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Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691020167
ISBN-10: 0691020167
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Editorial Reviews


The Times Literary Supplement : This is an ambitious and important book. Ambitious because it attempts to place the main concerns and discussions of contemporary philosophy within a historical perspective; important because this is all too rarely attempted within our present philosophical culture, and almost never done this well.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 424 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 1st edition (January 1, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691020167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691020167
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
In this influential book, Rorty argues that the history of Western philosophy over the past few hundred years reveals a quest for immutable foundations for knowledge that has finally been shown to have been futile and wrongheaded. Rorty believes that a number of 20th Century philosophers (but most prominently Ludwig Wittgenstein) have demonstrated that all knowledge consists of nothing more than the beliefs of a particular speech community, as embodied in linguistic rules used by that community, and that it is impossible to go outside the closed circle of one's speech community to acquire or validate knowledge.
The most compelling critique of Rorty's thesis that I have read is contained in a little-known but highly enlightening and learned book by Peter Munz entitled "Our Knowledge of the Growth of Knowledge." Munz is a historian and philosopher who has the apparently unique distinction, at least among living scholars, of having been a student of both Karl Popper and Wittgenstein (in the 1940's). Munz acknowledges in his 1985 book that Rorty's book offers "the most sustained and reasoned defense of closed circles" yet written. Munz contends, however, that a careful reading of the book reveals that Rorty has implicitly treated Wittgenstein's own intellectual biography -- i.e., Wittgenstein's move from the "picture theory of meaning" of the "Tractatus" to the closed circle philosophy of his "Philosophical Investigations" -- as representative of the history of philosophy in the last four centuries. Rorty's use of this particular paradigm for his history is misguided, Munz says, because, among other things:
1) "Wittgenstein's 'Tractatus,' far from being symptomatic of mirror philosophy, is the only mirror philosophy ever put forward.
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Format: Paperback
This book is one of Rorty's ealier works, and, thus, he is still more "analytic" in his approach. The basic purposes of the book are (1) why it is wrong to speak of coming to a knoweldge of the truth by means of our glassy essence *mirroring* reality and (2) how can we continue philosophy after we have gotten rid of the post-Cartesian epistemological binary opposition.
Rorty makes repeated attacks on the correspondence theory of truth. Furthermore, he ties in his anti-essentialism into this in such a way that if you stand with him in denying the naive realist epistemology, you will begin be unable to see why people speak of "essence" or the ding-an-sich vs. it's representation. Rorty does not wish to make us into individualistic relativists who believe that however it is that we are appeared to defines what is true. Rather, he wants us to forget about the whole search for objective ahistorical truth--"Truth" that transcends our contingency. Also, Rorty engages in a tireless critique of the ocular metaphor that has pervaded Western philosophy from the beginning.
So, truth becomes, ceteris paribus, what our peers will let us get away with saying. This seems at least half-Wittgensteinian (of course, depending on how you interpret LW). In the process of deconstructing Western philosophy as the search for transcendental truth, Rorty uses, most notably, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Dewey.
Rorty's answer to the second issue dealt with in the book is that philosophers should try to "continue a conversation." Forget about metaphysics and all other metanarratives. We must guide ourselves by "our lights". Philosophy is more about settling disputes peaceably (thus inscreasing solidarity) and enjoying ourselves.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book cover to cover back in 1979 when it first came out. I was 21 and an upper-level philosophy undergrad at the University of Houston. Bredo Johnsen led a seminar in which we discussed the book, some of whose arguments were already legendary from the world of "samizdat" philosophy publishing and academic gossip.

I was deciding at the time that I liked philosophy and wanted to do it for a living if somehow I could, but I didn't really like the way that the American mainstream was heading. This was the time of Kripke and Putnam version 4.0, metaphysical realists who backed up their essentialism with logical proofs--though Putnam was already showing signs that he was about to switch to a new operating system. The philosophers I had liked best in my undergrad studies had been the ancient Skeptics, the pragmatists (neo- and paleo-), and the later Wittgenstein. Those figures presented what seemed to me understandable, stylish, ingenious, and above all practically helpful ways of thinking about knowledge, humanity, and morality. But neo-medievalists like Kripke were fighting those ideas as hard as they could, providing backup to all the sticks-in-the-mud who had never liked that all arty Quine and Goodman stuff anyway. American philosophy was going to stay logical and technically difficult; it would remain a professional field separate from--and, by and large, of little importance to--other kinds of inquiry.

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature disturbed the peace of the cloister. It dealt with all the formidable logical issues in a way nobody expected: namely, historically. It showed how much of the difficult logical reasoning in the philosophy journals was careful reinvention of . . .
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