Update

Having written my first Chapter within the deadline I had set myself, the past three weeks have been utterly unproductive. Alas, work has been so demanding but I am hoping to regain my focus now that Autumn term has started properly.

I am still feeling disconnected from my supervisor and university life in general. I have been looking out for public lectures at universities and institutes in London and the LSE have a great offering over the next couple of months. Attending those will go some way to making me feel like a proper student, hopefully.

Does anyone have any tips or advice for people who feel like they have lost their way? I think I was so elated to have actually written something that I automatically felt like I deserved a holiday! It’s so tricky to continuously keep at something sometimes.

Fiona

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The Performative Contradiction


The Performative Contradiction

In the late 1980’s Jurgen Habermas published his influential Philosophical Discourse Of Modernity, a work that hurled a deadly epistemological spear into the heart of French poststructuralist thought. According to Habermas, poststructuralist thinkers like Foucault and Derrida are unable to offer a convincing critique of reason because their arguments eventually fall into what he described as the performative contradiction.

It occurs when there is a discrepancy between act and content, between performance and proposition. The following assertion from Michel Foucault is a shining illustration of this discrepancy:

Truth isn’t outside power or lacking in power…truth isn’t the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular forms of power…it is produced and transmitted under the control, dominant if not exclusive, of a few great political and economic apparatuses (university, army, writing, media)…

The statement above, like virtually all other statements, is a “performance”: a reflection of what the thinker takes to be the truth. If he doesn’t take it to be “true” — if indeed he is merely jesting — there is no reason for us to pay any attention to it; we may or may not be amused, but in either case we can happily move along. The problem is that Foucault does take the statement to be “true,” which means we’re left with a paradox: if his statement is ‘true’ it must be false, since he is rejecting the standard notion of truth as “that which is.” If “truth is a thing of this world, produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint,” then isn’t Foucault’s own statement a species of just such constraints? Can he make a truth-claim while denying the existence of truth? No, says Habermas, because to do so would be to commit the performative contradiction.

There is another way to conceive of the problem. Imagine two distinct formulations:

Truth= “What is”

Truth2 = Whatever I claim truth is.

(e.g., “Truth is a social construction.”)

One cannot “do” Truth2 without presupposing the existence of Truth1. Foucault and others believe they can both renounce Truth1 and do Truth2 simultaneously. The act of asserting anything, however, always brings the asserter back into 1’s orbit. The question can always be asked, “Is what you’re saying true?” and “What are the implications of your statement if true?” Moreover, the asserter always acts as if his statement were true (otherwise he wouldn’t utter it). That is, he acts as if Truth1 exists even if he denies that it does.

Why do thinkers like Foucault lay certain socio-political problems at the doorstep of rationality rather than at the doorstep of social structures and individuals? How does advancing an obviously fraudulent notion of truth help the poor and weak and defenseless of modern societies — those presumably on whose behalf Foucault and others write? What could be more evident than that individuals can stand apart from their society, pass judgment on it, break free from the bonds of ideology, and by pursuing the truth also achieve a kind of emancipation?

Further Reading

1. “Transgressing the Boundaries”. New York University physicist Alan Sokal takes up some of the problems of the poststructuralist’s methodology.

2. Martin Jay, “The Debate Over The Performative Contradiction: Habermas Versus the Poststructuralists,” in Philosophical Interventions in the Unfinished Project of Enlightenment, ed. Axel Honneth, Thomas McCarthy, Claus Offe, and Albrecht Wellmer, pp. 261–279. MIT Press.

3. George Santayana, Egotism In German Philosophy, Chapters XI through XIII. His criticisms of Nietzsche raise interesting questions about the scholar’s approach to truth. Are thinkers like Foucault possibly more interested in the play of ideas than in truth itself? Nietzsche, says Santayana, “confessed that truth itself did not interest him; it was ugly; the bracing atmosphere of falsehood, passion, and subjective perspectives was the better thing…This impulse to turn one’s back on truth, whether in contempt or in despair, has a long history. Lessing had said that he preferred the pursuit of truth to the truth itself; but if we take this seriously (as possibly it was not meant) the pursuit of truth at once changes its character. It can no longer be the pursuit of truth, truth not being wanted, but only the pursuit of some fresh idea. Whether one of these ideas or another comes nearer to the truth would be unimportant and undiscoverable. Any idea will do, so long as it is pregnant with another that may presently take its place; and as presumably error will precipitate new ideas more readily than truth, we might almost find it implied in Lessing’s maxim that, as Nietzsche maintained, what is really good is neither truth nor the pursuit of truth (for you might find it, and what would you do then?), but rather a perpetual flux of errors.”

