Friday, April 13, 2012

Rorty, mystic activist

Richard Rorty (1931-2007), a postmodernist mystic, was primarily an academic activist.[1]

His academic career was a railroad track. The major stations along the line were the University of Chicago (where he earned a B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy, 1946-1952), Yale (Ph.D., 1952-1956), Wellesley College (1958-1961, after two years in the U.S. Army), Princeton (1961-1982), and the University of Virginia (1982-1998). During his time with the University of Virginia, Rorty also delivered series of lectures at University College, London (1986); Trinity College, Cambridge (1987); and Harvard University (1997).

The crossties, so to speak, were the lectures he presented to thousands of listeners; the articles (including book reviews) he wrote for philosophical journals; the books he published (some of which were anthologies of his articles); and the interviews he granted.

All along the route, he met and conversed with individuals who were philosophically receptive. That method of dissemination was appropriate for the philosopher whose anti-epistemology is "conversation" as a source of "justified belief."

Related posts:

- "Richard Rorty, a postmodernist mystic," April 11, 2012.

- "Postmodernism on reason and mysticism," February 21, 2012.

- "BkRev: Explaining Postmodernism," February 11, 2012.

- "BkRev: The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism," February 7, 2012.

- "The Tragedy of Reason (Bk. Rev.)," September 27, 2009.

Burgess Laughlin

Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, at

[1] Unfortunately no scholar has yet written a full-length, life-spanning, intellectual biography of Richard Rorty. My source for this biographical note is Bjørn Ramberg, "Richard Rorty," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, substantively revised June 16, 2007,


  1. Thanks Burgess for the posts on Rorty.

    Bringing back Epistemology in the center stage of philosophy and intellectual discussions is indeed a major cultural challenge. Considering that even intellectuals who have best intention end up grounding their theories in politics(I consider Nial Ferguson one such historian).

    Given the current state, Rorty has surely succeeded in removing focus on Epistemology from philosophical discussions. And therefore studying him is necessary.

    One follow up question though, related to the following blog post

    Where will you place Rorty in the hierarchy from Ivory tower to the man in street?
    My estimate is that he is a tertiary philosopher.

    And who will be above him in that hierarchy.
    My estimate based on your previous post is Kant -> Dewey -> Rorty

  2. I have not studied any of those philosophers (Kant, Dewey, Rorty) enough to say what their full relationship is.

    From what I have studied of Kant, I can see that he is indeed one of the four primary philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Rand). The radical innovation, scope and depth and integration of his philosophy qualifies him as a primary philosopher.

    I am not sure, but I would suggest that Rorty is indeed a tertiary philosophizer. He seems to mostly weave together strands spun by others. However, I do not know anything about the remainder of Rorty's philosophy: his ethics, politics, and esthetics.

    Rorty himself gives credit for some of his thinking in metaphysics and (anti-)epistemology to Dewey, who in turn, directly or indirectly, appears to have been influenced by Kant.

    Also important is keeping in mind the distinction between (1) level of philosophizing and (2) lineage (line of influence). In this case, however, Rorty may be third in line in both ways.


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