- Series: Philosophical Papers (Cambridge) (Book 3)
- Paperback: 364 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 13, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780521556866
- ISBN-13: 978-0521556866
- ASIN: 0521556864
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #591,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers (Philosophical Papers (Cambridge)) (Volume 3)
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The philosopher's task, Richard Rorty writes, is "to clear the road for prophets and poets, to make intellectual life a bit simpler and safer for those who have visions of new communities." The essays collected in Truth and Progress show that Rorty is more than up to the challenge. His pragmatic approach is as well suited to brokering peace between "coworkers" Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida as it is to addressing more violent disputes. As Rorty sees it, part of the reason feminism has not been entirely successful in achieving its goals, or ethnic conflicts still rage around the globe, is that we still cling to the notion of an inherent human nature. "Plato set things up," he explains, "so that moral philosophers think they have failed unless they convince the rational egotist that he should not be an egotist--convince him by telling him about his true, unfortunately neglected self. But the rational egotist is not the problem. The problem is the gallant and honorable Serb who sees Muslims as circumcised dogs. It is the brave soldier and good comrade who loves and is loved by his mates, but who thinks of women as dangerous, malevolent whores and bitches."
Instead of trying to answer the question, "What is human nature?" Rorty proposes that we ask ourselves what we would like human nature to be, then make every possible effort to be that. In doing so, he does not reject previous philosophic inquiry, although he believes that philosophers must be willing to admit, as scientists do, when their predecessors got things wrong. If inquiry is the continual grappling with and resolution of problems, rather than a quest for "truth," the lessons learned from the past become invaluable tools to apply to new problems as they emerge. Many people disagree with Rorty's conclusions, but they all seem to agree that he has liberated philosophy from detached contemplation of "the real" and reconnected it to the world we live in. Truth and Progress does what all good philosophy should do: it makes you think. --Ron Hogan
"This is vintage Rorty; always so clear, provocative, unsettling, and cunningly profound!" Cornel West
"In Rorty's constantly stimulating essays from the past decade one can trace his cautious engagement with and then fastidious withdrawal from the semantic fields that Lyotard and company so thoroughly muddied. The whole postmodernism debate, he rightly implies, has become at best a waste of time, at worst a fraud: an incoherent attempt to build a new historical and cultural meta-narrative while denying the possibility of any such thing." New Statesman
"His books and articles read like a one-person international review of books: he collects fiction, history, and theory from around the world and marshalls it brilliantly according to the priorities of his anti-representationalist plot. However dense his discussions they retain a gratifying simplicity of outline. Rorty has created for himself the sort of cultural presence that once belonged to Mill, Russell, Ayer, or Joad. He is the only philosopher writing in English who has an enthusiastic non-specialist public, and like his predecessors, he offers the refreshing spectacle of cheeky sceptic who stands up to the obfuscators and shames them with his exemplary and readable prose. Rorty's new self is a brilliant old invention." The Times Higher Education Supplement
"Rorty's essays are nontechnical, historically informed, and philosophically provocative." Choice
"Rorty's fascinating presentation of recent intellectual history is impressive in its scope and penetration." Library Journal
"This volume is Rorty at his best, again and again making us see things from a new, unexpected angle, strenuously engaging with those of us who resist his startling and unsettling `take' on things. Convinced or not, you come away feeling that this is what philosophy ought to be doing, steadily extending the range of imaginable thoughts." Charles Taylor
"Few writers have done as much as Richard Rorty has to make contemporary philosophy interesting and important to people who are not philosophers. He has done this partly by a prose that is unmatched for clarity and vernacular vigor, but mostly by insisting on seeing what real social good we can make of the ideas available to us. His work is one of the finest models of intellectual engagement we have." Louis Menand
"Truth and Progress....can be recommended not only to Rorty's admirers and to those who regard him as a leading enemy of reason but to anyone who wants to get a sense of a signifigant intellectual phenomenon. Thomas Nagel, Times Literary Supplement
"Rorty is at his best when writing about the history of philosophy." Jenny Teichman, The New Criterion
"Truth and Progress is evidence of a revitalized American pragmatism that, in Rorty's version, celebrates ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, and human social experimentation.... Shaped by Darwinism, it is romantically resonant with the American quest for a better life , and even a better life economically, and it has an eye always on practical consequences." Dan Barnett, Magill's Literary Annual 1999
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Rorty has etched out his place in contemporary philosophy by arguing much to the same critique of philosophy for over 20 years. But he has had many interesting ideas (with their inherent controversies). What has increased is the diversity of the subject matter that he considers relevant to his overall themes, and also, he writes more elegantly and simply than he used to write (compare this volume with the collection in Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays, 1972-1980).
I will give a summary of each argument in each essay by finding the most representative quote within each essay....If these arguments do not interest you, but you're still interested in Rorty, I would suggest Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (a critique of representationalism), Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Rorty's infamous "liberal ironist"), and Achieving Our Country : Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Rorty's political manifesto). Or, check out the book list I created on Amazon entitled "Richard Rorty"
CULTURAL POLITICS AND THE QUESTION OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
"I want to argue that cultural politics should replace ontology, and also that whether it should or not is itself a matter of cultural politics" (pg. 5).
