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Richard Rorty’s “Solidarity or Objectivity?” and “The Contingency of Language”

Week 3

Richard Rorty’s “Solidarity or Objectivity?” and “The Contingency of Language”

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Week 3

Executive Summary

Prior to his postmodern turn, Rorty was a philosophy at Princeton University for many years and most known for his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), shortly after which he left philosophy to teach comparative literature at the University of Virginia. We here summarize two key essays from his collection Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989). 

1. Rorty identifies the three “great edifying” thinkers of our time as John Dewey, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Martin Heidegger. And in other essays he has spent much time reflecting on the writings of Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard.

2. Rorty describes himself as a neo-pragmatist, seeing his position as the evolution of pragmatism once we realize that the history of philosophy teaches us to choose between objectivism and pragmatism. But since objectivism has failed, pragmatism it is.

3. Instead of truth as something discovered, truth as something we make (CoL 3). But since philosophers have defined truth as some sort of correspondence of mind with object, the failure of objectivism makes “truth” as a useless topic (CoL 8).

4. Consequently, we should reject seeing one’s fundamental relation as being to an impersonal external reality and replace it with seeing one’s fundamental relation as being to others (SoO? 21).

5. Philosophy has also failed utterly to show that facts and truths are prior to values and/or disconnected from values. Instead, we should acknowledge values as prior to facts and truths and see facts and truths as contingent upon values (CoL 8).

6. It makes sense, then that philosophers stop allying themselves with scientist and start allying themselves with the poet (CoL 7-8). Language is not about objective, descriptive correspondence but about objective, normative expression. 

7. That means that trying to convince others of our positions in ethics and politics is a rhetorical game rather than an attempt to prove the truth of our positions. Whether liberal, conservative, socialist, or fascist.

8. But if objectivity has failed, then aren’t civil discourse, tolerance, and peace doomed to failure and some sort of brutalist politics inevitable? (SoO? 33). Rorty sees no alternative to subjective pragmatism, so we might as well face up to it and, rather than giving up, push rhetorically for a socially nice version of it (SoO? 29).

9. Rorty acknowledges this personally appealing starting point for his own left or “solidarity” brand of politics: “Conforming to my own precepts, I am going to try to make the vocabulary I favor look attractive by showing how it may be used to describe a variety of topics” (CoL 9). 

Get Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity here. TAS CyberSeminar on Rorty here. Summary by Stephen Hicks, 2020.

See Next:

  1. Stephen Hicks, "Why Art Became Ugly"
  2. Executive Summary of TAS CyberSeminar on Jacques Derrida's "Cogito and the History of Madness"
  3. Michel Foucault—Cynical Libertarian or Postmodernist?

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