More on Rorty

by F.

Posner nails it in the second graf:

Dick Rorty’s most striking personal characteristic was a deep and genuine modesty, as an anecdote will illustrate. He had once written that if there was any hope for the world, it lay in the Third World. In an e-mail he told me that this was “the dumbest thing he had ever written.” Sometime later I had occasion to quote in a book I was writing his statement that if there was any hope it lay in the Third World, and I wanted to add that he had retracted the statement in correspondence. I e-mailed him to ask whether I could do so. He e-mailed back that he would prefer me to state in my book that he considered the statement “the dumbest thing he had ever written.” I did not.

Besides being modest, he was a beautiful writer and speaker, extremely sharp in debate though with never an indication of any annoyance or anger; for he refused to personalize disagreement. But his historical importance is as a great philosopher, who, daringly swimming against the tide of modern analytic philosophy, single-handedly revived pragmatism, with great impact on a variety of fields, including law. I consider myself a legal pragmatist and owe much to Rorty’s pioneering work. He personified and expressed the concept of philosophy as a constructive engagement with social problems, rather than as a secular theology preoccupied with abstractions such as truth and meaning.

He broke out of an academic cocoon and pollinated other fields. He was an academic who turned his back on academic philosophy, and as a result is much reviled by analytic philosophers. His influence will outlive theirs.

To his last point, all I have to add is that I can hear people in 100 years wondering, “Who was Brian Leiter? Who was Joseph Almog? Who was George Bealer?” That is, if these figures are even mentioned enough to raise a question about their intellectual worth.

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