Richard Rorty

by Kieran Healy on June 9, 2007

Richard Rorty has died.

{ 158 comments }

1

Freddie 06.09.07 at 8:23 pm

RIP.

I’m sure going to be depressed when the New York Times and other anti-antifoundationalist (or postmodern, as they’ll say) partisans start attacking his career. Probably in the form of an obituary.

2

Matt 06.09.07 at 8:33 pm

Sad to see. I think Rorty was one of the most unfairly treated philosophers for a long time. I can’t say I agreed with lots of what he said but he was grossly caricatured and treated completely without charity by most professional philosophers who put no effort into understanding what he said and rather treated him as a scare-crow. He didn’t always help because of his rather cavalier style but nonetheless it was annoying to see people who had clearly not bothered to read him with the slightest charity use him as a target.

3

Flaffer 06.09.07 at 8:36 pm

I really respect Rorty. I read some philosopher who said that much can be gained by being spectacularly wrong. I think Rorty was wrong in a lot of ways, but his aim at the target was true. I am not “attacking is career”; as the pundits Firesign Theatre said: “Everything you know if wrong.” There is something right about that, and Rorty was one of the true practitioners.

RIP.

4

Martin GL 06.09.07 at 8:45 pm

Crap.

5

Martin GL 06.09.07 at 8:46 pm

By which I mean: I’m sorry he’s gone. He was a great and important thinker, not least in his whole approach to philosophy, and we’re all the worse off without him.

6

novakant 06.09.07 at 9:42 pm

he made me take philosophy less and comparative literature more seriously, which was a good thing

RIP

7

Toby 06.09.07 at 10:56 pm

If it hadn’t been for Rorty, I probably wouldn’t be in philosophy today. (Would he have seen this influence as positive or negative?) I owe him a great deal. RIP.

8

Steve Sailer 06.09.07 at 11:43 pm

My favorite Rorty quote is from his November 1999 Atlantic Monthly article “Phony Science Wars:”

“… ‘the homosexual,’ ‘the Negro,’ and ‘the female’ are best seen not as inevitable classifications of human beings but rather as inventions that have done more harm than good.”

I’ve often reflected since then on how “the female” is not an inevitable classification of human beings.

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99nov/9911sciencewars.htm

9

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 12:59 am

I think that Rorty was right in many significant respects, and that it’s a pity that the philosophy world was incapable of listening. I didn’t especially like his opening to postmodernism, but he repented of that.

Seemingly people in the philosophy biz are utterly incapable of imaging why anyone might be dissatisfied with they way they’re doing things. I don’t think that it’s just my intemperate way of expressing myself, though I suppose that that is a factor.

10

Dave Maier 06.10.07 at 1:00 am

What matt said. Some name-brand philosophers really ought to be ashamed of themselves for their treatment of Rorty and his work. (Even when they were right that he was wrong, which was not as often as they thought.)

11

Dave Maier 06.10.07 at 1:06 am

In the interest of not diverting this thread from its proper focus on the passing of a great man, I will limit my response to (the second paragraph of) #9 to this: Geez, Emerson, you think you’re painting with a broad enough brush there??

12

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 1:06 am

One of the toxic aspects of graduate school is being told who not to read. I’m pretty sure that a lot of mentors have had Rorty on their Don’t Read List for some time. One of the ways of self-selecting for a philosophical career is not reading Rorty.

13

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 1:09 am

I have broader brushes, Dave. I think that it’s worth noting that Rorty tried to change philosophy and failed, and ended his life outside philosophy (as did Toulmin). I’ve been told by people in the biz that he wasn’t as respected inside philosophy as was outside. I’m outside philosophy.

14

A. G. Rud 06.10.07 at 1:55 am

I met Rorty as a graduate student when he was being courted by Northwestern (he opted for UVa that time around). He listened to us around the table as we talked of our thoughts and aspirations. We had all read the mirror of nature book with great enthusiasm.

But what I most remember about him is how he said Dewey (Duohwee), almost lugubriously; his walking away from our meeting with real estate brochures in hand; and how the Platonist Reg Allen, his friend, talked about Rorty’s love of birding. RIP.

15

engels 06.10.07 at 3:14 am

It’s really not inevitable that we classify people as female, Steve. Just as it’s not inevitable that we classify people as “rightwing driveby trolls”, although in your case it’s very tempting.

16

Russell Arben Fox 06.10.07 at 3:31 am

One of the more challenging authors I have ever read, if only because grasping the hard argumentative core his often (and I think often purposively) quicksilver and seemingly casual ideas was difficult. A great and maybe even necessary interlocutor for anyone who takes any kind of philosophical or moral realism seriously. RIP.

17

Dave Maier 06.10.07 at 3:36 am

Re: #14: My advisor used to tell us how Rorty, after a long tussle, would often concede the point at issue with a (lugubrious) “oh, all right,” thus earning him the nickname “Eeyore.”

18

aaron 06.10.07 at 4:37 am

favourite rorty quotation:

“From a pragmatist’s point of view, the notion of ‘inalienable rights’ is no better and no worse a slogan than that of ‘obedience to the will of God’. Either slogan, when invoked as an unmoved mover, is simply a way of saying that our spade is turned–that we have exhausted our argumentative resources. Talk of the will of God or of the rights of man, like talk of ‘the honour of the family’ or of ‘the fatherland in danger’ are not suitable targets for philosophical analysis and criticism. It is fruitless to look behind them. None of these notions should be analyzed, for they are all ways of saying, ‘Here I stand: I can do no other.’ These are not reasons for action so much as announcements that one has thought the issue through and come to a decision.”

from philosophy and social hope (i don’t quite remember which essay)

19

John Holbo 06.10.07 at 4:46 am

We KNOW you have broader brushes, John. The fact that you could have written something LESS considered is hardly to the point. (I think that’s Dave M.’s point.)

20

Dennis Arjo 06.10.07 at 5:12 am

I like this from “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids”, in ‘Philosophy and Social Hope’:

Had there been no Plato, the Christians would have had a harder time selling the idea that all God really wanted from us was fraternal love. Had there been no Kant, the nineteenth century would have had a harder time reconciling Christian ethics with Darwin’s story about the descent of man. Had there been no Darwin, it would have been harder for Whitman and Dewey to detach the Americans from their belief that they were God’s chosen people, to get them to start standing on their own feet. Had there been no Dewey and no Sidney Hook, American intellectual leftists of the 1930s would have been as buffaloed by the Marxists as were their counterparts in France and in Latin America. Ideas do , indeed, have consequences.

21

Peter 06.10.07 at 5:13 am

The quotation above at #8 really does say it all. I know this blog is a big fan of the book ‘The Republican War on Science’, but the degree of reverence shown in this thread alone goes to show how much traffic there is in the other direction. I wish his nearest and dearest all the best at this difficult time, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that calling such ideas those of a crackpot or a crank is almost a kindness.

22

Marcel 06.10.07 at 8:41 am

Rorty was the true intellectual descendant of William James (though Dewey was his man), another great American thinker who is vastly underappreciated. They will be read centuries from now, when the greedy pedantry of the scholastics who now rule will seem like hermetic esoterica.
The coming obituaries: prophets in their own land and all that; I shudder to think. (posting this from Australia)

23

SqueakyRat 06.10.07 at 8:49 am

He once said in a seminar on realism: “Every decade or so someone writes a book called something like Beyond Realism and Idealism. Then the critics go at it, and it always turns out that what lies beyond realism and idealism is . . . idealism!”

I actually think he attributed it to someone else, but I can’t remember who.

24

Hidari 06.10.07 at 9:52 am

Interesting question: is ‘conventional’, ‘analytic’ philosophy flawed in a similar way to the way (some have argued) ‘orthodox’ economics is flawed? In other words, is the (not very impressive) current state of analytical philosophy simply ‘one of those things’ which will sort itself out over time, or is a more radical ‘root and branch’ kind of reform desirable? Do we need a ‘post-autistic philosophy’ movement?

And was Rorty abused and ignored because he indicated that ‘conventional’ philosophy has backed itself into a corner or is it, (as some have argued in this thread) because he’s just a fraud and conventional/analytic philosophy has essentially ‘got it right’?

25

Steve Fuller 06.10.07 at 9:59 am

As someone who was trained in philosophy and now finds myself outside the field, the point about the toxic effect of professors who warn you off figures like Rorty and Toulmin (and even Kuhn – who was by the early 1980s indisputably important) is very well taken. I also hadn’t realized that Rorty earned the nickname ‘Eeyore’ but that’s exactly how he seemed to me when I first heard him speak at the Modern Language Association meeting in NYC (I think 1980).

The interesting thing about guys like Rorty is that professional philosophers will say he has had no impact on the field, but of course his real impact is in softening the boundaries between philosophy and other disciplines – not least by demystifying the pretensions of professional philosophers who cling to ridiculous standards of something called ‘rigour’ etc. that not even they can meet. This demystification then emboldens people outside philosophy – typically people who practice something with ‘theory’ in the name – to do their own home-grown philosophy. The long-term effect, I think, is that philosophy loses its disciplinary clout. This may have been one of Rorty’s goals. If so, he certainly succeeded.

Finally, I would say the real problem with Rorty had nothing to do with his philosophical competence in any narrow sense. Frankly, if philosophers let Quine’s knowledge of science or Rawls’ knowledge of politics enter into their judgement of their philosophical merit, my guess is that they would have no grounds to complain about Rorty. However, Rorty did have a rather mystified view about the American Philosophical Tradition that basically was spawned from pragmatism. He’s not alone in this (Stanley Cavell comes a close second in the national mystification sweepstakes), but it is striking for someone who spent his whole career battling foundationalism – only to end up being a standard-bearer for American exceptionalism.

26

novakant 06.10.07 at 11:00 am

Hidari: as far as I can recall, Rorty was making the point that ‘analytic philosophy’ was simply carrying over the mistaken foundationalist concepts of ‘continental’ philosophy, only in a different guise

The problem with discussing this notion is that there are so many counterexamples in both ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophy: Hegel was hardly a foundationalist and his semiotic holism indeed comes very close to ‘postmodern’ positions, similar things could be said about Quine’s two dogmas, and as far as I can remember Rorty grants that; so actually Rorty is criticizing a particular, if at times dominant, strain in philosophy.

Also keep in mind that talking about ‘conventional/analytic’ philosophy only makes sense in the anglo-american context, there was a different dynamic at work in european universities in that analytic philosophy was viewed as a breath of fresh air.

27

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 11:17 am

19: I KNOW you KNOW that, other John. Irony is lost on me.

28

Visitor 06.10.07 at 1:25 pm

Unlike conventional academics who would ignor or sneer at Straussian readings of the history of philosophy, Rorty made serious attempts to respond. A debate with Harvey Mansfield in the New Republic around 1989 was particularly substantive (see also Thomas Pangle’s recent book on Strauss ).

29

paul 06.10.07 at 1:58 pm

Add me to comments #8 and #21 !

Simply because whenever I see some trolls I just have to jump in for shits and giggles. This is particularly true when said trolls are are of the scientific racist variety. Can’t miss an opportunity to interact with the ogre-like mentalities of “race realists” when smear their synaptical feces all over the place.. It’s almost like a virtual social link to the same mentality that drives another true patriotic American, Fred Phelps. Except, in Sailer’s case the obsession is secular “scientific race realism”. No matter where you go (funerals? the irony with these cretins never relinquishes) you’ll see Steve picketing with his vast intellectual capacity for the rights of all whites to uh, eh, I don’t want to say “be racist”, because Steve Sailer is NOT a racist, got it? Not that, ever! He’s a race *realist*, guffaw.

And these trolls like science? Well, then first thing for you to do is jettison all your wishful social science thinking on these matters… which is of course impossible because the whole foundation of your world-theory is an obsession with a certain collection of *social science* research which amounts to large collection of just-so interpolations of test results. Never have I seen something more absurdly and mindlessly entertaining than Levitt and Sailer debating whether or not abortions lower crime. Sailer should get it through his thick skull that he’s NOT a scientist, and neither are all the social “scientists” he hides behind. Social science and science ARE seperate, and the problem seems to be for Sailer et al is that social science isn’t conservative for them! So, the result becomes, not only does REAL science become “conservative” (in as much as what science says is “real” supports conservative political philosophy–whatever that means) but social science must also be converted into this new “conservative science” because, as it being *SOCIAL SCIENCE* and all, it is inherently liberal–because, well, social scientists tend to be liberal for a whole slew of reasons that I will not go into for lack of time. Maybe I can just say these individuals like “troll science”, and leave it at that.

I’d also like to make it known that Sailer et al and his crypto-racist cronies are guilty of the same errors of logic that Stephen Jay Gould made (and he was a Marxist!) with regard to delineating science into their own personal psychology. However, though Gould did make some, imho, very poor decisions w/r/t to where science belongs in the public realm and the role it should play in society–he still was at least a brilliant scientist, and perhaps the most iconoclastic science writer of the 20th century.

Keep on trolling, Mr. Sailer. It takes real dedication to do what you do, and I think you certainly give the entire Phelps family a run for their money! Say hello to your corporatist racist hacks that run VDARE and Forbes for me.

For now,

30

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 2:30 pm

We’re on the way to generating an infinite number of propositions, John. Don’t fail me now.

31

Toby 06.10.07 at 4:13 pm

24: professional philosophers will say he has had no impact on the field

OK. Which professional philosophers are these?

Certainly not professional philosophers like Davidson (well, he’s dead, so I guess he’s not saying anything), Brandom, Putnam, McDowell, Habermas, or Dennett. You must be referring to those professional philosophers who think that none of those guys count as part of “the field”, such that Rorty’s influence on them does not constitute “impact on the field”.

