his own “postmodernist bourgeois liberalism.” To clarify the particulars of Rorty’s liberalism it is helpful to first consider why he is often placed alongside thinkers such as Foucault and Derrida as “postmodern.” Though Rorty once embraced the term, it is one from which he grew increasingly distant. One reason for this disassociation was that “postmodern” came to be used in so many different ways that it simply became unhelpful. Another, perhaps more significant reason, is that postmodernism is often associated with the wholesale rejection of the aspirations and legacy of the European Enlightenment. Though there are affinities between Rorty and many others we tend to call postmodern, Rorty never abandons the core of the Enlightenment’s political project. For him, the Enlightenment constitutes the single most significant philosophical contribution to Western culture. It earns that status because of its challenge to the respect and obedience that were once thought to be owed to traditional forms of authority, such as that of revealed religion. For the philosophers of the Enlightenment, authority itself demanded vindication through the exercise of reason. 155

156 michael bacon and alexis dianda Although committed to some of its central ideals, Rorty argues that it is important to distinguish between what he regards as the Enlightenment’s two quite separate projects: the philosophical and the political. These projects concern two different issues, and carry separate sets of implications and consequences. The philosophical project of the Enlightenment is oriented toward the foundations of liberalism, asking specifically whether liberal institutions are justified by a source such as natural right or human nature. In contrast, the political project addresses the desirability of liberal institutions and their advantages when compared to alternatives. Rorty is adamant that we can and should abandon the Enlightenment’s philosophical project, and that doing so does not endanger the legitimacy of the political project. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that by insisting on the historical specificity of what the tradition has taken to be eternal problems while also defending contemporary Western values and institutions, Rorty managed to ruffle the feathers of both traditionalists and radicals. Rorty’s political thought is no exception to his more general antifoundationalist worldview. As in epistemology, Rorty dismisses any transcendental philosophy or appeal to foundations, and as such insists on the divorce of liberalism’s two projects. Liberals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries attempted to ground liberty in varied accounts of natural right. Locke, for example, appealed to God, whereas in contrast Kant held that natural right involves a priori principles of reason. Yet, in both cases, liberal institutions were seen as resting on philosophical foundations, where authority and government are justified insofar as they protect political rights (and, in the cases of both Locke and Kant, those of private property). So, while Rorty shares what is often understood as the postmodern (though we could equally here say pragmatic) suspicion of transcendence and foundations, he does not take on its skepticism of the outcomes and institutions associated with classical liberalism. The contrast can be seen by turning to Rorty’s engagements with liberalism’s critics. In their The Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944),

rorty’s political philosophy 157 Horkheimer and Adorno claim that the challenge the Enlightenment presented to traditional forms of authority ultimately came to undermine the convictions of the Enlightenment itself. As a result of the quest for emancipation through the exercise of reason, the Enlightenment showed up the absence of its own foundations by undercutting notions of rationality and human nature. For Horkheimer and Adorno, liberalism thus deprived itself both of its philosophical foundations and its source of social cohesion, leaving it not only intellectually but also morally bankrupt. Rorty shares this understanding of Enlightenment philosophy. However, he rejects the conclusion that Enlightenment liberal institutions are thereby left without means of defense. He says: Horkheimer and Adorno assumed that the terms in which those who begin a historical development described their enterprise remain the terms which describe it correctly, and then inferred that the dissolution of that terminology deprives the results of that development of the right to, or the possibility of, continued existence. This is almost never the case. (CIS, 56)

Rorty acknowledges the advances heralded by Enlightenment metaphysics, but thinks that metaphysics is only a halfway measure. For example, the rhetoric of Locke and Kant retained the religious need for human projects to be underwritten by a nonhuman authority, but in Rorty’s view it is possible, and important, to go beyond them, urging contemporary democracies “to throw away some of the ladders used in their own construction” (CIS, 194). The connection that Horkheimer and Adorno identify between the philosophical and the political projects of the Enlightenment may, Rorty claims, “reflect nothing more than a historical coincidence” (Rorty 1997a, 36). But his argument does not stop there. He argues that the perceived need to claim metaphysical or epistemic foundations for liberal institutions is undesirable because it potentially stands in the way of securing freedom and equality. Like Dewey, Rorty argues that while the classical liberals provided an important justification for

158 michael bacon and alexis dianda freedom and toleration, their approach later came to stand in the way of necessary social reform. Dewey pointed out that while the change in social conditions brought about by economic rights benefited some, it also created new relations of dependence for others. Rorty similarly argues that the emphasis placed on rights can be seen as conservative, enshrining the benefits and problems of a particular time and place. He notes that no less a liberal than Thomas Jefferson affirmed the absolute truth that all men are endowed with inalienable rights, while also owning slaves (TP, 167). In support of the claim that liberal institutions might be defended while setting aside Enlightenment philosophy, Rorty discusses those whom he takes to have successfully mounted such a defense. These theorists can be said to be pragmatists who sought to justify liberal institutions by drawing on the beliefs and practices of modern pluralist societies. Writers such as Dewey, Berlin, Oakeshott, and Rawls are positioned as the self-cancelling and self-fulfilling triumph of the Enlightenment. Their pragmatism is antithetical to Enlightenment rationalism, although it was itself made possible (in good dialectical fashion) only by that rationalism. It can serve as the vocabulary of a mature (descientized, de-philosophized) Enlightenment liberalism. (CIS, 57)

These liberals, in dispensing with Enlightenment rationalism, are able to offer a defense of liberal institutions stronger than that of their liberal forebears.

postmodernist bourgeois liberalism Rorty locates himself in the canon of liberalism, but what exactly does his particular form of liberalism amount to? This question can best be answered by locating his position in the context of a debate to which he contributed in the 1980s. At that time, the central issue in Anglo-American political theory was what came to be known as the liberal–communitarian debate. Prompted in part by the publication of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971, philosophers such as Sandel,

rorty’s political philosophy 159 Walzer, and MacIntyre criticized liberalism for ignoring the social contexts within which people live out their lives and commitments. In different ways, they took issue with the undue emphasis that liberals seem to them to place on individual rights and their related failure to attend to the particular circumstances of justice. In his earliest writings on political theory, Rorty was sympathetic to communitarianism. Rorty’s quasi-Hegelian attempt to defend liberal institutions and practices without reference to Kantian notions of an ahistorical rationality was first outlined in “Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism” (ORT, 197–202). He carves out his position here in dialogue with Kantian liberals (e.g. Dworkin and, as he then thought, Rawls) who maintain an ahistorical approach to moral and political thought so as to secure liberal institutions and practices, and Hegelians (e.g., Unger, MacIntyre) who want to abandon those institutions because they rest upon suspect philosophical positions. “Postmodernist bourgeois liberalism” is a form of liberalism which is historically contingent through and through, accepting that liberal institutions and practices are the products of particular circumstances and that loyalty to them rests on nothing firmer than those contingencies. Although Rorty came to regret associating himself with postmodernism, he never departed from his understanding of liberalism as historically contingent. He did, however, refine his understanding of both the communitarians and Rawls. In “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy,” he presents communitarians such as Sandel as maintaining “that liberal institutions and culture either should not or cannot survive the collapse of the philosophical justification that the Enlightenment provided for them” (ORT, 177). As in his response to Horkheimer and Adorno, Rorty contests the claim that liberalism stands or falls with the philosophical justifications that have been provided for it, arguing that there is no sense “in which liberal democracy ‘needs’ philosophical justification at all.” Although liberalism may “need philosophical articulation, it does not need philosophical backup” (ORT, 178).

160 michael bacon and alexis dianda In “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy,” Rorty takes the position he outlines to be consistent with that of Rawls.1 The claim that liberal democracy does not require “philosophical backup” has, however, been criticized by those who think that if we adopt Rorty’s approach, nothing can be said to defend liberalism against its critics. (e.g. Mulhall and Swift 1992, chapter 8). Yet this is to conflate two different claims. According to Rorty, there is no justification of liberalism that will necessarily persuade every rational person, but this is not to claim that there is nothing to be said at all. He writes, “I do not know how to ‘justify’ or ‘defend’ social democracy . . . in a large philosophical way (as opposed to going over the nitty-gritty advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives [critics of liberalism] propose)” (Rorty 1987, 577–8). Although a philosophical justification is unavailable, one can seek to justify liberalism by arguing for its concrete advantages. He suggests that the best way to do so is through invidious comparison: “the justification of liberal society [is] simply . . . a matter of historical comparisons with other attempts at social organization – those of the past and those envisaged by utopians” (CIS, 53). The claim that liberalism does not need (and could not have) philosophical justification and legitimation resonates with Rorty’s approach to all of our deepest convictions, be they metaphysical, epistemological, moral, or political. This claim has been a source of contention across the scope of his work, and has led him to defend a number of positions that, on the surface, seem to run counter to his own liberalism. So, for example, in his Tanner Lecture, he urges feminists to “consider the possibility of dropping the notion that the subordination of women is intrinsically abominable, dropping the claim that there is something called ‘right’ or ‘justice’ or ‘humanity’ which has always been on their side, making their claims true” (TP, 210, emphasis in original). So the question arises, how then do we critique practices that strike us as unjust without appeal to the universal, the intrinsic, or the morally real? Rorty’s response to the pragmatic feminist aligns

rorty’s political philosophy 161 well with his response to the antimetaphysical liberal, and turns on the difference between the following types of statements: (1) It is intrinsically wrong that women are oppressed; (2) We ought to overcome oppression. The first statement is descriptive, which, when we interpret it in the language of philosophy, makes a claim about the nature of truth and reality: it is objectively true that women should not be oppressed. Rorty’s concern here is that such claims, when articulated within a theoretical discourse, put us on the terrain of moral realism and metaphysically infused politics. The second, however, is a call to action that hinges on solidarity. I assert a goal that makes no claim to the way the world is: I make an appeal to my fellow citizens, workers, and human beings. I do not appeal to God, truth, reality as it is in itself, or a normative standard that exists independently of the practices of the community. The force of the “ought” comes from an appeal to shared desires, goals, or practices. What resists the normative standard is not a recalcitrant truth but a conflicting set of desires, aims, or goals. If liberals or feminists take Rorty’s claims seriously, the conversation changes. For those enmeshed in the language of the universal, we are back in the discussions of the seventeenth century, trying to parse the origin of dignity, rights, and so on. However, if we go with the postmodernists or the pragmatists, the conversation becomes one of how best to achieve our goal, which practices hinder emancipation and which constitute oppression, and so on. In this case, any appeal to the intrinsic justice of a position, the universality of a value, and so on become a convenient shorthand. As Rorty notes, “Although practical politics will doubtless often require feminists to speak with the universalist vulgar, I think they might profit from thinking with the pragmatists” (TP, 210).

the ideally liberal society Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity presents Rorty’s most sustained thoughts on political theory. In it Rorty sketches what he calls “the

162 michael bacon and alexis dianda ideally liberal society,” a society in which liberal institutions are seen as the product of historical contingencies that do not have (nor do they stand in need of ) anything like a philosophical justification. Rorty’s argument presupposes the account of language and knowledge presented in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature but is of wider compass, drawing freely on philosophical, theoretical, and literary works. Bringing together figures such as Nietzsche, Davidson, Freud, Orwell, Nabokov, and Proust, Rorty argues that there is no need to try to weave together one’s private passions (e.g., self-creation, wild orchids, bird-watching) with one’s social responsibilities and political commitments (e.g., supporting one’s union, political activism). Earlier we saw Rorty take up the question, “How do you undermine the foundations of Western thought while also defending its central values?” Another way to phrase this question, one that comes to the fore in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, is “How do you reconcile the supposed tension between your private commitments to self-creation with your commitments to fellow human beings, a love of, say, Nabokov and Orwell, poetry and justice?” Rorty will say that you can have both once you accept that values, private passions, or liberal institutions do not require the traditional forms of justification. His historicism aims at undermining the desire for synthesis – for a grand theory that would bring together one’s private passions and hopes with one’s public commitments – while preserving the virtues of both. The ideally liberal society provides a framework within which individuals are treated equally in certain respects but leaves them be to pursue ends consistent with the enjoyment of those freedoms by others, many of whom will have different views of the good. As Rorty puts it, “J. S. Mill’s suggestion that governments devote themselves to optimizing the balance between leaving people’s private lives alone and preventing suffering seems to me pretty much the last word” (CIS, 63). The ideally liberal society is one in which citizens are free to create a life for themselves. Rorty is careful, however, to distinguish the kind of autonomy the ideally liberal society frees its citizens to

rorty’s political philosophy 163 pursue from the autonomy proposed by Kant and the liberal tradition that follows him. For Kant, autonomy is a matter of self-legislation in which one’s choices are made by reason and not influenced by experience. In contrast, the sense of the term Rorty has in mind is a matter of embracing contingency – in particular, of seeing one’s self and those things that are central to one’s identity as the result of such contingencies, and re-creating them by redescription. Like many other liberals, Rorty conceives of freedom primarily in terms of what Berlin calls negative liberty, a matter of the absence of interference by other people on one’s actions. Viewing freedom this way, Rorty departs from Dewey’s political thought. Dewey was a proponent of greater citizen participation in democracy, arguing that an active community life is a prerequisite for individual freedom. In contrast, Rorty expresses no attraction to a life of civic participation and distances himself from Dewey’s defense of participatory democracy (AOC, 104). He also rejects the suggestion, made by Misak, Westbrook, and others, that Dewey’s epistemology can be worked up into an account of deliberative democracy (Rorty 2007, 918). Although he sometimes describes himself as a Deweyan, Rorty nowhere attends to the details of Dewey’s political writings, and he looks to other philosophers to exemplify what he has in mind when he speaks of freedom. In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, the most significant such philosopher is Nietzsche. Nietzsche is held to be a philosopher of self-creation who identified the importance of appropriating and redescribing the past rather than accepting inherited descriptions. As Rorty writes, “To create one’s mind is to create one’s own language, rather than to let the length of one’s mind be set by the language other human beings have left behind” (CIS, 27). This account of self-creation is fleshed out by appeal to Freud’s distinction between the ascetic and the aesthetic life. The ascetic life is a matter of purity, characterized by the attempt to purge from oneself all that is accidental and contingent in order to achieve a keener awareness of one’s “true self.” In contrast, the aesthetic life is marked not by purity but self-enlargement, by “the development of

164 michael bacon and alexis dianda richer, fuller ways of formulating one’s desires and hopes, and thus making those desires and hopes themselves – and thereby oneself – richer and fuller” (EHO, 154). In place of the ascetic pursuit of the true self, the aesthete creates narratives within which she tells the story of her life. Rorty identifies the aims of what he calls selfcreation with the aesthetic life, emphasizing that such a life ultimately depends on what it has inherited from the narratives that have come before it. Rather than seeing the autonomous person as inventing a world for herself ex nihilo, she should be seen as drawing on and redescribing what has gone on before. On this point, Rorty takes himself to depart from Nietzsche. There “can be no fully Nietzschean lives, lives which are pure action rather than reaction – no lives which are not largely parasitical on an un-redescribed past and depending on the charity of as yet unborn generations” (CIS, 42). The importance accorded by Rorty to self-creation through redescription is central to his claim that the citizens of the ideally liberal society will be “ironists.” Ironists place self-creation at the heart of their identity by standing in a specific relation to their “final vocabulary.” Such a vocabulary is called “final” because the words of which it consists – “good,” “right,” “just,” “beautiful” – cannot be backed up by a noncircular argument. If the use of those words is questioned, the only response is to appeal to other beliefs whose justification depends at least partly on the belief in question. Rather than seeking to purify herself from doubt, to secure her beliefs by something not itself a belief, the ironist grasps and embraces the inescapability of contingency. And, because of this embrace of contingency, the ironist’s final vocabulary is fallible. She undertakes selfcreation though redescription, recognizing that there is no way to move beyond such description to reality as it is in itself. Rortyan irony is sometimes held to preclude any committed engagement with social issues, because it encourages an attitude of detachment (e.g. MacIntyre 1999, 151–3). Others question whether or not one who has doubts about their own final vocabulary (which contains words like “just” and “unjust”) could carry the weight

rorty’s political philosophy 165 necessary for conviction. Could one, for example, die for a belief or a claim of justice about which one has radical doubts? In Rorty’s view, however, the recognition of contingency need have no deleterious consequences for conviction. For, if there is no such thing as a belief or conviction that swings free of contingency, recognizing its absence does not alter the strength of one’s convictions. The ironist is, simply, not bothered by the absence of a secure foundation for her belief. The ironist does not believe her vocabulary to lay bare truth or reality, but this does not entail that that her belief is less worthy or capable of motivating action. The contest between beliefs, the clash of final vocabularies, must be played out practically (answering questions such as “Whose belief affords more of what we want and less of what we don’t?”), not theoretically. Self-creation is one of the aims of the ideal liberal society. The second yet no less crucial aim concerns one’s responsibilities to one’s fellow citizens. Rorty captures this relation of responsibility with reference to a suggestion made by Shklar, who defines liberals as people for whom “cruelty is the worst thing we do” (CIS, xv). Rorty takes up Shklar’s distinction between sin and cruelty by presenting liberals as people who take their duties to be owed exclusively to their fellow human beings. In itself, the injunction to avoid cruelty tells us nothing about what cruelty might be or how it is to be avoided. Some have pressed Rorty to provide a definition of cruelty, but such a request seems to miss his point. To specify cruelty’s necessary and sufficient conditions implies that we might give a definitive account of what is and is not cruel, but Rorty’s claim is that we will never be in that position. Moreover, surety of such a conviction as “This is what counts as cruel,” seems to desensitize us to new possibilities, new revisions of how we understand cruelty that we may have been completely unaware of. Rorty’s argument here recalls Dewey, who worried that rights might enshrine new forms of injustice. In a comment about the injustice and cruelty inflicted on sexual minorities, Rorty writes: “discussion of which rights exist and which do not, seems to me a

166 michael bacon and alexis dianda philosophical blind alley, a pointless importation of legal discourse into politics, and a distraction from what is really needed in this case: an attempt by the straights to put themselves in the shoes of the gays” (Rorty 1996c, 15–16). Liberal societies need to be constantly reminded of the ways in which the current arrangement of rights may be purchased at the expense of other’s rights, how current definitions of cruelty may in fact blind us to real (and avoidable) pain and suffering. Rorty thinks that philosophers such as Mill and Rawls have a role to play in alerting us to cruelty, but that more useful are those who sensitize us to the details of particular forms of suffering. These he calls “the specialists in particularity – historians, novelists, ethnographers, and muckraking journalists” (ORT, 207). Such people bring into focus the details of particular lives. Novelists are especially helpful in this regard. We see this quite clearly in Rorty’s appeal to Nabokov and his creation of Humbert, that “monster of incuriosity.” A novel such as Lolita “contribut[es] to our knowledge of human possibilities” (CIS, 161) by confronting us with subtle and powerful illustrations of forms of cruelty, inattention, and suffering that we may not have had language to describe or the sensitivity to notice. Writers such as Nabokov and Dickens provide details of forms of cruelty (committed either by individuals or by institutions) that we had not previously considered, of cruelty inflicted on people with whom we may not have concerned ourselves. The need for such a reminder is further evidenced in Rorty’s view of Mill. Although Rorty thinks that the attempt to balance private interests and passions with social responsibilities constitutes the last word conceptually in political theory, he also thinks that the nature of that balance will vary according to circumstance. Thus, for example, he takes Rawls to have added to Mill the claim that the exercise of freedom requires significant levels of economic redistribution. Rorty has been challenged on a number of fronts for his insistence on what he calls a “firm distinction” between the public and the private (CIS, 83). This “firm distinction” has, for example, been taken to ignore many of the better and necessary points made by feminist

rorty’s political philosophy 167 critics; one can think here of the claim that “the personal is the political” (e.g. Fraser 1991). It should be noted, however, that Rorty is not insisting on a categorical division between the private and the public, such that what happens behind closed doors is not open to public scrutiny or helped or hindered by political forces. His point could be refined to say that when we consider the public and the private, one is often irrelevant for the other. At the same time, however, he recognizes that this is not always so, and allows that there is a role for ironic redescription in public life: As I am a liberal, the part of my final vocabulary which is relevant to [public] actions requires me to become aware of all the various ways in which other human beings whom I might act upon can be humiliated. So the liberal ironist needs as much imaginative acquaintance with alternative final vocabularies as possible, not just for her own edification, but in order to understand the actual and possible humiliation of the people who use these alternative final vocabularies. (CIS, 91–2)

By way of illustration, Rorty claims that, after women gained the right to vote, the Left forgot to attend to the ways in which women continued to suffer prejudice. To overcome this prejudice, society needed to be redescribed so that “the male–female distinction is no longer of much interest” (TP, 227). Accordingly, he applauds feminists for having exposed hitherto unrecognized instances of cruelty and thus expanding the frontiers of our imaginations and moral world.

from self-creation to prophecy What Rorty calls the ideally liberal society is one in which we “no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi-divinity, where we treat everything – our language, our conscience, our community – as a product of time and chance” (CIS, 22, emphasis in original). By setting aside nonhuman authorities, he hopes that we will come to see that there are only two responsibilities which ought to be acknowledged: the responsibilities to ourselves and those to

168 michael bacon and alexis dianda other human beings. However, Rorty is less attentive to the ways in which human authorities might themselves limit the capacity for redescription. It has seemed to a number of commentators that Rorty fails to see that, even in democratic societies, conversations are marked by injustices. Some of these take him to be offering no more than an apology for the institutions and practices of contemporary liberal society.2 However, Rorty’s ideally liberal society is just that – an ideal that he nowhere identifies with actually existing conditions. While he writes in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity that Western thought and culture require no further “conceptual revolution,” (CIS, 63, emphasis in original) he also thinks that liberal societies need constant reminders of the ways in which the arrangement of rights impact negatively upon many of its members. Theorists such as Mill and Rawls have provided descriptions of the ideal liberal society, but those descriptions will inevitably need to be supplemented and expanded upon in response to new events and circumstances. The question, though, is how such reform might be effected, and here other commentators have been more insightful about the limitations of Rorty’s position in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. According to Hartsock, “Rorty ignores power relations: We are not all in a position to participate as equals in conversation. Many of us have not yet had a chance to name ourselves and our situations” (Hartsock 1998, 213). Connolly argues that it is a mistake to think that self-creation is a private activity, for the reason that one’s identity is not something one chooses but is rather bound up with how one is recognized by others. Connolly refers to what he calls “branded contingencies,” descriptions that, while contingent, resist modification once they have been established. He writes: “If you live in a time when homosexuality is treated as fundamentally constitutive of the self and the homosexual is defined as either sick or morally deficient, then your sexual identity will be impressed upon you through a set of contingent, institutionalized conventions. It is unlikely that you will escape fully the imprint of

rorty’s political philosophy 169 these conventions upon your soul, even as you strive to struggle against them” (Connolly 1991, 175, emphasis in original). We have seen that Rorty defines liberals as those who hold that cruelty is the worst thing we do, and that the category of cruelty is deliberately left open to allow for the inclusion of beliefs and practices that have not been described as such. However, this raises the important question of why so little is done to address forms of cruelty that are already very clear. It has been argued that Rorty is simply blind to the social and economic structures within which such blindness exists and which must be examined if they are to be understood and addressed. The heroes of Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity are the “strong poet” and the “utopian revolutionary,” and the public role these figures play is, as we have seen, to help sensitize the rest of us to the details of particular forms of suffering (CIS, 60). The problem, though, is that Rorty often presents innovation and reform to be the exclusive preserve of individual aesthetes, and is silent about the role that social movements might play. Commenting on Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity and other essays from the 1980s, Fraser points out that “There is no place in Rorty’s framework for political motivations for the invention of new idioms, no place for idioms invented to overcome the enforced silencing or muting of disadvantaged social groups” (Fraser 1990, 316, emphasis in original). While Fraser is certainly correct to point to the lack of attention paid to social and political forces and motivations, one could amend Rorty’s thought quite seamlessly. Ramberg, for example, has done just that with the figure he calls “Radical Rorty.” Radical Rorty agrees with Rorty that the idea of moral and political progress can be retained without support from supposedly transcendental accounts of truth and reason, and also shares his view of the contingency of self and language. However, Radical Rorty “takes the view that thick, sensibility-enhancing reportage that cuts into our organs of empathy is, in the context conflicting interests and opaque forces, quite pointless without accounts of structures and mechanisms to empower our bleeding hearts” (Ramberg 1993, 244). In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity,

170 michael bacon and alexis dianda Rorty does not provide such an account, and indeed is critical of the kind of theorizing that claims to do so. However, Ramberg counters that, conceptually, there is nothing in Rorty’s position that would preclude such theorizing. And, further, that Rorty’s own understanding of moral progress commits him to it, as evidenced by the fact that moral progress of the kind he describes and supports is a matter of extending rights and freedoms to groups (for example, women and African Americans) rather than to individuals. Throughout his life, Rorty was skeptical of theorizing structures; as we will examine below, he objects to those who prefer “talking about ‘the system’ rather than about specific social practices and specific changes in those practices” (AOC, 103). Ramberg, however, argues that it is equally a mistake to focus on the particular without relating this to the structures in which they exist and play out. As he puts it, “to be sensitized is to be sensitized to patterns, likenesses and differences with respect to which one was once deaf; it is to come to recognize and evaluate situation types in new ways” (Ramberg 1993, 243). Fraser identifies a significant omission from Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity and other writings from the 1980s, but Ramberg shows that there is nothing in Rorty’s position which precludes attending to it. And, in subsequent writing, Rorty amends his position to address the concern with structural issues to which Ramberg and Fraser alert us. This change in Rorty’s position can be seen in “Feminism and Pragmatism” (1991). That paper, in part, reiterates the antirepresentationalist account of knowledge presented in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. With reference to MacKinnon, Rorty argues that pragmatism might play a role in helping to realize the conditions in which women might participate fully in the conversation of democratic society by challenging the assumption that current ideas and social practices are natural, and in so doing provide space for redescription. “Feminism and Pragmatism” represents a shift in Rorty’s view of the agents of moral progress and of how the ideally liberal society might be realized. Rorty’s insistence on the importance of redescription and linguistic innovation remains, but these come to be viewed

rorty’s political philosophy 171 socially and politically, with feminists described and applauded for creating themselves by struggling against dominant structures. And, in so doing, Rorty argues that their descriptions should be viewed not as separate to political life, but central to it. By offering descriptions of themselves, Rorty takes writers such as MacKinnon, Frye, and Rich to have also offered redescriptions of the world – not only of their private lives but the public world of which they are a part. Rorty’s later position recognizes Hartsock’s claim that many people haven’t yet had the opportunity to name themselves and their situation. He can also accept that the demand for inclusion made by excluded and marginalized groups is not that they be included in the terms of the established order, for they challenge the legitimacy of that order and urge that it be changed. For this reason, the “firm distinction” that Rorty drew in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity between the public and the private, and associated distinctions between the individual and the collective and the political and the aesthetic, can be seen to have been set aside in his work from the early 1990s.

achieving freedom and equality In Achieving Our Country (1998) and a number of related of essays, interviews, and newspaper articles published around that time, Rorty argues that social justice consists of two elements: economic equality and fair treatment, the former captured more or less in Rawls’s “difference principle,” the latter a matter of extending freedom and opportunity to everyone irrespective of gender, race, and sexuality. He takes both to be the traditional goals of what is sometimes called “the Old Left.” This is the Left that, at its best, assumed that creating a decent and civilized society was in part a matter of redistributing money and opportunity, and in part a matter of erasing stigma by eliminating prejudice. These two efforts were assumed to go hand in hand. No theoretical problems arose as to how to integrate the two, though many practical problems did. (Rorty 2000d, 9)

172 michael bacon and alexis dianda In this context, let us turn to Rorty’s view of contemporary politics, and in particular to calls for the recognition of cultural identity. For the Old Left, “recognition” meant the goal of recognizing members of groups who suffer discrimination and prejudice as fellow human beings. It held that creating a more just society meant focusing on our common humanity, a commonality that required extending freedom and rights to all. Along with many academic and journalistic commentators, Rorty identifies the Sixties as marking a significant change of emphasis in the Left. The New Left (or, as he sometimes calls it, the “cultural Left”) came to the view that it is insufficient to focus on the economy and prejudice, because that does not account for injustices that could not properly be attributed to either. For the New Left, social justice required recognizing the distinctiveness of the culture of members of oppressed groups. Rorty describes the ideals of the Old Left as having been committed to empowering marginalized groups so that they might participate fully as equals in society. He holds up the Civil Rights movement and its achievements as expressions of this commitment, and we can infer that had he lived to see it, he would have been supportive of movements such as Black Lives Matter and the resurgent feminism of movements such as the current wave of women’s rights movements (e.g., MeToo, the International Women’s Strike, etc.). He takes such movements to respond to stigmatization and cruelty that is a result of being picked out by some feature, such as one’s skin color or gender expression, and being humiliated and discriminated against on the basis of it. For example, according to Rorty, King’s legacy is rooted in antipoverty, the antiwar movement, and in the political enfranchisement of African Americans. It is not found on appeals to “culture” (Nystrom and Puckett 1998, 32). As Rorty sees it, the New Left has a very different conception of recognition, a difference that emerges once again in conversation with Fraser. They agree that it is desirable for feminists to give up on universalism and realism and that their task is not to discover preexisting identities and sensibilities but to create new ones;

rorty’s political philosophy 173 however, Fraser argues that Rorty fails to follow up on the implications of these insights. Fraser’s key point is that he focuses exclusively on economics, something which she claims is inadequate. To illustrate why, Fraser cites instances of injustice such as marriage laws which exclude same-sex partnerships, welfare policies which target single mothers, and racial profiling. “By no means simple byproducts of political economy, such instances of misrecognition cannot redressed by a politics of redistribution alone” (Fraser 2000, 24). Addressing them requires, Fraser argues, focusing not on our common humanity but rather acknowledging distinct group identity, for example, “that persons who can give birth have as much legitimacy in the workplace as those who cannot” (Fraser 2000, 26). What Fraser calls the “status model of recognition” aims to overcome the subordinate status imposed on women and non-whites and enhance their abilities to participate fully as citizens. Only in so doing can the parity of participation that she and Rorty take to be central to a just society be achieved. Rorty goes some way with Fraser. He acknowledges that the New Left has had “extraordinary success” in reducing socially acceptable forms of sadism and cruelty (AOC, 80). But he raises two sets of concerns with its approach. The first is that it is mistaken in thinking that reducing such cruelty requires anything other than securing the goals of the Old Left. Here it should be noted that Rorty does not focus exclusively on economic redistribution. As mentioned above, he speaks of the need for the redistribution of “money and opportunity,” something which entails the redistribution of legal rights, one instance of which is, to use Fraser’s example, setting aside the assumption that women are less suited to enter the labor market than men. Fraser is correct that Rorty sees economics as the key element in achieving social justice, but mistaken to infer that he takes others, such as securing legal rights, as separate to this and as unimportant. However, one could still note that Rorty’s emphasis on the economic coupled with his skepticism concerning the New Left’s

174 michael bacon and alexis dianda emphasis on identity and culture might prevent him from coming to terms with some of the features of identity-based injustice that saturate our political landscape. Fraser’s recent dialogue with Dawson, for instance, has brought more attention to the ways in which the economic injustices of capitalism has always been entangled with racial oppression (from slave-based plantation capitalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, through to Jim Crow industrialization in the twentieth century, to the deindustrializing, mass-incarceration, and subprime capitalism of the present) and gender oppression (violence, unwaged labor that is overwhelmingly performed by women and feminized subjects) (Dawson 2016; Fraser 2016). The second objection Rorty makes to the New Left and what we now might more familiarly call “identity politics” is practical, concerning how social justice might be achieved. Fraser writes that “[a]t its best, the feminist counterpublic is a space where ‘semantic authority’ is constructed collectively, critically, and democratically, rather than imposed via prophetic pronouncements from mountaintops” (Fraser 1991, 266). Rorty’s view is that a change in social attitudes typically follows from the latter rather than the former. He makes this point in a review of Richard Posner’s book Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy (2003). Commenting on the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Posner argues that it was appropriate because it was reached after segregation had come to be seen as “a proven failure,” and that accordingly the court rightly ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional. Rorty interprets the case differently: “This is not how I remember the United States at the time of the Brown decision . . . ‘Separate but equal’ was not ‘a proven failure.’ It was just a lie – a lie that had long been exposed” (Rorty 2003c, 101). In his view, it was a lie that had to be corrected not though achieving a democratic consensus but by what Fraser refers to pejoratively as “prophetic pronouncements.” Progressive social movements do not seek to reflect changes in attitudes but cause them. Rorty suggests that we should

rorty’s political philosophy 175 think of Martin Luther King, Betty Friedan, and the leaders of the gay rights movement as helping to create, rather than as detecting, a changed environment. They changed it by telling us, singlemindedly and passionately, how human lives were being needlessly damaged by cruel institutions. They incited social hope by proposing programs of action, and by prophesying a better future. (Rorty 2007, 924)

In Achieving Our Country, Rorty acknowledges the success of the New Left in reducing instances of cruelty and sadism directed at marginalized groups, but argues that what he takes to be a mistaken focus on cultural identity has led to a neglect of the socioeconomic circumstances in which such cruelty and sadism arise and are perpetuated. But while in his view the achievements of the Old Left are much clearer and more significant, he recognizes that they too were limited, and that today we are faced with problems that the Left did not anticipate, problems about which they had nothing to say: [A] problem Dewey and [Herbert] Croly never envisaged has taken its place, and measures which might cope with this new problem have hardly even been sketched. The problem is that the wage levels, and the social benefits enjoyed by workers in Europe, Japan, and North America no longer bear any relation to the newly fluid global labor market. (AOC, 84–5)

One writer who did envisage such problems, and who offered explanations of the economic and political phenomena Rorty is concerned with, is Marx. Rorty’s affinity with some elements of Marxism is clear, and are summed up when he writes that “the Marxists were absolutely right about one thing: the soul of history is economic” (PSH, 227, emphasis in original). Yet references to Marx and Marxism in his work are for the most part negative and dismissive. There are two reasons for this. One is his skepticism of “metanarratives” and philosophies such as Marx’s, which take history to have a teleological structure. The second reason is that Rorty grew up during the Cold

176 michael bacon and alexis dianda War in the context of the horrors perpetrated by twentieth-century Marxist regimes. However, one can agree to the historical point about communism in the twentieth century and still retain what is useful in Marx, much in the way that Rorty retains what is useful in Locke and Kant while setting aside what is wrong, unhelpful, or dangerous.3 Put otherwise, one could recognize that there is, as Rorty claims, no interesting difference between Stalin and Hitler without thinking that this imputes Marx’s position. Notwithstanding his objections to Marx’s philosophy of history and the evils committed by regimes which bore his name, Rorty shares his basic insight: class struggle is the engine of history and historical change. Rorty makes the point when he writes that “As Karl Marx pointed out, the history of the modern age is the history of class warfare, and in America today, it is a war in which the rich are winning, the poor are losing, and the left, for the most part, is standing by” (Rorty 1996c, 15). In this light, it can be noted that Rorty would agree with Marx’s second Thesis on Feuerbach: “The dispute over the nature of reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.”4 Rorty, like Marx, has little interest in such disputes, thinking that any contribution which might be made to them is likely to make little if any difference to practice. In political questions, he argues that what is needed is an explanation of our situation, of the causes of persistent and deepening inequality, which if provided might have practical consequences for how they might be addressed. In a paper discussing the role of philosophy, Rorty writes: Just insofar as we take time seriously, we philosophers have to give up the priority of contemplation over action. We have to agree with Marx that our job is to help make the future different from the past, rather than claiming to know what the future must necessarily have in common with the past. We have to shift from the kind of role that philosophers have shared with priests and sages to a social role that has more in common with the engineer or the lawyer. (Rorty 1995c, 198)

rorty’s political philosophy 177 Accordingly, we can see why Rorty was critical of Rawls when he is taken to be a Kantian, and why he became more sympathetic when Rawls is understood to be offering a description of and recommendations for our particular circumstances. Rorty dismisses a number of central features of both liberalism and Marxism, making a classification of his politics more difficult than it might initially seem. And yet, whether he is invoking the memories of Stalin’s gulags, the bloody history of appeals to natural right, or the suffering of the workers in a market-driven culture, Rorty’s political thought remains focused on two features: the freedom, leisure, and economic security required to create ourselves; and the injustice that arises when one person’s freedom, leisure, security, or wealth is purchased at the expense of another’s. Taking a cue from Rorty, perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about where our selfdescriptions come from. Whether we call ourselves liberals, Christians, pragmatists, socialists, or Marxists, what matters is that we have the same goals, the same hopes for our future.

notes 1

In a comment from 1990, Shapiro writes: “Illuminating as this account is about Rorty’s views, it is not remotely plausible as a reading of Rawls, early or late” (Shapiro 1990, 29). To support his claim, Shapiro notes that Rawls presents elements of his account in A Theory of Justice in Kantian terms, e.g. that the two principles of justice are “procedural expressions of the categorical imperative.” However, this is merely to take over Rawls’s presentation without examining how far his rhetoric is consistent with the substance of his position.

2

See for example Bernstein 1987, 541; Shapiro 1990, 40; Mouffe 2006, 10.

3

Rorty is given to what, borrowing Harold Bloom’s term, he calls “strong misreading.” In the case of Dewey, Rorty is clear that he has no interest in being faithful to his texts but rather in separating what is living from what is dead in them. In the case of Hegel, Rorty takes writers such as Brandom, Pippin, and Pinkard to have successfully demonstrated how one might reject Hegel’s absolute idealism and teleological theory of history and yet take oneself to be a Hegelian.

178 michael bacon and alexis dianda 4

Rorty also agrees with Marx that criticizing theoretical ideas for their lack of coherence is pointless, for the reason it has little payoff for political change. He points out that overcoming apparent inconsistencies is not difficult: “For coherence is a matter of avoiding contradictions, and St. Thomas’s advice, ‘When you meet a contradiction, make a distinction,’ makes that pretty easy” (PSH, 10).

