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Achieving Our Country : Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America

Philosophy and Social Hope Philosophy and Social Hope by Richard Rorty

A superb introduction to one of today's leading and most provocative thinkers.

Since Plato most philosophy has aimed at true knowledge, penetrating beneath appearances to an underlying reality. Against this tradition, Richard Rorty convincingly argues, pragmatism offers a new philosophy of hope. One of the most controversial figures in recent philosophical and wider literary and cultural debate, Rorty brings together an original collection of his most recent philosophical and cultural writings. He explains in a fascinating memoir how he began to move away from Plato towards William James and Dewey, culminating in his own version of pragmatism. What ultimately matters, Rorty suggests, is not whether our ideas correspond to some fundamental reality but whether they help us carry out practical tasks and create a fairer and more democratic society.

Aimed at a general audience, this volume offers a stimulating summary of Rorty's central philosophical beliefs, as well as some challenging insights into contemporary culture, justice, education, and love.

About the Author
Richard Rorty is a professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at Stanford University and the author of many books of philosophy, including Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature; The Linguistic Turn - Essays in Philosophical Method; and Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (Philosophical Papers), and more.

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Consequences of Pragmatism (Introduction)

By Richard Rorty


The essays in this book are attempts to draw consequences from a pragmatist theory about truth. This theory says that truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about. For pragmatists, "truth" is just the name of a property which all true statements share. It is what is common to "Bacon did not write Shakespeare," "It rained yesterday," "E equals mc2" "Love is better than hate," "The Allegory of Painting was Vermeer's best work," "2 plus 2 is 4," and "There are nondenumerable infinities." Pragmatists doubt that there is much to be said about this common feature. They doubt this for the same reason they doubt that there is much to be said about the common feature shared by such morally praiseworthy actions as Susan leaving her husband, America joining the war against the Nazis, America pulling out of Vietnam, Socrates not escaping from jail, Roger picking up litter from the trail, and the suicide of the Jews at Masada. They see certain acts as good ones to perform, under the circumstances, but doubt that there is anything general and useful to say about what makes them all good. The assertion of a given sentence -or the adoption of a disposition to assert the sentence, the conscious acquisition of a belief -is a justifiable, praiseworthy act in certain circumstances. But, a fortiori, it is not likely that there is something general and useful to be said about what makes All such actions good-about the common feature of all the sentences which one should acquire a disposition to assert... 


"Coping with Nietzsche's Legacy: Rorty, Derrida, Gadamer"

By Gary Brent Madison


...Rorty, it must be admitted, has not had any great trouble knowing what to do after the end of Philosophy. Of the three thinkers I shall be considering, Rorty has been the least discomforted by the heavy burden of Nietzsche's legacy. Indeed, in the light-hearted joyfulness of his new-found philosophical innocence, he has wholeheartedly embraced Nietzsche's pronouncements about the demise of Truth. If he is anything at all, Rorty is a carefree, happy-go-lucky nihilist who is not about to let himself be bothered any more by the old concerns of philosophy. Nietzsche's word about the "death of God" seems to have been the liberating news he had been awaiting throughout all of the years of his exile in the arid waste lands of analytic philosophy. He tells us now that reading philosophy books is mostly a waste of time (it doesn't contribute to human solidarity): Who, he asks, was ever convinced in ways that matter by a philosophical argument? We ought to read novels instead, people like Nabokov and Orwell, Dickens and Proust. Rorty fully endorses Lyotard's claim that philosophical metanarratives are out, mininarratives are in. What counts is not to say something "truthful" but something "interesting," something "edifying." We should also change the conversation as much as possible, lest it become boring (we do this, according to Rorty, by continually inventing new "vocabularies," "simply by playing the new off against the old"). Not Socrates' "Don't tell a lie," but Johnny Carson's "Don't be boring" seems to have become Rorty's watchword...


A conversation with Richard Rorty

by Scott Stossel


Stossel:  The title of your book is Achieving Our Country. Is that a title you chose? And what do you mean by it?

