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Twilight Zone

A Tolerance for Contradiction

Readers with an interest in philosophy will probably know Richard Rorty died last week. Of the summaries of Rorty’s thinking, two in particular caught my eye. Their connection to each other, and to recent posts, is, I think, pretty obvious.

Norman Geras wrote:

“Rorty's anti-foundationalism, his refusal of the idea of an objective realm beyond the language in which we try to apprehend it, leaves us intellectually defenceless in the face of a cognitive relativism for which any view must be just as good as any other. Rorty denied this consequence of his own arguments, but the denial struck me as one example among many of his tolerance for internal contradiction.”

Roger Scruton had this to say:

“[Rorty’s] venture into political theory took [him] in new and unforeseeable directions, as he tried to reconcile his view that some versions of political order are superior to others, with his belief that there is no trans-historical perspective from which any such judgment can be made. It is a testimony to his literary skills that he was able repeatedly to stare refutation in the face, and to go on staring…

Undoubtedly he was the most lucid of the postmodernist philosophers - though that is, given the competition, no great achievement... Rorty was paramount among those thinkers who advance their own opinion as immune to criticism, by pretending that it is not truth but consensus that counts, while defining the consensus in terms of people like themselves.”

Rorty was a learned man, to be sure, but, like so many of his postmodernist peers, he tried to deform logic to fit a political prejudice.

Related: On Derrida’s clotted prose.