In the words of Seinfeld, who are these people?

32

Steve Fuller 06.10.07 at 4:53 pm

Response to 28: I mean the philosophers who believe that analytic philosophy is all the philosophy there is. They’re more part of the article culture than the book culture of the field. And as for the people you list, ‘Rorty’ is mostly just a proxy for pragmatism or perhaps Wilfrid Sellars — except for Brandom, of course, who was one of Rorty’s students and was, not surprisingly, influenced by him.

33

Freddie 06.10.07 at 5:34 pm

because he’s just a fraud

But that’s it exactly. There is never any argumentative content beyond those claims. They’re allowed to stand, simply by assertion. The truth is, traditional philosophers have had a very difficult time confronting his actual arguments. That difficulty doesn’t mean that he’s correct (or that, in his terms, his views pay their way.) But the fact that there is such a knee-jerk denunciation of him by more traditional philosophers to me indicates a deep, deep anxiety about what he had to say.

34

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 5:47 pm

John definitely knows that I know that he knows, but he’s too chicken to say so.

35

Sam C 06.10.07 at 5:50 pm

No surprise that Rorty’s death, just like Derrida’s, brings out a bunch of people denouncing him as a crank or a fraud. But I am surprised at the extent of agreement (in comments 2, 9, 12, 23, 24…) that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the discipline of philosophy. Several people seem to think that this is so obvious that it doesn’t require distinguishing between academic and analytic philosophy; doesn’t need any description of the problem; and doesn’t require any evidence. And people also seem to think that Rorty’s treatment by the academy is a perfect example of this unspecified problem. Rorty was a controversial figure, but he got read, discussed and taught, he was widely respected, and people who strongly disagree with him (including me) take his work seriously. Where’s the conspiracy? I am an academic philosopher, and probably even an analytic philosopher in some sense of that term. What exactly is it that’s wrong with what I do? Details and evidence rather than glib remarks, please.

36

Steve Fuller 06.10.07 at 6:05 pm

Response to 32: ‘Sam c’, you know as well as I, that as long as you remain anonymous, it’s impossible to say anything sufficiently specific about what’s wrong with the kind of philosophy you practise. And frankly, I’d be as bored as you to hear stereotyped denunciations of ‘analytic philosophy’ because even graduate students a quarter-century ago (e.g. me) were doing it. An interesting fact relating to this, though: I gave a talk at U. Virginia about 15 years ago, and Rorty attended. I was curious to see what he was teaching as ‘University Professor of the Humanities’ or some such title. He was just teaching a pretty ordinary course in philosophical semantics with lots of Davidson. But he wasn’t doing it in a philosophy department. Perhaps your indignation is misguided. It may have less to do with the intellectual content than the degree of tolerance that the INSTITUTION of analytic philosophy permits.

37

Tully Rector 06.10.07 at 6:14 pm

So what kind of philosopher was he?

From PMN:
“Edifying philosophers want to keep space open for the sense of wonder which poets can sometimes cause–wonder that there is something new under the sun, something which is not an accurate representation of what was already there, something which (at least for the moment) cannot be explained and can barely be described…One way of thinking of wisdom as something of which the love is not the same as that of argument, and of which the achievement does not consist in finding the correct vocabulary for representing essence, is to think of it as the practical wisdom necessary to participate in a conversation…The danger which edifying philosophy tries to avert is that some given vocabulary, some way in which people might come to think of themselves, will deceive them into thinking that from now on all discourse could be, or should be, normal discourse. The resulting freezing-over of culture would be, in the eyes of edifying philosophers, the dehumanization of human beings. The edifying philosophers are thus agreeing with Lessing’s choice of the infinite striving for truth over ‘all of Truth’…the point is always the same–to perform the social function which Dewey called ‘breaking the crust of convention,’ preventing man from deluding himself that he knows himself, or anything else, except under optional descriptions.”

For all his anti-metaphysical feeling, Rorty still had an ancient sense of what philosophy ought to be: a shelter for the spirit.

We’ll miss him.

38

Matt 06.10.07 at 6:16 pm

Sam C- I _don’t_ think that there is something _Fundamentally wrong_ with the discipline of philosophy. (It’s one I’m in, after all, in some ways.) I think that there are many specificlly wrong things with some parts of philosophy, and that the way that Rorty was often (not always, of course) used as a scare crow was an example. Many philosophers used his position as an example of an obviously stupid one or even an evil one without showing much evidence at all of having tried to understand it. That’s all I was saying. There’s lots of things to do and read and so no one has an obligation to engage with every position but the dismissal and the cardboard use of Rorty without the least bit of charity, and the tendency to interprite his views in a way so as to make them obviously false, was what annoyed me. If you’ve not seen quite a few examples you’ve not read much.

39

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 6:16 pm

Sam C., these are blog comments, not journal articles. These are short little snippets of the top of our heads.

If you are obliviously aware of what the criticisms of analytic / academic philosophy are, you’re a pretty insular guy. I suggest that you get out more.

Rorty tried and failed to change philosophy quite dramatically. He got some attention and a lot of abuse. He was part of the family and people paid attention to him, but he was proposing to let new people in, and that didn’t happen.

40

novakant 06.10.07 at 8:38 pm

maybe we should substitute ‘philosophy’ with ‘hiring practices in certain US philosophy departments’ for the purposes of this thread

I agree with sam c and toby that a bit more substance instead of blanket assertions would be interesting

41

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 10:50 pm

In a different, similiar thread I pointed out that Gellner, Rorty, and Toulmin all ended up working outside philosophy. All were well-trained, well-connected dissident philosophers, and it was not voluntary in the cases of Gellner and Toulmin. At a lower lever it’s not hard to find any number of people who left philosophy because of the present narrowness of the field, but the official response is that all were failures because of their lack of professionalism in refusing to accept the present state of the field.

42

Jim Johnson 06.10.07 at 10:51 pm

Rorty more or less walked away from the academic discipline of philosophy when he left Princeton for UVa. So far all the discussion here has been about the discipline and not his ideas ket alone his politics. Toby (#31) is right to say that Rorty had a lot of impact on a lot of prominent philsophers – but mostly those folks are interesting for the impact their ideas might have beyond the acadmic world.

Rorty was interesting for his efforts to re-orient intellectual culture broadly. So he is an extremely interesting “philosopher” in the way Sen is an extremely interesting “economist.” And that is because neither is especially preoccupoed with the discipline in which they came up. (Of course both talk the language of their upbringing because that is the language they have; but they are not interested narrowly in disciplinary problems.)

43

Toby 06.10.07 at 10:57 pm

Dear all who are bemoaning the dreadful state of analytic philosophy:

1) What in the world does “analytic philosophy” mean? I gather it meant something some decades ago. How about now? (Judging from some of the comments, I’m almost inclined to suspect it is being used as little more than a term of abuse.)

2) Yes, Rorty has received quite a bit of unfair criticism. A number of philosophers decisively rejected his work without taking the time to understand it properly. As a Rorty fan, I have, on occasion, been exasperated by the shallowness of some of the criticisms directed at him. But please explain how any of this reveals a deep sickness in analytic philosophy (whatever that is), or professional philosophy, or conventional philosophy, or the institution of philosophy, or whatever. Is the unfair criticism which has been directed at Rorty somehow different in kind, somehow more depressing, than the unfair criticism which has been directed at pretty much every philosopher who ever wrote anything worth reading?

44

Toby 06.10.07 at 11:07 pm

42: Toby (#31) is right to say that Rorty had a lot of impact on a lot of prominent philsophers – but mostly those folks are interesting for the impact their ideas might have beyond the acadmic world.

Like who?

Davidson? Davidson is mostly interesting for, uh, a long list: anomalous monism, Convention T, the indeterminacy thesis, radical interpretation… I consider all of this stuff fascinating, but I’m waiting to land on the idea that is ripe to explode beyond the academic world.

McDowell is mostly interesting for some work on Wittgenstein, his theory of perception, his disjunctivism… so far, so stuck in academia.

Brandom? Show me a non-academic whose pulse quickens while reading Making it Explicit, and I will eat my copy of Making it Explicit.

45

John Emerson 06.10.07 at 11:12 pm

Don’t play dumb, Toby. Analytic philosophy is defined by what is not and by what it excludes. Only analytic philosophers are impressed by the tremendous diversity of English-language philosophy.

Educate yourself, Toby. What is excluded?

46

Sam C 06.10.07 at 11:21 pm

Thanks, that’s the kind of detail I was asking for: it wasn’t a rhetorical demand, I’m genuinely interested (and not at all outraged).

From Matt, we have the suggestion that Rorty was often used as a strawman. This is true – but I’m not convinced that he was so used more than any other contemporary big name (you could say the same about Rawls, Williams, Quine, Davidson…). Nor am I convinced that such use is a bad thing: strawmen are useful. And, given Rorty’s views on the uses of literature, including philosophy, there’s a certain irony in complaining about misrepresentation on his behalf.

From Steve Fuller, we have the suggestion that philosophy is intolerant of change and outside perspectives. This is true – and also true of every other human instituion. I’m not convinced that academic philosophy is worse in this respect than other institutions. It may well not be as good as it could or should be, though.

But I still don’t get what John Emerson’s attacking. I get out often enough to know that there are criticisms of analytic philosophy, and (distinctly) of academic philosophy. I agree with some of them and think others misplaced. Rorty failed to revolutionize philosophy; he’s in good company. How does this support your particular critique, John E? What is your particular critique, and how widely does it apply? Is Novakant right that you’re really complaining about hiring practices in US universities? That’d be pretty disappointing, given the broad claims you were apparently making earlier. I’m not being sarcastic, I actually want to know. And while you’re at it, a response to Toby’s request for a definition of ‘analytic philosophy’ would be welcome, too: I suspect that you don’t mean what I mean by that term.

47

Neil 06.11.07 at 12:16 am

John,

Unlike you, Rorty respected analytic philosophy. I was drawn to the field in part because of people like him. He introduced me to the debate over direct reference v descriptivism. He didn’t dismiss it as pointless. My main point (beside the cheap ad hominem) is that there are reasons to be an analytic philosopher which do not depend on ignorance of the rest of philosophy. My phd is in continental philosophy, and I read pretty much all of Rorty before I read Kripke. You really seem to think that doing analytic philosophy is pointless and sterile that someone like me can’t rationally choose to do it while being aware of the alternatives. Try to have just a fraction of the charity that Rorty himself had (he, too, knew the field on which he turned his back, and he, too, respected it).

And as Toby said, analytic philosophy does not ignore Rorty. He’s had quite an influence. Insulting Toby does not constitute a response to him (though it is a reliable sign that you don’t have one).

I’ll shut up now. Would that you do the same (…holds breath…)

48

John Emerson 06.11.07 at 12:43 am

Yes, I’m complaining about the way hiring practices in North American universities, dominated by a majority-vote consensus meticulously quantified in the Leiter Report, have had the effect to marginalize and exclude schools of thought and have produced the dominance of one school. This is my major complaint. How this could have happened is not mysterious; it’s the most likely effect of an institutional form like that.

So yes, it’s a sociological and/or political critique. Philosophers seem to think that calling something political or sociological is a refutation but it isn’t. However, I will add: I do not believe that analytic philosophy gained control be winning arguments. Control was won by winning votes in conferences and controlling hiring practices. An outcome of this process was that philosophy was redefined in such a way as to make non-analytic philosophy seem like defective forms of analytic philosophy. This was a sociological process (cue Foucault).

I do not think that substantive intellectual disagreements or differences about the definition of philosophy can be decided by majority votes, bureaucratic control of hiring, or by writing one kind of answer to the question into the definition of the profession.

While I am not very interested in analytic philosophy (much less so than Rorty), I am not, even in theory or fantasy, proposing that analytic philosophers be purged. I am arguing against analytic domination and arguing for a broader range of philosophy. This is an important point, because analytics sometimes seem to fear that I am planning to use my vast power put them out on the street along with their weeping wives and children. That’s not in my plans, guys. remain calm.

You’re free to shut up or not, or to hold your breath and kick your heels until you turn blue. Insults prove nothing one way or another, regardless of what you think, and my insult to Toby was hardly vicious.

When I first read Rorty almost 30 years ago I thought that philosophy might be something I would want to do. It turned out that he was an outlier on the way out of the field. That’s a pity.

49

Matt 06.11.07 at 12:52 am

Sam C- I don’t think I’d put my criticisms in w/ those of John Emerson (as anyone who has read the two of us fight here would know!) I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with philosophy as such in the US now. But I do think that Rorty became a sort of boogy-man in a way that people whose views are not massively different from his did not and that this was bad for the profession. I have in mind both things like the rather stupid attribution to him of obviously false ideas in otherwise very good and interesting works like Alvin Goldman’s _Knowledge in a Social World_ and more mildly, perhaps, like a post from Brian Weatherson on his blog, discussing Rorty’s review of Scott Soames’s book on the history of analtyic philosophy. I can’t get the archives of Weatherson’s blog to work right for me so I’m going from memory and might be mis-remembering. But the basic point was saying something like, “Surprisingly, I think Rorty is on to something important here…”. Why surprisingly? Because among that crowd it was common knowledge that Rorty was an idiot. There was no good reason to think that, as Weatherson himself admitted later, but it was a very typical remark. Anyway, I don’t support, nor did any of my remarks imply, the broader critics of Emerson or others so please don’t lump me with them.

