Geoffrey Fox

Reflections & Inquiries



Contingency, Irony, and SolidarityContingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard M. Rorty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rorty is a delightfully stimulating conversation companion, starting a conversation in my head as I read and recognize many observations and have to puzzle over others. In three major sections, he presents his view of how we humans can struggle for personal liberation — he calls it autonomy, which I think is good — without losing sight of our commitment to the well-being of others, that is, solidarity. Our only way of doing either is through language, by which we create our descriptions of the world. Which is what we call “truth”: “Truth cannot be out there — cannot exist independently of the human mind — because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.”
The ironist recognizes that his/her truth is not final or absolute, but contingent. New experience will require a new description, or at least an adjustment of our old vision. When so many adjustments are needed as to make that older version practically useless, we must create a new one. By changing our language, using old words but with new meanings and when necessary inventing new words, we change our worlds — as Copernicus did to Ptolemy, Darwin to a whole theological tradition, or Orwell (in Rorty’s fascinating analysis of “1984” — did to a whole complex language of the Left. I am thankful for his recognition of the revolutionary function of writers, the original ones like Nabokov, Orwell, Nietzsche, Dickens, Heidegger (yes, even despite his Naziism), Habermas, Derrida, to mention only those Rorty here discusses in detail.

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