he gradually became acquainted with the American philosophical movement
known as pragmatism, particularly the writings of John Dewey, as
well as the noteworthy work being done by late analytic philosophers
such as W.V.O. Quine and Wilfrid Sellars, each causing a shift in
generally hold that the worth of an idea should be measured by
its utility or efficacy in coping with a given problem, not by
its correspondence to some antecedent 'Truth' or reality. Rorty
combines pragmatism with a Wittgensteinian ontology that declares
that meaning is a social-linguistic product, and sentences do
not 'link up' with the world in a correspondence relation, a framework
that allows him to question many of philosophy's most basic assumptions.
In his magnum opus, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979),
Rorty combines theoretical groundwork from Wilfred Sellars, Thomas
Kuhn, Gilbert Ryle, Ludwig Wittgenstein and others to practice
the doctrine of "dissolving" rather than solving philosophical
problems. He argues that epistemology, the study of knowledge,
is in fact the product of the mistaken view that the mind is a
glassy essence, of which the main function is to faithfully reproduce
other major work, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, was published
in 1989. In it, Rorty abandons the attempt to explain his theories
in analytic terms and creates an alternative conceptual schema
to that of the "Platonists" he rejects. This schema
is based on the belief that there is no 'truth' higher than the
human being's ability to recreate her/himself, a view that has
been adapted from Nietzsche and which Rorty also identifies with
the novels of Proust and Henry James. This book also marks his
first attempt to consciously articulate a political vision consonant
with his philosophy, the vision of a diverse community bound together
by opposition to suffering, and not by abstract ideas such as
'justice', 'common humanity', etc.
In the early 1990s, Rorty became interested in philosophers in
the continental philosophical tradition, such as Martin Heidegger,
Søren Kierkegaard, Michael Foucault, and Jacques Derrida.
His works include Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical
Papers (1991) and Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers (1998).
These works attempt to the bridge the gap between analytic and
continental philosophies by claiming the two traditions complement,
rather than oppose each other.
philosophy may not have lived up to its pretensions, and may not
have solved the puzzles it thought it had. Yet in the process
of finding reasons for putting those pretensions and those puzzles
aside it helped earn itself an important place in the history
of ideas. By giving up on the quest for apodicticity and finality
that Husserl shared with Carnap and Russell, and by finding new
reasons for thinking that that quest will never succeed, it cleared
a path that leads us past scientism, just as the German idealists
cleared a path that led us around empiricism. The anti-empiricist
lesson of German idealism took a long time to learn, and so may
the anti-scientistic lesson of analytic philosophy. But someday
intellectual historians may be able to see these apparently opposed
movements as complementary.”
Because of the clarity and humor of his writing style, and his
ability to undermine cherished assumptions, Rorty is one of the
most widely-read contemporary philosophers. His political and
moral philosophies have been under almost constant attack both
from some on the Right, who call them relativist and irresponsible,
and some on the Left, who believe them to be insufficient frameworks
for social justice. The most common criticism is that Rorty's
work is self-refuting (see Nagel and Nozick for instance), although
such criticisms often play directly into Rorty's theories about
arguing within versus arguing outside of a given 'language-game'.
Daniel Dennett's humorous Philosophical Lexicon, 'Rorty' is defined
as 'incorrigible', which is a neat summing up both of Rorty's
career and much of the philosophic community's reaction to it.
Over the past fifteen years Rorty has continued to publish voluminously,
including three volumes of philosophical papers; Achieving Our
Country, a political manifesto partly based on readings of John
Dewey and Walt Whitman in which Rorty defends the idea of a progressive,
pragmatic left against what he feels are anti-action positions
espoused by the so-called critical left personified by figures
like Michel Foucault; and Philosophy and Social Hope, a collection
of essays for a general audience.
held teaching positions at Wellesley College, Princeton University,
and the University of Virginia, Rorty is currently a professor
of comparative literature and philosophy at Stanford University.
It seems reasonable to believe that the shift from philosophy
to literature reflects his later position that philosophy is really
itself just a form of literature.