Richard Rorty, despite calling himself a pragmatist, wants no truck with experience and the world.  In “The very idea of human answerability to the world: John McDowell’s version of empiricism,” he says there is no need to be accountable to experience or the world, or to anything non-human; rather we only need to be accountable to each other.  To this end, he maintains that the normative dimension of discourse is all we need to contextualize beliefs; that this normative context alone suffices to parse out beliefs and knowledge claims from one another; that all we need to do to determine the utility and compatibility of beliefs in ever renewing re-descriptions is to invoke compliance with discursive norms.  To put the matter into his familiar terms, Rorty maintains that how moves are made within a language game is all one needs to know in order to determine what one says in that game– with the “what”, as content, being reducible to the mere “function” of a word as a “node in a pattern of inference.”   To defend this coherentist nominalism in the context of his article, Rorty specifically takes to task McDowell’s attempt to formulate a “minimal empiricism” in Mind and World, one that tries to establish accountability to the experienced world through content, but one that doesn’t fall into the pitfalls of the tradition that both he and Rorty decry (mainly the “myth of the given”).  In this defense, though, Rorty–by stressing the full consequences of his “pragmatism”– commits what only can only be called a form of philosophical suicide, even as he puts the final nail in the coffin of his own relevance to any pragmatism worth the name.  To see this, it is instructive to see how he criticizes McDowell.  Along the way a brief though useful look at McDowell himself will also be obtained.

McDowell’s main goal in Mind and World is to chart a course through the Scylla of “The Myth of the Given” that posits a bare presence as the foundation for belief, and the Charybdis of a “frictionless” coherentism that has no traction in the experience of things.  In other words, he wants a rational connection between the world of experience and the world of discourse, one that simultaneously avoids a mute appeal to bare presence or a colloquial appeal to mere coherence as the final arbiters of justification in competing knowledge claims.   One way to frame his approach: McDowell attempts to supplement the normative dimensions of a language game (i.e. ‘how we say things’, the only dimension Rorty wants) with a veridical dimension to the same (i.e. ‘what we say about things’, the very dimension Rorty says we don’t need).  To put the matter another way, McDowell attempts to establish a court of appeal for empirical claims in an experience of things that is also in an encounter with the world, one that can arbitrate knowledge claims without sacrificing the primacy of the “language games” in this arbitration.  McDowell claims that properly understood, this “minimal empiricism” will establish a venue for rationally arbitrating the content of discourse in such a way that both ‘pure givens’ in bare presence and ‘frictionless propositions’ in mere coherence can be avoided.

His solution is relatively straightforward.  Instead of starting with experience as a bare receptivity devoid of conceptual content onto which a conceptual discourse about that content is later grafted (this dualism leads to either the Myth of the Given or frictionless coherentism), McDowell claims that experience itself is always already conceptually structured.  As he states: “in judgements of experience, conceptual capacities are not exercised on non-conceptual deliverances of sensibility.  Conceptual capacities are already operative in the deliverances of sensibility themselves.”   To cast the matter into the familiar language game metaphor, a language game is the game that it is not just because of how things are said within it (i.e. because ‘content’ is mere “nodes in a pattern of inference”), but also because of what is said within it (i.e. because the ‘content’ as the what from experience dictates the nature of the game as much as the mere how of playing it does).  In short, under minimal empiricism, the conceptual content comes already operative passively in experience, even as it becomes actively operative in discourse after the fact, because in essence the two types of “conceptualization” mirror, or are identified with, one another—or perhaps better, one anticipates the other, even as the other fulfills the anticipation.  Again, as he states:  “a repertoire of empirical concepts” is, in the final analysis, a “rationally organized network of capacities for active adjustment of one’s thinking to the deliverances of experience” because in these deliverences “conceptual capacities are [always already] passively operative…” This “integration,” as he calls it, of passive and active conceptual structure “serves to place even the most immediate judgments of experience as possible elements in a world-view,” without ever denying the necessary placement of those elements in a language game.  Since it is in this repertoire of organized empirical concepts that discourse about the world takes place, justificatory discourse remains “rationally organized” in that what is given about the world always already comes conceptually structured in a passive but operative way, one destined to be actively articulated.

