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Against Belatedness

Richard Rorty, 16 June 1983

The Legitimacy of the Modern Age 
by Hans Blumenberg, translated by Robert Wallace.
MIT, 786 pp., £28.10, June 1983, 0 262 02184 6
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... Lots of people blame the way things have been going lately on ‘false consciousness’. We are, they say, trapped in a conceptual scheme which distorts the way things really are. All our ways of talking, acting and hoping are infected by these concepts. We cannot expect things to get any better until we rid ourselves of them and adopt a new form of intellectual life, one which helps to encourage the emergence of new forms of social life ...

Posties

Richard Rorty, 3 September 1987

Der Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne: Zwölf Vorlesungen 
by Jürgen Habermas.
Suhrkamp, 302 pp., £54, February 1985, 3 518 57702 6
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... A third-rate critic of an original philosopher usually attacks him (or her) for frivolous irresponsibility, or corrupting the youth, or for having (by underhand ‘rhetorical’ means) briefly made the worse appear the better cause. By contrast, a second-rate critic will spot lacunae in the philosopher’s arguments, ambiguities in her use of terms, and vagueness in her conclusions ...
Moral Prejudices: Essays on Ethics 
by Annette Baier.
Harvard, 368 pp., £33.95, February 1994, 0 674 58715 4
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... The applause which greeted the conclusion of Annette Baier’s presidential address to a 1990 meeting of the American Philosophical Association masked a faint susurrus, caused by a thousand male philosophers trying hard not to ask themselves why a woman can’t be more like a man. Men, as Henry Higgins pointed out, are so decent, so morally straight ...

Just one more species doing its best

Richard Rorty, 25 July 1991

The Later Works 1925-1953. Vol. XVII: Miscellaneous Writings, 1885-1953 
by John Dewey, edited by Jo Ann Boydston.
Southern Illinois, 786 pp., $50, August 1990, 0 8093 1661 7
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Dewey 
by J.E. Tiles.
Routledge, 256 pp., £35, December 1988, 0 415 00908 1
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John Dewey and American Democracy 
by Robert Westbrook.
Cornell, 608 pp., $32.95, May 1991, 0 8014 2560 3
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Beloved Community: The Cultural Criticism of Randolph Bourne, Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank and Lewis Mumford 
by Casey Blake.
North Carolina, 370 pp., $38.45, November 1990, 0 8078 1935 2
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... A.J. Ayer began his Bertrand Russell with his customary insouciance, saying that Russell was ‘unique among the philosophers of this century in combining the study of the specialised problems of philosophy, not only with an interest in both the natural and the social sciences, but with an engagement in primary as well as higher education, and an active participation in politics ...

The Contingency of Community

Richard Rorty, 24 July 1986

... If one says, as I did in ‘The Contingency of Language’, that truth is not ‘out there’, one will be suspected of relativism and irrationalism. If one suggests, as I then did in ‘The Contingency of Selfhood’, that we no longer need a distinction between morality and prudence, one may seem to be encouraging immorality.* By way of defence, I shall argue here that these distinctions between absolutism and relativism, rationality and irrationality, morality and expediency, are obsolete and clumsy tools – remnants of a vocabulary which we should try to replace ...

The Contingency of Language

Richard Rorty, 17 April 1986

... About two hundred years ago, the idea that A truth was made rather than found began to take hold of the imagination of Europe. The French Revolution had shown that the whole vocabulary of social relations, and the whole spectrum of social institutions, could be replaced almost overnight. This inspired a new sort of politics – revolutionary, utopian politics, the sort of political thought which sets aside questions about both the will of God and the nature of man and dreams of creating a new kind of human being ...

The Contingency of Selfhood

Richard Rorty, 8 May 1986

... As I was starting to write this I came across a poem by Philip Larkin, the last part of which reads: And once you have walked the length of your mind, what You command is as clear as a lading-list. Anything else must not, for you, be thought To exist. And what’s the profit? Only that, in time We half-identify the blind impress All our behavings bear, may trace it home ...

