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Richard McKay Rorty
Full name Richard McKay Rorty
Born October 4, 1931(1931-10-04)
New York City
Died June 8, 2007 (aged 75)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Postanalytic, Pragmatism
Main interests Philosophy of language, Philosophy of mind, Ethics. Metaphilosophy, Liberalism, Meta-epistemology
Notable ideas Postphilosophy, Ironism, Final vocabulary, Epistemological behaviorism

Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) was an American philosopher. He had a long and diverse career in Philosophy, Humanities, and Literature departments. His complex intellectual background gave him a comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the analytic tradition in philosophy he would later famously reject.



Richard Rorty was born October 4, 1931, in New York City. [1] His parents, James and Winifred Rorty, were activists, writers and social democrats. And his maternal grandfather, Walter Rauschenbusch, was a central figure in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century.[2] Rorty wrote about the beauty of rural New Jersey orchids in his short autobiography, "Trotsky and the Wild Orchids." His colleague, Jürgen Habermas's obituary for Rorty points out that Rorty's contrasting childhood experiences, such as beautiful orchids versus reading a book in his parents' house that defended Leon Trotsky against Stalin, created an early interest in philosophy. He describes Rorty as an ironist:

"Nothing is sacred to Rorty the ironist. Asked at the end of his life about the 'holy', the strict atheist answered with words reminiscent of the young Hegel: 'My sense of the holy is bound up with the hope that some day my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law."[3]

Rorty enrolled at the University of Chicago shortly before turning 15, where he received a bachelor's and a master's degree in philosophy, continuing at Yale University for a PhD in philosophy (1952-1956).[4] He married another academic, Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Harvard University professor), in 1954 and had his son, Jay. After two years in the army, he taught at Wellesley College for three years, until 1961.[5] Rorty divorced and then remarried to Stanford University bioethicist, Mary Varney Rorty, in 1972. They had two children, Kevin and Patricia.

Rorty was a professor of philosophy at Princeton University for 21 years.[5] In 1982 he became Kenan Professor of the Humanities at the University Of Virginia.[6] In 1997 Rorty became professor emeritus of comparative literature (and philosophy, by courtesy), at Stanford University.[6] During this period he was especially popular, and once quipped that he had been assigned to the position of "transitory professor of trendy studies".[7]

Rorty's doctoral dissertation, "The Concept of Potentiality", and his first book (as editor), The Linguistic Turn (1967), were firmly in the prevailing analytic mode. However, he gradually became acquainted with the American philosophical movement known as pragmatism, particularly the writings of John Dewey. The noteworthy work being done by analytic philosophers such as W.V.O. Quine and Wilfrid Sellars caused significant shifts in his thinking, which were reflected in his next book, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).

Pragmatists generally hold that a proposition is useful if employing it helps us understand or solve a given problem. Rorty combined pragmatism about truth and other matters with a later Wittgensteinian philosophy of language which declares that meaning is a social-linguistic product, and sentences do not 'link up' with the world in a correspondence relation. Rorty wrote in his Contingency, irony, and solidarity (1989):

"Truth cannot be out there—cannot exist independently of the human mind—because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own—unaided by the describing activities of humans—cannot.”(5)

Views like this led Rorty to question many of philosophy's most basic assumptions — and have also led to him being apprehended as a postmodern/deconstructionist philosopher. Indeed, from the late 1980s through the 1990s, Rorty focused on the continental philosophical tradition, examining the works of Friederich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida. His work from this period included Contingency, irony, and solidarity, Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers (1991) and Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers (1998). The latter two works attempt to bridge the dichotomy between analytic and continental philosophy by claiming that the two traditions complement rather than oppose each other.

According to Rorty, analytic philosophy may not have lived up to its pretensions and may not have solved the puzzles it thought it had. Yet such philosophy, in the process of finding reasons for putting those pretensions and puzzles aside, 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 such quest will never succeed, analytic philosophy cleared a path that leads past scientism, just as the German idealists cleared a path that led around empiricism.

In the last fifteen years of his life, Rorty continued to publish voluminously, including four volumes of philosophical papers, Achieving Our Country (1998), a political manifesto partly based on readings of John Dewey and Walt Whitman in which he defended the idea of a progressive, pragmatic left against what he feels are defeatist, anti-liberal, anti-humanist positions espoused by the critical left and continental school, personified by figures like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. Such theorists were also guilty of an "inverted Platonism" in which they attempted to craft over-arching, metaphysical, "sublime" philosophies—which in fact contradicted their core claims to be ironist and contingent. Rorty's last works focused on the place of religion in contemporary life, liberal communities, and philosophy as "cultural politics".