According to McDowell, once this passively operative conceptual structure is put in place of the bare “givens” from the world,” and once the link up between this conceptual structure and the conceptual structure of language is appreciated, minimal empiricism has accomplished its task.  That is, with “conceptual capacities already operative” in sensibility itself, minimal empiricism avoids a “frictionless coherentism” because discourse remains constrained from “outside thinking”—i.e. it remains about the world—even as it recognizes the equal primacy of the normative dimensions of coherence—i.e. what is said about the world remains said within a language game.  But, he adds, with passive conceptual capacities, minimal empiricism equally avoids the “Myth of the Given” because this constraint from outside discourse itself remains ultimately thinkable.  In other words, “when we trace justifications back, the last thing we come to is still thinkable content.”  Finally, and most critically, since this “thinkable content” is structured by “the very same capacities…exploited in active judgements,” a strict “identification” obtains between the “capacities that are operative in appearances and [the] capacities that are operative in judgements,” and this identification insures the rational link between experience and discourse.  This link—i.e. this mirroring, as it were—is minimal empiricism.  To sum the matter up, for McDowell beliefs are justified not just because they cohere with other beliefs, which they still must, but equally because they link up to experiences with incipiently thinkable content, however passively structured that content is. “Rationality,” for McDowell, thus means tracing back judgements to this passively structured conceptual experience that nevertheless contains an incipient discourse of its own, one that foreshadows in a mirroring identification the direct, spontaneous conceptualization articulated in linguistic empirical judgement.

Now the anus happens to think that this pre-stablished harmony—this mirroring identification between word and world, this ‘rational link’, as it were—is nothing more more than a conceptual rabbit-in-the-hat trick with no useful application to real world knowledge (and perhaps this is why only one example of how it can be applied is offered in Mind and World, for shades of color).  It also thinks that conceptually enriching experience with passive conceptual capacities that mirror or are identified with the spontaneous conceptual capacities in explicit conceptual thought amounts to presupposing what one seeks to explain, in that structure of spontaneous discourse is said to be rationally related to passive experience precisely because passive experience itself is operatively structured in a corresponding, presumably rational way (hence the “identification“).[1]  It lastly notes that operative conceptual capacities inherent to sensation sure looks a lot like Kant, just without the transcendental aesthetic…but in any case, Rorty takes none of these tacks.  Instead, he commends McDowell for a “solution” that is “brilliantly original and completely successful,” even as he rejects it as pointless, or perhaps better, as missing the point entirely.  That is, instead of pointing out any conceptual problems with McDowell’s minimal empiricism, Rorty claims that McDowell has been seduced by the “siren song” of taking empiricism too seriously in the first place.  He then offers in place of arguments against it a metaphor that ostensibly solves the underlying problem McDowell tries to resolve, followed by a comparison that supposedly indicates this metaphor’s conceptual reach.

First the metaphor.

Rorty contends that the underlying issue driving McDowell—what is rational justification if mind, as intentional, can only offer reasons after causally and non-intentionally confronting the world, or to use Sellars’ terms, what is the relationship between the “space of reasons” versus “the space of laws”—disappears when one appropriately reduces mind vis-à-vis world to the “confrontation” a computer has with the “world,” i.e. to seeing human experience as essentially a mix of hardware and software for turning inputs into outputs, just as a computer does.   As he states, “computers are programmed to respond to certain causal transactions with input devices by entering certain program states.  We humans program ourselves to respond to causal transactions between the higher brain centers and the sense organs with dispositions to make assertions.”  He goes on to say that since there are no interesting epistemological differences between a “machine’s program states” and these “dispositions”—i.e. between the program states and our beliefs or judgements—there is also “no more or less an intentionality, world-directedness, or rationality” problem for human beings.  Instead, the problem of ‘how can non-intentional directedness (causes) be linked up to intentional directedness (reasons) in a rational way?’ (the issue McDowell addresses) simply disappears because we can equally describe “both ourselves and machines in normative, programming terms or in non-normative, hardware terms.”  In other words, no problem between causal explanations and rational justifications (or between “the space of laws” versus the space of reasons”) arises because both descriptions are two sides of a single coin, with the choice between them boiling down to two languages used for two different purposes—one for establishing the fact of events and the other for giving reasons for belief.   In short, since “no problem arises” over the “interface between software and hardware”—i.e. between the intentional and the non-intentional—in a computer, no problem should arise for McDowell either.

