Philosopher Richard Rorty is dead at age 75 of pancreatic cancer. The New York Times obit. The summation, from it, of his pragmatic brand of philosophy:
When his 1979 book "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" came out, it upended conventional views about the very purpose and goals of philosophy. The widespread notion that the philosopher's primary duty was to figure out what we can and cannot know was poppycock, Mr. Rorty argued. Human beings should focus on what they do to cope with daily life and not on what they discover by theorizing. To accomplish this, he relied primarily on the only authentic American philosophy, pragmatism, which was developed by John Dewey, Charles Peirce, William James and others more than 100 years ago. "There is no basis for deciding what counts as knowledge and truth other than what one's peers will let one get away with in the open exchange of claims, counterclaims and reasons," Mr. Rorty wrote. In other words, "truth is not out there," separate from our own beliefs and language.
He emphasized that there is no unique way to translate the results of a model into an interpretation of the real world. This is trivial for those who know it, but not everyone does.
That means when DSquared writes: "[The case for free trade] can't be derived in an economy with a positive rate of profit; Ian Steedman proved this one in a series of papers discussed on Rob Vienneau's blog" the correct response is one never thought it could be derived in the first place…..
…Rorty stressed the importance of knowing fiction and the humanities for the social sciences or policy assessment.
A highly critical reason review of Rorty's book Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America by Alan Charles Kors, from our Dec. 1998 issue. A sample that sums up Rorty's political thinking:
For Rorty, who has moved from analytic philosophy to skeptical pragmatism to terminal silliness, the real problem is that contempt for country and the illusion of scientific truth have led leftists away from their rightful role as "agents" into a self-defeating role as "spectators." Agents do things like organize effective coalitions to take the fruits of one person's labor or estate and give it to another person. Spectators do things like teach university courses about phallogocentric hegemonies…..
Rorty believes there was a time when the left was Whitmanesque, celebrating America, despite her faults, as a set of possibilities, and when it was imbued with the spirit of John Dewey, eschewing scientific certainties and seeking a civic consensus on what the nation could become and achieve. Marx got in the way. He had an unfortunate commitment to notions of science and historical certainty. There went Whitman's festive spirit and Dewey's democratic pragmatism.
The New Left got in the way. It could have thought of certain phenomena (slavery, Jim Crow, exploitation, Vietnam, and the like) as our "tragedies," but instead it thought of them as our "sins," which made America unforgiveable rather than something that could be transcended and achieved. This alienated people who belonged to unions and rather liked their country……
Postmodernism got in the way. It was attracted to science, in Rorty's singular estimation. With no trace of irony, he writes that "the Foucauldian Left represents an unfortunate regression to the Marxist obsession with scientific rigor." It spoke a jargon that put off the average working guy. It engaged in speculation instead of reformist coalition building.
Rorty's fondest hope for the species is that the "Cultural Left," which has done so much to reduce cultural "sadism" through what the defenders of the corporations call "political correctness," be united with the "Reformist Left," creating an effective coalition, just in the nick of time, to defeat the forces of "selfishness."
Lefty critic of the Democratic Party and conventional liberals Eric Lott uses Rorty as an example of weak-kneed Democratic thinking that is keeping the progressive man down–see my review of Lott's recent book The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual.