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Rorty's Achieving Our Country

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: April 9, 2000
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Rorty on Why Philosophy?

Copyright: April 2000, Jeanne Curran and Susan Takata
"Fair Use" encouraged.

Richard Rorty has made one of the most vocal breaks with philosophy. He prefers to be a Professor of the Humanities, and calls himself a pragmatist in the spirit of Dewey. This essay appears at this time because the development of Dear Habermas requires that we ask ourselves again, quite seriously, why Habermas, why postmodernism, why critical theory?

Dear Habermas grew from a sociological perspective. We were trying to provide for ourselves a forum to consider the problems we faced with our students in establishing a theoretical perspective. Why did students need a theoretical perspective? Because theory leads to praxis for most of us and for those we teach. If theory is not present to lead, we sometimes fail to understand the contradictions, and we sometimes fail to understand how we got where we are and where we are going. We thus see theory, not as that to which we must contribute as thinkers, but as that to which we must come as thinkers to choose the tools which will best help us preform our everyday jobs. That is close to, and we have always noted that closeness to, Dewey.

But we needed to interweave modern philosophical developments, since sociology cannot separate itself from its perspectives, anymore than can the individuals who practice it.

Rorty, as a philosopher, brings us his interpretation of those thinkers who mattered the most in helping him answer the question of How shall I live?"

Rorty sees analytical philosophy and pragmatism as two branches of philosophy that shouldn't even be the same discipline. Analytical is seeking ways around the limitations of our knowledge as humans, trying to get beyond those limitations. Pragmatism is trying to answer "How shall I live?" Heidegger saw the same thing, and agreed. Heidegger believed that Plato's attempt to understand the ideal, to go beyond human limitations to the ideal, has colored philosophy to this day. Heidegger concluded that if we sought the ideal, God-like knowledge, there was no where for philosophy to end up except in Pragmatism. Heidegger did not want to settle for the question of "How shall we live?" Rorty sees that question, and Pragmatism, as a good place to end up. (Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country, passim.

Rorty's conception of answering the question "How shall we live?" fits well with Leo Buscaglia's emphasis on living, learning and loving.

More to come . . .