Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

In this book, major American philosopher Richard Rorty argues that thinkers such as Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein have enabled societies to see themselves as historical contingencies, rather than as expressions of underlying, ahistorical human nature, or as realizations of suprahistorical goals. This ironic perspective on the human condition is valuable but it cannot...

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Title:Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
Author:Richard M. Rorty
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Edition Language:English

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity Reviews

  • Darran Mclaughlin

    Outstanding. This is the closest that a work of philosophy has ever come to reflecting my own personal beliefs. Rorty was an analytical philosopher in the Anglo-American tradition that had a 'road to Damascus' conversion to Continental philosophy. His writing is in the tradition of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida combined with the Pragmatists, but he writes very clearly. He writes in such a way as to express exactly what he means to say, without ducking behind vague and complex language like

    Outstanding. This is the closest that a work of philosophy has ever come to reflecting my own personal beliefs. Rorty was an analytical philosopher in the Anglo-American tradition that had a 'road to Damascus' conversion to Continental philosophy. His writing is in the tradition of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida combined with the Pragmatists, but he writes very clearly. He writes in such a way as to express exactly what he means to say, without ducking behind vague and complex language like many of the Post-Modern or Post-Structuralist philosophers.

    Rorty believes that the best way for human beings to understand life, the world and other people is through literature, and so do I.

    He provides a coherant defence of Liberalism.

    He reconciles his (and my) liking of various antithetical thinkers, writers and ideas. For example, I love Nietzsche, but I wouldn't want to live in the kind of world he seems to want to create, and this book shows how that is possible.

    I shall need to re-read this book to fully understand and appreciate it, but Rorty has already entered my pantheon of guru's.

  • Shane Eide

    The late Richard Rorty scandalized people with his ‘relaxed attitude’ when it came to truth. He was often charged with terms like ‘flippant’ and ‘relativistic.’ To rest at such a description of Rorty as a thinker would be to ignore his contribution to the dialogue of liberal thought, and also, to entertain the most refined prejudice of one contingent vocabulary. Contingent vocabularies are what this book is all about. In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty sets out to

    The late Richard Rorty scandalized people with his ‘relaxed attitude’ when it came to truth. He was often charged with terms like ‘flippant’ and ‘relativistic.’ To rest at such a description of Rorty as a thinker would be to ignore his contribution to the dialogue of liberal thought, and also, to entertain the most refined prejudice of one contingent vocabulary. Contingent vocabularies are what this book is all about. In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty sets out to create a dialogue in which people who think that being cruel is the worst thing that one could do will gather together and find a way to eliminate the highest amount of suffering possible.

    For Rorty, foundationalism and metaphysics are out of the question. As Wittgenstein revealed, there are no mechanics that put an idea in closer proximity to ‘truth.’ Philosophical problems are not cosmic problems but problems of grammar. But the problem with getting the grammar right is that all vocabularies are contingent, so all of our ‘knowledge’ belongs to a specific language game within a set of inherited rules.

    There are two strains of thought that occur often in western philosophy. They are ‘private irony’ and ‘liberal hope.’ Through most of the book, Rorty relies as much on novelists as cultural models as he does on philosophers. It has been the ‘liberal hope’ of thinkers to come up with a way to make things better for everyone around them. It has been the ‘private irony’ of other thinkers to find a means of self-recreation. This latter kind of thinker is an ‘ironist’—one who recognizes the contingency of her own vocabulary, trusts no vocabulary that claims to be ‘final’ (though she doesn’t think it possible for any vocabulary to be final).

    The ironist sets out to create her own vocabulary in order to find a place amidst the other recognized vocabularies. Rorty posits that, this private irony, though capable of bringing people to personal transformation, is seldom capable of providing any reliable model for society as a whole. Rorty relies on little to back his statement up other than providing aggregate examples of ironists and their horrific views of society, rather than providing a direct incompatibility that private irony has with liberal hope. To exemplify (quite convincingly) some of the failures of ironists to provide this liberal hope, he presents us with Nietzsche’s disastrous culture modeled after the ‘will to power,’ paired with Foucault. Derrida and Proust don’t seem to have much to say about society at all, though they provide spectacular personal mythologies.

