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Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521367813
ISBN-10: 0521367816
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Rorty propounds, and faces squarely the consequences of, a relativistic, non-essentialist view of man and society. For him, attitudes, values, beliefs, and practices are contingent phenomena of a particular time, place, and culture, none of which is inherently better or worse than any other. There is irony in the fact that one can realize this, yet still desire, and work for, "human solidarity" and freedom. How these positions can be reconciled is the subject of this important book, not incidental to which are fascinating discussions of Hegel, Heidegger, Habermas, Nietzsche, Nabokov, Freud, Dickens, and Orwell, among others. This is Rorty at his most stimulating, and he emerges as a major political theorist.
- Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"...bristles with big and unsettling ideas...No brief summary of this book can begin to convey its freshness, scope, and immense erudition...Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity will induce intellectual tingles in the philosopher and layman alike. It is going to be read for a long time." The Philadelphia Inquirer

"This is Rorty at his most stimulating, and he emerges as a major political theorist." Library Journal

"Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity is not only readable, informative and ceaselessly interesting; it is a bold and topical manifest about the entire philosophical and political prospect of our 'post-modern' times. Jonathan Re'e Radical Philosophy

"...consistently provocative, and every page excites philosophic thought." Philosophy and Literature

"An exciting book. For millennia philosophers have been debating whether the universe is out there to be discovered or is rather in effect invented by thinkers who can never get beyond their own categories. Rorty is our most prominent perspectivist today....Rorty writes with erudition and style. His views are always stimulating, though they will inevitably tend to infuriate readers who are not ready for a 'postmetaphysical' world." H. L. Shapiro, Choice

Product Details

  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1st edition (May 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521367816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521367813
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #126,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
American intellectuals who are politically liberal face a problem. They are the happy inheritors of a tradition built around Judeo-Christian values (such as concern for the poor) and Enlightenment social institutions (representative democracy, free market economy, etc.) but, having read their Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud, they can no longer give credence to the metaphysical notions (God's Will and Universal Reason) which have historically grounded our admirable social practices. In this book Richard Rorty, like John Dewey before him, argues that the ONLY justification a political institution or social policy requires is that it WORKS. Look not to lofty origins, but to concrete results. Of course, American intellectuals who are politically liberal tend to value programs whose results promote human growth, personal liberty, and social solidarity. But their enthusiasm for such goods will be tinged with irony, since they realize that there's nothing universal about these preferences (had Socrates, Jesus, and Jefferson died in their cradles our list of desirable ends might look very different-- Rorty calls this contingency). This book concludes with the suggestion that in a liberal utopia the bourgeois distinction between the public and the private would be a strong one, thus freeing individuals to pursue their own private perfection, a project Rorty feels is sometimes threatened from extremists on the Left and on the Right. This is a wonderful book, but potential readers who are ignorant of 20th century intellectual history will probably find the opening chapters pretty rough going.
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Format: Paperback
Rorty's book is an articulate and very clearly written attempt to deal with one major modern philosophical question, namely:

"If nothing (or everything) is true (or real), what grounds are there for developing a system of values?"

Rorty starts by summarising the problems of modern philosophy (relativism rules, or "nothing is true"). He then moves into a discussion of how-- in the absence of God, or of concrete proof of the value and meaning of scientific research-- values might be articulated. Rorty's answer (which he takes to some extent from Sartre) is that it is literature (and the arts in general) which allow us to imagine the human context of ideas. Through this imagining we can create the title's "solidarity" with others against ideas (or governments) which are cruel.

Rorty's book is forceful, well-written and clear. Anybody without a philosophy background can get his ideas. There are a few gaps. Rorty, of the blank-slate ("nurture") school of human nature, ignores much evidence from neuroscience, anthropology and other disciplines which basically says that, no, there ARE inherent human universals. We aren't jsu tcreated by culture, and we cannto simpy adopt ANY set of social ideas and build a society around them. It would be interesting to see Rorty argue ethics with, say, Steven Pinker. Rorty also takes relativism one step too far. As Allan Bloom put it, he makes the mistake of turning epistemological relativism into MORAL relativism (in human language, that means he starts with "we don't know anything for sure" and uses that to argue "there is no way to have moral standards").

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Format: Paperback
I've noticed a trend that various reviewers on philosophy books use this cyberspace as an opportunity to display their understanding and mastery over the work in question. This is, in ways, an interesting and useful phenomenon, but it can also be misleading. This is especially the case for thinkers like Richard Rorty, whose work is often read with the prejudice of traditional, less radical philosophical thought. I am in no way asserting that there is one true way of interpreting this text (a suggestion Rorty himself would abhor). I merely recommend that if you have an interest in contemporary analytic and continental philosophy, or even an interest in literary criticism, you should purchase this very stimulating book. It is stimulating because, like Kant and the other metaphysicians Rorty will challenge, he offers a vocabulary and set of terminology unique (at least in organization and inter-relation) to this work. To master Rorty's somewhat idiosyncratic use of words like "vocabulary" or "irony" or "metaphysics" one has to place oneself in a bit of a hermeneutic circle. Only then will one acquire and master this particularly useful, fecund philosophical language. Many of the reviews here seem written from outside that language, which is discouraging. This is an active read so don't be afraid to get more than your toes wet. This is an important book and is very useful for understanding the desire for autonomy as well as for solidarity. I hope Rorty's poignant writing will be as useful in your life as it has been in mine.
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Format: Paperback
Probably the best thing about "Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity" is that it is written so well. Like Rorty's other books it has a way of making philosophy less arcane than it otherwise appears. Other raters here have outlined his project better than I can and illustrate how Rorty builds upon his ideas in the book "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature." I only want to add the observations that, (1) it is no surprise Rorty feels he has to address religion's influence in this book, and that (2) philosophical objection to Rorty appears quasi-religious in nature. Philosophical critics of both books who are consumed with the nagging perception that physical facts of reality seem indeed to hold up well to the correspondence theory of truth are steeped in a Western religious world view.

That world view and its implications for Rorty's concept of solidarity carries critical import for understanding his project. For many of his critics that world view seems to be validated by epistemology. As some have pointed out, we do the math and the rockets fly. So some correspondence is working, apparently. In the realm of ethics, the same relationship of language to reality has apparent truth as well. In assigning verbal names to these correspondences, we superimpose a chimerical essence we call "Truth," if Rorty is right. But that "Truth" we assign has no real correspondence to what is out there in the world, in his argument. This "Truth" constitutes an unverifiable relationship because we do not know how reliable the "mirror" is, our cognitive door to perception, and this reliability is the crux of philosophical disagreement with Rorty and Dewey and other pragmatists.
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