Taking Rorty's Irony Seriously

Humanities 2 (2):292-312 (2013)
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Richard Rorty’s Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (CIS) is an ambitious and provocative, but for many readers a deeply flawed work. This paper argues that many of its apparent flaws can be understood as integral to Rorty’s attempt to write a work of private, post-theoretical irony. The paper’s first section outlines the substantive theoretical claims about language, selfhood and community which Rorty proposes as an antiessentialist alternative to ‘metaphysics’. The second identifies three difficulties—residual dualism, conceptual problems with the public-private distinction, and the work’s self-referential consistency—which constitute serious, but obvious problems for those substantive claims. The third section argues that Rorty’s metaphilosophical discussion of ‘ironist theory’ suggests CIS should be read as a personal work of irony which eschews theoretical ambitions, showing how this is consistent with and provides a motive for accepting the presence of conspicuous difficulties. The final section considers how the work’s metaphilosophical views interact with its substantive theoretical claims. The work’s irony is interpreted as resulting from the tension between these, so as to coexist rather than conflict with Rorty’s enduring commitments to liberalism and pragmatism.



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Andrew Inkpin
University of Melbourne

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References found in this work

[Letter from Gilbert Ryle].Gilbert Ryle - 1932 - Philosophy 7 (26):250 -.
On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.Donald Davidson - 1974 - In Robert B. Talisse & Scott F. Aikin (eds.), The Pragmatism Reader: From Peirce Through the Present. Princeton University Press. pp. 286-298.
The social aspect of language.Donald Davidson - 1994 - In Brian McGuiness & Gianluigi Oliveri (eds.), The Philosophy of Michael Dummett. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 1--16.
The World Well Lost.Richard Rorty - 2011 - In Robert B. Talisse & Scott F. Aikin (eds.), The Pragmatism Reader: From Peirce Through the Present. Princeton University Press. pp. 353-366.

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