09 July 2007

Richard Rorty (1931-2007)

Richard Rorty died last month. He was generally said to have been America's most significant philosopher — and, by some, the most significant philosopher alive. Personally, I don't see anything he wrote was profound enough to merit that accolade. Even Daniel Dennett or Hilary Putnam, hardly giants of philosophy themselves, have contributed more interesting ideas to philosophical debate than Rorty did. I suspect he was, like a number of other mediocratic academics of his generation, such as Habermas, more renowned for his support for 'social justice' than for contributions to his discipline.

A number of people have commented on a possible incompatibility between Rorty's philosophical scepticism and his unswerving belief in the necessity of political 'activism'. I don't see incompatibility in this, merely a type of arrogance which is more or less essential to membership of the il-liberal elite. A certainty about the rightness of state intervention, the immorality of inequality, and so on, is characteristic of people as apparently diverse as Rorty, G√ľnter Grass and Tony Blair. Never mind if their belief is inconsistent with intellectual analysis of a kind they themselves advocate, or even with the facts of their personal lives. The belief is like an article of religious faith: held in spite of evidence or analysis — or (in some cases) perhaps even because?

Pseudo-critics and fish-in-barrel-shooters such as R. Dawkins or C. Hitchens would do well to remember that there are 'religions' that don't involve belief in 'God' at all, but have at least equal potential for dogmatic destructiveness.