    As Rorty lays out, there is obviously a need for private irony, just as there is a need for liberal hope, but he feels it important to separate the two in practice. The vocabulary of ‘I’ cannot always agree with the vocabulary of ‘We,’ and it is the ‘We,’ vocabulary that affects each ‘I.’

    Rorty argues that, for the most part, what moves the masses is not some new language game or system of thought, but something that people can relate to: in this case, art. Rorty uses novelists as models for liberal hope, for they don’t waste inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out essences or approximations that certain ideas have to reality. They simply represent something that is affecting their world and so get close to their readers.

    The two models of liberal hope that he goes into at length are Nabokov and Orwell. Rorty is perhaps revolutionary in his use of Nabokov as a vehicle for liberal change, for most of Nabokov’s readers simply take him at his word when he says of his own work that he has absolutely no message to convey and no moral goal to achieve. Nabokov may have believed this of himself, but Rorty gives us some cogent reasons to suspect that Nabokov was terrified of suffering and thought that cruelty was the worst thing a human could do. He cites examples from Lolita, arguing that Humbert Humbert’s indifference to the suffering of those around him offers a far more complicated moral than the simple idea that ‘pedophiles are bad.’ Rorty cites examples from Nabokov’s other masterpiece, Pale Fire, and has a very easy time convincing us that the moral of both novels are very similar. In both of them, he challenges us to be aware of what’s around us, and often, you will find that someone is suffering.

    In Orwell, we see the faultiness of absolutes in the name of a cultural idea. Though Orwell didn’t write masterpieces of English prose, his work was a more conscious vehicle for liberal hope which saw danger and addressed it directly in a time when others didn’t see it.

    It is important to note that Rorty finds it equally important to have both private irony and liberal hope, but his whole book sets out a means of separating them in a way that will keep each where it can be utilized best. Rorty seeks to do away with ‘Kantian distinctions’ like ‘content versus style’ and bad questions like, ‘is art for art’s sake?’ For Rorty, all different kinds of art can do all different kinds of things.

    Though Rorty does come dangerously close to the same kinds of foundationalism that he rejects when he slips into using words like ‘mistake’ to refer to contingency—as if there was some foundation in which culture would be grounded if it weren’t for this ‘inherited’ set of circumstances we’re always thrown into—he offers ‘solidarity’ as a brilliant synonym for truth, at least in terms of liberal hope.

    He says:

    If we are ironic enough about our final vocabularies, and curious enough about everyone else’s, we do not have to worry about whether we are in direct contact with moral reality, or whether we are blinded by ideology, or whether we are being weakly “relativistic.”

    For Rorty, an idea’s proximity to some ‘out there’ truth is not even something worth determining or fixing. He is concerned with the truth that is best for all of us. He says that the better question is not ‘Do you believe and desire what we believe and desire?’ but, ‘Are you suffering?’

    In the end, he argues that if we want private irony and liberal hope, it is possible to have both.

    In my jargon, this is the ability to distinguish the question of whether you and I share the same final vocabulary from the question of whether you are in pain. Distinguishing these questions makes it possible to distinguish public from private questions, questions about pain from questions about the point of human life, the domain of the liberal from the domain of the ironist. It thus makes it possible for a single person to be both.

  • Robin Friedman

    A Visit With Richard Rorty

    I attended a philosophy conference last month on the theme of "Metaphysics and Political Thought" and heard many thoughtful papers including a paper about the American philosopher Richard Rorty (1931 -- 2007). I learned a great deal from Rorty's "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" many years ago. The presentation I heard at the conference focused on Rorty's 1989 book "Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity" which I purchased while attending the conference and tried to

    A Visit With Richard Rorty

    I attended a philosophy conference last month on the theme of "Metaphysics and Political Thought" and heard many thoughtful papers including a paper about the American philosopher Richard Rorty (1931 -- 2007). I learned a great deal from Rorty's "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" many years ago. The presentation I heard at the conference focused on Rorty's 1989 book "Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity" which I purchased while attending the conference and tried to read carefully after returning home. I was interested because I had presented my own paper at the conference which described an approach more sympathetic to the role of metaphysics in politics than I found in Rorty. An ultimate goal would be to integrate his insights into my own thinking.

