Meritocracy and its Discontents   /   Summer 2016   /    Symposium

Rorty’s Idealism

Matthew B. Crawford

Plato’s Symposium (detail) by Giambattista Gigola (1769–1841); Pinacoteca Tosio-Martinengo, Brescia, Italy; © DeA Picture Library/Art Resource, New York.

Everybody was always mad at Richard Rorty. In the 1980s and 90s, “postmodern relativism” was on the agenda, and cultural conservatives fingered Rorty as one of the culprits. He angered liberals too; he claimed he had pulled the metaphysical rug out from under them—but also that they shouldn’t worry about that, because the rug was merely decorative, and not in the best taste anyway. An academic rock star, he’d show up at your colloquium in his cream-colored suit and listen—very graciously, attentively—as professors expressed their alarm. Then, famously, he would shrug.

I, too, was mad at Rorty twenty-five years ago. From the vantage of 2016, I think it is possible to be irritated by him in fresh ways. Retrospectively, both his philosophical acuity and his political obtuseness seem more consequential.

Read More on the Business of Philosophy

Richard Rorty: Universalist Grandeur and Analytic Philosophy

Susan Haack: Pining Away in the Midst of Plenty: The Irony of Rorty’s Either/Or Philosophy

Robert B. Pippin: Just Who Is It That We Have Become? Rorty’s Hegelianism

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