8

Tinkering with Truth, Tinkering with Difference: Rorty and (Liberal) Feminism Susan Dieleman

introduction: rorty’s liberal “we” As a feminist, I have regularly found myself in the position of having to defend to fellow feminist philosophers my tendency to see in Richard Rorty an ally. Yet different feminist philosophers are likely to cite different reasons for seeing in Rorty less of an ally and more of an impediment to feminist progress. Some, like Sonia Kruks, think his linguistic version of pragmatism, relying as it (supposedly) does on an expulsion of experience, narrows the resources available to feminism as a liberatory project. Others, like Susan Bickford, distance themselves from Rorty’s project because of its reliance on a (supposedly strict) delineation between public and private. Still others, like Dorothy Leland, find it problematic that Rorty endorses a liberalism that (again, supposedly) maintains an unjust status quo. And some feminists, like Charlene Haddock Siegfried, point to each of these as a reason for avoiding Rorty as much as is possible. In amongst these various reasons feminists have for dismissing or criticizing Rorty’s work as useful for feminism, one regularly finds expressed a concern about Rorty’s ubiquitous use of the term “we.” Several commentators – feminists among them – cite Rorty’s presumption that there is a “we” about which or for whom he can meaningfully speak as a reason for their hesitance, or outright refusal, to take Rorty’s views seriously. This worry about Rorty’s “we” is similar and related to frequently expressed worries about his unabashed “ethnocentrism,” but I think the motivation for the concern lies elsewhere. Many who criticize Rorty’s ethnocentrism 179

180 susan dieleman consider it a slippery slope to a relativism they would rather avoid. However, feminists and other leftist critics who are concerned about Rorty’s “we-saying” are motivated by a different (albeit related) worry. They worry specifically about who gets counted as part of this “we” and who does not. There are a variety of “we’s” scattered throughout Rorty’s work. At times, he invokes “we” to identify the group of philosophers with whom he identifies, namely, pragmatists. But more regularly, he invokes “we” to identify the inheritors of the Enlightenment project. That is, the “we” he most often refers to is those of us living in (and particularly those of us enjoying the benefits of ) Western liberal democracies. For example, this “we” is adopted and defended by Rorty in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989) where, in the final chapter, he writes, “We should stay on the lookout for marginalized people – people whom we still instinctively think of as ‘they’ rather than ‘us’. We should try to notice our similarities with them” (CIS, 196). He continues by explaining that the term “we” should be given “as concrete and historically specific a sense as possible: It will mean something like ‘we twentieth-century liberals’ or ‘we heirs to the historical contingencies which have created more and more cosmopolitan, more and more democratic political institutions’” (CIS, 196). This is the “we” that feminist and other leftist critics have worries about. Especially worrisome, they think, is Rorty’s idea that social progress occurs when more and more of “them” join and are considered part of “we.” Richard J. Bernstein, for example, writes, “Rorty frequently speaks of ‘we’ – ‘we liberals,’ ‘we pragmatists,’ ‘we inheritors of European civilization.’ But who precisely constitutes this ‘we’? Sometimes it seems as if what Rorty means by ‘we’ are ‘all those who agree with me’” (Bernstein 1987, 553–4). Nancy Fraser contends that Rorty’s political vision is of a homogenized social space, where solidarity represents the “communitarian comfort of a single ‘we’” (Fraser 1989, 104). He problematically assumes, Fraser thinks, that “there are no deep social cleavages capable of generating conflicting solidarities and opposing ‘we’s’” (Fraser 1989, 104).

tinkering with truth and with difference 181 Christopher Voparil lays out the content of some of these concerns when he notes that Rorty’s “otherwise attractive perspective” is limited by the fact that he never really stops to consider why it would be best for others to join the conversation of the Western liberal democracies, rather than the other way around: “Rorty’s political vision of a global liberal utopia seeks to subsume everyone under a grand ‘we’” (Voparil 2011b, 125).1 In his introduction to Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (1991), Rorty responds to these sorts of criticisms by tackling the “we” question directly, suggesting that such leftist critics fail to recognize that they are themselves part of the “we” of which he speaks. He writes, “when I say ethnocentric things like ‘our culture’ or ‘we liberals,’ their [critics on the left] reaction is ‘who, we?’ I, however, find it hard to see them as outsiders to this culture; they look to me like people playing a role – an important role – within it” (ORT, 15). Why does Rorty think that even critics of liberalism are liberals after all, and thus are to be counted as members of the liberal “we” that Rorty invokes? In this chapter, I attempt to answer this question by looking to a pair of claims Rorty presents in “Globalization, the Politics of Identity, and Social Hope,” a paper originally published in 1996. The first claim is that “‘identity’ and ‘difference’ are [not] concepts which can be made relevant to political deliberation,” and the second is that “tinkering with the notions of ‘rationality’ and ‘truth’ might, in the very long run, and in a very indirect way, have a certain amount of political utility” (PSH, 234).2 I examine these two claims by considering Rorty’s views on the work of two feminist philosophers: Catharine A. MacKinnon and Iris Marion Young. What this examination will reveal is that, on Rorty’s view, it is nigh on impossible for a contemporary feminist thinker to be anything other than a liberal. However, his view nonetheless leaves just enough space for feminists like MacKinnon and Young to contribute to reforming liberalism. In the first section of this chapter, I start with the second of these claims, exploring why it is that Rorty thinks “tinkering” with

182 susan dieleman the concepts of rationality and truth can be relevant to political deliberation. In brief, Rorty thinks that the philosophical antiauthoritarianism that results from pragmatist criticisms of philosophical concepts like rationality and truth helps move us from philosophy to redescription, and what I will call “redescription in a prophetic key” specifically. Redescription in a prophetic key is for Rorty the main engine of social progress. Thus, tinkering with rationality and truth can ultimately be politically useful insofar as it makes space for social progress by helping us move from philosophy to redescription. In the second section of this chapter, I turn to the first of these claims, exploring why it is that Rorty thinks tinkering with the concepts of identity and difference cannot be relevant to political deliberation. There are two elements to Rorty’s view here. On the one hand, Rorty thinks that the politics of identity as a philosophical program (the name for such tinkering) is both overly theoretical and overly pessimistic. Thus, tinkering with identity and difference is unlikely to be useful for achieving social progress. On the other hand, Rorty thinks that the politics of identity as a political project (not involved in such tinkering, but involved instead in advocating for specific identity groups) amounts to nothing more than good, old-fashioned liberalism. As he puts it, these sorts of political projects – he has feminist, gay liberation, and similar movements in mind – are not “practicing a new sort of politics,” nor do they require “philosophical sophistication for their description or evaluation” (PSH, 235). Thus, a feminist thinker like Young is mistaken, Rorty contends, if she thinks she is up to anything other than “ordinary interest-group politics” (PSH, 237). This means that the politics of identity as a political project can be politically useful, but only because it contributes to and strengthens the kind of liberalism Rorty commends. In the third and concluding section, I will show where the combination of these two claims leaves feminist philosophers on Rorty’s view, namely, in a position where we cannot radically undermine liberalism, but where we can, as philosophers or prophets or activists, work to gradually reform it.

tinkering with truth and with difference 183

tinkering with rationality and truth: redescription in a prophetic key In Defending Rorty: Pragmatism and Liberal Virtue (2015), William M. Curtis notes that Rorty’s project advances “two related thrusts: (1) a critical, ‘therapeutic’ subproject, and (2) a constructive, explicitly normative, utopian subproject” (Curtis 2015, 34). The first project involves Rorty’s pragmatist critique of Philosophy (with a capital ‘P’), a tradition whose practitioners understand themselves to be engaged in a search for the Truth about how things really are. Practitioners in this tradition tend to endorse the correspondence theory of truth, and believe in the “representationalist” thesis that, insofar as any particular sentence accurately represents how things really are, it can be said to be true. Rorty’s claim is that our individual sentences are not made true or false by how well they do or do not represent how things really are. Instead, they are made true or false depending on how well they fit the larger set of descriptions (or “final vocabulary”) we have chosen to adopt in order to deal with the world we inhabit. The set of descriptions we choose, in turn, depends on our ends. Certain descriptions will be better suited to certain purposes than others, and so our descriptions are contingent on the ends we choose to prioritize. Description and redescription, rather than accurate representation, is a better account of how we do, and how we should understand ourselves to, interact with the world and with others. In abandoning traditional philosophical authorities (God, Truth, Reason, etc.), Rorty embraces a position of philosophical “anti-authoritarianism.” Moreover, redescription can be used to show how things might go better than they currently do. When someone proposes that one set of descriptions be replaced by another, and when a society adopts that new, proposed set of descriptions, this is how social progress is achieved. Thus, when it comes to social progress, redescription requires what I will be calling redescription in a prophetic key. That is, social progress requires redescription that articulates and

184 susan dieleman encourages a better possible future. In “Globalization, the Politics of Identity, and Social Hope” (1996), Rorty asserts that the best social and political philosophy will be prophetic rather than philosophical: The appropriate intellectual background to political deliberation is historical narrative rather than philosophical or quasi-philosophical theory. More specifically, it is the kind of historical narrative which segues into a utopian scenario about how we can get from the present to a better future. Social and political philosophy usually has been, and always ought to be, parasitic on such narratives.

He continues, Hobbes’s and Locke’s accounts of the state were parasitic on different accounts of recent English history. Marx’s philosophy was parasitic on his narrative of the rise of the bourgeoisie and his forecast of a successful proletarian revolution. Dewey’s social theory was, and Rawls’s political theory is, parasitic on different accounts of the recent history of the United States. All these philosophers formulated their taxonomies of social phenomena, and designed the conceptual tools they used to criticize existing institutions, by reference to a story about what had happened and what we might reasonably hope could happen in the future. (PSH, 231–2)

In claiming that redescription in a prophetic key is the appropriate background for social and political philosophy, Rorty is claiming that actual social progress can usually be traced to such redescriptive efforts on the part of someone with a vision of how things could go better than they currently are.3 This means, Rorty continues, that When it comes to political deliberation, philosophy is a good servant but a bad master. If one knows what one wants and has some hope of getting it, philosophy can be useful in formulating redescriptions of social phenomena. The appropriation of these redescriptions, and of the jargon in which they are formulated, may speed up the pace of social change. (PSH, 232)

tinkering with truth and with difference 185 Social progress always involves a contest between an existing set of descriptions and a new set of descriptions. The best kind of social and political philosophy recognizes that social progress involves “a contest between an entrenched vocabulary which has become a nuisance and a half-formed new vocabulary which vaguely promises great things” (CIS, 9). In “Feminism and Pragmatism,” Rorty holds up the work of Catharine MacKinnon and Marilyn Frye as examples of feminist thinkers who see that social progress is best achieved through redescription in a prophetic key. He notes that he is particularly struck by both MacKinnon’s and Frye’s recognition that they are working not to discover anything in particular, but to create a new moral identity for women. Thus, when MacKinnon claims that she is “evoking for women a role that we have yet to make, in the name of a voice that, unsilenced, might say something that has never been heard” (MacKinnon in Rorty TP, 202), Rorty interprets her as saying that social progress depends upon offering new descriptions that open up space to pursue and achieve ends that were otherwise inconceivable given the set of descriptions currently available. Similarly, when Frye says that her own writing is “a sort of flirtation with meaninglessness” (Frye in Rorty TP, 217), Rorty sees her as saying that she is caught between an existing set of descriptions and a new set of descriptions that have not yet been fully articulated or that have not yet fully caught on. Thus, both MacKinnon and Frye can be counted as philosophical anti-authoritarians. Neither sees herself as engaged in a project of discovering an antecedent truth about what, objectively, women are. They are trying to show that existing descriptions of women are inadequate not because they fail somehow to capture the reality of what women really are, but because existing descriptions of women have certain (negative) effects. They are trying to offer novel descriptions in place of existing ones because novel descriptions – distinctively feminist novel descriptions – of what women are will have different (positive) effects.4 Both MacKinnon and Frye can thus be read as engaging in the best kind of social and

186 susan dieleman political philosophy, the kind that turns the contingency of description into an opportunity to pursue social change.5 Rorty writes, “MacKinnon’s central point, as I read her, is that ‘a woman’ is not yet the name of a way of being human – not yet the name of a moral identity, but, at most, the name of a disability” (TP, 205). In this accounting, Rorty is certainly correct: the bulk of MacKinnon’s work in Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (1987) and Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989) is intended to offer a new description of what it means to be “a woman” in a patriarchal society.6 Her hope is that her feminist description of “woman” will replace the existing, patriarchal description of “woman,” and that this new description will have the effect of reforming sex discrimination law so that it can better serve women. MacKinnon suggests that for feminists (or radical feminists, more specifically), “the issue is not the gender difference, but the difference gender makes, the social meaning imposed upon our bodies – what it means to be a woman or a man is a social process and, as such, is subject to change” (MacKinnon 1987, 23). In short, she claims that the descriptions of “gender” currently in use are socially constructed, and these social constructions make a difference in the lives of men and women. Her specific target is sex discrimination law, which, because of existing, patriarchal definitions of gender, negatively affects women. In a patriarchal society, where patriarchal descriptions of men and women have currency and circulate, sex discrimination law will function, she argues, on the assumption that men and women are the same as individuals, but different as genders. This patriarchal set of descriptions is what MacKinnon calls “the difference approach.” According to the difference approach, discrimination is legally wrong because every individual, considered in the abstract, is the same and therefore deserving of equal treatment. However, what this abstract individual is like is defined by men as maleness; the treatment individuals deserve is to be treated like a man. However, sex discrimination law requires an acknowledgment that women are not men; they are different from men. This is why sex

tinkering with truth and with difference 187 discrimination law is “a contradiction in terms” (MacKinnon 1987, 33). Yet how women are different from men is still defined by men: “Sex equality in law has not been meaningfully defined for women, but has been defined and limited from the male point of view to correspond with the existing social reality of sex inequality” (MacKinnon 1989, 242). As sex discrimination law currently functions, according to MacKinnon, “to be a woman means either to be like a man or to be like a lady. We have to meet either the male standard for males or the male standard for females” (MacKinnon 1987, 71). So, on the one hand, women who, under sex discrimination law, want to be treated as individuals deserving of equal treatment must leave behind the specificity of their gender to assume the specificity of the male gender upon which the idea of the abstract individual is based. As MacKinnon notes, such women are “served equality with a vengeance” because they are expected to meet male standards. On the other hand, women who, under sex discrimination law, want to be treated not as men but as women, must conform to the male standard of what a woman is. Indeed, in a patriarchal society, this is the only other option available to her. Thus, women who seek equality as women have to present themselves as men define women: as in need of men’s protection, as “ladies.” The politics that underlies the difference approach, which conceives of equality in terms of sameness and difference, is that “man has become the measure of all things. Under the sameness standard, women are measured according to our correspondence with man, our equality judged by our proximity to his measure. Under the difference standard, we are measured according to our lack of correspondence with him, our womanhood judged by our distance from his measure” (MacKinnon 1987, 34). An example that MacKinnon provides and Rorty cites to illustrate the double bind women find themselves in under patriarchal descriptions of gender is Dothard v. Rawlinson, where refusing to hire women as prison guards did not count as discrimination. MacKinnon

argues

that

this

was

not

seen

as

unlawful

188 susan dieleman discrimination because the women involved were seen as “ladies.” Women’s capacity to be raped – and their need to be protected from rape – justified the decision not to hire them. The problem with this decision – and the set of descriptions upon which it was premised – is that, when women’s sexual subordination is described as a natural and unavoidable feature of what it is to be a woman, then the fact of that subordination is never challenged. As MacKinnon writes, “The plaintiffs were protected out of a job they wanted while the conditions that create women’s rapeability as the definition of womanhood were not even seen as susceptible to change” (MacKinnon 1987, 73).7 This is just one example of the way that the difference approach – the patriarchal set of descriptions of men and women that informs sex discrimination law – fails women. MacKinnon’s proposal is to offer a new set of descriptions, which she calls “the dominance approach.” According to the dominance approach, discrimination and equality will be questions of the distribution of power rather than of sameness and difference. On the dominance approach, issues like sexual violence would always be issues of sex equality – they would always count as discrimination – because they involve “the systematic relegation of an entire group of people to a condition of inferiority and attribute it to their nature” (MacKinnon 1987, 41). The dominance approach “proposes to expose that which women have had little choice but to be confined to, in order to change it” (MacKinnon 1987, 40). The dominance approach therefore sees gender not as a system of sameness and difference (i.e. men and women should be treated the same, except when they are different) but as a system of dominance and subordination – and particularly, sexual subordination (i.e. what it means to be a man is to be dominant; what it means to be a woman is to be subordinate). The dominance approach is explicitly feminist: it “sees the inequality of the social world from the standpoint of the subordination of women to men” (MacKinnon 1987, 43). In a patriarchal society, these features are not incidental to men and women, but are rather integral. This is not to say MacKinnon thinks that

tinkering with truth and with difference 189 subordination and domination are essential – her proposed redescription does not capture the true nature of men and women any more than the patriarchal description of men and women as the same but different captures the true nature of men and women. Rather, it attempts to persuade us to adopt the feminist description according to which men and women in patriarchal societies are in a relationship of domination and subordination. If we understand gender in this feminist way (the dominance approach), rather than in a patriarchal way (the difference approach), then sex discrimination law will have to function differently. The effect of this redescription would be practical: sex discrimination law would have to consider women not as individuals, but rather as a social group that is defined as subordinate to men. If sex discrimination law were premised on the dominance approach, then decisions made on the basis that women are “naturally” sexually subordinate to men would always count as a form of discrimination. Insofar as refusing women employment or dismissing sexual harassment as a matter of natural sexual relations between men and women keeps women, as a group, in a subordinate position, such actions would count as discrimination.8 The preceding overview of MacKinnon’s position is not an endorsement of her views, but rather an accounting of what Rorty means when he says that a feminist like MacKinnon is a prophetic voice, and why he thinks that, if feminists were to look for a philosophical ally, then pragmatism would make a good one. The philosophical anti-authoritarianism of pragmatism comports well with the sort of feminist work that MacKinnon is doing. Rorty thinks this is abundantly clear when MacKinnon writes things like, “The difference approach tries to map reality; the dominance approach tries to challenge and change it” (MacKinnon 1987, 44) and “If the shift in perspective from gender as difference to gender as dominance is followed, gender changes from a distinction that is ontological and presumptively valid to a detriment that is epistemological and presumptively suspect. The given becomes the contingent” (MacKinnon 1989, 243). She is providing a new description of gender that has the

190 susan dieleman potential to radically alter how sex discrimination law functions and, in turn and eventually, dramatically improve women’s status. Rorty concludes “Feminism and Pragmatism” by writing, “Feminists who are also pragmatists will not see the formation of such a society as the removal of social constructs and the restoration of the way things were always meant to be. They will see it as the production of a better set of social constructs than the ones presently available, and thus as the creation of a new and better sort of human being” (TP, 226–7). This helps make sense of MacKinnon’s argument that distinctively feminist law is required: “Equality will require change, not reflection – a new jurisprudence, a new relation between life and law” (MacKinnon 1989, 249). This jurisprudence will not be better because it is based on a more accurate representation of gender than the patriarchal jurisprudence it would replace, but better because it will work to end the suffering, inequality, and injustice women experience as women in a patriarchal society. MacKinnon is for Rorty an example of why it is that philosophical tinkering with concepts like rationality and truth can be seen as politically valuable. If undermining the traditional philosophical concepts that presume we use language to accurately represent the world makes redescription more likely, and if redescription has the potential to be politically useful, then the work of pragmatists can, “in the long run, and in a very direct way,” be useful for the work of thinkers like MacKinnon. However, Rorty does not just think that philosophical anti-authoritarianism comports with social progress; he also thinks that it is good for liberalism specifically. He claims, “to see one’s language, one’s conscience, one’s morality, and one’s highest hopes as contingent products . . . is to adopt a self-identity which suits one for citizenship in . . . an ideally liberal state” (CIS, 61). To put it another way, a society that sees redescription in a prophetic key as the best way to achieve social progress will be an ideally liberal state. Rorty’s account of this ideally liberal state is, recall, the second subproject highlighted by Curtis: Rorty’s “constructive, explicitly normative, utopian subproject” (Curtis 2015, 34). Philosophical anti-authoritarianism – the recognition

tinkering with truth and with difference 191 that the descriptions we use to navigate the world, to understand ourselves, and to interact with others, are fundamentally “up for grabs” – makes a good “junior partner” for liberalism. This is because an ideally liberal society is one where social progress is “fulfilled by persuasion rather than force, by reform rather than revolution, by the free and open encounters of present linguistic and other practices with suggestions for new practices” (CIS, 60). One has to be careful here. Rorty is not arguing that philosophical anti-authoritarianism necessarily leads to liberalism. As has been well documented, Rorty does not think that pragmatism entails any particular political commitments: “any philosophical view is a tool which can be used by many different hands” (PSH, 23).9 Still, Rorty does think that an anti-authoritarian philosophy like pragmatism comports well with liberalism. This is because it facilitates “a consensus that there is no source of authority other than the free agreement of human beings,” and that this consensus, in turn, makes it more likely that people will be willing “to accept the liberal goal of maximal room for individual variation” (PSH, 237). The first step in Rorty’s argument here makes good sense: if we are not answerable to something “out there,” something nonhuman, then we can only be answerable to each other. If we give up looking for a nonhuman authority to tell us when we have settled on the right set of descriptions, then we can only know if we have settled on the right set by turning to our fellow human beings. This is why Rorty controversially states that the truth is just what our peers will let us get away with saying. Only our peers – only intersubjective agreement – can tell us when the descriptions we have chosen are the best set of descriptions; it is only by our peers’ adoption of those descriptions that we can claim we have gotten them right.10 Getting things right is more a matter of “solidarity” than it is of “objectivity.” But how does Rorty make the second step in his argument? How is it that embracing ethnocentrism – the idea that our inquiries must start from the discursive communities in which we find

192 susan dieleman ourselves – makes one more likely to also embrace liberalism? Part of the answer here is already contained in the question: to be in a situation where one can take advantage of the pragmatist critique of authoritarian philosophies is to already be heir to the Enlightenment tradition. However, Rorty also claims that philosophical anti-authoritarianism “encourages people to have a selfimage in which their real or imagined citizenship in a democratic republic is central . . . [It] helps people set aside religious and ethnic identities in favor of an image of themselves as part of a great human adventure” (PSH, 238–9). As I read Rorty, he is suggesting here that seeing oneself as answerable only to other human beings is likely to lead one to seeing oneself as engaged in a democratic project (in the Deweyan sense of “democratic”), where democracy is fundamentally a form of experimental, associated living. To be answerable to our fellow human beings is to see ourselves as working together, and in particular working together to make the lives of every member of our community more free and more interesting. In short, if we give up the idea that we have responsibilities to nonhuman authorities and take on the idea that we have responsibilities to others, we are more likely to see ourselves engaged jointly in an experimental project, and that experimental project will go better if each individual is maximally free to selffashion. Self-fashioning, in turn, goes better if we engage with others, if we are exposed to other ways of describing the world, from which we can take inspiration. So, Rorty thinks that, insofar as “Pragmatism is useful for getting . . . assumptions out of the path of social progress” (Balslev and Rorty 1991, 44–5), it is not just politically useful in a generic sense, but it is useful for liberalism in particular. Again, the political usefulness of such tinkering is only very indirect. As he puts it, “doing the sort of thing we philosophy professors do . . . is just one more nudge in the right direction – the sort of modest little contribution to social progress to which a somewhat peripheral academic discipline may aspire” (TP, 58). At best, pragmatism can offer political

tinkering with truth and with difference 193 movements “something comparatively small and unimportant, a set of answers to philosophical questions” (TP, 212). But what tinkering with rationality and truth helps us do is realize that our descriptions are optional and changeable; they are up to us, so to speak. New and diverse descriptions are only possible in a culture with the freedom to construct these descriptions. Social progress occurs if and when we find ourselves exposed to more and diverse descriptions, when we expand our community by adopting new descriptions, and act less cruelly when we are willing to acknowledge the moral identities they help to create. In his earlier work up to and including Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty saw these new descriptions as resulting from “strong poets” who engaged, privately and in an ironic spirit, in individual self-fashioning. However, as Nancy Fraser notes, with the publication of “Feminism and Pragmatism” in 1991, the oppositions in Rorty’s work “between the public and the private, the community and the individual, the political and the aesthetic are exploded” (Fraser 1991, 262). Redescription thus became a political, rather than a merely private, poetic affair. Redescription, in the hands of feminist thinkers and activists like MacKinnon, becomes a political tool for rendering visible forms of suffering, injustice, and inequality, as well as for proposing new descriptions to minimize such suffering, injustice, and inequality.

tinkering with identity and difference: the politics of identity as philosophical program and as political project In “Globalization, the Politics of Identity, and Social Hope” (1996), Rorty indicates that he has nothing against political movements like “feminism, gay liberation, various sorts of ethnic separatism, aboriginal rights, and the like” (PSH, 235). However, he does claim that these movements are not “practicing a new sort of politics,” nor do they require “philosophical sophistication for their description or evaluation” (PSH, 235). Thus, he expresses two, related concerns

194 susan dieleman about the politics of identity. Taking them in reverse order, the second examines the politics of identity as a philosophical program. In this sense of the term, Rorty associates “the politics of identity” with people – primarily academics – who channel their political rage into something “over-theoretical and over-philosophized” (ORT, 16).11 This captures one of Rorty’s two reasons for thinking the politics of identity as a philosophical program is misguided. As noted in the introduction to this chapter, Rorty thinks that, if we understand the politics of identity as a philosophical program, then it forsakes philosophical anti-authoritarianism and the usefulness of the method for social and political philosophy and utopian politics that it provides. Recall his claim that philosophers cannot reveal the philosophical weaknesses of the bourgeois liberalism common to Mill and Dewey; they can only reveal its blind spots, its failure to perceive forms of suffering which it should have perceived. There were many such blind spots, but they were not a result of some wholesale failure to understand the nature of the subject, or of desire, or of language, or of society, or of history, or of anything else of similar magnitude. They were the sorts of blind spots which we all have – correctable not by increasing philosophical sophistication, but simply by having our attention called to the harm we have been doing without noticing that we are doing it. (PSH, 236–7)

Attempting to remedy injustice by exploring arcane philosophical issues like “the metaphysics of the subject,” for example, has rarely, if ever, been useful for improving the situation of subordinated groups. Redescription in a prophetic key, by contrast, has helped to improve the situation of subordinated groups. Rorty does admit in passing that philosophical tinkering with identity and difference might be politically useful, but only in a “longterm, atmospheric, indirect way” (ORT, 16), and only if those tinkerers also “can come up with an alternative practice” (ORT, 16). Yet this rarely occurs, Rorty thinks, because academics who engage in

tinkering with truth and with difference 195 this sort of philosophical tinkering almost never offer such a sketch. This is because the academic practitioners of the politics of identity “refuse . . . to rejoice in the country [they] inhabit. [They] repudiate . . . the idea of a national identity, and the emotion of national pride” (PSH, 252). Thus, because practitioners of the politics of identity tend to be unpatriotic, because they have no interest in trying to achieve their country, their work is instead an expression of “resentment and frustration” (PSH, 232). Not only is the politics of identity, as a philosophical program, overly theoretical, it also lacks hope, and this hopelessness does not comport well with a politics of redescription, let alone redescription in a prophetic key. However, Rorty also thinks that, if we understand the politics of identity as a political project – if we are thinking of movements like “feminism, gay liberation, various sorts of ethnic separatism, aboriginal rights, and the like” (PSH, 235) – then it really amounts to nothing more than efforts to concretize a liberal utopia. That is, when examining those who advocate a “politics of difference” as a better form of politics than liberalism, Rorty thinks that they are not really presenting a new style of politics at all. Their criticisms of liberalism simply amount to efforts to flesh out liberalism in further detail. This is the criticism Rorty has of Iris Marion Young, who, in Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990), argues that liberal accounts of what justice requires are insufficiently attentive to difference. This is because liberalism presumes that equality is achieved by treating everyone the same, regardless of difference. However, by requiring sameness, liberalism fails to recognize that sometimes justice requires differential treatment. According to the liberal ideal of justice – what Young calls the “assimilationist ideal” – “all persons should have the liberty to be and do anything they want, to choose their own lives and not be hampered by traditional expectations and stereotypes.” Young champions instead a politics of difference, where difference is understood “more fluidly and relationally as the product of social processes” (Young 1990, 157–8). Young writes,

196 susan dieleman An emancipatory politics that affirms group difference involves a reconception of the meaning of equality. The assimilationist ideal assumes that equal social status for all persons requires treating everyone according to the same principles, rules, and standards. A politics of difference argues, on the other hand, that equality as the participation and inclusion of all groups sometimes requires different treatment for oppressed or disadvantaged groups. (Young 1990, 158)

In short, liberalism attends only to formal equality, and fails to consider substantive equality. It does this by prioritizing impartiality over partiality, by assuming that it is both possible and desirable to achieve a moral or political perspective that is a “view from nowhere.” Rorty claims that Young thinks there is more to be said about identity and difference than there really is: “Young sees the liberal tradition, the tradition of Mill and Dewey, as devoted to a project of ‘homogenization’ of difference. This seems wrong to me” (PSH, 237). The reason this seems wrong to Rorty is that liberalism, on his view, values difference precisely because it maximizes opportunities for variation. In other words, liberalism encourages pluralism, despite Young’s claim that it is homogenizing. Thus, Young’s politics of difference is not opposed to liberalism on Rorty’s reading of it. Rather, its concrete proposals are proposals to improve liberalism.

conclusion: feminist redescription as feminist tinkering MacKinnon explicitly locates her own work in opposition to liberalism; it is liberalism that supports the difference approach, she claims, and radical feminism that supports the dominance approach. But Rorty thinks she has simply made a mistake here: “The phenomenon she is pointing to [that liberalism only sees the effects of power, and not power itself] certainly exists, but ‘liberalism’ seems to me the wrong name for it” (TP, 215). Like MacKinnon, Young criticizes liberalism, but Rorty sees her work as offering, at

tinkering with truth and with difference 197 bottom, little more than an effort to show how liberalism has failed to notice the suffering of women and other subordinated groups. This failure does not undermine or even challenge liberalism on Rorty’s view, but simply helps to fill in some of the missing details. He writes, “I do not see the politics of difference as differing in any interesting way from the ordinary interest-group politics which has been familiar throughout the history of parliamentary democracies” (PSH, 237). Thus, the work of thinkers like Young actually helps improve liberalism by pointing out when and how it has not lived up to its own values, as when subordinated groups are, in practice, thought of as “them” rather than members of “we liberals.” In short, even though both MacKinnon and Young consider themselves critics of liberalism, Rorty thinks they are engaged in the liberal project of increasing tolerance and freedom. At best, the sorts of critiques that MacKinnon and Young offer could be understood as internal critiques of liberalism; they offer critiques of liberals as liberals. Indeed, for Rorty, this is the only way to make sense of their views. They are, as noted earlier, insiders to liberal culture, playing an important role in holding liberalism accountable to its own professed values. It would seem, therefore, that there is no way for a contemporary feminist thinker to be anything other than a liberal on Rorty’s view. However, in claiming that it is possible to work from inside liberalism to criticize it, Rorty leaves an important, if narrow, space within which feminist (and other) thinkers may not only improve liberalism by keeping its basic values in place, but also reform liberalism. As Curtis notes, on Rorty’s view, “The content of our liberal values and the activities of our liberal practices must be politically always up for grabs, though usually at the margins. Debate over these values and practices is what constitutes liberal democratic politics” (Curtis 2015, 88). Rorty contends that engaging in debate about liberal values and practices – and, I would add, about liberal policies and institutions – amounts to engaging in liberal democratic politics. Yet it is possible, as Curtis points out, that

198 susan dieleman debating liberal values, practices, policies, and institutions could lead to something radically different than liberalism. Rorty himself acknowledges that “we have to hold open the possibility that we might come to be Nazis by a process of rational persuasion” (TP, n36). Thus, Rorty is perhaps too quick in saying that feminist thinkers who criticize liberalism are only making sure that liberalism lives up to its own standards. If we understand tinkering with concepts like identity and difference in the sense of social and political philosophical tinkering outlined at the beginning of this chapter, or if we understand tinkering to involve political tinkering with concepts like identity and difference, then such tinkerings can have political utility beyond merely fleshing out liberalism. While engaging in debate may locate oneself within liberal democratic politics, this does not mean the values and practices upon which those politics are premised are impervious to change. Both Young’s and MacKinnon’s tinkerings are such that, if taken on board, they can alter the very values of liberalism. Thus, while it may be the case that such tinkerings may not usher in a conceptual revolution that overturns Mill’s account of what liberalism is, it can be the case that it may usher in conceptual reform, even to the point where liberalism itself, in the long run, becomes something contemporary liberals would not recognize as liberalism.

notes 1

This is one of four limitations noted by Voparil. The others similarly provide reasons for why one might find Rorty’s “we” problematic. See Voparil 2011b, 123–5.

2

In this paper, and in Achieving Our Country (1998), Rorty uses multiple terms to refer to a collection of related, but arguably distinct, political and philosophical projects, including “the politics of identity,” “identity politics,” “the politics of recognition,” and “the politics of difference.” I will use the term “the politics of identity” throughout to try to capture the specific approach Rorty takes issue with, as presented in “Globalization, the Politics of Identity, and Social Hope” (PSH, 229–39).

tinkering with truth and with difference 199 See Young 2000, 102–8, for an exploration of how “the politics of identity” and “politics of difference” refer to distinct projects. 3

See Voparil 2011a and Curtis 2015 for the claim that hope for social progress is what fundamentally motivates Rorty’s philosophical antiauthoritarianism.

4

I have explored the influence of MacKinnon’s work on Rorty’s pragmatism in Dieleman 2011.

5

I hope that this helps blunt Fraser’s criticism of Rorty’s “Feminism and Pragmatism,” where she claims that Rorty has put feminists who are philosophers in an impossible bind. She writes, “Rorty is in effect offering to do the [philosophical] housework so that we [feminists] can be freed for world-historical activity in the public sphere. Now this really does look like an attractive proposition. But many of us have learned the hard way that when men offer to help with housework there are frequently hidden costs. In the case of Rorty’s proposal, the hidden cost is the implication that feminists – Marilyn Frye or myself, for example – are not philosophers. Granted, we’re something bigger, grander, more important – prophets; but I don’t know of any universities with departments of prophecy in which we might be gainfully employed and tenured as prophets” (Fraser 1991, 260).

6

In “Feminism and Pragmatism” (TP, 202–27) Rorty refers only to Feminism Unmodified, and almost exclusively to one paper within that collection: “On Exceptionality: Women as Women in Law.” I am not sure whether he ever read Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, but I refer to both texts here, as their core arguments are similar.

7

MacKinnon adds: “When courts learn that sexual harassment is as vicious and pervasive and damaging to women in workplaces everywhere as rape is to women guards in male prisons, and as disruptive to production as rape is to prison security, will women be excluded from the workplace altogether?” (MacKinnon 1987, 73).

8

This is why MacKinnon (successfully) argued that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination: because it is a pernicious practice that keeps women subordinate to men. It is important not to underestimate the success of MacKinnon’s efforts in this area. As Cass Sunstein notes, MacKinnon’s efforts to have sexual harassment seen as a form of sex discrimination – which “seemed bizarre and radical to many when initially put forward, . . . was accepted in 1986 by every member of the

200 susan dieleman Supreme Court . . . This development must count as one of the more dramatic and rapid changes in legal and social understanding in recent years” (Sunstein 1988, 829). 9 Rorty continues: “There will always be room for a lot of philosophical disagreement between people who share the same politics, and for diametrically opposed political views among philosophers of the same school. In particular, there is no reason why a fascist could not be a pragmatist, in the sense of agreeing with pretty much everything Dewey said about the nature of truth, knowledge, rationality and morality” (PSH, 23). He makes a similar point, in “Feminism, Ideology, and Deconstruction: A Pragmatist View” (1993), when he suggests “Pragmatism – considered as a set of philosophical views about truth, knowledge, objectivity, and language – is neutral between feminism and masculinism. So if one wants specifically feminist doctrines about these topics, pragmatism will not provide them” (Rorty 1993, 101). 10 See Rorty’s “Solidarity or Objectivity” (ORT, 21–34) for more on this. 11 This argument is most fully articulated in Achieving Our Country, where Rorty suggests that a myopic focus on the politics of identity will leave behind those who are suffering economically, ultimately resulting in the election of a strongman. See Dieleman (2019) for further exploration of Rorty’s criticisms of the Left as unpatriotic, and especially of the relationship between cultural politics and class politics.

