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Damn the Absolute!


Jun 1, 2022

Whether it's theology, philosophy, politics, or science, it is not uncommon for people to believe their particular worldview has greater authority over others. This authoritarian approach to ideas implies that one person's representation of truth more closely and certainly reflects reality—they have the truth and we must submit to it.

 

Alternatively, pragmatists believe this abstract certitude leads to religious fundamentalism, philosophical dogmatism, political absoluteness, and rigid scientism.

 

For thinkers like the late-twentieth century philosopher Richard Rorty, language is an instrument for coordinating our efforts in addressing concrete issues we face in our lived environments.

 

He doesn't believe theology, politics, philosophy, or even science are about acquiring an accurate representation of reality. In fact, he rejects the notion that the nature of truth is one of language mirroring reality. Instead, he views language as a dynamic tool, not something that reproduces truth.

 

Often credited with rehabilitating pragmatism, Rorty encourages us to abandon these authoritarian approaches for what he calls a literary culture. While he holds that none of these disciplines have an epistemically privileged position from which they can determine which truth claims more closely represent reality, they each still play important roles in society.

 

In other words, each provides us with particular vocabularies with different uses. Their vitality resides in the way they empower us to describe and redescribe experiences in continually novel and fruitful ways.

 

Elin Danielsen Huckerby is a research fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, associated with an EU-funded project on Inclusive Science and European Democracies. She recently graduated with a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where she worked on Rorty’s uses of literature in his philosophical work.

 

She believes Rorty's literary attitude gives us more productive ways to move culture, science, and politics forward.  

 

A few questions to ponder.

 

What is the role of literature in liberal democracies? What is moral progress for Rorty? How can liberal democracies benefit from embracing a more literary rather than scientistic culture? And, how worried should we be about Rorty's rejection of objective truth?

 

Show Notes

Richard Rorty 

The Takeover by Literary Culture: Richard Rorty's Philosophy of Literature by Elin Danielsen Huckerby (2021)

"Rortian Liberalism and the Problem of Truth" by Adrian Rutt (2021)

S1E20 Can Pragmatism Help Us Live Well? w/ John Stuhr (2021)

S1E14 A Tool for a Pluralistic World w/ Justin Marshall (2021)

S1E12 Philosophers Need to Care About the Poor w/ Jacob Goodson (2021)

S1E07 Charles Peirce and Inquiry as an Act of Love w/ David O’Hara (2021)

S1E06 Levinas and James: A Pragmatic Phenomenology w/ Megan Craig (2020)

S1E01 Richard Rorty and Achieving Our Country w/ Adrian Rutt (2020)

The Power of One Idea” by Jeffrey Howard (2020)

The Pragmatic Truth of Existentialism” by Donovan Irven (2020)

Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher by Neil Gross (2008)

"Trotsky and the Wild Orchids" by Richard Rorty (1992)

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard Rorty (1989)

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Richard Rorty (1979)