Rorty:  It's an allusion to James Baldwin's use of the phrase. I thought of Baldwin as throwing himself into the project of the classless, casteless America, and so I guess "achieving our country" means achieving a casteless and classless society...

Stossel:  The two most prominent figures in your book are Whitman and Dewey, and Dewey is for a number of reasons a distinctly American intellectual. There's a strain of intellectualism in American life that is more anti-intellectual than Europe's. Do you think that's true? How would you characterize the difference between a European intellectual and an American one?

Rorty:  I don't see Dewey or Whitman as anti-intellectual. I think of an intellectual as just being bookish, being interested in history books, utopian ideas, that kind of thing. Whitman and Dewey were bookish in the relevant sense. I think that if there's anything distinctive it's the thoroughgoing secularism of Dewey and Whitman, which is described in my book. There's no God, no reality, no nothing that takes precedence over the consensus of a free people. What I like about Dewey and pragmatism is the anti-metaphysical claim that there's no court of appeal higher than a democratic consensus. It's the same idea Jurgen Habermas has been putting forward for the last thirty years in Germany, but we did it first...


Richard Rorty and Internet

By Strona Marcina Miłkowskiego


Richard Rorty is not an unknown philosopher in Poland. His books were recently translated into Polish and published; the first was Philosophy as a Mirror of Nature, the second came Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, and then Consequences of Pragmatism. Where does the interest in him come from? Is also Polish philosophy subjected to americanization? After all, it is American, Harold Bloom, who insists that Rorty is the most interesting philospher in the world today. However, the reasons of his popularity can be found easily in his texts. First, they present a unique ability of linking unusual erudition with the art of writing. Second, they expose quite attractive philosophical views, which we could call the apology of democracy without going into excess, the apology from antimetaphisical positions. Such beliefs, rare in Europe, where antimetaphisicians are usually politically radical, and not reformist, are the reasons of reading and commenting on Rorty.


Richard Rorty on Feminism

By John Haber


Philosophers are always telling people how they think and how to live. Now one of the best philosophers in America is lecturing women, and he thinks they should like it, too. Does that make philosophy, not to mention the male ego, sound more out of touch than ever? Richard Rorty has a provocative answer.

Rorty is opening demanding territory, the relation of philosophy to moral and political transformation. He knows that it will not do to haul out the old logical machinery in answer. Instead, he offers philosophy's support for a specific social and political program, feminism. It is about time.

In fact, whenever philosophy starts talking, Rorty argues, it is time to act. Along with him and Nancy Fraser, a feminist who refuses to take Rorty's yes for an answer, I want to look for the point at which the talking stops. Only it never will, and that is why men have a place in feminism...


Notes on Richard Rorty and Habermas

By Robert Cavalier, Carnegie Mellon and Charles Ess, Drury College


While rejecting the metaphysical and ethical foundations of the Enlightenment, Rorty seeks to preserve its classically liberal intention of expanding the circle of personhood to include all persons, over against more traditional hierarchies which exclude specified "Others" (e.g., women, people of color, etc.). In his terms, he urges "that we try to extend our sense of 'we' to people whom we have previously thought of as 'they.'" 

On his account, the Enlightenment built this extension on the philosophical assumption of a core self, an essential humanity in all human beings. In particular, this extension of humanity for Kant (whom Rorty takes up as the exemplary liberal Enlightenment philosopher) rests upon the assumption of a shared reason as such a central core.

On Rorty's account, however, such reason and its moral obligations are divorced from feelings, e.g., of pity and benevolence. Over against this view, Rorty argues for a sense of human solidarity based precisely on feeling...


Notes on Richard Rorty, "Habermas and Lyotard on Postmodernity"

Charles Ess, Drury College

From: Habermas and Modernity, edited and with an introduction by Richard J. Bernstein. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985. 161-175

Rorty gets it right, I think, when he notes that, over against Lyotard's notion of "postmodern" as an incredulity towards metanarratives (which provide the legitimating frameworks of modernity including the Enlightenment metanarrative of liberation endorsed by Kant through Habermas, and including Marx and Freud, but explicitly rejected by Lyotard),


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