– Return Home –

Review of Habermas’ Truth & Justification – NDPR

 

UNIVERSITY of NOTRE DAME

COLLEGE of ARTS and LETTERS

NOTRE DAME PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEWS

 

2003.12.08

JURGEN HABERMAS, BARBARA FULMER (EDITED AND TRANSLATIONS)

Truth and Justification

Habermas, Jurgen, Truth and Justification, edited and with translations by Barbara Fulmer, MIT Press, 2003, 349pp, $40.00 (hbk), ISBN 0262083183.

Reviewed by Richard Rorty , Stanford University

The range of issues discussed in this collection of recent essays by Jürgen Habermas is suggested by the title of its Introduction: “Realism after the linguistic turn”. Habermas says that that turn shifted “the standard of epistemic objectivity from the private certainty of an experiencing subject to the public practice of justification within a communicative community”. It thereby encouraged a “contextualist challenge to the realist intuition”, for it raised the question of “whether any sense of context-independent validity can be salvaged from the concept of truth” (249).

Habermas formulates this challenge in the terms suggested by the title of one of the essays: “From Kant to Hegel and back again: the move toward detranscendentalization”. His expositions and criticisms of the work of Robert Brandom, Hilary Putman, and other contemporary philosophers are written with an eye to the Kant-Hegel contrast—the opposition between the universalism aimed at by transcendental philosophy and the particularism and localism necessitated by Hegelian historicism.

Habermas is one of the few philosophers who is as much at home with Hegel, Hamann and Heidegger as he is with Davidson, Sellars and Dummett. So he is able to move back and forth, smoothly and perspicuously, between small-scale critical analyses and insightful historical comparisons and generalizations. The result is a survey of the contemporary philosophical scene that is far more imaginative, and far more stimulating, than the sort found in books whose authors’ range of reference is limited to the last few decades’ worth of work within analytic philosophy.

This book will be of great interest both to students of Habermas’ universalistic discourse ethics and to philosophers interested in the debate between philosophers sympathetic to Wittgenstein and to pragmatism (such as Davidson, Putnam and Brandom) and their critics—especially those critics who, after conceding a great deal to Wittgenstein’s attack on empiricism, are still concerned to preserve what McDowell calls “answerability to the world”.

Habermas regards Brandom as representing “the state of the art of pragmatic approaches in analytic philosophy of language”, but thinks that Brandom’s “assimilation of the objectivity of experience to the intersubjectivity of communication is reminiscent of an infamous Hegelian move” (7-8). He reads Brandom as an arch-contextualist, whose inferentialist theory of the nature of propositional content “obliterates the distinction between the intersubjectively shared lifeworld and the objective world”. Brandom, he says, “does not rescue the realist intuitions by recourse to the contingent constraints of a world that is supposed to exist independently and for everyone” (155), and so is driven to a linguistified version of Hegel’s objective idealism.

Habermas argues that we need a concept of empirical truth that “connects the result of successful justification with something in the objective world” (42). This means keeping intact the distinction between the availability of a “justification-independent point of reference” for assertions of empirical fact and the absence of such a point of reference when we turn to moral judgments and norms. In morality, he says, we lack “the ontological connotation of reference to things about which we can state facts” (42). So he criticizes Brandom’s refusal to accept any version of the Kantian distinction between theoretical and practical uses of reason.

Habermas treats Putnam more sympathetically. He shares Putnam’s fear of relativism, and thinks that Putnam succeeds in offering a “theory of direct reference” that enables us to “recognize objects under different descriptions, or if, necessary, across paradigms” (219). But, although he thinks Putnam to be sounder than Brandom on the subject of empirical truth, he is dubious about the absence of what he calls “the moment of unconditionality” in Putnam’s account of moral norms. Putnam’s Deweyan and Aristotelian “virtue ethics”, he thinks, does not do justice to the distinction between “a universalist morality of justice and particularist ethics of the good life” (228).

Throughout this book, Habermas is concerned to keep distinctions in place that Hegelians and pragmatists urge us to dissolve. In particular, he sees the historicism common to Hegel, Heidegger and Dewey as endangering Kantian claims to the universal validity of, for example, the prohibition against torture. He is not willing to think of that prohibition as something local and recent—an innovation of the European Enlightenment. He insists that such absolute prohibitions are grounded in the nature of linguistic communication—in the ability of human beings to give and ask for reasons. He sees pragmatism’s assimilation of empirical truth to practical advantage as smoothing the way for moral relativism.