50

Jim Johnson 06.11.07 at 12:55 am

Dear Toby. Having an impact need not entail making your, or any other philosopher’s pulse quicken. Perish the thought. Nor need we, in order to discern imapct, be able to apply theses about radical interpretation directly to the question of how best to pursue current foreign policy. (In other words impact need not be either direct or immediate.) So, if people like Rorty and Habermas take up ideas of say, Davidson or Brandom, and critically extend them in ways that come to inform social criticsm, maybe, just maybe, you should start thinking about how scrumptious Making Things Explicit will be for breakfast. (And if social criticsm doesn’t count, try these examples. Dick Posner reads Rorty & Habermas and – I dare say – Davidson and each has an impact on his views about law (impact can be through disagreement too, no?). And, of course, to broaden the discussion a bit Stephen Breyer wrote an undergraduate thesis on Quine. But do judges count as outside the academy?).

51

Jim Johnson 06.11.07 at 12:58 am

Oooops. Making It Explicit

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 1:10 am

I think Roy Bhaskar’s Philosophy and the Idea of Freedom (1991) remains a sympathetic, fair and incisive critique (assessment) of Rorty’s major philosophical works. FWIW, I happen to agree with much of what Steve Fuller (25) writes above (although I suspect ‘sour grapes’ sometimes motivates people to endorse this perspective).

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Dan Kervick 06.11.07 at 4:01 am

I am no longer a professional philosopher, but was one for a long time. Given that so many people who are not professional philosophers, or who have not pursued an advanced course of study in philosophy, feel so free to express their assessments of the great value of Rorty’s work, and also offer their psychological diagnoses of the motives of those in the profession who happen to disagree with those assessments, perhaps I will be forgiven for offering my own diagnosis of the motives at work on the other side.

I’d like to note at the outset that there is something rather peculiar about the “Rorty phenomenon”, and I feel like I have been having some version of this same discussion for many years. I recall a discussion I had with a friend in the mid-eighties, when I was a third year graduate student in philosophy. My friend, who was not pursuing studies in philosophy, had nevertheless read Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, and was quite taken with it. I had also read the book and offered my own less enthusiastic judgment. It wasn’t a totally uninteresting book, I suggested, but I thought it mainly wrestled with a series of straw men and imprecisely defined targets, and that the arguments that were advanced against those of the targets that were tolerably well-defined were not very powerful or compelling.

What struck me at the time was the vehemence of my friend’s defense of Rorty. He seemed convinced that I just couldn’t be right, and also seemed by implication to suggest that there was no such thing as informed, expert opinion in the field of philosophy. Of course, I didn’t expect him to take my judgment on faith, since we both knew that other philosophers disagreed with me. But I did expect he would at least entertain the possibility that I had not been thoroughly wasting my time for three years, and that I might have actually learned something through my hard work that put me in a slighly more advantageous position to judge Rorty’s book than my friend was in himself. I’m fairly sure his attitude toward the views of people in other fields he had not pursued in depth would have been somewaht more deferential. So why was his attitude about philosophy different?

Having experienced this same argumentative dynamic on many occasions since then, I have developed some opinions about what is going on. On the one hand, of course, there is the fact of people like me who believe that through hard work they have learned something of great value, and have developed a certain pride in, and protectiveness toward, what they think they know. They often feel an obligation to transmit what they believe has been learned to the next generations in an uncorrupted form, and to preserve the general esteem of their field so that society continues to support it. It must always be admitted that this attitude, which is a by-product of any intensive course of study, has a negative aspect that can prevent people from grasping valid criticisms of their own views.

But there is something just as important, and just as potentially damaging to good judgment, working on the other side. Most people are threatened by, or perhaps just irritated by, the existence of fields of knowledge which they haven’t mastered. I know this irritates me a great deal personally. But when controversial luminaries in those foreign fields pass on, it would never occur to me to leap into the fray and express confident conclusions about the value of that person’s work. But philosophy seems to have a different effect on people.

That’s because most of us want, fairly desperately, to believe that we aren’t missing anything important in life. We are especially susceptible to be influenced by the testimony of people like Rorty who appear – at least from the outside – to have thoroughly explored some alien intellectual terrain, and who then report back to the rest of us, “there isn’t much in there worth knowing – just a bunch of deluded pedants with their sophistic quiddities and arid theoretical formulations of vain pseudo-knowledge. Castles built on sand – feel free to move along.” Of course, if we haven’t explored the terrain ourselves, we can’t be sure that disparaging opinion is well-founded.

Many non-philosophers and part-time philosophers are quite certain that philosophers-by-vocation must be doing something wrong, because the latter are interested in avenues of inquiry that the former neither understand nor are drawn to. And yet we all know that in many fields the practitioners are intensely interested in questions which we don’t even understand. Why should we expect philosophy to be any different?

It occurs to me that we are in the presence here of a sort of secular faith, and one which is just as unwarranted as the absurd articles of faith in other religions. It is a faith that is particularly prominent in the practical and democratic cultures of the English-speaking world, with its heritage in reformed Christianity. Just as most reformed Christians were certain that the fundamental truths of religion could be grasped through bible-reading or intuition alone, and required no special training or intellectual cultivation to attain, so the modern descendants of these people are convinced that knowing the answers to questions about matters of “ultimate concern” can’t require long and advanced intellectual training. A just God wouldn’t establish a path to salvation that depended on transmissions from a few human experts. Similarly, thriving in a just moral and practical universe, whether theistically grounded or not, couldn’t depend on the philosophical knowledge of a few advanced practitioners. Salvation must be open to all.

Now maybe those who wish to leap to Rorty’s defense against his professional critics are right. Maybe Rorty was disdained by some professional philosophers only because he advanced powerful and weighty arguments that tended to disparage some of their established opinions and much of their work, and they have been irrationally and jealously driven to defend their territory.

On the other hand, maybe Rorty was disdained by some of those who did disdain him because he actually was an inferior philosophical thinker who had somehow achieved un unmerited and unwholesome notoriety, and this situation was accurately perceived by people with properly cultivated discernment. Maybe these critics weren’t very impressed with the quality of Rorty’s argumentation, his care and diligence, or his mastery of the relevant altrernatives, and were actually in an excellent position to judge these values.

For those of you who have only read a limited amount of philosophy, and have never studied it in an intensive and disciplined way, and yet are so mightily convinced that the first account is closer to the truth, my questions are just these: How do you know? What is it that gives you the confidence to affirm that you have it all figured out? What makes you so sure that the philosophers who didn’t think much of Rorty’s work were wrong?

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Bill Gardner 06.11.07 at 4:01 am

I knew him slightly, but well enough to say that he was generous with his time. He was willing to spend a few hours talking about Freud & _Mirror_of_Nature_ with a UVa social scientist assistant professor (yours truly) with no philosophical education, just because I asked.

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brian.a 06.11.07 at 4:20 am

I don’t think we need to worry that the New York Times obit will give Rorty the spit-on-the-grave treatment they gave Derrida. He ain’t French.

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colin 06.11.07 at 7:16 am

Dan Kervick,

Thank you for priviligizing the views of people who completely disagree with Rorty, and then attempting to offer a sociological explanation (instead of , say, a philosophical one) for why they were right, and Rorty’s supporters wrong. Good Job! Obviously the pragmatists and other post-analytics have really just missed the point and mainstream analytic philosophy has been right all along. That is quite a relief.

And, maybe more to the point, what makes you think he was wrong?

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 7:52 am

I find myself in the strange position of defending Rorty’s honour, even though most of what I’ve ever written about him has been strongly critical.

Dan Kervick’s so-called explanation of Rorty’s success is much too parochial to be taken seriously. Philosophy, like history, is a field over which the ‘professionals’ have always exerted only partial control. Analytic philosophy promised that greater specialisation would improve the answers given to the perennial questions that interest people both inside and outside the field. Whatever you make of Rorty’s own arguments, his general point stands as a matter of fact. Of course, people inside analytic philosophy continue to find the field fascinating – otherwise they wouldn’t still be there! But there is precious little of a take-home message to philosophically interested people outside the discipline. For example, suppose all the philosophers of science born after, say, 1940 were erased for our collective memory, would either philosophy or science be any worse for it – would it even be any different?

My point is that analytic philosophy has certainly succeeded in establishing standards of argument that are sufficiently high that you may have to devote a good portion of your life to mastering them. Such exacting standards have even been set for specific branches of philosophy, so that it is the rare analytic philosopher who can move dextrously between analytic philosophy of science and analytic epistemology (which you might think were closely related fields)! Rorty’s point in all this is ‘Big deal, if you’ve lost touch with what motivates people to ask philosophical questions in the first place’. And he’s right about this.

While all disciplines perhaps are beset by hyperspecialisation and institutionalised autopilot, I suppose it’s especially galling when it happens to philosophy, which is after all supposed to be the most self-consicously critical and reflexive of disciplines.

This is also why you see the proliferation of ‘theory’ in the humanities and the softer reaches of social science. And before you say that these ‘theorists’ are just lazy second-raters who get by only on Rorty’s benediction, it’s worth noting that analytic philosophers are not rigorous in all respects. They are especially lazy when it comes to representing other people’s views. Of course, they’re rigorous once they’ve ‘reconstructed’ an argument into premises and conclusions, but whether the reconstruction resembles the original is a very open question. (As you might expect of a con man, the bait-and-switch is always presented as being in the original author’s own best interests by explicating what ‘he was really trying to say’.) But often the reconstruction never even happens. Instead, the argument is fitted into a scholastic template, such as ‘relativist’, ‘sceptic’, etc. Anyone who’s ever read Simon Blackburn’s reviews of Rorty’s books will know exactly what I mean. And Rorty’s reception really shows up what bad readers analytic philosophers are because he wasn’t writing some badly translated opaque prose, but actually quite good English prose.

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 8:49 am

I’m very puzzled by the claim, repeatedly made in this thread, that Rorty was anathematized by the anglo-american philosophical mainstream because he challenged their methods and their conception of the boundaries of the subject. First, I don’t think it is true that he was anathematized, just that he wasn’t taken as seriously as his fans would have liked. Second, it is very easy to point to philosophers who reject scientism and who also challenge those same boundaries and who have always been treated with the utmost respect by “insiders”. To name but one: Bernard Williams.

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 9:01 am

To Chris Bertram: I guess you mean ‘taken seriously’ in the narrow sense. Yes, Williams was taken seriously in that one had to perform the relevant rituals that amounted to demonstrating he was an important philosopher. But he’s had even less impact than Rorty in the areas where their views overlapped. And, frankly, my long term bet is on Rorty having a larger impact than Williams because his dissent was more open-faced than Williams’

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 9:32 am

Needless to say, Steve, I disagree. My experience of reading Williams is, in some respects, akin to my experience of reading Nietzsche, in that he had the power to say something (often, merely by the lightest of comments in passing) that is profoundly unsettling. My experience of reading Rorty does not involve being unsettled in the least, just thinking “no, that’s wrong”, “what’s the _argument_ for _that_?” etc. Lots of people are even more “open-faced” in their “dissent” than Rorty, but I find it hard to believe that degree of open-faced dissent is a good predictor of long-term impact. Really having something to say, and saying it well, on the other hand, probably is.

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 10:15 am

To Chris Bertram: There are so many levels on which what you’re saying strikes me as wrong – ESPECIALLY for a philosopher, who presumably chooses his words carefully.

Why should anyone’s (even an expert’s) personal response to a philosophical text today be taken as a reliable measure of long-term success? Generally speaking, philosophy is no better than any other discipline in its ability to anticipate/control what ends up in the canon. For the record, my view is simply that Rorty has a better shot than Williams, not that his chances are so high. But you posed matters in terms of where their views overlapped, and generally speaking dissenters who are more explicit tend to be remembered longer. Nietzsche wasn’t the only guy saying the sorts of things he was saying – but all the comparable critical-historical theologians, evolutionary biologists, etc. wrote in more academically respectable, technically domesticated prose that hedged their bets against radical interpretations. Admittedly Nietzsche also benefited from having been an academic blue-blood, and so his wild utterances were tolerated sufficiently to stay on the radar of public intellectual life. Rorty, like Paul Feyerabend before him, is a much more mannered version of the same phenomenon.

In any case, no philosopher’s long-term importance has ever been determined by the number of plausible arguments they mount but rather by the direction in which they point, which typically go against the taken-for-granted point of view. (This too was a Rortian point.) One great advantage that Rorty had over Williams was a willingness to mention things outside of professional philosophy that might inform an alternative way of philosophical thinking – and not just one thing that was then bled to death (e.g. Gauguin and moral luck). This enabled philosophically minded people outside the discipline to feel they had a right to make a contribution. I am struck, e.g. that the most recent book on the meaning of life is by the literary critic Terry Eagleton. And it’s much better than anything Simon Blackburn, John Searle or Daniel Dennett could produce.

Finally, I hope you simply ended on a rhetorical flourish when you suggested that ‘having something to say’ is a good long-term predictor of philosophical success. That’s a bit like saying being genetically fit is a good long-term predictor of biological survival – a disguised tautology that fails to consider the relevant genetic alternatives in the relevant selection environments. What you mean by ‘having something to say’ is relative to successive generations of increasingly pre-disciplined philosophical readers. My own view is that any of a number of philosophical texts – other than the one we currently valorize – could well be part of the canon if we did indeed focus on their content and not the impact they’ve already had (or not) on other valorized texts. To believe otherwise strikes me as simply a blind faith in philosophical providence.

Here too Rorty was very right when he upheld the essential arbitrariness of philosophical judgement: Yes, continue saying that Kant is better than Hegel for your current philosophical purposes, but please try not to represent that judgement as anything more than that. We may not be able to change the laws of physics (very easily) but we could change the philosophical canon quite easily if we wanted to, and the resulting understanding of the world would be quite different – but our brains wouldn’t explode and we wouldn’t be reduced to an abject existence.

