Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Paul Redding, Review of Randall E. Auxier, et al., THE PHILOSOPHY OF RICHARD RORTY. NDPR (March 2011).

Auxier, Randall E., and Lewis Edwin Hahn, eds.  The Philosophy of Richard Rorty.  Chicago: Open Court, 2010.

The Philosophy of Richard Rorty is the thirty-second volume in the Library of Living Philosophers series, which commenced with a volume on the philosopher with whom Rorty is most often compared, John Dewey. With this volume, the series title serves as a sad reminder of Rorty's death at the age of 75 in 2007, while the collection was still in preparation. For many who, like the reviewer, were in the early stages of a university career in philosophy at the time, the publication of Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature in 1979 was a very significant event indeed. I imagine that the attitude towards Rorty expressed by James Edwards in his contribution to the volume is far from unusual: "I am one of those who admire the work (and the man) almost without reservation; one of those who would not want to imagine what recent . . . philosophy would have been if Rorty had not been around to shake things up and to forge some unexpected linkages" (658). Of course not everyone, even from that particular generation, reacted to this work, and the stream of writings following it, with admiration. While many saw in Rorty a Socratic gadfly, to another wing of the profession he was closer to an ancient sophist. And even among those who do admire, admiration rarely means whole-hearted agreement -- many admirers still find troubling elements within Rorty's philosophy, as Edwards himself seems to.

With Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and the series of collections of essays that started with Consequence of Pragmatism in 1982, Rorty's thought-provoking ideas began to find a wide readership beyond the bounds of professional philosophy and started to attract the combination of applause and condemnation that has continued to this day. In fact, collections of critical essays on Rorty, similar in conception and format to the Library of Living Philosophers series, have been appearing on a reasonably regular basis since Alan Malachowski's Reading Rorty in 1990. Even omitting non-English language volumes and ones with very specific themes, such as one on "Rorty and Confucianism", there have been, on my count, seven prior to this volume. Of these, a number, like the Malachowski volume, have followed the LLP practice of having paired replies by Rorty to the interpretative and critical pieces. Both Malachowski's collection and the impressive 2000 volume edited by Robert Brandom, Rorty and His Critics, while large at around 400 pages each, are dwarfed by the LLP volume. With the standard introductory "Intellectual Autobiography", twenty-nine substantial essays, most with replies by Rorty, and an extensive bibliography of Rorty's writings, it is roughly the size of the other two combined. . . .


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