    Rorty's book fuses together two sets of lectures he gave in 1986 and 1987 and it has a disjointed feel. Still, the book is lucidly written, challenging and difficult. Part of what Rorty tries to do, emphasized by the presentation I heard, is to draw a distinction between "public" and "private" thought. Public thought is akin to political thinking and to the shared values of people living together. Private thinking is creative, purposeful, and idiosyncratic in which each individual creates and explores what gives most meaning to his or her life. Rorty understands the goal of philosophers from Plato through Kant as integrating the public and the private. They did so by trying to discover the ultimate nature of reality underlying and giving meaning to experience, both public and private.

    Rorty maintains that this philosophical quest has proven futile because there is no such ultimate reality and the philosophical/metaphysical search has been for chimeras. His main reason for this is that human thought is always language-based and based on how we learn to use and change language. We have no access to a separate underlying reality but only to reality expressed in what following Wittgenstein has come to be called a "language game". Human thought is contingent based on time and society. When thought changes, as from, say, a religious outlook on life to an outlook based upon science and reason, as expressed in the Enlightenment, it isn't so much that one set of arguments rebutted another as that people learned to use a different language and to ask different questions so that a former way of seeing ultimates, or what Rorty sometimes calls a final vocabulary was changed and by-passed for another. He wants to look at questions of the meaning and individual gives to one's life and the nature of a good society as discussed temporally and historically within a particular language with no ultimate reality available as an appeal and no particular connection between the private and the public. There is a dialectic in Rorty's approach. Broadly, he sees society in the West as first attempting a religious understanding to questions of meaning. This was displaced by science and the Enlightenment. Over a long history, he argues that it has been shown untenable to look to either religion or science for ultimate explanations beyond human language. Thus Rorty argues for the contingency, finite character, and changeability of whatever people take to be their ultimates in private and political life. Rorty also sees contemporary philosophy, particularly political philosophy as taking the approach of an "ironist" because it holds certain values strongly, such as the need to avoid cruelty to others, with a recognition that even the most strongly felt values are contingent and cannot be defended by an appeal to metaphysics against alternatives. So to the sense of solidarity and shared human feeling is something people create in their lives rather than discover in a realm of absolute, unchanging reality. While studying the history of philosophy can help certain individuals with their understanding, Rorty argues that a more useful approach is through literature, novels, poetry, history, ethnography and the like. This helps us understand other people and cultures by broadening our perspective and expanding sympathy rather than through argument.

    The book is written in the large parts each with chapters. I found the first part the most interesting and important part of the book as Rorty explores the nature of contingency and rejects the metaphysics of appearance and reality as applied to human language, the nature of the human self, and the nature of a liberal community.

    The second part of the book develops the distinction between the private and the public and argues that confusion results when people try to apply the need for self-creativity and development in their own lives to shared community with others. Rorty also develops and explains his understanding of irony and of being an ironist.

    The third part of the book discusses both private and public life in the context of literature and tries to show how literature and broad reading into great works which create sympathy for the lives of others can help create a sense of human solidarity to a greater degree than can appeals to principles or abstractions.

    The book shows the great erudition and broad reading that Rorty recommends to his readers, both in philosophy and literature. The philosophical characters in the book include Donald Davidson, Heidegger, Hegel, Derrida, Nietzsche, John Rawls, Habermas, and more. Literary and cultural figures receiving attention include Freud, Proust, Nabokov, and Orwell. Oddly enough, I learned more from Rorty's discussion of philosophers than from his literary criticism. Perhaps this is because I am on the whole more familiar with the philosophers he discusses than with the novelists he finds of critical importance.