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 10:44 am

_just one thing that was then bled to death (e.g. Gauguin and moral luck)_

Have you got your e.gs and i.es mixed-up there Steve? Because if it was “just one thing” it seems odd then to cite that one thing as an example of itself. (By the way, if you think that Williams took “just one thing” from outside philosophy and then bled it to death, you just don’t know his work.)

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Matt 06.11.07 at 10:54 am

Not to take things too far off thread here but it’s funny to me to see Williams considered to be one who’s rejected scientism. He did in one sense. but his whole “absolute conception of the world” thing and his Descartes book were all about as big a bit of scientism as one could get, and a pretty simple verion of scientism at that. (Arthor Fine’s APA Presidential address from several years ago, “The View of No One In Particular” I think it was called, did a wonderful job of knocking the view down and showing how it was based on a phoney view of science. But it’s clear, isn’t it, that the reason Williams supported a sort of skepticism and relativism in ethics was that it didn’t fit into his otherwise deeply reductionist, scientistic worldview. Or so it always seemed to me.)

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 11:10 am

Thanks, Chris, for making my point – and with such brio!

Were you a slightly more charitable reader of ordinary English prose, you’d infer that I did indeed mean ‘e.g.’ (so I wasn’t confining Williams to just one moment of extra-philosophical intelligence) but that the example was bled to death by the other analytic philosophers who read Williams and subsequently referred to the example – perhaps double-checking that they spelled Gauguin’s name correctly – as a basis for arguments that eventually returned to the established grooves of the discipline.

Now, you may disagree with this characterisation – but that’s what you were meant to disagree with. And the fact that your query about misstatement is all you can say in response to what I wrote merely reinforces the stereotype that people have about analytic philosophers: They’re the sort of people you’d like to hire as copyeditors but keep them away from anything important. Small wonder, then, Rorty said what he said!

However, if you have something more substantive to say, then please by all means do so.

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 11:12 am

Matt, do you know Williams’s essay “Philosophy as a Humanistic Discipline”?

http://www.royalinstitutephilosophy.org/articles/article.php?id=39

(Inter alia, he addresses the claim, made by Putnam, that his own reference to “an absolute conception of the world” puts him in the camp of scientism.)

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 11:24 am

Steve, you wrote:

_One great advantage that Rorty had over Williams was a willingness to mention things outside of professional philosophy that might inform an alternative way of philosophical thinking – and not just one thing that was then bled to death (e.g. Gauguin and moral luck)._

Then, in your last comment you tell us that this wasn’t meant a comment about Williams but about other analytical philosophers making use of his work. I would have had to have been a very charitable reader to see that!

_if you have something more substantive to say, then please by all means do so._

If I had more time, maybe. As it is, I think it is enough to allow your words to speak for themselves. (Though if you are luck enough to find sufficiently charitable readers, they may manage reconstructions and interpretations that do you more credit than the ones I can achieve.)

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John Emerson 06.11.07 at 11:30 am

I don’t think that the treatment of Rorty specifically is the main point, since he was well-connected and tenured, and thus invulnerable. The main point would be the treatment of grad students who thought like Rorty or who wanted to follow a Rortian path. Not especially people who wanted to develop Rorty’s own technical work, but people who wanted to expand on it and develop philosophy further in the direction he proposed. Control of grad students and hiring is the mechanism defining philosophy.

Most people are threatened by, or perhaps just irritated by, the existence of fields of knowledge which they haven’t mastered.

Dan Kervick is just being silly and nasty. No one resents astrophysicists or mathematicians.

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 11:33 am

To recall John Emerson, if this were an article rather than a blog, then your remark would have been useful as a copyediting query. It is not a substantive intellectual point, no matter how much you try to milk it. It’s clear, however, that your real interest is Williams and not Rorty — and not picking up on that may be my real communicative error. But once again, since this is a blog and not an article, I don’t expect you pursue these arguments beyond your comfort zone. I certainly wouldn’t.

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Matt 06.11.07 at 11:36 am

I’ve not read that essay, Chris. I will. (I do think the link between Williams’s sketpicism on ethics and his scientistic view as to what is ‘really real’ is straightforward and was prettly cleraly embrassed by him in _Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy_ though. Do you disagree? I also though it was quite a common reading, and rightly so since it was the one he seemed to support himself.)

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 11:36 am

By the way, my last comment was meant for Chris Bertram — I hadn’t realized that John Emerson would jump in! Sorry for any confusion. I don’t want the copyeditors descending on me again!

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Dan Kervick 06.11.07 at 12:29 pm

Dan Kervick is just being silly and nasty. No one resents astrophysicists or mathematicians.

Maybe it’s silly, but I don’t see what is nasty about it. Personally, I do think that there is widespread irritation and frustration with the fields of astrophysics, mathematics, physical cosmology and other theoretical sciences. People are frustrated by the fact that these fields investigate questions that strike their curiosity, but produce answers they can’t understand or evaluate.

Yet a difference is this: People seem generally resigned to the fact that while there are questions and and claims in those fields about which they might wish they held informed opinions, these are areas about which they don’t hold informed opinions. For some reason, philosophy is different. There is a widespread attitude that the belief in informed, expert opinion in philosophy is arrogant, presumptuous and wrong. Many also seem to think every philosopher has a duty to deliver easily intelligible answers to the questions they are interested in, and if they fail in this expectation, they are doing something wrong.

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 1:10 pm

To Dan Kervick,

All I can say is that I hope you’re young and not simply ignorant. Consider what you’ve just said here:

For some reason, philosophy is different. There is a widespread attitude that the belief in informed, expert opinion in philosophy is arrogant, presumptuous and wrong. Many also seem to think every philosopher has a duty to deliver easily intelligible answers to the questions they are interested in, and if they fail in this expectation, they are doing something wrong.

First of all, ‘expert opinion’ in philosophy doesn’t reach much farther than the better policed precincts of analytic philosophy — at least if you mean to suggest a consensus of expert opinion.

Second, it should be perfectly obvious why non-philosophers think philosophers should be addressing their concerns: Even analytic philosophy continues to derive its legitimacy from Plato and Aristotle. That’s the bait-and-switch that often happens at the undergraduate level. Students come in thinking about the big questions of life these Greeks raised and end up, by the end of the major, thinking they should looking for holes (or wholes, for that matter) in Quine or Davidson.

As long as analytic philosophy continues to draw legitimacy from philosophers who actually did ask questions that continue to bother non-philosophers, then it’s got to expect to non-philosophers to complain. Frankly, I’m surprised that analytic philosophers haven’t taken a more honest approach to the history of philosophy and simply dump it altogether as so much alchemy to chemistry. Why not follow the logical positivists who wanted to make Hume or Kant Year Zero in Philosophy? (They never had the nerve to recommend Frege or Russell as Year Zero. That ‘honour’ goes to Quine.)

Instead, an increasing number of analytically trained people end up in a speciality called ‘history of philosophy’ where they sublimate their general philosophical impulses by channelling dead philosophers who still had a holistic view of their subject. Talk about thinking in exile!

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 1:24 pm

Perhaps Brian Leiter’s comments are emblematic of a viewpoint shared among not a few within the profession of philosopny: Leiter takes Rorty to task for being among those philosophers who, “in recent years, reached a wide audience outside the discipline [yet] have generally done a poor job representing the *actual* state of affairs. Richard Rorty is both the best-known and worst offender on this score–his depictions of philosophy are widely regarded by philosophers as shameless fabrications [see below]–but even more sober-minded philosophers like the late Bernard Williams have played a role in giving non-philosophers a skewed perception of what philosophers are doing.”

In a note to the above, Leiter writes that “Rorty, alas, never responds to his most serious critics, with the result that most philosophers have stopped reading him. For trenchant critical discussions, see, e.g., Jaegwon Kim, ‘Rorty on the Possibility of Philosophy,’ *Journal of Philosophy,* 77 (1980), 588-97; Ernest Sosa, ‘Serious Philosophy and Freedom of Spirit,’ *Journal of Philosophy,* 84 (1987), 707-27.” [Incidentally, in the next note Leiter discusses "Bernard Williams and scientism" question broached above Matt and Chris.]

From Brian Leiter, ed., The Future for Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 18.

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Toby 06.11.07 at 1:25 pm

John (45): Don’t play dumb, Toby. Analytic philosophy is defined by what is not and by what it excludes.

Educate yourself, Toby. What is excluded?

You tell me. I guess I’m no good at educating myself, so how about helping me out a little?

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 1:36 pm

With all due respect to Brian Leiter’s ability to intimidate people with his philosophy department ratings system, I doubt he has a sound empirical base for making his claims about Rorty — unless, of course, he operates with the ‘me and my famous friends’ theory of sampling opinion. Really, if the American Philosophical Association thought Rorty had done such immeasurable damage to the field, they should have conducted a thorough survey of its membership to assess the nature and extent of the damage a long time ago. Perhaps they could have excommunicated him rather than allow him to leave voluntarily!

Leiter can get away with his remarks only because Rorty had already officially exited philosophy. And as for Rorty not addressing ‘the most serious criticisms’ of philosophers, who judges ‘serious’ here? Many criticisms of Rorty are on the order of ‘Why isn’t your defence of pragmatism just relativism through the back door?’ In other words, ‘Let me shift the burden of proof so you have to show me that you’re not the idiot I think you are’. Sorry, this is not serious criticism.

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Daniel 06.11.07 at 1:42 pm

In response to comment 72,

I don’t think it’s fair to claim that the sort of questions that motivated Plato and Aristotle are absent from analytic philosophy today. I’ll mention a few examples. There’s been a recent surge of interest in the epistemic value problem, which is roughly the question of what makes knowledge more worth having than mere true belief. This question is from Plato’s Meno. Ethicists and action theorists have been interested in akrasia (weak-willed action) for quite awhile, and this topic was discussed extensively by both Plato and Aristotle. The sort of metaphysical questions that Aristotle asked are still asked today, often about the same examples (Theseus’ ship, the statue and the lump of clay). Do none of these count? Another huge example is the field of virtue ethics, which is almost entirely inspired by the ancients, chiefly Aristotle.

To say that modern analytic philosophers have stopped discussing the questions Plato and Aristotle discussed is flatly false. Maybe you’ll say that none of the examples I’ve mentioned concern “the big questions about life” (but come on, even the virtues?), but if that is your response, then you have to allow that much of what Plato and Aristotle wrote didn’t have anything to do with the big questions of life either.

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 1:49 pm

I don’t expect you pursue these arguments beyond your comfort zone.

Ouch!

(Unfortunately Steve you apparently feel very comfortable in zones where you should be starting to feel a twinge of insecurity. But argue away, in a confident tone, and I’m sure you’ll fool some of the people some of the time!)

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 2:00 pm

In no particular order and off the top of my head, recent or contemporary philosophers analytical in method or temperament, but no less capable of asking at least some of the “big questions:” Martha Nussbaum, Richard Sorabji, Richard Kraut, Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, Brian Barry, Peter Goldie, Nicholas Rescher, (the late) Robert Solomon, Joel Kupperman, John Cottingham, Harry Brighouse, Jonathan Lear, Michael P. Lynch, Jay Garfield, Kristin Shrader-Frechette, R.G. Peffer, B.K. Matilal, Herbert Fingarette, Annette Baier, Oliver Leaman, Chad Hansen, J.N. Mohanty, the so-called Analytic Marxists, Dale Jamieson, Andrew Light….

I’m assuming that the complexity of the modern world, together with the professionalization of philosophy, the cognitive division of labor and fragmentation of domains of inquiry in the academy means we’ll never again have figures who tackle the range of topics covered by an Aristotle or Plato. Still, it’s reassuring that there are those of an analytic temperament who continue to tackle at least some of the proverbial big questions, although I agree with Steve Fuller that training in professional philosophy does not encourage this (i.e., that there is a ‘bait-and-switch’ thing going on: anecdotal evidence to be sure, but I’ve heard many students express this complaint to me and my own experience confirms it).

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 2:03 pm

Steve,

Just to be clear or so that no one draws the wrong inference: my quoting of Leiter was in no way tantamount to an endorsement of his views.

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John Emerson 06.11.07 at 2:10 pm

Fuller 1:10 expresses well a point I’ve wanted to make. When a students signs up for their first undergrad philosophy course, sometimes they get old-fashioned folk philosophy dealing with the big questions, and sometimes they are immediately confronted with the idea that their expectations are all wrong. In any case, once they start to think of grad school and a career, they are normally vigorously directed toward a very well-defined form of philosophy called “analytic philosophy” by everyone except analytic philosophers.

If they are not, they have a rude awakening in most grad schools. The conditioning of students to analytic methods can be a bit rude, and at all levels people who don’t like the enforced program usually just leave. (As I understand, PhDs from the few non- or anti-analytic programs usually leave too, involuntarily from difficulty job hunting.)

So the resentment of analytic philosophy is motivated by the belief that AP monopolizes a space which should include other forms of philosophy.

This monopoly is presented in terms of professionalism and expertise, as if all philosophers were trying to do the same thing but analytic philosophers were doing it better, and as if analytic philosophers were dominant because they’d won all the arguments.

This is what anti-analytics doubt. The believe that the analytics became dominant by gaining control of the profession and hiring and by writing their methods and procedures into the job description. The Leiter report is a blatant and unashamed, but blissfully unaware gloat over this dominance.

Daniel, it would be hard to find any thinker of any kind who had no overlap whatsoever with Plato and Aristotle. Point not taken.

