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Partly informative, partly annoying. The author is a pragmatist in the tradition of Dewey. He sees that tradition as related in some ways to logical positivism (in that it "answers" some traditional questions of philosophy by saying that they aren't worth asking) and related in other ways to the tradition that he describes as "textualism": people like Derrida and Foucault. The book is a collection of previously published essays, with a long introduction on what pragmatism is. In the introduction, and elsewhere, I found myself having a curious double reaction: partly "well, of course this is true; it's trivial!" and partly "how can anyone expect me to swallow an outrageous assertion like that?". Curous because I often had both reactions in response to the same assertion! One reason is probably just because this isn't the kind of philosophy that I'm most sympathetic to. But another, I think, is that Rorty indulges in a semantic game where he says something that can be interpreted multiple ways, one tame and trivial, another far-reaching and dubious. The parts of this book I found most interesting were the essentially sociological ones: the history of American university philosophy departments over the last 60 or 70 years, what contemporary philosophy professors do and how they see themselves, how academic philosophy today relates to other disciplines. (Physics; literary criticism.) The part I found the most annoying was his discussion of Derrida. I think Rorty was trying to show, by example, the style of discourse that he suggested might be more common among post-philosophers who accept pragmatism than it is among philosophers today. What is one to make of "The Freudian distinction between the normal and the abnormal, drawn with the concreteness which is given by Derrida's exhibition of the sexual overtones of most metaphilosophical debate, seems to be just what is needed to be properly playful about the difference between the Kantians and the dialecticians."? One might point out that Rorty doesn't even attempt to show that Freud's ideas about sex have any validity, or that Derrida's "sexual overtones" are really there. But then, that would be missing the point. Ideas like "validity" and "really there" are just what's being rejected here; this passage is being written about, and from, a perspective where choosing a new vocabulary is supposed to be more interesting than constructing an argument for an idea. But even with that said, what is one to make of a passage like this? If you don't already accept the presuppositions of that passage, are you just supposed to be dazzled by the rapidity of the passage from one topic by another, or by what Rorty calls "name dropping"? If so, then about the only thing I can think of to say is that it's a matter of taste: either you find that sort of thing dazzling or you don't. I don't. But that may be a little harsh. After reading this book I have a slightly better grasp than I did before of what it means for there to be philosophical traditions that just ignore issues that I think of as central, that don't think it's interesting to formulate an idea and formulate an argument in support of that idea, that have decided to play some other game entirely. It's still not my idea of what's interesting, but I understand a bit more why some people might think it is.
Pragmatism and Philosophy
The World Well Lost
An Essay on Wittgenstein
Heidegger and Dewey
Professionalized Philosophy and Transcendentalist Culture
An Essay on Derrida