With this computer metaphor Rorty is trying to dismantle any attempt to appeal to something non-human in the process of justification, and in the process he is trying to illustrate that causal accounts of the occurrence of justification (a causal event in “the space of laws”, or the non-intentional) need not be rationally reconciled with normative accounts of the process of justification (a non-causal event in “the space of reasons,” or the intentional), even as he still maintains that traditional empiricist causal descriptions cannot themselves be justificatory (i.e. that causation cannot be confused with justification).  The metaphor, however, is inapt, and it is inapt precisely because in computers the “normative” and the “non-normative,” such as Rorty calls them, are in fact one of apiece, but far from leaving a role for only a human source of justification, this equivalency means causation is justification, and vice-versa, thus contrary to his intent, the metaphor means the non-human, i.e. the bare fact of the input, is the only justification ever needed.  In effect the computer metaphor undermines its intended use.

To see this, in first place consider that no one—not to the anus’ knowledge, at least—has ever thought to ask for justification from a computer.  Instead the output is presumed inherently justified from the inputs by the strictly mechanical and causal process through which it is obtained; this is part and parcel of the reliability of computers—it is their utility, as it were.  In the second place, a description of this process, either in terms of the transistors being activated and deactivated, or in terms of the code governing those activations and de-activations, is itself sufficient “justification” for the link established between input and output.  In other words, in a computer, a descriptive account of what it does is all the “justification” one ever needs from it, and the only time one looks into what it does is when something either goes wrong, i.e. when an “unjustified” result appears, indicating some kind of malfunction, or when one is programming it in the first place, at which time the causal rules for “justification” are put into place.  In any case, checking its operation or not, for a computer the link between input and output is strictly governed by causality; therefore, for a computer, any “justification” for the output is simply a restatement of its causation, just as its causation is a restatement of its justification.  To put the matter in Sellarsian terms, the “space of reasons” becomes nothing more than the “space of laws,” and the “space of laws” is nothing more than the “space of reasons”, and this remains true whether one looks at the logical, or “normative,” laws embedded in the code or at the causal, “non-normative” laws governing the switching of the transistors; in computing, these domains are one of apiece in the causality that is computation.[2]  So, since for computers causation is justification, and since justification is nothing more than causation, for computers once one has found causes (i.e. which ‘input’ leads to the which ‘output,’ or belief), one has all the justification one ever needs.  There is simply no reason to ask for justification from a from a computer in any other way, for as long as it is operating as it should be, its outputs are inherently justified.

Now, this inherent justification because the so-called “normative” or “intentional” software layer and the “non-normative” or “non-intentional” hardware layer equivalently describe computation undermines, despite his reliance on it, the intended meaning of Rorty’s metaphor.  For Rorty wants to say that as long as the reconciliation of the “intentional” and the “non-intentional” in human beings (the problem McDowell raises) is as unproblematic as the interface between software and hardware in computers, then justification occurs in the “human” realm as either coherence among beliefs (metaphorically the “outputs”) or as consensus among people (metaphorically the “computers”).  But precisely the opposite obtains.  For computers, “justification,” such as it is, is strictly a matter of telling causal stories (metaphorically, of referring to inputs and the causal process through which outputs emerge), but causal stories refer to the world and its causal laws, not to humans, coherence, consensus, and the norms governing them.  In other words, since computation is inherently justified—since causation in computing is justification, and justification is causation—under Rorty’s metaphor one would need only look to the nature of an input and understand its casual relation to an output, if one wanted to “justify” the output (here a “belief”).  Or recurring to McDowell’s project and applying Rorty’s metaphor: for rational justification from a computer one would only need to look to the world, or the nonhuman, as the source of inputs for both computers and humans.  Simply put, the computer metaphor can’t accommodate both Rorty’s repeated insistence that causation not be equated with justification and his position that all justification remains “human” because in so far as Rorty is right about humans-as-computers, he is right there is no problem for McDowell to solve, but in so far as he is right that McDowell has no problem to solve, he is wrong about justification and causation being distinct, including and especially about rational justification not requiring an appeal to anything non-human—ostensibly the very appeal of the metaphor.  As long output from computers is inherently justified because “norms” (the programs, or the intentional) and “laws” (the hardware, or the non-intentional) are just two ‘languages’ for saying the same thing—to wit, what computation is—then humans-as-computers means one need only look to causal stories about inputs from the world.  Under the metaphor there is simply no other role for justification to play. [3]

