Richard Rorty Reading Group

2012.06.21

Some of us in the department decided to start a Richard Rorty reading group for the summer. It might have took all of the first ten pages for me to register I was in love with this philosopher. For our first group session, we discussed the Introduction and Chapter 1 of his book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Below are a few of my favorite quotes from this section of his text:

-“The notion that there could be such a thing as “foundations of knowledge” (all knowledge- in every field, past, present, and future) or a “theory of representation” (all representation, in familiar vocabularies and those not yet dreamed of) depends on the assumption that there is some such a priori constraints.” (9)

-” In Part III I take up the idea of ‘philosophy’ more explicitly. Chapter 7 interprets the traditional distinction between the search for ‘objective knowledge’ and other, less privileged, areas of human activity, as merely the distinction between ‘normal discourse’ and ‘abnormal discourse’. ‘Normal discourse’ (a generalization of Kuhn’s notion of ‘normal science’) is any discourse (scientific, political, theological, or whatever) which embodies agreed-upon criteria for reaching agreement; abnormal discourse is any which lacks such criteria. I argue that the attempt (which has defined traditional philosophy) to explicate ‘rationality’ and ‘objectivity’ in terms of conditions of accurate representation isa  self-deceptive effort to eternalize the normal discourse of the day, and that, since the Greeks, philosophy’s self-image has been dominated by this attempt.”  (11)

-“It is pictures rather than propositions, metaphors rather than statements, which determine most of our philosophical convictions.” (12)

-“In my Wittgensteinian view, an intuition is never anything more or less than familiarity with a language-game, so to discover the source of our intuitions is to relive the history of the philosophical language-game we find ourselves playing.” (34)

-“In my view, as I have said, ‘essentialist intuitions’ and ‘clear and distinct perceptions’ are always appeals to linguistic habits entrenched in the language by our predecessors.” (56)

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3 Responses to “Richard Rorty Reading Group”

  1. “…an intuition is never anything more or less than familiarity with a language-game, so to discover the source of our intuitions is to relive the history of the philosophical language-game we find ourselves playing.”

    ”In my view, as I have said, ‘essentialist intuitions’ and ‘clear and distinct perceptions’ are always appeals to linguistic habits entrenched in the language by our predecessors.”

    Yes yes yes!

    – – –

    Knowledge (and the pursuit of knowledge) is an advancement of a cultural story, which told in retrospect is called our history. Any modern conception of knowledge is simply the continuation of weaving one strand of human experience in the intricately woven cultural story.

    What we speak of as objective knowledge in philosophy and/or science is just the current thread in the long history of human thought, with no more firm ground to stand on as definite truth in our time than our predecessors, given the relativity of time and advancement of thought (constraints of a priori applicable here). Our modern conceptions will likely appear no less primitive/lacking to thinkers hundreds of years from now than our reflective analysis of prior systems of thought and theory.

    But as your Rorty quote pointed out, “I argue that the attempt (which has defined traditional philosophy) to explicate ‘rationality’ and ‘objectivity’ in terms of conditions of accurate representation is a self-deceptive effort to eternalize the normal discourse of the day, and that, since the Greeks, philosophy’s self-image has been dominated by this attempt.”

    It is the concern for certainty and the stranglehold of scientific reductionism, the new dogma of our age, that inhibits significant advancements of thought. It won’t be until the social institutions are infiltrated by minority and novel systems of thought that this rootedness will be shaken, and eventually shattered, to allow new growth (in all areas), but specifically here in the area of knowledge.

    Contemporary understanding of knowledge is offspring of a lineage of thought (Western) originating with Ancient Greek MEN, perpetuated by wealthy (mostly) European MEN. What a limited and narrow understanding of human knowledge and experience. But knowledge is beholden to the interests of the powerful and entrenched. And like it or not, it is still a wealthy White Man’s world…thankfully, that foundation is being shaken, and I hope to see in our time where it will be broken, and the floodgates will open , giving room for a revolution of thought.

    – – –

    Thanks as always for the food for thought.

  2. And please forgive me if I failed to add anything new or insightful. Discussion of this nature are rare to come by for me and so I relished the opportunity to comment-vomit things long pent up in my mind!

    • C.M.Marcous said

      Nothing to forgive! Super insightful remarks, as always. I am genuinely enjoying his book so much right now, Jameson. (and I wish we had you in our reading group!) I definitely recommend Rorty– even if it’s just youtube talks or some of his shorter essays. He strikes me as bearing the relation to philosophy that Chomsky does to political science– thinkers with an incredible gift for synthesizing so much of the history of their disciplines into very compelling (arguably, radical…although it’s hard for me to see them that way anymore) counter-narratives for their readers to consider.

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