Like Putnam and the late Bernard Williams, Habermas wants to naturalize and de-transcendentalize philosophy, and to disconnect morality from metaphysics. So he is willing to concede a lot of ground to Nietzsche’s polemics against Plato—and in particular to give up on the correspondence theory of truth. But he nevertheless holds on both to claims of unconditionality and to what he calls “the natural Platonism of the lifeworld”—a Platonism that insists on “a justification-transcendent standard for orienting ourselves by context-independent truth-claims” (254).

The philosophers whom Habermas thinks have gone too far in an Hegelian direction agree with him that in the modern world “the moral universe loses the appearance of an ontological given and comes to be seen as aconstruct” (263). But they differ from him on two points: (1) whether to respond to this change by giving up the notion of “an ontological given” across the board–in empirical science as well as in morality; (2) whether, after recognizing the moral universe to be a construct, we need worry about whether it is a local construct or whether it contains elements that are more than merely local.

One’s reaction to Habermas’ new book will depend on whether one believes that retention of something like the “natural Platonism” of common sense is essential to our hopes for a decent society, or instead thinks that a change in common sense might help us realize these hopes. Those who follow Dewey in thinking of context-independence as a Platonist shibboleth will see Habermas as trying to nudge us back from Hegel to Kant at just the wrong moment—the moment when Hegelian ideas are beginning to revitalize analytic philosophy of mind and language. But if one thinks that Plato and Kant were on to something that Hegel was wrong to abandon–that playing the game of giving and asking for reasons requires both the notion of ontological givenness and that of unconditional obligation–then one will find this book very welcome indeed. Both sorts of readers will find the book as broad-gauged as it is incisive, and as forcefully argued as it is fair-minded.

 

Review of Alan Malachowski’s Richard Rorty – NDPR

 

UNIVERSITY of NOTRE DAME

COLLEGE of ARTS and LETTERS

NOTRE DAME PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW

 

2003.02.11

ALAN MALACHOWSKI

Richard Rorty

Malachowski, Alan, Richard Rorty, Princeton University Press, 2002, 202pp, $17.95 (pbk), ISBN 069105708

Reviewed by David Dudrick, Colgate University

Alan Malachowski’s Richard Rorty is an introduction to the work of the philosopher of its title, one on whom the titles bestowed include “most interesting philosopher in the world” (Harold Bloom) and “The Professor of Complacence” (Simon Blackburn). Malachowski is firmly in the Bloom camp; his book is “written on the premise” that Rorty’s work may constitute a “’quantum leap’ in philosophy” (9). As a result, his introduction maintains the heady sense of being in on something that characterizes much of Rorty’s own work. However, his characterization of Rorty’s project is largely a result of an emphasis on views that smack of irrationalism, ones that Rorty has (thankfully) largely come to reject. While acknowledging Rorty’s development would allow for an exposition of his work that addressed the worries of his critics, Malachowski’s reading leads him to dismiss these critics (e.g., as akin to “solid, soulless critics of progressive music” (163)). That said, Malachowski claims to present only a “particular Rorty” (10) and he does so in a book that is both clear exposition and spirited defense.

Malachowski’s account is “’comprehensive’ in that it deals with texts spanning the whole” of Rorty’s career (10). The book’s “narrative” (as opposed to a “topical”) approach allows the central themes of Rorty’s writing to emerge in the context of the works in which they were formulated. Malachowski’s first chapter, “Platonic yearnings,” begins with a discussion of Rorty’s brief intellectual autobiography, “Trotsky and the Wild Orchids.” Rorty came to philosophy in search of an “intellectual or aesthetic framework” that would exhibit the consistency of his aesthetic values (the “orchids”) and his ethical values. Having become convinced of philosophers’ inability to provide non-circular justification of their views, Rorty considered his search a failure. Without a nongainsayable foundation, Rorty concluded, philosophy is ultimately “a matter of out-describing the last philosopher.” While philosophy as practiced since Plato is a failure, the skills associated with it may be put to good use: they can be used to “weave the conceptual fabric of a freer, better, more just society” (27).