9

Rorty’s Insouciant Social Thought James T. Kloppenberg

Richard Rorty was his own worst enemy. He insisted that the linguistic turn meant that philosophers should abandon the idea of experience, yet some of the abiding passions of his life, such as his fascination with wild orchids and his love of bird-watching, undercut his argument for the priority of language to the ineffable and noncognitive. He professed a commitment to liberal and democratic principles, yet his emphasis on contingency and irony undercut the force as well as the earnestness of his political and social criticism. He offered stinging critiques of the selfishness and greed characteristic of contemporary American capitalism, yet at times he denigrated the potential of social movements to effect the changes he sought and offered no alternative strategies to animate democratic activism. He focused his analysis of twentieth-century American reform on the labor movement, yet he failed to acknowledge the technological dynamics that, together with the political and economic forces he identified, have marginalized America’s industrial workforce. He proclaimed himself an anti-absolutist, and he adopted a pose of blithe indifference to criticism, yet he could be as unwilling to engage with, and at times as intolerant of, alternative understandings of pragmatism as any of the thinkers he excoriated for their alleged foundationalism. Rorty was raised in a family with roots deep in the reformist traditions of American progressivism. His father, the writer James Rorty, was an anticommunist socialist active in the circles of midcentury New York intellectuals. His mother Winifred, daughter of the most important theologian in the Social Gospel, Walter Rauschenbusch, was a rebellious early feminist. Her writings, like those of Rorty’s father, focused on social criticism. She had worked 201

202 james t. kloppenberg as a research assistant for urban sociologist Robert Park at the University of Chicago, and her reformist articles ranged from critiques of racial discrimination to a Veblenesque take on women and, to use the title of one of her articles, “the idiot god fashion” (Rauschenbusch 1931). One of Winifred’s brothers, Paul, married the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Together they helped establish the pioneering unemployment insurance system in Wisconsin. The young Rorty visited them in Madison, the incubator of “the Wisconsin idea” of progressive reform, during some summers. Another of Winifred’s brothers, Carl, was also an economist, and his wife Esther was a literature professor who became the president of Sarah Lawrence College. Nurtured in a family of progressive intellectuals and, by his own admission, imbibing a reverence for radicals from John Dewey to Leon Trotsky, Rorty grew up in a world in which the idea of selffulfillment was inextricably linked to the idea of social obligation. His parents would have rejected out of hand the notion of a strict separation between political engagement and a world of personal pleasures, a world cordoned off from public life and social action. In a 1995 interview, Rorty said he was “brought up a Trotskyite” and compared his family’s devotion to radical causes to the religious faiths of “Methodists or Jews.” In his words, “it was just the faith of the household” (Rorty, in Gross 2008, 93). Rorty found much of that world uncongenial. A bookish child bored and bullied in school, at the tender age of fifteen he headed off to the University of Chicago, where he was sucked into the Great Books curriculum in general and the allure of Plato and Aristotle in particular. Like many Americans of his generation, he was searching for eternal truths. Writing to his father about the nascent environmentalist movement spawned by the New Deal, he complained that “man is much more than an animal and he can’t treat himself the way he has treated all the things of nature. To reduce him to the part that he actually plays in the biological scheme seems to me both impossible and valueless” (Rorty, in Gross 2008, 97). That view of

rorty’s insouciant social thought 203 nature, and humans, Rorty would come to reject. Humans, he argued in an essay published in 1993, should be understood “as slightlymore-complicated animals” (TP, 48). After Rorty struggled through the first part of his undergraduate studies, he gradually settled on philosophy as his focus field. In a lighthearted letter to his mother written in 1950, he characterized a paper he wrote for a class with émigré Rudolf Carnap as being of interest only to the “little clique of reactionary metaphysicians (the rank to which I aspire)” eager to “stop the positivist invasion” threatening philosophy (Rorty, in Gross 2008, 123). His first attempt to land a graduate fellowship at a leading PhD program failed, however, so Rorty remained at Chicago to earn an MA. His thesis on the idea of potentiality in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, an essay bursting with abstractions of the sort he would later reject, reflected the influence of his adviser, the metaphysician Charles Hartshorne (Rorty 1952). From Chicago, Rorty was off to the PhD program in philosophy at Yale, another department that continued to teach subjects ranging from the history of ideas to pragmatism, with a faculty that likewise resisted the onslaughts of Anglo-American analytic philosophy and continental logical empiricism. His Chicago mentor Hartshorne had been influenced by both Plato and Charles Sanders Peirce, and the persistence of interest in classical as well as American pragmatist philosophy at Yale made it the right place for Rorty. His Yale dissertation, again on the subject of potentiality, traced the idea from Aristotle through Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz to its contemporary articulation by logical empiricists Carnap and Nelson Goodman. Rather than proclaiming one of these traditions superior to the others, Rorty concluded that his work aimed toward “promoting mutual understanding between exponents of different positions” in order to find “possible solutions of common problems” (Rorty 1956, 564). Like his earlier insistence on differentiating humans from the rest of nature, that commitment to pluralism, and that confidence that “mutual understanding” offered the best path toward solving “common problems,” faded in Rorty’s mature work.

204 james t. kloppenberg Immersion in, and careful examination of, the writings of midtwentieth-century analytic and logical empiricist philosophers was indispensable to Rorty’s ascent in the academic world. Yet the influence of pragmatism, imbibed from his parents and from some of his teachers at Chicago and Yale, never disappeared. He had studied Peirce at Yale, but his reading of W. V. O. Quine and, while teaching at Wellesley College, the later Wittgenstein proved decisive. As early as 1959, in a review of Alan Pasch, Experience and the Analytic, he wrote, “The central theme of Pasch’s ‘pragmatic reconstruction’ . . . is that a question is always a question within a context, that a context is always one among alternative possible contexts, and that one selects one’s context to fill a purpose.” The “basic themes and theses” of Pasch’s argument, he observed, “are familiar enough from Dewey and his followers” (Rorty 1959, 75–7). Two years later, before there was much evidence to sustain his claim, Rorty announced, “Pragmatism is getting respectable again.” In “Pragmatism, Categories, and Language,” he wrote, “Some philosophers are still content to think of [pragmatism] as a sort of muddleheaded first approximation to logical positivism – which they think of in turn as a prelude to our own enlightened epoch. But those who have taken a closer look have realized that the movement of thought involved here is more like a pendulum than like an arrow” (MLM, 16). Two years after that, reviewing Paul Goodman’s Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals, Rorty’s growing interest in pragmatism became more apparent. He characterized Dewey’s philosophy as “the noblest and most profound statement of the aim of a democratic society” (Rorty 1963, 743–4). I will not narrate Rorty’s familiar rise to prominence as a result of editing The Linguistic Turn (1967) and writing Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).1 I want only to emphasize that his education and his early writings show both his familiarity with multiple philosophical traditions and an eagerness to take seriously a range of ideas out of favor in the American academic mainstream. They also manifest a willingness to consider the possibility that valuable insights

rorty’s insouciant social thought 205 might be available in the writings of many different thinkers. At Chicago it was Plato and Whitehead, at Yale thinkers from Aristotle through Carnap. The hard-won command of (his own versions of ) the major ideas of major thinkers from classical to contemporary, like the self-deprecating tone that masked a robust self-regard, were equally apparent from the beginning of his career. In his Introduction to The Linguistic Turn, to provide just one more example of Rorty’s early latitudinarianism, he offered no fewer than six possible futures resulting from the discipline’s increasing focus on language, a shift that was taking competing philosophers in a variety of distinctly different directions. The fourth possibility, which sketched out the path Rorty himself would later take, merits consideration: It might be, he suggested, that philosophy itself would “come to an end,” and philosophers “would come to look upon a post-philosophical culture as just as possible, and just as desirable, as a post-religious culture. We might come to see philosophy as a cultural disease which has been cured” (Rorty 1967, 34). In this discussion of Rorty’s insouciant social thought, I will focus on three different dimensions of his writings, at least in part because so many of these issues are addressed in other chapters of this volume. This chapter ties my arguments to my own experience with Rorty’s writings and with Rorty himself, not because I think my experiences were unusual but precisely because they seem to me more typical than atypical. For that reason they might illuminate the ways in which the influence of his ideas extended beyond the domain of philosophy, in my case into the field of intellectual history, and suggest some of the reasons why many critics found his later writings unsatisfying. The first of my objections to the position Rorty held from the 1970s until his death in 2007 concerns his challenge to the earlier pragmatists’ emphasis on experience. Once Rorty had formulated his own mature critique of analytic philosophy and logical empiricism, he argued that the entire enterprise of philosophy had been based on a series of errors – much as he predicted in his Introduction to The Linguistic

206 james t. kloppenberg Turn. It was no longer possible, he argued in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, to believe that philosophers would ever solve the problems they had set for themselves, primarily because the problems were premised on centuries of mistaken assumptions. As he put it later, analytic philosophers were “busy solving problem which no nonphilosopher recognizes as problems,” which rendered Anglophone philosophy “invisible” outside university departments of philosophy (AOC, 129). Although most of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was devoted to dismantling analytic philosophy, the most galvanizing sections offered readings of “edifying” philosophers such as Heidegger, Gadamer, Sartre, Foucault, Derrida, Habermas, the later Wittgenstein – and Dewey, a figure not typically grouped with those continental worthies. Many readers already impatient with or suspicious of the claims as well as the methods of analytic philosophy (including me) found the first sections of the book satisfying and the final section inspiring. Here was an invitation to return to texts that many such readers found more engaging, and ideas that they found more promising, than the arid problem-solving exercises and thought experiments that constituted much contemporary academic philosophy. If Rorty was right, philosophers had been barking up the wrong tree for a long time. Instead scholars should return to the “spirit of playfulness” that Rorty associated with Wilhelm Dilthey’s hermeneutics and Dewey’s pragmatism, a spirit extinguished by the “mathematical logic” that he claimed had bewitched twentieth-century philosophers (PMN, 168). Abandoning the futile quest for answers to non-questions would fulfill Rorty’s 1967 prediction: philosophy itself would close up shop. Philosophers would realize that they had come to a dead end. If on the one hand they became more “naturalistic,” they would be swallowed up by cognitive science and the “hard” behavioral social sciences. If on the other hand they became more “historicist,” they would be swallowed up by “intellectual history, literary criticism, and similar soft spots in ‘the humanities’” (PMN, 168). When I first read Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature in the early 1980s, I was in the midst of revising my own dissertation, which

rorty’s insouciant social thought 207 eventually became Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870–1920. Rorty seemed to vindicate both parts of my argument. When I was completing my PhD in History and Humanities at Stanford between 1977 and 1980, I had found in the writings of late nineteenth-century thinkers from different traditions – T. H. Green and Henry Sidgwick, Dilthey and Alfred Fouillée, James and Dewey – a shared commitment to transcending the tired controversies dividing idealists from positivists and an aspiration to change the trajectory of philosophy. I had also found links tying those renegade philosophers to two distinct reform movements. Leading social democrats such as Beatrice Webb and Sidney Webb, Jean Jaurès, Eduard Bernstein, and Rorty’s grandfather Walter Rauschenbusch, all wayward socialists, were moving away from orthodox Marxism. Progressive reformers included equally heterodox liberals such as L. T. Hobhouse, Léon Bourgeois, Dewey, Walter Lippmann, Herbert Croly, and, surprisingly to Americans who knew him only by reputation, Max Weber, all of whom rejected the dogmas of laissez-faire and urged government intervention to regulate market economies in the public interest. These reformers and many others helped transform European and American politics in the pre-World War I era. I found copious evidence that these thinkers’ adoption of activist government and piecemeal, democratic reform measures descended from their adoption of, or was closely allied with, the philosophers’ embrace of uncertainty and their denial of what Dewey liked to call “the quest for certainty.” Like many readers, I was invigorated by Rorty’s cheerleading for the ideas he announced in his two final chapters of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, “From Epistemology to Hermeneutics” and “Philosophy Without Mirrors.” Yet I was not sure exactly what he thought we should do once we had abandoned the procedures and problems of mainstream academic philosophy. In his final chapter, he dismissed with a wave of his hand the ideas of Habermas (whose name, oddly, does not even appear in the index of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature), whom I, along with many others, considered

208 james t. kloppenberg the rightful heir to the legacy of the philosophers, social democrats, and progressive theorists I was studying. Whereas my cast of characters had explicitly grounded their reformist political programs on their philosophical ideas about epistemology and ethics, Rorty in the final pages of his book denied even the possibility that philosophy might provide such foundations. I argued that Dilthey’s writings on “Erlebnis,” James’s on “immediate experience,” Fouillée’s on “idéesforces,” and Sidgwick’s and Dewey’s efforts to create a moral philosophy drawing on the best of both the deontological and utilitarian traditions constituted a search for what I called a via media, a path between Kant and Mill that provided a philosophical rationale for the emerging political movements of social democracy and progressivism on both sides of the Atlantic. Themselves active in various reform movements, these philosophers thought there was a clear connection between their ideas about knowledge and ethics and their ideas about politics. Envisioning philosophy instead as nothing more than a “conversation,” as Rorty did in the closing pages of Mirror, struck me as odd and unconvincing (PMN, 389–94). Those misgivings notwithstanding, I was surprised and intrigued when Rorty asked to read my book manuscript. I was flattered when he offered to have it appear in a new series he was editing for Cambridge University Press with the philosopher Jerome Schneewind (whose seminal work on Sidgwick had been indispensable to me) and the intellectual historian Quentin Skinner, a series to be called “Ideas in Context.” Given how important the work of those three scholars had been, for me and for countless others, I was seriously tempted to accept their invitation. In the end, my senior colleagues at Brandeis persuaded me to publish with Oxford University Press. I have never regretted that decision, yet I was sorry not to have the chance to work more closely with three fine scholars willing to help me shape, and to add their imprimatur to, my first book. My next encounter with Rorty, who was as kind and generous with me in person as he seems to have been with everyone – including those of us who disagreed with him about some of his central

rorty’s insouciant social thought 209 ideas, as I did – came at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians in 1989, three years after Uncertain Victory appeared. There I presented a paper, later published in my book The Virtues of Liberalism as “Why History Matters to Political Theory.” Rorty provided a bracing commentary on the paper. I drew on Rorty’s historicism in my analysis of contemporary thinkers whom I admired, thinkers ranging from John Rawls, Michael Walzer, and Michael Sandel to Habermas, Roberto Unger, and Charles Taylor. I claimed, along with Rorty, that their arguments would be more convincing and efficacious were they to descend from the stratosphere of abstractions and consider more carefully the concrete historical circumstances framing political projects. My paper also raised a question about Rorty’s consistently dismissive treatment of religion. For someone descended from Rauschenbusch, who proclaimed himself a man of the left, Rorty seemed to me oddly blind to the crucial role played by religious activists in American politics from the eighteenth century to the present. Neither independence nor antislavery, neither the struggle for women’s suffrage nor the labor movement, neither the antiwar movements nor the Civil Rights movement could be understood, I argued, without paying attention to the religious motivations of many activists. Rorty was happy to talk about the ideas of communitarians and the reasons why he found their ideas unsatisfying, but he ignored the topic of religion. When I pressed him on it, his face registered only the chagrin familiar to all who knew him. It was an issue he did not want to discuss. He said he wished I didn’t consider it important. Religion was, to use the title of one of Rorty’s later essays, a “conversation stopper” (PSH, 168–74). This is a familiar but, for historians at least, a facile move. It evades consideration of one of the most important dimensions of life for most human throughout most of human history, and for millions of humans, in the US and the rest of the world, in the twenty-first century. To dismiss religion as simply “unintelligible,” as Rorty’s onetime coeditor Quentin Skinner likes to do, is to dismiss the study of history. That nonchalance concerning

210 james t. kloppenberg one of the central motivating factors of humans, for good or ill, which means projecting secular scholars’ worldview onto all people, is hard to fathom. Rorty was among the scholars invited in 1990 and 1991 to attend conferences in Italy and Germany on the topic of modernism in the Geisteswissenschaften. I was fortunate to be among them. Rorty’s paper for the first of those conferences, “Dewey between Hegel and Darwin,” was published in French in 1992, then in the volume of conference papers, Modernist Impulses in the Human Sciences, edited by Dorothy Ross. The essay was reprinted in Rorty and Pragmatism and then again in Rorty’s Truth and Progress. For these conferences I wrote and revised a paper, “Democracy and Disenchantment,” comparing Dewey, Max Weber, Habermas, and Rorty. I argued that Habermas, who was by then calling himself a “good Deweyan pragmatist,” was writing more consistently in the vein of Deweyan pragmatist democracy than was Rorty, whose position I linked to the dark, Nietzsche-tinged, disenchanted political and ethical writings of Weber. I do not know if Rorty intended his essay “Dewey between Hegel and Darwin” as a response to my criticism of his work, but his essay began and ended by characterizing my position, and that of David Hollinger, as a form of “panpsychism.” This gambit, which I came to recognize as one of Rorty’s signature moves, caught me off guard. As Rorty later explained in Consequences of Pragmatism and even more pointedly in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, he came to believe that redescription was among the most useful tools available to philosophers: “anything can be made to look good or bad by being redescribed” (CIS, 73). Extracting from the detailed arguments that I and many others had made concerning the phenomenological turn taken by the generation of Dilthey, James, Dewey, and others, and poking fun at their idea of immediate experience as a kind of spiritualist mumbo jumbo, was Rorty’s way of changing the subject. Again, he wished earlier philosophers just hadn’t made such arguments, which seemed to him futile attempts to keep alive the now exhausted enterprise of epistemology. The philosophers of the via media thought they were on

rorty’s insouciant social thought 211 to something when they broke down the subject–object and mind– body dualisms with their concept of immediate experience as social, relational, creative, and imbued with historically specific cultural values. Rorty claimed that they were still giving in to that bad old impulse to commit metaphysics and construct mirrors of nature. But Rorty’s “redescription” rested on an error. Although James near the end of his life developed a metaphysics that many critics have found problematic, his conception of immediate experience, like Dilthey’s distinction between Erlebnis and Erfahrung, was epistemological rather than metaphysical, and it emerged in his classic Principles of Psychology (1890) rather than in his late essays.2 Scholars such as Richard Bernstein, Hilary Putnam, Jeffrey Stout, and some of those writing in this volume, have pointed out that Rorty discarded earlier dualisms only to replace them with his own. These included systematic versus edifying, argument versus redescription, finding versus making, analytic versus conversational, and, perhaps the most notorious, public versus private.3 Rorty traced that final dichotomy, in his autobiographical essay “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,” to his uneasiness about the distance between his selfproclaimed commitment to social justice and what he called his “private, weird, snobbish, incommunicable” passions, notably his love of bird-watching and his fascination with the wild orchids growing near his childhood home in rural New Jersey (PSH, 6). That categorical distinction, antithetical to the thinking of the early pragmatists, helps explain Rorty’s refusal to take seriously the arguments that James and Dewey made for the centrality of prelinguistic, precognitive, ineffable experience. The domains of such experiences included, but are hardly limited to, what James called religious experience and what Dewey called consummatory experiences of many kinds. For both James and Dewey, experiences of physical and emotional intimacy, aesthetic and natural beauty, the exhilaration of participating in or witnessing athletic or artistic performances, and varieties of intense spirituality were of enormous significance for philosophy. Although words cannot adequately express what makes

212 james t. kloppenberg such forms of experience so powerful, as Rorty acknowledged by terming them “incommunicable,” exiling them from philosophical discussion need not follow from that realization. James acknowledged the paradox in his original introduction to the Gifford Lectures that became The Varieties of Religious Experience. “There is something in life, as one feels its presence, that seems to defy all the possible resources of phraseology.” But still we try. “Life defies our phrases” because “it is infinitely continuous and subtle and shaded,” whereas “our verbal terms are discrete, rude and few.” Moreover, “our words come together leaning on each other laterally for support, in chains and propositions,” all of which depend on each other for their meaning. The meaning of our most intense “living moments,” by contrast, “seems to well up from out of their very centre” in ways difficult to describe in words. “If you take a disk painted with a concentric spiral pattern, and make it revolve, it will seem to be growing continuously and indefinitely” and yet, paradoxically, to remain “always of the same size.” It is this “self-sustaining in the midst of self-removal,” which language and logic fail to capture, that philosophers must try to understand even though words cannot adequately express it. “For what glimmers and twinkles like a bird’s wing in the sunshine,” James concluded, it is philosophers’ aim to “snatch and fix.” Yet when they fire their “volley of vocables” from their “philosophic shot gun,” no matter how much success they may feel, they also grasp “at the same time the finer hollowness and irrelevancy” of their efforts (James, in Perry 1935, Vol. 2, 328–9). Dewey likewise was fascinated by the capacity of art, nature, and religion to spark some of the most powerful experiences of life. His books Art as Experience and A Common Faith, as Richard Shusterman and Steven C. Rockefeller have argued, show him wrestling with ways to understand and examine such “consummatory experiences.”4 In his 1938 Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, Dewey wrote, “a universe of experience is a precondition of a universe of discourse. Without its controlling presence, there is no way to determine the relevancy, weight, or coherence of any designated

rorty’s insouciant social thought 213 distinction or relation. The universe of experience surrounds and regulates the universe of discourse but never appears as such within the latter” (Dewey 1938, 74). From the beginning to the end of his career, Dewey declined to abandon the word in the face of objections from analytic philosophers: “we need a cautionary and directive word, like experience, to remind us that the world which is lived, suffered and enjoyed as well as logically thought, has the last word in all human inquiries” (Dewey 1925, 372). Of course, Rorty himself came to see the inaccuracy of his readings of the early pragmatists. Perhaps on his own, or perhaps because he had been badgered by philosophers such as Bernstein, Hilary Putnam, and some of the contributors to this volume, and by historians such as Robert Westbrook, David Hollinger, and me, Rorty offered another dualism. He drew a distinction between the “historical Dewey,” who had written his books and made his arguments, and his very own “hypothetical Dewey,” who would have been a sensible pragmatist “without being a radical empiricist.” Like Rorty’s imaginary James, such a Dewey should have shared Rorty’s judgment and “should have dropped the term ‘experience,’ not redefined it” (TP, 297). Once Rorty adopted that stance, it was hard to see why he persisted in calling himself a pragmatist. He had already dismissed Peirce. James’s and Dewey’s own versions of pragmatism rested squarely on their conception of individual and collective experience.5 When Rorty turned his attention more directly to politics in his later writings, his philosophy came to seem self-defeating for a second reason. In perhaps his most widely read book, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty adopted the posture of a sage reflecting sadly on a culture gone mad with mistaken ideas about philosophy and “theory,” a culture that could be redeemed only by a return to literature and the adoption of what Rorty called “cultural politics.” He argued that just as language is contingent, so are our ideas of morality. Historical development he characterized as nothing more than series of lucky accidents. What was called “progress” was merely “a product of time and chance” (CIS, 22). Challenging

214 james t. kloppenberg Habermas’s attempt to provide a philosophical foundation for a radically democratic politics, he wrote, “People who try to update and rewrite the standard social democratic scenario about human equality, the scenario which their grandparents wrote around the turn of the century, are not having much success” (CIS, 86). Rorty called instead for a “poetized culture.” The people of his “liberal utopia” would have “a sense of the contingency of their language of moral deliberation, and thus of their consciences, and thus of their community” (CIS, 60). There are at least two problems with this easy dismissal of the generations stretching from his grandparents and his parents, and the pragmatists whose legacy he still wanted to claim as his own, to the social democrats of his own day. First, Rauschenbusch and many of the contemporary progressive and later New Deal reformers he inspired worked hard to achieve the limited progress they made through legal challenges and local, state, and national legislation. It was difficult, demanding work, as generations of historians have demonstrated. It did not just happen accidentally. Second, Dewey explicitly repudiated the claim that philosophy has nothing to do with politics. As he wrote in 1940, “any theory of activity in social and moral matters, liberal or otherwise, which is not grounded in a comprehensive philosophy, seems to me to be only a projection of arbitrary personal preferences” (Dewey 1940, 150). Since “arbitrary personal preferences” seemed to be precisely what Rorty was offering in Contingency, and not just unapologetically but smugly, the gulf between his and Dewey’s conceptions of philosophy and politics could hardly have been wider. Rorty’s self-proclaimed ironism undercut any effort to mobilize political movements on behalf of the values he claimed to cherish. He conceded the problem but hardly resolved it. He considered the “poetized culture” he wanted “both possible and desirable.” He conceded, however, that “I cannot go on to claim that there could or ought to be a culture whose public rhetoric is ‘ironist.’ I cannot imagine a culture which socialized its youth in such a way as to make

rorty’s insouciant social thought 215 them continually dubious about their own process of socialization. Irony seems inherently a private matter.” Ironists, he concluded, must “have something to have doubts about, something from which to be alienated” (CIS, 87). From the perspective of Rorty’s many critics, that was precisely the problem. It is one thing to dismiss the significance of individual and collective experience and champion chance and ironic detachment. Once that has been done, how is it possible to rebuild the seriousness of purpose necessary to generate effective social movements or political action? Rorty’s insouciance pulled the rug out from under his attempt to present himself as a thoroughgoing foe of cruelty in all its forms. As long as everyone is free to read Proust, go birding, and wander amidst the wild orchids, asked his readers (and many of the students to whom I assigned the book), why should we worry about problems of inequality and injustice? Rorty vociferously denied that any philosophical ideas or arguments can generate the solidarity he sought. He never explained what, in a culture of irony, could do the job.6 Accused by critics right and left of corrupting American culture, Rorty made several attempts to establish himself as a “left patriot” in the spirit of his parents. Both Philosophy and Social Hope and Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in TwentiethCentury America, however, show just how inadequate his version of pragmatism was to sustain his version of progressive politics. Several of the essays in the former volume are notable for their gloomy predictions. In “Looking Backward from the Year 2096,” Rorty adopted the conceit that Edward Bellamy had used in his utopian novel Looking Backward, one of the most widely read books of the late nineteenth century. The article, entitled “Fraternity,” was said to have been written for the seventh edition of A Companion to American Thought, a book by then edited not by two white males but by Cynthia Rodriguez, S. J., and Youzheng Patel. (To the editors of the first edition, that looked like genuine progress.) The author of “Fraternity” was writing from the perspective of the late twentyfirst century. A series of catastrophic experiences – there is no other

216 james t. kloppenberg word for it – notably “the breakdown of democratic institutions during the Dark Years (2014–44),” had led Americans to repudiate the individualism of the late twentieth-century “rights revolution” and renew their commitment to solidarity. A “burst of selfishness had produced tax revolts in the 1970s,” which halted “the fairly steady progress toward a fully-fledged welfare state that had been under way since the New Deal.” Renewed racial animosity and dramatically increasing inequality then combined to spark a Second Great Depression and murderous lawlessness that ended only with the imposition of military rule. Thanks to a new force, the Democratic Vista Party, a party created by a coalition of trade unions and social gospel churches, the reign of the rich gave way to a new cultural devotion to fraternity. Like Bellamy’s earlier effort, it was both an indictment of our nightmarish condition and a lovely vision of an alternative. And like Bellamy’s, Rorty’s flight of utopian fancy offered no clue about how to get from here to there (PSH, 243–51). Achieving Our Country, Rorty’s less fanciful attempt at social and political analysis, suffered from three principal problems. First, it was blind to the role of religion. Evidently the social gospel churches in “Looking Backward” mattered less than readers of that little essay might have been led to believe. Although Rorty mentioned his grandfather in passing and mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., in a litany of lions of the “reformist left,” he refused to acknowledge the role played by the social gospel in early twentiethcentury progressivism, by the Catholic left generally and John Ryan, aka “Right Reverend New Dealer,” in the rise of the trade union movement, the roles played by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and progressive Jews and Christians in the Civil Rights movement, the role of religious groups in multiple antiwar movements, or the role of religious faith in the decades-long efforts of Cesar Chavez and his allies to galvanize farmworkers. In the years since Rorty wrote, as in the century he described in the book, many insurgent reformers, and many prominent Democratic Party politicians, from Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren to Cory Booker

rorty’s insouciant social thought 217 and Peter Buttigieg, have continued to invoke traditions of progressive activism grounded in their commitments to egalitarian Christianity. Perhaps because Rorty was convinced that religion is a reactionary force with no place in his poetized culture of irony, he ignored its indispensable role in twentieth-century leftist thought. The historical record tells another story. The second problem had to do with Rorty’s impatience with the new social movements that transformed American politics after World War II. Rorty’s Achieving Our Country is a tribute to the heroism of the labor movement. He denigrated what he called the “identity politics” of the post-1960s “cultural left,” whose activists focused attention less on the working class than on forms of oppression having to do with race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Such crusades made universities better places, Rorty conceded, but they antagonized most Americans and thereby facilitated the triumph of reaction, selfishness, and greed. Finally, because Rorty remained, as he proclaimed proudly, a fierce anticommunist long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, his analysis was locked not just in the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s but the anti-Stalinism of his parents. The United States will not move toward a more social democratic future unless the Democratic Party manages to fuse what Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth have called the legitimate demands for recognition with the equally legitimate demands for redistribution and representation.7 The twenty-four years that have elapsed since Rorty delivered the Massey Lectures, on which Achieving Our Country was based, have made ever more clear that there will be no second Truce of Detroit, the agreement that established the terms of the post–World War II regime of labor relations that Rorty nostalgically invoked. Our postindustrial world, dominated not by the steel industry and auto makers but by monopoly powers such as Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple on the one hand, and by the precarity of life in the gig economy on the other, presents us with a new set of challenges. Those will be met, if at all, by new generations of

218 james t. kloppenberg Americans committed not to enjoying the private pleasures of art or consumption but to restoring a commitment to equality, to be achieved through sustained political engagement and the nurturing of deliberative democracy. I was in the audience at Harvard when Rorty delivered his Massey Lectures. Then and afterward, I expressed to him my misgivings about his skirting of the religious left, about the blinkered nature of his narrative about the culture wars, and about the pointlessness of continuing to fight the Cold War – no longer against the Soviet Union but against potential allies on the left. When Achieving Our Country appeared, he generously sent me a copy, along with a letter that read, in part, “although I was sensible of your point that there was very little social context displayed” in the lectures or the earlier draft of the book, “I despaired of being able to add much – largely because the holes in my knowledge seemed to [sic] large to fill.”8 Those holes, I think, were less in Rorty’s knowledge than a result of his insouciance. Learned as he was, he never succeeded in gluing back together the private and the public worlds that he had pried apart. Nor did he acknowledge the ideals that motivated earlier generations of activists to undertake struggles against social injustice and economic inequality. Those generations did not share his commitment to ironism any more than does the rising generation of activists who demand recognition and representation as well as redistribution to address twentyfirst-century problems. Since the presidential election of 2016, Achieving Our Country has achieved unexpected notoriety because of a prediction Rorty offered near the end of the book. If the left continued to focus on cultural rather than economic issues, Rorty warned, and if politicians “keep the bottom 75 percent of Americans and the bottom 95 percent of the world’s population busy with ethnic and religious hostilities, and with debates about sexual mores,” then manufactured pseudoevents will keep “the proles” distracted while the “super-rich” luxuriate in their ever-growing wealth. Battles over borders will rip apart the older (industrial) from the newer (cultural) left. At that point,

rorty’s insouciant social thought 219 “something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots” (AOC, 88–9). As the chants of angry crowds demanding “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” echo in the minds of Rorty’s post-2016 readers, Rorty’s nightmare vision has come chillingly to life, not only in the person of Donald Trump but in other dangerous autocrats around the globe. Inequality continues to snowball, within nations and between the northern and southern hemispheres. Competing factions from the far left to the center left continue to squabble rather than unite, primarily because of disagreements concerning the relative significance of the shared concerns that animate all of them: demands not only for recognition, redistribution, and representation but also, and perhaps most ominously of all, climate change. Rorty’s antidote to this poisonous condition, however, suffered from a familiar vacuousness. If only we were to abandon religion, philosophy, and “theory” more generally, and if only we were give up on “participatory democracy and the end of capitalism,” we could return to the magic of “American patriotism” (AOC, 102). In the spring of 2020, many American leftists share the dissident soccer star Megan Rapinoe’s proud declaration of her patriotism. But patriotism will not be enough to end the reign of selfishness and greed, which, as Rorty accurately observed, has dismantled much of the regulatory and redistributive apparatus that rendered the populations of many nations much less unequal between 1945 and 1980. If leftist thinkers have nothing to offer but ironism, private utopias, or predictions of gloom, they will never inspire electorates to action. If instead they acknowledge that the history of democracy shows the progress that people committed to the ideals of liberty, equality, and justice can achieve, and if they call attention to how much arduous political work is required to make even limited (but never merely “accidental”) progress, they have a better chance of reversing our decades-long decline into oligarchy.

220 james t. kloppenberg In conclusion, I want to return to a memorable weekend gathering in the summer of 1991. Rorty’s friend Richard Bernstein convened a group to spend three days discussing Dewey in a lovely, rustic spot in New York’s Adirondack mountains. Those in attendance included, among others, Bernstein and Rorty, Casey Blake, Robert Boynton, Juan Carlos Geneyro, Maria Pia Lara Zavala, Richard Shusterman, William Sullivan, Cornel West, Robert Westbrook, Alan Wolfe, and me. Occasioned by the publication of Westbrook’s magisterial John Dewey and American Democracy (Westbrook 1991), the conference turned into a symposium/camp meeting at which all of us tried, in various ways but with equally negligible results, to convert Rorty into a Deweyan. Citing chapter and verse, from Dewey and from Westbrook, we tried to persuade Rorty that he had misunderstood Dewey, and that his own “postmodern bourgeois liberalism” was counterproductive. Our collective effort failed completely. Shrugging his shoulders and speaking in the world-weary tones of a wise elder patiently explaining how and why we misunderstood the philosophical as well as the political issues, Rorty held his ground. He seemed genuinely unable to see that it was possible to understand him perfectly and yet disagree with him completely. In the breaks for coffee, lunch, and dinner, many of us kept hashing out the issues. We argued over our diverse understandings of the meanings of pragmatism and democracy – and tried to imagine new, more persuasive arguments that might succeed in changing Rorty’s mind. Sometimes Rorty took part in those exchanges. Often he went birding.

notes 1

For a brief account, see the appreciation from his lifelong friend Richard J. Bernstein (Bernstein 2008). Gross 2008 is also relevant.

2

This is one of the central arguments of Kloppenberg 1986, chapters 2, 3, 6, and 8. For a brief account of that argument, see Kloppenberg 1996, 100–38.

3

See Bernstein 2008 and Stout 2007.

rorty’s insouciant social thought 221 4

See Shusterman 1992, 1997, 2002 (especially 203–7), and Rockefeller 1991.

5

Showing the connection between their ideas of immediate experience, their ethics, and their pragmatism is central to the argument in Kloppenberg 1986 and Kloppenberg 1996.

6

In addition to Richard Bernstein’s writings on Rorty, among the many articles making this point are Williams 2000 and Isaac 2000.

7

Fraser and Honneth 2003. Their more recent works include Fraser and Jaeggi 2018 and Honneth 2017.

8

Richard Rorty to James T. Kloppenberg, October 31, 1997, in the author’s possession.