Shortly before his death, he wrote a piece called "The Fire of Life", (published in the November 2007 issue of Poetry Magazine)[8], in which he meditates on his diagnosis and the comfort of poetry. He concludes, "I now wish that I had spent somewhat more of my life with verse. This is not because I fear having missed out on truths that are incapable of statement in prose. There are no such truths; there is nothing about death that Swinburne and Landor knew but Epicurus and Heidegger failed to grasp. Rather, it is because I would have lived more fully if I had been able to rattle off more old chestnuts — just as I would have if I had made more close friends."

On June 8, 2007, Rorty died in his home from pancreatic cancer. [4][6][9]

Major works

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Rorty argues that the central problems of modern epistemology depend upon a picture of the mind as trying to faithfully represent (or "mirror") a mind-independent, external reality. If we give up this metaphor, then the entire enterprise of foundationalist epistemology is misguided. A foundationalist believes that in order to avoid the regress inherent in claiming that all beliefs are justified by other beliefs, some beliefs must be self-justifying and form the foundations to all knowledge.

There were two senses of "foundationalism" criticized in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. In the epistemological sense, Rorty criticized the attempt to justify knowledge claims by tracing them to a set of foundations (e.g., self-evident premises or noninferential sensations); more broadly, he criticized the claim of philosophy to function foundationally within a culture. The former argument draws on Sellars's critique of the idea that there is a "given" in sensory perception, in combination with Quine's critique of the distinction between analytic sentences (sentences which are true solely in virtue of what they mean) and synthetic sentences (sentences made true by the world). Each critique, taken alone, provides a problem for a conception of how philosophy ought to proceed, yet leaves enough of the tradition intact to proceed with its former aspirations. Combined, Rorty claimed, the two critiques are devastating. With no privileged insight into the structure of belief and no privileged realm of truths of meaning, we have, instead, knowledge as those beliefs that pay their way. The only worthwhile description of the actual process of inquiry, Rorty claimed, was a Kuhnian account of the standard phases of the progress of disciplines, oscillating through normal and abnormal periods, between routine problem-solving and intellectual crises.

After eliminating foundationalism, Rorty argues that one of the few roles left for a philosopher is to act as an intellectual gadfly, attempting to induce a revolutionary break with previous practice, a role that Rorty was happy to take on himself. Rorty suggests that each generation tries to subject all disciplines to the model that the most successful discipline of the day employs. In Rorty's view, the success of modern science has led academics in philosophy and the humanities to mistakenly imitate scientific methods. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature popularized and extended ideas of Wilfrid Sellars (the critique of the Myth of the given) and W. V. O. Quine (the critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction) and others who advocate the Wittgensteinian doctrine of "dissolving" rather than solving philosophical problems.

Contingency, irony, and solidarity

In Contingency, irony, and solidarity (1989), Rorty abandons specifically analytic modes of explication in favor of narrative pastiche in order to develop an alternative conceptual vocabulary to that of the "Platonists" he rejects. This schema is based on the belief that there is no worthwhile theory of truth, aside from a boring, non-epistemic semantic one (as Donald Davidson developed out of the work of Tarski). Rorty suggests that the task of philosophy should be distinguished along public and private lines. Private philosophers, who provide one with greater abilities to (re)create oneself, a view adapted from Nietzsche and which Rorty also identifies with the novels of Proust and Nabokov, should not be expected to help with public problems. For a public philosophy, one might turn to Rawls or Habermas.

This book also marks his first attempt to specifically articulate a political vision consistent with his philosophy, the vision of a diverse community bound together by opposition to cruelty, and not by abstract ideas such as 'justice' or 'common humanity,' policed by the separation of the public and private realms of life.

In this book, Rorty introduces the terminology of Ironism, which he uses to describe his mindset and his philosophy, though in later works he never really returns to it.

Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth

Amongst the essays in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1 (1990), is "The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy," in which Rorty defends Rawls against communitarian critics and argues that personal ideals of perfection and standards of truth were no more needed in politics than a state religion. He sees Rawls' concept of reflective equilibrium as a more appropriate way of conceptualizing political decision-making in modern liberal democracies.

