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Jonathan ree - Achieving Our Country by Richard Rorty and Truth and Progress by Richard Rorty · LRB 15 October 1998

Jonathan ree - Achieving Our Country by Richard Rorty and Truth and Progress by Richard Rorty · LRB 15 October 1998

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Jonathan Rée reviews ‘Achieving Our Country’ by Richard Rorty and ‘Truth and Progress’ by Richard Rorty · LRB 15 October 1998http://www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n20/jonathan-ree/strenuous-unbelief[26.04.2013 16:17:55]
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The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy
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, aboutdeafness, is out inpaperback.
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Strenuous Unbelief 
Jonathan Rée
 Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in 20th-Century America
by RichardRorty Harvard, 107 pp, £12.50, May 1998, ISBN 0 06 740031 0
Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. III 
by Richard Rorty Cambridge, 355 pp, £40.00, June 1998, ISBN 0 521 55347 4
Back in the Sixties, before he became the bad boy of American philosophy, RichardRorty struck his colleagues as a safe and promising young man. His first book,published in 1967, was an anthology of 
 Essays in Philosophical Method 
designed todocument the reorientations in analytic philosophy that followed Rudolf Carnap’smove from Germany to the US in 1935. Carnap had promoted the cause of ‘scientific philosophy’ for a quarter of a century, first in Chicago, then in Los Angeles, persuading dozens of America’s best and brightest to join his campaign of radical conceptual cleansing. The new philosophers were going to flush out the mushy metaphysics of the past and replace it with tough-minded research into the ‘linguistic frameworks’ through which we conceptualise the world. Thanks toCarnap, philosophy was going to be reborn as the systematic study of language.Rorty liked Carnap’s iconoclastic radicalism, but it seemed to him that after thirty  years it was beginning to lose its edge. Hardliners still paid lip-service to IdealLanguage Philosophy (as it was called by Gustav Bergmann, another Europeanrefugee), but even Carnap eventually exchanged the Germanic rigidities of positivism
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Jonathan Rée reviews ‘Achieving Our Country’ by Richard Rorty and ‘Truth and Progress’ by Richard Rorty · LRB 15 October 1998http://www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n20/jonathan-ree/strenuous-unbelief[26.04.2013 16:17:55]
22 JULY 2010
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29 NOVEMBER 2007
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and empiricism for an easy-going holistic pragmatism in the American grain. The USrevolutionaries were coming to resemble the prissy Ordinary Language Philosophers – ‘Burkeian reformers’, as Rorty called them – spinning exceedingly finedistinctions from their armchairs in Oxford, England.He was not sure what to make of it all. It was still ‘not clear’, he said, that aCarnapian analysis of language could ever make an honest science out of the oldestintel lectual profession. On the other hand, Carnapianism was surely more than justanother of philosophy’s ‘tedious roundabouts’, to borrow another phrasefrom Bergmann: by putting ‘the entire philosophical tradition, from Parmenidesthrough Descartes and Hume to Bradley and Whitehead, on the defensive’, Rorty said, it had launched one of ‘the great ages in the history of philosophy’.Puzzled, Rorty adopted Bergmann’s description of the revolution-that-was-not-one as the title of his book:
The Linguistic Turn
.The title soon picked up a momentum of its own, but Rorty did not stop puzzling over what it might mean. He confessed that he owed ‘what grasp I have of philosophicalissues’ to analytic philosophy, and recalled his own youthful dreams of playing apart in Carnap’s philosophical revolution – purging language of the last traces of such capital-letter concepts as God, Mind and the Good, so that future generationscould stand tall and fearlessly confront the world as it really is. But during theSeventies he became convinced that if God, Mind and the Good are figments of metaphysical dream-work, the same must apply to the World as It Really Is. Thepioneers of the linguistic turn had once taken the pledge against metaphysics, but now they had settled down and sold out. They imagined that sheer analytic braininessraised them so far above the swirling confusions that engulf non-philosophers thatthey could drop the responsibilities of the public intellectual, and they strutted aroundlike specialised professionals or big-time scientists, ‘manly, aggressive and businesslike’. The new philosophers were like the old ones only worse.It was not till the publication of 
 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
in 1980 thatRorty’s analytic colleagues realised how much he had turned against them. Hisargument was that the idea of thought as reflecting or representing reality (of ‘mindas the mirror of nature’) was not the sublime necessity they took it to be, but only an unfortunate historical accident – a pointless verbal widget dreamed up by a lazy  but ambitious French scientist called Descartes some time in the 1630s. The only people to profit from Descartes’s concept of mind, according to Rorty, were thephilosophers. Just when God was threatening to abscond from the intellectual fieldand leave them with nothing to pontificate about, mentality offered itself to them as apristine topic for endless new inquiries. It enabled philosophers to impose themselveson the rest of us as guardians of our mental mirror, as if we depended on them formaintaining its perfect polish and keeping the vandals of relativism at bay. Mentalisticphilosophy was a conspiracy against the people, and the linguistic turn had proved to be its latest twist.Rorty adopted three mascots for his campaign against mentalism and professionalphilosophy: Dewey, Heidegger and Wittgenstein – one lapsed American Hegelian,one lapsed German phenomenologist, and one lapsed Austrian-Jewish logician. They  would have agreed on almost nothing apart from the crassness of Descartes and theinanity of Carnap, but with their inspiration Rorty began to advocate a post-philosophical culture in which everyone would accept that knowledge has count less varieties, all suited to different human purposes, and none intrinsically superior to any 
 
