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On Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Part II: "Mirroring" (Ch. 3–4).
Is a "theory of knowledge" possible? Rorty says that while of course psychology has interesting things to say, any specifically philosophical effort is doomed. Why? Because there is no fixed point outside of the "knowledge language game" that provides an ultimate grounding.
Rorty draws on Sellars (ep. 154) to say that there is no sensory "given" or primary intuition of reason that can serve this function, and also on Quine (ep. 66) who argued that there are no "analytic truths," that even the truths of logic are merely central to our web of belief, not immovable foundations.
Rorty is arguing for a coherence view of truth, where propositions can only be justified by how well they fit with the other propositions, not by their correspondence to the world outside of human discourse. He thinks that since Locke and Kant, we have come to think of this philosophical project of figuring out the roles of intuition (what we sense) vs. concepts (what our minds do to make sense of this sense data) as an inescapable problem, but no: As with the related issue of inner mind vs. outer world (as discussed in ep. 153), this has been a matter of our idiosyncratic history, and a proper reading of the ancient Greeks will not find this paradigm of epistemic theorizing at all.
Mark, Wes, and Dylan reflect on whether Rorty's pragmatic objections hold any water and whether he's just a dirty, stinking relativist! Buy the book or try this online version.
End song: "The Ghosts Are Alright" from The Bye-Bye Blackbirds (Houses and Homes, 2008), as discussed on Nakedly Examined Music #32.
Imad Zaheer says
It will be interesting to see if you can talk about Susan Haack in a future podcast and her response to Rorty on these issues. Even better, get her on the show!
Seth Paskin says
Funny you mention this Imad. We’re emailing each other about it right now.
she’s an interesting thinker, this might be of use:
Seconded. Susan Haack is great. If you do an episode with her you should get her to explain what ‘foundherentism’ is.
Great episode today guys. Never disappoints.
Haack is great and would make a fantastic interview. Alternatively Hildebrand has that nice book against Rorty and Putnam Beyond Realism & Anti-Realism. It’s a great book situating Rorty into some of the disputes early in 20th century American philosophy.
It’d be useful if instead of vaguely pointing to pragmatism you get a bit more specific as these are places where there are big differences between Peirce, James and Dewey. I think it’s even debatable whether Rorty is a pragmatist. Usually the label neo-pragmatist got applied to Rorty, Putnam and their followers to distinguish them from the classic pragmatists. There really are some important differences. Putnam is pretty forthright about these differences – primarily on epistemology between say Peirce’s sense of truth and his warranted assertability. Rorty, as is ever the case, is sometimes a big more ambiguous although towards the end of his life he formally broke from pragmatism.
As I followed the discussion I kept wanting to shout how Peirce anticipates and avoids all the issues you brought up. He manages to keep the social aspect that I think Rorty gets right about community consensus and ‘knowledge’ but avoids a lot of the mistakes or sloppiness that I think Rorty gets into.
Let me add a bit since rereading that my comments come off as harsh when I didn’t intend them to have that tone. I loved the episode and hope you do more of these. It’s just that pragmatism is a bit more broad than I think the comments labeling Rorty suggest. It could confuse people a bit. In particular the gap between James and Peirce is pretty profound. I think Rorty is much more in James’ camp even though he tends to appeal to Dewey a fair bit.
It was good you said that however. Rorty, at least according to a number of well-known pragmatists (Cheryl Misak for example and Susan Haack who has pragmatist leanings) is controversial in that he basically has no patience for Peirce, the founder of pragmatism. So his pragmatism at the very least requires significant qualification, hence people drop the label in favor of “neo-pragmatism.” The usual way of describing the situation is that there are two fairly distinct traditions or lines of thought within the pragmatist movement. One line is the more “objectivist” side which goes from Peirce to C.I. Lewis, to Putnam and others. The other wing is the more “subjectivist” side which starts more with James, goes through Dewey and ends in Rorty. The two sides have duked it out for over a hundred years.
By the way, if Misak is correct (see this podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjNypOXwsCM), then much of the twentieth century’s greatest philosophers such as Quine and Goodman literally ripped off the work of their pragmatist teacher C.I. Lewis, so I would like to see an episode on Lewis if possible, since PEL has already done Quine (Two Dogmas specifically).
pretty sure Peirce rejected James’ pragmatism for pragmaticism, no?
there really is only a familial resemblance for such thinkers and no hard and fast rule as to what would include one thinker and not another, if it wasn’t for Rorty pragmatism wouldn’t even be on the public radar maybe that should count for something…
Wayne Schroeder says
Richard Rorty is intellectually hilarious:
“Truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with.”
“The world does not speak. Only we do.”
“Philosophers get attention only when they appear to be doing something sinister.”
However his irony, or contempt for anyone disobeying his rules of philosophy is the unfortunate basis of his humor. You can always tell you are in the presence of a pragmatist when your own more complex ideas start seeming absurd (of course they may be, so it’s great fun).
He is the post-Tractatus Wittgenstein saying we should not talk of that which we know nothing about–that which is justificatory epistemology and outside of language–the black box of qualia. As such he truly is the rank behaviorist as noted in the episode, and good cause for consternation.
But Rorty is always good for a laugh: “The difference between people and ideas is… only superficial.”
Kevin Cassidy says
Does anyone have a link to the Animal Consciousness guy mentioned? Would love to check out his book but I can’t seem to find him. Thanks!