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n his SBE address, Richard Rorty argues against any attempt to validate objective truths or norms. He makes no claim that his account of the nature and scope of the discipline of philosophical business ethics is true. From his perspective, no account is objectively true because the world we experience is always mediated by narratives contingently shaped by culture and history. The standard for assessing an account should not be whether it is true but whether it efficaciously enables us to achieve social justice and to ameliorate suffering. Like Michel Foucault, Rorty sees himself as undermining institutions and controlling narratives in order to free us to imagine new ways to reduce the injustice and human pain resulting from the spread of global capitahsm. Rorty makes three major claims: 1. Philosophy has played an important historical role in curtailing the power of religion and allowing science to advance. Now that science has triumphed over religion, that role (along with its attendant truth claims) ought to be abandoned. Language—^be it ordinary, literary, poetic, historical, or philosophical—only provides us with a description of an ever-changing world. Every description is irreducibly historical and contingent in nature. Therefore, we should give up the illusion that there is some Archimedean point we can use to ground our theories. 2. Since philosophy has no special or unique access to the truth, we should not think of it as the universal arbiter of values or norms and should not look to philosophers to discover or to build a foundation for ethics. But if ethical theory catmot provide us with an objective, solid foundation for norms, what should business ethicists be doing? Must they settle for critiquing the work of foundationalists? Rorty denies us even this option because he insists there is no non-historical, noncontingent language for adjudicating among competing claims or theories. We have no objective place on which to stand when making the case that our critique is more grounded or correct than someone else's. To understand what Rorty is arguing, it is helpful to situate these claims in the context of his larger body of work. Elsewhere Rorty argues that philosophy, like poetry, is a language game, and the proper function of human linguistic activity is to articulate imagined worlds, not to reflect an unmediated reality, which does not exist in any case. The lover of wisdom must settle for re-describing human activity and the world. The appeal of any such re-description is, ultimately, not rational, for Rorty denies reason an adjudicating role. Instead, we embrace values because they appeal to us. ff we philosophers succeed in re-describing a host of things, events, and © 2006. Business Ethics Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 3. ISSN 1052-150X. pp. 391-399
. Having once imagined a better world. he has devoted his considerable linguistic skills to portraying an ideal world. . or testing thesis after thesis. as the British say. . a tolerant place where we all. and a willingness to let spheres of culture flourish without worrying too much about their "common ground. or what picture of man they "presuppose. The most we can hope for is that our fellow human beings try on Rorty's way of viewing the world and find that doing so opens up new vistas. It says things like "try thinking of it this way"—or more specifically. all the while conceding that his own ironic portrayals of the world lack objectivity and cannot be proven. we will be in a position to set about realizing that world. If a paradigm shift does occur. Conforming to my own precepts. the "intrinsic ideals" they suggest. "try to ignore the apparently futile traditional questions by substituting the following new and possibly interesting questions." It does not pretend to have a better candidate for doing the same old things which we did when we spoke in the old w a y . he favors descriptions emphasizing (or even celebrating) irony and the contingency of every narrative. . analyzing concept after concept. Much of Rorty's analysis takes the negative form of arguing against other peoples' foundational morahties or interpretations. . Such negativity has prompted critics to charge that "Rorty is only one step away from Baudrillard. until you have created a pattern of linguistic behavior which will tempt the rising generation to adopt i t . . Pragmatists aren't very big on principles. From Rorty's pragmatic point of view.392 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY issues. Instead. I am going to try to make the vocabulary I favor look more attractive by showing how it may be used to describe a variety of topics. There isn't much to do in moral philosophy if you're a pragmatist."^ We business ethicists should be telling stories of exemplaryfigureswith a view to inspiring our students to act. then perhaps others will begin to see the world as we do and will embrace it. the self-proclaimed . This sort of philosophy does not work piece by piece.' 3. As he confided in an interview: It's hard to keep moral philosophy as an academic sub-discipline going if you're a pragmatist. The name of the game in moral philosophy is fmding principles and then fmding counter-examples to the other guy's principles. Moreover. "rub along and muddle through": What is needed is a sort of intellectual analogue of civic virtue—tolerance. there is no point in trying to articulate and justify moral principles since there can be no objective foundation for any morality. Rather it works holistically and pragmatically. it will not be because we have reasoned things through but because we have started seeing them afresh: The method is to re-describe lots and lots of things in new ways." their unification. irony. I am not going to offer arguments against the vocabulary I want to replace. What kind of world does Rorty think is especially "attractive"? In other writings.^ As Other commentators have noted. Rorty is not a relativist if one takes a relativist to be someone who believes all values are equally good. Rorty unequivocally commits himself to hberal values of sohdarity and autonomy.