10 Rorty and National Pride Georgia Warnke

Chief among the criticisms Richard Rorty levels at what he calls the cultural Left in his Achieving Our Country is its “Gothic” account of American history, an account that is haunted by specters of power and hypocrisy and that condemns the United States for atrocities for which no future acts can atone (AOC, 95). In Rorty’s view, this account diverges disastrously from the assessment of James Baldwin, from whom he takes the title of his book. In his famous 1963 letter to his fifteen-year-old nephew, Baldwin writes, “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.” But he also writes, “If we – and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create the consciousness of others – do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our county, and change the history of the world” (Baldwin 1991, 5). Despite the crimes of which he accuses his country, Baldwin retains hope that the United States will be able to realize its founding ideals, including its commitment to freedom and equality. Rorty thinks much the same can be said for the old or reformist Left, which possessed a “national pride” in those commitments and in what it saw as progressive attempts to make them real. In contrast, he says the cultural Left gave up on achieving its country in favor of an impotent self-disgust. In this chapter, I want to explore Rorty’s charge against the cultural Left but also ask whether, if we reject self-disgust, a simple return to national pride is our best option. Might we not temper one 222

rorty and national pride 223 with the other and even learn to accommodate both? I begin with Rorty’s history of the cultural Left.

the problem of the cultural left Rorty sees the cultural Left as an outgrowth of the New Left and he agrees with Todd Gitlin that we might locate the latter’s decisive break with the older reformist Left in the year 1964, when the Democratic Convention decided not to seat the members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. At that point, members of the New Left decided that something was so “deeply wrong” with the United States that it was beyond reform (AOC, 66). Rorty thinks that the country owes the New Left a large debt for ending the Vietnam War. Indeed, he thinks, “America will always owe an enormous amount to the rage which rumbled through the country between 1964 and 1972” (AOC, 68). Nevertheless, he faults the New Left for assuming that the reformist Left had nothing to teach it and for being unable to see itself as part of the same reformist tradition to which that older Left belonged. Had it done so, it would have found important resources in thinkers such as Herbert Croly, John Dewey, and Walt Whitman, and it would not have leaned toward the abstract Continental theory that Rorty claims became the bedrock of the cultural Left. Before the 1960s, according to Rorty, academic leftists were mainly centered in social science departments and focused on such economic questions as income inequality, labor relations, social welfare, and the effects of money in politics. After the 60s, academic leftists were largely to be found in literature departments, where they replaced efforts to reform the system with attempts to name its vices: “Cold War ideology,” “technocratic rationality,” “phallogocentrism,” and the like (AOC, 79). Rather than economic reform, the solutions to these vices were meant to be new academic programs focused on marginalized groups such as women and on issues of social identity in general. As he does the New Left, Rorty credits this cultural Left with a great deal of success. By exposing the forms of degradation and

224 georgia warnke humiliation to which various groups were subjected, the cultural Left helped alter attitudes and make the United States a more civilized place than it had been; it helped to change relations between men and women, to make the lives of members of marginalized groups, especially gays and lesbians, better, and generally to decrease what Rorty calls the sadism in American culture. Nevertheless, although he admits that the older Left simply assumed that eliminating gross economic disparities would also eliminate other forms of injustice, he thinks the cultural Left made a similar mistake in focusing too exclusively on issues of identity. The result was that “During the same period in which socially accepted sadism . . . steadily diminished, economic inequality and economic insecurity . . . steadily increased” (AOC, 83). Indeed, as globalization led to massive labor realignments, substantial insecurity, and enormous economic differentials, Rorty says the cultural Left continued to focus only on questions of stigma and humiliation. And he predicts that once members of labor unions and unorganized unskilled workers come to realize the degree of public indifference to their plight, something will “crack.” In two paragraphs widely quoted after the 2016 election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, Rorty writes: The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion . . . All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet. (AOC, 90)1

It is not difficult to confirm Rorty’s foresight. Trump was elected on a populist vote to bring back lost manufacturing jobs

rorty and national pride 225 and revitalize rural towns but also to drain the bureaucratic “swamp” in Washington, DC and, indeed, as a stinging rebuke to the liberal elite and urban intellectuals. He began his presidential campaign by describing Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and by insisting that he could not get a fair trial from a Mexican-American judge; he also governed in this vein, among other actions claiming that black Americans are responsible for most murders of whites, referring to El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries as “shithole countries” and trying to limit even legal immigration. In 2017, hate crimes in US cities rose by 17 percent, 58 percent of which were based on race, ethnicity, and ancestry.2 Avowed white nationalists stabbed an African American man in New York City, fatally stabbed two men protecting a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in Portland, Oregon, and killed a woman during a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.3 In October 2018, a gunman killed eleven people at a Pittsburgh synagogue; in April 2019, another gunman attacked a synagogue in San Diego. Meanwhile, imposing tariffs on imports, withdrawing from international agreements and organizations, and criticizing allies may have a populist bent, but it is not clear how productive they are in improving the lives of those left behind in the new economy. What could have gone differently? Rorty’s more specific question is why the Left could not “channel the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed?” (AOC, 91).4 His answer is that it was in the universities reading theorists such as Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. Instead of trying to figure out how to reverse increasing inequality or how to mitigate some of the consequences of globalization, the cultural Left was more interested in adequately “theorizing” what has been “inadequately theorized” and in “problematizing familiar concepts” (AOC, 93). What moves the cultural Left, according to Rorty, is narratives about “ubiquitous specters,” “webs of power,” and “the insidious influence of a hegemonic ideology.” These narratives, he says, do for the cultural Left “what stories about the Lamanites did for Joseph Smith and what stories about

226 georgia warnke Yakkub did for Elijah Muhammad:” they show that the United States is irredeemably evil (AOC, 94–5). For Rorty, the contrast between this intellectual orientation and the one taken up by Croly, Dewey, and Whitman and characteristic of the American Left prior to the Vietnam War could not be starker. The basic feature of this older orientation is its faith in the United States. “We may distrust and dislike much of that is done in the name of our country,” Croly writes, “but our country itself, its democratic system, and its prosperous future are above suspicion” (Croly, in AOC, 10). Likewise, for Dewey and Whitman, the United States represents democracy and self-determination. Whitman calls the United States “the greatest poem” because it is beholden to no higher authority than itself and to no preset idea of what it should be. Instead, it is “the first thoroughgoing experiment in national selfcreation” (AOC, 22) and neither he nor Dewey sees the need for a theoretical frame of reference in terms of which elements of that experiment might be assessed and justified. Nor, in Rorty’s reading, do they find it particularly important to focus on “the real” as opposed to the hope “for what might become real” (AOC, 18). Rather, for Whitman and Dewey, America is an attempt to foster a new society in which individuals can flourish and an endless variety of ways of living can take root. Both thought the attempt could fail. Nevertheless, Rorty writes, “Whereas Marx and Spencer claimed to know what was bound to happen, Whitman and Dewey denied such knowledge in order to make room for pure joyous hope” (AOC, 23). Rorty thinks, “there is no point in asking whether . . . Whitman or Dewey got America right.” As he continues, “Stories about what a nation has been and should try to be are not attempts at accurate representation but rather attempts to forge a moral identity” (AOC, 13). Hence, if the Croly–Whitman–Dewey version of America is better than that of the cultural Left, it is not because it offers a more “accurate representation.” Rather, for Rorty, it is because, unlike the version the cultural Left presents, it allows for national pride and because national pride is crucial to efforts at social reform:

rorty and national pride 227 National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement. Too much national pride can produce bellicosity and imperialism, just as excessive self-respect can produce arrogance. But just as too little self-respect makes it difficult for a person to display moral courage, so insufficient national pride makes energetic and effective debate about national policy unlikely. (AOC, 3)5

Rorty does not say why insufficient national pride attenuates possibilities for energetic and effective debate; indeed, Germany’s post–World War II culture of atonement would seem to offer a counterexample. Yet even if national pride is necessary for this sort of debate, surely it must be earned. Rorty emphasizes the difference between the members of the cultural Left and Baldwin: the former find America “unforgiveable” as he did, but they also find it “unachievable, as he did not” (AOC, 35). Here, however, Rorty glosses over some of what Baldwin finds unforgiveable: not only that his country and countrymen “have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives” but also that “they do not know it and do not want to know it.” Although Rorty denies that “stories about what a nation has been . . . are . . . attempts at accurate representation,” he also intimates that pride in the United States is consistent with an accurate representation. Even if less brash and bellicose, that pride remains “compatible with remembering that we expanded our boundaries by massacring the tribes that blocked our way, that we broke the word we had pledged in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and that we caused the death of a million Vietnamese out of sheer macho arrogance” (AOC, 32). Yet even assuming that most Americans share Rorty’s view of the meaning of the war in Vietnam, how extensive is their historical memory?6 How much do most Americans know or want to know about the massacres of Native Americans or violations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo? If national pride is compatible with remembering the massacres, lies, and macho arrogance in which a nation has

228 georgia warnke been engaged, is it also compatible with not remembering, not wanting to remember, or misremembering them? The focus of Baldwin’s concern, widespread and deliberate ignorance about the historical experiences of African Americans, raises reasons for doubt.

historical ignorance Take the place of slavery and the Civil War in American public memory. In 2011, at the start of the War’s sesquicentennial, a survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 38 percent of Americans attributed the fundamental cause of the war to slavery and that 48 percent attributed it to the South’s attempt to defend states’ rights (Heimlich 2011). A 2018 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center on the teaching of American slavery and the Civil War offered no indication that knowledge about slavery and its role in the Civil War had improved during the intervening six years. Surveying high school seniors in fifteen states, the report found that only 8 percent of the students named slavery as the war’s central cause; 68 percent were not aware that it took a constitutional amendment to end the institution; few knew it existed outside the South; and 78 percent could not say how provisions of the US Constitution advantaged slaveholders (Shuster 2018). To be sure, Americans know very little about their history in general. A 2018 survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that 72 percent of those surveyed could not identify the thirteen original colonies; only 24 percent knew why the colonists went to war against the British; and 12 percent thought Dwight D. Eisenhower was a Civil War general. (Another 6 percent thought he was a general during the war in Vietnam).7 In the case of these lapses, however, US history textbooks and instruction provide the correct information for those who are interested. In contrast, the report by the Southern Poverty Law Center finds that with regard to the enslavement of African Americans, textbooks regularly used in schools provide inadequate coverage and that teachers often offer a sanitized picture. Rather than emphasizing or exploring the

rorty and national pride 229 experience of the enslaved population or the place of slavery in American life, they generally focus on positive stories about the abolition movement or black leaders such as Harriet Tubman. Moreover, as measured against a set of ten concepts that the report says are key to understanding slavery and its history, standards in all the fifteen states it surveyed are inadequate. These key concepts range from the economic importance of slavery to the experience of enslaved people to the influence of enslaved and free people of African descent on American culture. State standards in New Jersey and New Mexico omit all ten concepts; Virginia, Kansas, Louisiana, and Washington omit nine of them; and South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Florida omit eight. California performs the best, omitting two. Nevertheless, according to the report, most states fail “to lay out meaningful requirements for learning about slavery, about the lives of the millions of enslaved people, or about how their labor was essential to the American economy” (Shuster 2018, 10). In his preface to the report, historian Hasan Kwame Jeffries attributes the inadequacy of instruction and state standards on slavery to Americans’ aversion to “hard history”: we “prefer to pick and choose what aspects of the past to hold on to, gladly jettisoning that which makes us uneasy” (Shuster 2018, 5). In his introduction to the report, historian David Blight attributes this aversion to “a deep, abiding American need to conceive of and understand our history as ‘progress,’ as the story of a people and a nation that always sought the improvement of mankind, the advancement of liberty and justice, the broadening of pursuits of happiness for all” (Shuster 2018, 8). In other work on the Civil War and its aftermath, Blight goes further: we can attribute our lack of knowledge of slavery not only to a need to see American history as progress but also to myths about the war and its causes that began to develop as soon as it was over (Blight 2001). With the devastation of the South, Southerners, and particularly the United Daughters of the Confederacy, promoted the more palatable idea that it fought the war to defend states’ rights rather than, as the articles of secession themselves claimed, to preserve the institution of slavery.

230 georgia warnke For their part, reconciliationists, including Whitman, eager to bind the nation back together, downplayed understandings of the war that saw it as a war of emancipation and emphasized instead the shared hardships of the North and South. What was to be remembered was the equal courage and valor of Northern and Southern soldiers, as well as their shared suffering: “the dead, the dead, the dead – or South, or North, ours all,” Whitman wrote (Whitman, in Blight 2001, 18). To be sure, there were other voices: those of Frederick Douglass and some radical Republicans who continued to insist that the meaning of the war lay in emancipation and its promise of full citizenship for the former slaves. Nevertheless, in the years following the Civil War, a different view largely won out: the South’s secession became the Lost Cause, Robert E. Lee became a national hero, and Reconstruction, in its efforts to ensure the freedom and equality of African Americans, became a terrible mistake, one that Whitman called “the black domination, but little above the beasts” (Whitman, in Blight 2001, 22). Statues of Confederate generals, memorials to the Confederate cause, and public displays of the Confederate flag cropped up across the country, and the antebellum South became a moonlight and magnolia fable in which slavery was recalled as a largely benevolent institution. Ten United States military bases still bear the names of Confederate generals, and although some municipalities have begun to remove Confederate statues, memorials, and flags, the sometimes violent protests against this by so-called heritage defenders attest to the staying power of Civil War myths. Indeed, monuments and memorials to the Southern “cause” continue vastly to outnumber remembrances of those who suffered from it. Victims of the thousands of lynchings that followed the Civil War and continued into the twentieth century are finally being memorialized in the steel columns hanging from the roof of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. But what about remembrances of other forms of racial violence: say, memorials dedicated to victims of riots protesting African American suffrage during Reconstruction, histories of white mob destructions

rorty and national pride 231 of entire black communities in the years before World War I, or examinations of redlining, housing covenants, and white violence, including bombings, that kept African Americans in ghettos through most of the twentieth century? Not simply in these actions and events but also, and importantly, in their forgetting, mythologizing, and misremembering – a forgetting, mythologizing, and misremembering that extends to the Native American massacres and violations of treaties that Rorty notes – we might trace the not knowing and not wanting to know that is Baldwin’s concern. Indeed, we might be tempted to endorse the cultural Left’s view of the “insidious influence of a hegemonic ideology” that in this case works to minimize or cover over important histories of racial injustice and largely omit them from the historical record. Charles W. Mills comes close to the cultural Left’s view from a decidedly different intellectual orientation. His sympathies are with what he thinks “will seem to many a deplorably old-fashioned, ‘conservative,’ realist, intellectual framework, one in which truth, falsity, facts, reality, and so forth are not enclosed with ironic scare quotes” (Mills 2007, 15), and he thus finds Lacan and Foucault as counterproductive as Rorty does. Nevertheless, for Mills the influence of a hegemonic racial ideology that does not know and does not want to know is extensive, reaching from historical memory to political philosophy. The standard narrative of analytic political philosophy claims that the field was moribund from the late nineteenth century until 1971, when John Rawls revived it with A Theory of Justice (Mills 2015). Yet, as Mills points out, this standard narrative overlooks a great deal of pre-Rawlsian political theory, including the work of the Frankfurt School theorists, Simone de Beauvoir’s feminist philosophy, Hannah Arendt’s post–World War II writings, and, importantly, all the work of non-white theorists such as Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois. Moreover, Rawls’s political theory has an ideological function, in Mills’s view. On the one hand, it reorients social contract theory so that it takes an explicitly hypothetical form and replaces issues of political obligation with those of social justice. On the other hand,

232 georgia warnke in neither Rawls’s work nor in the vast secondary literature on it, the indexing of which Mills notes “would constitute a book in itself,” do considerations of racial justice appear (Mills 2015, 3). Questions central to political theory in the United States surely include the state of race relations and the source of racial disparities in wealth, income, health, and the like. By asking instead the hypothetical question of what principles of justice we would choose from an original position under certain idealized conditions, Rawls’s political theory simply removes such questions from view. Indeed, Mills contends that if one looks carefully at the social contract tradition that Rawls is praised for reviving, it become clear that the contract at issue is already a racial one. Papal bulls and pronouncements, European discussions about colonialism and international law, “discovery” documents, pacts, treaties, legal decisions and structures, and the infamous requerimientos in which the Spanish, on pain of war, required assent by Native Americans to statements read out to them in Spanish, all indicate that when social contract theory talks about free consent it means free consent among white people about people of color. To the extent that the Declaration of Independence faults the British Crown for setting “merciless Indian Savages” against the colonists and that the US Constitution not only calculates an African American at three-fifths of a person but consents to their continued enslavement, Mills maintains that the founding documents of the United States possess this racial contract at their base (Mills 1997). In this regard his views are close to those of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ 1619 project. Thus, while Rorty thinks national pride in American reformist progress is compatible with remembering the ways in which the United States has mistaken its way, like the cultural Left Mills suggests that were we to remember all those allegedly mistaken ways, we would have to reverse the judgment of what we count as progress and what we count as mistakes; indeed, the mistakes are the progress, and the efforts, the mistakes. Where does this contrast between Rorty and the progressives, on the one hand, and Mills and

rorty and national pride 233 the cultural Left, on the other, leave us? The question with which we began was whether national pride was compatible with not knowing and not wanting to know. Pride that rests on myths and ideology makes for a tenuous sort of pride, one easily either undercut by coming to know what has been elided or made so defensive by its revelation that it denies those elisions. Indeed, it is not hard to imagine that both the cultural Left’s disgust at American history and the current zeal of heritage defenders in protecting the Lost Cause tradition are reactions to disclosures about a past that has been obscured and assiduously mis-transmitted. Although Rorty dismisses the need to tie American moral identity to an accurate representation, might we not ask whether our representation of our history is not so obfuscating and, moreover, our refusal to acknowledge the lives we have destroyed so adamant that the descent of the cultural Left into self-disgust and of heritage defenders into what Rorty might see as bellicosity are all too predictable? Despite his general agreement with the cultural Left, Mills’s work also contains suggestions that point down a different path. Here he distinguishes between the nonideal racial ideals that he thinks are embodied in the social contract and what he calls ideal raceless ideals. Moreover, he denies that the United States is condemned to the former but rather maintains that we can move toward the latter by fully researching, remembering, and acknowledging both what we have thus far, or at least too often, refused to remember and acknowledge, and why we have refused to remember and acknowledge it: Realizing a better future requires not merely admitting the ugly truth of the past – and present – but understanding the ways in which these realities were made invisible, acceptable to the white population. We want to know – both to describe and to explain – the circumstances that actually blocked achievement of the ideal raceless ideals and promoted instead the naturalized nonideal racial ideals. We want to know what went wrong in the past, is going wrong now, and is likely to continue to go wrong in the future if we do not guard against it. (Mills 1997, 92)

234 georgia warnke Mills does not reconcile his view of the United States as a racial polity with his reference to America’s “ideal raceless ideals” or with his interest in unearthing the impediments to reaching them. In effect, he adopts both the condemnatory position of the cultural Left and the hopes of Baldwin and Rorty that our country and its ideals might still be achieved. In what follows I want to argue that this unreconciled stance is a more solid basis for “energetic and effective debate about national policy” than self-disgust, bellicosity, or a national pride based on ignorance. If we are to deliberate clearly and well over the direction of our future, we need to know where we have been and what we have done in the past. We need to acknowledge and confront the full extent of a repugnant history that we have buried or ignored. At the same time, we also need to take seriously our ideal raceless ideals of freedom and equality and celebrate whatever progress we have made in realizing them. In short, we need to foster an ability to accept our past and to understand it in at least two ways at once. I think Jürgen Habermas suggests a possible approach in pointing to the psychoanalytic theory of Edith Jacobson in his intervention in the 1980s historians’ debate over the place of the Third Reich in German history.

troubled legacies Revisionist German historians in the 1980s seemed to have had thoughts somewhat similar to Rorty’s idea of the importance of national pride. In their view, Germany’s culture of atonement had run its course and national pride or a positive image of Germany was necessary for the country’s future – in specific, for social integration and stable foreign relations. Hence they argued that the emphasis on the Holocaust had to be leveled out in favor of a wider and longer historical lens, one that placed Nazism in the context of dislocations of the modern era, other historical massacres, and, perhaps most importantly, opposition to Bolshevism (Habermas 1988).8 Habermas’s own intervention into the debate was driven by two related events: the conservative historians’ popular publications on the

rorty and national pride 235 issue and the visit of US President Ronald Reagan, after a morning trip to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, to the Bitburg cemetery where SS members are interred. Like Whitman, Habermas suggests that memorializing mutual experiences of suffering can foster reconciliation and help construct a common tradition. At the same time, he is quite clear that memorialization of mutual sufferings does not include equating sufferings that are incommensurable. If some Americans lionize the suffering endured by the South and its Lost Cause, with regard to SS members and Jewish victims, Habermas imposes a limit. “The less communality . . . a collective life-context allowed internally and the more it maintained itself by usurping and destroying the lives of others, the greater then is the ambivalence of the burden of reconciliation which is loaded onto subsequent generations’ allotted task of mourning” (Habermas 1988, 46). Habermas also claims to be not unsympathetic to the public use of history to forge a moral identity. At the same time, whereas Rorty denies that “stories about what a nation has been . . . are . . . attempts at accurate representation” and, indeed, that there is no “nonmythological, nonideological way of telling a country’s story” (AOC, 11), Habermas insists that there are mythological and ideological ways, and he offers the work of historians such as Andreas Hillgruber as an example. Just as Lost Cause histories of the Civil War emphasize the struggles and suffering of Confederate soldiers and their generals, Hillgruber thinks that if we are to understand the meaning of the Second World War we must look at it from the point of view of the soldier on the Eastern front – those who, he says, fought to protect “the German population in the east” against “the Red Army’s orgy of revenge.” Never mind that these efforts allowed the operations of the death camps to continue – for Hillgruber, employing this retrospective knowledge devalues the actions of the soldiers themselves in their desperate attempt to save the PrussianEastern provinces for the West. Likewise, for Southern heritage defenders what is important about the Civil War is the perspective of the Confederate soldiers, their generals, and their valor – never mind that had they won slavery would have continued.

236 georgia warnke In his attempt to make sense out of the appeal of such German historical revisionism, Habermas looks to Jacobson’s insight that the developing child needs to learn to accommodate two opposing experiences of its primary caregiver. The child experiences that caregiver, on the one hand, as sometimes loving and giving and, on the other, as sometimes withdrawing and unavailable. Out of these conflicting experiences the child must form a complex image that enfolds both experiences into the experience of the same person. Yet the child can also fail and attempt to resolve the conflict and the cognitive dissonance it entails by simply substituting one experience for the other; indeed, as Habermas writes, the attempt is “all the more understandable the further apart the two extremes become” (Habermas 1988, 46). In the context of the Third Reich he thinks a similar attempt can try to resolve conflict and cognitive dissonance by substituting, say, “the positive impressions of one’s own father or brother, which are saturated with experience” for “the disquieting information which is provided by abstract reports about the contexts of these persons’ actions and their entanglements, persons so intimately connected with oneself” (Habermas 1988, 46). Tony Horowitz makes a similar point about heritage defenders. In their view, because the Civil War was fought over states’ rights not slavery and because the Lost Cause was a valiant one, Confederate monuments, statues of Confederate generals, and public displays of the Confederate flag do not commemorate racial oppression but rather honor their ancestors. Of course, most of the monuments and statues were erected during the Jim Crow era between 1890 and 1950, while the Confederate flag began to be prominently displayed or woven into state flags only in the 1950s and 60s during the Civil Rights era and as a protest against integration (Gunter and Kizzire 2019). On the other hand, about 20 percent of white Southern males of military age died in the Civil War, while countless others were wounded and their farms and homes ruined. Hence, here again, it can be difficult to hold in mind both their sacrifice and the ghastliness it was dedicated to preserve. It is easier simply to forget or downplay the

rorty and national pride 237 latter in favor of the former – or, as Horowitz puts the point, “No one wants to be asked to spit on their ancestors’ graves” (Horowitz 2015). Yet I think we need to learn both to honor and to spit – in effect to learn to live with the cognitive dissonance Jacobson examines. The cultural Left and heritage defenders are similar in their attempts to reduce the past to one story, to a single account without internal conflict. Either American history is the litany of crimes that cultural Leftists attribute to it or, at least in its Southern version, it represents a lost but valued way of life to be commemorated. The same goes for what Blight terms the deep American need to see our history as the progressive working out of straightforward ideals. All three approaches try to flatten out a legacy that we might rather recognize as conflicted. Just as we must learn to see the loving and giving caregiver as the same person as the withdrawing and unavailable one, we must learn to see the man who wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence as the same man who had small enslaved boys whipped in his nail foundry at Monticello and to see the poet of democracy as the same man who thought African Americans were “but little above the beasts.” Referring to slavery, Blight makes much the same point: Freedom and tyranny, wrapped in the same historical bundle, feeding upon and making one another, created by the late 18th century a remarkably original nation dedicated to Thomas Jefferson’s idea of the ‘truths’ of natural rights, popular sovereignty, the right of revolution, and human equality, but also built as an edifice designed to protect and expand chattel slavery. Americans do not always like to face the contradictions in their past, but in so many ways, we are our contradictions. (Shuster 2018, 7)

How might we learn to accept our history and ourselves as contradictions? Can we substitute cognitive dissonance for both the national pride Rorty recommends and the Gothic self-disgust of the cultural Left? If we are to understand ourselves as our contradictions, how might we learn to do so? The capacity for cognitive dissonance

238 georgia warnke is, I think, already embedded in humanistic forms of understanding and, in particular, in our understanding of texts. Take our understanding of characters in literature. If we must learn to understand Thomas Jefferson as both a writer of the Declaration of Independence and a ruthless owner of other human beings, we are already able to understand the character Fanny Price of Mansfield Park in a number of conflicting ways: as a symbol of Christian heroism (Trilling 1963, 128–9) and a model of constancy (MacIntyre 1984, 240), but also as “a silent censorious pall” (Auerbach 1980) and proof that Jane Austen’s very “judgment and . . . moral sense were corrupted” (Amis 1957, 440). Likewise, we can look to the website “Literary Hub” for a catalogue of some of the different ways Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye has been understood: as a “saintly Christian person,” an “American rebel victim,” “an unregenerate whiner and egotist,” and a “sad little screwed-up hero” (Temple 2018). We also understand the texts in which these characters reside in different ways. Edward Said presents Mansfield Park as a “preimperialist” text, one that “sees the legitimacy of Sir Thomas Bertram’s overseas properties as a natural extension of the calm, the order, the beauties of Mansfield Park, one central estate validating the economically supportive role of the peripheral other” (Said 1993, 79). In contrast, David Bartine and Eileen Maguire see the same text as “an extensively dissonant commentary on the false harmony of the imperial/paternal model” (Bartine and Maguire 2009, 52). For its part, The Catcher in the Rye has been seen as a coming-of-age story, a war story, and a book about “the spiritual poverty of a conformist culture” (Menand 2001). We ask for evidence and justification for any literary interpretation we are to take seriously. Yet we assume that different readers can take up an identical text, argue for the importance of different parts of it, and integrate these parts in different ways to show how the text completes a different meaning. To be sure, employing our hermeneutic practices of interpretation as a basis for our capacity to live with cognitive dissonance about the United States and its history confronts two problems. First,

rorty and national pride 239 these practices appear to fall short. Although Fanny Price can be understood in different ways, the descriptions I have cited of her belong to different interpreters, to Lionel Trilling, Alasdair MacIntyre, Nina Auerbach, and Kingsley Amis. Likewise, the descriptions of Holden Caulfield belong to Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, Ihab Hassan, Jonathan Yardley, and Maxwell Geismar, respectively. In contrast, learning to live with cognitive dissonance requires an ability on the part of one interpreter to understand the same person, event, or series of events in different, sometimes contradictory, ways. We must ourselves learn to understand Mansfield Park as both pre- and anti-imperialist and Holden as both Christ-like and screwed up. Yet what we learn in reading analyses of literary texts by a range of others and discussing them with others is precisely this ability. Literary critics may all argue for their particular interpretations and point to the relevant textual evidence that supports them, but none plausibly thinks that the analysis of who Fanny Price or Holden Caulfield is ends with one contribution. Moreover, in humanistic forms of study, critics and their readers learn to appreciate and to subscribe to many different plausible interpretations. Indeed, we take for granted that texts and the characters and parts they contain are open to different compelling understandings. Nevertheless, this interpretive pluralism raises a second potential problem with conceiving of our hermeneutic practices of interpretation as a basis for our capacity to live with cognitive dissonance with regard to American history. How far does the interpretive pluralism go? If we can accept different, even opposed, understandings of Fanny Price and Holden Caulfield as well as of Mansfield Park and The Catcher in the Rye, and if we are to transfer this pluralism to our understandings of historical actors and events so that we learn to accommodate different, even opposed understandings of them, why should we not learn to accommodate an understanding of Southern secession that sees it as an attempt to stand up for the principle of states’ rights? Respect for pluralism in textual interpretation does not extend to interpretations that fail to make sense out of a text at all. Rather

240 georgia warnke the general hermeneutic principle ties an adequate understanding of a text to the ability to read the whole of the text in terms of its parts and its parts in terms of the whole. An adequate understanding is thus one that is able to present the text as an integrated totality where even attempts to deconstruct that totality depend on understanding the totality that is to be deconstructed. It is hard to see how we could understand The Catcher in the Rye as the story of a happy, welladjusted prep school student given Holden’s words and actions. It is equally hard to see how we could understand Southern secession as an attempt to stand up for states’ rights given the words of the secession articles themselves and the South’s opposition to states’ rights when it came to Northern states’ lack of compliance with fugitive slave laws. What makes cognitive dissonance appropriate to the history of the United States is the juxtaposition of different trajectories: for example, one that runs from slavery, the massacres of Native Americans, the violations of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, and the Vietnam War with one that runs from the petitions against slavery that the Society of Friends made to the first US Congress, the efforts of Douglass and abolitionists, the work of Thurgood Marshall and others, and Obergefell v. Hodges. Yet if accepting cognitive dissonance asks us to acknowledge the parts of our history that make us uneasy, it is not an invitation to mythmaking or distortion. With regard to the German historians’ debate, Habermas asks whether one can “continue the traditions of German culture without also assuming historical liability for the form of existence in which Auschwitz was possible.” He also asks whether it is possible to assume this liability “any way other than through the solidarity of the memory of that which cannot be made good” (Habermas 1988, 47). If we transfer these questions to the American context, what Habermas asks is that we take responsibility for the context of American life that allowed for slavery as well as for broken treaties, imperial aggression, and the oppression of marginalized groups in general. Taking up this responsibility means remembering and being committed to remembering “that which cannot be made good” or, in

rorty and national pride 241 Baldwin’s words, “that for which neither I nor time will ever forgive them.” Memory is the minimum solidarity we owe victims, and a national pride inconsistent with that memory is not a national pride to be celebrated. Yet nor can this solidarity be found in the cultural Left’s “ubiquitous specters” and “webs of power,” which ultimately simply abstract from the agency of those it may mean to support. An easy condemnation of the past does nothing to redeem the present. Rather, we might replace both pride and condemnation with a willingness to endure the cognitive dissonance that results from accepting aspects of our history we would rather forget while not forgetting aspects we can still respect.

notes 1

See for example Senior 2016.

2

“2017 Hate Crimes Statistics Released,” Criminal Justice Information Services (November 27, 2018), www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/cjis-link/2017hate-crime-statistics-released (accessed May 23, 2019).

3

“Hate Crimes Rise in Major US Cities in 2017,” VOA (September 29, 2018), www.voanews.com/a/hate-crimes-rising-in-us/4034719.html (accessed May 23, 2019.)

4

There is of course no reason why a progressive movement cannot work to improve both the recognition of diverse identities and the redistribution of material resources. Professions such as teaching and nursing are poorly paid at least in part because they are largely composed of women and because they are seen as caring professions that come naturally to women without requiring a great deal of skill. Likewise, two-thirds of the minimum-wage workers in the United States are women. Bettering their material life conditions and prospects thus also works to decrease their marginalization as women. Similarly, because African American and Latinx populations are disproportionately working class, such measures as raising the minimum wage, a decent health care system, and greater taxes on corporations and the rich would also disproportionately benefit them. Instead of allowing right-wing populists to pit poor and workingclass whites against poor and working-class people of color, could the Left not have devoted its energies to illuminating their common interests?

242 georgia warnke 5

Rorty goes on to say, “Emotional involvement with one’s country – feelings of intense shame or of glowing pride aroused by various parts of its history, and by various present-day national policies – is necessary if political deliberation is to be imaginative and productive. Such deliberation will probably not occur unless pride outweighs shame” (AOC, 3). Yet his account of the cultural Left does not suggest it feels shame. Rather, it seems to glory in its disgust for the country and its history.

6

According to a January 2018 poll, the number of Americans who have no opinion on whether the US should have entered the war in Vietnam is rising. Those under 50 “are less likely to think the US should have stayed out, and more likely to not have an opinion.” See www.cbsnews.com/ news/cbs-news-poll-u-s-involvement-in-vietnam (accessed May 23, 2019).

7

“National Survey Finds Just 1 in 3 Americans Would Pass Citizenship Test,” Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, https:// woodrow.org/news/national-survey-finds-just-1-in-3-americans-wouldpass-citizenship-test (accessed May 23, 2019).

8

Current leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD) think much the same, calling the Nazi era a “speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history” and Germany’s Holocaust Memorial “a monument of shame” (Eddy 2019).

11 Rorty on Religion Stephen S. Bush

Richard Rorty’s most famous assessment of religion is that it is a “conversation stopper.” People who refer to God in the midst of policy debates do so as an appeal to a final, absolute court in order to settle a debate definitively. Often they do so in order to deny the rights and claims of others: gays and women, for example. Rorty, advertising himself as an atheist, counsels that religious people should keep their beliefs to themselves when they enter into public conversation. If one knew only this much, one might class Rorty among those cultured despisers of religion who regard religion as irrational, the antithesis of reason and scientific knowledge. As it turns out, this is not at all the case. Rorty does not think religion is as such irrational. Indeed, Rorty himself evidences an unconventional sort of religiosity.

reason and religion Rorty’s views on religion are in keeping with his broader philosophical perspective; specifically, his commitments to a non-correspondence theory of truth and mind and to anti-essentialism. Rorty spends a good deal of his career challenging the idea that our minds are in some sense, the “mirror of nature.” In the correspondence theory of mind, at least of the sort that Rorty aims to displace, the ideas and concepts that characterize our mental life of thought and perceptual experience correspond to objects that exist outside of the mind and have their existence and nature independently of human cognitive and social activity. They are what they are regardless of whether or not humans think about them or perceive them or even whether the human species exists. Our idea of a dog corresponds to a class of mammals or any member of it, and this classification is an aspect of the structure of the world independently of any practical interests humans might have in 243

244 stephen s. bush differentiating dogs from, say, cats or squirrels. Similarly, in a correspondence theory of language, our words refer to objects and our sentences refer to states of affairs. If the world is not as one of our sentences says it is, then that sentence is false. If the sentence does accurately depict how things are, then it is true. And here again, the world has a particular structure and it has that structure independently of human language. Rorty rejects the correspondence theory of mind, language, and truth. He does not think that the world has a specific structure or that the things we think about, perceive, and talk about have a nature independently of human cognitive and social activity. The way we classify the objects that populate our surroundings has to do not with accurately ascertaining the structure of the world but with our practical needs and desires: to acquire food and shelter for survival, to carry out the various activities of our social lives, and to express ourselves creatively. There is no single set of needs and desires that is hardwired into human biology, no determinate and fixed human nature, but rather our needs and desires develop historically, changing over time, and exhibit diversity and plurality synchronically and diachronically. Rorty refers to this perspective on things as pragmatism, a philosophy that he inherited from John Dewey (1859–1952), William James (1842–1910), and Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), and which he did much to revive in the latter part of the twentieth century. If truth and knowledge are not a matter of bringing our minds or sentences into appropriate correspondence with a fixed and determinately structured reality, what then are they? For Rorty, they are matters of achieving intersubjective agreement. Historically, we have posited something external to human social activity to secure our quest for knowledge and to ground our attainment of truth: God, Nature, Reality, or even Truth itself. Whether the domain is physics, biology, morality, politics, or theology, we look to some nonhuman, transhistorical, and transcultural arbiter of the claims we make in order to ensure that an indisputable authority underwrites our attempts to discriminate the factual from the fictitious. We are not,

rorty on religion 245 in Rorty’s view, responsible to any of these capital-letter ideals. Our responsibility when it comes to knowledge and truth, rather, is solely to one another. We have “a responsibility to ourselves to make our beliefs cohere with one another, and to our fellow human beings to make them cohere with theirs” (PSH, 149). In principle, this is as true for gods and other religious entities as it is for tables, dogs, and subatomic particles. However, when it comes to divine things, there are not any “specific, observable phenomena” that are publicly available the way that there are for tables, dogs, and the experimental results from physics laboratories (Rorty 2005, 33). This is not to say that we should not believe in anything for which there isn’t sufficient evidence. Theists and atheists are on similar grounds: “Neither those who affirm nor those who deny the existence of God can plausibly claim that they have evidence for their views” (Rorty 2005, 33). For Rorty, most of our beliefs are part of the shared, social endeavor of obtaining publicly accessible knowledge of the world, but religion just isn’t like that. He asks, “Is evidence something which floats free of human projects, or is the demand for evidence simply a demand from other human beings for cooperation on such projects?” (PSH, 150). It is, for him, clearly the latter. Our scientific beliefs, our beliefs about tables and dogs, our beliefs about train schedules, all of these have to do with our shared cooperative projects of navigating the world we share, and all of these appeal to the sort of evidence that we can share with each other, regardless of our religious persuasion. When it comes to religion, however, the evidence is lacking and inconclusive. And this is so for the committed believer and non-believer alike. When it comes to religion, at least in this day and age and in pluralistic, diverse societies, we are not participating in a shared, cooperative societal endeavor. Those who, with the zeal of a missionary or apologist, think they have publicly ascertainable reasons for their beliefs will find their arguments meet annoyance or amusement from the larger public. Rorty suggests that religion in our contemporary context is, or at least should be,

246 stephen s. bush about something other than public argumentation. Whereas scientists handle publicly accessible evidence in order to “predict and control,” “religion offers us a larger hope, and thereby something to live for” (PSH, 153). What follows from this, for Rorty, is not that science is rational and religion irrational, but rather that scientific knowledge (and most of our commonsense knowledge) is public, whereas religion is private. Religious attitudes are not susceptible to the public standards of adjudication by reasoned argumentation and evidence because they are not about the attempt to “cooperate with others on common projects designed promote the general welfare.” Rather, they are personal (PSH, 154). They are about the individual’s attempt to find meaning and significance in their life, to connect with a sense of something larger than themselves, to deal with despair and disappointment, and to better themselves. Religion is not unique in this. A person’s investment in poetry, novels, art, philosophy, or music is also a matter of personal significance, and here too, the issue is not to ensure that others agree with one’s preferences, but rather to find sources of deep inspiration, delight, and emotional sustenance as one makes one’s way through life. When religion is playing this sort of role in people’s lives, we as a society should tolerate and even welcome it. These personal aspects of people’s lives are incredibly important, and we should not insist that their religious, philosophical, or artistic viewpoints must have evidential support. This is the same for the person whose personal life project includes religion and for the one whose does not. Obviously, however, many people do not view their religious beliefs and practices as having this sort of insulation from the public realm. For them, their religion is not merely about their own attempts to find meaningfulness in their lives; it has a bearing on their understanding of the physical world that scientists describe and on their engagement with the societal and political world that they share with others. In these cases, when religion departs the personal for the public, Rorty thinks it should be censured and contested.

rorty on religion 247 So the issue is not whether one believes in God. In “Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibility and Romance” (PSH, 148–67), Rorty allows that one can subscribe to his epistemological principles and be a theist. Moreover, pragmatist theists need not regard their God as a “mere posit,” to the contrary, they can hold that “God is as real as sense impressions, quarks and human rights” (PSH, 156). Belief in God is perfectly acceptable in its role of facilitating their personal and emotional well-being. However, they do have a responsibility to ensure that their belief in God does not interfere with the relevant public discourses about sense impressions, quarks, and human rights. A pragmatist theist, then, will have to reject such doctrines as immortality, miracles, the Resurrection of Christ, and divine inspiration of the Hebrew Bible, Christian Bible, and Quran, for example (PSH, 156). Such beliefs, in Rorty’s account, impinge upon science’s domain as the proper cultural authority when it comes to “predicting or controlling our environment” (PSH, 156). It is a somewhat untenable view about theism, perhaps, to allow that God could be an entity of the sort who is impressive enough to be worthy of the appellation “God” but not have enough agency to affect human life or material objects. Even humans, or for that matter nonhuman animals and objects, can do that much. Furthermore, it is not apparent that belief in an occasional resurrection or miracle here or there, or even widespread life after death, would throw a monkey wrench in the entire scientific enterprise. That is, many believers affirm the Resurrection or the divine inspiration of the Quran and still think that science does quite a good job at figuring out the properties of tables and quarks. Rorty does not convincingly consider the prospects for the compatibility of scientific inquiry with a more traditional theistic perspective.1 And it seems that this is not really his predominant concern. He is not trying to evaluate specific doctrines of God, creation, and redemption to see how coherent or plausible they are on their own terms; he is interested in their consequences, specifically their consequences as to how they relate to the collective welfare of the society. Will they make people, in the aggregate, now and in the

248 stephen s. bush future, happier or not? What are the implications for public life for how the theist understands God?

