Richard Rorty died of cancer on Monday. He was an intellectual giant, and one of this blogger’s heros. Yes, his everyday political sensibilities were leftish. But it wasn’t his politics that made him great; it was his refusal to accept dogma. It was his willingness to challenge foundations and foregone conclusions. His eagerness to break false idols and simultaneously to keep around what works.
He therefore shunned much of the critical theory that has flowed from down-is-up postmodernism, and he retained fidelity to the analytic tradition. In pragmatism, he fused the philosophical traditions of Continental Europe and Anglo-American thought. One of my few criticisms (ironically) of Rorty was that he was less willing to take the risks of construction and rested more comfortably in criticism. That’s not to say he was not creative. It’s merely to say he was not a builder of schemata, like a Nelson Goodman, or a John Rawls. Still, he is a legend. And we’ll have to wrestle with his ideas for a long time to come. -MB