he certainly acts and speaks as if he believes we are essentially rational beings. but for purposes of this discussion. although Rorty explicitly rejects essences. he would not be so concemed to maintain it in his writings. along with the poet Wah Whitman. Rorty would likely argue that the Sullivan Principles played a useful role in weakening apartheid. For Kant. to that extent. we won't be persuaded to show solidarity with Rorty and to join forces with him in reforming the world. or patient empirical demonstration of his claims. I contradict myself? Why behave in a way that reveals he is committed to the law of non-contradiction? Kant and Plato have an answer: we are essentially the sort of beings who do not wish to assert both A and not-A. It seems to me that Rorty also shows himself to be the kind of being for whom reason has motivating interests—if his self-respect did not demand coherence. Rorty's three claims are interdependent and. his position can be rationally dissected.A RESPONSE TO RORTY 393 'intellectual terrorist' who prefers simply to blow up ideas with unsubstantiated claims and outrageous exaggerations rather than attending to matters of evaluating tmth or falsehood. he has argued that we must settle for "local" coherence: what we say and do should accord with a limited subset of beliefs because we cannot hope to bring all of our beliefs into harmony with each other. historical narratives. say. consequently. has motivating force in our lives. we will perhaps be able to think more imaginatively and to leave behind stultifying inherited worldviews. stand or fall as a whole picture or description. Rorty is not merely committed to certain values: he is equally devoted to presenting his portrayal in a coherent way.Rorty is not writing novels or lyric poetry. If we don't find this portrayal to be emotionally compelling. Why. For Plato. To put the point slightly differently: reason has its own interests and. Once freed. by his own admission. Rorty speaks about coherence in general. Eurthermore. then. he seeks to liberate us from an unnecessary obsession with foundations and ever more convoluted refinements of moral principles and maxims. He takes pains to ensure that what he says at the opening of his address is not contradicted by what he says in middle or at the end. Separating Rorty's portrayal into three strands ("claims" may be too strong. but one has to begin somewhere. To paraphrase Shakespeare: there are more things in heaven and earth that are dreamt of in ethicists' philosophy. In other works. or we don't. Thus. This last observation leads me to myfirstconcem. I will assume that Rorty's agenda is a positive one: by focusing on the importance of creating ourselves anew through the imagination. does he bother with coherence? Why not. So. though. our souls are constituted in such a way as to be more satisfyingly ordered when reason gives orders to desire rather than the reverse. He is advancing reasoned considerations for his position and. even though we might not be able to show that these principles were part of some globally coherent system .' In his SBE address. Either we see the world as mediated via contingent. we are rational beings who (if our consciences are not utterly cormpted) experience self-respect rooted in regard for the moral law. "Do I contradict myself? Very well. for all of his talk about literature andfiction. given that we are supposedly dealing only with "re-descriptions") may somewhat misrepresent his project.'"* This charge may have some merit.
