A Postmodernist John Dewey?

The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

A Postmodernist John Dewey?


Richard Rorty is not exactly a household name. But his provocative philosophical and political views, expressed in several books and countless essays, have attracted unusual interest and controversy, both inside and outside the academy. Rorty, a professor of humanities at the University of Virginia, considers himself a "Deweyan pragmatist." He tries to wed pragmatism, a la John Dewey (1859-1952), the eminent American philosopher-activist, with today's Nietzschean "postmodernism." Rorty has been vigorously attacked by critics on both Left and Right. The former - such as Michael Billig in New Left Review (Nov. 1993) - object to his insufficiently radical political stance, while the latter - such as Richard John Neuhaus in First Things (Dec. 1990) - charge him with undermining the intellectual foundations of democracy.

Rorty takes some comfort from the two-sided nature of the assault. "If there is anything to the idea that the best intellectual position is one [that] is attacked with equal vigor from the political Right and the political Left, then I am in good shape," he writes in Common Knowledge (Winter 1992). But there has been another, perhaps not so easily elided, line of attack on Rorty's positions: that he is far from the Deweyan pragmatist he claims to be.

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty rejected "foundational epistemology," which accepts the possibility of finding propositions that faithfully "mirror" or accurately represent the world "as it really is." In proceeding without foundations, he believes that he is being consistent with pragmatism. "All too tersely stated," Gordon D. Marino, a philosopher at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, writes in a profile of Rorty in Commonweal (May 6,1994), "pragmatism is the view that there is no absolute truth. `Ideas become true just so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience' (William James). Rorty may have an ironical ... view of everything else, but he is downright devout about his pragmatism."

Yet while Dewey and his fellow pragmatists, Charles Peirce and William James, "did not believe that inquiry either began from, or culminated in, indubitable axiomatic proof," observes Charles W. Anderson, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in Polity (Spring 1991), they did not reject, as Rorty does, the idea that the reality "out there" can be grasped. The pragmatists "were skeptical of metaphysics, but they were rationalists, not romantics," Anderson writes. "Their most distinctive position was not, in fact, their doubt that reason could reflect reality, but their belief in the power of self-correcting, collaborative inquiry. The pragmatists did not claim [as Rorty does] that reason was meaningless, and that' anything goes' in science, and that philosophy is essentially conversation. Rather, they were convinced that disciplined, systematic, scientific inquiry would pay off. We could get somewhere."

Nowhere, i.e. utopia, may be where Rorty wants to go. In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989), he advanced a vision of "a just and free society," in which the private behavior of citizens would have no bearing on their public lives. Such "liberal ironists" could be "privatistic, `irrationalist,' and aestheticist as they please so long as they do it on their own time - causing no harm to others and using no resources needed by those less advantaged." The private Nietzschean and the public Deweyan would be combined in one and the same person. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Postmodernist John Dewey?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.