I want to clear some things up about Rorty’s beliefs.
I will intermittently quote from a recent(ish) interview, and give my personal opinions.
To begin with, Rorty doesn’t offer a general philosophy:
“I don’t think there is something called “Rorty’s thought”. I haven’t had any original ideas. I just pick up ideas from other people and arrange them in pleasing patterns. I am more a public relations man than a thinker. Sometimes the patterns I design are relevant to political matters. Sometimes they are not, and are relevant only to what individuals do with their solitude. I’m certainly a “public liberal”, but I don’t think anybody would want to call himself a “private ironist”. Irony isn’t a spiritual path you might pursue. It’s just a matter of sitting loose to one’s present self and hoping that one’s next self will be a bit more interesting.”
Rorty is suggesting that philosophy is useful for the self. But, ironists are not inherently spiritual. Merely doubting your final vocabulary is not enough to have an enhanced life from philosophy. As Rorty points out, it would be a shame to be a private ironist. Most importantly, Rorty takes the puzzle pieces of other thinkers, and re-arranges them.
The imagination, according to Rorty, is the central means by which progress invents itself.
“I think the romantics were the first to suggest that imagination, rather than argument, was the principal means by which humanity makes progress. Imagination is what gives us new topics to talk about–topics like “democracy”, “gravity” and “curved space-time”. It enlarges the bounds of conversation and inquiry. It is a mistake to speak of “the aesthetic realm” as if that were a corral to which the imagination is confined. The imagination permeates all areas of culture, and keeps them moving.”
I think that Rorty subscribes to the romantic conviction that the aesthetic realm provides post-metaphysical means of overcoming modern forms of disenchantment and moral nihilism.
Yet, Rorty denies the existence of disenchantment and moral nihilism
“I don’t believe there are such things as “modern forms of disenchantment and moral nihilism”–these seem to me bugbears invented by traditionalists. But if they existed, then it would be up to the imagination to overcome them.”
As Rorty argues in Achieving Our Country, post-modern discourse can actually backfire by creating left-wing Glenn Beck figures. By ostracizing individuals from liberal causes, post-modern radical reform might, in a very important sense, be worth reconsidering. In order to help the tradition, once again, Rorty looks to imagination: change is best fostered by explicit alternatives to the status-quo.
“I think that the most effective criticism of traditions and institutions is to say “We don’t have to do it that way. Here is an alternative. Let’s try doing it this way.” Theories are useful only to the extent that they move people to see the present set-up as one alternative among many, and thus are inspired to dream up new options.”
Theory is not useful for its own sake. Theory must serve a purpose, and that purpose is to bring the dreams of the imagination into the real world of Being.
So who ought we read? Robert Brandom
“Brandom seems to me the most original and imaginative philosopher of our day. The influence of his work may be such as to cause us to drop “pragmatism” as our buzzword and start using “Hegelianism”. For Brandom thinks of himself as, so to speak, an Hegelian first and a pragmatist second. If his work becomes as influential as I think it may, Deweyan pragmatism may come to be seen as a primitive version of neo-Hegelianism, and Brandom’s social-practice account of rationality as a more sophisticated one– one that takes the “linguistic turn” into account.”
Rorty is advocating that we consider calling ourselves Hegelians rather than Pragmatists. I think this is a very wise move, because I think pragmatism is bad for public discourse because it has no standard for truth, and muddles the standards debate.
I plan on writing a post about Hegelian discourse later this afternoon.