"There is no greater moral issue in the world today than apartheid. (Neither Plato nor I would deny that a felt unease and/or inspiration also play a part in driving this process of integration forward. Without sustained pressure from church leaders who believed in the global coherence of the underlying moral system. Nor does the example of the Sullivan Principles support Rorty's notion of a merely local coherence. in principle. what gives Rorty's recommendation its normative force? That is. So this process does have a subjective component. and principles that generations of Judeo-Christian theologians have taken care to make as consistent and persuasive as possible.^ Two points need to be made about this idea of local coherence: first. we would accuse him or her of sloppy thinking and suspect the speaker of trying to pull the wool over our eyes. As far as I can see. not emotions or feelings. that imposes this harmonizing demand and points the way to ordering our beliefs accordingly. duties. Yet. Thrasymachus's position has a kind of local coherence. Apartheid is against the will of God and humanity. it could be argued that Rorty's recommendation does not have any normative force. to aim at even a local coherence means granting reason's rule in this narrower domain. as Plato would say. I would argue. . He maintained.394 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY of moral principles. the reasoning part of our psyche. why should we settle for local coherence? Since settling for local coherence is equivalent to saying that we are perfectly content to live in contradiction with ourselves. Second. would never have gained widespread acceptance among Western executives. and since the latter course is exactly what rational beings reject. Plato and Kant can account for why Thrasymachus blushes—he feels shame at being caught in contradiction. Elsewhere Rorty concedes that any account will have to be able to encompass many things if it is to have any hope of producing a paradigm shift. Why is the speaker focusing on only these beliefs and not other aspects and facts? Catching a whiff of the arbitrary. to be reconciled with the other claims in which we have put our trust. when Socrates shows that the position is not coherent with a host of other beliefs. this refinement does not deny the force of the above objection. the Sullivan Principles. Thrasymachus has the good grace to blush. But it is reason that ."^ The Sullivan Principles garnered widespread support among other clergy who also believed in a complex. elaborated moral system of objective rights. Consequently. Rorty has no way to explain Thrasymachus's blush. Our essence or psychological makeup prevents us from being persuaded by half-baked theories that fail to harmonize with the whole of our experience. . talk of local coherence raises another set of issues: just how small could this set of local beliefs be? One or two beliefs? If a speaker were to present a position with miniscule local coherence. we would be on our guard against sophistry. And it is. In fact. Since we are constituted such that we do not want to live in contradiction with ourselves. Thinkers like Kant and Plato have an explanation of this drive toward comprehensiveness.. every belief in which we are invested needs. Leon Sullivan was a Christian minister who understood these principles to be grounded in the objective nature of God's creation.
upon arriving in a modem city. a narrative contingent upon their previous experiences in the jungle. They thought it must be large animal of some sort with large white eyes. Jared Diamond.." Gould argues . Human beings do not imaginatively generate distinctions willy-nilly.. In De Anima. At first glance. . . but as we are. We usually find a remarkable correspondence between Linnaean species and non-Western plant and animal names. The children did not think the bus was a huge coconut tree or a star or the number three. beak type). That Stone Age man recognizes the same entities of nature as Western university-trained scientists refutes rather decisively the claim that species are nothing but a product of the human imagination. to some extent. .. and other biologists have confirmed Mayr's finding. In short. Several biologists have noted these remarkable correspondences. Several years ago I heard an interview on National Public Radio with children from a "primitive" part of the world who. I think we must be exceedingly careful. Dennis Breedlove. In his fascinating essay "A Quahog Is a Quahog. These children thought of animals in a matter akin to that of Aristotle. The division between plants and animals itself seems to be a non-arbitrary division. they arrive at divisions almost identical to those we make: The literature on non-Western taxonomies is not extensive. and even our perceptions. These superb woodsmen had 136 names for the 137 species of birds I distinguished. Ernst Mayr himself describes his experience in New Guinea: "Forty years ago. though. then. there are no facts that do not depend on contingent historical narratives. ." According to Rorty. . However. this example would seem to support Rorty's position. I lived all alone with a tribe of Papuans in the mountains of new Guinea." the biologist Stephen Jay Gould argues that peoples from around the world characterize birds into roughly the same species. they assimilated this machine to that which they already knew—with what fit into their framing narrative. Aristotle defines animals as organisms able to initiate self-motion. "We see the world not as it is. . Brent Berlin. Peter Raven.A RESPONSE TO RORTY 395 sorts through the contradictions and comes up with better formulations intended to overcome identified inconsistencies). Part of what reason considers when deciding whether to alter previously held positions is "the fact of the matter. the same packages are recognized by independent cultures. but it is persuasive." (italics mine)' Working with other populations." I readily concede that many of our beliefs. saw their first bus. They saw that it moved and so they reasonably theorized that the bus was a huge. Everything we see and do is mediated by our beliefs or worldview. I come now to my second objection to Rorty's position. Our divisions are non-arbitrary: "We live in a world of structure and legitimate distinctions" (italics mine). Ralph Bulmer. which may be more or less rational. a function of other things we've encountered or been taught. is some evidence that Rorty is wrong. are. Familiar with animals.'" Here.* Grouping birds using characteristics we employ (color. form. As Anais Nin writes. given that peoples all over the world distinguish between self-moving and stationary organisms. lumbering animal. This example equally suggests that the process of assimilation is not arbitrary.
