Friday, August 19, 2011

Wanting to Follow Rorty

I have never read a book or article by the American philosopher Richard Rorty. The primary reason for avoiding Rorty is because I usually read all things Continental. However, from discussions Rorty had with Gianni Vattimo over belief and truth, I decided to purchase a small book by Rorty (published posthumously from a lecture with excellent introductions and conclusions of the book) on Religion.

What I found from the book is that Rorty writes and thinks like an American. What do I mean by that? Well, because to summarize Rorty is to say he is a pragmatist, who believes the best society is utilitarian based on liberal democracy. In short, liberal democracy creates a "public" space for debate and discussion for the betterment of the greatest amount of happiness for the "we" of the nation. Utilitarianism (from the thought of Mill) is a philosophy that aims at the greatest happiness for the greatest number and American pragmatism (from Pierce, James and Dewey) is based on a thought process that states that one works with a way of life till a better one comes along. So it has an American flavor because it is pragmatic and democratic.

Rorty thus thinks all thought process that has truth or an all-encompassing, essentialist system as its goal as foolhardy. To create systems is to do violence to real life. Philosophy since Plato, according to Rorty, has failed because it seeks after eternal truth or in representing the true world than helping humans enjoy life better.

The American in me really likes Rorty because his thought is so easy to translate to American life. It is to say that democracy in its best egalitarian/pragmatic form is the best politics to push for a better way of life in things like education, health and security. It is to argue about everyday uses than simply about the big ideas we can never have a final answer. So Rorty is quite dismissive of those who try to do philosophy the classical way.

What about those that see Rorty's utilitarianism as denying rights to the minorities in the sense that it aims for the greatest happiness for the majority? Rorty would probably state that its not a perfect system but since its aim is practical and pragmatic, those who believe in the greater good will struggle to see that all are included into the "we" of the majority. That is why the public space is no place for religious dogma, for Rorty. Rorty, on the other hand, would argue that anyone can practice their religion in the private area, yet to argue the truth, for example, of belief versus non-belief in God is unpractical due to the fact that we do not have access to that kind of knowledge. Thus Vattimo's weak thought and Christianity as a deconstruction of metaphysics would be something Rorty would line up with. Again, it is to set up a situation where the goal is the betterment of human life and the monitoring of thought forms that would do violence to this happiness.

1 comment:

  1. Anglo philosophers were, at first, hesitant to receive Rorty on account of his willingness to embrace Continental thinkers like Heidegger. And you are right about his American (limousine) optimism... that being part of his bloodline as a close relative of Walter Rauschenbusch.
    Great post.