Toby, if you’re as oblivious as you present yourself I don’t think I’ll bother.

Dan K., people are resentful of philosophy when they aren’t resentful of science and math because they really doubt that professional philosophy is as good as it thinks it is.

Fuller’s mention of Frege and Russell as Year Zero of philosophy hits the nail on the head. There’s something tremendously parochial in place and time about Anglo-American philosophy, and recent CT threads have provided ample evidence of that.

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 2:14 pm

BTW: Jon Elster and Amartya Sen are nice examples of figures outside of philosophy proper who can practice “analytic” philosophy with the best of them and yet still tackle the big questions!

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John Emerson 06.11.07 at 2:21 pm

I’ll say again, no one is trying to drive analytic philosophy out of philosophy. We’re trying to break the monopoly. (Actually, we’re just venting. I think that the monopoly is unbreakable).

I agree with Steve Fuller that training in professional philosophy does not encourage this (i.e., that there is a ‘bait-and-switch’ thing going on: anecdotal evidence to be sure, but I’ve heard many students express this complaint to me and my own experience confirms it).

This is “sociological” again, but the way new grad students are trained is a big part of the complaint. It has the effect of weeding out people who want to do the “big picture” stuff. (Most of the people listed by O’Donnell do not look like leaders of the discipline to me, though I admit to being out of touch.)

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Sam C 06.11.07 at 2:21 pm

Steve Fuller: I agree with you that there’s something worrying about specialisation and technicality in philosophy. We start out with big questions that occur to any thoughtful person – how much do I know? how should I live? How can minds fit into nature? – and then find that, to get at the best attempts to answer them, we have to master a large literature written in a difficult technical vocabulary. But then, this happens in the sciences, too, and for the same reason: those big, obvious questions are hard. We can’t hope to answer them without a great deal of care and work. But you’re right, something has gone wrong when the results of that work don’t get outside professional circles.

I do think, though, that you’re misrepresenting the situation. In the first place, by blaming it on analytic philosophy: that term is poorly defined (in this thread and in general), but many people who clearly are inside its fuzzy boundary – Thomas Nagel, Harry Frankfurt, John Armstrong, Ted Honderich, etc. – are doing precisely the kind of public work that you’re advocating. And in the second place, as that suggests, the professional circle (which isn’t the same thing as analytic philosophy) isn’t as closed as you suggest. You presumably don’t think that no philosopher should be a specialist. So, I want to ask you the same question I’ve asked before: what exactly is wrong with the discipline of philosophy? Your criticisms so far seem to apply only to a loose caricature of what’s actually going on.

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 2:27 pm

John,
Those I listed are all excellent philosophers, and that suffices for most purposes.

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John Emerson 06.11.07 at 3:04 pm

One piece of evidence is that when I go out looking for books which will help me understand the big-picture world, I never end up buying books by analytic philosophy. (One exception: Dennett on Gould, about which I have mixed feelings). The best things seem to be by scientists writing for a general audience or by historians. Anything by an analytic philosopher seems to get bogged down in fussy terminological and methodological questions, and the elaborate procedures intended to convince me that this is really serious, expert technical philosophy I’m reading don’t work for me. There’s always the idea that using properly philosophical methods has made the book more rigorous and more true, but I don’t really see the value-added of the analytic method. It’s almost like a stylistic template, and an annoying one too.

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 3:16 pm

_One piece of evidence is that when I go out looking for books which will help me understand the big-picture world, I never end up buying books by analytic philosophy._

One piece of evidence for what, exactly?

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John Emerson 06.11.07 at 3:23 pm

Chris, I think that if analytic philosophers were doing valuable big-question philosophy, people (including me) would know about it. Analytic philosophy tends to restrict itslef to an analytic readership, whereas I think of big-question philosophy as being of general interest. I certainly don’t want philosophers to say “We’ve thought deeply about the big questions, and our answers are as follows, but it’s pretty technical and you won’t be able to understand them.”

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 3:45 pm

John,

As I noted above (and the list was far from complete), there are plenty of analytically-minded philosophers doing “valuable big-question philosophy.” It appears you’re simply ignorant of such work. Philosophical writing is not easy to read, owing to the level of abstraction, the need to rely on technical terms, the desire for philosophical clarity, the forms of reasoning enlisted, and so on. It is not easy to translate such work for the masses, the hoi polloi, a general readership, what have you, and the risk of “dumbing down” one’s argument are real. Some philosophers do publish articles in newspapers and magazines, contribute to blogs, engage the public at several levels, and no doubt more might do so. The profession could do a better job of engaging those beyond its disciplinary borders (for one example of such an effort: http://www.amherst.edu/askphilosophers/), but I think philosophy will remain in some respects an elitist enterprise by nature and those that don’t get it will always have reason for complaint. Plato’s dialogues exemplify for me an ability to philosophize in a manner that is, in some respects, accessible to a wide audience, yet even Plato remains difficult for all of us (i.e., not easy to understand), philosophers included. My own experience tells me that careful reading of the sort demanded by philosophy is increasingly a lost art, as many don’t (apparently) have the time or patience for it.

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 3:47 pm

_Chris, I think that if analytic philosophers were doing valuable big-question philosophy, people (including me) would know about it._

John, I happen to think of the following as _big questions_ in my local sub-area of philosophy: are we morally obliged to obey the law because it is the law? should we care that some people have less than others or should we only care that some people don’t have enough? should the state be concerned with people’s happiness or with their access to the resources necessary to pursue their aims? how far are we obliged to tolerate the intolerant? if we can prevent famine victims from dying at a cost to ourselves that involves no sacrifice of comparable moral importance, are we obliged to do so? etc. etc.

Right now, lots of people in mainstream anglophone philosophy departments are worrying, teaching, writing about those questions. Sometimes they are doing it in discussion/collaboration with people from other disciplines (such as lawyers and economists).

Often the people worrying about those questions are sitting in offices next to people who are thinking hard about logic, or about questions in the philosophy of mind or language. Sometimes they connect with those people, sometimes they don’t. Are they questions those other people are thinking about “big” or “small”?

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John Emerson 06.11.07 at 3:50 pm

It’s not really an elitist question, but a specialization question.

One reason that I end up reading general science more than philosophy is that scientists seem to be more willing to write for a general audience. Scientists have nothing to prove to anyone, and scientists seem to watch one another for signs of crass vulgarity less vigilantly than philosophers do.

I do not in general shrink from difficult books when I feel that they will be valuable.

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engels 06.11.07 at 3:58 pm

John, maybe it would help if you gave some examples of the kind of “big questions” you have in mind, and which you feel are being neglected by “analytic” (mainstream academic?) philosophers, or of questions which you feel they haven’t been able to address in a fruitful way.

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harry b 06.11.07 at 4:38 pm

Has it occurred to you, john, that publishers might not be keen on publishing books by philosophers that address big issue questions carefully but accessibly? I can just tell you; they’re not. It is much easier for a prominent scientist to find an agent and attract the attention of a trade publisher than it is for a philosopher. Non-trade publishers do publish such books (viz, the uneven, but sometimes very good, series from Routledge in which my book On Education is published) but they do not get prominently placed in bookstores, or prominently reviewed in newspapers). I speak not from direct experience but from having witnessed a number of excellent philosophers capable of writing accessibly but rigourously fail to get agents interested in them, and fail to get access to trade publishers, with precisely the message that there is not a (profitable) market for such books.

Of course, there are some such books (very few with trade publishers, though, as I say), and some excellent public intellectuals in our ranks. But not many. Science is sexy; philosophy isn’t.

Personally, I liked Rorty, as a political writer and public intellectual, but didn’t think much of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (which I read more than 20 years ago, and might possibly like more now). I wish there were more like him, and am sad that he’s gone.

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 5:42 pm

Back to 78 (Patrick O’Donnell):

I’m assuming that the complexity of the modern world, together with the professionalization of philosophy, the cognitive division of labor and fragmentation of domains of inquiry in the academy means we’ll never again have figures who tackle the range of topics covered by an Aristotle or Plato.

I don’t actually believe this is true. Randall Collins’s The Sociology of Philosophies (Harvard 1998) bears on this point. Basically, philosophy goes through cycles of greater and less analytic sophistication, depending on the degree to which the discipline is sheltered from external considerations (i.e. the more sheltered, the more sophisticated it can become). Another high point of analytic sophistication was the 13th century, and much of the high-end modal logic stuff done by Kripke, Lewis and their ilk today merely repeats moves from that period, albeit with a better capacity for symbolic manipulation. (By the way, this is not meant as a slight — but just a caution against presuming that things will just get more and more specialised forever and ever.)

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 6:09 pm

Back to 83 (Sam C)

I do think, though, that you’re misrepresenting the situation. … So, I want to ask you the same question I’ve asked before: what exactly is wrong with the discipline of philosophy? Your criticisms so far seem to apply only to a loose caricature of what’s actually going on.

It may be a caricature but I don’t think it’s loose. First, analytic philosophy is defined mainly by the qualities it values in philosophical writing, a certain explicitness that strongly mimics the structure of a logical argument. By that standard, most historically phillosophical work is not really philosophy. And even Plato and Aristotle need to be reconstituted before they are fit for analytic philosophical consumption. This means chunking them into bite-sized nuggets of problem-solving goodness, like ‘weakness of the will’, that can be handled without all the other old Greek baggage. You get a sense of just how sensitive analytic philosophy is to boundary issues that Martha Nussbaum is regularly derided by analytic philosophers because she insists on the literary dimension of Greek thought. (Interestingly, she appears on this blog as a darling of analytic philosophy. How very convenient!)

Much of the animus to analytic philosophy would probably disappear if it didn’t have such a stranglehold over standards in the discipline as a whole — at least in the anglophone world. As I mentioned earlier, Rorty himself continued to teach analytic philosophy even after he left Princeton’s philosophy department.

It’s interesting that you and others mention various analytic philosophers who have become public intellectuals — some more or less sucessfully, and others (like Frankfurt) coaxed by publishers. Usually these people don’t start their careers that way. In the UK, we’ve got some analytically trained guys who got into public philosophy from the get-go. They run things like The Philosopher’s Magazine. Perfectly fine people with Ph.D.s from respectable places — but persona non grata in academic philosophy circles. You’d think professional philosophers would be grateful…

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 6:16 pm

_They run things like The Philosopher’s Magazine. Perfectly fine people with Ph.D.s from respectable places—but persona non grata in academic philosophy circles._

Any actual _evidence_ for that claim, Steve, or are you just making it up? (Julian Baggini, who lives in Bristol, is an infrequent attender at our research seminars, but he’s very welcome when he does come. How is he, the editor of TPM, then persona non grata?)

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Dan Kervick 06.11.07 at 6:18 pm

I have to agree with the several people who have argued that analytic philosophy is a much broader field of inquiry than many of its critics seem to recognize.

Analytic Philosophy, as I have always understood it, is a very broad tradition which overlaps most of the other major traditions in philosophy, and includes many representives with feet in multiple camps, so to speak. In fact, it has always seemed to me that the thinking of most of the analytic philosophers I knew was also informed by a great deal of philosophical thinking that falls outside and/or prior to the analytic tradition. There were anlytic Aristotelians and analytic Thomists, analytic Spinozists, Analytic Cartesians, Analytic Kantians and Analytic Humeans, etc. There are even analytic phenomenologists and existentialists.

In my own experience, the traditional questions that I asked in my undergraduate classes on ethics, existentialism and the theory of knowledge, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion and metaphysics, lead very naturally to a desire to develop a greater familiarity with the full range of arguments and counter-arguments in some of those fields, and that in turn lead to a number of questions about exactly which of those arguments were valid and which fallacious, which views were logically compatible, and which mutually consistent, etc. It always seemed to me that the “big questions” were the ultimate source of the interest in the logical/conceptual investigations. The desire to make progress in the latter area so that the results can be brought to bear on other philosophical issues, including a lot of the traditonal questions, is what mainly drives the whole enterprise of “core” analytic philosophy.

Perhaps because when someone asks “what is analytic philosophy?”, they are directed toward classics in the logical/conceptual core areas, there is some sense that all analytic philosophers do is investigate topics in philosophical semantics and logic: things like Convention T, or rigid designation, referential opacity, the contingent a priori or two-dimensionalism for example. Now certainly some of the people who do investigation in these fields like what they are doing so much that they tend to stay with it and do little else. But I don’t think this is true of the analytic tradition within the profession as a whole.

Finally, I don’t understand the Year Zero stuff. How many philosophers really think this way?

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Brad 06.11.07 at 6:37 pm

Here’s the NYT obituary.

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Dan Kervick 06.11.07 at 6:38 pm

By that standard, most historically philosophical work is not really philosophy. And even Plato and Aristotle need to be reconstituted before they are fit for analytic philosophical consumption.

Philosophers in every era have thought that part of their task was to perfect the theories and arguments of their predecessors, disambiguating things that were previously ambiguous, defining things that were previously undefined, and reformulating the basic claims in a somewhat revised and more precise way to circumvent objections that had been raised in the interim. Aristotle wrote six books on logical theory in the course of his effort to formulate and evaluate the views of his predecessors with more precision than was often found in the predecessors themselves. Analytic philosophers tend to see what they are doing as continuous with what has always gone on in the Western tradition. Certainly, they find deficiencies in the formulations of philosophers that came before them. But what else is new? How does this make them different than those who came before them? What I think most of them do believe was that there was a revolution in the theory and practice of logic at around the turn of the twentieth century, a revolution that opened up new methods and areas of inquiry that continue to this day, and which has accelerated the process of improvement. But that doesn’t mean they think the stuff that came before this revolution “isn’t really philosophy.”