religion as a conversation stopper The predominant concern Rorty has about religion’s incursion into the domain of the public has to do with politics and ethics. He articulates his views on this most directly in his best-known treatment of religion, the brief but vivid “Religion as Conversation Stopper” (PSH, 168–74). In that essay, which is largely a review of Stephen L. Carter’s The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (1993), Rorty makes his case in provocative terms that the only legitimate religion is a privatized religion. In the essay, Rorty first contests the idea that to privatize religion is to trivialize it. Private matters need not be trivial ones, and especially when they concern the individual search for meaning and personal perfection, they are not. “The search for private perfection, pursued by theists and atheists alike, is neither trivial nor, in a pluralistic democracy, relevant to public policy” (PSH, 170). Someone who writes poetry might find the undertaking to be of enormous significance. But nevertheless, they should not, by Rorty’s lights, try to influence public policy on the basis of their verse. But some believers will retort that the God in which they believe is not narrowly concerned strictly with their individual welfare. A deity worthy of the name might have ideas not just about how any one follower should lead their own life, but how people should relate to each other, and how, as collectives, they should organize their lives together. Why would God have ideas about what it is for some one individual to flourish but not also have ideas about how a society should flourish? Why would God have ideas about how this or that follower should arrange their affairs, but not have opinions about how to arrange economic institutions, political institutions, and social institutions? And thus, why shouldn’t a follower of such a god also have opinions, based on their understanding of their god, about how best to organize economic, political, and social

rorty on religion 249 institutions? And so why shouldn’t they advance proposals on such matters on the basis of their understanding of their god? In response to these sorts of ambitions on the part of religious believers, Rorty suggests that they are better off if they accept Thomas Jefferson’s compromise. The Jeffersonian compromise is that believers can have freedom of religion, that is, the state will not enforce or privilege a particular religious perspective at the expense of others. All will be free to practice their religion as they see fit. In exchange, however, the believers must practice a form of religiosity that does not interfere with how others want to live their lives. This is, of course, not to say that people in a society never interfere with one another. Social, economic, and political arrangements are shared, and as such, people disagree as to how they will operate. For matters that are regulated by law, the coercive power of the state is involved, and refusal to comply will be punished. When it comes to the sorts of matters in which interference, and perhaps even coercive interference, is inevitable, what legitimates policies and practices is that they are subjected to conversation. That is, we can articulate our preferences for a particular policy in terms that are accessible to other people, and if they disagree, they need to state the basis for their disagreement in terms that we can understand. If we propose that a specific tax credit will result in a decrease in the child poverty rate, we can all study the economic formulae together. Our favorite novel or our favorite religious text cannot similarly motivate a policy proposal. If the basis of legitimacy for social arrangements in a democratic society is their susceptibility to a conversation that involves publicly accessible reasons and evidence, the problem with religion is that it is a conversation stopper. If someone claims that abortion is against the will of God, what is the non-believer supposed to say in reply? Rorty thinks only something along the lines of, “Gee! I’m impressed. You must have a really deep, sincere faith” (PSH, 171). In order to keep the conversation going, the members of a democratic society need to subscribe to the principle that “moral decisions that are to be enforced by a pluralist and democratic state’s monopoly of

250 stephen s. bush violence are best made by public discussion in which voices claiming to be God’s, or reason’s, or science’s, are put on a par with everybody else’s” (PSH, 172). And the way to put God’s voice on par with everyone else’s is to make sure that the consequences of our moral and political views, not their sources, are what is relevant. “The only test of a political proposal is its ability to gain assent from people who retain radically diverse ideas about the point and meaning of human life” (PSH, 173). In pursuit of this aim, people should take the ideas that they derive from their religious views and present them in nonreligious terms.2 Someone who thinks that abortion is against God’s will needs to enter the public debate with an account of the consequences of abortion that a non-religious person could entertain. Nicholas Wolterstorff pointedly criticizes Rorty’s account of religion, public morality, and public policy in his response to Rorty’s conversation-stopper essay. Wolterstorff makes four points worthy of mention here. First, whereas Rorty speaks as though religion is only ever oppressive – denying same-sex relationships and women’s rights to abortion, for example – Wolterstorff points out that religion has also been a powerful motivator in struggles for freedom, for example in the American civil rights movement, but also in democratic revolutions in South Africa, Poland, Romania, and East Germany (Wolterstorff 2003, 133). Second, since everyone derives their moral principles from somewhere, why does Rorty get to derive his from John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin, and he gets to talk about that in public, but Christians cannot reference the Bible? Wolterstorff writes, Does Rorty himself come even close to living up to his own demand? Consider that recent collection of his, Philosophy and Social Hope. One would have to be obtuse indeed not to discern that the arguments he gives for one and another social position in the book are, in great measure, based on his Darwinian pragmatism. They are not based on premises held in common. And the book is addressed, as are all of Rorty’s books, to the public in general – not just to his fellow Darwinian pragmatists. (Wolterstorff 2003, 134)

rorty on religion 251 The specific vision of democracy that Rorty holds, which demands the privatization of religion, is itself a particular, not universally accepted, vision of public life. Rorty’s pragmatism is itself not based in terms of accessible reasons or observable evidence (Wolterstorff 2003, 137–8). It is a vision for what is publicly shared that is not itself publicly shared. Wolterstorff finds Rorty’s perspective somewhat sinister and coercive in trying to impose his pragmatist principles for what is and is not permissible in public discourse on everyone else. Third, religion is not private like Rorty thinks. For someone who made a career out of challenging dualisms, such as appearance/ reality, mind/object, language/world, it is somewhat strange to see him endorsing the private/public distinction so wholeheartedly. People’s religions give them principles about how humans should be treated, and this is ultimately a political matter. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s religion, for example, informed his view that segregation was wrong (Wolterstorff 2003, 132). But more to the point, what is the status of this division between the public and the private upon which Rorty’s sequestering of religion rests? To Jeffrey Stout, the problem with the way that Rorty divides up the public from the private – the way Rorty requires rational justification for the views we advance in public – is that we have so many publicly relevant beliefs that we are unable to justify rationally. We acquired many of our political commitments not through a process of reasoned deliberation, but acculturation, and we often do not have a clear, articulable grasp of why we hold the belief. Following Kent Greenawalt, Stout argues that a whole range of pressing contemporary issues are unresolvable by appeal to reasons that can be publicly justified, including “welfare assistance, punishment, military policy, abortion, euthanasia, and environmental policy” (Stout 2005, 101). This is the case whether we are talking about religiously committed people or not. Nancy Fraser also calls into question Rorty’s division between the public and the private. Fraser discusses Rorty’s attempt to embrace both the Romantic tradition, with its emphasis on individuality, self-expression, and self-cultivation, and the pragmatist

252 stephen s. bush tradition, with its concern for social consequences and public welfare. Rorty initially sees these two impulses as existing in tension, but resolves this by means of the public/private distinction, giving each its own distinctive domain. Fraser’s first concern is that this distinction fails to depict accurately the complexities of human agency, which do not fall neatly into publicly oriented motives and intentions and privately oriented ones. We cannot distinguish “actions with consequences for others” from those “with no consequences for others” (Fraser 1989, 101–2). But the problem is not just describing human action accurately, a private/public distinction is objectionable from the standpoint of a left feminist politics. “Women’s movements, as illuminated by feminist theory, have taught us that the domestic and the personal are political . . . Rorty’s partition position requires us to bury these insights, to turn our backs on the last hundred years of social history” (Fraser 1989, 102). Rorty’s division wrongly gives the impression that one’s personal habits, desires, and preferences do not reflect and perpetuate structures of social power, even as his emphasis on intersubjective agreement renders suspect discourses that are oppositional to the dominant hegemony, such as leftist feminism. (Incidentally, Fraser points out that when Rorty goes on to treat feminism explicitly, he dismantles the private/public distinction in order to allow for the political significance of the creation of novel and counterhegemonic discourses.)3 Finally, Wolterstorff addresses Rorty’s concerns about religion as a conversation stopper. First, citing a religious authority does not have to be a conversation stopper. If someone says that they oppose abortion on the basis of their religious belief, one can try to “get inside” their “way of thinking for a while, so as to see whether” one cannot change their minds. Or one can say in response why one holds the view that one does (Wolterstorff 2003, 136). The lesson to be learned is that we should “let people say what they want to say on political issues and let them argue for their positions as they think best to argue for them, provided they conduct themselves with the requisite virtues” (Wolterstorff 2003, 135). As Stout puts it, people

rorty on religion 253 can “express their actual (religious) reasons for supporting the policy they favor while also engaging in immanent criticism of their opponents’ views” (Stout 2005, 101). But what if people do come to an impasse? The problem is that Rorty is too set on the goal of achieving consensus. Sometimes the conversation has to stop, despite persisting disagreement. In democracies, we vote. Once the conversation comes to an end, whether because time runs out or our willingness to keep talking to each other falters, we cast our ballots. In his response to Wolterstorff and Stout (“Religion in the Public Square: A Reconsideration”), Rorty issues a partial retraction. He acknowledges that his pragmatist principles have no better claim to determine the nature of the public conversation than Wolterstorff’s Christianity. He admits that religious people should have the right to speak their religious convictions in public debates, though he says that people who cite their religion to justify homophobia should be publicly shamed for doing so. Ultimately, he states that what he is really opposed to is not so much religion itself as hierarchical religious institutions, and whereas he thinks people should not be forbidden from appealing to religious authorities, they should not merely do so: I would not consider myself to be seriously discussing politics with my fellow-citizens if I simply quoted passages from Mill at them, as opposed to using those passages to help me articulate my views. I cannot think of myself as engaged in such discussion if my opponent simply quotes the Bible, or a papal encyclical, at me . . . What should be discouraged is mere appeal to authority. (Rorty 2003a, 147)

Rorty admits that religion does not necessarily serve to stop conversations and says that the important thing is that “citizens of a democracy should try to put off invoking conversation-stoppers as long as possible . . . to do our best to keep the conversation going without citing unarguable first principles, either philosophical or religious” (Rorty 2003a, 147).

254 stephen s. bush

cultural politics and anticlericalism In order to better understand Rorty’s “Religion As Conversation Stopper” and his response to Wolterstorff and Stout, as well as to understand what he means by “anticlericalism,” we need to understand his notion of cultural politics. Rorty does not avail himself of one common argumentative tactic when it comes to religion in public discourse, which is to demand that religious people give reasons for their belief in the existence of God. The idea is that if they cannot satisfactorily do so, then there is no reason to take the political implications of those beliefs as legitimate entries into the public conversation. As we have seen, Rorty does not think that theism or atheism can be justified by any appeal to reason or evidence, so the issue for him is not a question of rationality. This is in keeping with his views more generally on the limited scope of reason and philosophy. Rationality, for Rorty, is the attempt to “make one’s web of belief as coherent, and as perspicuously structured, as possible” (TP, 171). Philosophy, then, does not have the exalted task of showing that various moral beliefs can be inferred or deduced from some foundational basis of certitudes. Rather the most it “can hope to do is summarize our culturally influenced intuitions about the right thing to do in various situations” (TP, 171). That means that not just for religion, but in respect to a variety of disputed moral, political, and philosophical matters, reasoned argumentation has a minor role to play in the pursuit of agreement. Moral philosophy of the sort that Rorty proposes takes as its task not determining whether various claims can be justified by transcultural foundational truths, but rather “making our own culture – the human rights culture – more self-conscious and more powerful” (TP, 171). The extension of one’s culture is what Rorty means when he talks about “cultural politics.” In respect to human rights, for example, Rorty places no stock in the long-standing efforts by philosophers, by means of rational argumentation, to convince others of the existence of human rights. He thinks such attempts have all failed

rorty on religion 255 and, insofar as they depend on some supposed transcultural facts about human nature or human society, they are necessarily bound to fail, since he doesn’t think any such transcultural facts exist. Rather than argumentation, we should devote our efforts to socializing the emotional dispositions of our young people, especially through literature, so that they empathetically identify with the well-being and interests of people who are unlike them, in terms of gender, sexual identity, race, and ethnicity. In addition, we should support policies of wealth distribution so that people are not so immersed in an overwhelming struggle for survival that they have no time or motivation to expose themselves to literary accounts of strangers (TP, 175–85). This is an example of cultural politics. In this case, it is the attempt, through education, discourse, and policy, to form people’s attitudes so that they support the sort of liberal democracy that Rorty thinks will conduce to the overall best future for the welfare of the human race. It is not that rational argumentation has no role to play in these efforts, but it will be a matter of pointing out coherences and incoherences, sorting out what is perspicuous from what is not. It will not be a matter of ascertaining or applying timeless, transcultural principles. When we turn to religion, comparable considerations apply. We should turn our collective attention away from the question, “Does God exist?” and from all attempts to supply compelling rational answers to that question, pro or con. “In recent centuries, instead of asking whether God exists, people have started asking whether it is a good idea for us to continue talking about Him, and which human purposes might be served by doing so – asking in short, what use the concept of God might be to human beings” (PCP, 16). For people, like Rorty, who are committed to liberal democracy as the most promising political form for human flourishing, the task then is to create a climate of opinion in which people have the same right to idiosyncratic forms of religious devotion as they do to write poems or paint pictures that no one can make any sense out of . . .

256 stephen s. bush To leave as much free space as possible for individuals to develop their own sense of who they are and what their lives are for, asking only that they obey Mill’s precept and extend to others the tolerance they themselves enjoy. (PCP, 25)

This is just the sort of project in which Rorty was engaged in his 1994 essay, “Religion as a Conversation Stopper.” In his 2003 response to Wolterstorff and Stout and in his 2002 essay, “Atheism and Anticlericalism,” he clarifies that religion is not so much the target of his criticism as clericalism, that is hierarchical religious institutions in which officials take themselves to have the authority to determine how the faithful should think and act when it comes to moral and political matters.4 Atheism is a religious or metaphysical position, whereas anticlericalism is political. “It is the view that ecclesiastical institutions, despite all the good they do – despite all the comfort they provide to those in need or in despair – are dangerous to the health of democratic societies” (Rorty 2005, 33). In Rorty’s view, religious institutions typically maintain their status and membership by differentiating the faithful from the unfaithful and fostering ill will toward those the institution deems immoral. What results are atrocities such as pogroms, religious conflict, genocide, misogyny, and homophobia. Rorty’s hope is that in present-day cultural-political struggles surrounding religion, the anticlerical position will emerge victorious, hierarchical religious institutions will wither and die, and religion will flourish in people’s personal tasks of self-creation and in smaller, local institutions characterized by pastoral care. We will all be better off in such a world, he supposes.

a religion of democratic hope In addition to his preference for the demise of hierarchical religious institutions, Rorty also repeatedly expresses a hope for a future in which the influence of liberal democratic politics expands, a significant degree of economic equality is achieved, and a robust human rights culture minimizes atrocities. His hope for these things, for a

rorty on religion 257 future in which humans are better off than they are now, oftentimes itself has an aura of religiosity. Rorty describes himself not only as an atheist but as “religiously unmusical” and as lacking in “religious feeling” (Rorty 2005, 33, 39). And this is true in the sense that he lacks interest or curiosity in God and the ways in which people worship. However, his work frequently displays a marked religious sensibility. In fact, he oftentimes uses explicitly religious language to speak about his commitment to the “illimitable democratic vistas” that orient his political vision (PSH, 4). We see his religious sensibility in his autobiographical essay, “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids” (PSH, 3–20). There he describes growing up in a socialist family with ties to prominent activists, and how this instilled in him a deep commitment to economic justice. His reading of socialist texts and his running of socialist errands, however, still left time for him to hunt for wild orchids in the New Jersey mountains. His encounters with orchids occasioned “Wordsworthian moments” that left him “touched by something numinous, something of ineffable importance” (PSH, 8). Rorty’s lifelong intellectual quest became to figure out how to manage for himself and convey to others both a commitment to justice and an experience of the numinous. After he rejected religious and metaphysical visions that would hold the public and the private in a single vision, he determined that these were unreconcilable. They were different pursuits for different domains, hence: the private/public distinction. It is easy to see how characteristic emotions of religious devotion – self-transcendence, awe, wonder, mystery, and delight – fit neatly into the Romantic vision of interiority that defines his understanding of the private. But for him, these emotions need not be elicited by supernatural entities, but rather by literature, poetry, artworks, and compelling ideals. He can even speak of his philosophy as a polytheism of sorts in his essay, “Pragmatism as Romantic Polytheism” (PCP, 27–41). Rorty does not mean here a commitment to a host of powerful immortal beings, but rather by polytheism he means “the substitution of poetry for religion

258 stephen s. bush as a source of ideals, a movement that began with the Romantics . . . Different poets will perfect different sides of human nature, by projecting different ideals . . . there are diverse, conflicting, but equally valuable forms of human life” (PCP, 29). The poets are the new priests of this secularized religiosity. Even for Rorty himself, though, the private and the public do not remain neatly compartmentalized when it comes to religiosity. For members of traditional religions, God relates not just to individuals’ personal projects of self-perfection but also to the values by which humans should organize their lives together in society. So also, some of Rorty’s favorite poets speak not just of numinous moments of natural wonder but of democracy. Walt Whitman’s poetic ideal, which John Dewey endorses in A Common Faith (Dewey 1934) as a proper object of religious attitudes, is the United States as “a symbol of openness to the possibility of as yet undreamt of, ever more diverse, forms of human happiness” (PCP, 41). Elsewhere Rorty writes, “My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate” (Rorty 2005, 39–40). Rorty is comfortable referring to this kind of hope as a “spirituality” of sorts, an “exalted sense” of “new possibilities for finite beings” (Rorty 2011, 14). In the closing pages of Achieving Our Country, Rorty calls for a “religion of literature” that supplies hope and inspiration for the task of building a “cooperative commonwealth,” hope and inspiration that is fashioned by “romantic utopians trying to imagine a better future” (AOC, 136, 140). Here we see private individuals communing with their poets and novelists to better their lives, and discovering ideals for human society that press them out of their private preoccupations and into the public. Rorty’s religion, his private sense of the holy, informs and motivates

rorty on religion 259 his views on class, domination, education, and so on, and these are views he put forward in public conversations about laws, policies, and social arrangements. The distinction between the private and the public, then, that sits at the heart of Rorty’s understanding of religion and that has been stringently criticized by Wolterstorff, Stout, and Fraser, finally collapses. Ultimately, even for Rorty himself, religion seeps out of the container he sets for it. This distinction then will probably not be his legacy in relation to religious thought, and perhaps also not his sense that we should publicly shame our opponents, an activity that would severely hinder the sort of exchange of reasons with, and “immanent criticism” of, our opponents that Stout and Wolterstorff recommend.5 What Rorty does offer, however, is a keen acknowledgment of the significance of religion for finding meaning, pleasure, and consolation in life and a compelling statement of the earlier pragmatists’ conviction that democratic culture requires experiences of awe, ecstasy, reverence, and wonder, that is, a religiosity of its own.

notes 1

In “Cultural Politics and the Question of the Existence of God,” Rorty argues that believers can employ discourse about God, but that even so, the existence of God is an irrelevant question. He does so using the technical apparatus of Robert Brandom’s Making It Explicit. He says, “We shall dismiss natural theology if we see the undiscussability of God’s existence not as a testimony to his superior status but as a consequence of the attempt to give him that status – a side-effect of making him so incomparably special as to be a being whose existence cannot be discussed by reference to any antecedent list of canonical designators” (PCP, 26). This presupposes, however, a conception of a God who does not act within human history – to raise Jesus from the dead, for example, or deliver the Torah to Moses. For that sort of God, canonical designators could be supplied. For an example of a theistic Christian account of religious speech that draws from Brandom, see Hector 2011.

2

This is a position for which John Rawls famously argued. See Rawls 1999 and 2005.

260 stephen s. bush 3

See Fraser 2010. Fraser is responding to Rorty’s “Feminism and Pragmatism” (TP, 202–26).

4

The essay is reprinted as “Anticlericalism and Atheism” (Rorty 2005).

5

On the political reasons for objecting to public shaming, see Nussbaum 2006.

12 Rorty: Reading Continental Philosophy Paul Patton

Richard Rorty stands out among analytically trained English language philosophers for the attention and respect he accords to philosophers

in

the

post-Nietzschean

tradition

of

Continental

philosophy. He first read Heidegger in the 1950s and always regarded him, along with Dewey and Wittgenstein, as one of “the richest and most original philosophers of our time” (CP, 510). Later, he came to regard Derrida, Foucault, and Habermas as among the leading thinkers of the postwar generation. He also read and wrote about the works of other Continental thinkers such as Castoriadis, Gadamer, Lyotard, and the originators of Italian “weak thought” Rovatti and Vattimo.1 Although he did not devote an entire essay to Nietzsche, comments about his philosophy are scattered throughout his writings. This chapter focuses on his engagements with Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault, about whom he wrote the most. Rorty’s essays on this trio serve to demonstrate the nature of all his engagements with Continental thinkers, which is one of recontextualization and criticism. In the Introduction to Essays on Heidegger and Others, he suggests that the most that an original figure in philosophy can hope to do “is to recontextualise his or her predecessors” (EHO, 2). Not surprisingly, the context in which he places these post-Nietzschean philosophers is Deweyan pragmatism. All of them are judged to be partly consistent with this preferred framework but also partly inconsistent and therefore subject to criticism. All of Rorty’s encounters with Continental philosophers are a mixture of assimilation and rejection. Although he clearly enjoyed reading them, in the final analysis they did not add much to his pragmatic philosophy. 261

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heidegger Rorty’s first publication on Heidegger, “Overcoming the Tradition: Heidegger and Dewey,” began as a conference paper in 1974 before appearing in The Review of Metaphysics in 1976. The Introduction to Consequences of Pragmatism mentions that he is writing a book on Heidegger for the Cambridge Modern European Philosophy series. The book never appeared, although he published a number of articles on Heidegger in the years that followed. Four of these reprinted in Essays on Heidegger and Others (1991) are described as “the fruits of an abortive, abandoned attempt to write a book about him” (EHO, 1). Rorty’s first piece on Heidegger sets out the pattern that is followed in all subsequent discussions. Although he proposes an evenhanded series of sketches of Heidegger as seen by Dewey and vice versa, the comparison is heavily weighted in favor of Dewey. He points out that they share a diagnosis of the origins of the Western ontological tradition in Plato’s “spectatorial notion of knowledge and its object” and a dismissive attitude toward the epistemological problems of modern philosophy (CP, 44). Moreover, they share a common project of attempting to describe the whole tradition of Western metaphysics in order to set it aside, and offer “at least the hope of something new. Further, they are almost alone in this century in doing so. They are unique, unclassifiable, original philosophers, and both are historicist to the core” (CP, 46). However, they differ in their respective conceptions of what comes after the history of Western metaphysics. For Dewey, the loss of a metaphysical view of the world leaves us free to devote our attention to the concrete problems of our time. For Heidegger, the end of metaphysics is a clearing away that might allow for the emergence of a new way of posing the question of Being. For him Dewey’s humanism is simply “the modern consciousness incarnate” (CP, 50). Rorty’s most extensive examination of Heidegger’s philosophy, “Heidegger, Contingency, and Pragmatism,” sought to make sense of Heidegger in Deweyan pragmatist terms. His aim was to see “how far

rorty: reading continental philosophy 263 a pragmatist can play along with Heidegger” and to locate the point at which they must part company (EHO, 27). His answer, in brief, was that there is much overlap in their respective views of the history of philosophy and its culmination in pragmatism, but they part company in their attitudes toward pragmatism and the social and philosophical present in which it takes center stage. Heidegger is critical of the present and nostalgic for an earlier phase in the history of Being. Rorty takes a more affirmative attitude toward the present, which he sees in Deweyan terms as an epoch in which a social democratic utopia is achievable and the separation between philosophy and the rest of human culture no longer holds sway. As in the earlier essay, Rorty argued that Dewey and Heidegger share much the same reading of the history of Western philosophy since Plato. Where Dewey argues that Plato and Aristotle built “the quest for certainty” into our conception of the nature and purpose of thinking, Heidegger argues that Plato introduced the idea that truth is a matter of evidence, of deep and compelling arguments that “put you in a commanding position vis-à-vis something or somebody” (EHO, 31). On this basis, Heidegger argues that, once the interpretation of thinking proposed by Plato was adopted, pragmatism was the inevitable destiny of Western philosophy. Platonism leads inevitably to Nietzsche’s idea that knowledge or truth is a function of the human will to power and thereby to the pragmatist view that thinking is no more than a means to satisfy human all too human needs and desires. Drawing on interpretative work by Robert Brandom and Mark Okrent, Rorty read Being and Time as proposing a “de-intellectualization” and historicization of thinking such that knowledge and truth must be understood as grounded in human practice (Brandom 1983; Okrent 1988). This implies criticism of the Platonic idea that Being is eternal and outside of time. For Heidegger, the “ontotheological” tradition derived from Plato has tended to identify the contingent with the merely apparent and therefore inessential. By contrast, Rorty suggested, Heidegger “would like to recapture a sense of contingency, of the fragility and riskiness of any human project,”

264 paul patton including the metaphysical project of attempting to think the nature of Being, which is an entirely human project formulated in a particular language at a particular time (EHO, 34). For Heidegger, the question of Being is one that has received a series of answers since the question was first raised in ancient Greece. It is not something about which we can know any more than what is proposed by those metaphysical answers. Rorty offers his own redescription of “Being” as what the vocabularies proposed by successive philosophers are about or, more precisely, as what final vocabularies are about. The mistake of metaphysics is to suppose that there is a correct answer to the question of being, as there is for empirical questions about the state of the world. For Heidegger, this is to confuse philosophical truth with correctness and Being with beings. This leads to the question whether there are better and worse ways of raising the question of Being. Rorty points out that sometimes Heidegger appears to embrace a straightforward historicism in suggesting that each philosophical epoch has its own world-picture. At other times he appears to have a preference for earlier, Greek ways of raising the question. Rorty draws attention to Heidegger’s use of the phrase “forgetfulness of Being” and his tendency to draw invidious comparisons between the ancient Greeks and the present: The reader of Being and Time is led to believe that the Greeks enjoyed a special relationship to being which the moderns have lost, that they had less trouble being ontological than we do, whereas we moderns have a terrible time keeping the difference between the ontological and the ontic in mind. (EHO, 39)

The question at the heart of the relationship between Heidegger and pragmatism is whether or not he has any right to such nostalgia for ancient ways of posing the question of Being. Is he simply telling us a story about the contingency of vocabularies, or is he proposing that our age is somehow less able to appreciate this contingency? Rorty points to passages in Being and Time and Basic Problems in Phenomenology that seem to suggest an entirely historicist reading

rorty: reading continental philosophy 265 of the project of an analytic of Dasein, such that the ontological knowledge it proposes is no more than knowledge of a particular historical configuration. Equally, he points to passages that seem to suggest that philosophy can achieve a “distinctive primal form of world-view” in which it can “define what in general constitutes the structure of a world-view” (EHO, 42). In Rorty’s terms, this would amount to a final vocabulary that would provide a basis for ahistorical knowledge of our relation to Being. While this would go some way toward justifying Heidegger’s nostalgia and his criticism of the present for its forgetfulness of Being, it conflicts with the historicism that was always present and that comes to the fore in later work where he no longer refers to Dasein or ontology. In order to be fully entitled to his nostalgia for the Greek age and his criticism of pragmatism, Rorty argues, Heidegger would need to give some normative sense to the claim that the early Greek language of Being was somehow more “primordial” than that of the present. Drawing on Heidegger’s essay “On the Essence of Truth” and his “Letter on Humanism,” Rorty reconstructs a conception of primordiality that has to do with the capacity to appreciate the contingency of one’s own final vocabulary. The Greeks were more primordial in the sense that their understanding of Being, involving notions like arche and physis, “was less self-certain, more hesitant, more fragile than our own supreme confidence in our ability to manipulate beings in order to satisfy our own desires” (EHO, 43). In Heidegger’s terminology, the sense of contingency that he attributes to the Greeks has to do with a kind of thinking that is at once both using a particular language and also “letting beings be,” where this latter phrase is associated with a kind of non-ontological thinking that is “more rigorous” or higher than the kind of thinking practiced in the sciences. One is “letting beings be” when one uses a language in full awareness of its contingency, knowing that there are other languages and other beings than those with which we are familiar. Heidegger claims that the capacity to use language in this way diminishes as technical mastery over the material world increases, hence

266 paul patton the loss of primordiality in the present. As Rorty summarizes Heidegger’s view, “To be primordial is thus to know that when you seize upon an understanding of Being, when you build a house for Being by speaking a language, you are automatically giving up a lot of other possible understandings of Being, and leaving a lot of differently designed houses unbuilt” (EHO, 46).2 In reply, Rorty asks whether this is our situation in late modernity. Is it true that we moderns are less capable of appreciating the contingency of our own final vocabulary and our own “commonsense” understanding of the world? There are good reasons to think not. We have become more aware of cultural diversity, of revolutions in the forms of understanding provided by the arts, by the sciences and by the political institutions that structure our social life. For Heidegger, this “busyness” and diversity in the modern world are precisely what make it more difficult to properly hear the elementary words of our final vocabulary. Rorty remains unconvinced. He prefers the view of modernity that he ascribes to Dewey according to which it is entirely possible to reawaken the sense of the contingency of our language and form of life, to feel gratitude for the words and social practices that make us what we are, and for the beings that these disclose. For Dewey no less than Heidegger, Rorty argues, it is important to recapture the sense of contingency that allows us to “let beings be” (EHO, 49). The difference between them is that Heidegger thought this impossible to achieve in the modern age as it is constituted. A decisive event in the history of Being is required in order to overcome the forgetfulness of Being that prevails in our technological society, one that Heidegger thought only his philosophy could provide. Dewey, by contrast, had no need and no place for the kind of decisive event in thought that is the other side of Heideggerian nostalgia. According to Rorty, he never lost the sense of contingency, and thus the sense of gratitude, which Heidegger thought only an unimaginably new sort of Thinking might reintroduce (EHO, 49). Rorty’s response amounts to suggesting that Heidegger should have got out more and learned to see the modern world as open to a

rorty: reading continental philosophy 267 host of new cultural, political and artistic practices. In “Heidegger, Kundera, and Dickens” he urges us to remember that “the scope of Heidegger’s imagination, great as it was, was largely restricted to philosophy and lyric poetry” (EHO, 67). He remained blind to other dimensions of Western culture, such as the novel or music, and trapped in the idea of philosophy as somehow determinant in the history of Western society. As a result, his view that philosophy had exhausted its possibilities led him to suppose that the same applied to Western society as a whole. Rorty is profoundly skeptical of such views. He offers a highly derogatory image of Heidegger and other philosophical diagnosticians of our time as representatives of a character type that he calls “the ascetic priest,” loosely adapted from Nietzsche. These are individuals who build a world in their own minds from which they can look down, or back, on their fellow flesh and blood citizens. Those who embody this character type seek contact with something outside or beyond ordinary language, something attainable only in a more pure form of language, “a language entirely disengaged from the business of the tribe, irrelevant to the mere pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain” (EHO, 71). Only such persons, Rorty suggests, might share in Heidegger’s and Nietzsche’s contempt for those referred to in Thus Spoke Zarathustra as “the last men.” These self-satisfied but blinkered individuals are convinced that modern Western society is the best so far achieved. Nietzsche describes them as those who blink and say, “We invented happiness” (Nietzsche 2006, 10). Rorty is somewhat ambivalent about ascetic priesthood, which he admits is found in all of those attracted to philosophy, including himself. He happily confesses the appeal that the writing of Continental philosophers such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and others has for him personally, but then seeks to reduce this to a merely personal idiosyncrasy, an affectation of those who spend their time reading philosophy books instead of novels. At the same time, he notes the value of this ascetic priestliness for progress in human culture. The result of trying to find a language different from that of

268 paul patton the tribe, he argues, “is to enrich the language of later generations of that tribe” (EHO, 72). Following Nietzsche’s evaluation of those he called “free spirits,” he suggests that while ascetic priests are not much fun to be around, and of no use for increasing happiness, “they have been the traditional vehicles of linguistic novelty, the means by which a culture is able to have a future interestingly different from its past” (EHO, 72–3). In the end, Rorty’s criticism of Heidegger is less a matter of argument than of this cultural-political redescription of the type of character that he represents. In these terms, Heidegger is not one of those who speaks to and for his fellow citizens but one who aspires to stand apart and to be in touch with a more profound reality than the life they share. Rorty’s final judgment on Heidegger remains the one put forward in his first essay where he suggested that, in stark contrast to Dewey, Heidegger remained profoundly attached to the Platonic idea “that there is something special called ‘philosophy’ which it is our duty to undertake” (CP, 54). Rorty’s Heidegger is thus a figure already assimilated to his Deweyan critique of metaphysics from whom he learns little that he did not already know: even the importance of contingency was present in Dewey. As Caputo comments, “There is no fusion of horizons here but rather an assimilation into one’s own already established horizon” (Caputo 1983, 681).

derrida Rorty began to write on Derrida during the late 1970s. “Derrida on Language, Being and Abnormal Philosophy,” was published in The Journal of Philosophy in 1977, while a companion piece, “Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida,” appeared in New Literary History shortly after. Both are exercises in attempting to make sense of Derrida for an American philosophical audience, remarkable as much for how little they say about Derrida as for what they do. A second phase of engagement began with “Deconstruction and Circumvention,” published in 1984 and continued with “Two Meanings of Logocentrism,” which appeared in 1989. The latter was

rorty: reading continental philosophy 269 partly a response to Christopher Norris’s criticism of “Philosophy as a Kind of Writing” (Norris 1989). It was followed by a further response to Norris and to Rodolph Gasché’s The Tain of the Mirror (Gasché 1986) in the Yale Journal of Criticism entitled “Is Derrida a Transcendental Philosopher?” Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity devoted a chapter to Derrida, “From Ironist Theory to Private Allusions: Derrida,” in which Rorty elaborated on the differences that he saw between Derrida’s early work written during the 1960s, such as Of Grammatology and Margins of Philosophy, and later work from the 1970s such as The Post-Card and Glas. A final phase of Rorty’s writing on Derrida included three articles that appeared in 1995: a review of Geoffrey Bennington’s Jacques Derrida, “Is Derrida a Quasi-Transcendental Philosopher?” in Contemporary Literature, a review of Specters of Marx in the European Journal of Philosophy, and an article on “Habermas, Derrida and the Functions of Philosophy” in the Revue Internationale de Philosophie. He also wrote a long essay on “Deconstruction” for The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (Selden 1995) that summarized his response to Derrida’s work up to this point. After this, apart from short contributions to a volume called Deconstruction and Pragmatism (Mouffe 1996), he wrote only two short memorial tributes for Derrida after his death in 2004 (Rorty 2004a, 2004b). Rorty’s contribution to the 1977 APA symposium canvasses three alternative interpretations that, with some modification, provide the frame for his criticism of Derrida over the following decades. He is presented firstly as a philosopher of language whose work parallels that of the later Wittgenstein; secondly as “a disciple of Heidegger striving to outdo his master”; and finally as “a writer who is helping us to see philosophy as a kind of writing rather than a domain of quasi-scientific inquiry” (Rorty 1977, 673). The first of these characterizations presents him as a critic of foundational projects in philosophy in line with the skepticism of Donald Davidson and the internal realism of Hilary Putnam. Rorty insists that his “real target” is the idea of philosophy as an inquiry that will tell us

270 paul patton “how meaning is possible” or “how language hooks up with the world” (Rorty 1977, 674). In these terms, Derrida’s much-cited remark that “There is nothing outside the text” is reduced to the epistemological claim that we cannot get outside our representations “to a standpoint from which the legitimacy of those representations can be judged” (Rorty 1977, 676). While this is a way of presenting Derrida that is arguably consistent with his conception of language, and one that assimilates him into the mainstream of Twentieth-Century Anglophone philosophy, it largely ignores Derrida’s own understanding of text, writing and the play of différance. I will say more about this below. A second persistent thread of Rorty’s commentaries on Derrida presents him as a dissident disciple of Heidegger, one who accepts his account of the Western philosophical tradition but not his response to the exhaustion of that tradition. His 1995 article on “Deconstruction” opens with the claim that Derrida’s early work “was a continuation and intensification of Heidegger’s attack on Platonism” (Rorty 1995b, 166). While Derrida called “the metaphysics of presence” or “logocentrism” what Heidegger called “Platonism” or “metaphysics,” he accepted both Heidegger’s conviction that metaphysics was pervasive in Western culture and the idea that the task of the philosophical thinker was to “twist free” of the binary oppositions that define this tradition of thought (Rorty 1995b, 169). On Rorty’s account, Heidegger’s efforts to escape that tradition and return anew to the question of Being failed, as indeed must any such attempt, for the simple reason that “every statement of the attempt can only be in the terms which the tradition created for us” (Rorty 1977, 677). His later discussions of Derrida present him as “fully conscious” of the dilemma faced by Heidegger’s attempt to break free of the metaphysical tradition (EHO, 95). He acknowledges Derrida’s repudiation of Heidegger’s nostalgic aspiration to return to an earlier and more primordial approach to Being, referring repeatedly to a passage from ‘Différance’ in which Derrida renounces the Heideggerian aspiration to capture Being in a single word: “There will be no unique name, even

rorty: reading continental philosophy 271 if it were the name of Being. And we must think this without nostalgia, that is, outside of the myth of a purely maternal or paternal language, a lost native country of thought” (Derrida 1982, 27).3 However, with equal persistence, Rorty refuses to allow that Derrida offers another way out of this impasse. The third characterization of Derrida in his 1977 essay presents him as representative of a tradition in philosophy that he calls, by analogy with Thomas Kuhn’s distinction between abnormal and normal science, “abnormal” philosophy (Kuhn 1962). Whereas normal enquiry presupposes consensus about problems and methods for solving them, abnormal enquiry is what emerges in the absence of such consensus. For Rorty, the difference between these two modes of enquiry corresponds to the split between two ways of doing philosophy that occurred after Kant: Analytic and Phenomenological normal enquiry as opposed to Continental abnormal enquiry. For thinkers such as Hegel, Nietzsche, or Derrida, it is as if philosophy proceeded not by dealing with the statements and arguments of predecessors, but by efforts to overcome one’s images of them. From the standpoint of normal philosophy, “this looks like a confusion of philosophy with literature” (Rorty 1977, 679). Rorty adopts this standpoint in suggesting that Continental philosophy is not so much a matter of argument as a kind of writing: “a genre defined by neither subject nor method nor institutional affiliation, but only by an enumeration of the mighty dead” (Rorty 1977, 679–80). Philosophers like Hegel and Derrida are emblematic of this tradition in that not only do they “not solve problems, they do not have arguments or theses” (CP, 93). Much of Rorty’s commentary on Derrida persists in refusing to see Derrida’s practice of deconstructive reading as philosophical argument. For example, in “Deconstruction and Circumvention” he presents his own version of the dilemma that confronts Heidegger and Derrida in their efforts to twist free of the metaphysical tradition. He redescribes it in Kuhnian terms as the choice between the normal operation of a particular cultural practice and those “literary” or poetic moments that arise when things begin to fall apart, anomalies accumulate, and dissatisfaction with the

272 paul patton current way of proceeding becomes widespread. In these “literary” moments of developing crisis, “people begin to toss around old words in new senses, to throw in the occasional neologism, and thus to hammer out a new idiom which initially attracts attention to itself and only later gets put to work” (EHO, 88). Heidegger’s and Derrida’s reading of the history of Western metaphysics point to the emergence of such a “literary” moment as a result of the growing awareness of the unsustainability of the philosophy of presence. Rorty interprets the philosophy of presence as the idea that there could be a vocabulary that was “intrinsically and self-evidently final,” one that would be “adequate to ‘place’ all of history and all of culture,” and that would be closed in the sense that it could place itself in the same way that it speaks of everything else, without contradiction (EHO, 89–92). In these terms, he suggests that Derrida’s “great theme is the impossibility of closure . . . There is always a supplement, a margin, a space within which the text of philosophy is written” (EHO, 92). But his ambition goes beyond the repetitive demonstration of this impossibility in relation to particular philosophical texts. He wants to produce a new kind of text that would be “literature” in the sense that it is at once philosophical but no longer beholden to the philosophical ideal of closure, a writing “marked by self-conscious interminability, self-conscious openness. Self-conscious lack of philosophical closure” (EHO, 93).4 Rorty acknowledges Derrida’s awareness of the dangers of either falling back into the tradition from which he desires to escape or practicing a kind of writing that bears no discernible relation to that tradition. He notes that Derrida proposes not to embrace one or other horn of the dilemma but to embrace both and to produce a form of double writing that seeks both to analytically deconstruct philosophical texts and to play with or across their contents. In response, Rorty shrugs his shoulders and asks whether this is really necessary. It would only be necessary if the philosophical canon remained firmly in the grip of the metaphysics of presence and the conceptual distinctions it produced, and if the distinction between philosophical and nonphilosophical

rorty: reading continental philosophy 273 writing were as sharp as Derrida suggests. Rorty simply denies that this is true of Western culture anymore: “things are just not that bad . . . The discourse of physics, metaphysics, and politics is considerably more pliant than this” (EHO, 100). Philosophers, like physicists and artists, have always introduced new vocabularies to challenge old ones. In Rorty’s view, efforts to deconstruct philosophical discourse remain a way of taking it too seriously. He prefers the ironic response of regarding metaphysics as a genre, like the epic, “which had a distinguished career and an important historical function but which now survives largely in the form of self-parody” (EHO, 105). Accordingly, he prefers works such as The Post-Card and Glas, in which Derrida is selfconsciously and unremittingly playful rather than attempting to be argumentative or systematic. His Derrida chapter in Contingency, Irony, Solidarity is a paean for The Post-Card, especially the first part, ‘Envois,’ which he takes to be Derrida at his best. Here, Derrida is engaged in spinning out a series of private fantasies in response to the postcard featuring Socrates and Plato that he came across at Oxford. He runs together elements of the history of philosophy and contemporary ideas such as the distinction between use and mention with sexual fantasies, allusions to love affairs, and the desire for children, real or imagined. Rorty devotes pages to untangling some of the richness and complexity of Derrida’s prose, which he admires for its open-ended recontextualization of the figures and the texts discussed. Above all, he reads it as “privatized” philosophical thinking, free of any public moral or political purpose. He takes this text to exemplify what is most important in Derrida, namely “having the courage to give up the attempt to unite the private and the public, to stop trying to bring together a quest for private autonomy and an attempt at public resonance and utility” (CIS, 125). Abandoning the quest to combine in a single philosophical vision the private and the public is of course the primary thesis of Contingency, Irony, Solidarity. The other side of Rorty’s persistent characterization of Derrida as practicing a kind of literary writing is his refusal to take seriously the nature and function of argument in his deconstructive essays.

