Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Richard Rorty: Becoming a Contemporary Political Philosopher

Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Richard Rorty: Becoming a Contemporary Political Philosopher

Article excerpt

Since Richard Roity's death on 7 June 2007, few events have taken place to celebrate liis work. I believe tliis is an injustice because Rorty was one of the greatest American philosophers of the last fifty years, and he did more than anyone else to stir up the debate about the role of philosophy in world affairs and practically anything else that matters to us today. So, I welcome the opportunity from the organizers of tliis event in Buenos Aires not only to pay tribute to Roity's contribution as a political thinker but also to reflect on lus legacy.

Rorty was often shuck by how few people wrote about lus work in positive tenus. Of course, tins should not be surprising since he took challenging and provocative stands on many philosophical issues, with an emphasis on debunking core philosophical beliefs. Because of liis blunt, hard-hitting style, liis critics might have only paid attention to half of what they were hearing or reading and unfortunately ignored some of the main points he was making. His papers were so carefully constructed, so beautifully written, that it is amazing lus critics failed to see the breadth and depth of lus sophisticated arguments.

Except for a few philosophers, such as Jlirgen Habermas and Richard Bernstein,1 Roity's critics were mostly dismissive of lus creativity and critical of lus progressive goals. In the past, I have written how his notion of democracy was clearly inspired by Dewey's project of politics as an etlucs of democracy and how lus therapeutic5 notion of cultural politics greatly resembled Dewey's. But Rorty developed lus own postmetaphysical view of what philosophy and politics could be today by adding important nuances to what he called the pragmatist view.

In this article, I present a positive account of some of Roity's contributions to the present debates about politics and culture. In so doing, I will concentrate on the parts where lus philosophy and lus politics became a larger view of his political goals where creativity and originality were its main features.

I will argue, first, that Rorty fought against the Western philosophical tradition, particularly against Plato's contribution to the concept of truth as correspondence (with the metaphor of the minor of nature). He had to do tlus because of the so-called "authority" of the concept of truth in the Western tradition and because Plato was dismissive about the concept of imagination. Plato even wanted to expel writers such as Homer from the polis.4 As we will see, Rorty wished to replace tins traditional conception of philosophy with the role of literature. Second, I maintain that Rorty was one of the few philosophers who recovered the concept of imagination for philosophy and, especially, for politics. Third, Rorty wrote extensively about the role of social transformation, hope, and change because he was critical of the goals of the academic left, particularly with respect to the way the cultural turn forgot about the role of the welfare state and the goals of equality and redistribution. He wanted to recover the earlier progressive views about these issues that had been lost during the cultural debates over identity and difference. As a progressivist, he shared a great deal with some veiy admired political thinkers of our times (see, for example, lus ongoing defense of some of Habermas's work, particularly, his postmetaphysical goals).

Fourth, Rorty had a keen understanding of the interrelations among history, action, and contingencies. He insisted that contingencies had a significant effect on the way human affairs develop and are transformed. I argue that Rorty considered debates as actions, and actions as both contingent and historically situated. Thus, he had a contextualist, historical view of action and of agency, which was closer to a sociological approach than to a nonnative philosophical perspective.

And fifth, while Roity's views about the role of literature changed dining the many years he wrote about it,5 he engaged in debate about the kind of antimetaphysical perspective literature could provide in tenus of re-imagining social life. …

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