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 6:39 pm

Well, Chris, would you ever hire Julian Baggini in your department? (It’s nice though that you let him sit in on your seminars.) My sense from personal conversation is that an academic career is out of the question for him, given the path he’s now taken.

I still look forward to the day that you actually challenge something substantive in what I say.

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Steve Fuller 06.11.07 at 6:56 pm

To Dan Kervick

Philosophers in every era have thought that part of their task was to perfect the theories and arguments of their predecessors, disambiguating things that were previously ambiguous, defining things that were previously undefined, and reformulating the basic claims in a somewhat revised and more precise way to circumvent objections that had been raised in the interim. Aristotle wrote six books on logical theory in the course of his effort to formulate and evaluate the views of his predecessors with more precision than was often found in the predecessors themselves. Analytic philosophers tend to see what they are doing as continuous with what has always gone on in the Western tradition. Certainly, they find deficiencies in the formulations of philosophers that came before them. But what else is new? How does this make them different than those who came before them? What I think most of them do believe was that there was a revolution in the theory and practice of logic at around the turn of the twentieth century, a revolution that opened up new methods and areas of inquiry that continue to this day, and which has accelerated the process of improvement. But that doesn’t mean they think the stuff that came before this revolution “isn’t really philosophy.”

I agree that such clarification and explication has always been PART of the philosopher’s job. WIth analytic philosophy, it becomes pretty much the whole job, largely because the revolution of logic ended up anchoring the normative structure of the discipline (ie. even when the philosophers aren’t using formal logic, they’re judged as if they were). Also, your own example of Aristotle suggests the perils of trying to ‘clarify’ predecessors especially when the predecessors’ own words haven’t survived (or are not read). The task is not as innocent as you make out. And while analytic philosophy has managed to reconstitute much of the history of philosophy in its own image, it still struggles with the century immediately before the revolution in logic: 19th century philosophy. But I grant you that some small progress has been made in assimilating that period since I was a graduate student. Back in the old days many analytic philosophers did believe that the discipline died after Kant and was born again with Frege. Quine was definitely one of those.

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harry b 06.11.07 at 7:58 pm

But, steve, has Julian Baggini been doing active philosophical research during this time? I disagree with you: if he did some good philosophical research he would be employable in a research department (I suppose someone with an axe to grind might complain that he has little teaching experience, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming that he’d be a great teacher). There may be departments that would reject him out of hand — but that’s true of any individual philosopher. You might think that a good research department should be able to find room for an excellent philosophical writer who devotes his writing time to fostering public understanding of philosophy. If you did think that, I’d agree — but the RAE makes for huge disincentives to hire in someone like that (once hired, of course, its harder to control people, and I’m glad that not everybody toes the line). So I am not being snobbish about the importance of “doing research”; just saying that its not at all clear that someone like JB having no options in academia any longer is a count against Philosophy Departments in particular rather than other institutional incentives.

Nussbaum: she produces philosophical work that is widely cited and widely discussed, respectfully, by analytical philosophers in what analytical philosophers regard as top journals. She’s (partly) in a top-X Philosophy department (I don’t know the value of X because I don’t keep up well enough, but its high). She is an Associate Editor of Ethics (i.e., she is part of a small decisionmaking collective on what analytical philosophers regard as one of the top 2 journals in a central area). So she’s pretty much in the institutional mainstream.

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 8:05 pm

Back to 93 (Steve Fuller),
I don’t think Collins’ argument in any denies my assumption, indeed, he says that “Most recently, the organizational revolution of the modern university made it possible to expand the number of specialized disciplines, and each new alignment provides new topics for argument on the most abstract intellectual space.” At most, I think he provides reasons why “the widening combinatorial fan of intellectual production” will NOT “diverge infinitely into multiple realities,” but rather a “decentered network of overlapping realities.” Within philosophy in particular, “the construction of multiple realities seems fated to an especially strong form of divisiveness.” Incidentally (or not), one thing about Collins’ work I find refreshing is his willingness to take non-Anglo/European worldviews seriously, be it Indic darsanas [diacritics unavailable], Buddhist traditions, Islamic philosophy and theology, or Chinese philosophical schools. Contemporary professional philosophy has a long way to go here, and thus remains rather parochial and provincial (the exceptions prove the rule). As A.J. Mandt writes, “The exclusion of the great intellectual traditions of Asia from the realm of ‘philosophy’ remains, and one can hear these systems of thought dismissed as ‘merely religion’ by philosophers perfectly ignorant of them.”

I rather agree with Hector-Neri Castaneda: “…[I]n the long run the richness of topics and methods has altered the institution of philosophy, and in the short run the narrow domains of problems and methodology of the Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy [i.e., analytic philosophy as a school or worldview, not simply and more modestly as a methodological approach] has been surpasssed, and a healthy rapprochement between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy has taken place. Nevertheless, the major pattern of philosophizing and the core of themes and problems remain, even if surrounded by new ones.”

[The Castaneda and Mandt quotes are from Avner Cohen and Marcelo Dascal, eds., The Institution of Philosophy: A Discipline in Crisis? (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1989). Both Rortys contributed to this collection as well.]

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 8:06 pm

Erratum: “in any way denies…”

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Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.11.07 at 8:41 pm

Further support for the aforementioned assumptions can be gleaned from Avrum Stroll’s Twentieth-Century Analytic Philosophy (NY: Columbia University Press, 2000) wherein, citing Nicholas Rescher’s Profitable Speculations: Essays on Current Philosophical Themes (1997), he notes the “impressive mass of data about the diversity of philosophical practice at the end of the twentieth century,” because, in part, “since the retirement of Quine analytic philosophy has had no dominant figure. Today we have not Wittgensteins, Russells, Carnaps, or Austins.” This “democratization” of philosophy and its correlative cultivation of “diversity of interest” has contributed to a “virtual revolution in the topics now being discussed by philosophers. In particular, the kind of scientism that motivated [the early] Putnam and his predecessors, Frege, Russell, Carnap, and Quine, is less prominent than it was a quarter of a century ago.” Stroll proceeds to cite as evidence the programs found in recent issues of the Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association. [Rescher also has some material germane to our discussion in an essay on philosophical methodolgy found in Bo Mou, ed., Two Roads to Wisdom? Chinese and Analytic Philosophical Traditions (2001) and originally found in Vol. III of A System of Pragmatic Idealism (1994), pp. 36-58, and in his discussion of "Philosophy at the End of the Century" in Philosophical Reasoning: A Study in the Methodology of Philosophizing, 2001, pp. 257-274.]

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"Richard Rorty" is not "dead" 06.11.07 at 9:06 pm

If we reject the correspondence theory of truth, then Rorty is not truly dead. I am sure he will recreate himself.

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Chris Bertram 06.11.07 at 9:26 pm

_I still look forward to the day that you actually challenge something substantive in what I say._

So when your said that someone from TPM was “persona non grata” that wasn’t something substantive?

Perhaps you could flag the “substantive” parts as such, so I won’t waste my time challenging the non-substantive ones.

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John Emerson 06.11.07 at 10:22 pm

If philosophy has changed, get the word out.

108

Toby 06.11.07 at 11:05 pm

Steve Fuller (#75): Leiter can get away with his remarks only because Rorty had already officially exited philosophy.

Rorty read Leiter’s remarks, and wrote an essay in response (“Naturalism and quietism”). Leiter read Rorty’s response, and of course disagreed, but also found it engaging, and mentioned it on his blog for all to see. (I think he also wrote a response to the response, but I can’t seem to find it, so I might be misremembering.)

What did Leiter “get away with”? If Rorty had remained in philosophy, what more could he have done?

109

LoraLH 06.12.07 at 12:20 am

(1979) At the age of eight, my sitter- a young college student (Noreen) attending UC Santa Cruz, read to me portions of “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature”. I remember starring at the green and yellow binding and cover of the book as she read. I remember feeling as if I was listening to Noreen read a foreign language, yet the words and concepts I found intriguing, even if I didn’t understand that I was “understanding” much of what she was reading. She left the book with me as a gift since I said I liked it so much. I remember trying to read it on my own, slowly- word for word. Rorty’s book prompted me to have all kinds of philosophical thoughts and questions and I didn’t even know that they were philosophical in nature at the time. My mother, going through a divorce at the time, was relying heavily on scriptures and the interpretations of motherly women who began to sway her into the group’s way of teachings. The Bible was the only book to be read for knowledge and so when my mother found my ‘green and yellow’ book hidden between the cushions of a chair, she threw it away and said that philosophical thinkers were wolves in sheep’s clothing who lead us away from the ‘Truth’… (kind of ironic). Little did I know that for the next 20 years of my life I would never read anything of a philosophical, political, sectarian nature again. I was to read only the Bible. It’s the main reason why I could not muster enough strength to go to college for a secular education until I was 28 years old. My first class was a philosophy class… a forbidden subject. I went to the book store and bought the necessary readings and an anthology of other writers. I was so scared to read them or even bring them into my home. I used to leave them out in my car… then I gathered enough courage to bring the books into my home but I would put an open Bible across the top of the books and keep them in another room at night away from my bed. The class was my favorite class in no time and I soon became deeply engrossed with every reading, every lecture and every concept. I used to tend to my other class homework to get it done and then every spare moment of every day for four months I devoted the rest to philosophy. I couldn’t get enough. One day, I was perusing the shelves of the college library when I ran across the dark green and yellow binding of the book. For some reason it looked strikingly familiar, so I pulled the book off the shelf and began reading… my heart began to race as I realized that I had read the book before. Reading the book though and my memories of Noreen had been blocked out and it had been 20 years. So I was left at that very moment with a feeling that I will never feel again, a feeling of a past life or something. I went through the afternoon puzzled. I carried the book and walked and tried and tried to figure it out. I thought that I had come across it in high school or something but then again, I knew in my heart that this wasn’t right. By evening after spending hours and hours trying to remember it came to me in a flood of memories and I began to cry. “Yes, I remembered!” I was only eight years old. The next day I went into the counselor and I changed my major from Architectural Technology to Philosophy. I finished my Bachelors in Philosophy in 2004 and then went on to study Education in my graduate work. I am happily helping young adults on their path to education now just a few miles away from Stanford. Rorty often wondered what Philosophy is good for?, well I say, Philosophy teaches you about the world. It teaches you how the other movers and shakers of the world think in every other field. You feel whole and complete and you understand yourself better. Philosophy set me free from a linear way of thinking that held me in for 20 years.

P.S. I was able to see Rorty in person at a Philosophy conference just 5 years ago. Though I had never seen him before in person, I was able to spot him from a couple of rows back from an audience that we were sitting in. I leaned over and told my professor, Hey there’s Rorty! And he said, Na! When Rorty got up after the talk I said, see, yes I was right. I finally made eye contact with Rorty and he smiled back a me. I’d like Mr. Rorty to know how much of an impact he made on the outcome of my life.

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Neil 06.12.07 at 1:05 am

One piece of evidence is that when I go out looking for books which will help me understand the big-picture world, I never end up buying books by analytic philosophy.

Ie, I don’t read analytic philosophy. I don’t know anything about it. But I can tell (presumably by not reading it) that it’s wrong.

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John Emerson 06.12.07 at 1:19 am

I used to read analytic philosophy. I’m even reading Putnam’s lectures on ethics and ontology right now. I spend a moderate amount of time looking for the good stuff, but there isn’t much.

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Neil 06.12.07 at 1:58 am

Here and in other threads you’ve cited work by others (which I’d never heard of) in support of your case. The question for me is, should I go and read that work (life being short and my reading list being long)? If I was sure that you (and the authors you cite) know whereof you speak, that’d help me make up my mind. So tell me, John, what has been happening in AP in the past 10 years?

113

UVa grad 06.12.07 at 2:36 am

RIP.

He was on my dissertation committee; fundamentally, we didn’t agree but he took me seriously and was always very generous with his time.

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Jacob 06.12.07 at 3:53 am

If we reject the correspondence theory of truth, then Rorty is not truly dead. I am sure he will recreate himself.

Yes, because in some possible world this isn’t a pathetic caricature of his views.

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Ignacio Prado 06.12.07 at 3:59 am

Rorty’s third volume of collected papers contains responses to the “relativism” charge and engages directly with Davidson, and Putnam’s criticisms of him (I am not sure about Sosa or Kim).

And an anecdotal counter-example to some of the dramatic claims being made here:

I am currently a graduate student in philosophy, and I read Rorty–in fact, read him carefully for the first time–in a class that also had everything from arcane formal semantics to Habermas on the syllabus. I suspect, however, that it was such a good class because this was rather unusual.

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colin 06.12.07 at 5:33 am

I completely agree that analytic philosophy is becoming increasingly hard to define and thus harder to offer monolithic criticisms. That said, as analytic philosophy has expanded to include various (safely dead) continental philosophers and 19th Century idealists it may only be possible to define AP negatively. Thus analytic philosophers are not (typically) pragmatists, constructivists or relativists (if there ever have really been any serious ones) let alone French. This is not to say that there have not been analytic philosophers who are some combination of the three, merely that mainstream analytic philosophy can be characterized by a deep suspicion of these beliefs. Consequently Davidson, the later Wittgenstein, Quine and especially Rorty are not considered to supply worthwhile answers merely objections that must be overturned in favor of an ‘obvious’ and ‘intuitive’ realism.

In response to John Emerson: I may have some sympathy for your critiques, but unless you can propose and produce an alternative system your comments don’t seem that useful. You say that you want to raise awareness, that’s all well and good, but unless there is something you are suggesting in opposition I’m not sure anyone will listen

#112 i had a wonderful class in which we read the encounters between Derrida, Gadamer, Habermas and Rorty. Not a typical class in either Continental or Analytic departments.

