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PHL400 - Week 12 - Richard Rorty and William James (Pragmatism).docx

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PHL 400
Mark Clamen

Richard Rorty (1931-2007) Author: Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989) Truth and Progress etc. William James (1843-1910) - Pragmatist, psychologist, philosopher of religion - Truth and meaning, for the pragmatists, are function of USEFULNESS; important to distinguish utilitarianism (nature of right) were pragmatist = nature of truth - “What difference would it practically make to any one if this notion rather than that notion were true?” -> the question pragmatists ask to make decisions - Our “beliefs are just rules for action” (James, 43) - We often think they are practical, based on experience of the world and make each decision thoughtfully in each scenario rather than unchanging belief; truth can change as rules change, etc. and we often think of them as pragmatists - Pragmatism “means the open air and posibilitiws of nature, as against dogma, artificiality and the pretence of finality in truth” (truth often acts that stable rudder we use to steer everything) - It has no dogmas - For a pragmatist, “theories thus become instruments, not answers to enigmas, in which we can rest” (46) - “… ideas (which themselves are but parts of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience”  You can destroy all the beautiful things in the world and not harm a hair of the idea of beauty – Plato - We are not challenging the truth of truth, we are taking it more seriously than you do  If it doesn’t matter, why are you getting so worked up? If it does matter, don’t you carae why it matters? - It matters whether or not we can compel people to believe or not “Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality” (1993) – Richard Rorty - Also written on Bosnia conflict as MacKinnon did  It is not a question of the crimes, but a question of the (lack of) reaction every little was done except point at the violation of rights – nobody acted to stop, etc. - Rorty (after quoting from a particularly horrific account from the ground in Bosnia) reminds us “Serbian murderers and rapists do not think of themselves as violating human rights”  And so to kill them, to torture them is not therefore to be “inhuman” but rather (as pointed out by MacKinnon at the end of last week’s reading), it is to “discriminate between the true humans and the pseudo humans” (112)  Either these points are empty, or there is something else that allows this to happen all the time  Jefferson kept slaves; didn’t see them as men: “Like Serbians, they act as if their actions were for the good of humanity, not against humanity; cleanse the world of pseudo humans  How do we answer “Who is human?” -> “People like us” 113-4 1) Humans/Animals - Characterize them as animals 2) Adults/Children: we are mature, and they are not; kept in perpetual childhood by keeping tem busy, keeping them sheltered 3) Gender: Men(human)/Women: we use “men” as a synonym for “human being” (hence the humiliation of male prisoners by women, hence castration as a form of punishment and humiliation) The longstanding question: “What is our nature” has been replaced by “What can we make of ourselves?” We are coming to think of ourselves as the flexible, protean, self-shaping animal rather than the rational animal or the cruel animal - What Rorty wants to defend is the claim that nothing relevant to moral choice separates human beings from animals except historically contingent facts of the of the world, cultural facts”
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