Conversations with Rorty

Paul Seabright, 16 June 1983

Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays 1972-1980 
by Richard Rorty.
Harvester, 237 pp., £22.50, February 1983, 0 7108 0403 2
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... by, the vocabulary of history. It would no doubt also amuse a present-day inhabitant of Virginia, Richard Rorty, who in this stimulating new collection of essays brandishes his tomahawk in earnest at philosophers who insist on treating our local and accidental concerns as though they were reflections of some immutable and absolute Reality. He lays ...

Getting it right

Bernard Williams, 23 November 1989

Contingency, Irony and Solidarity 
by Richard Rorty.
Cambridge, 201 pp., £25, May 1989, 0 521 35381 5
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... It will be predictably edifying, or perhaps predictably unedifying: in any case, predictable. Richard Rorty is a philosopher for whom the standards and the point of getting it right have become very problematic, not only in philosophy but quite generally. In his influential and interesting book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, published in ...

Strenuous Unbelief

Jonathan Rée: Richard Rorty, 15 October 1998

Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in 20th-Century America 
by Richard Rorty.
Harvard, 107 pp., £12.50, May 1998, 9780674003118
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Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Vol. III 
by Richard Rorty.
Cambridge, 355 pp., £40, June 1998, 0 521 55347 4
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... Back in the Sixties, before he became the bad boy of American philosophy, Richard Rorty struck his colleagues as a safe and promising young man. His first book, published in 1967, was an anthology of Essays in Philosophical Method designed to document the reorientations in analytic philosophy that followed Rudolf Carnap’s move from Germany to the US in 1935 ...

Liberation Philosophy

Hilary Putnam, 20 March 1986

Philosophy in History: Essays in the Historiography of Philosophy 
edited by Richard Rorty, J.B. Schneewind and Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 403 pp., £27.50, November 1984, 0 521 25352 7
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... clash head-on. The lectures were given by Charles Taylor (‘Philosophy and its History’ and by Richard Rorty (‘The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres’). They disagree not just over the ‘relation of philosophy to its history’ but in their conception of the kind of society we live in and of the kind of society we should aim for: they ...

Broken Knowledge

Frank Kermode, 4 August 1983

The Oxford Book of Aphorisms 
edited by John Gross.
Oxford, 383 pp., £9.50, March 1983, 0 19 214111 2
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The Travellers’ Dictionary of Quotation: Who said what about where? 
edited by Peter Yapp.
Routledge, 1022 pp., £24.95, April 1983, 0 7100 0992 5
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... Richard Rorty has made us familiar with the distinction between two sorts of philosophy, which he calls ‘systematic’ and (I think infelicitously) ‘edifying’. The first sticks to the central epistemological tradition, which assumes that it can deal systematically and progressively with reality; the second is essentially of the periphery, and its exponents are pragmatical opponents of the institutional tradition ...

Love thy neighbourhood

Terry Eagleton, 16 November 1995

The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat 
by Steven Lukes.
Verso, 261 pp., £14.95, November 1995, 1 85984 948 2
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... Neo-Hegelians on the whole are not. One would not rush to open a novel by Jürgen Habermas, but Richard Rorty no doubt has a few suave short stories inside him. There are philosophical idioms which are inherently anti-fictional – positivism, for instance – and those which lend themselves naturally to literature. It is no accident that Sartre, whose ...

Terrestrial Thoughts, Extraterrestrial Science

Bernard Williams, 7 February 1991

Realism with a Human Face 
by Hilary Putnam.
Harvard, 347 pp., £23.95, October 1990, 0 674 74950 2
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... equally conclusively, that formulations in this relativistic style that have been popularised by Richard Rorty, in particular, simply tear themselves apart. If, as Rorty is fond of putting it, the correct description of the world (for us) is a matter of what we find it convenient to say, and if, as ...
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature 
by Richard Rorty.
Blackwell, 401 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 631 12961 8
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The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy 
by Stanley Cavell.
Oxford, 511 pp., £12.50, February 1980, 0 19 502571 7
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Philosophy As It Is 
edited by Ted Honderich and Myles Burnyeat.
Pelican, 540 pp., £2.95, November 1979, 0 14 022136 0
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... book in rejoinder. It is going to be a long time before a better book of its kind appears than Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. The elegance of its style, the easy and effective deployment of historical scholarship, and, above all, the ability to distinguish the central threads of recent debate from the side-issues and to ...

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