Essays on Heidegger and Others

In this text, Rorty focuses primarily on the continental philosophers Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida. He argues that these European "post-Nietzscheans" share much with American pragmatists, in that they critique metaphysics and reject the correspondence theory of truth. When discussing Derrida, Rorty claims that Derrida is most useful when viewed as a funny writer who attempted to circumvent the Western philosophical tradition, rather than the inventor of a philosophical (or literary) "method." In this vein, Rorty criticizes Derrida's followers like Paul de Man for taking deconstructive literary theory too seriously.

Achieving Our Country

In Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (1998), Rorty differentiates between what he sees as the two sides of the Left, a cultural Left and a progressive Left. He criticizes the cultural Left, which is exemplified by post-structuralists such as Michel Foucault and postmodernists such as Jean-François Lyotard, for offering critiques of society, but no alternatives. Although these intellectuals make insightful claims about the ills of society, Rorty suggests that they provide no alternatives and even occasionally deny the possibility of progress. On the other hand, the progressive Left, exemplified for Rorty by the pragmatist John Dewey, Whitman and James Baldwin, makes hope for a better future its priority. Without hope, Rorty argues, change is spiritually inconceivable and the cultural Left has begun to breed cynicism. Rorty sees the progressive Left as acting in the philosophical spirit of pragmatism.

Rorty and His Critics

On fundamentalist religion, Rorty said:

“It seems to me that the regulative idea that we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists, most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of ‘needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions’ ... It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own ... The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students ... When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank... You have to be educated in order to be ... a participant in our conversation ... So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours ... I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei [domination free] about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents ... I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause.”

‘Universality and Truth,’ in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and his Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-2.

On human rights

His notion of human rights is grounded on the notion of sentimentality. He contended that throughout history humans have devised various means of construing certain groups of individuals as inhuman or subhuman. Thinking in rationalist (foundationalist) terms will not solve this problem. We need to create a global human rights culture in order to stop violations from happening through sentimental education. He argued that we should create a sense of empathy or teach empathy to others so as to understand others' suffering.

Reception and criticism

Rorty is one of the most widely discussed and most controversial of philosophers of recent years,[10] and his works have provoked thoughtful responses from many well-respected philosophers. In Robert Brandom's anthology, entitled Rorty and His Critics, for example, Rorty's philosophy is discussed by Donald Davidson, Jürgen Habermas, Hilary Putnam, John McDowell, Jacques Bouveresse, and Daniel Dennett, among others.[11]

John McDowell is strongly influenced by Rorty, particularly by Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979).[12] In continental philosophy, authors such as Jürgen Habermas, Gianni Vattimo, Jacques Derrida, Albrecht Wellmer, Hans Joas, Chantal Mouffe, Simon Critchley, Alexander Bard, Esa Saarinen and Mike Sandbothe are influenced in different ways by Rorty's thinking.

Although Rorty was a hardened liberal, his political and moral philosophies have been attacked from the Left, some of whom believe them to be insufficient frameworks for social justice[13]. Rorty was also criticized by others for his rejection of the idea that science can depict the world.[14] One major criticism, especially of Contingency, irony, and solidarity is that Rorty's philosophical 'hero', the ironist, is an elitist figure [15]. Rorty claims that the majority of people would be "commonsensically nominalist and historicist" but not ironist. These people would combine an ongoing attention to the particular as opposed to the transcendent (nominalism), with an awareness of their place in a continuum of contingent lived experience alongside other individuals (historicist), without necessarily having continual doubts about the resulting worldview as the ironist does. An ironist was someone who: 1) "has radical and continuing doubts about her final vocabulary"; 2) "realizes that argument phrased in her vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts"; and 3) "does not think her vocabulary is closer to reality than others" (all 73, Contingency, irony, and solidarity).

Rorty often draws on a broad range of other philosophers to support his views, and his interpretation of their works has been contested.[16] Since Rorty is working from a tradition of re-interpretation, he remains uninterested in 'accurately' portraying other thinkers, but rather in utilizing their work in the same way a literary critic might use a novel. His essay "The Historiography of Philosophy: Four Genres" is a thorough description of how he treats the greats in the history of philosophy.

