Talking Problems

If we could bring ourselves to accept the fact that no theory about the nature of Man or Society or Rationality, or anything else, is going to synthesize Nietzsche with Marx or Heidegger with Habermas, we could begin to think of the relation between writers on autonomy and writers on justice as being like the relation between two kinds of tools – as little in need of synthesis as are paintbrushes and crowbars. One sort of writer lets us realize that the social virtues are not the only virtues, that some people have actually succeeded in re-creating themselves. We thereby become aware of our own half-articulate need to become a new person, one whom we as yet lack words to describe. The other sort reminds us of the failure of our institutions and practices to live up to the convictions to which we are already committed by the public, shared vocabulary we use in daily life. The one tells us that we need not speak only the language of the tribe, that we may find our own words, that we may have a responsibility to ourselves to find them. The other tells us that that responsibility is not the only one we have. Both are right, but there is no way to make both speak a single language. (Richard Rorty, from the Introduction, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity)

My iPod is chock full of hippie classics, jazz, African music, and, lots of lectures, conference presentations, in philosophy, psychology, anthropology. Between deep resources such as learnoutloud, and freebees at iTunes, when I’m not drifting on waves of psychedelic nostalgia, I’m in the school I can create for myself.

I happened upon conference presentations about the philosophy of Richard Rorty, while trolling for curriculum contents for my ongoing rolling (as in: learning while driving in Coltrane, my 2000 Honda Civic, and classroom-on-wheels,) self-education. Rorty’s philosophy is somewhat the old friend, although it had been many years since I last engaged with his distinctively American pragmatic post-modernism. So it was I spent four plus hours with mostly knotty presentations from four ‘Rortyians.’

Rorty is an anti-essentialist: he does not think things are essentially physical and only accidentally of aesthetic, moral, or economic value, and he does not think things are essentially mental or spiritual either. This is because he denies that there is any ultimate context of the sort required to make sense of the assertion that one way of describing a thing is more fundamental or essential to it than all others. There are only limited contexts set by changing circumstances and purposes; as Dewey once put it, ‘Anything is “essential” which is indispensible to a given inquiry and anything is “accidental” which is superfluous’ (Dewey 1938: 138). (James Tartaglia, Rorty and the Mirror of Nature)

Eventually I thought to myself, “I’m, like, half a Rortyian.” I recognize by way of my longstanding bias, I’ll usually be in sympathy with the smart arguments of anti-foundationalists and subtle relativists. On the other hand, the anti-representationalism central to Rorty’s mature philosophy, to me, is arch and a bit too posed as being foundational!

The four presentations are excellent. I especially enjoyed the self-effacing Bjorn Ramberg, For the sake of his own generation: Rorty on destruction, and, edification, and, Albrecht Wellmer, Rereading Rorty. Although one gets tossed right into the deep end–Rorty’s philosophy may be formulated around Pragmatism, but it’s knotty–I became acclimated and soon enough enthralled. One hook could be: if you’re interested in how moderation and flexibility in conceptualizing, language use, proposition definition, qualifies (best!) the discussion of problems, these resources are a good ‘surface’ to dive into and through.

Four presentations about the philosophy of Richard Rorty

Richard Rorty: “Dewey and Posner on Pragmatism and Moral Progress”

Michael Krasny streaming interview with Richard Rorty

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