Introduction to some ideas and concepts of Richard Rorty

Romantic hope

‘Willingness to substitute imagination for certainty, and curiosity for pride.’ – PSH (references to the works of Rorty, see below)

‘I borrow my definition of “liberal” from Judith Shklar, who says that liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do.’ – CIS

‘I use “ironist” to name the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of his or her own most central beliefs and desires – someone sufficiently historicist and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those cenral beliefs and desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance.’ – CIS

Ironist as opposed to metaphysican
‘Ironists take the writings of all the people with poetic gifts, all the original minds who had a talent for redescription – Pythagoras, Plato, Milton, Newton, Goethe, Kant, Kierkegaard, Baudelaire, Darwin, Freud – as grist to be put through the same dialectical mill. The metaphysicians, by contrast, want to start by getting straight about which of these people were poets, which philosophers, and which scientists. They think it essential to get the genres right – to order texts by reference to a previously determined grid, a grid which, whatever else it does, will at least make a clear distinction between knowledge claims and other claims upon our attention. The ironist, by contrast, would like to avoid cooking the books she reads by using any such grid (although, with ironic resignation, she realizes that she can hardly help doing so).’

‘For a metaphysician, “philosophy,” as defined by reference to the canonical Plato-Kant sequence, is an attempt to know about certain things – quite general and important things. For the ironist, “philosophy,” so defined, is the attempt to apply and develop a particular antecedently chosen final vocabulary – one which revolves around the appearance-reality distinction.’ – IM

Pragmatism as opposed to transcendental and empirical philosophy
‘What the transcendental philosophers saw as the spiritual, the empirical philosophers saw as the emotional. What the empirical philosophers saw as the achievements of natural science in discovering the nature of Reality, the transcendental philosophers saw as banausic, as true but irrelevant to Truth. Pragmatism cuts across this transcendental/empirical distinction by questioning the common presupposition that there is an invidious distinction to be drawn between kinds of truths.’ – PPP

Rorty on normal and abnormal discourse
‘A distinction which generalizes Kuhn’s distinction between “normal” and “revolutionary” science.’ PMN

‘Normal discourse is that which is conducted within an agreed-upon set of conventions about what counts as a relevant contribution, what counts as answering a question, what counts as having a good argument for that answer or a good criticism of it. Abnormal discourse is what happens when someone joins in the discourse who is ignorant of these conventions or who sets them aside. ‘Episteme’ is -the product of normal discourse—the sort of statement which can be agreed to be true by all participants whom the other participants count as “rational.” The product of abnormal discourse can be anything from nonsense to intellectual revolution, and there is no discipline which describes it, any more than there is a discipline devoted to the study of the unpredictable, or of “creativity.”’ – PMN

According to Rorty, edifying philosophy – abnormal discourses

Rorty on truth
Correspondence theory of truth is ‘an uncashable and outworn metaphor’.- ORT

‘There is no pragmatic difference, no difference that makes a difference, between “it works because it’s true” and “it’s true because it works”.’ – PPP

Rorty on perennial philosophical problems
‘For Rorty, the ‘perennial problems’(…) are little more than historical aberrations, outdated ways of thinking which it is a mistake to perpetuate. Philosophical problems are to be ignored. They are to be put aside and forgotten rather than solved, just as problems which interested mediaeval scholars, such as how best to understand the nature of angels, were never solved, only forgotten.’ – Tartaglia

Rorty and the future of philosophy
‘Richard Rorty had in mind nothing less than to foster a culture that liberated itself from what he saw as the conceptual obsessions of Greek philosophy—and a fetishism of science that sprouted from the furrows of that metaphysics’ – Habermas

‘Rorty has always criticized philosophy for seeking absolute knowledge and absolute foundations, but he had previously implied that philosophy as an academic discipline and enterprise was tied to this search for absolute foundations, and as such would have to be abandoned or re-named. In Philosophy and Social Hope, Rorty is less willing to throw out the baby with bath water. Previously, Rorty was reluctant to discuss the role of philosophy or what would succeed philosophy after it gave up its search for absolute foundations. He admitted that when he would get asked about the task of philosophy he would get “tonguetied” (Rorty, 1999, p. 19). Sometimes he claimed that philosophy should become “a branch of literature” (Rorty, 1987, p. 572). Recently he seems willing to venture that the future of philosophy should be construed along the lines of the traditional pragmatism laid out by James and Dewey.’ – Sanders

Rorty and philosophy’s public importance
‘Rorty bemoans the state of a discipline that retains the name philosophy but has forfeited any public relevance. In particular, the analytical orthodoxy whence Rorty himself originated has eased an accelerated philosophy’s transformation into a highly specialized and departmentalized discipline. Here, only those questions are considered serious as are raised by the profession, and not longer by “life.”‘

‘Philosophy can play a public role if it reflects sensitively on the pressing problems of the day and offers a diagnosis of his time. In this country, Richard Rorty like almost no other did indeed restore philosophy’s public importance. It is a moot point whether his colleagues will thank him for that.’ – Habermas

Rorty as a “metaphilosopher”
‘A philosopher who dons the role of a public intellectual can have recourse neither to the expert knowledge of the natural and social sciences nor even to the historical and aesthetic knowledge accumulated by the humanities. (…) In his public interventions, Rorty makes a virtue of these shortcomings by turning the task of philosophy itself into a topic. He opts for metaphilosophical considerations, confronts the “scientific” philosophers with those who take their cue from literature.’ – Habermas

‘His philosophical views are generally adopted for metaphilosophical purposes, namely to make traditional lines of philosophical inquiry appear uninteresting, and thereby to persuade conventional philosophers to try something new.’ – Tartaglia



Richard Rorty
– CIS – Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity
– IM – Ironists and Metaphysicans
– ORT – Objectivity, Relativism and Truth
– PMN – Philosophy and Mirror of Nature
– PPP – Platonists, Positivists, and Pragmatists”, free at
– PSH – Philosophy and Social Hope

James Tartaglia, Rorty and the mirror of nature, free at ebooks/Rorty and mirror of nature.pdf

Jürgen Habermas, In Memory of Richard Rorty, free at

Mark Sanders, My Rortyian hope,


About Dandre

Former student of philosophy, maths and literature. Now studying master program in sociology. Some thinkers of central interest include Ludwig Wittgenstein, C. G. Jung and Pierre Bourdieu.
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One Response to Introduction to some ideas and concepts of Richard Rorty

  1. Pingback: Habermas, non-ironist and non-metaphysical philosopher, notes and quotes | Recollecting Philosophy

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