    There is a lot to be learned from this book. I had something of the same reaction to it that I had from reading "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" long ago. The book made me think about reading metaphysics and philosophy as in part akin to poetry rather than abandoning what Rorty sees as the philosophical enterprise. Also, I think Rorty practices metaphysics more than he lets on. He rather blithely assumes in this book the futility of both religion and science in doing the work that he sees metaphysics as trying to do. His understanding of "contingency" may in part be arbitrary and in part narrower than it needs to be. Particularly, there seems to me a lot of room in Rorty for smuggling religion in through the back door, so to speak, at least as it affects what he sees as the "private" side of the "public", "private" distinction. I say this with some sympathy for what I think Rorty is trying to do.

    Contrary to what might be the intent of his book, Rorty makes me think more and more seriously about philosophy rather than less. His work makes me think of a partial redirection rather than an abandonment and it made me feel the love of reading and thought. As I understand the book, it commendably. and possibly surprisingly, encourages a sense of moderation on the political spectrum. His book and the paper I heard at the conference helped me reframe my own thought and helped me think through as well the value, if any, of what I was trying to do.

    Robin Friedman

  • Ryan

    I read this book as a challenge to myself. An engineering education tends to engender a Manichean sensibility, as solutions are either correct or incorrect. When Richard Rorty died in 2007, I read a slate.com profile that classified him as that worst pariah of American middle-class sensibility - a relativist. But, there was a definite measure of respect for the positions he took. So I decided to give him a try, hoping to open my mind, but expecting to dance gleefully on his bleeding heart.

    Sadly,

    I read this book as a challenge to myself. An engineering education tends to engender a Manichean sensibility, as solutions are either correct or incorrect. When Richard Rorty died in 2007, I read a slate.com profile that classified him as that worst pariah of American middle-class sensibility - a relativist. But, there was a definite measure of respect for the positions he took. So I decided to give him a try, hoping to open my mind, but expecting to dance gleefully on his bleeding heart.

    Sadly, I wasn't able to dance as this book completely captivated me by throwing aside many notions I had about "truth". This book was a tough read for me - at best, I'm but a dilettante when it comes to philosophy, but with some Wikipedia assist, I could keep up. I just think it's a very well written, very well thought out book. And Rorty seems to actually care about what happens in the world, with people. This opposed to some abstract philosophical construct that we should aspire to. That gives the book a good deal of it's power, because it's talking about things we can do to make life a little better.

  • Trevor

    I was at work a week or so ago and my boss got me to track down a quote by this guy and then to read over the article the quote was from. The article is here:

    Anyway, I’ve tended to avoid American pragmatists since a bad experience in my undergrad degree. But I’ve been reading lots of Dewey – you sort of have to if you are going to be doing anything around the sociology of education – and then the article above was so interesting that I thought I might

    I was at work a week or so ago and my boss got me to track down a quote by this guy and then to read over the article the quote was from. The article is here:

    Anyway, I’ve tended to avoid American pragmatists since a bad experience in my undergrad degree. But I’ve been reading lots of Dewey – you sort of have to if you are going to be doing anything around the sociology of education – and then the article above was so interesting that I thought I might read a bit more of this Rorty guy.

    This was also interesting. I’m very fond of Hegel – look, I know he was a reactionary old fart and all that. All the same, I like that he saw change as the fundamental thing you need to know about the universe and that standard logic, that is, logic that is based on identity, simply cannot help us to gain a deep understanding of how the world works because identity is the wrong end of the telescope for understanding the world. We need a kind of dialectical logic to really understand the world – a dialectical logic that sees change as the thing to focus on, not identity. The thing that is most obvious about the world isn’t that it is always the same – it is rather that it is always changing. Having a philosophy that is based on the premise of the eternal unity of the universe (Plato, say) can only take you so far in understanding a universe that is fundamentally in constant flux. That Plato had to invent a world of forms where these unchanging things could go on unchanging and to thereby assert that this world we live in is ‘unreal’ probably ought to have been a bit of a give away.