So much, then, for the empiricists being “wrong” in trying to describe how beliefs are obtained from experience through causal stories of justification, i.e. for confusing causation with justification.  So much, too, for the very need for “justification” in the first place, since an account of the causal conditions of a belief is all that is needed in place of “the space of reasons” if in fact beliefs are caused—or to put it more succinctly, “justification” is nothing more than the (caused) offering of the causal account of the original belief.  Both conclusions follow from Rorty’s computer metaphor, and that fact that it is inapt for other reasons too (to wit, people are not like computers) is neither here nor there for undermining the point he tries to make with it.  But what of that point?  What about the lack of any answerability to something non-human?  What of this lack of any justificatory role for the content of world-directed experience?  What does he have to say about that?

Well, the comparison that follows the metaphor is even more self-destructive than the metaphor itself, in that it empties discourse of all reference to the world in such a way that even its normative dimensions become pointless.  For Rorty baldly states: “all the words ever systematically bandied about, by superstitious cavemen as well as by sophisticated physicists, are on par as content or lack of content goes.”  Seriously.  What people vitally ignorant of the real relations in the physical world say is “on par” as far as “content” goes with what people highly knowledgeable about those relations say.  Aside from being stupid from a non-philosophical—or frankly any—point of view, it’s even worse from a pragmatic one, in that it involves an entirely useless conflation between norms and content.  That is, it falsely equates the two when for pragmatism 1) content is what makes a discourse useful (it is ‘the about which’ in a discourse that separates it as useful for a given purpose from another one that is not) and 2) norms in discourse obtain from repeated use of contents (they emerge from how useful the discourse is in solving actual problems)—or to put the matter in an equivalent way, norms emerge as patterns of use are obtained from the applicability of content to solving problems, or more generally, for fitting means toward ends.  This can be made clear from virtually any example in the practical or technical arts, but as a starter, one should suffice.

For instance (and rather obviously), consider an engineer.  In his own ‘discourse’ (say his schematics and plans are included), he must not only appeal to the discursive norms of other engineers in their word use; that is, he must not only appeal and conform to their “nodes in patterns of inference,” as it were.  He must also be answerable in his observations and recommendations to the real properties of the materials with which he works.  What’s more, the normative standards of his peers will in large part embody the results of prior manipulations of these real properties in their various uses for various ends, and his discourse will be normatively judged against how well it conforms to this embodied content (as any engineer applying for certification can attest).  Rorty’s comparison of a caveman to a physicist degrades this rather obvious functional relationship between “contents” and “norms” to such a trivial level that for a pragmatist they become empty words devoid of even normative significance, in that that significance is reduced to nothing more than the mere fact that a word in a language game is used in some way.  No shit, but once again, that reduction is not pragmatism.   In fact, aside from being a banal tautology about language games and word use, it’s pointless to even bring it up.  As a contrary point it should be enough to note that contents make a discourse useful, and usefulness eventually determines normative content.  But Rorty makes no such point; he only obscures the underlying issue with a useless metaphor and a stupid comparison between cavemen and physicists.

