Tuesday, June 19, 2007

From Richard Rorty's Contingency, Irony, Solidarity (Commonplace Book)

The American Pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty died on June 8. I was a philosophy major at NYU when I read his Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, a book that changed my life. Eventually I had to stop underlining all the good passages because I was just underlining the whole book. It was so good it answered ALL of my philosophical questions to the point where I became totally uninterested in philosophy -- I never even read more books by Rorty. I was double majoring in English and philosophy, and though I competed both majors, I threw myself into English literature and really never looked back as a result of this book. Here is a passage from it, sort of the core argument:

"We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there, and the claim that the truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences, there is not truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations. "

"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 human beings -- cannot."

"The suggestion that truth, as well as the world, is out there is a legacy of an age in which the world was seen as the creation of a being who had a language of his own. If we cease to attempt to make sense of such a nonhuman language, we shall not be tempted to confuse the platitude that the world may cause us to be justified in believing a sentence is true, with the claim that thew world splits itself up, on its own initiative, into sentence shaped chunks called "facts." But if one clings to the notion of self-subsistant facts, it is easy to start capitalizing the word "truth" and treating it as something either identical with God or with the world as God's project. Then one will say, for example, that Truth is great, and will prevail."


Darius Kazemi said...

Rorty sounds like a disciple of Wittgenstein.

Kenney said...

That book sounds neat. I might track down a copy.

You may laugh, but a book that "changed my life" of sorts was "Everything I need to Learn I Learned in Kindergarten". It like philosophy for simple minded folk.

Geoff Klock said...

Darius: i do not remember enough about Wittgenstein to comment. Sounds like you could be right though