Richard Rorty (1932-2008) was the paradigmatic deflationist re the concept “truth.” He was an epistemic naturalist and historicist, an instrumental pragmatist, anti-realist/essentialist, and postmodern apologist. Truth for him was an epistemic concept of warranted assertability, justified assertion within a conversational community, i.e. an affair of conversational consensus.
As he said in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (p.170): “… [w]e understand knowledge when understand the social justification of belief, and thus have no need to view it as accuracy of representation. “, and believed that aim of knowledge, of inquiry, (the purpose/function of its tools/instruments – from the “faculty” of reason to our senses, to our concepts/words/categories) is not to [accurately] represent the world but to “cope with it.”
According to Rorty, the only use for the concept of truth is a cautionary one, to remind us that though a sentence/proposition may be justified/warranted today, it may not be to some future conversational partner/in some future conversational community. As of the 1970s and beyond he always maintained that “reality”, “the world”, should not be permitted to constrain or restrain human inquiry in the way religion had for many centuries, and liked to say that there are no restraints on human inquiry except the conversational ones provided by our fellow inquirers (Consequences of Pragmatism, p. 165).
Being a naturalist, he admitted that our language was somehow “shaped” by the environment, but vigorously and repeatedly denied “that it is explanatorily useful to pick and choose among the contents of our minds or our language and say that this or that item ‘corresponds to’ or ‘represents’ the environment in a way that some other item does not.” (Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth, p. 5). In fact, he denied that knowledge was a matter of “getting reality right,” but rather it was a matter of “acquiring habits of action for coping with reality.” (Id., p. 1).
His idea was we could never attain the “sky hook” or “birds/god’s eye view” of reality/the world to come to know whether we are getting anything about reality right. Hence, because there is no way to know whether one’s concepts/categories represent or correspond with the world/reality, all we can hope to do is use them to cope with it. (i.e. He took the Kantian divide between the noumenon and the phenomenon very seriously, and could not conceive of ever bridging it.)
Then, almost a decade before his death, Bjorn Ramberg challenged (accurately outlining the challenge would require more space than I have available here) and elicited a transformative concession from Rorty:
“[i]t was a mistake on my part to go from criticism of attempts to define truth as accurate representation of the intrinsic nature of reality to a denial that true statements get things right, [and granting Davidson’s point that] most of our beliefs about anything… must be true of that thing – [which means that it] must get that thing right.” (Robert Brandoms, Rorty and His Critics, p.374)
After decades of denying the point, Rorty here (pre 2000) essentially admits that it IS “explanatorily useful” to say that an idea or word “‘corresponds to’ or ‘represents’ the environment in a way that some other item does not.” He admits that there is a non-intersubjective distinction that can be made (despite there being no god’s eye view of the world/reality) between an idea/word that gets [the world/reality] right and one that gets it wrong. Which is something (i.e., the futility of appealing in inquiry to accurate isomorphic correspondence) that on my reading of Rorty has been an essential element of his philosophy since …Mirror of Nature.
So my first question is, once he capitulates here (that true statements do in fact get things right”, and admits that there would seem to be a "fact of the matter”, what distinguishes him from other more contemporary pragmatists, such as Davidson, Putnam, etc., who also deny that “truth is accurate representation of the intrinsic nature of reality” but had for years argued with Rorty about his refusal to accept the weaker versions of "truth", "correspondence", “correspondence”, “representation”? Nothing, as far as I can tell.
Yet, aside from his vague response to Ramberg in that tract, before he died Rorty never really addressed the issue/challenge, and the significance of his concession to his life’s work. So my second question is, has anyone run into any writings, or had any conversations by/with Rorty or other scholars, that address this concern?