Now, Rorty’s rejection of philosophy since Plato appears more than a little hasty. One would be hard-pressed to find any contemporary philosophers who take themselves to be involved in a search for “nongainsayable foundations.” Even so, Rorty thinks that the search for such foundations is somehow implicit in the tradition of which these philosophers are part. Malachowski’s second chapter, “Conversation,” explains that Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is Rorty’s attempt to show that this is so. Malachowski provides a clear account as to how Rorty, through that book’s Geistesgeschichte of modernity, argues that the representationalism that characterizes the philosophical tradition leads to the search for nongainsayable foundations. In Malachowski’s perspicuous formulation, Rorty shows that traditional philosophical concerns with knowledge and mind are “problematic” – “in the sense that they are pragmatically unfruitful” – and “optional” – in that they are a product of assumptions that, while deeply imbedded, are not rationally “inevitable” (38).

In his third chapter, “Pragmatism,” Malachowski’s discusses Rorty’s views on the realism- antirealism debate and the nature of truth, as well as his appropriation of Dewey and other philosophers, as presented in The Consequences of Pragmatism. Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity is the main focus of the following chapters, “Contingency” and “Liberalism.” In his discussion of Rorty’s notion of contingency, Malachowski points out that the fact that a problem is contingent (in that it’s dictated not by the nature of reason or some such) does not imply that the problem ought to be abandoned. His use of the distinction between hypothetical and absolute necessity is helpful here. While Rorty sometimes writes as though philosophers think confrontation of, say, the Problem of Free Will is “absolutely necessary” (dictated by the nature of reason), it is more plausible to suppose that they regard it as a “hypothetical necessity” (given our firmly entrenched – though contingent – concerns, this is a problem we must face). Why then should we turn away from these problems, even if we may do so? Malachowski tells us that “the combination of a lack of historical progress and the internal tensions” that characterize our attempts to solve these problems leads Rorty to suggest that we “take a crack at something else” (115). While Rorty does sometimes talk like this, at other times he offers a potentially more compelling reason: the vocabulary that produced these problems should be superseded by one “better suited for the preservation and progress of democratic societies” (109). Malachowski’s account of Rorty’s discussions of contingency and liberalism would be strengthened were it to explain and evaluate this reason more fully.

I claimed above that Rorty’s critics will find little here to persuade them; there is an important sense in which Malachowski would be unperturbed by this result. He decries what he calls the “hyper-critical approach” characteristic of mainstream Anglo-American philosophy and claims that Rorty’s work should be approached from “an initially sympathetic vantage point” (7). But if this admonition is to amount to anything beyond the obvious, will it not constitute a kind of “special pleading”? It won’t, Malachowski says, because such sympathy is made necessary by the fact that “Rorty is attempting to launch philosophy on a path that takes it into new territory incommensurable with present-day ‘hyper-critical philosophy’” (7). But incommensurability cannot be a reason for sympathy – in fact, it seems to render sympathy by definition impossible. Malachowski is right that a list of philosophers will reject the possibility of such “new territory,” but not, as he says, because they believe their “methods have universal jurisdiction” (whatever that may be), but because they follow Davidson in his rejection of conceptual schemes. But if that’s so, this list should include Rorty himself. It seems, then, that “incommensurability” does not insulate Rorty from criticism in the way Malachowski suggests it does.

Malachowski contends that to take the “hyper-critics” seriously would be to push Rorty’s innovations “back into the dusty bottle of conventional standards” (10). There may be an interesting point lurking here concerning the propriety of norms (one would not, for example, be warranted in rejecting a theorem of theoretical physics because it would make bad poetry), but Malachowski does not pursue it. For it sometimes seems as though he considers any standard by which Rorty might be effectively criticized “conventional.” He calls “small-minded” those critics who think that a “’contradiction’ or anomaly” in Rorty’s work would cause “his whole pragmatist sky [to] fall in” (28). But he later says that his critics are unable “to state their denial in terms that do not beg the question or tacitly assume what Rorty himself denies” (168). But if criticisms that point to an inconsistency among propositions Rorty accepts are inadmissible and criticisms that point to an inconsistency between a proposition Rorty accepts and other propositions which he doesn’t accept (but which the objector thinks are true) are inadmissible, then no criticisms are admissible.

It seems Malachowski ought to admit that if Rorty is, in fact, committed to a contradiction, then the “sky” in question does indeed “fall in.” He should also indicate that there is little reason to think his views are, in fact, inconsistent. Further, the fact that critics often “tacitly assume what Rorty himself denies” is cold comfort: the same might be said of those who criticize radical skeptics, flat-earthers, or convinced Nazis. And Rorty himself has argued (famously, in the case of the Nazi: see the introduction to CP) that the absence of a non-circular argument against such positions provides no reason to doubt one’s warrant in denying them.

