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Rorty is dead

June 10, 2007

Jean Baudrillard died a few months ago, and I neglected to write about it.

Richard Rorty is dead and somehow I can say a few things. What’s that about? I can’t say a great deal about Baudrillard. Can you? He’s impossible.

Rorty, however, I can approach. My first encounter with the American philosopher was at 18. I was in Baltimore, a freshman at Johns Hopkins, and I was on my first day at my workstudy job. I was simply to read to a retired philosophy professor, who was nearly blind and needed a voice to carry his vociferous reading habit. On my first day I read an essay by Rorty out of his 1988 book, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Being 18, and fresh from Kentucky, I wasn’t the best reader and certainly not of philosophical tracts. The blind professor didn’t like me a great deal, and he would correct my pronunciation while I read and my grammar when I spoke freely.

Richard RortyLittle did he know that reading Rorty would deeply influence me. I didn’t work for him very long, mostly because his criticism of me was unbearable. I felt like an utter peon. I read to him from the first part of the book, on contingency. What happens here is Rorty’s statement that language is contingent and cannot be held to assertain reality. Whether something is true or false is wholly contingent on human language positing something as such – “reality” could care less.

Then in the next essays he talks about irony. And what it means to be an ironist:

(1) She has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses, because she has been impressed by other vocabularies, vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered; (2) she realizes that argument phrased in her present vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts; (3) insofar as she philosophizes about her situation, she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than others, that it is in touch with a power not herself. (1989, p. 73)

Mmm, yes. I took that stuff in and ran with it. And ran away from the old philosopher. (Thanks old man.)

Oh, and another notable thing that Rorty said worth thinking about is that we should stop using categorical terms like “good” and “moral” because they demark a boundary that allows us to consider that some people don’t belong there, allowing for the rationalization of cruelty. Instead he wished for us to speak to one another in strictly subjective terms, each designing a vocabulary of one’s own along an equal plane. It’s an abstract wish, for certain, but makes me think. And continue to engage new vocabularies.

RIP Richard Rorty

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2007 12:16 am

    Garrrr! 😉

  2. June 19, 2007 10:53 am

    Here’s a link to a great article about Rorty that was published after I wrote this post:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/18/arts/18conn.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&ref=arts&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin

  3. Paul B permalink
    July 17, 2007 9:04 pm

    Hey. Are you the Sandra with whom I studied African History and French at JHU? And played sloshball in Wyman Park Dell, maybe? I think you are.

  4. Paul B permalink
    July 17, 2007 9:05 pm

    (Greetings from San Francisco, by the way.)

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