Interpreting Rorty as a proponent of self-creation, not an opponent of scientific discourse
AuthorHanrahan, Judy Kathleen
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Richard Rorty has been criticized for his dismissal of the importance of scientific discourse, for his advocacy of a reduced role for philosophy, and for being a relativist. His particular strain of pragmatism focuses on the gulf between reality and language, arguing that it is unbridgeable. . From the failure of correspondence theories of truth, Rorty concludes that, in this technical sense, no discourse more closely corresponds to reality than any other discourse and that truth is just a courtesy designation we use for statements that are highly justified. Critics consider this conclusion especially problematic because it apparently marginalizes the strength and importance of scientific discourse. In this thesis I will argue that Rorty should not be understood in this way but, rather, as imploring us to reconsider the degree to which we value scientific discourse over other discourses. Rorty's conclusions about the unbridgeable nature of the gulf between reality and language are more radical than those of the early pragmatists, Charles S. Peirce and William James, but his work also falls nicely in line with James's work, who already directly criticized the correspondence theory. Much of the difference between Rorty's conclusions and those of the earlier pragmatists comes from his place within the world of analytic, and particularly linguistic, philosophy. The vocabulary of linguistic philosophy and the work of his contemporaries in the field (i.e., W.V.O. Quine, Wilfrid Sellars, and Donald Davidson) help Rorty to more satisfactorily deal with truth. However, it is not his stance on truth that he is most criticized for. Philosophers, even other pragmatists, have criticized Rorty most for the conclusions he draws from his analysis of truth.I argue that Rorty's public/private distinction is a device he uses to further the move towards subjectivism in pragmatism. William James started this shift in pragmatism. James emphasized the importance of subjective investment in one's beliefs, while Charles S. Peirce focused almost exclusively on the products of inquiry. At the same time Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1999), where Rorty heavily relies on the distinction, is an example of the kind of argument he thinks should replace traditional philosophical discourse. He argues that we should re-evaluate the priority of and value we place on science and scientific descriptions; and in Contingency he describes the kinds of things we can get from literature, ostensibly things we cannot get from science, and invites us to re-prioritize our values. Ultimately, he hopes that we will place greater value on self-creation. I will argue that we can consider Rorty's vision in Contingency an effort to anchor one extreme in pragmatism, and, by doing so, to shift discourse in a different direction.Finally, I will use current research in cognitive psychology and behavioral economics to illustrate how the problem of representation that Rorty sketches shows up in a scientific problem. By separating Rorty's critique of representation, foundationalism and absolutism from his invitation to value literature more, it should become clear that he is not as radically anti-scientific as he has been interpreted to be.