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Educated at the University of Chicago and Yale University , he had strong interests and training in both the history of philosophy and contemporary analytic philosophy , the latter of which came to comprise the main focus of his work at Princeton University in the s. Among his most influential books are Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature , Consequences of Pragmatism , and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity Rorty saw the idea of knowledge as a "mirror of nature" as pervasive throughout the history of western philosophy.

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Against this approach, Rorty advocated for a novel form of American pragmatism sometimes called neopragmatism in which scientific and philosophical methods form merely a set of contingent " vocabularies " which people abandon or adopt over time according to social conventions and usefulness. Rorty believed abandoning representationalist accounts of knowledge and language would lead to a state of mind he referred to as " ironism ", in which people become completely aware of the contingency of their placement in history and of their philosophical vocabulary.

Rorty tied this brand of philosophy to the notion of "social hope"; he believed that without the representationalist accounts, and without metaphors between the mind and the world, human society would behave more peacefully. He also emphasized the reasons why the interpretation of culture as conversation Bernstein , constitutes the crucial concept of a " postphilosophical " culture determined to abandon representationalist accounts of traditional epistemology, incorporating American pragmatism with Darwinian naturalism.

His maternal grandfather, Walter Rauschenbusch , was a central figure in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century. The second breakdown, which he had in the early s, was more serious and "included claims to divine prescience. He describes Rorty as an ironist:.

Nothing is sacred to Rorty the ironist. Asked at the end of his life about the 'holy', the strict atheist answered with words reminiscent of the young Hegel : 'My sense of the holy is bound up with the hope that some day my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. Rorty enrolled at the University of Chicago shortly before turning 15, where he received a bachelor's and a master's degree in philosophy studying under Richard McKeon , [8] [9] continuing at Yale University for a PhD in philosophy — After two years in the United States Army , he taught at Wellesley College for three years until They had two children, Kevin and Patricia.

Rorty was a professor of philosophy at Princeton University for 21 years. Rorty's doctoral dissertation, The Concept of Potentiality was an historical study of the concept, completed under the supervision of Paul Weiss , but his first book as editor , The Linguistic Turn , was firmly in the prevailing analytic mode, collecting classic essays on the linguistic turn in analytic philosophy.

However, he gradually became acquainted with the American philosophical movement known as pragmatism , particularly the writings of John Dewey. The noteworthy work being done by analytic philosophers such as Willard Van Orman Quine and Wilfrid Sellars caused significant shifts in his thinking, which were reflected in his next book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature Pragmatists generally hold that the meaning of a proposition is determined by its use in linguistic practice.

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The Uses of the Past from Heidegger to Rorty

Rorty combined pragmatism about truth and other matters with a later Wittgensteinian philosophy of language which declares that meaning is a social-linguistic product, and sentences do not 'link up' with the world in a correspondence relation. Rorty wrote in his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity :. Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.

Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own unaided by the describing activities of humans cannot.


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The latter two works attempt to bridge the dichotomy between analytic and continental philosophy by claiming that the two traditions complement rather than oppose each other. According to Rorty, analytic philosophy may not have lived up to its pretensions and may not have solved the puzzles it thought it had.

Yet such philosophy, in the process of finding reasons for putting those pretensions and puzzles aside, helped earn itself an important place in the history of ideas. By giving up on the quest for apodicticity and finality that Edmund Husserl shared with Rudolf Carnap and Bertrand Russell , and by finding new reasons for thinking that such quest will never succeed, analytic philosophy cleared a path that leads past scientism , just as the German idealists cleared a path that led around empiricism. In the last fifteen years of his life, Rorty continued to publish his writings, including four volumes of his archived philosophical papers, Achieving Our Country , a political manifesto partly based on readings of Dewey and Walt Whitman in which he defended the idea of a progressive , pragmatic left against what he feels are defeatist, anti-liberal, anti-humanist positions espoused by the critical left and continental school.

Rorty felt these anti-humanist positions were personified by figures like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. Such theorists were also guilty of an "inverted Platonism" in which they attempted to craft overarching, metaphysical, "sublime" philosophies—which in fact contradicted their core claims to be ironist and contingent. Rorty's last works, after his move to Stanford University, focused on the place of religion in contemporary life, liberal communities, comparative literature and philosophy as "cultural politics".

Shortly before his death, he wrote a piece called "The Fire of Life", published in the November issue of Poetry magazine , [14] in which he meditates on his diagnosis and the comfort of poetry. He concludes, "I now wish that I had spent somewhat more of my life with verse. This is not because I fear having missed out on truths that are incapable of statement in prose. There are no such truths; there is nothing about death that Swinburne and Landor knew but Epicurus and Heidegger failed to grasp.