    Now, I’ve gotten into trouble saying this sort of thing before here on goodreads and I have even had to block someone who would fly into irrational rants at the mere mention of Hegel’s name – someone who proudly said that the night he had torn one of Hegel’s books to pieces was one of his favourite memories. Such is the nature of philosophy, I guess – nothing like a good book burning to warm the soul. Still, my credo is that everything is related to everything else and change is the only absolute – and as both of these ideas come from my mate Hegel, what can I say? And Rorty, as with most of the American pragmatists, is rather fond of Hegel too.

    Hegel haunts this book. Right from the introduction we are told that the author is much more interested in the idea of a contingent human nature – that is, something born of Hegel’s historicism – than of a Platonic or Kantian human essence.

    But if there is no true and deep human essence doesn’t that make all of our opinions and hopes relative and meaningless? How does one avoid the abyss of nihilism if there is not a grounding truth to human nature? How, to make the case more relevant to Rorty who here wants to assert the value of liberalism, can we assert such a view if there is no human nature to ground it with?

    In some ways these are the same arguments that religious type people make against atheists. ‘Why don’t you just rape and kill and steal and cheat if you don’t believe in God?’ – to which the only answer is, “You mean, the only reason you don’t do those things is because you’re afraid of what God might think?” Gosh.

    Rorty has a very particular notion of what being liberal means. He says, “I borrow my definition of "liberal" from Judith Shklar, who says that liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do.” Now, again when I was an undergraduate I wrote a short story for my professional writing degree which played with very similar ideas. Clearly, people aren’t all equal – in many ways the least interesting things to say about people are to point out those things that make us all the same. But at the time I thought that one of the things that proves our common humanity is the revulsion we feel when we see someone being tortured. I was young and didn’t realise at the time that people get around this problem by defining whole groups of others as less than human – and then anything can happen to 'them' as 'they' don't count at all.

    So, I quite like this definition of liberal, but I also have reservations. That is, there is a naivety about it that reminds me of my own naivety (and nothing repulses us more…)

    Not only does Rorty see our definition of human as being contingent, but he also says that all contingency boils down to how we go about using language. Ironically enough, Rorty therefore sees language as being the main way we might go about fixing these problems. Language allows us to redefine problems and so to make one of those Kuhnian paradigm shifts. And the people who are best able to do that with language are certainly not philosophers – but rather poets (in the broadest sense of the term).

    I guess my quick and dirty summary of this book is – we need to be taught how to feel compassion for people who aren’t ‘like us’ and the best way we have to learn how to feel compassion is to read fiction. For God sake, we even learn how to feel compassion for a guy who has been turned into a cockroach if we read particularly good fiction – so, how could that not make the world a better place?

    The things I liked about this book were that it was fairly easy to read, it said interesting things about Foucault, Nietzsche, Hegel, Habermas and Nabokov and things that were sympathetic to their core ideas (and not just pointing and laughing or shrugging shoulders in disregard). It was clear Rorty had engaged with their ideas in ways that were much more than can be obtained from a quick glance over.

    So, this leads me to what I’m going to make of all of this. I guess I have the same problem with Rorty as I do with Foucault. After reading them it is as if I have been shown all of the things that are wrong with the world, but am not shown a way out of the labyrinth. Foucault’s point, I guess, is that there only is labyrinth, not a way out. But the attraction of Marxism, say, is that it offers a clear way out – even if that way out to date has lead either to nightmare or nowhere.

    The book ends, more or less, with a discussion of Orwell – particularly his 1984. My fear is that we read 1984 as if it was a vision of a communist future which we have avoided and so which is no longer relevant except as history – it is important to remember that 1984 was set in a future England. Society has become much better at controlling populations than the Soviets or the Nazis were ever capable of. As Postman points out, we do this by something closer to Brave New World than 1984. Sartre says that it is impossible to write a truly great novel premised on anti-Semitism. But we can and do make endless numbers of crap films based on anti-Islam. As much as we might hope that art might bring us to a more compassionate world – it seems just as capable of bring us to a more divided one too. Perhaps philosophy isn’t the answer – we have seen far too many philosophers line up and essentialize the whole of the Muslim world as if everyone living under a crescent moon was immediately identical. Art has been too often tragically silent in all this too - that is, it has been either silent or complicit. Far too rarely has it lived up to Rorty's high estimation.

    This was a much better book than I thought it might have been. But I thought the essay I've linked to at the top of this was possibly as good as this entire book. If you are unfamiliar with Rorty I would highly recommend you have a look at that.

  • Michael

    070813: fascinating meta-philosophy critique, about entire tendencies in thought towards metaphysician- here a bad thing- and the ironist- generally a good thing- but I can see how he could annoy those who are searching for some kind of holistic certainty, some way of thought that is atemporal, usually given capitals whether thick or thin, according to your particular final vocabulary...

    so he does not refer to my favourite philosopher, so he gets things out of Heidegger, Nietzsche, even Kant,

    070813: fascinating meta-philosophy critique, about entire tendencies in thought towards metaphysician- here a bad thing- and the ironist- generally a good thing- but I can see how he could annoy those who are searching for some kind of holistic certainty, some way of thought that is atemporal, usually given capitals whether thick or thin, according to your particular final vocabulary...

    so he does not refer to my favourite philosopher, so he gets things out of Heidegger, Nietzsche, even Kant, which I do not know, so he refers to Nabokov, so he gets theory-thick on Orwell, so he valourizes the ironist and never allows enquiry, doubt, freedom to talk, any rest...

    Hegel suggests fiction and poetic work will soon be surpassed by Philosophy, here Rorty argues the other way round, heartening for artists, denigration of idea thinkers and all those who believe in the value of love of wisdom. for me, suspended somewhere between these ways of being, there is always already value in both styles of life- rather than deflationary dissolving, resolving, the equation of life, I like to believe life is ambiguity to be lived and not problem to be solved...

    but then I am reading Heidegger at the moment, and the only commonality in all these attitudes towards Art, is that it is Important. I hope so... I am enjoying Heidegger's ideas about art as calling forth works of art, rather than the work all building up into a catalog of art...

  • Gary  Beauregard Bottomley

    I felt the author was mocking his reader and had contempt for their intelligence.

    Rorty makes the true, the good and the deserving contingent on the vocabulary and the metaphors subscribed by the current crop of intellectuals which become subject to being subsumed and replaced until a cleverer set of word games come in to vogue. Contrary to Rorty, I would state that reality is complex, and that our beliefs are not just the result of clever word games as Rorty tries to convince his reader.

    By

    I felt the author was mocking his reader and had contempt for their intelligence.

    Rorty makes the true, the good and the deserving contingent on the vocabulary and the metaphors subscribed by the current crop of intellectuals which become subject to being subsumed and replaced until a cleverer set of word games come in to vogue. Contrary to Rorty, I would state that reality is complex, and that our beliefs are not just the result of clever word games as Rorty tries to convince his reader.

    By making our beliefs relative to the vocabulary of the moment, Rorty allows for no defense against a demagogue coming along and creating an alternative universe and claiming that all news that doesn’t support him is ‘fake news’ and claiming only he, the demagogue, has access to the truth because the truth is what he says it is and changes daily according to his whims of the moment or that mornings batch of tweets. I have no problem saying such a person is wrong and I am right, because when it comes to fascist, tolerance, understanding, respect and consideration are not required. Ultimately, Rorty’s version of pragmatism would not be able to refute a simpleton when he says ‘both sides are to blame when a Nazi rides his car into peaceful protestors’, or ‘Climate change is a Chinese hoax’.

    I can’t really recommend this book and would recommend that a reader just read any of the 200 or so authors, philosophers, scientist or thinkers he quotes from instead including Galileo and especially his ‘Dialogues Concerning Two Chief World Systems’. Rorty took a different lesson from Galileo than what I did. For the most part, I found his summaries inadequate and at times intentionally misleading as if he had contempt for my intelligence or as if he had assumed I had not read most of the philosophers, scientist or thinkers he was citing.

    Rorty likes Nietzsche and Heidegger’s philosophy except for their illiberalism. In his language they are ironist and he would say ‘irony is the opposite of common sense’, where common sense is metaphysics. Once again, I would recommend Nietzsche (who’s fun to read) or Heidegger (who’s painful to read) over reading Rorty’s misleading synopses. As I was reading this book, I was concurrently reading Derrida’s ‘Heidegger: The Question of Being and History’. Rorty talked a lot about Derrida and Heidegger within this book and at times I would cringe at how different (wrong?) Rorty’s take was on Derrida or Heidegger or even Derrida’s take on Heidegger.

    In a footnote in the Nabokov section, Rorty did something that really irritated me. He mentioned that ‘Kinbote’s homosexuality was made so plausible and charming’ within Nabokov’s novel and that ‘sexual obsessions are just handy examples of a more general phenomenon’ (as if homosexuality is a ‘sexual obsession’! would anyone ever say that being straight was a ‘sexual obsession’?) and later in the chapter outside of the footnote he tells me Kinbote is a pedophile. That logic reminds me of when people called the Catholic Priest ‘homosexuals’ when in reality they were pedophiles as if ‘homosexuality’ had anything to do with those monstrous actions committed by those Catholic Priest. Rorty also made a snide remark on Proust (who was gay) for not being able to ‘self create’ himself correctly. I’ve read Proust and I would not insinuate that he lacked self creation of any kind.

    Sartre had long sections on Proust and why he was important to existentialism in his book ‘Being and Nothingness’. I wonder why Rorty thought it was necessary to repeat much of the same material in his chapter on ‘Proust, Derrida and Heidegger’.

    Rorty does mention Kierkegaard though he definitely does not seem to be a fan of his. Kierkegaard said ‘irony is jealous of authenticity’. That’s a better way of thinking about irony than the way Rorty does. Obviously, Heidegger comes later than Kierkegaard, but ‘authenticity’ is a key to understanding Heidegger. Rorty gets at ‘authenticity’ by his ‘contingency’ and ‘time and chance’ and with feelings and imagination as rediscovered by the Romantics but one would be better served just by reading Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’ instead.

    Rorty does not like the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment rejects myths and preferred reason as the gateway to justified true beliefs instead of relying on our feelings and imagination. Rorty wants to embrace the myths of the ironist until the next set of myths comes along, and he prefers the feelings and imagination as espoused by the Romantics. He refers to our changing conceptions of the world as ‘irony’ and would categorize all metaphysics as a common sense myth of intentional last words on a subject (Heidegger will say metaphysics ended with Hegel, and Rorty will basically agree with that).

    In this book, Rorty liked ‘Dialectics of Enlightenment’ for the most part. I despise that book and it is the foundation for the Frankfurt School and for one of my least favorite books, ‘Closing of The American Mind’ by Alan Bloom, a book published 2 years before Rorty’s book, and it had been a mega best seller. There is a straight line connection from the Frankfurt School to Jordan Peterson, and I think Peterson epitomizes shallowness. Rorty is opening up a ‘pragmatic’ version for myths, feelings and imaginations leading our political discourse into a dangerous and a wrongheaded territory.

    I don’t think there was anything of substance in this book that I had not read elsewhere. Rorty seemed to be incredibly sympathetic towards Freud and used him as an exemplar for what he was getting at. Freud is fun to read but in the end his brand of functionalism led to blaming ‘refrigerator moms’ for autism. Rorty doesn’t seem to accept that we are all idiosyncratic individuals born differently be it with autism, schizophrenia, manic-depressive, gay or straight and so on. Freud’s reworking and redefinitions led to almost nothing worthwhile and Rorty does not get that.

    Individuals idiosyncratically exist making reality complex and we are not easily enlightened by clever word games as Rorty wants his reader to believe. The greatest thing of all about being human is that it is up to the individual to discover what is true, what is ethical and what is most deserving of our own consideration and devotion. Even if we do live in a clever word game, one is best served by acting as if we don’t.

