- Paperback: 220 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Later Printing edition (May 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780521367813
- ISBN-13: 978-0521367813
- ASIN: 0521367816
- Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity Later Printing Edition
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"...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
A major American philosopher asserts that it is literature, not philosophy, that promotes a genuine sense of human solidarity and ultimately, the advancement of liberal goals through the social consciousness it raises.
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I think that we can tell the difference between ethical reality and ideological blindness and that this difference matters. On Rorty’s own account of social evolution and pragmatic progress, we should be able to understand that there are indeed grounds, neutral or otherwise, upon which to stand and argue that kindness is preferable to torture, objective standards of truth and final vocabularies, notwithstanding. That is, in the course of natural social development, it has been found that empathy and compassion work better for advancing the human condition than do brutality and torture. We can settle on this without claiming any objective truth about brutality versus empathy. I admit, the world can swerve out of control and the future is fully contingent, but it is still difficult to imagine a world in which we cannot tell that kindness is preferable to torture, contingent ideology and final vocabulary to the contrary, again notwithstanding. For Rorty to be correct, we must imagine a world in which the Nazis and Stalinists, for example, were triumphant, with a vocabulary that did not include empathy or compassion and further that empathy and compassion were thus wiped clean from human psychology, human imagination and beyond human recognition; that the social benefits of empathy and compassion could not shine through the darkness of brutality and torture. It seems implausible that even within the clutches of psychopathic criminal regimes that assign no social value to empathy or compassion that empathy and compassion will be beyond the capacity of human imagination and recognition; that the discovery that they just work better for overall human social advancement and personal flourishing than do brutality and torture will be forgotten or unrecognizable. We do not need to make extravagant metaphysical claims, outside of time and space, such as those made by Christianity, to learn from experience that some social principles work better than others. We can still agree with Rorty that there is no such thing as ‘essence’, ‘human nature’ or ‘foundational knowledge’. From practical experience alone, we can than infer that certain values and rules of conduct such as empathy and compassion work better than, and are thus preferable to, brutality and torture. That is, based on many small contingent facts we can develop beliefs worth defending that are still within the bounds of history and experience while we still forgo the vocabulary of ‘objective’ and ‘true’. We do need to appeal to anything universal or more ‘real’ than the ephemeral contingencies of history to face our ethical obligations. Since there is no moral purity and it may very well be that the principles of empathy and compassion (avoiding cruelty) rest on nothing deeper than historical contingencies, it is all the more important that WE cast them into learned principles and rules of human conduct to be reinforced in every generation.
Thus, as a guide to sound judgment, without the power of insight into good and evil, I can only offer the principles of human compassion and empathy (which is the ability to see a situation from the perspective of another person). This can and must override all other considerations. This I submit is more powerful than redescription. If an individual is going to be a complete person he or she must become morally autonomous. This is a responsibility that no individual can escape. We also bare responsibility for the authority to which we submit ourselves in the first place, this also is a matter of judgement. It is in this manner that human thinking, thus human judgement, remains in contact with the human condition. There need not be any higher set of philosophical principles upon which ethics must be grounded. the experience of existence is quite enough.
We cannot fully know or trust ourselves, this means that philosophy must be ethical, rather than metaphysical, ontological or epistemological with the apposite ethical question being, what are the limits of what human beings owe each other? Tolerance, it does not seem to me to be enough. We must in some way, at some level, become engaged. As Simone Weil said, our discussion must change from one of our rights to one of our obligations. That is, proper ethics consists, not in claiming our rights but in recognizing our obligations. Not in enforcing our rights against other people or society in general but in fulfilling our obligations to each other for tenderness, empathy and compassion and in this manner, fulfill our obligations to society. But of course, these beliefs cost Simone Weil her life. Politics must be based upon on ethical foundation. If philosophical thinking cannot aid us in this then it is indeed of no value. Tenderness, empathy and compassion are words that I feel comfortable with a ‘final vocabulary’.
The Deep Problem:
Rorty may be correct after all and our demand for ethics may indeed be only another or alternative human description that has nothing to do with the understanding of truth or the underlying nature of reality. The deep problem lending credibility to Rorty's thesis is located in the foundations, or lack of foundations, of mathematics. Can we prove the fundamental axioms of mathematics and that they are consistent? According to Godel's Incompleteness Theorems, mathematics does not not have a complete and contestant set of axioms. This means that mathematics is a human invention, not a discovered fact of nature, yet how can something made up by humans work so well in explaining so much about how the universe works; a universe discovered, not invented by humans, correct? Mathematics then is just another human description as is our physics which only helps us partially explain the visible universe which we are starting to understand may only account for about 5% of the matter in the universe. Indeed, even our best current science and math are only human descriptive tools of very limited applicability due to our limited understanding of the contents of reality.
Add to this that some of our most fundamental concepts, such as those of point and line, are mathematical constructs with no physical presence in the natural world. Nothing in nature has precise mathematical lines or boundaries. When we realize that concepts fundamental to the way we navigate the world such as point and line are only mathematical concepts that have no physical existence in the natural world, where does that leave other descriptive and so called solid 'truths' upon which we casually rely to navigate our experience? In this case, to call something the 'truth' just is a cognitive bias of human beings.
What about counting? Much that we find at our cognitive level of experience depends on counting. This depends on the properties of solid objects at roughly our scale of existence and in roughly an environment conducive to us (not at the quantum level or the surface of a neutron star, for example). Counting, as we do it, is something invented by humans. Why can there not be other ways of organizing the experience of existence? Even something as fundamental as counting is just another way in which we describe the reality we encounter, it is not a fundamental truth about whatever it is that is real.
I sum, I think Rorty would say that it is not so much that we new subjects to think about rather, we need a new way of thinking.
Many years ago I studied the pragmatists. Richard Rorty has brought that education up to date and amplified it.
All I can say is read it. Open up your mind to a world view that is constantly under assault within both mainstream and academic American. I find it hard to believe that anyone would be completely disappointed.