As detailed in Contingency, irony, and solidarity, many philosophical criticisms against Rorty are made using axioms that are explicitly rejected within Rorty's own philosophy.[17] For instance, Rorty defines allegations of irrationality as affirmations of vernacular "otherness", and so accusations of irrationality are not only brushed aside, but are expected during any argument.[18]

Select bibliography

  • Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979. ISBN
  • Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. ISBN
  • Philosophy in History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. (co-editor)
  • Contingency, irony, and solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN
  • Objectivity, Relativism and Truth: Philosophical Papers I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN
  • Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN
  • Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN
  • Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN
  • Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin, 2000. ISBN
  • Against Bosses, Against Oligarchies: A Conversation with Richard Rorty. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2002. ISBN
  • The Future of Religion with Gianni Vattimo Ed. Santiago Zabala. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 2005. ISBN
  • Philosophy as Cultural Politics: Philosophical Papers IV. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Richard Rorty, distinguished public intellectual and controversial philosopher, dead at 75" (Stanford's announcement), June 10, 2007
  5. ^ a b [1]Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy
  6. ^ a b c "Richard Rorty, Philosopher, Dies at 75" (NY Times Obituary), June 11, 2007
  7. ^ Ryerson, James. "Essay: Thinking Cheerfully." The New York Times Book Review. July 22, 2007: p 27.
  8. ^ "The Fire of Life" by Richard Rorty
  9. ^ "Richard Rorty," (short obituary), June 9, 2007.
  10. ^ (Last sentence of the introduction)
  11. ^ Rorty and His Critics (Philosophers and their Critics): Robert B. Brandom: Books
  12. ^ In the preface to Mind and World (pp. ix-x) McDowell states that "it will be obvious that Rorty's work is [...] central for the way I define my stance here".
  13. ^ "Objectivity and Action: Wal-Mart and the Legacy of Marx and Nietzsche", A discussion of Terry Eagleton's attacks on Rorty's philosophy as insufficient in the fight against corporations such as Wal-Mart
  14. ^ "The failure to recognize science's particular powers to depict reality, Daniel Dennett wrote, shows 'flatfooted ignorance of the proven methods of scientific truth-seeking and their power.'"[2]
  15. ^ Rob Reich - The Paradoxes of Education in Rorty's Liberal Utopia
  16. ^ Richard Rorty (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  17. ^ Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN, p 44
  18. ^ Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN, p 48

Further reading


  • The domestication of Derrida: Rorty, pragmatism and deconstruction / Lorenzo Fabbri., 2008
  • Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher / Neil Gross, 2008
  • Richard Rorty: Pragmatism and Political Liberalism / Michael Bacon., 2007
  • Richard Rorty: politics and vision / Christopher Voparil., 2006
  • Heidegger, Rorty, and the Eastern thinkers : a hermeneutics of cross-cultural understanding / Wei Zhang., 2006
  • Richard Rorty: his philosophy under discussion / Andreas Vieth., 2005
  • The concept of Rortyan Christian ironism / Odom, Barton Page., 2005
  • The Pragmatic Turn in Philosophy: Contemporary Engagement between Analytic and Continental Thought / Eds. William Egginton and Mike Sandbothe., 2005
  • Richard Rorty / Charles B Guignon., 2003
  • Between Rorty and MacIntyre: A Kierkegaardian account of irony and moral commitment / Frazier, Bradley., 2003
  • Richard Rorty's American faith / Taub, Gad Shmuel., 2003
  • The ethical ironist: Kierkegaard, Rorty, and the educational quest / Rohrer, Patricia Jean., 2003
  • Doing philosophy as a way to individuation: Reading Rorty and Cavell / Kwak, Duck-Joo., 2003
  • Richard Rorty / Alan R Malachowski., 2002
  • Richard Rorty: critical dialogues / Matthew Festenstein., 2001
  • Richard Rorty: education, philosophy, and politics / Michael Peters., 2001
  • Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism / Judd Owen., 2001
  • Rorty and his critics / Robert Brandom., 2000
  • On Rorty / Richard Rumana., 2000
  • Philosophy and freedom : Derrida, Rorty, Habermas, Foucault / John McCumber., 2000
  • A pragmatist's progress?: Richard Rorty and American intellectual history / John Pettegrew., 2000
  • Problems of the modern self: Reflections on Rorty, Taylor, Nietzsche, and Foucault / Dudrick, David Francis., 2000
  • The last conceptual revolution: a critique of Richard Rorty's political philosophy / Eric Gander., 1999
  • Richard Rorty's politics: liberalism at the end of the American century/Markar Melkonian., 1999
  • Cultural otherness : correspondence with Richard Rorty / Anindita Niyogi Balslev., 1999
  • The work of friendship : Rorty, his critics, and the project of solidarity / Dianne Rothleder., 1999
  • Pragmatism and political theory : from Dewey to Rorty / Matthew Festenstein., 1997
  • Debating the state of philosophy: Habermas, Rorty, and Kolakowski / Józef Niznik., 1996
  • For the love of perfection : Richard Rorty and liberal education / René Vincente Arcilla., 1995
  • Rorty & pragmatism: the philosopher responds to his critics / Herman J Saatkamp., 1995
  • Richard Rorty : prophet and poet of the new pragmatism / David L Hall., 1994
  • Without God or his doubles : realism, relativism, and Rorty / D Vaden House., 1994
  • Beyond postmodern politics : Lyotard, Rorty, Foucault / Honi Fern Haber., 1994
  • After the demise of the tradition : Rorty, critical theory, and the fate of philosophy/ Kai Nielsen., 1991
  • Reading Rorty: critical responses to Philosophy and the mirror of nature (and beyond) / Alan R Malachowski., 1990
  • Rorty's humanistic pragmatism : philosophy democratized / Konstantin Kolenda., 1990
  • Pragmatist Aesthetics / Richard Shusterman. Rowman Littlefield 2000. [esp. Chapter 9: 236-261)