However. 2) what is or the "is" of being/nature/essence. or 3) that both possibilities hold true. that they occurred is not.^^ Existence is not a predicate. As Hannah Arendt has argued. Eirst. Yet. The space shuttles Challenger and Columbia blew up. Gould relates how three biological anthropologists who initially contended that how various peoples organize the world depends contingently upon their local social narratives subsequently repudiated theirfindings. it does not follow that our narratives. consequently.396 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY that this striking empirical similarity of division implies either 1) that human beings possess similar hardwired species-distinguishing frameworks and. Rorty makes two inter-related mistakes. at least. they discovered significant convergence or overlap between how Westerners and non-Westerners divvy up bird and plant species. not the reverse. our divisions reflect this natural human essence. A related point: yes. and although our experiences (or. objective nature produces the distinctions. Plato and others argue. If. Under all three scenarios sketched by Gould. at a minimum. reason interprets what we experience—it gives meaning to that which we experience. all cutting at the same natural joints. there are four senses of the verb "to be": there is 1) that which is or the "is" of entities. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and flooded much ofthe city. admit of being so organized). It is not to perceive a quality . Holocaust deniers may try to re-write history. distinctions do not contingently produce nature. reason is always interpreting something. as Richard McKeon has argued. 2) that there are natural kinds in the world and we are. What these events mean is open to debate. 3) the set of conditions under which an entity is what it is or the "is" of existence. and theories merely reflect a particular historical outlook. but that does not alter the fact that they are deniers. then the assimilated present will also have an objective foundation. I take no position here on which of these possibilities is the correct one. Those who experienced Hurricane Katrina or who witnessed mass murder know a truth that cannot be gainsaid. To summarize: Although we assimilate new things we encounter to those that we already know. This something is the experienced facts. I simply note that each option represents a kind of fact—an objective feature of the natural self and/or the natural world that controls how we organize our experience. Aristotle. To say that something "exists" means to make a determination of the conditions under which that which is is what it is. Indeed. in Socratic language. which possess an integrity all their own. he treats existence as a predicative quality. some of them) have a contingent dimension. as Gould. and 4) the question of whether these conditions obtain for us personally or the "is" of experience. It is a determination ofthe conditions under which an entity is what it is. even though this experiential truth cannot be proven by reason. it will always be true that Germany invaded Belgium.When the anthropologists returned and interviewed the tribes more carefully with a more competent translator. In my view. distinctions. This same unicorn does not exist as an animal in the wild or in zoos. our past experiences have been organized objectively (or. Do unicorns exist? The unicorn exists as an animal to be encountered in certain types of narratives known as myths or fairy tales.
" When a passing workman hits us in the back of the head with a ladder. If so. The storm came upon them with a character that Charles Sanders Peirce terms "secondness"—a brute quality of one subject or substance acting upon another. If he is right.. I want to end by returning to Rorty's positive agenda and exploring a bit how his approach will translate into teaching. indeed. Those who have never experienced the pain of living in self-contradiction will never know what true self-respect is. Aristotle. was the blow intentional. satisfaction and joy that arise when the soul has harmonized itself. universal. on the general coherence of their reasoning. and Kant are not just painting pretty pictures of the world. On the contrary. Concrete or particular facts are given to us by personal experience. our awareness that we are free (Kant. in part. If these human experiences are. that we are frequently conflicted and so the soul (understood as the organizing and organized energy of a purposeful life) must have two or more parts (Plato). accidental. then the foundational projects of these philosophers become more promising. whether we find their analyses to be persuasive depends. or the result of negligence? Having treated existence as a predicate and then mistaken the existential "is" for the experiential "is. Hegel). it is our experience that sets the interpretive machinery going: what struck us? Something organic or inorganic? Was a human being responsible? If so. enabling philosophers to argue for the superiority of a particular way of life. then most of our students are condemned to live in the cave. Foundational ethicists ground ethics in some objective fact(s) of immediate experience—e. so existence does not determine experience.A RESPONSE TO RORTY 397 of a thing. The victims of Hurricane Katrina felt the lash of the wind and knew the terror of rising waters.'" This neglect of experience means. in turn. As I argued above. Plato. We do not choose to be free or conflicted. All they can and will ever see and "know" are shadows cast by an inherited worldview transmitted to them by their famihes and the larger culture." Determining the existential conditions under which a substance is what it is says nothing about whether those conditions have actually obtained in the past or are applying in the present. that Rorty cannot ground ethics. while Rorty's anti-foundational stance becomes less plausible. human choice presupposes these experiences. Interpretation or narratives do not give us that startling experience. Those who have never felt pulled in one direction by reason and in another by desire cannot know the peace. The teacher merely functions as yet anotherfigureholding up various images (in this case. These experiences function as objective bases for ethics." Rorty tends to overlook facts given by experience. then Rorty's claim that what exists is relative to a situated language user is true but almost trivially so. But it also depends ultimately and crucially upon whether we have had the experiences presupposed by their accounts. Just as essence does not determine existence. we stagger and wonder what has happened.g. constructed narratives) that cast moving shadows thrown upon . that we can and do originate actions (Aristotle). His second mistake consists in conflating the existential "is" with the experiential "is. not by reason or theories. On the contrary. Existence properly understood is necessarily mediated by reason specifying conditions.
