Monday, June 11, 2007

Richard Rorty Dies - "He reveled in contingency..."

Richard Rorty, the ever-controversial, iconoclastic, and important American philosopher, died on Friday. My very best wishes to his family.

I'll have more soon.

UPDATE (12 June):

I've been meaning to write a longer piece on Rorty, but I have not been able to find the time. Shame on me. Up until last week Rorty was one of the greatest living philosophers. Only perhaps Jürgen Habermas meets his level of influence and renown. He has been hugely influential for me as well, often by representing the positions I want to argue against, always representing positions that can't be ignored. I deeply admired his provocative style, his gentle wit, his decency, and of course his intelligence.

I didn't know Rorty very well. I met him on two occasions - first, when I had just moved to philosophy from engineering as an undergraduate, and later when I had just finished my PhD. But we had email exchanges over the years about a number of things, and he contributed an essay to another book I'm editing. A busy man, Rorty nonetheless took the time to correspond in the same witty and thoughtful way that he wrote philosophy.

I've noticed that the few discussions out there about Rorty's life and death mostly take the opportunity to bash him again as a postmodern relativist. That discussion is too hackneyed for my tastes and, frankly, requires too much effort to plod through again. As with other pragmatists, most of the critics have never spent much time actually reading their works. And, as with other pragmatists, we often find ourselves spending far too much time defending pragmatism, not merely as an opposing set of substantive philosophical arguments, but as a matter of getting critics to understand it in the first place. This is exhausting. Read the books, I say. Rorty took up the task as his own.

Here are a few links to obituaries and commentaries. They're really too few and far between.

Habermas on Rorty at Signandsite

David Luban on Rorty at Balkinization

Todd Gitlin at TPMCafe

A final interview with Rorty at The Progressive

The Washington Post obituary

The San Francisco Chronicle obituary

The NY Times obituary

The Nation's obscenely brief obit (Rorty was a longtime contributor and supporter - maybe they'll rethink this)

Rorty's 2006 essay, "Democracy and Philosophy" at Eurozine

And, finally, Rorty's 1992 autobiographical essay, "Trotsky and the Wild Orchids"

No comments: