Sunday, June 10, 2007

NYT Obituary of Rorty

The NYT obituary of Rorty appeared earlier today. My favorite quote:

[H]e 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. And those beliefs and words evolved, just as opposable thumbs evolved, to help human beings “cope with the environment” and “enable them to enjoy more pleasure and less pain.”
First, I smiled at the description of pragmatism as "the only authentic American philosophy." I agree, but I'm not sure I'd ever say it. So it is nice to see it said.

Second, the rest of the paragraph is just a mish-mash. The idea that "what counts as knowledge and truth" = "what one's peers will let one get away with" is not something that Peirce, James or Dewey would have agreed with, nor is it a recognizably pragmatic idea. And, in addition, the idea that truth is "what one's peers will let one get away with" doesn't equal the idea that the "truth is not out there." You can agree with the latter without agreeing with the former. (Truth may be non-transcendent yet still not socially relative.) And, finally, the last sentence makes Rorty sound much more like a naturalist than he ever was.


Blogger Alex said...

Hi, Nice stuff. I found a cool news widget for our blogs at Now I can show the latest news on my blog. Worked like a breeze.

11:08 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home