    I’m always amazed that the right wing mostly ignore Nietzsche, Heidegger and the argumentation style of Rorty, because it would give them an ontology for their beliefs that would be hard to refute, and ridiculously they latch on to the shallow Ayn Rand, Jordan Peterson or regurgitate Fox News or get their daily batch of truth from Donald Trump’s morning set of contradictory tweets in 144 letters or less. (Yes, I know Rorty is said to be a ‘leftist’ but his argumentation could easily be adapted by the ‘rightist’ of today. That makes me wonder if Rorty was just punking his readers with this book. As for me, I would not devote a chapter to Orwell as a paradigm of liberal thought even though he wrote so elegantly against fascism and communism, because I think it’s possible to think of Orwell in different terms from what was presented at length by Rorty).

  • Laura

    The arrogant musings of a left-wing social philosopher who essentially divides people into three categories: dumb bunnies, common-sensers, and people who have the deep insight to agree with him. The only take-home message worth taking home was that philosophy is not as effective a vehicle for ideas as literature, which I knew beforehand.

  • Andrew

    Oh my, this was an interesting one. So much of what Rorty said, I agreed with to a T. Things that seem so obvious, but in the ordinary sphere of discourse are always clouded by metaphysical bullshit. The one thing he said that I couldn't jibe with (and I don't know whether I disagree with it or not, it was certainly disconcerting) was his notion of a divide between private ironism and public non-ironism. Either way, his whole thesis is very interesting and thought-provoking, and, to phrase it in

    Oh my, this was an interesting one. So much of what Rorty said, I agreed with to a T. Things that seem so obvious, but in the ordinary sphere of discourse are always clouded by metaphysical bullshit. The one thing he said that I couldn't jibe with (and I don't know whether I disagree with it or not, it was certainly disconcerting) was his notion of a divide between private ironism and public non-ironism. Either way, his whole thesis is very interesting and thought-provoking, and, to phrase it in a Rortian way, necessitates a vocabulary shift for all of us.

  • Thomas Bundy

    Rorty posits a philosophy that in internally inconsistent, and ultimately, cowardly. To the degree that people can create their own ironic selves, they will necessarily tend to destroy solidarity. His notion of solidarity contradicts the contingent, ironic existences he argues that we have. He just doesn't LIKE that self-creators will come along that will increase suffering, so he creates a scheme that rejects their projects.

    The purpose of this ideal liberal society is to eradicate cruelty and

    Rorty posits a philosophy that in internally inconsistent, and ultimately, cowardly. To the degree that people can create their own ironic selves, they will necessarily tend to destroy solidarity. His notion of solidarity contradicts the contingent, ironic existences he argues that we have. He just doesn't LIKE that self-creators will come along that will increase suffering, so he creates a scheme that rejects their projects.

    The purpose of this ideal liberal society is to eradicate cruelty and suffering and to improve the day-to-day lives of the weakest and least fortunate human beings among us. He correctly notes that this scheme is completely incompatible with the self-creation involved in the private sphere. If anyone was permitted to bind his private self-creation program upon others, humiliation and destruction of freedom (the autonomy produced by recognition of contingency) would result. Rorty, being as liberal as he is ironic, can’t help but to tell us the good we ought to do; he cannot countenance true contingent irony. If he was honest he would have to admit that contingency removes any basis for community. The only thing human beings have in common is their vulnerability to suffering, but that is no basis for solidarity. The ability to feel pain is also what we share with animals, which is why Rorty’s solidarity, as Nietzsche correctly forewarns, would reduce us to a herd. While he says, “there will be no higher standpoint to which we are all responsible and against whose precepts we might offend,” (CIS 50), he nonetheless provides an ordering of society, based not on justice but on compassion, which Nietzsche and Aristotle both recognize as NOT being a virtue. Nietzsche says, “Error (faith in the ideal) is not blindness, error is cowardice” (Ecce Homo).

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