274 paul patton One striking indicator of how much of Speech and Phenomena, Of Grammatology, Margins of Philosophy, and other texts is thereby overlooked is the fact that he nowhere comments on Derrida’s concept of writing in general. Even when in “Philosophy as a Kind of Writing” he cites the passage from Of Grammatology in which Derrida argues that there is nothing outside (the) text, Rorty does not comment on the equivalence in this passage between being outside or beyond text and being “outside of writing in general” (Derrida 1997, 158; cited at CP, 96). He says nothing about the concept of writing in general, which informs the sense of “text” in this passage. This term refers to any system of differentiated marks, thereby subsuming both phonetic and graphic signifiers, as well as any system of signifieds. Rorty pays no attention to the arguments that Derrida lays out in support of this concept in his extended discussion of philosophical conceptions of language, from Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau, Peirce, Saussure, Hjelmslev, and Jakobsen. Instead, he moves quickly to “the most shocking thing” about Derrida’s work, namely his use of puns, jokes, allusions, and phonic and typographic gimmicks (CP, 96). For a long time, Rorty did not move beyond his initial response of suggesting that Derrida resorted to such linguistic play in order to help his readers see writing as writing and thereby “break the grip of the notion of representation” (Rorty 1977, 679). He remained firmly of the view that The worst bits of Derrida are the ones where he begins to instantiate the thing he hates and starts claiming to offer ‘rigorous analyses.’ Arguments work only if a vocabulary in which to state its premises is shared by speaker and audience. Philosophers as original and important as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida are forging new ways of speaking, not making surprising philosophical discoveries about old ones. As a result, they are not likely to be good at argumentation. (EHO, 93)

When pressed on his neglect of Derrida’s argument by Norris, he proceeds to criticize a straw man version of deconstruction. Nothing

rorty: reading continental philosophy 275 is gained, he says, by showing that the upper term of a given hierarchical pair can be seen as a special case of the lower term: “Practically anything can be seen, with a bit of imagination and contrivance, as a special case of practically anything else” (EHO, 112). This misrepresents Derrida’s argument to show that both terms of the hierarchical speech–writing pair are species of writing in general (Derrida 1997, 52). Equally evasive is a footnote in “Deconstruction and Circumvention,” where Rorty comments that “all that the primacy of writing amounts to is the claim that certain universal features of all discourse are more clearly seen in the case of writing than in the case of speech” (EHO, 96). Rorty does not elaborate on the nature of this “discourse” whose “universal features” appear more clearly in the case of writing in the ordinary sense of the term. There are several sources of Rorty’s refusal to take seriously the role of argument in Derrida’s deconstructive essays. One is his reluctance to take into account the context of Derrida’s deconstructive arguments, namely the primary texts under consideration, and therefore the parasitic and performative dimension of these analyses. Another is his inability to countenance any form of transcendental argument seeking to establish noncausal conditions of possibility (EHO, 112; TP, 331). A third is his a prioristic assertion that any attempt to deconstruct the metaphysical tradition is doomed to fail insofar as it is formulated in the terms of that tradition. In these terms, Derrida’s arguments in favor of grammatology run the risk of producing a new philosophical vocabulary involving terms such as “trace,” “différance,” and “presence” (EHO, 93). Rorty’s initial responses to Derrida suggested that he did sometimes fall into this temptation and offer yet another philosophical theory of language or textuality, at the cost of falling back into the metaphysical tradition from which he aspired to escape (CP, 100). However, he also observed that Derrida undermined this tendency within his own thought when, for example, he presented Différance as an elusive and nonidentifiable something that lacks a unique name and that cannot be an object of representation but only of affirmation (CP, 103). Rorty

276 paul patton does not dwell on the paradoxical nature of this something that is not a thing and is therefore unnameable, preferring to present Derrida in his own image, playing with the texts of philosophy in order to show us “how things might look if we did not have Kantian [normal] philosophy built into the very bones of our intellectual life” (CP, 98). Only in the final phase of his engagement with Derrida did Rorty begin to question the manner in which he had hitherto quarantined him as a literary figure engaged in essentially private pursuits. Despite his skepticism regarding the usefulness of Marx to the contemporary project of social democracy, his review of Specters of Marx led him to soften his public–private distinction and allow that the later Derrida’s alignment of deconstruction with justice, like some of Rorty’s own efforts to strengthen the democratic ethos, “may eventually do some social good, but only in the very long run, and in a very indirect way” (PSH, 220). His review of Geoffrey Bennington’s Jacques Derrida (Bennington 1993) led him to realize that perhaps his nominalism and his “tough-minded hypostatization-bashing empiricism” may have limited his understanding of Derrida and that perhaps he needed to “put a leash on” both in order to fully appreciate the nature and force of deconstruction. He still denies that Derrida was a transcendental philosopher, in a sense that would commit him to a nonempirical world of conditions of possibility, but allows that he might have been a quasitranscendental philosopher in the sense that he could only be who he was by speaking as if there were such a world: “You cannot, after all, deny someone his medium” (TP, 349). To allow Derrida his medium is to grant him the license to invoke a certain spirit of a certain Marxism, and to read him in the light of a philosophical tradition in which transcendental argument is taken seriously. However, doing so removes much of the justification for reading him as a literary figure whose philosophy is an essentially private kind of writing.

foucault Rorty’s engagement with Foucault began later and is less detailed than his engagements with Heidegger and Derrida. His first

rorty: reading continental philosophy 277 commentary, “Foucault and Epistemology,” was delivered at an APA symposium in 1979 before being published unaltered in Foucault: A Critical Reader (Hoy 1986). Foucault appears again in a 1980 essay “Method, Social Science and Social Hope” that was presented at a conference on Values and the Social Sciences before appearing in revised form in The Canadian Journal of Philosophy in 1981. Rorty discusses Foucault at more length in “Habermas and Lyotard on Postmodernity,” first published in Praxis International in 1984, and in “Moral Identity and Private Autonomy: The Case of Foucault,” which was Rorty’s contribution to a memorial conference in Paris in 1988. Foucault is also discussed briefly in Chapter Three of Contingency, Irony Solidarity. Rorty’s initial responses to Foucault were largely critical. In contrast to his reading of Heidegger and Derrida, there is little that appeals to Rorty or that offers anything not already found in Dewey’s pragmatism. “Foucault and Epistemology” offers reasons why Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, which Rorty considers “his least successful book,” cannot be taken to offer a successor subject to epistemology (Hoy 1986, 43). Rather than discuss the theory of discourse and discursive formations laid out in Foucault’s Archaeology, Rorty offers his own typology of possible attitudes toward the theory of knowledge: the Cartesian view of knowledge as correspondence with an external reality, the Hegelian historicist view of knowledge as tending toward an ever more absolute and comprehensive description of the world, and the Nietzschean “abandonment” of the will to truth that Rorty attributes to Foucault. Rorty’s rudimentary understanding of both Nietzsche and Foucault leads him to suppose that the latter sees “the whole Western project of philosophical reflection on the nature and prospects of human activity as part of a vast organization of repression and injustice” (Hoy 1986, 47). Although Rorty’s comments on Foucault in “Method, Social Science, Social Hope” are somewhat more positive, his remark that Foucault seems to him “one of the most interesting philosophers alive” is less complimentary than it appears (CP, 208). Rorty’s

278 paul patton assessment follows the pattern established in relation to Heidegger and Derrida of determining the novelty of the Continental thinker by comparison with Dewey. Foucault scores lower than either Heidegger or Derrida, since his apparent innovations, which include the critique of traditional notions of rationality, objectivity, method, and truth, and the idea that power is not intrinsically repressive, had both already been grasped by Dewey (CP, 208). Apart from the way in which Foucault updates Dewey by showing us “the dark side of the social sciences,” the only difference between them is that Dewey offers a kind of social hope that is not grounded in any metaphysical conception of the human subject, whereas Foucault offers no such hope (CP, 204, 206). The basis for Rorty’s criticism on this point is not spelt out in this essay, other than by reference to Ian Hacking’s comment that, once having abandoned the appeal to a “transcendental or enduring subject,” Foucault offers “no surrogate for whatever it is that springs eternal in the human breast” (CP, 206). However, Rorty’s assessment of the relative merits of Foucault and Dewey is clear: although both “are trying to do the same thing, Dewey seems to me to have done it better, simply because his vocabulary allows room for unjustifiable hope, and an ungroundable but vital sense of human solidarity” (CP, 208). The bases for Rorty’s negative assessment of Foucault are spelt out in more detail in “Habermas and Lyotard on Postmodernity” (1984), an essay that compares Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (Lyotard 1984) and Habermas’s The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Habermas 1985). Rorty sides with Lyotard and the socalled postmodernists in this dispute, aligning them with the nontranscendental and historicist outlook that he discerns in Dewey. The problem with Foucault – Rorty refers primarily to Discipline and Punish (Foucault 1977b) – is the “dryness” of his work, by which Rorty means the absence of explicit connection with the concerns of his fellow citizens. It is easy, he suggests, to read Foucault as “a dispassionate observer of the present social order, rather than its concerned critic” (EHO, 173). The “rhetoric of emancipation” is

rorty: reading continental philosophy 279 absent from his work and there is “no ‘we’ to be found in Foucault’s writings, nor in those of many of his French contemporaries” (EHO, 174). Rorty turns this absence of any rhetoric of emancipation in Foucault’s work into a “disconnection” of philosophy from social reform, as though the only possible way to connect philosophy and social reform is by employing the “rhetoric of emancipation” or by discussing public policy with one’s fellow citizens. He then assimilates both Foucault and Lyotard to his earlier portrait of Heidegger as one of those romantic intellectuals or “ascetic priests” contemptuous of the concerns of fellow citizens and consumed by a desire for the ineffable, the unthinkable, and a form of discourse “cut free from the words of the tribe” (EHO, 176). This parodic portrait of the avant-garde intellectual sets the scene for Rorty’s distinction between the private, idiosyncratic needs and ambitions of such figures and the public, social purposes served by the Deweyan pragmatist thinker. In his 1988 contribution to the memorial conference, “Moral Identity and Private Autonomy: The Case of Foucault,” this portrait takes the form of a dichotomy between an American Foucault, who is an “up-to-date version of John Dewey,” and a French Foucault who is “fully Nietzschean” and who, insofar as he has any politics is an anarchist rather than a liberal reformer (EHO, 193). This historically inaccurate portrait is the product of Rorty’s effort to read Foucault as exemplifying a tension besetting any Romantic intellectual who is also a citizen of a democratic society between a moral identity formed by the relation to other citizens and describable in common terms and a personal identity defined by the search for a form of autonomy that is precisely not describable in terms shared with others. Rorty thinks that it is possible to be both a Romantic intellectual and a democratic citizen, so long as one does not confuse the two identities. Foucault’s problem is that he sometimes confuses the two, refusing to be complicit with any form of power and lapsing into “quasi-anarchism” (EHO, 196). Rorty sees Foucault’s supposed anarchism as the result of “a misguided attempt to envisage a

280 paul patton society as free of its historical past as the Romantic intellectual hopes to be free of her private past” (EHO, 196). The suggestion that Foucault, a leading theorist and practitioner of genealogy, imagines a society free of its historical past should alert us to the implausibility of this portrait of Foucault. The premise of Foucault’s genealogical approach to criticism of the present is precisely the opposite, namely that all societies are bound to their past unless and until they become convinced of the need to think and act differently in particular ways. Rorty’s inaccurate portrait of Foucault is further compounded by the suggestion that he opposed reform in favor of all-out revolution. In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, he claims that Foucault “shares with Marx and Nietzsche the conviction that we are too far gone for reform to work – that a convulsion is needed” (CIS, 64). He places particular weight on his “least favoured sentence in Foucault,” from a 1971 interview with high school students: “I think to imagine another system is to extend our participation in the present system” (Foucault 1977a, 230).5 He wrongly takes this to express opposition to piecemeal social reform rather than Foucault’s doubts about the role of intellectuals in proposing ideal models of society. The Prisoner’s Information Group that Foucault launched in collaboration with other leftist intellectuals in the same year was a targeted initiative specifically designed to provoke reforms in the penal system. There is no doubt that Foucault participated in the revolutionary and poetic language of that time in France, but he was also among the first of the post-1968 leftist milieu to question the desirability of revolution.6 By contrast, Rorty’s insistence that only reform is needed to address the cruelty and inequality that persists in and around present-day liberal societies is only coherent if we accept his view that “Western social and political thought may have had the last conceptual revolution it needs” (CIS, 63). At this point, he does indeed begin to sound like one of the last men in Thus Spoke Zarathustra who blink and say, “We have found happiness.” 7 Rorty does not mention the 1984 essay “What is Enlightenment?” in which Foucault sets out the rationale and aims of his practice of

rorty: reading continental philosophy 281 genealogy (Foucault 1997). Nor does he discuss the modalities and varieties of practical political activity that accompanied and informed Foucault’s writing about prisons. Information about these activities, and about Foucault’s involvement with public policies around health and preparations for the socialist-communist government that was anticipated in France in 1978, was available in 1988 when Rorty wrote his memorial address. In apparent ignorance of the circumstances, methods, and ambitions of Foucault’s work during the 1970s, he repeats the parochial criticism first outlined in “Method, Social Science and Social Hope” according to which Foucault’s writing lacks connection to the political concerns of ordinary citizens. Like Michael Walzer, Charles Taylor, and Jürgen Habermas, all of whom he cites, Rorty complained of Foucault’s lack of attention to the liberal state as though he had never delivered the lectures on liberal governmentality in 1978 and 1979 (Foucault 2007 and 2008). Rorty’s bifocal conception of philosophy as divided into a private realm of self-creation and a public realm of peaceful coexistence with one’s fellow citizens is a blunt instrument with which to criticize Continental thinkers. Foucault and Nietzsche in particular were fully conscious of the complex interrelations between social and political change on the one hand and personal, subjective change on the other. Foucault, like Deleuze and Guattari, Lyotard, and others, recognizes the degree to which cultural and eventually political changes such as those that have transformed the legal and political status of women, people of color, homosexual, and other minority social groups come about as a result of changes in individual beliefs and attitudes. The creation of new vocabularies in which to describe oppression, exploitation, and marginalization are an inescapable element of the processes leading to such changes. Rorty’s dichotomy makes it impossible to appreciate the force of intellectual activity that aims to shift the limits of what it is possible to say, to think, or to do, which is precisely how Foucault describes the purpose of his genealogies of disciplinary punishment, sexuality, and government in “What Is Enlightenment?” (Foucault 1997).

282 paul patton Rorty admits that the boundary between these two realms is porous, for example when he allows that the private projects of purification pursued by ascetic priests can have “enormous social utility” insofar as they have been “the means by which a culture is able to have a future interestingly different from its past” (EHO, 72–3). In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity he suggests that the sole purpose of his ideal liberal society is “to make life easier for poets and revolutionaries, while seeing to it that they make life harder for others only by words, and not deeds” (CIS, 60–1). He acknowledges that such a society is only possible and only speaks the language of its liberalism “because certain poets and revolutionaries of the past spoke as they did” (CIS, 61). But this is precisely to admit that the work of those poets and revolutionaries has public political consequences. Over the course of the 1970s Foucault was both less of a poet and revolutionary and more engaged in public political activity than Rorty allows.

conclusion Rorty’s response to Foucault is perhaps the least charitable and most unchanging of his assessments of Continental philosophers. There is much more evolution in his responses to Derrida, from whom he acknowledged that he had learnt a good deal about the way in which Heidegger remained bound to the metaphysical tradition he so wanted to leave behind. He evidently enjoyed reading Derrida, especially those texts that he described as later works, even though they appeared well before the overtly political essays that countermanded the characterization of him as a private thinker. While he admired Heidegger’s characterization of the metaphysical tradition he found it consistent with that found in Dewey, who also offered a way to recapture a sense of the contingency of our language and form of life. In the end, it does not appear that Rorty’s views were deeply affected by his engagements with Continental philosophers. At best these provided confirmation or elaboration of ideas he had already absorbed from Dewey.

rorty: reading continental philosophy 283

notes 1

In the Introduction to Consequences of Pragmatism, Rorty makes the much-cited suggestion that “James and Dewey were not only waiting at the end of the dialectical road which analytic philosophy traveled, but are waiting at the end of the road which, for example, Deleuze and Foucault are currently traveling” (CP, xviii). It is puzzling that he should mention Deleuze in this context, given how few references there are to Deleuze in his work. On Rorty and Deleuze, see Allen 2015 and Patton 2015.

2

John Caputo offers a different account of Heidegger’s “project of retrieval” based on his suggestion that man already belongs to Being “in a more primordial way” before the emergence of propositional thinking (Caputo 1983, 668). On Caputo’s account, retrieval is a matter of learning to understand that we are already bound up with or borne by Being. Rorty responds to Caputo in a long footnote in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (122–3n4). See also Guignon 1986.

3

This passage from Margins of Philosophy is cited at Rorty 1977, 676; CP, 103; EHO, 95; CIS, 122; and Rorty 1995b, 170.

4

In “Wittgenstein, Heidegger and the Reification of Language,” Rorty presents Derrida as standing in relation to Heidegger as Donald Davidson does to Wittgenstein. Both deny the existence of language as some kind of bounded whole that can be the object of philosophical study (EHO, 59n21).

5 6

TP, 329. Also cited at EHO, 94 and CIS, 230. See, for example, his comments on politics and revolution in a 1977 interview with Bernard-Henri Lévy: “What concerns us today, as you know, is whether revolution is desirable” (Lévy 1995, 371).

7

“Rorty pipes, like a piper of Last Men from Zarathustra’s Prologue, calling solitary philosophers to join the herd” (Allen 2015, 170).

13 Rorty’s Literary Culture: Reading, Redemption, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies Áine Mahon and Elizabeth O’Brien

introduction In Christian theology, “redemption” signifies salvation from sin or deliverance from suffering. It implies a liberation from the baseness of evil to a happier and a more exalted state of grace. In our more secular understandings of the term, of course, “redemption” still implies this trajectory from negative to positive. It signifies the recovery of a person from loss, lack, or confusion, hinting at a rejuvenating or transformative experience where, in our identities and relationships, we develop from the fractured to the whole. To be redeemed, in other words, means to achieve the solid sense that one has lived or is living an authentic life. This is the existentialist ideal whereby one becomes one’s own autonomous person and transcends what is given merely by environment or education. One might say that redemption is the achievement of a kind of peace. It is a state of mind where the story of one’s life – in all its contingencies and inconsistencies – begins finally to make sense. For Richard Rorty, the intellectuals of the West have hoped for redemption “first from God, then from philosophy, and now from literature” (PCP, 91). If religion has offered the promise of redemptive truth through a relationship with a divine being, and philosophy has offered redemptive truth through a promised relationship with reason, literature, finally, “offers redemption through making the acquaintance of as great a variety of human beings as possible” (PCP, 91). This suggests a culture in which our experience of difference extends our own ethical potential – in which we develop in 284

rorty’s literary culture 285 immeasurable ways as we make ourselves open and vulnerable to others. Those of us willing to turn to this literary culture no longer attempt “to escape from the temporal to the eternal” or from the fallible to the divine. We place our faith instead in the messiness of human encounter. As Rorty expands on the idea: For the Socratic idea of self-examination and self-knowledge, the literary intellectual substitutes the idea of enlarging the self by becoming acquainted with still more ways of being human. She thinks that the more books you read, the more ways of being human you have considered, the more human you become – the less tempted by dreams of an escape from time and chance, the more convinced that we humans have nothing to rely on save one another. (PCP, 94–5)

Thus, Rorty’s central plea is not for God nor for Reason but for the saving power of human relationships. On this epistemic model, “redemptive truth” provides “maximal clarity and maximal coherence,” redeeming its holder “by virtue of its explicit content, not because of its non-cognitive relation to a particular audience” (Voparil and Bernstein 2010, 391). Redemptive truth, then, gifts to its holder a meaningful terminus or at the very least a meaningful pause. It is a body of beliefs “which would end, once and for all, the process of reflection on what to do with ourselves” (PCP, 90). Taking as its starting point Rorty’s marked turn to the literary, and situating this turn in the context of a broader development in Anglo-American philosophy, our chapter focuses on the importance of redemption in Rorty’s philosophical oeuvre. A fascinating yet significantly undertheorized aspect of his late work, redemption for Rorty carries spiritual as well as secular significance. It relates to the power of the literary imagination as an ethical resource, and it becomes increasingly important in his exploration of solidarity and social justice. Crucially, Rortyan redemption is an individual or private matter wholly independent of our projects of political improvement. Understanding redemption as an individual affair

286 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien means acknowledging, in Rorty’s own words, “that private hopes for authenticity and autonomy should be left at home when the citizens of a democratic society foregather to deliberate about what is to be done” (PCP, 102). Seeking to unpack the significance of Rortyan redemption, we explore the development of the concept not only with reference to Rorty’s work but by bringing this writing into conversation with John Boyne’s 2017 novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Such an approach – using a literary text to ventilate a philosophical concept – is inspired by Rorty’s own conceptual turn from the logical to the literary, a turn first heralded in his 1979 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In this groundbreaking work, Rorty announces his signature move from reason to imagination, from necessity to contingency, and from argument to “redescription.” This is a move, in his own parlance, from a philosophical to a literary culture. In the decade following the publication of Mirror, Rorty continued to develop this central idea of literary edification, where narrative might supplant argument in the name of ethical and political progress. We argue that Rorty and Boyne are united in their foregrounding of human relationships and in their plea for the redemptive power of the novel. Both philosopher and novelist transcend a straightforward understanding of redemption (one conceived in purely religious terms) yet both still hold to an underlying belief in the meaningful, the purposive, or the transcendent. Both offer a distinctively secular understanding of redemptive truth. We begin with a general consideration of Rorty’s turn to literature and the literary. Both to illuminate and to critique this conceptual work, we then turn to the particularities of Boyne’s text.

imagination, solidarity, and the moral life Beginning with Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and progressing though Consequences of Pragmatism, Philosophy and Social Hope, and the four volumes of his Philosophical Papers, Richard Rorty undertakes a project of emancipation. First, in an effort to jolt

rorty’s literary culture 287 philosophical audiences out of a sole commitment to the scientific method, Rorty urges that science should be considered as an optional human endeavor, neither the paradigm nor the culmination of human activity. Further, Rorty suggests that both philosophy and science should view themselves on the model of literary criticism – as selfconsciously concerned not with facts but with interpretations. In this way, both philosophy and science might come to develop a new selfimage, one based on the acceptance that there is no final truth, no end point of argument, only a plurality of possible truths “redescribable” more or less attractively. This closing of the gap between the logical and the creative is one of the key moves in Rorty’s distinctive if controversial brand of neopragmatism (PMN). Beyond the suggestion that philosophy should redescribe itself as literary criticism, Rorty makes a related set of arguments for the importance of reading literature, and for the importance of reading novels in particular. For Rorty, this literary genre is absolutely foundational for a liberal and democratic society because it supplants reason with imagination and rehabilitates abstract theory with the detail of human lives. The novel can make us better persons than we currently are by appealing to our innate sense of kindness and solidarity and by broadening our understanding of other people from “one of them” to “one of us.” It suggests possibilities of conversation with individuals and communities fundamentally different to ourselves. Thus, in the Rortyan picture, the novel substitutes doctrine with hope. It replaces not only monotheism but “the kind of metaphysics or science that purports to tell you what the world is really like” (PCP, 30–1), validating instead ethical and political projects that foreground solidarity and what we as individuals ultimately owe to each other. Rorty further suggests that readers should turn to what he calls “middlebrow” fiction for the inspirational and moral value it holds. Reading these types of books “decrease[s] our selfcenteredness by reminding us that others are in pain – pain of a sort which we may be likely to cause, or which we might be able to

288 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien relieve.” Reading “highbrow” books however “increases our selfcenteredness by reminding us of the possibility of self-making, the possibility that we might make our own lives into works of art” (Rorty 1996b, 60). The complex and highbrow is privately useful where

the

sentimental

and

lowbrow

is

publicly

useful.

“Highbrow” literature, then, has no place in the formation of a liberal democracy; more popular media play a central role. What finds emphasis here is the moral utility of the paraphrasable. As Rorty elaborates: “One episode of a TV series about a white Southern sheriff and his black deputy combating the lingering racism of their neighbors is much like another, but this does not detract from the considerable moral value of each. Paraphrasability and replaceability is not a disadvantage when it is moral instruction that is wanted” (Rorty 1996b, 60–1). Thus, in his turn to the literary realm, Rorty privileges the straightforward over the complex, the “paraphrasable” over the overtly literary. In his own somewhat provocative terms: To get whites to be nice to blacks, males to females, Serbs to Muslims, or straights to gays . . . all you have to do is to convince them that all the arguments on the other side appeal to ‘morally irrelevant’ considerations. You do that by manipulating their sentiments in such a way that they imagine themselves in the shoes of the despised and oppressed. (TP, 178–9)

Rorty’s concern with philosophy as a mode of literary criticism and, especially, with the novel as a philosophical/ethical resource, can be linked to a broader turn toward the literary in Anglo-American philosophy. On this point Rorty unites with a long list of moral philosophers (among them D. Z. Phillips, Bernard Williams, and Iris Murdoch) who have argued for literature’s peculiar capacity to expand empathy and imagination. In encountering fictional characters markedly different to ourselves, these philosophers contend, we are far more likely to bring unknown others into our sphere of direct moral concern. We are far less likely to think in

rorty’s literary culture 289 polarized terms of “one of us” and “one of them.” Such imaginative expansion is facilitated primarily by our involvement in the details of characters’ lives. In reading a novel or short story, the argument goes, suspension of disbelief facilitates a gradual identification with the difference of others – a difference which in other contexts might seem insurmountable. It is interesting that several of Martha Nussbaum’s key publications, from Love’s Knowledge and Poetic Justice to Cultivating Humanity and Upheavals of Thought, similarly take as their central theme the importance of the humanities – specifically, the importance of narrative fiction – in educating a learner’s moral sensibility.1 Nussbaum agrees with Rorty that literature for the moral imagination widens, deepens, or expands. Her argument, in general terms very similar to his, is that in the practice of reading we are gifted greater moral sensitivity because of fiction’s expansionist role. We become acquainted with a broader range of fictional persons and we become familiar with a broader range of ethical scenarios. Certainly there is a distinction to be drawn between Nussbaum’s cognitivist picture (where the reading of fiction operates primarily on our understanding) and the sentimentalist picture of Rorty (where the reading of fiction operates primarily on our emotions). Still, both visions rely strongly on recurring metaphors of expansion or enlargement. In the work of both philosophers, literature educates our moral capacities by widening or deepening the moral or imaginative capacities already in our possession. Stanley Cavell, another of Rorty’s key contemporaries, similarly explores the moral potential of literature. However, for Cavell, the potential of literature as a moral resource is followed in very different directions. Less interested in literature’s ability to widen or to deepen our moral imagination, Cavell appeals instead to the kinship between ordinary and literary speech. In attending to what fictional characters say or avoid saying, Cavell writes, we become attuned to the commitments and betrayals of our own lives in language. On Cavell’s reading, literature doesn’t expand so much as

290 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien finely tune. By foregrounding or thickening language, it reminds us that the meaning of everyday words and sentences must be won back in every human encounter. And finally, to parse one final contemporary of Rorty, for Cora Diamond poetry and short story illustrate that the moral life is not easily captured by the discourse of analytic philosophy. There is much more to moral understanding than the interweaving of fact with general principle, and it is only in our engagements with literature that the messiness of moral life is fully brought to the fore (Diamond 2008). In foregrounding literature in his philosophical work Rorty is united, then, with a number of his philosophical contemporaries. But what is distinctive about Rorty’s writing is the absolutely central place that he claims for literature. Indeed, Rorty seeks to disband both science and philosophy and to reestablish both as literary genres. By “literary genres,” he means all forms of creative writing, and this includes literary criticism as well as poetry, drama, fiction, and philosophy. “Literature,” similarly, is expanded to all those areas of culture which “forego agreement on an encompassing critical vocabulary, and thus forego argumentation” (CIS, 142). What is in question is not the truth of propositions but the usefulness of vocabularies. In this context, Harold Bloom’s concept of “strong misreading” comes strongly to the fore. Rorty adopts the “strong mis-reader” or the “strong poet” as the archetype of his ideal literary culture. Once again, in his conception of “poetry” and the “strong poet,” Rorty is expanding liberally on the usual lexical definitions, viewing poetry not as poesy (“metrical and/or imaginative discourse designed above all to evoke an aesthetic response”) but as poiesis (“the creative production of meaning”) (Verdicchio and Burch 2002, 3). The strong poet is a pragmatist critic content to sideline authorial intention in the imposition of his own discursive framework. He is “the maker of new words, the shaper of new languages . . . the vanguard of the species” (CIS, 20). As part of his poetic practice, indeed, invention is prioritized over discovery, making over finding, autonomy and novelty over truth. As Rorty writes in Consequences of Pragmatism:

rorty’s literary culture 291 “The model here is not the curious collector of clever gadgets taking them apart to see what makes them work and carefully ignoring any extrinsic end they may have, but the psychoanalyst blithely interpreting a dream or a joke as a symptom of homicidal mania” (CP, 151). This instrumentalist model involves a self-conscious blend of neopragmatist and poststructuralist thought. It recommends the downplaying of truth and knowledge and the valorization of creativity and utility. “Reading texts,” Rorty writes, “is a matter of reading them in the light of other texts, people, obsessions, bits of information, or what have you, and then seeing what happens” (PSH, 144). In these interpretive contexts, what assumes priority is not the author’s intention but the reader’s response. The novel might be central to the important work of cultivating solidarity and rejuvenating liberal politics; nevertheless, taking on a literary work involves playfulness and creativity, presupposing both a capacity for openness and a readiness for surprise.

searching for self in john boyne’s the heart’s invisible furies With Rorty’s conception of literature and literary culture in mind, we turn now to a particular novel, and to a particular cast of characters patently in search of redemptive truth. Published in 2017, John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies narrates the life story of Cyril Avery, opening with the troubling circumstances of his conception and birth in 1945 and closing in 2015 with a largely happy end for Cyril and those closest to him. A substantial work, standing at almost 600 pages, Furies adeptly balances depth and breadth. The novel spans seventy years of Irish and international histories, as the personal struggles of one small character come to represent the growing pains of a larger society. Boyne tells Cyril’s story in seven-year increments, with the first half of Cyril’s life in Dublin (1945–80) juxtaposed with his later time in Amsterdam (1980–7) and then New York (1987–94). Cyril returns to Ireland for his final years (1994–2015).

292 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien Given up by his teenage mother, the infant Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery. The Averys provide Cyril with a comfortable home and a privileged education, largely ignore his presence, and on occasion openly forget that he exists: From the start they never pretended to be anything other than my adoptive parents and, in fact, schooled me in this detail from the time I could first understand the meaning of the words . . . I was not a real Avery and would not be looked after financially in adulthood in the manner a real Avery would have been . . . “Think of this more as a tenancy, Cyril,” [Charles] told me – they had named me Cyril for a spaniel they’d once owned and loved – “an eighteen-year tenancy.” (Boyne 2017, 61)

Cyril, for his part, is magnanimous toward his adoptive parents. Knowing no other normal, he appreciates his material good fortune and commits to continuously clarifying his non-Avery origins as a sort of strange show of solidarity with Charles and Maude. At home, at school, and in the workplace, however, he casts a lonely and uncertain figure, never quite sure of his role or ambition. Similarly, for Boyne’s reader, we are never on entirely solid ground with Cyril. We are never entirely confident whether we are dealing with hero or anti-hero. “Who is Cyril Avery?” asks the novel’s front cover, and this pivotal question accounts to a large extent for the novel’s narrative momentum and – at times – for its frantic, grasping, even uncomfortable pace. A settled self for Cyril Avery seems always out of reach. Considering the self in philosophical terms, it is interesting that in Rorty’s anti-foundationalist pragmatism the very idea of stable personhood is negated. Indeed, Rorty draws an important distinction between “self-knowledge” and “self-creation,” arguing that it is the latter – encompassing “our accidental idiosyncrasies,” “our irrational components,” “our incompatible sets of beliefs and desires” (EHO, 148) – that should be brought to the fore. This is a process of creation rather than discovery, where any one person can include as part of themselves “a number of inconsistent selves, of unharmonized

rorty’s literary culture 293 dispositions” (PSH, 78). Thus, the Rortyan ironist is a figure who liberates herself entirely into redescription and re-creation. For her, there is no essential self, no essential language or community, and the freedom to improvise is nothing short of intoxicating. Certainly, the dispositions of Cyril Avery appear far from harmonious. Boyne’s protagonist cuts an evasive and chameleon-like figure, a patchwork of contradictions and inconsistencies frustratingly difficult to pin down. As a young child he is captivated by the confusing rush his friend Julian arouses in him; and over time his need for intimacy with this freewheeling lothario becomes obsessive. Julian throws himself at life’s every opportunity, fully embodying the successful persona of the footloose and fancy-free bachelor. By Cyril he is at times amused, frustrated, disinterested – but always generally happy to have him in his company. Julian is oblivious to or simply uncaring about the actual depth of Cyril’s feeling, and in these dizzying early chapters it seems that Cyril’s personality (or his morality) is entirely up for grabs. Taking his lead from Julian, he consistently avoids real intimacy or genuine relationship. He is downright dishonest with girlfriends in particular. As a result, his baseless hope that Julian will return his desire is not without its victims, literally in the case of Mary Margaret (who is killed, improbably, in the explosion of Nelson’s pillar), and figuratively in the case of Alice (whom Cyril abandons during the reception following their wedding). Cyril’s single-minded pursuit of proximity to that which is desired, regardless of the pain caused to others, illustrates the Rortyan point that “we are not innocent souls corrupted by original sin” (Rorty 2011, 13) but “are simply clever animals whose primary need is to be made happier” (Llanera 2017, 106). In the Rortyan schema, constant self-making is to be embraced as the mark of the enlightened and autonomous postmodernist but if Cyril is a Rortyan ironist – endlessly redescribing and endlessly self-fashioning – then there are real human casualties to his behavior. Indeed his version of self-creation seems less liberating than tragic as his reckless behavior is the root cause of his own misery as well as that of others. The

294 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien destructive relationship with Alice is a case in point. Alice recognizes in Cyril his best self and he achieves in her perceptive company a measure of ease and understanding. Nevertheless, at one of the story’s crucial moments, he fails to trust her with the honesty she deserves; Cyril abandons Alice on their wedding day in an episode that, for all its archness and play, is still devastatingly sad. Although framed as comedy, a sort of youthful slapstick, the early escapades of Cyril and Julian constitute in many ways the low point of Boyne’s novel. There is a hysterical pitch to these encounters that feels both risky and unnecessary and, in many ways, that sets their reader on edge. Interestingly, when the duo meet in poignant circumstances much later in the novel, there is a notable calming and slowing down. It seems that the endless possibilities for self-creation have culminated in wretchedness rather than fulfillment as both reflect on the questionable decisions that have brought them to this point. Cyril visits Julian in a New York hospital where Cyril is volunteering and Julian is dying of AIDS. For all the tragedy of this episode, there is nonetheless a welcome shift – narratively speaking at least – from the frantic to the introspective, and from the ironic to the sincere: “That I wish I could go back in time, both of us, and do things differently. We’ve both been fucked over by our natures, can’t you see that? Seriously, Julian, sometimes I wished I was a fucking eunuch. It would have made life a lot easier. And if you don’t want me here, what about having someone you loved coming over? Where’s your family? Why don’t you tell them?” “Because I don’t want them to know.” (Boyne 2017, 411)

In its making obvious this later more subdued mood, perhaps, then, the novel’s earlier hysteria had its own significance. “We were middleaged, both of us,” says Cyril, “but we had been cheerful teenagers once, who had gone on to waste so much of our lives” (Boyne 2017, 403). It is his abandonment of Alice and his subsequent loss of their son, Liam, that constitute the greatest waste for Boyne’s protagonist. In the wake of his betrayal, Cyril has no option but to leave Ireland

rorty’s literary culture 295 and significantly, during his subsequent exile (first in Amsterdam and then New York), his character becomes decidedly more thoughtful – more rounded – more sensitive to the vulnerabilities of others. In Amsterdam, in particular, Cyril embarks on his first true period of adult independence. No longer facing judgment as a gay man in a repressively homophobic society, he is accepted for his authentic self and develops a solid relationship with Bastiaan, his first real boyfriend. It is during his years with Bastiaan that Cyril begins to make sense, that he locates and develops his own beliefs and desires. He begins to appreciate his complexity not as a depravity to be hidden or a problem to be solved. Rather, he takes on this fractured plurality, alive to the pragmatist appreciation that “any self is capable of including within itself a number of inconsistent selves, of unharmonized dispositions” (PSH, 78). Liberated from the restrictions of 1970s Dublin, Cyril can finally live out loud. In a reversal of the Rortyan trajectory, he moves from self-creation to self-knowledge. Significantly, it is through his relationship with Bastiaan that Cyril first experiences a Rortyan-style redemption. Bastiaan allows Cyril to experience a genuinely caring and genuinely reciprocated adult romance. More than this, however, it is in Bastiaan’s company that Cyril is prompted to act on his best self; putting his concerns for their safety aside, he agrees to take in the orphaned and abused Ignac and becomes a sort of surrogate parent. Through joining in this act of selflessness, crucially, a romantic relationship becomes a redemptive one. It sets Cyril down a path of parenthood, perhaps a path he might never have chosen, and through which he is both redefined and given further opportunities to mature and to atone. Arguably, Cyril’s life is made good by virtue of the family he creates with Bastiaan and Ignac, who allow him to participate in an experience richer than he might have constructed alone. This experience of care, of motivational displacement and honest vulnerability, make possible his later reconciliation with Julian, with Alice, and with Cyril’s biological son Liam; last of all, it prepares Cyril emotionally for meeting with and understanding Catherine, his own biological mother.

