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Consequences Of Pragmatism: Essays 1972-1980 Paperback – October 18, 1982
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He wrote in the Preface to this 1982 collection, "This volume contains essays written during the period 1972-1980... I no longer agree with everything said in these essays... nor are they entirely consistent with each one another. I reprint them nevertheless because... the general drift of what they say still seems right."
He states in the Introduction, "the ONLY debating point which the realist has is his conviction that the raising of the good old metaphysical problems (are there REALLY universals?...) served some good purpose... was important. What the pragmatist wants to debate is just this point. He ... [wants] to discuss ...WHETHER the practice which hopes to find a Philosophical way of isolating the essence of Truth has, in fact, paid off... The real issue is about the place of Philosophy in Western philosophy, the place of... texts which raise the `deep' Philosophical problems which the realist wants to preserve." (Pg. xxix)
He suggests, "The modern Western `culture critic' feels free to comment on anything at all. He is a pre-figuration of the all-purpose intellectual of a post-Philosophical culture, the philosopher who has abandoned pretensions to Philosophy... He is a name-dropper... His specialty is seeing similarities and differences between great big pictures... But, since he does not tell you about how all POSSIBLE ways of making things hang together MUST hang together---since he has no extra-historical Archimedean point of this sort---he is doomed to become outdated." (Pg. xl)
He argues, "we encounter some of the same hard questions... such borderline cases as fetuses, prelinguistic infants, computers, and the insane---Do they have civil rights?... Are they thinking or acting on instinct?... Is that a word to which they assign a sense, or are they just sounding off on cue? I doubt that many philosophers believe any longer that procedures for answering such questions are built into `our language' waiting to be discovered by `conceptual analysis.'" (Pg. 11)
He observes, "no man can serve both Locke and Hegel. Nobody can claim to offer an `empirical' account of something called `the inclusive integrity of experience'... if he also agrees with Hegel that the starting point of philosophic thought is bound to be the dialectical situation in which one finds oneself caught in one's own historical period... Only someone who thought, with Locke, that we can free ourselves from the problems of the day and pursue a `plain, historical method' in examining the emergence of complex experiences out of simple ones..." (Pg. 81)
He points out, "philosophers like Heidegger and Derrida are emblematic figures who not only do not solve problems, they do not HAVE arguments or theses. They are connected with their predecessors... in the `family resemblance' way in which latecomers in a sequence of commentators are connected with older memories of the same sequence... The twentieth-century attempt to purify Kant's general theory ... by turning it into philosophy of language is, for Derrida, to be countered by making philosophy ever more impure---more unprofessional, funnier, more allusive, sexier, and above all, more `written.'" (Pg. 93)
Later, he adds, "Derrida does not want to comprehend Hegel's books; he wants to play with Hegel. He doesn't want to write a book about the nature of language; he wants to play with the texts which other people have thought they were writing about language." (Pg. 96) He continues, "Derrida... has no interest in bringing `his philosophy' into accord with common sense... He is... protesting against the notion that the philosophy of language ... is something more than one more little quaint little genre, that it is first philosophy." (Pg. 97)
He asserts, "If I am right in my historical account, philosophers will not regain their old position unless they can once again offer a view about the ultimate nature of reality to compete with that of science. Since idealism is the only interesting suggestion along these lines they have come up with, only if they can resurrect idealism will the rest of the culture take their pretensions seriously. The one event seems as unlikely as the other." (Pg. 148) In a later essay, he adds, "it has become more and more apparent to nonphilosophers that a really professional philosopher can supply a philosophical foundation for just about anything. This is one reason why philosophers have in the course of our century, become increasingly isolated from the rest of culture. Our proposals to guarantee this and clarify that have to strike our fellow-intellectuals as merely comic." (Pg. 169)
He says, "One such [factitious] question is, `Are these Continental philosophers really PHILOSOPHERS?' Analytic philosophers, because they identify philosophical ability with argumentative skill and notice that there isn't anything they would consider an ARGUMENT in a carload of Heidegger or Foucault, suggest that these must be people who tried to be philosophers and failed, incompetent philosophers. This is as silly as saying that Plato was an incompetent sophist..." (Pg. 224)
These (relatively) early essays contain some of Rorty's most interesting writing; they are "must reading" for anyone studying Rorty, and important reading for any student of contemporary philosophy.
The essays are well-written and generally not too difficult, so they should be an accessible summary of his philosophical views for the intellectual reader. Despite the sometimes rather dry subject-matter, such as reviewing the developments in 20th Century philosophy of language, Rorty applies humor and optimism to skilfully polemicize against this tradition. This leads to witty phrases and interesting observations such as: "taking how and what one does in bed as definitive of one's being seems a specifically masculine trait", "granted that Derrida is the latest and largest flower on the dialectical kudzu vine of which the 'Phenomenology of Spirit' was the first tendril, does that not merely show the need to uproot this creeping menace? Can we not all see (...) the need to strip the suckers of this parasitic climber from the still unfinished walls and roofs of the great Kantian edifice which it covers and conceals?" or "our tyrants and bandits are more hateful than those of earlier times because (...) they pose as intellectuals. Our tyrants write philosophy in the morning and torture in the afternoon; our bandits alternatively read Hölderlin and bomb people to bloody scraps".
Despite the repetition of the collection, unfortunately inherent due to the need for exposition of the same misunderstood theme over and over again, this kind of writing keeps it intriguing and insightful. And since Rorty is committed to seeing philosophy as similar to literature, this is serious praise.