Sunday, June 10, 2007

Richard Rorty 1931-2007

American philosopher Richard Rorty died a couple of days back. mr. waggish has a (kind of) obituary with lots of different names of philosophers, most of which escaped me of course.

Incidentally just last week I was listening to this podcast (link to mp3) in which he discusses the history and the current state of the discipline of philosophy. (Serious minded listeners can skip the introduction about "birdwatching"). He says that there are basically two camps of philosophers now, naturalists and quietists. The former are interested in "solving" standard philosophical problems like the problem of freedom and consciousness or the origin of values in a material world etc while the latter are more interested in "dissolving" such problems by exposing conceptual confusions which essentially give rise to such problems. He himself is in the quietist camp. Much like Wittgenstein I think.

He has also written a nice essay on Nabokov which I read recently in which he tries to position Nabokov as a relativist and a liberal. The essay doesn't seem to be available on the internet. Though I could find something about Quietist vs Naturalist here.

7 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

I remember reading "Contingency, Irony and Solidarity", and being underwhelmed. I don't understand why philosophers bother about making liberalism intellectually respectable - it seems a hopeless task.

Alok said...

hmmm. I always thought liberalism had a more respectable philosophical pedigree...

Cheshire Cat said...

Liberal democracy is a hodge-podge of ideas, which probably benefits more from a scientific analysis than a philosophical one. The most fashionable European philosophers are known for their "critiques" of it, and the drift of American philosophy (which is more competent to defend it) from the analytic style to the European style betrays a lack of self-belief.

Alok said...

Oh okay, you mean the romantics, the irrationalists, the critics of enlightenment and not the conservatives like Burke Hobbes etc?

Actually it is interesting because Rorty has criticised the enlightenment universalism, objectivity, and traditional humanism too but then again he comes back to liberalism through the notion of inter-subjectivity or other concepts.

mr waggish said...

Interesting podcast. Rorty does seem to like classifying things into dichotomies...in an earlier book, he tries to play "analytic philosophy" against "hermeneutics." It's hardly a polar opposition, and a lot of the "dissolving" can take the form of historical or cultural contextualization...sometimes leaving the problems in place! Or perhaps making them less absolute and more contingent.

My two favorite dichotomies: first, "explanation" (~= naturalists) vs. "understanding" (~= quietists). I know this dichotomy from Karl-Otto Apel, but I don't think he invented it. Second, my old Wittgenstein prof had a great line that "Some philosophers fly, while others struggle to crawl." One guess as to where Wittgenstein fits in. :)

PS: Alok, I'm with you on Rorty's dual stance towards Enlightenment reason. I find it pretty inconsistent on his part (albeit well-intended), and I think he's been heavily criticized for it.

Alok said...

Yes, as one comment on some blog said, "he looked into the postmodern abyss and yet found things to salvage there." This summarises very well what separates him from similar "fashionable" thinkers in Europe.

I have read very little and I am instinctively on the science/objectivity/universalism side bur Rorty seems to be one of the the most sensible (and readable) critic of that tradition. Also the most optimistic perhaps.

Anonymous said...

A short film about Rorty