Being one of the most prolific and eloquent commentators in and of our time, Richard Rorty has been formulating a discourse, which opposes the traditional Western philosophy’s preoccupation with questions of truth, reality and correspondence, with a stress on ‘hope’. In this quest for a philosophy of hope he tells a story of the pragmatist’s progress from a Kantian to a Hegelian world, from stasis to history and change. In particular he argues against what he sees as the old occultist urge to crack codes, and offers an ironic discourse, which gives us means to cope, to prosper and to free ourselves through perpetual redescription.
In the course of this essay, I scrutinise some of the uses and functions of these standard pragmatist conjunctions, injunctions and preferences, with which Rorty so eloquently is labouring, and I show not only how he manages blatantly to contradict himself on very central points, but also how the function of his endeavours is one of eliciting resignation and promoting social stasis rather than encouraging social hope and endorsing social change.
It is not my intention to formulate a political programme or even to indicate a desirable political agenda, and I am not in any way insisting that Rorty should spell out such a programme. My contention is merely that Rorty’s claims are unfounded. However, the exact intent, meaning etc of Rorty or of Rorty’s texts will be somewhat problematised, as it were, and we will end (or start, post-thetically if you want) hopefully more illuminated, semantically and epistemologically attentive after this regress into the recesses of signification, meaning, reference, truth, metaphor and analogical stretch and drift, more attentive to some of the problems which crop up when you try to bury the old Platonist dualisms. Ultimately, Rorty actually ends up in a position which cannot provide for us any weapons against relativism, either epistemological or ethical and gives us no sense in how we are to cope with a world which is ‘well lost’.