This book is generally dismissive of Rorty’s critics – they most often “simply fail to understand what he is trying to do” (163). What they fail to realize, apparently, is that “Rorty’s ‘claims’ … are not designed to instill a fresh set of beliefs derived from the literal content of the statements they encapsulate.” That is, Malachowski thinks Rorty’s ‘claims’ are not claims at all. They are rather attempts “to prod us, by way of ‘edification’ … into exploring fresh ways of describing things.” His statements function simply on a “performative level” (20). Under the heading “Philosophical propaganda,” Malachowski likens Rorty to “Madhyamika philosophy,” saying that

Rorty’s views, and hence his ‘position-free position,’ are ‘edifyingly’ presented ‘to achieve an effect,’ that they should not be ‘tastelessly’ interpreted as further, if oblique and controversial, contributions to philosophy’s age-old quest for the final, truthful picture of reality. (22)

According to Malachowski, then, Rorty makes no claims to truth; he simply offers redescriptions in an effort “to achieve an effect.”

Now, it is undeniable that Rorty has endorsed such views. (Malachowski quotes bizarre passages in PMN to show that this is so.) But it is also undeniable that Rorty comes to reject this understanding of his project. In “Charles Taylor on Truth,”1 Rorty says that PMN was marked by an unhappy tendency to make existentialist noises,” one that resulted from a prior tendency to make

the unhappy distinction between “demonstrating that previous philosophers were mistaken” and “offering redescriptions in an alternative language” instead of briskly saying that to say that one’s predecessors used a bad language is just to say that they made a certain kind of mistake. (TP 92)

But it becomes evident that Malachowski’s endorsement of this “unhappy distinction” on Rorty’s behalf is central to his interpretation of Rorty’s work. To be sure we don’t miss the point, Rorty adds: “I am also happy to say that when I put forward large philosophical views I am making ‘claims to truth’ rather than simply a recommendation to speak differently” (TP 92). Malachowski’s failure to account for the changes in Rorty’s views over the years leaves him defending positions Rorty was right to leave behind.

This failure causes Malachowski to interpret Rorty as being far more suspicious of argument than the above quotes suggest. For instance, he assures us that Rorty “does not believe there is anything wrong with arguments as such” (43); this is, of course, anything but reassuring. Why say this? Because Malachowski takes Rorty to regard as important the fact that “practices, customs, habits, and conventions” play a role in determining a person’s beliefs. Why is this obvious fact significant? Because, he says, many philosophers deny it: though they may not admit it, they believe the following:

When philosophers believe something philosophically significant (say P) they believe it because it is true (and for no other reason). When, over time, they – or their successors – change their minds and come to believe Q instead (where Q now obviously implies that P is false) it is again the truth of Q that does the persuasive work: they come to believe Q because it is true (and for no other reason) (53)

While Malachowski attributes this position to Rorty’s critics, the principle of charity mitigates against attributing this position to anyone, since it’s not simply false, it’s incoherent: one cannot believe P “because it is true” if, in fact, P is not true. At most, one could believe P because one thinks (possibly falsely) that it is true. But this too makes little sense, since to think that P is true just is to believe P, and cannot thereby serve as a reason for (or a cause of) the latter. These concerns aside, the notion that many (most?) philosophers hold that the truth of P can serve as a reason for the belief that P is far-fetched at best. To hold such a position would be to think that when asked “why do you believe P?” a perfectly good answer is “because P is true.”

Malachowski rightly claims that Rorty does not take his rejection of metaphysical realism to imply the rejection of “the vocabulary of critical assessment,” including the distinction between “what is accurate” and “what is inaccurate” (5). However, Malachowski goes on to argue that such distinctions must be made according to “pragmatic criteria.” As an example of what he means, he claims that one account may be judged to be more accurate than another “because it more effectively satisfies certain desires or fulfils such and such a purpose” (5). But something has gone wrong here. Imagine a scenario in which my wife and I are trying to determine how a vase in our house was broken. She suggests that our daughter Emma might have knocked it over this afternoon, and I disagree. If she asks me, “Why is that account inaccurate?” I may respond “Because Emma was with me at the bookstore when the vase was broken.” If, however, I respond, “Because your account isn’t very useful,” then I would deserve her puzzled look. That answer is no more appropriate than “Because it fails to represent the nature of reality as it exists independent of human concerns” or “Because it isinaccurate.”

