Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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RIP Richard Rorty

The man who tried to put an end to the human experience of death by not talking about it has died. He aimed to convince us that death is "death," but now he’s dead, and we can’t help but be moved by that fact. Rorty, I think, was our most interesting and penetrating pragmatist ever, and so in his own way quite an important American thinker.

Discussions - 16 Comments

Some of what The Nation says about him in their brief obit:

"Rorty had an uncanny ability to stare into the post-modern abyss, in which nothing is grounded in the divine or universal, and yet somehow, some way, find a kind of practical empathy that could serve as a beacon in the face of nihilism, authoritarianism and cruelty."

The ultimate pragmatism. RIP

Peter, I recently read your piece on Rorty and Bloom--I think that hits the nail on the head. Rorty's pragmatism was driven by a kind of Wittgenstein-inspired nominalism that pulled all the angst and internal struggle out of existentialism, re-packaged Heidegger in a way that was more accomodating of Lockean comfortable preservation, and attempted to create the salutary illusion that the Enlightenment project was historically sucessful (prosperity, democracy, individual rights) if philosophically misguided (no theoretical foundations for any of these things). We should consider ourselves indebted to his considerable body of work for helping make clear the problematic legacy of the enlightenment in a post-modern world.

that's what comes of reading too much Norman Vincent Peale.

A man of his times with a thin legacy.

Rorty, that is.

I agree, David. Robert's quote above from the obit just ain't saying much. Can you imagine saying that Churchill faced a world of totalitarianism and thought we should be nice to each other or George Washington faced incredible odds and circumstances but taught his soldiers to be nice to ordinary farmers?

The guy who attempted to reconcile Habermas and Derrida leaves a "thin legacy"? Who are you kidding?

Rorty was one hell of an intellectual. Not that many academicians (even philosophers) are up to the task of trying to mend the differences between the continental and analytic philosophical traditions.

You might hate everything he ever wrote, but I think you need to admit to yourselves, much like Ivan K, that he's a guy who will be sorely missed in many circles (although, I'm sure not in most of your circles) and paved the way for some serious intellectual progress (even if that means just dealing with him).

Rob and Ivan call attention to not insignificant contributions. Rorty's antifoundationalism cuts right back to the Founders of the Enlightenment. For reasons I might explain later, saying natural right is the foundation is not really much of an answer to him.
Rorty was great in cutting to the nerve/effectual truth of various philosophical doctrines. He was not very astute politically, but neither did he ever promote tyranny in the name of philosophy. He was utterly tonedeaf to religion, which he freely admitted. God was dead for him as He was for his socialist parents etc., but his irony barely masked his melancholy, his sadness. He was all about social hope, because he knew there wasn't any individual hope And his real advice was lose yourself in a fantasy.

Well, Matt, I guess my own point was that, sure the guy might be a profound intellectual and probably influenced a number of people and that his thought should be reckoned with. I'll grant all that. But, at least from the postings, his answers seem about as bleak and unsatisfying as the philosophies he was trying to "rescue" the West from in his day.

I don't like Rorty, but Bloom was as big of a "intellectual terrorist" as was Strauss. Bloom and Strauss all but declared war upon the real West, with its real ancestral traditions, seeking to replace them with left-wing Jacobin universals. Bloom and Strauss were bigger left-wing fools than Rorty (and Rorty was a fool).


OK, Rorty was very smart, and even very learned in the history of philosophy; and he has a certain value as a candid symptom of the utter exhaustion of the Enlightenment. I had the opportunity to engage him in public discussion a couple of times, and his slippery shamelessness in refusing to stand for anything was unparalleled. I can pity him, but I find nothing, finally, to admire: the ultimate late-modern sophist: "easy-going nihilist" (the notorious Jacobin Bloom's term) fits him to a tee. "Utterly spiritually and intellectually bankrupt" might fit too.

Any thoughts on whether he was the true heir to Dewey and James? Those who know American philosophy and have a love for Peirce, often hate the interpretation and representation Rorty made of Pierce's ideas. Of course, James and Dewey began that. James probably isn't that important at the end of the day (warning-speaking out of my hat), what matters for American thought is Peirce, Dewey, and Rorty, even if the last two were essentially sophists. Or does Dewey rise above the sophistic level?

10: "Real Conservative," your description of Strauss and Bloom as "left-wing fools" is an utter disgrace. You're the fool.

To quote Turgenev, "Go and try to disprove death! Death will disprove you."

Well, David, some seem to believe those radical left-wing nuts, the Founding Fathers, embraced all those nonsensical, foolish ideas about natural rights, based their Revolution on it, and created a Jacobin regime. Since the American new order for the ages was based upon John Locke not Edmund Burke, the "real conservatives" have an interesting philosophical belief but it sure ain't their own country's system.

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