PRAGMATISM AND ROMANTIC POLYTHEISM
"You are a polytheist if you think that there is no actual or possible object of knowledge that would permit you to commensurate and rank all human needs. Isaiah Berlin's well-known doctrine of immensurable human values is, in my sense, a polytheistic manifesto. Polytheism...is pretty much coextensive with romantic utilitarianism....no way of ranking human needs...Mill's `On Liberty' provides all the ethical instruction you need" (pg. 30).
JUSTICE AS A LARGER LOYALTY
"Should we describe such moral dilemmas as conflicts between loyalty and justice, or rather, as I have suggested between loyalties to smaller groups and loyalties to larger groups?" (pg. 44).
"Honesty and honorableness are measured by the degree of coherence of the stories people tell themselves and come to believe" (pg. 68).
GRANDEUR, PROFUNDITY, AND FINITUDE
"The main reason for philosophy's marginalization...is the same as the reason why the warfare between science and theology looks quaint - the fact that nowadays we are all commonsensically materialist and utilitarian....further reason...the quarrels which, in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, gradually replaced the warfare between the gods and the giants - the quarrels between philosophy and poetry and between philosophy and sophistry - have themselves become quaint" (pg. 87).
PHILOSOPHY AS A TRANSITIONAL GENRE
"We think that inquiry is just another name for problem-solving, and we cannot imagine inquiry into how human beings should live, into what we should make ourselves, coming to an end. For solutions to old problems will produce fresh problems, and so on forever" (pg. 89).
PRAGMATISM AND ROMANTICISM
"...imagination is the source of freedom because it is the source of language...Nothing at all was obvious, because obviousness is not a notion that can be applied to organisms that do not use language...imagination is not a distinctively human capacity...But giving and asking for reasons is distinctively human, and coextensive with rationality. The more an organism can get what it wants by persuasion rather than force, the more rational it is" (pg. 114-115).
ANALYTIC AND CONVERSATIONAL PHILOSOPHY
"I am suggesting we drop the term `continental' and instead contrast analytic philosophy with conversational philosophy. This change would shift attention from differences between job requirements imposed on young philosophers in different regions of the world to issues I just sketched: that there is something that philosophers can get right. The term `getting it right'...is appropriate only when everybody interested in the topics draws pretty much the same inferences from the same assertions" (pg. 124).
A PRAGMATIST VIEW OF CONTEMPORARY ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY
"...we should be neither realist nor antirealists, that the entire realism-antirealism issue should be set aside" (pg. 133). "In the sort of culture I hope our remote descendants may inhabit, the philosophical literature about realism and antirealism will have been aestheticized in the way that we moderns have aestheticized medieval disputations about the ontological status of universals" (pg. 137).
NATURALISM AND QUIETISM
"Most people who think of themselves in the quietist camps, as I do, would hesitate to say that the problems studied by our activist colleagues are unreal. [Rather, we divide philosophical problems] into those that retain some relevance to cultural politics and those that do not" (pg. 149; my brackets).
WITTGENSTEIN AND THE LINGUISTIC TURN
"I shall divide three views of Wittgenstein, corresponding to three ways of thinking about the so-called `linguistic turn in philosophy'" (pg. 160). These views include "naturalists," "Wittgensteinian therapists," and "pragmatic Wittgensteinians." (Rorty is in the third camp). Rorty argues 2 things: "there is no interesting sense in which philosophical problems are problems of language,...and the linguistic turn was useful nevertheless, for it turned philosophers'' attentions from the topic of experience toward that of linguistic behavior. That shift helped break the hold of empiricism - and, more broadly, representationalism" (pg. 160).
HOLISM AND HISTORICISM
"[If you are like a holist] you will try...to explain how certain organisms managed to become rational by telling stories about how various different practices came into being. You will be more interested in historical change than in neurobiological arrangements" (pg. 176).
KANT VS. DEWEY
Against the moral philosophers in the Kantian tradition and in support of the Deweyian, Rorty writes, "To say that moral principles have no inherent nature is to imply that they have no distinct source. They emerge from our encounters with our surroundings in the same way that hypotheses about planetary motion, codes of etiquette, epic poems, and all our other patterns of linguistic behavior emerge" (pg. 192).
realism is just so much well-entrenched sci-fi, I might not have gone back to Rorty and Rorty's et alia (in Truth and Progress and Consequences of Pragmatism) However, having said this much, I should add that if one wants Rorty in depth, read something else, but do not ignore this work. For those who, like myself, are unfamiliar with many of Rorty's invited guests, the work is simple and important. We owe Rorty a debt.
In Rorty's later works, his overall approach had a direct emotional appeal, not just a logical appeal. The foundation of his arguments was not of the old-school sort; it was neither logical or scientific. Rather, it was an appeal to shared experience and shared interpretation. In one sense he was on shaky ground. Nothing could be "proved". Nevertheless, Rorty was reaching for -- and in his best later work reached -- a foundation more compelling and more universal than science or logic. His arguments were based on a profound knowledge and understanding of human history, expressed and analyzed in engaging and conversational prose.
His best essays in this volume (and see also Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America) are reminiscent of personal letters from that smarter roommate we all had in college -- someone we could trust to enlighten us, someone we could assume was right when we didn't get it at first.