Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

Rorty and Paradigm Change in Philosophy

2019 (41) Issue 1


Three years after its foundation, in 1981, this journal presented a contribution by Richard Rorty in German translation, which was republished as ‘Philosophy in America Today’ in another journal the same year and included in Rorty’s first article selection Consequences of Pragmatism (1982). A lively debate on the article and Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) ensued and drew a lengthy ‘Reply to six critics’ from Rorty. These diversified and historically symptomatic re...

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Table of Contents

Title: After Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature
Author: Bruce Kuklick
Page: 1-19

Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature hoped that the profession of philosophy would collapse, that philosophy’s style of reasoning would be transformed, and that analytic philosophy would be overturned. This essay looks at the 40 years since the book’s publication, and argues that the discipline has become more professionalized, that its style of reasoning is the same, and that analysis still flourishes.

Title: Rorty’s Rejection of Philosophy
Author: Brian Leiter
Page: 23-30

I argue that the real puzzle about Richard Rorty’s intellectual development is not why he gave up on ‘analytic’ philosophy—he had never been much committed to that research agenda, even before it became moribund—but why, beginning with Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (PMN), he gave up on the central concerns of philosophy going back to antiquity. In addition to Rorty’s published works, I draw on biographical information about Rorty’s undergraduate and graduate education to support this assessment, and contrast his rejection of philosophy with Nietzsche’s. Many contemporary philosophers influenced by Quine’s attack on the analytic-synthetic distinction and Sellars’ attack on ‘the Myth of the Given’ (the two argumentative linchpins of PMN) did not abandon philosophical questions about truth, knowledge, and mind, they just concluded those questions needed to be naturalized, to be answered in conjunction with the empirical sciences. Why didn’t Rorty go this route? The paper concludes with some interesting anecdotes about Rorty that invite speculative explanations.

Title: Richard Rorty, Homo Academicus Politicus
Author: Loren Goldman
Page: 31-68

This article explores Richard Rorty’s status in academic political theory in the decades after his conscious departure from disciplinary philosophy. Rorty found a receptive audience in this pluralistic field, and he became a point of orientation in a number of ongoing, research-agenda driving conversations, if often as an extreme example against which interlocutors could define themselves. In like fashion, Rorty refined his own self-conception as a patriotic liberal ironist in the course of his political theoretical engagements. I offer a sketch of political theory’s landscape as a contrast to the reductivism and esotericism Rorty criticized in disciplinary philosophy, and survey his presence in the field over the years substantively, qualitatively, and quantitatively.

Title: Kicking the Philosophy Habit: Richard Rorty’s Clarion Call and the Cultural Politics of the Academic Left
Author: Gregory Jones-Katz
Page: 71-95

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Rorty advocated that his confréres kick the ‘philosophy habit’—that is, adopt a post-positivist, post-metaphysical style of interpretation. Philosophers largely ignored Rorty’s clarion call. Unburdened by the kind of Selbstverständnis of scholarly mission held by most analytics, members of departments of literature instead became the most important advocates for reading literature philosophically during the last two decades of the twentieth century. Though the academic Left, especially practitioners of ‘theory’, largely celebrated and encouraged this development, Rorty, in the late 1990s, came to view it as harmfully elevating ‘cultural politics’ above ‘real politics’, which would ultimately lead to the abandonment of civic responsibilities. While heavy-handed and partial, Rorty’s critique of the uses of philosophy by literary critics was not only perceptive, but can be helpful for understanding how the contemporary academic Left might move forward as well.

Title: Pragmatist Transcendence in Rorty’s Metaphilosophy
Author: Nicholas H. Smith and Tracy Llanera
Page: 97-116

This article argues that a pragmatist ambition to transcendence undergirds Richard Rorty’s metaphilosophy. That transcendence might play a positive role in Rorty’s work might seem implausible given his well-known rejection of the idea that human practices are accountable to some external, Archimedean standpoint, and his endorsement of the historicist view that standards of rationality are products of time and chance. It is true that Rorty’s contributions to epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics have this anti-transcendentalist character. But in his metaphilosophy, Rorty shows great respect for pre-philosophical impulses aimed at transcendence of some kind, in particular the romantic (and indeed religious) experience of awe at something greater than oneself, and the utopian striving for a radically better world. These impulses do not disappear in Rorty’s metaphilosophy but are reshaped in a pragmatist iteration of transcendence which, we argue, can be characterised as horizontal (rather than vertical) and weak (rather strong). We use this characterization to distinguish Rorty’s metaphilosophy from other accounts that share a postmetaphysical ambition to transcendence.

Title: Prospects of the Sociology of Philosophy
Author: Carl-Göran Heidegren
Page: 117-123

The article presents some key aspects of the approach called sociology of philosophy, as represented by Pierre Bourdieu, Randall Colins and others. Comparisons are made with the philosophical research programme, developed by Dieter Henrich, which goes under the name constellation research. One thing that unites the sociology of philosophy and constellation research is an interest in antagonistic constellations involving rivalry, competition and controversy. A few references to the case of Rorty are included in the discussion.

Title: Norms that Make a Difference: Social Practices and Institutions
Author: Frank Hindriks
Page: 125-145

Institutions are norm-governed social practices, or so I propose. But what does it mean for a norm to govern a social practice? Theories that analyze institutions as equilibria equate norms with sanctions and model them as costs. The idea is that the sanctions change preferences and thereby behavior. This view fails to capture the fact that people are often motivated by social norms as such, when they regard them as legitimate. I argue that, in order for a social norm to be perceived as legitimate, agents have to acknowledge reasons for conforming to it other than the sanctions they might incur for violating it. In light of this, I defend a theory of institutions that does not only invoke equilibria, but also normative rules that are supported by normative expectations and, in some cases, normative beliefs.

Title: Relational Mechanisms
Author: Thorsten Peetz
Page: 147-174

This article challenges the view that sociological explanation is based on methodological individualism and suggests using relational concepts for constructing explanations of social phenomena. It develops a relational concept of social mechanisms based on sociological systems theory and illustrates its explanatory power by drawing on research on changes in educational organizations in Germany.

Title: Relational Sociology - A Black Box Conception?
Author: Rainer Greshoff
Page: 175-182

The article comments on Peetz’ concept of relational mechanisms. This concept is an alternative to mechanistical explanations of analytical sociology, conceptualized as based on human agents. Peetz criticises this foundation, juxtaposing it with the idea of the analytical primacy of relations. This perspective does not necessarily presuppose agents but can explain their emergence. To demonstrate the efficiency of his concept, he presents an explanation of a concrete mechanism. The analysis of this explanation shows that a crucial point is missing from the concept of relational mechanisms: the steps that produce a social process are never spelt out. Peetz thus presents a black box explanation, which is contrary to the demands of mechanistical explanations. His preference for black box argumentation is owed to his concepts. Unlike an enlightened methodological individualist, he is not in a position to explain the productions necessary for the formation of mechanistical processes.