Jonathan Rée reviews ‘Achieving Our Country’ by Richard Rorty and ‘Truth and Progress’ by Richard Rorty · LRB 15 October 1998http://www.lrb.co.uk/v20/n20/jonathan-ree/strenuous-unbelief[26.04.2013 16:17:55]
other. In the new democratic order we would realise that there are no magic skyhooksattaching us to a transcendent epistemological firmament, no predetermined linesdividing legitimate from illegitimate belief, and no ‘special kind of knowledge aboutknowledge (or anything else)’ to which philosophy could lay claim. We wouldgladly accept that knowledge owes its credibility to the ebbs and flows of conversational negotiation, and we would never pass judgment on an idea till we hadtried it out and seen how we liked it in practice. Philosophers should stop sulking overtranscendental necessities: they should loosen up, try to get out a bit more. In stead of trying to keep knowledge pure by shoring up the walls of Cartesianism, they should join the partying poets, artists and rainbow radicals who were exultantly pulling themdown. Given time, even a philosopher could learn to enjoy being constituted by historical contingency, ‘all the way down’. With the possible exception of Rorty himself, no one can have been surprised that
 Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
lost him the sympathy of nearly every pukkaphilosopher in the English-reading world. But it was the early Eighties, and Post-Modernism was in the air. Academic dandies in literature, history and sociology weregoing wild about post-structuralism and deconstruction, and Nietzsche, Foucault andDerrida, and the doctrine that science and subjectivity, gender and sexuality are all ‘constructed in language’. It was very different from the Carnapian movementthat had once stirred the analytic philosophers, but philosophy is not everything, andin a way Post-Modernism was a ‘linguistic turn’ as well. Ambiguity helps, andRorty moved from an uptight philosophy department at Princeton to a chair inhumanities at the University of Virginia.Soon he found himself pressed into America’s Culture Wars as a champion of Post-Modernist cultural theory. On one side he laid into the cultural conservatives who believe that European philosophy is the bulwark of civilisation itself. To the contrary,Rorty said: the great philosophers from Plato through Descartes to Kant are apostles of intellectual intolerance, and the only reason for reading their books is to bore yourself so rigid that you will never be tempted to pick one up again. On the other side heattacked the scientistic triumphalists who were convinced that all lines of scientificinquiry are programmed to converge – next year perhaps, or at least the year after – at a single terminus called Nature or Truth. Quite the reverse: scientism was athrowback to religious superstition, and a priesthood of single-minded physicists would be an even greater threat to democracy than a priesthood of sententioustheologians.Rorty evidently enjoyed the fray, and his talents multiplied prodigiously. He kept to theanalytic philosopher’s carefully contrived plain-dealing style, but by the time of 
Contingency, Irony and Solidarity
(1989) his prose had lost its fear of flying. Havingcommitted himself to ‘the priority of demo cracy to philosophy’, he began to weave increasingly exotic strands into his textual conversations: Orwell overlapping with Der rida, Heidegger with Dickens, Catharine MacKin non with Dewey, or Freud with Hume. His polemics were immediately recognis able by their pacey informativeness and their reckless way of taking sides. He liked using a histrionic ‘we’ to align himself with some group that was being hounded by self-appointedguardians of philosophical propriety: ‘we pragmatists’, ‘we anti-representationists’ or ‘we historicists’, for example, or, most inclusively, ‘we ironists’ – cheerful, tolerant, optimistic democrats who, having let go of philosophy’s security blanket, can relish the thought that our ownmost selves andour highest principles are, like everyone else’s, just temporary nodes in the shifting

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