296 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien The ambiguity of Cyril’s origins and his lifelong experience of being “not-an-Avery” leaves the notion of family completely open to interpretation; and ultimately, Cyril’s family is entirely of its own definition. Including biological and adopted children, as well as biological and adopted parents, this unorthodox family structure speaks directly to the Rortyan idea that it is only through imagination that human relations are enriched, enlarged, and made meaningful. The human relationships that sustain Boyne’s novel, and those that come together in its final pages, make sense of Cyril’s life by shaping accident into story. In Rortyan terms, this narrative impulse toward sense-making captures the human need for redemption. This is the need to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable, to explain the plurality of our lives by a single context, “a context that will somehow reveal itself as natural, destined, and unique” (PCP, 90). More than this, this is the only context in which our lives might appear in their essential version. “To believe in redemptive truth,” Rorty expands, “is to believe that there is something that stands to human life as elementary physical particles stand to the four elements – something that is the reality behind the appearance, the one true description of what is going on” (PCP, 90). It takes Cyril Avery the length of Boyne’s novel to locate this “one true description.” By the end of his story, tellingly, Cyril has regained Liam, Catherine has regained Cyril, and both Cyril and Catherine are redeemed in the sense of recovering what was once lost through a kind of parenthood-turned-mutuality. This is the essence of Rortyan redemption – which at its heart holds relationships that inspire growth: I nodded and stepped forward, and slowly [Cyril and Catherine] made our way down the aisle, passing the faces of our friends and family, and I delivered her into the arms of a kind man who swore to love her and take care of her for the rest of her life. And at the end, when the entire congregation broke into applause, I realized that I was finally happy. (Boyne 2017, 588)

rorty’s literary culture 297 And so, in the simplest possible terms, it is through his relationships with others that Cyril finds redemption – first with Bastiaan and Ignac; then with Julian, Alice, and Liam; and finally with his biological mother Catherine. In the rich tapestry of these relations, Furies captures Rorty’s pragmatist insight that in our post-religious culture we no longer need to look to a higher power for salvation. We no longer need to worship possibilities beyond the horizon of our own imagination. In his own terms: [P]ragmatists transfer to the human future the sense of awe and mystery which the Greeks attached to the non-human; it is transformed into a sense that the humanity of the future will be, although linked with us by a continuous narrative, superior to present-day humanity in as yet barely imaginable ways. It coalesces with the awe we feel before works of imagination, and becomes a sense of awe before humanity’s ability to become what it once merely imagined, before its capacity for selfcreation. (PSH, 52)

We no longer need, then, to outsource healing and forgiveness to a superhuman authority. As a mature society, rather, we can place faith in the reparatory potential of human fragility and human fallibility, no longer projecting “beyond nature to the supernatural and beyond life to an afterlife, but only beyond the human past to the human future” (PSH, 162).

conclusion There is a place where we are always alone with our own mortality, where we must simply have something greater than ourselves to hold onto – God or history or politics or literature or a belief in the healing power of love, or even righteous anger . . . A way to take the world by the throat and insist that there is more to this life than we have ever imagined. (Allison 1994, 166; quoted at PSH, 161)

298 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien In Rorty’s imaginative account, a gift of the literary culture is time. It provides us with pause, with the opportunity to dwell in those messier or less obvious moments, where we can sit with others’ complexity in all its ugliness and all its grace. Looking to Boyne’s novel, Julian’s heartrending death illustrates an aspect of the AIDS crisis which would not have been immediately apparent to a general audience. In late 1980s New York, as the living and dying cut each other off, so a life stage emerged where affected individuals were not yet dead but already gone. Julian waits for death, too ashamed to let his family know. “His cheeks were sunken, as were his eyes, and a dark oval of purple-red sent a hideous bruise along his chin and down his neckline. A line came into my mind, something that Hannah Arendt had once said about the poet Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face” (Boyne 2017, 401–2). With its investment of time in ourselves as well as others, a literary culture cultivates relationship with persons or scenarios that might otherwise appear as alien. In this way, and in so many more, a literary culture builds the solidarity that Rorty envisaged. It is of central importance to Boyne that he capture his protagonist’s alien experiences as a gay man growing up in a predominantly Catholic and highly repressive sociopolitical context. Up until 1993, the year before Cyril’s return to Dublin, homosexuality remained a criminalized act in Ireland. The country’s decriminalization of homosexuality did not occur until the passage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill and marked a watershed moment in the lives of gays and lesbians in Ireland. Up until that point, and indeed for a long time after it, gay people in Ireland were subject to thoroughgoing social, political, and legal prejudice. Countless lives were shrouded in shame and silence as being true to one’s identity or one’s relationships was simply not an option. In Cyril’s words: It was a difficult time to be Irish, a difficult time to be twenty-one years of age and a difficult time to be a man who was attracted to other men. To be all three simultaneously required a level of

rorty’s literary culture 299 subterfuge and guilt that felt contrary to my nature. . . . The belief that I would spend the rest of my time on earth lying to people weighed heavily on me and at such times I gave serious consideration to taking my own life. . . . It was an option that was always at the back of my mind. (Boyne 2017, 209)

Mapping Cyril’s private challenges against the significant social and political upheavals of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, then, Furies is at once a personal and a social history. Its writing vacillates between tragedy and farce as a troop of real-life historical personae (the writer Brendan Behan as well as the politicians Éamon De Valera and Charles Haughey) play cameo roles in Cyril’s story. The novel has further aspects of the picaresque, indeed, not only in its episodic structure but in Cyril’s unlikely heroism as well as his tendency to place himself on the margins. Here is a character always alienated and often in exile (both literal and metaphorical), wandering between social and geographical groups but never truly choosing to belong to any of them. By the end of the novel, however, Cyril has charted his course from orphan to patriarch. Reflecting the three named sections of Boyne’s text – from “Shame” to “Exile” to “Peace” – we see Cyril happy and settled in Boyne’s closing pages, surrounded by generations of family and a “coherent web” (EHO, 147) of all who matter. There is no longer a need to pose the question “Who is Cyril Avery?” as Cyril is firmly placed by others around him – as son, as father, as grandfather, and as friend. As the abstractions of Cyril are made flesh, Boyne’s novel becomes progressively less arch and more sincere. There is a marked movement from loss to plenitude, from farce to sincerity, and from the frantic to the peaceful. If the tone of Boyne’s text is playful and coy at the beginning and gentler, more serious, as it progresses, we might identify in Rorty’s work a similar move between irony and “deep humanism” (to use Richard Bernstein’s 2008 phrase). These are the moments in Rorty’s work where the awareness of postmodernism and the

300 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien demands of social justice compete. Focusing first on Rorty’s “ironic temperament,” its “cool thin romanticism,” Russell Goodman draws attention to those passages in Rorty “where something more direct and passionate can be glimpsed not far below the surface.” Like Bernstein in his defense of Rorty, Goodman cites “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,” finding particularly in this autobiographical essay that Rorty’s romanticism warms up, that “ the irony recedes, and we sense the anger, resolution, and natural piety that are also part of Rorty’s life and thought” (Bernstein 2008; Goodman 2008, 95). For Rorty, redemptive relationships draw something out of us, something that overwhelms and enriches simultaneously. These same relationships inspire “overpowering hope, or faith, or love (or sometimes, rage)” (PSH, 161); they have the power to make our hearts furious. Such fury would drive Cyril’s mother Catherine from her insular community in West Cork to the busyness of Dublin, where she would locate ordinary answers to her extraordinary situation. Here, in time, she would provide solutions to others experiencing trouble of their own. Arguably, it is the trajectory of Catherine that best exemplifies Rorty’s secular view of redemption. Catherine emerges – indeed, is literally pushed – from the established Catholic Church into an entirely secular environment. In this way she embodies the weak promise of Rorty’s post-religious culture. This is a culture which places meaningful relationship front and center, where human beings don’t yearn for connection with a supernatural power but crave communion only with each other. And so, Rorty and Boyne come together in their critique of standard religious practice and their affirmation of the human as its own source of salvation. Both are fully attuned to the salvific and sense-making potential of the novel as literary genre. Where philosopher and novelist part ways is on the many oppositions (“middlebrow” versus “highbrow” fiction; a book’s “aesthetic” versus its “moral” value; the “private” versus the “publicly” useful) developed by Rorty over the course of his philosophical career. Indeed, it is central to Rorty’s pragmatist practice of redescription to entrench

rorty’s literary culture 301 theoretical oppositions in this way. To take one particular example, Rorty highlights in his essay “The Inspirational Value of Great Works of Literature” a working distinction between a literature of “knowingness” (or protective cynicism) and a literature of “inspiration” (or utopian romance). If the former is characterized by “aesthetic selfmaking” and “psychological complexity,” the latter offers simpler possibilities for moral and political improvement (AOC, 125–40). Complicating Rorty’s straightforward dichotomies, Boyne’s novel is at once aesthetically complex and morally transparent. In its portrayal of twentieth and twenty-first century Ireland, it lampoons a wider social and political milieu (in addition to the many hypocrisies of its fictionalized individuals); nonetheless, it is still manifestly open to the possibility of personal as well as social redemption. Furies traces the life story of one man and at the same time maps the troubled progress of an entire nation. As its cinematic sweep and layered language betrays a literary ambition well beyond the “paraphrasability” or “replaceability” that Rorty seeks to champion, the novel complicates any easy distinction between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” modes of writing. Troubling the philosopher’s neat picture, then, Boyne’s text is at once sharply satirical and deeply compassionate. Furies provides a rich backdrop against which we might interrogate Rorty’s neopragmatist claims regarding literature, the literary and the ideals of redemptive truth. As Tracy Llanera has argued, it seems odd that Rorty – the notoriously secular antifoundationalist – would set such store by the seemingly religious idea of redemption. The concept of redemption, she argues, not only goes to the heart of many of Rorty’s late essays but is there at crucial moments throughout the philosopher’s oeuvre. Llanera reads this foregrounding of redemption as a key pragmatist strategy, where Rorty “utilize[s] transcendent or sacred power in the service of the secular” (Llanera 2017, 116). Rorty employs the concept of redemption, Llanera writes, to capture religion’s “salvific force,” and such power is redirected, in turn, “toward the protection of secular, democratic hopes, which are demanding and fragile by

302 a´ ine mahon and elizabeth o’brien nature” (Llanera 2017, 105). In marshaling such a standardly religious trope, then, Rorty claims for his liberal democratic ideals a central and crucial importance. What finds emphasis across Rorty’s extensive body of work is the capacity of literature to illuminate the transformative power of the everyday. Redemption through literature (and for Rorty this typically means redemption through reading novels) is dependent on our ordinary encounters with ideas and persons that “might conceivably have moral relevance – might conceivably alter one’s sense of what is possible and important” (CIS, 82). In a neopragmatist vein, Rorty insists on the compensatory power of human relationship where the rejection of metaphysical truth does not necessitate the death of meaning but places our own fragilities front and center. These human limitations, such as they are, are still the best we can hope for in our ongoing projects of liberal democracy – in which an ethic of mutual dependence becomes transformative for culture and civilization. In summary, then, Rorty rehabilitates redemption from religious concept to secular ideal. This is an ideal not postponed to a life after death but one fully realizable in our encounters with those we love.

notes 1

See Nussbaum 1990, 1995, 1997, and 2001.

14 Wild Orchids Robert Westbrook

The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister, is the suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” (1836)

In his well-known autobiographical essay, “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids,” Richard Rorty observed two contrasting dispositions that he developed as a young boy. On the one hand, as the son of two fellow-traveling Trotskyists, he absorbed a firm commitment to social justice and democratic politics, if not to the radical left. At the same time, as a solitary, even lonely child, living in rural isolation, he also had “private, weird, snobbish, incommunicable interests,” such as an obsession with various species of wild orchids that grew near his home in northwestern New Jersey. Generalizing from these examples, Rorty wrote of the quest that has preoccupied so many philosophers and others to, as Yeats put it, “hold reality and justice in a single vision,” and of his own eventual conviction that the two – metaphysical reality and politics, the wild orchids and Trotsky – could not, need not, and often should not be fused. His insistence on this separation was, he suggested, a key to understanding the work as a philosopher that made him such a controversial figure and the target of cultural conservatives and radicals alike (PSH, 6, 7). Much has been written about Rorty’s politics, about his “Trotsky” side. But relatively little has been said about his encounters with wild orchids, “Wordsworthian moments” in which he felt “touched by something numinous, something of ineffable importance” (PSH, 7–8). Rorty said “there is no reason to be ashamed of, or 303

304 robert westbrook downgrade, or try to slough off, your Wordsworthian moments” (PSH, 13). Yet no one said less about these moments than Rorty himself; he seemed to slough them off. Why?

experience and nature Readers of “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids” could be forgiven if they understood Rorty to have been saying that as a boy he had “had” an “experience” of wild orchids. This, no doubt, is the way John Dewey would have appreciatively read him. But Rorty’s own philosophy provided little room for such a reading. Rorty was a proud neopragmatist. But one significant thing that separated him from some other neopragmatists was a conviction that “experience” was a concept they could well do without.1 As Rorty saw it, “experience” was a notion that, after the “linguistic turn,” pragmatists should give up in favor of attending strictly to language. He feared that by hanging onto “experience” pragmatists were opening the door to realist epistemic foundationalism by seeming to allow for access via “experience” to a knowable world independent of human discursive practices with which to adjudicate belief. This sort of world – a world as it “really is,” one that correspondence theories of truth claim we must accurately represent if we are to verify belief – constituted what Wilfrid Sellars called the “Myth of the Given,” and was “a world well lost.” Repudiation of the “Myth of the Given” is commonplace among Rorty’s fellow naturalists, including neopragmatists. They have agreed that a world known as it “really is” was a world well lost. Yet many of them nonetheless worried that Rorty ran the risk of losing the nonhuman world altogether by denying any nondiscursive experience of it. Rorty was, they feared, pressing pragmatism toward a “linguistic idealism” that not only denied that language serves to represent the world as it really is but also held that language entirely constructs the world. That is, since Rorty contended that our knowledge of the world is always under a description, always embedded in one or another “language game,” he was said to be verging on the belief that such descriptions wholly constitute the world.

wild orchids 305 Rorty parried such concerns. He readily acknowledged the presence of an independent, nonhuman world to which human beings stand in a “causal” relationship, a world that can occasion us to have beliefs about it even if not “in itself” justify beliefs that purport to “represent” it. Leaning on Donald Davidson, he said: We can never be more arbitrary than the world lets us be. So even if there is no Way the World Is, even if there is no such thing as “the intrinsic nature of reality,” there are still causal pressures. These pressures will be described at different times and for different purposes, but they are pressures none the less. (PSH, 33)

Pragmatists such as James and Dewey held that you can’t compare your beliefs with something that isn’t a belief to see if they correspond. But they sensibly pointed out that that doesn’t mean that there is nothing out there to have beliefs about. The causal independence of the gold or the text from the inquiring chemist or critic does not mean that she either can or should perform the impossible feat of stripping her chosen object bare of human concerns, seeing it as it is in itself, and then seeing how our beliefs measure up to it. (ORT, 83)

Pragmatists grant a wholehearted acceptance of the brute, inhuman, causal stubbornness of the gold or the text. But they think this should not be confused with, so to speak, an intentional stubbornness, and an insistence on being described in a certain way, its own way. The object can, given a prior agreement on a language game, cause us to hold beliefs, but it cannot suggest beliefs for us to hold. (ORT, 83)

A causal encounter with a mind-independent object can cause us to believe “H20,” “water,” “trout stream,” or “reflection of the greater glory of God,” but it cannot determine which of these beliefs we hold. Beliefs rest not only on such encounters but on our purposes (chemistry, drinking, fishing, worship) and the

306 robert westbrook vocabularies (scientific, everyday, sporting, religious) that we use in their pursuit.2 What was at stake here was a disagreement about just how arbitrary the world allows our beliefs and our knowledge claims to be. Rorty wanted to avoid any characterization that would seem to suggest that the world in any way speaks to us on its own behalf, that it imposed any independent constraints on the arbitrariness of human language games. Hence, he resisted the efforts of Richard Bernstein, John McDowell, and others with “realist intuitions” to have him admit to our “answerability” to the world or to go beyond acknowledging its “causal constraints” to talking about its “rational constraints.” On the other hand, Bernstein and the others thought Rorty was not giving experience of the “brute compulsiveness” of the world, what Charles S. Peirce called “Secondness,” the role it required if we are to make sense of “the self-corrective character of inquiry and experimentation.” This Secondness checks our efforts to know stuff. The one thing that noncognitive experience can say to us is “No.” Yet while noncognitive experience constrains us, it cannot tell us what it is that constrains us. When we ask that question, we move into cognitive experience (what Peirce called “Thirdness”). And in so doing, we cannot attain a “God’s-eye view” of things as they really are in order to settle our beliefs. “One of the deepest and most pervasive confusions that gives rise to the Myth of the Given,” Bernstein observes, “is the confusion of brute constraint and epistemic authority.” One can grant noncognitive experience the first, without extending it the second (Bernstein 2010, 134). This debate rages on, and powerful allies have joined Rorty’s cause, most notably his onetime student Robert Brandom, the most technically accomplished neopragmatist at work today.3 Critics continue to push back against them both.4 But I think a more relevant objection here to Rorty’s linguistic turn away from “experience” than that it led him to deny the role of noncognitive experience in the justification of belief is that it also led him to turn a blind eye to other dimensions of noncognitive

wild orchids 307 experience in human life (those he seemed to corral under the not particularly helpful term “causal pressures”). There is a great deal more to human being-in-the-world than forming beliefs about it, though anyone reading much academic philosophy, including Rorty’s, can be forgiven for thinking otherwise. That is, for all his condemnation of the domination of modern philosophy by epistemological concerns, Rorty himself remained very much a part of what Dewey called an “epistemology industry” that was wedded to a misleading conception of human experience in the world as ubiquitously a knowledge affair (Shusterman 1997, 157–77). Rorty shared Dewey’s complaint about the hegemony of epistemology among philosophers. Sounding very much like Dewey, he told an interviewer that “The idea that human beings are primarily knowers, that knowing and truth seeking are what makes them wonderfully different from animals, is a bad one, even though it goes back to Plato and Aristotle. It is high time we gave it up” (Mendieta 2006, 95). But having made this point, Dewey moved on to try to reconstruct philosophy, including metaphysics. Rorty seemed unwilling, perhaps incapable, of moving on. By obsessively returning again and again to an attack on the foundational claims of the epistemology industry (and, as a philosopher, doing little else), he remained, in an important sense, very much a part of it.5 Or to put it another way, and more broadly, Rorty was a leader among those whom Richard Shusterman has called “textualists” (Dewey would have called them “intellectualists”). One thing that textualists share, whatever their differences, is a repression of the nondiscursive. As Shusterman said: This ideology, common to analytic and continental philosophy, insists that language exhausts the scope of experience, since whatever lies outside of language cannot be thought or given content. Hence Sellars claims that “all awareness . . . is a linguistic affair”; Gadamer stresses “the essential linguisticality of all human experience of the world”; Rorty asserts that we humans are

308 robert westbrook “nothing more than sentential attitudes”; and Derrida declares that there cannot be a “hors-texte,” “a reality . . . whose content could take place, could have taken place outside of language.” (Shusterman 1997, 173)

On the one hand, Shusterman observed, “textualist ideology has been extremely helpful in dissuading philosophers from misguided quests for absolute foundations outside our contingent linguistic and social practices.” But when they insist on what Rorty termed “the ubiquity of language” (CP, xix), they simply identify “human being-in-the-world with linguistic activity” and in so doing “neglect or overly textualize nondiscursive somatic experience” (Shusterman 1997, 173). Dewey insisted that experience was not ubiquitously an affair of language, but rather “an affair of the intercourse of a living being with its physical and social environment.” Experience was infused with qualities that were had before they were known or even put into words. A human being was not simply, or even primarily, a knower but rather an “agent-patient, doer, sufferer, and enjoyer.” Knowing the world and encasing it in language was a secondary, mediating affair that (as even Rorty said) was caused by primary, noncognitive experience, serving if all went well subsequently to enhance the more rewarding qualities of that primary experience. For Dewey, epistemic authority was not something that noncognitive experience had on offer.6 Primary, noncognitive experience, Dewey argued, was ineffable and unknowable. Its qualities could not be known (and here he anticipated Rorty) until “with language they are discriminated” (Dewey 1925, 98). We have no immediate knowledge of anything. Primary experience was not constituted by language, but it was known only through language and the work of language-using human communities. Yet knowing about it (including knowing that we have it) and having it were two quite different things. “An enriched pragmatism,” Bernstein advised Rorty, “can integrate the linguistic turn with a subtle appreciation of the role and varieties of experience” (Dewey 1905, 158–60; Bernstein 2010, 129).

wild orchids 309 By construing the human relationship to the world as almost strictly one of thinking about it, talking about it, and having beliefs about it, Rorty voluntarily took up philosophical residence in a prison house of language, leaving little room for his ineffable encounter with wild orchids outside the cell window.

anti-authoritarianism How might an intellectual historian such as myself explain Rorty’s neglect of the noncognitive, nondiscursive experience that he had with the wild orchids? The answer, I would suggest, lay in his temperament. Disagreements among philosophers, William James said, were more often than not “a clash of human temperaments.” Whatever a philosopher’s temperament, he said, “he tries, when philosophizing, to sink the fact of this temperament . . . He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that does suit it” (James 1987, 488–9). Rorty shared this sentiment, and left no doubt about the temperament that underpinned his philosophy.7 The animating impulse of much of his thinking was a deep-seated anti-authoritarianism that targeted, above all, the quest for objective, ahistorical, transcendental constraints on human knowledge and moral judgment. He described his inconclusive debates with those who would continue this quest as “the reciprocal unintelligibility to one another of two very different types of people . . . These two types of people are conveniently describable in Freudian terms: they are the people who think subjection to an authority-figure is necessary to lead a properly human life and those who see such a life as requiring freedom from any such subjection.” Rorty’s opponents, he said, were the partisans of the superego, hawking a metaphysics that looked to him like “an attempt to snuggle up to something so pure and good as to be not really human, while still being enough like a loving parent so that it can be loved with all of one’s heart and soul and strength.” Rorty’s pragmatism, on the other hand, offered, as an ego ideal, a liberation from this depersonalized primal father (Rorty 1999, 15, 17).

310 robert westbrook Given Rorty’s use of the language of the Freudian family romance, it is worth sketching briefly the story of his own revolt against the metaphysical father, a revolt that ironically resulted in a return to the philosophical household of his parents. Rorty was born into a family with a disposition for antiauthoritarianism. His maternal grandfather was Walter Rauschenbusch, the most significant and radical Social Gospel theologian and a leading critic of industrial capitalism in the early twentieth century. His mother, Winifred Rauschenbusch, while sharing her father’s social democratic politics, proved a willful and rebellious daughter when it came to his Victorian conception of familial responsibilities and sexual morality (Blake 2000, 91–9). Rorty’s father, James Rorty, was an important American radical and a stalwart of the anti-Stalinist left during Rorty’s childhood. Under the tutelage of such parents, he learned that “the point of being human was to spend one’s life fighting social injustice.” John Dewey was “a hero to all the people among whom I had grown up,” and pragmatism was their “unofficial philosophy.” The report of the Dewey Commission exonerating Leon Trotsky of the charges made against him in the Moscow Trials was their family bible, and as a young man, Rorty recalled, “the Russian Revolution and its betrayal by Stalin were, for me, what the Incarnation and its betrayal by the Catholics had been to precocious little Lutherans 400 years before” (PSH, 6, 8, 5). As the son of anti-authoritarian parents, Rorty’s youthful rebellion against his upbringing naturally took the form of embracing the sort of philosophical absolutism that they abhorred and he would later indict. Initially, he found his way (at the age of fourteen) to the neo-medieval certitudes proffered at Robert Hutchins’s University of Chicago, where he was an undergraduate in the late 1940s. There he learned contempt for the Deweyan pragmatism that had guided the politics of his parents and their anti-Stalinist friends such as Sidney Hook. He was taught that pragmatism offered no moral resources for resistance to fascism, resources that only “something eternal, absolute, and good” could provide (PSH, 8). “Since Dewey was a hero to all the people among whom I had grown up,” he said, “scorning Dewey

wild orchids 311 was a convenient form of adolescent revolt” (PSH, 8–9). He became a Platonist, since it “seemed clear that Platonism had the advantages of religion, without requiring the humility that Christianity demanded, and of which I was apparently incapable” (PSH, 9). Plato offered the prospect of becoming “one with the One,” of ascent to a place “where the full sunshine of Truth irradiates the purified soul of the wise and good: an Elysian field dotted with immaterial orchids” (PSH, 9). To Rorty it then seemed obvious that “getting to such a place was what everybody with any brains really wanted” (PSH, 9). Embarking on a professional career in philosophy in the 1950s, Rorty eventually recognized that professional advancement required a turn – a linguistic turn – from Plato and Aristotle to the reigning methods of Carnap and Quine. But he nonetheless held onto the hope, common to all hard-nosed philosophers in the years following World War II, that the analysis of language pioneered by émigré logical positivists would secure the place Plato had promised philosophers as the arbiters of genuine knowledge. Landing a job at Princeton, rapidly becoming a citadel of this hegemonic “analytical” view, Rorty seemed destined in the sixties for a distinguished orthodox career. In the words of his ex-wife, “as a young man, my husband was a person of high and austere ideals, rather rigid, very reserved, a brilliant philosopher. He was dedicated to the greater glory of God through philosophy, and to developing his self-respect” (A. Rorty 1977, 40). But doubts that analytical philosophy could deliver the goods it promised grew over the course of Rorty’s early career, to the point where he decided that philosophy as a discipline with a legitimate claim to “be foundational with respect to the rest of culture” by virtue of “knowing something about knowing which nobody else knows so well” was dead. As Jonathan Rée has said, “Rorty found his distinctive voice in the shock of a kind of bereavement,” the death of the Platonic primal father (Rée 1998, 9). With the publication of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), the proverbial ninety-five theses that he nailed to the door of the analytic establishment announcing the end of philosophy’s pretensions to underwrite knowledge, Rorty launched a

312 robert westbrook new career as a deflationary anti-philosopher, hitching his views to those of therapeutic, “edifying” thinkers such as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey who had also broken with the discipline’s foundational ambitions (PMN, 5). Beginning in the late 1970s, Rorty attached a “pragmatist” label to his “reaction formation” against a philosophical quest for underlying first principles, thereby returning to the anti-authoritarian fold in which he was raised with a newfound appreciation for the days when Sidney Hook bounced him on his knee (Nystrom and Puckett 1998, 50). Rorty was drawn to the classical pragmatists, and to Dewey in particular, because he saw them as fellow anti-authoritarians. Dewey’s philosophical stories – those he told in the books that Rorty liked best, such as Reconstruction in Philosophy and The Quest for Certainty – were “always stories of the progress from the need of human communities to rely on non-human power to their realization that all they need is faith in themselves” (Rorty 1999, 14). As John McDowell has said, Rorty cast his own anti-authoritarianism as a “Deweyan narrative of Western culture’s coming to maturity” (McDowell 2000, 109). Rorty’s project was not only to reannounce the death of God, but to wipe out all God-surrogates. He urged the renunciation of every “secular analogue to a religion of abasement,” including realist epistemology, by making any and every appeal to the authority of “things in themselves” look bad. He devoted the last quarter-century of his career to the task of persuading his readers to “grow up” as he had, drawing on resources from both within the “analytic” tradition in which he was trained (especially the work of the later Wittgenstein, Quine, Sellars, and Davidson) and the “continental” tradition he was trained to despise (the sons of Nietzsche: Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault), to undermine the philosophical superego. There can be, he claimed, no “way the world is in itself,” no “ahistorical human nature” to which we can or should appeal in our quest for knowledge or virtue. We have only the descriptions of particular, human, historically contingent language games to work with; we cannot find any place outside

wild orchids 313 of such descriptions from which to know a reality standing apart from all such descriptions and with which to compare them. If in Rorty’s eyes we are to grow up, we must abandon the epistemological and moral pretense to objectivity. As McDowell has said, “as Rorty sees things, participating in the discourse of objectivity merely prolongs a cultural and intellectual infantilism, and persuading people to renounce the vocabulary of objectivity should facilitate the achievement of full human maturity” (McDowell 2000, 110). Putting paid to any objective reality or moral law is the last stage of the anti-authoritarian revolt. As Rorty himself put it, he was urging us to “try to get to the point where we no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi-divinity, where we treat everything – our language, our conscience, our community – as a product of time and chance” (CIS, 22). By these lights, Rorty’s rejection of “experience” was critical to his radical, anti-authoritarian project. For him, to lend much significance philosophically to immediate, noncognitive, nondiscursive experience was to yield too much authority to “things in themselves,” and to depart on a slippery slope to epistemic foundationalism by offering up such experience as evidence for particular knowledge claims. Dewey was Rorty’s hero, but even he, Rorty thought, made this mistake, which was why he consigned Dewey’s metaphysics and Experience and Nature to the trash heap (CP, 72–89).8 Here again we see how Rorty by insisting that any and all efforts at metaphysics were bound to be epistemically foundational left himself with a truncated vision of human being-in-the-world, one that could not account for his encounters with the wild orchids. And not incidentally, Rorty also betrayed his oft-proclaimed commitment to Darwinism (TP, 290–306). To say that we have experience of the world that we must take account of apart from the experience of forging beliefs about it is not necessarily to “abase” ourselves before its authority or even to grant it authority at all, but rather to acknowledge that we are wholly one with it, even as we attempt (always imperfectly and fallibly) to know it.

314 robert westbrook James made an important distinction between having an acquaintance with reality and knowing about reality that might be helpful here. Or to put it in terms that sound more like Rorty, there is a difference between being in touch with the world and getting it right by our lights. And there is a difference between the latter and some notion of getting to the incorrigible truth about existence as it is in its own right, which we cannot do. The nonhuman world will often make our acquaintance and touch us of its own accord. A bolt of lightning can strike us. Whether or not it was a bolt of lightning that touched us is not something that the lightning will tell us. That is for us to know (presuming we survive), and to know but fallibly within the framework of wholly human practices of inquiry. It may have been a bad dream. Darwinians readily acknowledge that human beings are among the most peculiar creatures to emerge from natural evolution. They stand apart from the rest of the organisms that inhabit the natural world by virtue of their unique and wonderful capacity for discursive language and conceptual reasoning. Human beings, as Rorty was always saying, are especially “clever animals” thrown up by time and chance. But we remain animals, fully continuous with and entangled in the rest of the world. My hound dogs, Billie Budd and Bartleby, are different animals than I am, and I have obviously placed them within a language game that they cannot play (they have not read Melville). Yet my conceptual abilities and means of communication were in the course of evolutionary change born of theirs – we stand to one another in a relationship of “continuity with difference,” Dewey might say.9 Rorty’s anti-authoritarianism and conception of human autonomy was at times so extreme as to obscure this Darwinian commonplace and to vault the human species outside of the rest of nature, “causal pressures” to the contrary notwithstanding. Even if we concede Rorty’s language and agree that “bouncing off” the rest of the world in “causal interaction” is as “intimate a connection” (Rorty 2000c, 127) with it as we can get outside the confines of language, might we not incorporate this intimate,

wild orchids 315 noncognitive, nondiscursive experience into our understanding of human being-in-the-world more fully than he did?10 As Dewey put it, “experience is primarily a process of undergoing: a process of standing something; of suffering and passion, of affection, in the literal sense of these words.” The realm of “causal interaction” with the world is a much bigger deal than Rorty let on (Dewey 1917, 8, emphasis added).

natural piety What might Rorty have meant by describing his encounter with wild orchids as a “Wordsworthian moment”? I think he was referring to moments such as those invoked in Wordsworth’s perhaps most wellknown poem, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey” (1798).11 The voice of this poem, suitably enough, is that of a young man standing on the banks of the Wye River and thinking back to the impact on him as a child of the landscape spread before him, and the manner in which “these beauteous forms,” much like Rorty’s wild orchids, have since enriched his life. Among these gifts is a “serene and blessed mood” in which “the heavy and the weary weight / Of all this unintelligible world, / Is lightened”: In which the affections gently lead us on, Until, the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony, and the deep power of joy, We see into the life of things. The poet readily admits that he cannot again look upon nature as he did in “my boyish days.” Yet with age and an attunement to the “still, sad music of humanity” has come “abundant recompense,” for now he feels

316 robert westbrook A presence that disturbs me with the joy, Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man; A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things. He is now “well pleased to recognize” in nature The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul Of all my moral being. (Wordsworth 2001, 99–102) Wordsworth here described what James would have called one of the varieties of religious experience. Extraordinary poet that he was, Wordsworth was able to put his primary, noncognitive experience into language of exceptional power. Moreover, he suggested the beliefs of a pantheistic sort (in a spirit that “rolls through all things”) that this experience caused him to have. He may even be said to say in the foundationalist fashion that Rorty found objectionable that this experience authorized these pantheist beliefs and somehow made them true (“the anchor of my purest thoughts”). Was Rorty revealing a religious experience in describing his own Wordsworthian moment in the Jersey woods? Hard to say. His use of descriptors such as “numinous” and “of ineffable importance” is suggestive. But it is hard to imagine him saying so himself. Rorty, ever the resolute anti-authoritarian opponent of a divinized world, characterized religion in “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids” simply as “a nonargumentative faith in a surrogate parent who, unlike any real parent, embodied love, power, and justice in equal measure” (PSH,

wild orchids 317 12). Little wonder then that he did not there scrutinize his encounter with the wild orchids more closely than he did, let alone term it a religious “experience” (that word again). Indeed, given his view that a belief in an omnipotent God was the fons et origo of the punishing, authoritarian superego, the wonder is that he owned up at all to what many readers could regard as a religious experience – and that he did so far from dismissively and with more than a little of Wordsworth’s conviction that it had provided “life and food / For future years.” James and Dewey thought that noncognitive religious experience had some distinctive and general qualities, despite its variety. James, who remains the deepest American student of religious experience, argued at the end of The Varieties of Religious Experience, that the “essence” of religious experience was found in an individual’s union with a “MORE . . . which is operative in the universe outside of him, and which he can keep in working touch with.” This union with the “MORE” was marked by solemn joy and a surrender of will, something like Wordsworth’s “stilling of this corporeal frame” and a joyous “sense sublime.” This was a state of mind, James observed, in which “the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God” (James 1987, 454, 49–50). Dewey described religious experience in similar terms, as the highest form of “consummatory” experience. Experience had a religious quality, he said, when it takes shape as a profound “adjustment” of self and world, “changes in ourselves that are much more inclusive and deep-seated” than the ordinary adjustments we might make in our lives. Such changes “relate not to this or that want in relation to this and that condition of our surroundings, but pertain to our being in its entirety.” There was a note of “ready and glad” submission in such experience, as well as “a sense of security and peace.” Such an adjustment was not the product of will but the possession of will, “a change of will . . . rather than any special change in will”; it was, moreover, “an influx from sources beyond conscious deliberation and purpose.” It marked “a thoroughgoing and deep-seated harmonizing of the self with

318 robert westbrook the Universe (as a name for the totality of conditions with which the self is connected)” (Dewey 1934, 12–14). James and Dewey both understood religious experience as nondiscursive and noncognitive. But reflection on the meaning and implications of such experience in language, they were agreed, was as irresistible as Wordsworth found it. Even for mystics who insisted on its ineffability. Religious experience, James noted, “spontaneously and inevitably engenders myths, superstitions, dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical theologies, and criticisms of one set of these by adherents of another” (James 1987, 389). Neither philosopher, unlike Wordsworth, made a foundationalist move – James because, try as he might, he could not convincingly do so, and Dewey because he had no interest in trying. They were agnostics, as their pragmatic conception of truth as warranted belief required. Dewey admitted that he could not deny “the logical possibility of the existence of a personal will which is causative and directive of the universe and which is devoted to the promotion of moral ends,” but he doubted that pragmatists would ever confront evidence sufficient to warrant belief in such a God to them. Moreover, he said, “if the future of religion is bound up with really finding such justificatory evidence, I fear for the future of religion” (Dewey 1934, 227–8).12 Dewey was willing to provisionally venture one bare-bones naturalist hypothesis that he thought might win widespread assent. Human destiny, he averred, was so interwoven with forces beyond human control that humility before and dependence upon those forces should be essential aspects of religious belief. Religious belief, he suggested, should contain a full measure of “natural piety.” He merits extended quotation since it is wild orchids we are considering: The essentially unreligious attitude is that which attributes human achievement and purpose to man in isolation from the world of physical nature and our fellows. Our successes are dependent upon the cooperation of nature. The sense of the dignity of human nature is as religious as a sense of human nature as a cooperating part of a

wild orchids 319 larger whole. Natural piety is not of necessity either a fatalistic acquiescence in natural happenings or a romantic idealization of the world. It may rest upon a just sense of nature as the whole of which we are parts, while it also recognizes that we are parts that are marked by intelligence and purpose, having the capacity to strive by their aid to bring conditions into greater consonance with what is humanly desirable. Such piety is an inherent constituent of a just perspective in life. (Dewey 1934, 18)

Rorty wrote approvingly of Dewey’s conception of natural piety (TP, 196). He appreciated, of course, that Dewey had not made Wordsworth’s pantheistic move, and instead naturalized the Wordsworthian moment. But he also saluted Dewey for avoiding militant atheism. Rorty never publicly worked out anything similar to Dewey’s natural piety, but it might not be too much of a stretch to imagine that privately he shared something much like it, which may account for the warmth with which he told the story of his boyhood moment of spying the orchids in the Jersey woods. I have to wonder as well whether if Rorty had lived to confront the increasingly dire predictions of the consequences of human-induced climate change that we face these days on a near-daily basis, he might have more openly embraced the sort of natural piety that Dewey proposed.13 What better way to think about climate change than as the manifestation of colossal and suicidal impiety?

in search of lost time Rorty said that when he left New Jersey for Chicago as a teenager he replaced the wild orchids with Proust and À la recherche du temps perdu. It is not exactly clear what he meant by this, perhaps only that Proust replaced the orchids as his principal private, weird, snobbish interest. Or perhaps he was using this displacement of the orchids by the novel as a parable for the turn from experience to language, in which case we might want to warn, as Proust himself did, that we should not confuse the qualities of eating a madeleine with reading a story about eating a madeleine (Proust, in de Botton 1997, 90).

