Monday, 18 June 2007

A philosopher has died, we think.

Another philosopher has died. Since this is yet another philosopher who considers that truth and knowledge are less important than agreement, we might with some meaning ask "Who cares?" Tibor Machan offers a brief and readable obituary giving some idea of the value (or lack thereof) of Rorty's contribution. Rorty was a follower of John Dewey, one of the fathers of American pragmatism and of modern education. When you wonder what happened to schools in twentieth-century, the answer in a word is "Dewey."
Whereas Locke and the American Founders thought that some things are indeed basic and true—for example, our individual human rights--[Dewey] held, to put it in a nutshell, that there are no basic truths, no foundations of knowledge. Rorty, especially, scoffed at this notion, thinking that these rights are made up and that truth itself is just what a given community takes to be true, while another community could take something quite the opposed to be the truth. [This was called a "conversationalist" notion of truth, one in which there are "no constraints on knowledge save conversational ones."]

Indeed, talk about truth, which had concerned most philosophers since time immemorial, was viewed with great suspicion by the pragmatists, especially by Richard Rorty. Even our everyday language reflects this—someone is a pragmatist if he or she refuses to abide by any principles, refuses to take anything as basically true, but is concerned with what works or is expedient. Some have noted that this pragmatist outlook has its roots in the practical, down to earth, not very intellectual style of much of American culture. And there may be something to this, although a philosophy in the old fashioned sense is supposed to figure out what it the case, at least basically, not what is convenient or practical, based on style alone...

[In his work] Rorty was very critical of the aims of traditional philosophy—or rather of what he understood to be its aims, namely, to arrive at the ultimate, final, and perfect—some would claim impossible—Truth of things.
In fact, Rorty suggested that the pursuit of knowledge itself was a pastime of less use than activism, or even just chit chat. (Active about what, you might ask, if knowledge is based on agreement rather than correspondence to reality.) And people wonder why the products of modern schools are the way they are. Machan shows the all-too relativist political end-point of such "thinking":
Rorty’s thinking came to a head for me in a review he wrote for the venerable magazine, The New Republic, in which he declared, not long before the final collapse of the Soviet bloc, that there is no objective difference between the politics of the Soviets and that of Western countries. As he put it, we “cannot say that democratic institutions reflect a moral reality and that tyrannical regimes do not reflect one, that tyrannies get something wrong that democratic societies get right.” That was too much for me, given my own direct experience with both tyrannies—in my home land, Hungary, during its early experiment with Soviet style “communism”—and democracies—in Germany, the United States and Switzerland, where I have lived for various periods of time. I had come to the reasonably firm conclusion that one can, indeed, say that the latter “reflect a moral reality” while the former a definite immoral one!
A world without such firm conclusions -- or indeed firm conclusions at all -- that was what Rorty stood for. Perhaps that's all you need to know.

Paul has some other more laudatory links.

UPDATE: Philosopher Stephen Hicks considers Roger Scruton's obituary of Rorty one of the best he's seen. Hicks, by the way, is one of the good guys.


  1. So if there is no truth as Rorty reckons, then is he indeed dead? Can he tell? Does he know?

    Let's see him chit chat away now. What a turd.


  2. Where did these Anti truth, Anti-rights idiots come from?
    Where has the socialist/democratic systems of education come from?
    What happened to Locke and our God given rights?
    They got thrown out with the Bible and the Human SOUL by the Damned socialist atheists!
    (Locke was a Christian Theologian)
    And for 150 years the western world has been taught by Academia... "There are no God given rights!"....and....."There is no truth only materialism!"...and..."There is no religion because science has killed God!"
    These are the fruit of the Atheist Delusion!
    The Theist truth stands sure nonetheless!
    God is alive and well and keeping track of every violation of the rights he has given us!


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