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Rorty, Richard McKay (1931–2007)

DOI: 10.4324/0123456789-P056-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved July 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Best known for his lively and provocative advocacy of pragmatism, Rorty was a wide-ranging and iconoclastic philosopher, whose influential, frequently decried work helped define some of the key intellectual debates of the late twentieth century. His broad training in the history of ideas, early exposure to pragmatism, and self-taught fluency in analytic philosophy combined in his landmark book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), to yield a profound anti-Cartesian and anti-Kantian critique of the foundationalist and representationalist assumptions of modern epistemology and metaphysics. Drawing insight and inspiration from novel juxtapositions and associations of thinkers – Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and Dewey; Quine, Sellars, and Davidson; Freud, Sartre, and Gadamer – Rorty set the terms of his decades-long project: what he called in Mirror the negative, “therapeutic” work of historicizing the purportedly timeless problems of traditional philosophy to highlight how they resulted from the adoption of contingent vocabularies, and the positive, “edifying” (1979) effort to think through what it would mean to move beyond “the entire cultural tradition which made truth…a central virtue” (1982, 35). In his most original work, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989), and across four volumes of philosophical papers and a collection of popular essays, Rorty elaborated the implications of this broader cultural and intellectual shift for our understanding of language, the self, community, politics, ethics, justice, and religion. Increasingly identifying with the pragmatist tradition, he engaged with leading philosophers around questions of truth, knowledge, justification, and relativism. Yet, the moral core of his project centered on asserting “the priority of democracy to philosophy” (1991a) and reorienting philosophical reflection away from the problems of philosophers and toward a political liberalism dedicated to the reduction of human cruelty and suffering.

Citing this article:
Voparil, Christopher. Rorty, Richard McKay (1931–2007), 2017, doi:10.4324/0123456789-P056-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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