  • Rorty R / "The Fire of Life" POETRY / NOV 2007 [available online]
  • Lynch S / On Richard Rorty's use of the distinction between the private and the public


  • Dombrowski DA / Rorty versus Hartshorne, or, poetry versus metaphysics (Richard Rorty, Charles Hartshorne)

METAPHILOSOPHY 38 (1): 88-110 JAN 2007

  • Arriaga M / Richard Rorty's anti-foundationalism and traditional philosophy's claim of social relevance


  • Barthold LS / How hermeneutical is he? A gadamerian analysis of Richard Rorty

PHILOSOPHY TODAY 49 (3): 236-244 FAL 2005

  • Stieb JA / Rorty on realism and constructivism

METAPHILOSOPHY 36 (3): 272-294 APR 2005

  • Flaherty J / Rorty, religious beliefs, and pragmatism


  • Smith NH / Rorty on religion and hope


  • Santos RJ / Richard Rorty's philosophy of social hope

PHILOSOPHY TODAY 47 (4): 431-440 WIN 2003

  • Miller CB / Rorty and moral relativism


  • Abrams JJ / Aesthetics of self-fashioning and cosmopolitanism - Foucault and Rorty on the art of living

PHILOSOPHY TODAY 46 (2): 185-192 SUM 2002

  • Margolis J / Dewey's and Rorty's opposed pragmatisms


  • Talisse RB / A pragmatist critique of Richard Rorty's hopeless politics


  • Picardi E / Rorty, Sorge and truth


  • McDermid DJ / Does epistemology rest on a mistake? Understanding Rorty on scepticism


  • Owens J / The obligations of irony: Rorty on irony, autonomy, and contingency

REVIEW OF METAPHYSICS 54 (1): 27-41 SEP 2000

  • Margolis J / Richard Rorty: Philosophy by other means

METAPHILOSOPHY 31 (5): 529-546 OCT 2000

  • Kompridis N / So we need something else for reason to mean


  • Cohen AJ / On Universalism: Commuitarians, Rorty, and ('Objectivist') 'liberal metaphysicians'


  • Rorty R / Response to Randall Peerenboom ('Rorty and the China Challenge')

PHILOSOPHY EAST & WEST 50 (1): 90-91 JAN 2000

  • Peerenboom R / The limits of irony: Rorty and the China challenge

PHILOSOPHY EAST & WEST 50 (1): 56-89 JAN 2000

  • Stow, S. / The Return of Charles Kinbote: Nabokov on Rorty


External links

Essays and Articles by Rorty
Book Reviews by Rorty
Obituaries, Eulogies and Memorials


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 in New York CityJune 8, 2007) was an American philosopher and pragmatist.