320 robert westbrook Maybe, however, Rorty meant that in reading Proust’s novel he was again “touched by something numinous, something of ineffable importance,” even though this is not what he said in what little he wrote about Proust (CIS, 96–121). But it is not inconceivable. It is not only the nonhuman world that has occasioned religious experience. Dewey saw consummatory experience generally as essentially aesthetic, and religious experience as a heightened, expansive mode of aesthetic experience. Reading a text (like the Bible or Koran) can certainly be an aesthetic experience and has been for some a consummatory religious experience. The same is true of looking at a painting, or hearing the call to prayer, or making love.14 On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that Rorty did not simply abandon the wild orchids for books, but rather continued to revel in encounters with the nonhuman world alongside satisfying a massive appetite for reading. In 1992, when he was seriously considering moving from the University of Virginia to Northwestern, Rorty wrote to Arthur Fine: “Every time I walk into my office and feel bored with the deadly sameness of it all, Northwestern looks great. Every time I go (as Mary [his wife] and I did last weekend) for three different hikes through different habitats, all within a quarterhour’s drive from our house, I feel that I’d be crazy to leave Virginia.” Later, singling out for Jürgen Habermas the highlight of a long visit to South Africa, Rorty wrote in 1998 that “We saw thirty-five kinds of mammals, ranging from the tree squirrel to the leopard and the right whale, as well as two hundred and twenty-three kinds of birds.”15 Here, Rorty – being Rorty – fell into a language game, taxonomy. But I would bet he had some Wordsworthian moments in South Africa before doing so. For much of his life, that is, Richard Rorty nodded warmly not only to the wild orchids but more generally to the flora and fauna of the Skylands of New Jersey, the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the Coast Range of California, and elsewhere. And they nodded back.16 Would that his philosophy had more fully given these nods their due.

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notes 1 I am here repeating some of the analysis I offered in Westbrook 2015, 8–9. 2 See Frankenberry 2006. 3 See especially Brandom 1994. Rorty deployed some of Brandom’s apparatus in addressing the existence of God in PCP, 3–26. 4 See, for example, Levine 2019. Bernstein 2019 is a superb account of the current debate among naturalists and of Dewey’s legacy for it. 5 Bernstein put the point nicely: “Over the years, I have been asked many times, what is the difference that makes a difference between you and Rorty? And the answer that I always give is that I began my philosophic career convinced by Dewey’s critique of the quest for certainty and his call for a reconstruction of philosophy. I never experienced the type of disillusionment [with the quest for certainty] that Rorty experienced. I never thought that one had to critique representationalist, traditional epistemology and foundationalism over and over again. The task, as Dewey had indicated, was to reconstruct philosophy . . . Rorty suffered from the ‘God that failed’ syndrome” (Bernstein 2010, 214). The last reference is to anticommunist disillusionment. Like the anticommunist, Rorty defined himself pretty much entirely by his opponent. Or to switch to an analogy he might use himself, Rorty was a therapist who defined himself in terms of the neurosis of the patient he was trying to cure. 6 Shusterman persuasively finds one important instance, an article entitled “Qualitative Thought” (1930) in which Dewey did make foundational epistemological claims for noncognitive experience. But here Dewey was at odds with himself and, Shusterman suggests, not at his best. 7 I am improving here on the analysis in Westbrook 2005, 142–7. 8 Asked by an interviewer what he thought of Dewey’s theory of experience, Rorty responded, “I regard that as the worst part of Dewey. I’d be glad if he had never written Experience and Nature” (Mendieta 2006, 20). 9 See Godfrey-Smith 2017. 10 I prefer Shusterman’s “on-the-pulse experienced quality and affect” (Shusterman 1997, 166). 11 See TP, 196. 12 For a fuller account of the thinking of James and Dewey on religious experience, religious belief, and institutional religion, see Westbrook 2003.

322 robert westbrook 13 See at least, if you can bear to read it, Wallace-Wells 2019. 14 I would note that the last portion of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” speaks of the added joy that his encounter with landscape brought him as a consequence of sharing it with his sister. His return to that landscape was consequently one of “warmer love – oh! With far deeper zeal/Of holier love.” The “steep woods and lofty cliffs” were rendered “more dear” by virtue of sharing the consummatory experience of them with her. I am grateful to Jonathan Strassfeld for pointing this out to me. 15 Rorty to Arthur Fine, February 3, 1992; Rorty to Jürgen Habermas, September 28, 1998, Richard Rorty Papers (Born Digital Collection), University of California-Irvine. See also Rorty’s interview with James Ryerson in the arboretum of the University of California-Santa Cruz, which he conducted alongside bouts of bird-watching (Ryerson 2000/ 2001). 16 When my family took possession in 1994 of our seven acres in rural western New York, one of the first things we noticed was a wild orchid growing on the edge of the woods along the western perimeter of the property. I thought of Rorty.

Bibliography

i primary literature Books Rorty, Richard, ed. 1967. The Linguistic Turn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rorty, Richard, 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1982. Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1989. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1991. Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1991. Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998. Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998. Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1999. Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin Books. 2007. Philosophy as Cultural Politics: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 4. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2011. An Ethics for Today: Finding Common Ground between Philosophy and Religion. New York: Columbia University Press. 2014. Mind, Language, and Metaphilosophy: Early Philosophical Papers, edited by Stephen Leach and James Tartaglia. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Other Writings Rorty, Richard. 1952. “Whitehead’s Use of the Concept of Potentiality.” MA thesis, University of Chicago. 1956. “The Concept of Potentiality.” PhD dissertation, Yale University.

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iii suggested further reading Abbey,

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Rortyan

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Animal

Rights.” Contemporary Political Theory 16.1: 1–18. Allen, Barry. 2008. “A More Laudable Truthfulness.” Common Knowledge 14: 193–200. 2013. “Postmodern Pragmatism and Skeptical Hermeneutics: Richard Rorty and Odo Marquard.” Contemporary Pragmatism 10.1: 91–111. Arriaga, Manuel. 2005. “Richard Rorty’s Anti-Foundationalism and Traditional Philosophy’s Claim of Social Relevance.” International Philosophical Quarterly 45.4: 467–82. Arcilla, Rene. 1995. For the Love of Perfection: Richard Rorty and Liberal Education. New York: Routledge. Auxier, Randall, Eli Kramer, and Krzysztof Piotr Skowronski, eds. 2020. Rorty and Beyond. London: Lexington Books. Bacon, Michael. 2005. “A Defence of Liberal Ironism.” Res Publica 11.4: 403–23. 2017. “Rorty, Irony and the Consequences of Contingency for Liberal Society.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 43.9: 953–65. Bartczak, Kacper. 2015. “Richard Rorty and the Ironic Plenitude of Literature.” Contemporary Pragmatism 12.1: 59–78. Bernstein, Richard. 2003. “Rorty’s Inspirational Liberalism.” In Richard Rorty: Contemporary Philosophy in Focus, edited by Charles Guignon and David Hiley, 124–38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2019. “The Dark Years.” Pragmatism Today 10.1: 9–15. Boffetti, Jason. 2004. “How Richard Rorty Found Religion.” First Things 143: 24–30. Calder, Gideon. 2007. Rorty’s Politics of Redescription. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. Campbell, James.1984. “Rorty’s Use of Dewey.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 22: 175–87. Case, Jennifer. 1995. “Rorty and Putnam: Separate and Unequal.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 33.2: 169–84. Conway, Daniel. 1992. “Disembodied Perspectives: Nietzsche Contra Rorty.” Nietzsche Studien 21:281–9. Cooke, Elizabeth F. 2004. “Rorty on Conversation as an Achievement of Hope.” Contemporary Pragmatism 1.1: 83–102. de Castro, Susana. 2011. “Richard Rorty: A Pragmatist with a Romantic Soul.” Contemporary Pragmatism 8.1: 21–33.

bibliography 341 Dieleman, Susan. 2010. “Revisiting Rorty: Contributions to a Pragmatist Feminism.” Hypatia 25.4: 891–908. Donelson, Raff. 2017a. “Rorty’s Promise in Metaethics.” Contemporary Pragmatism 14.3: 292–306. 2017b. “Ethical Pragmatism.” Metaphilosophy 48.4: 383–403. Duncan, Christopher. 2004. “A Question for Richard Rorty.” Review of Politics 66: 385–413. Edel, Abraham. 1985. “A Missing Dimension in Rorty’s Use of Pragmatism.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 21: 21–37. Fabbri, Lorenzo. 2008. The Domestication of Derrida: Rorty, Pragmatism and Deconstruction. Translated by Vuslat Demirkoparan and Ari Lee Laskin. Continuum Studies in Continental Philosophy. New York: Continuum. Festenstein, Matthew. 1997. Pragmatism and Political Theory: From Dewey to Rorty. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Gander, Eric. 1999. The Last Conceptual Revolution: A Critique of Richard Rorty’s Political Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press. Geras, Norman. 1995. Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind: The Ungroundable Liberalism of Richard Rorty. London: Verso. Geuss, Raymond. 2010. “Richard Rorty at Princeton: Personal Recollections.” In Politics and the Imagination. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Goodson, Jacob L., and Brad Elliott Stone, eds. 2012. Rorty and the Religious: Christian Engagements with a Secular Philosopher. Eugene: Cascade Books. Green, Judith. 2008. Pragmatism and Social Hope: Deepening Democracy in Global Contexts. New York: Columbia University Press. Gutting, Gary. 1999. Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Haack, Susan. 1995. “Vulgar Pragmatism: An Unedifying Prospect.” In Saatkamp 1995, 126–47. Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. “. . . ‘And to Define America, Her Athletic Democracy’: The Philosophy and Language Shaper; In Memory of Richard Rorty.” New Literary History 39.1: 3–12. Hall, David L. 1994. Richard Rorty: Poet and Prophet of the New Pragmatism. Albany: State University of New York Press. Huang, Yong, ed. 2009. Rorty, Pragmatism, and Confucianism: With Responses by Richard Rorty. Albany: State University of New York Press. Janack, Marianne, ed. 2010. Feminist Interpretations of Richard Rorty. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2019. “Why We Need to Think about ‘Home’: Thinking about Rorty’s Cosmopolitanism.” Pragmatism Today 10.1: 62–6.

342 bibliography Kegley, Jacquelyn. 2010. “False Dichotomies and Missed Metaphors: Genuine Individuals Need Genuine Communities.” In Auxier and Hahn 2010, 107–35. Kolenda, Konstantin. 1990. Rorty’s Humanistic Pragmatism: Philosophy Democratized. Tampa: University of South Florida Press. Kong, Youjin. 2017. “Feminism and Historicist Universalism: A Critical Analysis of Richard Rorty’s Anti-Universalism.” The Pluralist 12.1: 50–9. Koopman, Colin. 2007. “Rorty’s Moral Philosophy for Liberal Democratic Culture.” Contemporary Pragmatism 4.2: 45–64. Kuipers, Ronald. 2013. Richard Rorty. New York: Bloomsbury. Lara, María Pía. 2014. “Richard Rorty: Becoming a Contemporary Political Philosopher.” Contemporary Pragmatism 11.1: 69–82. Levine, Steven. 2008. “Rorty, Davidson, and the New Pragmatists.” Philosophical Topics 36: 167–92. 2010. “Rehabilitating Objectivity: Rorty, Brandom, and the New Pragmatism.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 40.4: 567–89. Llanera,

Tracy.

2016.

“Redeeming

Rorty’s

Private–Public

Distinction.”

Contemporary Pragmatism 13.3: 319–40. 2019. “Disavowing Hate.” Journal of Philosophical Research 44: 13–31. Mahon, Áine. 2014. The Ironist and the Romantic: Reading Richard Rorty and Stanley Cavell. Bloomsbury Studies in American Philosophy. New York: Bloomsbury. Malachowski, Alan R. 2002. Richard Rorty. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ed. 2020. The Blackwell Companion to Richard Rorty. Hoboken. Wiley. Małecki, Wojciech. 2011. “‘If Happiness Is Not the Aim of Politics, Then What Is?’ Rorty Versus Foucault.” Foucault Studies 11: 106–25. Małecki, Wojciech, and John Giordano, eds. 2019. “Rorty and American Politics Today.” Pragmatism Today 10.1. Margolis, Joseph. 2002. Reinventing Pragmatism: American Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Melkonian, Markar. 1999. Richard Rorty’s Politics: Liberalism at the End of the American Century. Amherst: Humanity Books. McDermid, Douglas. 2006. The Varieties of Pragmatism: Truth, Realism, and Knowledge from James to Rorty. New York: Continuum. Michaels, Walter Benn. 2019. “Rorty’s Politics: From Achieving Our Country to Making America Great Again.” Pragmatism Today 10.1: 16–21. Milnes, Timothy. 2011. “Rorty, Romanticism and the Literary Absolute.” Pragmatism Today 2.2: 24–33.

bibliography 343 Misak, Cheryl. 2010. “Richard Rorty’s Place in the Pragmatist Pantheon.” In Auxier and Hahn 2010, 27–43. Mueller, Martin. 2017. “From Irony to Robust Serenity: Pragmatic Politics of Religion after Rorty.” Contemporary Pragmatism 14.3: 334–49. Nielsen, Kai. 1991. After the Demise of the Tradition: Rorty, Critical Theory, and the Fate of Philosophy. Boulder: Westview Press. 1999. “Taking Rorty Seriously.” Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review 38.3: 503–18. 2006. “Richard Rorty.” In A Companion to Pragmatism, edited by John R. Shook and Joseph Margolis, 127–38. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Penelas, Federico. 2014. “Contributions and Limits of Rortian Pragmatism for Political Agonism.” Contemporary Pragmatism 11.1: 103–13. Peters, Michael, and Ghiraldelli, Paulo, eds. 2002. Richard Rorty: Education, Philosophy, Politics. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield. Piercey, Robert. 2009. The Uses of the Past from Heidegger to Rorty: Doing Philosophy Historically. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Price, Huw. 2003. “Truth as Convenient Friction.” Journal of Philosophy 100: 167–90. Ramberg, Bjørn T. 2014. “Irony’s Commitment: Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.” The European Legacy 19.2: 144–62. Rogers, Melvin. 2004. “Rorty’s Straussianism; Or, Irony Against Democracy.” Contemporary Pragmatism 1.2: 95–121. Rondel. 2015. “Appraising Justice as Larger Loyalty.” Contemporary Pragmatism 12: 302–16. 2018. “Richard Rorty on the American Left in the Era of Trump.” Contemporary Pragmatism 15: 194–210. Sachs, Carl, B. 2013. “Rorty’s Debt to Sellarsian Metaphysics: Naturalism, Secularization,

and

the

Enlightenment.”

Metaphilosophy

44.5:

682–707. Santos, Ramón, J. 2003. “Richard Rorty’s Philosophy of Social Hope.” Philosophy Today 47.4: 431–40. Stabler, Edward. 1982.”Naturalized Epistemology and Metaphysical Realism: A Response to Rorty and Putnam.” Philosophical Topics 13.1:155–70. Stout, Jeffrey. 2000. Ethics After Babel: The Languages of Morals and Their Discontents. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Talisse, Robert. 2001. “A Pragmatist Critique of Richard Rorty’s Hopeless Politics.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 39.4: 611–26. Tambornino, John. 1997. “Philosophy as the Mirror of Liberalism: The Politics of Richard Rorty.” Polity 30: 57–78.

344 bibliography Topper, Keith. 1995. “Richard Rorty, Liberalism and the Politics of Redescription.” American Political Science Review 89: 954–65. West, Cornel. 1985. “The Politics of American Neo-Pragmatism.” In Post-Analytic Philosophy, edited by John Rajchman and Cornel West, 259–72. New York: Columbia University Press. Williams, Michael. 2003. “Rorty on Knowledge and Truth.” In Richard Rorty, edited by Charles B. Guignon and David R. Hiley, 61–80. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Index

Achieving Our Country, xi, 171, 175, 198, 200, 215–18, 258, 323, 342 Adorno, Theodor, 157, 159 Allen, Barry, 88, 109, 283, 326, 330, 332, 340 Amis, Kingsley, 238–9 analytic philosophy, 2, 17, 31, 35, 70, 78, 86, 203, 205, 290 anti-authoritarianism, 5, 8, 11, 31, 79, 83, 130, 182–3, 189–92, 194, 199, 309, 312, 314 anticlericalism, 254, 256 anti-essentialism, 81, 102–3, 243 Arendt, Hannah, 231, 298 Aristotle, 15, 42, 88, 90–2, 99, 109, 202–3, 205, 263, 274, 307, 311, 332–3, 339 Austen, Jane, 140–1, 151, 153, 238, 327, 330, 338 autonomy, 15, 89, 131, 140, 162, 273, 279, 286, 290, 314 Bacon, Michael, 65, 85, 87, 99, 155, 327, 331, 340 Baldwin, James, 222, 227–8, 231, 234, 241, 327 Bergmann, Gustav, 75 Bergson, Henri, 91, 93, 101, 109, 326 Berlin, Isaiah, 83, 158, 163, 217, 339 Bernstein, Richard, 30, 71, 85–6, 177, 180, 211, 213, 220, 285, 299, 306, 308, 321, 324–7, 330, 339–40 Bickford, Susan, 179, 327 Blackburn, Simon, 110, 128, 327 Blake, William, 11, 15, 22, 220, 310, 327 Blight, David, 229–30, 237, 327 Bloom, Harold, 1, 177, 290 Boyne, John, 286, 291–4, 296, 298–301, 327 Bradley, Francis Herbert, 91 Brandom, Robert, 18, 22, 44–6, 86, 88, 177, 259, 263, 306, 321, 325, 327–8, 333, 339, 342 Brown v. Board of Education, 174

Carnap, Rudolf, 75, 86, 92, 94, 99, 107, 128, 203, 205, 311, 328 Carter, Stephen L., 248, 328 Cavell, Stanley, viii, 61, 289, 342 Chin, Clayton, 22, 38, 85, 328 Civil Rights, 172, 209, 216, 236 Civil War, 228–30, 235–6, 327, 332 climate change, 219, 319 Colapietro, Vincent, 76, 87, 328 communitarianism, 159 consciousness, 9, 99, 111, 222, 262 Consequences of Pragmatism, xi, 63, 78, 210, 262, 283, 286, 290, 323, 332 continental philosophy, 31, 307 Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, xi, 6, 9, 11, 24, 84, 132, 148–9, 161, 163, 168–71, 180, 193, 210, 213, 269, 280, 282–3, 323, 343 conversation, philosophy as, 33, 36, 38, 44, 68, 161, 168, 170, 172, 181, 208–9, 243, 249–50, 252–4, 286–7 correspondence theory of truth, 2, 6, 24, 111, 113, 183, 243 Croly, Herbert, 175, 207, 223, 226 cruelty, 11–12, 149, 165–7, 169, 172–3, 175, 215, 280 cultural Left, 222–3, 225–6, 231–3, 237, 241–2 cultural politics, 2, 13, 15–16, 64, 78, 81, 104, 200, 213, 254 Curtis, William, 85, 87, 183, 190, 197, 199, 328 Darwin, Charles, 1, 3–4, 19, 210, 250 Darwinism. See Darwin, Charles Davidson, Donald, 1, 18–19, 22, 34, 88, 93, 95–6, 98, 107–8, 110, 113, 116, 119, 128, 145, 162, 269, 283, 305, 312, 328, 342 de Beauvoir, Simone, 231 deflationism, 119 Deleuze, Gilles, ix, 93, 109, 281, 283, 326, 335

345

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346 index democratic politics, 77, 197, 214, 256, 303, 310 Dennett, Daniel, 17 Derrida, Jacques, 1, 19, 22, 110, 155, 206, 261, 267–78, 282–3, 308, 312, 324–5, 327, 329, 331, 334, 341 Descartes, Rene, 90, 99, 110–11, 113, 203 Dewey, John, viii–ix, 1–3, 5–6, 19, 28–9, 31–4, 36, 62, 67–71, 77–9, 81, 84, 86, 88, 93, 101, 104, 110, 117–19, 130, 132, 138–40, 142–3, 145, 153, 157–8, 163, 165, 175, 177, 184, 194, 196, 200, 202, 204, 206–8, 210–14, 220, 223, 226, 244, 258, 261–2, 266, 268, 277–9, 282, 304–5, 307–8, 310, 312–15, 317–21, 324, 326–7, 329, 331–2, 336, 338–41 Diamond, Cora, 290, 329 Dickens, Charles, 19, 166, 267 Dieleman, Susan, 38, 179, 199–200, 329, 341 Dilthey, Wilhelm, 206, 208, 210 Dostoevsky, Fyodor, 152 Douglass, Frederick, 230–1, 240 Du Bois, W. E. B, 231 Durkheim, Émile, 144, 330 Dworkin, Ronald, 159 eliminative materialism, 44, 46, 69, 86 Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 85, 303 empiricism, 32, 78, 86, 88, 90–3, 96, 98–9, 101, 104–5, 107–8, 203, 205, 276, 324–5, 337, 339 Enlightenment, 77, 155–9, 180, 192, 280–1, 330, 343 epistemological behaviorism, 68, 129–30, 132, 134, 136, 138 epistemology, 13, 17, 20, 43, 72, 75, 77, 87, 97, 99, 110, 132–4, 136, 155–6, 163, 208, 210, 277, 307, 312, 321 ethnocentrism, Rorty on, 179, 191 experience, vii, 53, 68, 79, 85–6, 90–2, 94–6, 98–101, 104, 106–8, 111, 140, 148, 150, 163, 179, 190, 201, 205, 208, 210–13, 215, 221, 229, 236, 243, 257, 284, 295–6, 304, 306–8, 313, 315–17, 319, 321 feminism, 3, 172, 179, 193, 195–6, 200, 252 final vocabulary, 10–11, 37, 164, 167, 183, 265–6 Foucault, Michel, viii, 98, 110, 155, 206, 225, 231, 261, 276–81, 283, 312, 330, 332, 342

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foundationalism, 32, 86, 201, 304, 313, 321 Frankfurt School, 231 Fraser, Nancy, 144–5, 167, 169–70, 172–4, 180, 193, 199, 217, 221, 251–2, 259–60, 326, 330 Freud, Sigmund, 1, 15, 84, 138, 144–6, 148–9, 153–4, 162–3, 331, 333, 336, 338 Frye, Marilyn, 171, 185, 199 Gadamer, Hans Georg, ix, 206, 261, 307 Gascoigne, Neil, 42, 66, 87, 331 gay liberation, 182, 193, 195 globalization, 224–5 Green, Thomas Hill, 98, 207, 331, 341 Gross, Neil, 40, 69, 86, 202, 220, 331 Habermas, Jürgen, 18, 206–7, 209–10, 214, 234, 236, 240, 261, 269, 277–8, 281, 320, 322, 331, 341 Hacking, Ian, 20, 278, 332 Hartshorne, Charles, 69, 203, 335 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 103, 136, 140–2, 151, 177, 210, 271, 327 Heidegger, Martin, xi, 1–2, 10–11, 18–19, 28, 34, 39, 62, 65, 86, 110, 206, 261–71, 274, 276–9, 282, 312, 323, 328, 331, 335, 343 hermeneutics, ix, 206 historicism, 24, 27–8, 31, 79, 103, 162, 209, 264–5 Hobbes, Thomas, 92–3, 109, 184, 335 Hollinger, David, 210, 213 Honneth, Axel, 217, 221, 331–2 Hook, Sidney, 310, 312 Horkheimer, Max, 157, 159 Hoy, David, 277, 332 human rights, 134, 247, 254, 256 Hume, David, 89–91, 98, 102, 108, 331 idealism, 32, 177, 304 individual freedom, 163 irony, 16, 144, 153, 164, 201, 215, 217, 299 Jackson, Frank, 128, 332 James, William, vii–viii, xi, 6, 22, 31–2, 38–9, 67–8, 70–3, 81–4, 87–8, 91, 93–4, 96, 101, 104, 108–10, 207–8, 210–13, 221–2, 244, 283, 305, 309, 314, 316–17, 321, 323, 326, 328, 331–2, 335–6, 338, 340, 342 Jefferson, Thomas, 15, 158, 237–8, 249

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index 347 Kant, Immanuel, 17, 61, 63, 90, 94, 99, 110–11, 113, 131, 133, 136, 138–9, 143, 145, 155–7, 163, 176, 208, 271, 332 Kim, Jaegwon, 20, 332 King, Martin Luther, 121, 172, 175, 216, 251 Kloppenberg, James, 201, 220–1, 332 knowledge, 5, 13, 17, 40, 68, 70, 72–3, 80, 82, 84, 89, 92, 94, 96, 98, 100, 102, 107, 124–5, 129–30, 132–3, 135–6, 145, 162, 166, 170, 200, 208, 218, 226, 228–9, 235, 243–5, 262–3, 265, 277, 285, 291–2, 295, 304, 306–9, 311–13 Koopman, Colin, 19, 39, 41, 78, 85, 328, 331–2, 338, 342 Kuhn, Thomas, 38, 108, 271, 333 Kundera, Milan, 267

metaphysics, 3, 17, 31, 43, 62–3, 72, 75, 77, 79, 87, 127, 155, 157, 194, 211, 262, 264, 268, 270, 272–3, 287, 307, 309, 313 Mill, John Stuart, 22, 162, 166, 168, 194, 196, 198, 208, 250, 253, 256 Mills, Charles, 231–3, 334 Misak, Cheryl, 68, 163, 334–5, 337, 343 moral philosophy, 82, 137, 143, 208 Murdoch, Iris, 288 myth of the given, 94, 111 Nabokov, Vladimir, 1, 22, 162, 166 national pride, 195, 222, 226, 232, 234, 237, 241 Nehamas, Alexander, 42–5, 62, 64–5, 325, 334 neopragmatism, 3, 31 New Deal, 202, 214, 216 New Left, 172–5, 223 Newton, Isaac, 15, 91, 99 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 1–3, 5, 11, 18, 22, 110, 117, 138, 141, 150, 162–4, 210, 261, 263, 267, 271, 274, 277, 280–1, 312, 334, 340 nominalism, 73–4, 88–91, 93–6, 98–9, 101–5, 107–8, 119, 276 Nussbaum, Martha, 260, 289, 302, 334

Lacan, Jacques, 225, 231 Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm, 47–8, 90–1, 93, 203 Lévy, Bernard-Henri, 283, 333 liberalism, 3, 12, 18, 83, 131, 141–2, 150, 155–6, 158–60, 177, 179, 181–2, 190–2, 194–7, 220, 282 linguistic pragmatism, 68, 74, 304, 306–7 Lippmann, Walter, 207 literature, viii, 1, 3, 7, 15, 44, 80, 92, 138, 140, 149, 153, 202, 213, 223, 232, 238, 255, 257–8, 271–2, 284, 286–9, 291, 297, 301–2 Llanera, Tracy, 38, 293, 301, 333, 342 Locke, John, 90–1, 93, 98, 155–7, 176, 184, 331 logical empiricism, 108

Oakeshott, Michael, 92, 158, 335 Ockham, William, 88–96, 98–103, 108, 326–7, 335 Okrent, Mark, 263, 335 ontology, 13, 56, 59, 64, 88, 98, 101, 105, 265 ordinary language, 267 Orwell, George, 1, 22, 162

MacIntyre, Alasdair, 159, 164, 238–9, 333 MacKinnon, Catharine, 170–1, 181, 185–90, 193, 196, 198–9, 329, 333 Mansfield Park. See Austen, Jane Marcuse, Herbert, 137, 333 Margolis, Joseph, 67, 333, 342–3 Marx, Karl, 22, 175–6, 178, 184, 226, 269, 276, 280 Marxism. See Marx, Karl materialism, 1, 49, 56–7, 62, 65, 324, 328, 336 McDowell, John, 5, 18, 306, 312–13, 325, 333 McKeon, Richard, 33–6, 40, 69, 331, 334, 337 Mendieta, Eduardo, 6, 40, 307, 321, 334 metaphilosophy, 20–1, 27–8, 31–5, 37–8, 40, 66, 71, 83

Peirce, Charles Sanders, 54, 66–8, 70–1, 73–6, 83, 87–8, 90, 93, 108, 203, 213, 244, 274, 306, 324, 328, 334–5, 338–9, 341 Perry, Ralph Barton, 70 philosophical justification, 159, 162 Philosophy and Social Hope, xi, 78, 215, 250, 286, 323 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, xi, 7, 20, 27, 42, 57, 68, 70, 72, 77, 129–30, 133, 135, 143, 162, 204, 206–7, 286, 311, 323 Plato, 17, 91–2, 110–11, 113–14, 202–3, 205, 262–3, 273–4, 307, 311 pluralism, vii, 19, 21–3, 27–32, 35–7, 40, 56, 69, 72, 82–3, 85, 101, 196, 203, 239

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348 index poetry, 2, 81, 149, 162, 246, 248, 257, 267, 290 Posner, Richard, 174, 325 postmodernism, 67, 155, 159, 299 pragmatism, vii, 3, 21, 29–34, 39–40, 43, 45, 55, 61, 65–73, 76, 80, 83, 85–6, 88, 93–4, 97–8, 100–1, 104, 107, 119, 125, 144, 158, 170, 179, 189, 191–2, 199–201, 203–4, 206, 213, 215, 220, 244, 250–1, 261, 263–5, 277, 287, 292, 304, 308–10 Price, Huw, 39, 119, 128, 335, 339, 343 Princeton University, xi, 1, 87, 311, 323, 335, 337, 339, 341–3 priority of democracy to philosophy, 77, 80 progressivism, 201, 208, 216 Proust, Marcel, 162, 215, 319 psychological nominalism, 101 public and private, Rorty on the distinction between, 145, 179 Putnam, Hilary, 18, 211, 213, 269, 340, 343 Quine, Willard Van Orman, 24, 34, 49–50, 55, 69–70, 92, 96, 107, 110, 119, 122–3, 132, 136, 204, 311–12, 335, 339 Ramberg, Bjørn, 87, 169–70, 325, 335, 343 rationalism, 91–3, 96, 109, 158 rationality, 5, 17, 80–2, 92, 99, 129, 132–3, 136, 157, 159, 181, 190, 193, 200, 223, 254, 278 Rauschenbusch, Walter, 201, 207, 209, 214, 310, 327 Rawls, John, 155, 158–60, 166, 168, 171, 177, 184, 209, 231, 259, 336 realism, 68–9, 71–4, 76, 87, 89, 117–18, 132, 150, 153, 161, 172, 269 redemptive truth, 284–6, 291, 296, 301 redescription, 16, 59, 64, 89, 100, 164, 182–4, 189–90, 195, 210–11, 264, 268 redistribution, 173, 217–19, 241 relativism, 18, 130–1, 135, 137, 153, 180 religion, 3, 5, 12, 15, 84, 87, 140, 155, 209, 212, 216, 219, 243, 245–6, 248–59, 284, 301, 311–12, 316, 318, 321 representationalism, 2, 8, 16, 119, 126 Rieff, Phillip, 150, 153–4 Romanticism, 144, 330–1, 336, 339, 342 Rondel, David, 1, 9, 16–18, 38, 65, 326, 336, 343 Rosenberg, Jay, 111, 128, 336

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Rosenthal, David, 48, 328, 336–7 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 274 Royce, Josiah, 70, 86 Russell, Bertrand, vii, 75, 91, 331–2 Sandel, Michael, 158, 209 Sartre, Jean-Paul, 206 Schneewind, Jerome, 130, 208, 326, 336 self-creation, 10–12, 18, 148–50, 162–3, 168, 226, 256, 281, 292–3, 295, 297 Sellars, Wilfrid, 2, 18, 24, 34, 43, 53, 70, 88, 91, 93–4, 97–9, 101, 108, 110, 116, 123, 127, 132–3, 136, 304, 307, 312, 325, 337 sex discrimination, 186–90, 199 Shapiro, Ian, 177, 337 Shklar, Judith, 11–12, 165, 337 Shusterman, Richard, 212, 220–1, 307–8, 321, 337 Siegfried, Charlene Haddock, 179 skepticism, 41, 71, 100, 156, 173, 175, 269, 276 social movements, 169, 174, 201, 215, 217 Socrates, 4, 10, 273 solidarity, 9, 17, 112, 144, 161, 180, 191, 215, 240, 278, 285, 287, 291–2, 298 Spinoza, Baruch, 203, 325 Stout, Jeffrey, 65, 211, 220, 251–2, 254, 256, 259, 337, 343 Strawson, Peter, 123, 337 Tarski, Alfred, 95, 122 Taylor, Charles, 209, 281 The Heart’s Invisible Furies. See Boyne, John The Linguistic Turn, 39, 204, 206, 323–4 Trilling, Lionel, 140–2, 148–51, 153, 238–9, 333, 338 Trotsky, Leon, 22, 61, 202, 211, 257, 300, 303, 310, 316 Trump, Donald, 57, 219, 224, 343 Unger, Roberto, 159, 209 University of Chicago, 30, 33, 35, 69, 202, 310, 323–4, 326–7, 329, 331–4, 336–7, 341 Vietnam War, 223, 226, 240 vocabularies, 10–11, 15, 21–6, 28, 32–4, 37–8, 71–2, 76, 84, 113, 128, 146, 148, 152, 165, 167, 264, 273, 281, 290, 306 Voparil, Christopher, 38, 40, 66–7, 80, 85–7, 181, 198, 285, 338–9

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index 349 Walzer, Michael, 159, 209, 281 Weber, Max, 207, 210 Westbrook, Robert, 163, 213, 220, 303, 321, 339 Whitehead, Alfred North, 203, 205, 323 Whitman, Walt, 223, 226, 230, 235, 258 wild orchids, 3, 201, 211, 215, 257, 303, 309, 313, 315, 317–20 Williams, Michael, 41, 124, 221, 325, 339, 344

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Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 21, 23, 28, 34, 38, 42, 60, 62–3, 66, 70, 86, 102, 110, 118–19, 125–8, 132, 138, 147, 204, 206, 261, 269, 283, 312, 327, 335, 339 Wolterstorff, Nicholas, 250, 252, 254, 256, 259, 339 Wordsworth, William, 150, 316–19, 322, 339 Yale University, 69, 323, 332 Young, Iris Marion, 181–2, 195–6, 198, 339

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