Saturday, June 09, 2007

Richard Rorty 1931-2007

According to the Leiter Report linking to Telos Press Richard Rorty died on Friday. (I haven't been able to find any other notice of Rorty's death, though someone did update his Wikipedia page.)

This is sad news and it will be interesting to see how philosophers and others react in the coming days. Rorty deserves a lot of credit for bringing pragmatism back into vogue yet he was also the target of constant attacks from pragmatist scholars (and others) for peddling a dumbed down, relativized version.

A few recollections and reactions:

I heard Rorty speak twice and both times it was a powerful experience. I only vaguely remember the topics but what stood out was his delivery: probably the best I have ever heard, or very, very close. At the time he reminded me of no one as much as John Chancellor, the former NBC news anchor. Rorty read his remarks with a clarity and fluidity that most people cannot match when they speak off the cuff. Despite reading, he conveyed his thoughts in a manner as if he was speaking across the dining room table from you and it was very, very, effective.

Second, I remember being very struck by a remark of Charlene Haddock Seigfried's: speaking before a group of American philosphers 10+ years ago she encouraged us to remember that "Rorty was not the enemy" and she recalled how Rorty had supported feminists long before others had. She was right: it was too easy to dismiss Rorty for not getting Dewey right and failing to deal with him on his own terms.

My own experience of reading Rorty was that 90% made me want to stand up and cheer and 10% made me want to bury my head in my hands. That may sound bad but, now that I think about it, it's a better cheering-to-burying ratio than most of the other philosophers I read.


Blogger Political Zoon said...

I whole-heartedly agree with what you have said of Rorty; I remember reading him in your Epistemology class at UNF the first time and thinking I had finally found a kindred spirit. Later I realized what I appreciated in Rorty was the teachings of Dewey, but that is another story. Rorty will be missed.

10:16 AM  

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