I take this to show that the language of critical assessment is tied no more to a pragmatic theory of truth than it is to metaphysical realism. To think otherwise is to fail to recognize the significance of the distinction between the first-person and third-person perspectives. To see this, imagine that I relate the above conversation with my wife to a student interested in questions about the nature of truth. If, as we discuss the nature of truth, I am to ask the student, “Why is that account inaccurate?” she might well respond, “Because it isn’t very useful” or “Because it fails to represent the nature reality as it exists independent of human concerns.” When we take up her perspective – not that of an inquirer trying to figure out who broke the vase, but of a third-person reflection on the inquiry – it becomes appropriate to offer theories of truth. As we saw above, however, to do so from the first-person perspective would be nonsensical – to think otherwise would be to regard “because it fails to represent the nature of reality” or “because it is useful” as justifications for a belief. The first-person perspective presupposes only what Gary Gutting calls “humdrum realism” or what Arthur Fine calls “the natural ontological attitude.”2 Metaphysical realism and the pragmatic theory of truth are at home only in the third-person perspective; that is, only when one takes up a standpoint outside that of the engaged inquirer, the perspective of theory or explanation.3 While Malachowski recognizes at one point that pragmatism and metaphysical realism function at the level of “explanation” (81), this recognition is not pervasive. Rorty – by his own best lights – can and should use the language of critical assessment without notions like “usefulness” or talk of “coping.” Such notions are appropriate only when he takes up the third-person perspective. While Fine and Gutting might counsel him to eschew the third-person perspective on truth, Rorty regards it as crucial to the realization of a liberal utopia that

the image of thoughts or words answering to the world … be replaced by images of organisms coping with their environment by using language to develop projects of social cooperation. (RC 263)

Malachowski’s efforts would be better spent were he to explain why Rorty think this is so and whether his position has any merit. His failure to do so leads him to call Simon Blackburn’s suggestion that “the rejectionof questions [is] the distinctive theme of what [Rorty] calls pragmatism” a “silly accusation” (141). In fact, this is neither silly nor an accusation. Insofar as Rorty is committed to maintaining a first-person perspective, he will reject the many philosophical questions – especially those about the nature of truth –that arise only from a third-person perspective.

Lack of attention to these perspectives is one reason that Malachowski’s discussion of Rorty’s critics is unsatisfying. For example, Thomas Nagel says that Rorty seems to be able to modify his beliefs, not due to the force of argument, but “because it might make life more amusing … less cluttered with annoying problems” (164) – that is, because doing so would be useful. If Rorty (or his readers) do sometimes confuse the first and third-person perspectives, Nagel’s attitude is not inexplicable. To Nagel’s request for arguments for Rorty’s views, however, Malachowski states that anyone who understands Rorty will see no reason to offer arguments, since “metaphors, images, and all sorts of historical contingencies” are better explanations of intellectual change (166). But even if this account of intellectual change is accurate, only a confusion of the explanatory with the justificatory would lead one to eschew arguments in favor of “metaphors and images.”

Malachowski’s emphasis on views Rorty came to reject makes the resulting position less plausible than it ought to be. When he decides against what could have been a helpful discussion of Rorty’s views on science, he imputes to Rorty the claim that to say that “science captur[es] the truth about the world” is “no more intellectually justified than the rhetorical pats on the back modern politicians tend to award themselves” (16). He quotes approvingly Rorty’s statement that truth is “a compliment paid to sentences that seem to be paying their way and that fit in with other sentences that do so,” and attributes to Rorty a position he calls “pragmatism without truth” (73). While these statements may reflect views Rorty held at one time, they are among the views we have reason to think Rorty includes among the “dumb things” he “said in the past” (TP 92). Malachowski’s introduction to Rorty’s work – with its fine discussions of contingency, liberalism, and its subject’s “Platonic yearnings” – would have done well to leave them there.

Endnotes

1. In his Truth and Progress, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Henceforth TP.

2. See Gary Gutting, Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp 3ff and Arthur Fine, “The Natural Ontological Attitude” in J. Leplin (ed.) Scientific Realism, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Gutting’s account is particularly interesting in this connection, since it comes in the midst of an illuminating critical discussion of Rorty’s work.

3. The importance of the distinction between the first-person and third-person perspectives in Rorty’s work is forcefully argued in Akeel Bilgrami’s “Is Truth a Goal of Inquiry?” which can be found, along with a response by Rorty, in R. Brandom (ed.) Rorty and His Critics, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000. Henceforth RC.