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novakant 06.12.07 at 5:38 am

For neglecting the big questions, our current anglo-american philosophers are writing an awful lot of papers about them. But maybe they’re all analytic bean counters, in which case I’d suggest going really big by reading Hegel – even if every word of the Phenomenology was false, it’s still an amazing ride. In the end it’s all a matter of taste really.

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susan 06.12.07 at 6:20 am

in the play SPACE IS BLUE AND BIRDS FLY IN IT, Rorty is given a fitting note “I must read Richard Rorty to my students, or they will not have pleasant dreams.” Freud, Jung, eat your hearts out. To sleep, perchance to dream. Sleep well, Rorty, wherever you are. Note that you are discussed for pages and pages.

119

Steve Fuller 06.12.07 at 7:31 am

To Toby 108:

What did Leiter “get away with”? If Rorty had remained in philosophy, what more could he have done?

The point is not what Rorty could have done (other than write a response), but why Leiter felt could say such a thing in the first place!

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Steve Fuller 06.12.07 at 7:48 am

Back to 102 (Patrick)

I don’t think Collins’ argument in any denies my assumption, indeed, he says that “Most recently, the organizational revolution of the modern university made it possible to expand the number of specialized disciplines, and each new alignment provides new topics for argument on the most abstract intellectual space.” At most, I think he provides reasons why “the widening combinatorial fan of intellectual production” will NOT “diverge infinitely into multiple realities,” but rather a “decentered network of overlapping realities.” Within philosophy in particular, “the construction of multiple realities seems fated to an especially strong form of divisiveness.”

All of what you and Collins are saying is dependent on external social, economic and political conditions that can and will alter how philosophy as a discipline is institutionally reproduced. You make it seem too much a matter of some internal dynamic of the discipline playing itself out. However, a good indicator to watch is the changing labour market for philosophy. One thing that I believe has made analytic philosophy less recognisably ‘analytic’ than when I was a student is that there are fewer jobs available in the flagship specialist topics like philosophical semantics and more jobs in hybrid areas of applied ethics, etc., where increasingly philosophers are not even working in philosophy departments. Also the reintegration of philosophy into general education has made ‘history of philosophy’ jobs more attractive than they would have appeared professionally in the past. All of this changes the dynamic of the discipline, and it cannot be described simply in terms of either increasing specialisation or philosophers simply creating new boundaries for themselves.

And notice I haven’t said much about the analytic/continental divide, because the continental philosophers have also faced versions of these labour market changes. The analytic/continental divide is really an internal dispute among anglophone philosophers, and so not surprisingly as philosophers come to be in less control of their fate, their internal differences matter less than the fate they share together. That would explain the supposed ‘rapprochement’ that Neri-Castaneda refers to.

In this respect, Rorty’s animus to the philosophy establishment is very much a creature of its time — namely, a period when philosophy had a lot of institutional control over its agenda and consequently pursued increasingly specialist topics. We are leaving that period, and so especially for younger people, the vividness of what Rorty talked about may no longer be there.

121

Steve Fuller 06.12.07 at 8:27 am

Back to 106 (Chris Bertram)

So when your said that someone from TPM was “persona non grata” that wasn’t something substantive?

Perhaps you could flag the “substantive” parts as such, so I won’t waste my time challenging the non-substantive ones.

Sorry, Chris, I was presuming that as a philosopher, ‘substantive’ for you mainly meant ‘philosophically substantive’. I hadn’t realized that you’d be reading mainly in the guise of a copyeditor/fact-checker. (Have you thought of a career at ‘The New Yorker’?) Luckily, other people have responded in a ‘substantive’ fashion, and I don’ mean to trouble you.

122

Chris Bertram 06.12.07 at 8:46 am

No Steve. You’ve been waving your arms about and uttering all kinds of vague generalizations about philosophy. In each case I’ve come up with _counterexamples_ to your generalizations. When I do, you respond by saying that when you said X you didn’t really mean X, but Y instead, that I should engage with you “substantively” rather than pointing out that what you actually said is factually incorrect, etc. etc. etc. This kind of slipperiness/goal-post moving is the mark of the bullshitter.

(You made similar moves, iirc, when you visited Bristol. You made various claims about biological science and then, when my colleagues, who knew the science, called you on your errors, you went into “but-that-isn’t-really-the-point”/”you-aren’t-engaging-with-me-properly-mode”. It seems to be your standard mo, in fact.)

123

Steve Fuller 06.12.07 at 8:53 am

Back to 101 (Harry B)

It’s a little tricky, of course, to talk about the particular circumstances of living people, i.e. Julian Baggini. (For those who don’t know, Baggini, one of the founders of The Philosopher’s Magazine, is someone with first-class philosophical training who’s devoted his entire career to popularising philosophy in books and journalism. He also organizes public intellectual events in the UK. A good guy.) However, someone in Julian’s position is caught between the traditional insularity of philosophy departments that think ‘outreach’ doesn’t go beyond student enrolments and the UK audit culture’s preoccupation with high-end peer reviewed publications. Both sensibilities, normally opposed to each other, can easily combine to reject someone like him.

However, to be honest, I don’t believe that the stuff his magazine publishes is any worse in quality than the peer-reviewed stuff, especially in the UK, which tends to be less technical than the US in philosophical expression. Of course, it doesn’t name-checks the people that the ‘peers’ would expect to find in academic journals but then as important philosophers become more publicly prominent, their writing immediately loses all those trappings too. Stylistically speaking, and quality-wise, anything Jerry Fodor writes for the TLS or the London Review of Books could easily fit in Baggini’s magazine – if it were prestigious enough, of course.

As for Martha Nussbaum, I would see her gradual elevation in analytic philosophy circles as indicative of the weakening of the field’s boundaries over the course of my career. She’s a classicist by training and was subject to savage reviews in professional philosophy journals from the early days. I believe Terence Irwin did one in Journal of Philosophy when I was a graduate student in the 80s. However, she soldiered on (and this was how it was described) and did very well, though her appointment at the University of Chicago, I think, is primarily in the law school and only ‘by courtesy’ in philosophy. Her success is not a story of analytic philosophy’s intrinsic tolerance but one of analytic philosophy being forced to confront the Realpolitik of its diminished circumstances. (And by ‘analytic philosophy’, I mean people probably now in their 60s and 70s who still find Nussbaum appalling.)

124

Chris Bertram 06.12.07 at 8:58 am

More bs. He hasn’t “devoted his career” as if that involved some kind of sacrifice. He’s _chosen_ to pursue a career of a certain kind. The fact that he has is not evidence of the rejection of anyone by anyone else.

125

Steve Fuller 06.12.07 at 9:08 am

Back to 122: Chris Bertram

No Steve. You’ve been waving your arms about and uttering all kinds of vague generalizations about philosophy. In each case I’ve come up with counterexamples to your generalizations. When I do, you respond by saying that when you said X you didn’t really mean X, but Y instead, that I should engage with you “substantively” rather than pointing out that what you actually said is factually incorrect, etc. etc. etc. This kind of slipperiness/goal-post moving is the mark of the bullshitter.

(You made similar moves, iirc, when you visited Bristol. You made various claims about biological science and then, when my colleagues, who knew the science, called you on your errors, you went into “but-that-isn’t-really-the-point”/”you-aren’t-engaging-with-me-properly-mode”. It seems to be your standard mo, in fact.)

‘In each case’? Maybe I’ve missed some vague generalisations of mine that you’ve challenged. Are you sure you’ve posted them? So far you seem to be challenging rather specific — and to my mind, inconsequential — things.

Also, I do feel I have the right to say when I think I’ve been misunderstood. It’s up to you and anyone to decide then what to make of it. However, to conclude I’m bullshitting is to presume you know a lot more about what I’m thinking than you do (at least as far as I know).

As for the experience at Bristol, the one colleague who called me on the biology was questioning mainly my use of terms (not surprisingly). And he was right on that point. However, the larger point he raised — which really got the room going — was whether Darwin had provided the ‘mechanism’ of evolution. I argued that ‘natural selection’ for Darwin was merely a vague process in search of a mechanism. I hadn’t realized what an iconic figure Darwin was for some of your colleagues who couldn’t countenance that Darwin might have been luckily rescued by the Catholic monk Mendel. But hey, you really don’t want to go there.

It’s too bad you didn’t introduce yourself during my talk or came to dinner afterward. Some of this could have been ironed out.

126

Chris Bertram 06.12.07 at 9:17 am

_I hadn’t realized what an iconic figure Darwin was for some of your colleagues who couldn’t countenance that Darwin might have been luckily rescued by the Catholic monk Mendel._

Is _that_ what they couldn’t countenance? Really? Wow. I must have dreamed a whole different argument! Oh well, enough time wasted already.

127

Steve Fuller 06.12.07 at 9:27 am

I hadn’t realized what an iconic figure Darwin was for some of your colleagues who couldn’t countenance that Darwin might have been luckily rescued by the Catholic monk Mendel.

Is that what they couldn’t countenance? Really? Wow. I must have dreamed a whole different argument! Oh well, enough time wasted already.

Hard to say: You haven’t mentioned that other argument.

128

Chris Bertram 06.12.07 at 9:37 am

No Steve, you’ve said enough for me to identify which argument you were talking about (so I have mentioned it) it is your account of its contents that strikes me as tendentious.

129

Shaun King 06.12.07 at 10:49 am

Over 100 posts thus far here, wow. Rorty deserves all the praise, frustrations, and anger he gets. NOBODY in the late 20th century spoke about more topics and more people than Rorty. His hero was John Dewey but his style was strictly Hegelian. He wanted to weave together threads and history like Hegel and no one has come across in the literature as doing that so effortlessly as Rorty did.

My favorite Rorty quote is one I think you’ll like too, because it stands out as both an example of intrigue but also as an example of Hegelian synthesis:

“Consider sentences as strings of marks and noises emitted by organisms, strings capable of being paired off with the strings we ourselves utter (in the way we call ‘translating’). Consider beliefs, desires, and intentions – sentential attitudes generally – as entities posited to help predict the behavior of these organisms. Now think of those organisms as gradually evolving as a result of producing longer and more complicated strings, strings which enable them to do things they had been unable to do with the aid of shorter and simpler strings. Now think of us as examples of such highly evolved organism, of our highest hopes and deepest fears as made possible by, among other things, our ability to produce the peculiar strings we do. Then think of the four sentences that precede this one as further examples of such strings. Penultimately, think of the five sentences that precede this one as a sketch for a redesigned house of Being, a new dwelling for us shepherds of Being. Finally, think of the last six sentences as yet another example of the play of signifiers, one more example of the way in which meaning is endlessly alterable through the recontextualization of signs. Those last seven sentences are an attempt to hold animals, Dasein, and différance in a single vision: to show how one can modulate from Darwinian through Heideggerian to Derridean without much strain. They are also an attempt to show that what is important about both traditions, the one that runs up to Davidson and the one that runs up to Derrida, is not what they say but what they do not say, what they avoid rather than what they propound.” ~ Essays on Heidegger and Others, Philosophical Papers, Volume Two

Please go buy and read Rorty’s most recent collected papers Philosophy as Cultural Politics, Philosophical Papers, Volume 4, to see how Rorty remained sharp and interesting even within the past few years.

130

PD Smith 06.12.07 at 1:11 pm

Many fascinating (& perhaps unintentionally revealing) comments here. All I’d like to say is that as a researcher exploring the ways science and literature are interrelated, I found Rorty’s writings extremely useful and indeed eloquent. In particular the idea that valuable knowledge about the world was not just to be found in the sciences was both challenging and stimulating.

131

Jim Johnson 06.12.07 at 2:02 pm

Here is a passage from a short remembrance Habermas has written of Rorty. It bears on the meandering thread here:

“Three and a half decades ago, Richard Rorty loosened himself from the corset of a profession whose conventions had become too narrow – not to elude the discipline of analytic thinking, but to take philosophy along untrodden paths. Rorty had a masterful command of the handicraft of our profession. In duels with the best among his peers, with Donald Davidson, Hillary Putnam or Daniel Dennett, he was a constant source of the subtlest, most sophisticated arguments. But he never forgot that philosophy – above and beyond objections by colleagues – mustn’t ignore the problems posed by life as we live it.

Among contemporary philosophers, I know of none who equalled Rorty in confronting his colleagues – and not only them – over the decades with new perspectives, new insights and new formulations. This awe-inspiring creativity owes much to the Romantic spirit of the poet who no longer concealed himself behind the academic philosopher. And it owes much to the unforgettable rhetorical skill and flawless prose of a writer who was always ready to shock readers with unaccustomed strategies of representation, unexpected oppositional concepts and new vocabularies – one of Rorty’s favourite terms.”

132

engels 06.12.07 at 3:53 pm

I hate to be picky but the claim that “valuable knowledge about the world [is] not just to be found in the sciences” sounds like something which practically everybody except Rorty and his fellow travellers would concede.

133

aaron_m 06.12.07 at 4:21 pm

engels,

I guess you don’t really mean it when you say “would concede,” i.e. its not that we are forfeiting a belief we once held that only science tells us interesting things. Rather, few ever held such an absurd view.

134

engels 06.12.07 at 4:39 pm

Aaron – Yep.

135

michael williams 06.12.07 at 4:39 pm

“Rorty didn’t respond to his critics.” So how much responding to critics did Quine ever do? Or Davidson? Or Nozick? Or Kripke? Rorty engaged his critics a lot more than any of them. If he didn’t respond to a couple of articles that Lieter happens to favour, so what?