Rather, it is because I would have lived more fully if I had been able to rattle off more old chestnuts—just as I would have if I had made more close friends. Cultures with richer vocabularies are more fully human—farther removed from the beasts—than those with poorer ones; individual men and women are more fully human when their memories are amply stocked with verses.

Robert Piercey

Pictures, he tells us, typically possess a narrative structure, and so result in seeing the philosophical world in a new way: "This change in outlook is not like learning a new fact. It is more like undergoing a Gestalt switch…. What we see has not changed. What has changed is what we see it as " Note here the distinction Piercey invokes between the unchanging and the changed. A reality remains under the possible flux of pictures.

This distinction runs at all levels throughout his accounts.

I return to this point below. Piercey suggests three criteria for answering the question of what makes a narrative structure rationally acceptable or compelling:.

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First, does this enterprise have a goal the achievement of which would make it successful? Second, does it have systematic methods that it uses to pursue this goal? And third, does it have characteristic values it tries to maximize in the course of pursing its goal? We know what it would take for someone to succeed at this enterprise [of doing philosophy historically] … namely, books such as Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature , books that manage to change our way of looking at the philosophers of the past.

So this enterprise not only has clear standards of success; its practitioners meet these standards. Now, unabashed fan and admirer though I am of Rorty's work, I have also read the reviews and heard the reactions to his book and related writings. Who is this "we" of whom Piercey speaks?

For those who find the proclamations of self-evidence convincing here, Piercey yields no gain in insight regarding how one comes to know this unless one finds appeals to "seeing as" revelatory in this regard. Conversely, for those who did not rush to embrace Rorty's book, nothing Piercey says will be a reason for them to alter their opinion either. What other guidance does Piercey proffer to those perplexed by what he takes doing philosophy historically to be? What about the demand that rational enterprises follow methods?

This is not to say that all attempts to do philosophy historically follow a single pattern. There are different ways of … constructing narratives about past thought. The point is simply that in doing philosophy historically, we do not proceed by happenstance. We use systematic methods, though these methods leave us some latitude in how we use them.

Richard Rorty (1993) - Philosophy & Taking Time Seriously

So, since not happenstance, therefore a necessary condition for rationality has been satisfied. But what establishes that it is not happenstance? Piercey does not say, although perhaps he means to suggest that if your audience remains unconvinced, if their gestalt does not switch, then the methods have not been followed. But the foregoing paragraph contains as much as Piercey provides about specific methods. Recall that Kuhn uses the "Gestalt switch" analogy to illustrate what happens when theoretical allegiances change despite an absence of purely rational considerations to motivate such a shift.

How then does Piercey contribute to understanding the rationality of doing philosophy historically by invoking this notion? Unfortunately, Piercey's unexplicated appeals to "seeing as" or "Gestalt shifts" assume the full explanatory burden in the name of rationality. Thus, the relevant notion of method remains quite mysterious.

The Uses of the Past from Heidegger to Rorty by Robert Piercey

The final criterion of the rationality of the procedure concerns values:. It might not be possible to give a complete list of these values, but we can, I think, name a few of the most important ones. One, surely, is historical accuracy. Our narratives about the evolution of philosophical pictures must cohere with the historical record as we understand it, or at least not be wildly inconsistent with it. Here, as in other places, Piercey's unwitting reliance on a scheme-content dichotomy rears it ugly head.

For how can pictures both constitute an interpretive frame and yet also be judged by some alternative standard of accuracy? Piercey's discussion of truth only complicates an account made murky from lack of any real details and prima facie inconsistent appeals to pictures as constituting frames and pictures as judged from within a frame. Piercey provides no escape from such puzzles when he counsels that "the claim that truth is identical with correctness does not seem intelligible on its own" Heidegger offers valuable instruction in how such diagnosis proceeds.

Taylor, Charles. Gutting, Gary.

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Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Labels: assumptions , heidegger , history , history of philosophy , philosophy , reflections , research , scholarship. Friday, December 7, More books to consider Labels: heidegger , personal , philosophy , richard-rorty. A book chapter I co-authored on social presence and communities of practice has just been made available. This study evaluated the effectiveness of the integration of social media tools including Ning in Education an educational social networking tool , Twitter, and WordPress into three distance education courses in instructional technology.

The social media tools were examined to identify the educational and pedagogical benefits each tool affords.