Between Rorty and Macintyre: A Kierkegaardian Account of Irony and Moral Commitment

Dissertation, Saint Louis University (2003)
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The broadest purpose of this dissertation is to clarify the concept of irony and its relation to moral commitment. Richard Rorty's account of irony and moral commitment, sketched first in his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity and then modified in his subsequent writings, stands out as perhaps the most influential account in contemporary Anglo-American philosophy. So, I begin with an explication of Rorty's original position. I then consider several criticisms of this position, including those offered by Alasdair MacIntyre, a leading moral philosopher. MacIntyre argues that irony, as Rorty construes it, is incompatible with moral commitment. He then dismisses irony on the basis of this criticism of Rorty's account of irony. In response, in view of Rorty's modifications and clarifications of his original account, first I offer a modest defense of Rorty's position. One key idea in my defense of Rorty is that not a few of his critics, including MacIntyre, base their criticisms on a misconstrual of redescription, a basic concept in Rorty's account of irony. I then argue that, nonetheless, Rorty's position faces certain difficulties that arise from his endorsement of truthfulness. I also argue that Rorty must embrace a weaker version of his Nietzschean view of self-creation in order to avoid conceptual and moral problems in his account. ;In the second half of my dissertation, I explicate and examine Soren Kierkegaard's account of irony and moral commitment as an alternative to Rorty's position and MacIntyre's quick dismissal of irony. I argue that Kierkegaard's position, especially as he sketches it in his thesis, The Concept of Irony, is more compelling, less parochial, and less morally objectionable than Rorty's. Kierkegaard clarifies the crucial developmental role that irony has in human life, and he argues convincingly that when irony is mastered through moral commitment it promotes human flourishing



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