On Thu, 11 May 1995, Sam Binkley wrote:

> Rorty is a clever polemicist. he has this style of prose that radically
> deflates the pretentions and metaphysical ambitions of more philosophically
> grounded vocabulaires,

My argument with these objections is that it is precisely the
unquestioned use of terms such as "more philosophically grounded" that
Rorty scrutinizes. What exactly does this phrase mean? Foucault spent
his whole career looking for a way to ground his critical inquiries and
subversions, in an age of anti-foundationalism. When Foucault says in
"What is Enlightenment," that "it is true that we have to give up hope of
ever acceding to a point of view that could give us access to any
complete and definitive knowledge of what may constitue our historical
limits," he is making a meta-philosophical point very similar to
Rorty's. I am not trying to say that there are not very important
differences between the two, but that Rorty's position is a considered
reaction to this "problem" of limited perspective. While Rorty begs
questions and overlooks things that others may focus on, he also focusses
on things that others beg. For instance, no one has, in my view, dealt
as directly with the deconstruction of the distinction between
reason/cause. See CONTINGENCY, IRONY, AND SOLIDARITY, pp. 48. Without
this distinction, it is true, a certain critical edge of philosophy is
blunted, and it is not a hidden tension in Foucault that he was always in
danger of dulling the very blade he wanted to employ. Rorty thus shows
how attractive words like "philosophically grounded" are, for these words
are typically used to shore up distinctions like reason/cause. But he
also shows that distinctions like this may be useful, even necessary in
some contexts, but that the are not in any way "epistemologically grounded."

only to substitute it with the pretentions of a
> practical-minded "down to earth" popular intellectual.
While Rorty's populist tone is one of my least favorite aspects of his
work, he is right in pointing out the conceit of the "radical
philosopher" who will often imply that any form of communication with
those who don't have the same outlook is a symptom of cooption. It would
be a bad thing if everyone felt compelled to be a "down to earth
intellectual," but to suggest that there are no contexts in which this is
necessary seems to overstate the case, and is symptomatic of a trend
towards self-purification in postmodern philosophy, in which pedagogy can
only work through conversion or initiation, rather than through the
harder work of talking to people who have (or think they have) good
reasons for what they believe. This is not a shortcut through the
difficulty of philosophy, but is a certain use of philosophy, that has,
in fact, fewer successful practitioners than most other uses.

In short, I think that polemics against Rorty are capturing something
important with criticisms such as those suggested by Sam and Nathan. But
I also think they betray the limited perspective from which such analyses
operate. I also think they demonstrate an unwillingness to come to grips
with some rather painful deflations of "our" philosophical pretensions,
once the general tennets of anti-foundationalism are accepted--once we
believe, that is, that "truth" is subordinated to interests.

Erik D. Lindberg
Dept. of English and Comparative Lit.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, WI 53211
email: edl@xxxxxxxxxxx


Partial thread listing: