Richard Rorty Biography

Richard McKay Rorty (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) worked as an American philosopher. He had a long and diverse academic career, including positions as Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University, Kenan Professor of Humanities at the University of Virginia, and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Educated at the University of Chicago and then Yale University, he had strong interests and training in both the history of philosophy, as well as contemporary analytic philosophy, the latter comprising the main focus of his work at Princeton in the 1960s. He subsequently came to reject the tradition of philosophy according to which knowledge concerns correctly representing a world whose existence remains wholly independent of those representations. This idea of knowledge as a "mirror of nature" he correctly saw as pervasive throughout the history of western philosophy. Against this approach, Rorty advocated for a novel form of American pragmatism, sometimes called neopragmatism, in which scientific and philosophical methods form merely a set of contingent "vocabularies" which people abandon or adopt over time according to social conventions and usefulness.

Abandoning representationalist accounts of knowledge and language, Rorty believed, would lead to a state of mind he referred to as "ironism", in which people become completely aware of the contingency of their placement in history and of their philosophical vocabulary. Rorty tied this brand of philosophy to the notion of "social hope"; he believed that without the representationalist accounts, and without metaphors between the mind and the world, human society would behave more peacefully. He also emphasized the reasons why the interpretation of culture as conversation(Bernstein:1971), constitutes the crucial concept of a "postphilosophical" culture determined to abandon representationalist accounts of traditional epistemology, incorporating American pragmatist naturalism that considers the natural sciences as an advance towards liberalism. Based upon sales, people best know his books Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989).