grammar. Best and Kellner. Notes 1. quoted in Stephen Best and Douglas Kellner. then this promise of liberation is false. 1980). 2001). 4." in The Panda's Thumb (New York: W. Even if they feel they are better off. I am indebted to an anonymous reviewer for the example of the Sullivan principles. insofar as the Liberal Arts initiated studies that were pure ends in themselves.g. music. 207-08. 9. philosophers like Rorty) is that the latter understand that opinion-makers are responsible for fostering and sustaining the beliefs held by those chained in the cave. It would seem to be reason. or members of the chattering class. Ibid. These arts were activities of reason in its various guises (arithmetic.). Leon Sullivan. in what sense is their new.. "A Talent for Bricolage: An Interview with Richard Rorty. Teaching the liberal arts loses its nobility and becomes just another politically instmmental game.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/dchardrortypostmodemtheory. Stephen Jay Gould. "A Quahog Is a Quahog. logic. Even if we inspire/indoctrinate our students to seek solidarity." The Dualist 2 (1995): 56-71. It might be objected that. 208-13. the truly educated are liberated not only from illusion and but also from instrumental activities: Now the original conception of the Liberal Arts was a way—one way—of establishing a space apart from immediately pragmatic and political concerns. 6. 10. If that is all that teaching is. The liberal arts have traditionally been thought of as an initiation into a freer life. 3. 2. A few bright students might succeed in becoming politicians. The only difference between those chained to the wall gazing at images and those producing the images (e. W." Christianity Today (April 30. "Richard Rorty and Postmodern Theory. Rorty himself insists that the shift occurs because a new way of looking at things makes global or holistic sense. I find it hard to conceive why one would bother to get up in the moming and prepare for class. they can hardly be said to have progressed." 5. this success does not mean much.gseis. However. Joshua Knobe. that requires us to come up with a new picture "hangs together" as a whole. quoted in Chris Herlinger. . reason plays no role in effecting the paradigm shift. not means to anything else. etc. Richard Rorty. artists. 204-13. 8. "Leon Sullivan Dies. 7. Education reduces to indoctrination." If I understand Rorty correctly. geometry. Still.. not the emotions or feelings. committed life "better" than before? Unless there is some objectively good life. while reason is essential to us in some sense. Ibid." at www.398 BUSINESS ETHICS QUARTERLY the wall of the cave. Ibid. "Rorty and Postmodern Theory.ucla. perhaps this feeling is an illusion engendered by some spin doctor's image.pdf. Norton & Company..
A RESPONSE TO RORTY 399 11. 1960). Existence.. Ibid. "Being. and it is this theory that. and will go right on changing in unpredictable ways. Rorty does recognize one fact. . 12. August 2005. 1 and 2 (Cambridge. Santa Fe. "the fact that our sense of possibilities open for human beings has changed as history has rolled along." Review of Metaphysics 13 (June 1960): 537-54. 15.: Harvard University Press. leads him to neglect the reality of facts given in and by personal experiences. Charles Sanders Peirce. Commencement Address for St. and That Which Is. New Mexico." But this "fact" is simply another way of stating his theory of subjective pragmatism. 213. Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. vols. 14. I contend. Richard McKeon. passim. 13. John's Graduate Institute. John Cornell. Mass.
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