  • On James's view, "true" resembles "good" or "rational" in being a normative notion, a compliment paid to sentences that seem to be paying their way and that fit with other sentences which are doing so.
    • Introduction to Consequences of Pragmatism (1982)
  • My principal motive is the belief that we can still make admirable sense of our lives even if we cease to have ... "an ambition of transcendence."
    • Introduction to Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume I (1991).
  • As long as we try to project from the relative and conditioned to the absolute and unconditioned, we shall keep the pendulum swinging between dogmatism and skepticism. The only way to stop this increasingly tiresome pendulum swing is to change our conception of what philosophy is good for. But that is not something which will be accomplished by a few neat arguments. It will be accomplished, if it ever is, by a long, slow process of cultural change – that is to say, of change in common sense, changes in the intuitions available for being pumped up by philosophical arguments.
    • Introduction to Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3 (1998).
  • Philosophy makes progress not by becoming more rigorous but by becoming more imaginative.
    • Introduction to Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3 (1998).
  • Truthfulness under oath is, by now, a matter of our civic religion, our relation to our fellow citizens rather than our relation to a nonhuman power.
    • "John Searle on Realism and Relativism." Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3 (1998).
  • ... our maturation has consisted in the gradual realization that, if we can rely on one another, we need not rely on anything else. In religious terms, this is the Feuerbachian thesis that God is just a projection of the best, and sometimes the worst, of humanity. In philosophical terms, it is the thesis that anything that talk of objectivity can do to make our practices intelligible can be done equally well by talk of intersubjectivity.
    • "John Searle on Realism and Relativism." Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3 (1998).
  • Nowadays, to say that we are clever animals is not to say something philosophical and pessimistic but something political and hopeful – namely, if we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming. This is to set aside Kant’s question “What is man?” and to substitute the question “What sort of world can we prepare for our great grandchildren?”
    • "Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality." Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Volume 3 (1998).
  • If I had to lay bets, my bet would be that everything is going to go to hell, but, you know, what else have we got except hope?
    • "Richard Rorty Interviewed by Gideon Lewis-Kraus." The Believer, June 2003.
  • Philosophers get attention only when they appear to be doing something sinister--corrupting the youth, undermining the foundations of civilization, sneering at all we hold dear. The rest of the time everybody assumes that they are hard at work somewhere down in the sub-basement, keeping those foundations in good repair. Nobody much cares what brand of intellectual duct tape is being used.
    • "Philosophical Convictions." The Nation, June 14, 2004.


  • The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have programmed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs. But it cannot propose a language for us to speak. Only other human beings can do that.
  • Truth is simply a compliment paid to sentences seen to be paying their way. (Apparently a variation of a view attributed to William James, which Rorty may well share, but not in print as such. See above, from Consequences of Pragmatism (1982))

Quotes about Richard Rorty

  • "Language is not an image of reality", assures Mr. Rorty, a pragmatist and anti-Platonic philosopher. Should we interpret this sentence in the sense Mr. Rorty calls 'Platonic', that is, as a denial of an attribute to one substance? It would be contradictory: a language that is not an image of reality cannot give us a real image of its relations with reality. Therefore, the sentence must be interpreted pragmatically: it does not affirm anything about language, but only indicates the intention to use it in a certain way. The main thesis of Mr. Rorty's thought is a declaration of intentions. The sentence "language is not an image of reality" rigorously means this and nothing else: "I, Richard Rorty, am firmly decided to not use language as an image of reality." It is the sort of unanswerable argument: an expression of someone's will cannot be logically refuted. Therefore, there is nothing to debate: keeping the limits of decency and law, Mr. Rorty can use language as he may wish. The problem appears when he begins to try to make us use language exactly like him. He states that language is not a representation of reality, but rather a set of tools invented by man in order to accomplish his desires. But this is a false alternative. A man may well desire to use this tool to represent reality. It seems that Plato desired precisely this. But Mr. Rorty denies that men have other desires than seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. That some declare to desire something else must be very painful to him, for, on the contrary, there would be no pragmatically valid explanation for the effort he puts in changing the conversation. Given the impossibility to deny that these people exist, the pragmatist will perhaps say that those who look for representing reality are moved by the desire to avoid pain as much as those who prefer to create fantasies; but this objection will have shown precisely that these are not things which exclude each other. The Rortyan alternative is false in its own terms.
    • Olavo de Carvalho, O Imbecil Coletivo ("The Collective Imbecile"), 5th ed., pp. 60-67. Transl. by Pedro Sette Câmara

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