2

It seems relatively clear that Richard Rorty's postmodern project of eliminating "objective Truth" as something that inquiry and cognition can (reasonably?) hope to attain, or aim for, has to a large extent come to fruition, at least in the realm of soft/non-hard science. Rorty's project has shaken our political and, to some extent, scientific, discourse to the very core.

Because I have addressed these issues in this forum several times before (for instance: What is the role of public intellectual/philosopher in "post truth" world?, inspiring little interest), I am reluctant to again trot out evidence/arguments in favor of this claim. Particularly so, since I believe that the evidence is everywhere, and that these notions have become so entrenched that we hardly even notice them anymore. However, I have been asked provide some justification. So here goes.

Consider academia’s critical theory, or simply “theory”, which is based upon a substantially deflated notion of Truth, Reality and Reason. Consider how logic/reason in argumentation is being gradually displaced by rhetoric, often disguised as logic. Consider the growing distrust of “causation” in favor of “correlation”, and of metaphysical realism in favor of instrumental pragmatism, furthered and enhanced by the methods and proliferation of big data science. Consider how the notion of “lived experience” has taken precedence over so-called “objective empirical evidence.”

Consider how frequently the term “narrative” is used today, compared to just a few years ago, to explain/describe phenomena, and not just by academics/philosophers, but by journalists and the general public. Consider how the notion of facts as being “theory laden” has become a philosophical/scientific truism; all this while noting the similarity between the function of a scientific “theory” and that of a folk “narrative”. Suggesting that such a “narrative” would seem to be but a layman’s theory about an aspect of the external world (reality). According to the anthropologist Christopher Butler, these notions see reality/culture as:

containing a number of perpetually competing stories [narratives], whose effectiveness depends not so much on an appeal to an independent standard of judgment, as upon their appeal to the communities in which they circulate[.]

If it is so that (folk?) facts are narrative-laden, consider how this phenomenon wreaks the havoc of circularity over Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous quip that everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.

My point is that these postmodern notions appear to be permeating mainstream culture. And my question is this:

Assuming this is the direction we are headed, how can Rorty’s candidate "solidarity" be expected to fare as an alternative-to-objective-truth (an alternative to an “independent standard of judgment”) in our cultural discourse about to how to create a better future for humanity, to increase the quanta of what Hillary Putnam called “human flourishing”? (And, as an aside, how might the notions of identity politics, or identitarian epistemology, impact the liklihood of ever attaining the required solidarity?)

  • , how successfully has his candidate as an alternative-to-objective-truth candidate, "solidarity", fared, in our political discourse ... seems to be a question for politics.SE that involves philosophy rather than a question about philosophy itself. – virmaior Aug 23 '17 at 1:40
  • I would say that his project has not come to fruition and never will, and that 'solidarity' is nothing at all like objective truth and nothing like a replacement for it. He speaks of human cognition but it has long been understood that true and certain knowledge does not come from cognition but consists in 'knowledge by identity. His ideas seem naive. – PeterJ Aug 23 '17 at 12:16
  • One experiment to try is to as yourself what might be good about Rorty's pragmatic approach. The idea of "truth" or "the truth" in politics could lead to totalitarianism perhaps. Remember the political "true" solutions put forward on the left and right starting in the 19th century and coming to fruition in later wars and political "solutions". – Gordon Aug 23 '17 at 17:08
  • Of course he had epistemology in mind too, and perhaps the feeling that we had wasted a considerable amount of time on the issue. I consider Rorty to be a pragmatic/hermanutic approach. At one time there was a Rorty-Davidson discussion on YouTube. I don't know if it's still there. – Gordon Aug 23 '17 at 17:15
  • 2
    Could you provide references for "shaking our political and scientific discourse to the very core"? I suspect that most scientists do not much care for postmodernism in general and Rorty in particular, and there was a backlash against it even among former practitioners, see e.g. Latour. In this sense Rorty's suggestion to replace epistemology with cultural politics did not bear much fruit. As for politics, it never took much interest in human cognition, postmodernism just changed the prevailing rhetoric. – Conifold Aug 23 '17 at 20:41
-1

Here we see the price we pay for refusing to take mysticism seriously. We are then left with a collection of narratives about ourselves and our world none of which have a solid foundation in established fact.

The problem you highlight is caused by the height and depth of the walls that scholastic philosophers have built around the Academy to prevent the rest of philosophy from getting in and freeing the minds of the prisoners.

The result is a lot of nonsense about not being able to distinguish between fact and fantasy and utter confusion as to what the facts are. Philosophers holding views along the lines of Rorty and Butler never have any sound knowledge of philosophy outside the Academy.

Yes, we create narratives, (heterophenomenology and all that jazz), but this may as well be called ignorance. If we establish the facts we do not need to create narratives. But this means transcending our theory-laden senses so is not something than can be achieved by empiricism alone. Accordingly,and little ironically, science's insistence that all knowledge is empirical causes post-modernism and all this talk of a 'post-truth' world.

As individual thinkers we do not need to limit ourselves in this way for it is just a methodology for the physical sciences, but the walls of the university philosophy department are well-built and many people conclude they cannot be scaled. Inside is confusion and uncertainty, outside is where the good stuff is to be found.

And yes, you guessed, I do have an axe to grind. I believe that we are being badly misled by Rorty and his peers. They are not doing the job they are paid to do. Note that these philosophers never claim to understand philosophy. Nobody who sees themselves as part of this 'Rational' or 'Western' philosophy-club ever understands philosophy and it seems to be a condition of membership. We should not let them fool us with all their clever word-spinning.

Creating a better world will require understanding our true situation, not having a vote on what is true.

  • 2
    This does not even refer to the actual question, it is basically just a rant on the persons and concepts mentioned. We are here to share knowledge. Knowledge is normally defined as something that is interpersonally sharable as access to something (broadly speaking). Solipsistic experience like meditation, yoga, etc. that is not interpersonally sharable, may point to deeper truths, but definitely is nothing to talk about, you have to experience it. Therefore, this is the wrong place for this whole take on philosophy, notwithstanding its potential legitimacy as such. – Philip Klöcking Sep 27 '17 at 15:04
  • @PeterJ: You might nevertheless redeem yourself from Klocking's charitable and astute criticism if you would take the time to make a positive assertion. For instance, by describing how “mysticism” – by which I presume you mean something like the spiritual apprehension of knowledge inaccessible to the intellect - might better inform the (personal and/or political/social) decisions we make than a belief in either the existence of objective-truth (independent standards of judgment), or the criteria of ”human solidarity" or “human flourishing”. – gonzo Sep 28 '17 at 20:50
  • @PeterJ: In attempting to do so, by the way, you might benefit from reading some Richard Rorty, who actually shared some of your skepticism about academic philosophy, and whom, toward the end of his career actually quit the philosophy dept. to teach, I believe, comparative literature. – gonzo Sep 28 '17 at 20:54
  • My apologies for what was heading for a rant, but it is being misread. I'm talking about metaphysics and how to makes sense of it. Rorty does not understand it and nor do his peers. – PeterJ Oct 2 '17 at 10:53
  • This has nothing to do with sources of knowledge. It is about metaphysics, logic and analysis. The assertion here is that a neutral metaphysical position is correct and allows us to understand metaphysics, and that Rorty and his peers suffer from not bothering to study it, which they are paid to do. As for these comments being irrelevant, this is an absurd idea. The question all about metaphysics. – PeterJ Oct 2 '17 at 11:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.