136

engels 06.12.07 at 5:04 pm

concede verb (conceded, conceding) 1 to admit to be true or correct.

137

Clark 06.12.07 at 5:33 pm

To be fair I think Davidson did respond to many critics often significantly revising his views. Some of his more interesting papers are primarily responses to critics. He even has one interesting paper in one of his recent collections that is a response to Rorty.

138

brian.a 06.12.07 at 7:07 pm

whoops — I was wrong in my hunch that the NYT wouldn’t simply make up stuff and attribute it to Rorty (as they did with Derrida). The Times obituary tells us solemnly that Rorty didn’t believe in the reality of a world independent of thought.

Somebody should write a book about the unstated rule in journalism that you simply don’t have to fact-check — or really be accurate in any way — if you’re reporting on a philosopher’s writing.

139

Brock 06.12.07 at 7:12 pm

As Clark said, Davidson responded to his critics quite often, and often revised his views in response. As did Quine, especially when the critic was Davidson.

140

Bill Keith 06.12.07 at 9:34 pm

I was saddened to hear of Prof Rorty’s passing. I read his work with profit, and admired him despite finding his work at least as messy and frustrating as it was valuable.

What was his contribution? Here is one answer, and it responds to some of the concerns raised in this thread. Some people (both pro- and anti-Rorty) want to maintain he embodied a significant challenge to “analytic philosophy,” yet it seems hard for people to identify what that means. Speaking as someone trained as a philosopher who now works in rhetoric and communication, I’m quite convinced that both problems are rhetorical, in the sense that they are about a mode of communication.

Analytic philosophy could be defined not so much as a set of problems or position, but a propensity to argue, to display one’s technique, in a certain way. Analytic philosophers, much more than any group of academics I’ve encountered, are like to to address the features of one’s arguments, rather than the content of it. As one can see from some of the posts here, they will challenge an inference pattern, query a premise or simply say “that’s not an argument.” This style of approaching intellectual discourse can at its best produce focus and clarity in an academic debate; it can also lead to the nadir of analytic philosophy, the embarrassing spectacle of John Searle in the New York Review of Books dismissing a whole tradition or line of research as a mere conceptual confusion or (my favorite) “an elementary logical mistake.” Reducing intellectual problems to a form in which you can critique them with all the rigor provided by an undergraduate logic text is bound to irritate people in the long run.

Richard Rorty challenged this. He was perfectly capable of writing in this idiom (cf. the introduction to The Linguistic Turn), but starting with the publications leading up to the PMN, he decided that he wanted to talk about something else, and the only way to make that work was to talk about it in a different way. The frustration this provided for analytic philosophers seemed fairly intense. In an interdisciplinary seminar I was in, he displayed what we dubbed the “Rorty Shrug.” A philosopher would rear up, declare that Rorty wasn’t making sense, was making fallacious arguments, failed to appreciate a distinction, and so forth — and Rorty would just shrug and say “Next question?” One philosopher turned to me and whispered “The problem with this guy is that he just doesn’t appreciate a good counter-example.”

No, he didn’t. I grant that were times I would have liked to see him answer some specific questions, but in general he was, as others have pointed out, pretty responsive. He just didn’t let himself be drawn into a game where it would impossible for him to pose the questions or arguments he thought were important. I think that his sustained ability to do this over a long period of time represents a kind of courage. He took a lot of fairly acrimonious heat for it, but opened up an important set of dialogues. I was also impressed with Achieving Our Country. Not because of the bad history or weird invocation of the pragmatist tradition, but because it was a deliberate shot across the bow of his biggest fans in the theoretical left of English departments and elsewhere. Developing a following in academia is hard enough; challenging them is even more difficult for most people.

141

novakant 06.12.07 at 11:32 pm

thanks for this level-headed and informed summary

142

Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.13.07 at 2:47 am

There is a revised entry on Rorty at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/rorty/

143

zdenek v 06.13.07 at 6:38 am

Roger Scruton has a nice piece on Rorty at http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy_power/people/richard_rorty_legacy
Richard Rorty’s legacy | openDemocracy .

A bit more meat on it than the other reviews.

144

Ignacio 06.13.07 at 2:45 pm

To 132: If you change “valuable knowledge of the world” to “Real Knowledge of the world with a capital ‘R’ and a capital ‘K’”, then you might find some argument (in fact, I might even defend such a claim).

To 143: I actually find the Scruton piece fundamentally wrong in many ways. Though the first part of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is couched in the language of analytic of philosophy of mind, it is mostly, iirc, using that language to show that the kind of debates David Armstrong, Jaegwon Kim, David Lewis, and even Donald Davidson were having about the correct account of the ontology of mind were fruitless, because our understanding of that ontology will change as our vocabulary for describing the mind changes (and our vocabulary will only change as a more robust, biologically grounded empirical investigation of the mind advances). In this, Rorty revealed himself–along with Feyerabend–to be the real trailblazor for people like the Churchlands (who, it should be noted, frequently cite his early papers in defence of their views).

The second part of the book is controversial because it veers towards claiming that the blurryness of the boundary between empirical investigation of the world and hermeneutic interpretation of texts shows that there is no distinction to be drawn in the vicinity (the argument being, roughly, that each domain advances by producing new models and/or vocabularies and that the justification of claims in either domain will always be in the form of “what one’s informed peers allow one to get away with”). He later lamented the sloppiness of some of the claims in that part of the book (this is from Joshua Knobe’s 1995 interview” :

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

Int: Do you have any idea why Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was so widely read?

Rorty: I still don’t understand it. One of the referees for Princeton Press answered the standard question on the form they send him, ‘will this be of interest outside its own field?” by saying, “Absolutely not. It’s strictly a book for philosophy professors.” That seemed right to me, so I never did understand it. I think many more people read it outside the feld than ever read it inside the field; maybe because it was sort of a follow-up to Kuhn. Many people outside of philosophy were impressed by Kuhn, and my book was sort of more along the Kuhnian line.

Int: Your more recent work is less concerned with the specifics of analytic philosophy. Does that indicate a change in your views or just a shift in your interests?

Rorty: A little of both, I suppose. Mainly a change of interest. I don’t know; maybe there isn’t any change in views. Maybe its just an interest in seeing philosophy in a longer-term, historical perspective.

Int: You also seem to have shifted your interests from Quine to Davidson.

Rorty: No, I just think Davidson went way beyond Quine. I think Quine had certain ideas in germ which only came to fruition in Davidson.

Int: And Dewey seems to have superceded them all.

Rorty: I think it’s because Quine and Sellars are philosophy professors and nothing more, whereas Dewey was a larger figure than just a philosophy professor, more suitable for hero worship.

Int: In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, you attacked Putnam’s early philosophy. What do you think of his more recent work?

Rorty: I think our views are practically indistinguishable, but he doesn’t. He thinks I’m a relativist and he isn’t. And I think: if I’m a relativist, then he’s one too.

Int: Why do you think Putnam sees you as a relativist?

Rorty: Beats me. I wrote an article about it, but that was as far as I got.

Int: Do you still believe that epistemology should be replaced by hermeneutics?

Rorty: No, I think it was an unfortunate phrase. I wish I’d never mentioned hermeneutics. The last chapter of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature isn’t very good. I think I just should have said: we ought to be able to think of something more interesting to do than keep the epistemology industry going.

145

Ignacio 06.13.07 at 3:04 pm

I formatted the link to the interview in #144 incorrectly: http://www.unc.edu/~knobe/rorty.html

146

harry b 06.13.07 at 3:08 pm

The Scruton review should have Rorty’s other detractors rethinking, surely.

147

zdenek v 06.13.07 at 4:11 pm

This is particularly cool ( Scruton on Rorty ):

“I therefore cannot go along with what seems to me, whenever I encounter it, to be a wholly specious and even cheap way of arguing, which Rorty typified and indeed perfected. Rorty was paramount among those thinkers who advance their own opinion as immune to criticism, by pretending that it is not truth but consensus that counts, while defining the consensus in terms of people like themselves.”

148

Ignacio 06.13.07 at 4:23 pm

147: Are we back to the bit about irony, again?–or would you like to join me in the space of reasons?

149

engels 06.13.07 at 8:17 pm

If you change “valuable knowledge of the world” to “Real Knowledge of the world with a capital ‘R’ and a capital ‘K’”, then you might find some argument (in fact, I might even defend such a claim)

The Rortybots are coming! Run for your lives! :)

150

zdenek v 06.14.07 at 7:00 am

Ignacio in 144 ( commenting on Scruton on Rorty ) says
“…the correct account of the ontology of mind were fruitless, because our understanding of that ontology will change as our vocabulary for describing the mind changes (and our vocabulary will only change as a more robust, biologically grounded empirical investigation of the mind advances).”

But this is a weak argument ( as it stands )for the claim that account of ontology of mind in the analytic tradition must be fruitless.

Nothing interesting follows from the fact that such accounts must change as our vocabulary changes because it is possible that such change involves verisimilitude.

Of course that maybe itself is false but you cannot just assume that, that is question begging in this context.

To put it in another way, you need another argument to defend the assumption that the change in vocabulary does not involve getting closer and closer to truth and of course that is precisely where Scruton -type criticisms get their bite from i.e. there is no non-question begging argument any of the post modernists have presented to show that change in vocabulary cannot involve verisimilitude.

151

Ignacio 06.14.07 at 11:50 am

To 149: That was funny.

To 150: Thanks, but I still think this reconstruction is lumping him together with a very less interesting brand of thinker.

He did not argue that changes in vocabulary cannot involve progressive approximation to truth. He argued that the positive claim that the sciences do involve progressive approximation to truth cannot be given any substantive content, given the deflationary nature of truth. He was not an anti-realist. He was “against pro-realism.”

The argument was something like the following:

(1) ‘True’ does not name a substantive property that can be investigated demonstratively or empirically. Rather, in the words of his mentor, Quine, truth is ‘a trivial device of disquotation.’ To say that ‘p’ is true is to say no more than p.

(3) Given (2), there was no substantive theory of truth that we could use to show us that changes in vocabulary involve a progressive approximation to truth.

(4) Given (3), there was no justification for the epistemic success of the methods of science that would not draw on resources for justification that were internal to the methods of science.

(5) Given (4), he then made the value judgment that there were more important things for people in philosophy to be doing than trying to find a justification outside of the methods of science for the epistemic success of the methods of science. To be glib, he was enough of a Romantic to think that it was not necessarily the case that it was truth or knowledge of a scientific variety that “will set us free.”

NB: I do not endorse this argument. I do think there is something special about sensory observation of the world and theorizing that attempts to be constrained by it. I am also a lot more optimistic than Rorty was in standard Enlightenment ideals “taken neat.” However, it is more than misleading to summarize his views as “there is no truth, only consensus, and I like this view because people I like to talk to will agree with me.” Also, for a thinker who engaged with the range of people he did (and annoyed as many people as he did), it just strikes me as impossible to accuse him in good faith of typifying a style of argument that was the academic equivalent of “insider trading” (impossible, that is, for anyone who did not have an ideological axe to grind in a public forum). Enough: RIP. I’ll let you have the last word.

152

Darius Jedburgh 06.14.07 at 4:17 pm

Steve Fuller:

[A]nalytic philosophy is defined mainly by the qualities it values in philosophical writing, a certain explicitness that strongly mimics [sic] the structure of a logical argument. By that standard, most historically phillosophical work is not really philosophy. And even Plato and Aristotle need to be reconstituted before they are fit for analytic philosophical consumption.

So Aristotle has to be “reconstituted” before he can manifest “a certain explicitness that strongly mimics the structure of a logical argument.”

Steve, Aristotle’s complete works, in a translation revised by Jonathan Barnes, are published in two volumes by Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-09950-2.

153

Steve Fuller 06.14.07 at 5:48 pm

To 152

Yes, I know this but I don’t see the relevance to what I’ve said. Do you think it contradicts something? Try again, especially if it’s interesting.

154

Darius Jedburgh 06.14.07 at 6:20 pm

Steve, the relevance is that if you don’t think that unreconstituted Aristotle manifests “a certain explicitness that strongly mimics the structure of a logical argument” (insofar as that means anything), then you need to read some Aristotle. You might want to start with the Prior Analytics.

155

Martin James 06.15.07 at 2:26 am

So, if AP, despite what Rorty said, is making such great progress what are the answers to the questions below?

1. are we morally obliged to obey the law because it is the law?

2 should we care that some people have less than others or should we only care that some people don’t have enough?

3.should the state be concerned with people’s happiness or with their access to the resources necessary to pursue their aims?

4. how far are we obliged to tolerate the intolerant?

5. if we can prevent famine victims from dying at a cost to ourselves that involves no sacrifice of comparable moral importance, are we obliged to do so?

156

Neil 06.15.07 at 3:59 am

Martin: no, yes, yes, some ways, yes.

Well, you asked.

(Do you really think that some other way of doing philosophy will get you less controversial answers?)

157

Martin James 06.15.07 at 4:17 am

Neil:

Are you saying the answers are controversial inside philosophy or just outside?

If inside, then how can I check your answers?

158

Neil 06.15.07 at 4:46 am

I don’t think that the answers are really controversial inside philosophy. Of course on every question you will find some people who disagree with the views, but that’s a situation which philosophy shares with every other area of inquiry.

I still don’t see how any of this is relevant to AP as such. AP certainly is productive of more consensus than continental philosophy or any non-analytic style of western philosophy. That’s a sociological observation, not an argument for the superiority of AP. So pointing out that there are plenty of controversial issues in AP doesn’t achieve much.

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