The anus sees little need to belabor the obvious much more than it already has, but if it must, it could point out that the engineering example can be generalized to every practical art in that they all require evaluating the contents within a discourse against the existential consequences generated by using that “discourse” as part of the process of solving real problems, experienced (where else but) in the world.  Of course “contents” here can be prescribed operations as well as hypotheses based on prior observations, but in any case one must remain “answerable to the world” in a colloquial but philosophically significant sense—be it in practicing medicine, fixing a car, building a bridge, or whatever; it is simply necessary to do so in order to cope with the contingencies of living in that world.  (Isn’t “duh” appropriate yet?) Where else would a useful accountability come from?  Clearly, bodies can only be healed with certain techniques under certain prevailing conditions, and norms arise as these techniques are applied successfully or not in repeated instances of when those conditions do or do not obtain.  Similarly for fixing cars, building bridges, or whatever—in all these cases contents are used and norms emerge because of the success or not of these uses.  In fact, without this eminently pragmatic adjudication and evaluation of means, conditions, and consequences, i.e. without determining how well discourses denote the real properties of various things fitted as means towards ends– read “how well it remains answerable to the world”– description in the practical arts would become that worldless, frictionless spinning that McDowell seeks to overcome with his minimal empiricism.  In a word, it would become, literally, useless.  In such a case, it becomes impossible to account for how anything gets done, much less how new problems get formulated in ways that afford novel solutions.  Yet both happen every day, and it just won’t do to render that fact philosophically unintelligible by equating content with norms in a strict nominalist coherentist normativity—or whatever other monstrous jargon one comes up with for the conflation.  Any pragmatism must do better.

([Sigh].  If reference to all the practical arts is still insufficient to make the point, the anus notes that common sense partakes of this pragmatic adjudication too, for no one would ever think to solve a problem in her daily life by equating content with norms, i.e. by referring merely to the norms and patterns of what is said about that problem in and of itself, without referring to the ‘contents’ as ‘what is said’ in that pattern—and further, without referring those contents to ‘the way things are’ (remember, this is common sense talking, and Rorty himself insists elsewhere that philosophy should have nothing to add to it on the topics of knowledge and truth).  Without attending to content in both respects, no course of action would be suggested from the facts at hand, and no solution to the problem could ever be forthcoming—at least an intelligent one derived from the way in which the situation is described, as opposed to a mere happenstance solution stumbled upon by sheer dumb luck.  So even for common sense, what is typically done—i.e. a norm—is what typically works—i.e. use of contents to pose and solve problems.  Norm and content remain functionally related as two different aspects of one operation that always remains answerable to the world, in that it attempts to resolve problematic situations that can only be resolved on its terms.[4]

From a philosophical point of view, then, denying the functional duality of content and norms in practical activity and common sense— i.e. ontologically equating the two as the only antecedent option—cannot serve as a basis for any pragmatism, self-defeating computer metaphor and useless conflation with cavemen notwithstanding. Doing so simply strips that pragmatism of all its explanatory power.  McDowell’s attempt to recover a “minimal empiricism” from the tradition may not be without its problems (the anus maintains it is not), but Rorty’s response is worse than being problematic: it’s just plain dumb.[5] What else should one call a pragmatism that sacrifices every meaningful sense of “experience” and “answerability to the world” on the altar of pure coherentist normativity when that sacrifice 1) strips pragmatism of its power to explain how the practical arts and common sense actually work, 2) removes the minimal means by which either can be considered practical at all, and 3) displaces the primary arena in which practical problems arise in the first place, and wherein their solutions obtain?  In short, one can always usefully say: we experience problems coping with the world; those problems must be posed and solved in the terms and on the grounds in which they occur; ergo, some notion of “experience” and “answerability to the world” remains necessary (anal-lytic problematizing of either not withstanding).  No pragmatism worth the name can ignore this fundamental intuition, and that McDowell did not in Mind and World and that Rorty did over an entire career speaks volumes about how to commit philosophical suicide while trying to take everyone else with you, as opposed to genuinely trying to resolve a problem with a proper appreciation of those who have tried to solve it before you.[6]

Reading Rorty would be a lot more helpful and a lot less irritating had he just elaborated in pragmatism its emphasis on contingency, i.e. its claim that all knowledge remains probable and open to further inquiry as new conditions in experience emerge, conditions in no small part revealed by the expansion and enhancement offered by the techniques and results of inquiry itself.   In short, he could have done what Hume did in his youth: say his philosophic peace and move on, leaving it to others to carry on, somehow, the project of reliable knowledge.  But he didn’t.  Instead he never stopped trying to show how all uses of ideas are relative except the use that shows ‘the use of ideas is relative.’  It just gets tiresome, trivial, and taken to his extremes, ridiculous.  As such, the anus can think of no better homily for Rorty’s late-in-coming philosophical funeral than a summary recitation of Dewey’s Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, scattered with passages from Reconstruction in Philosophy and Experience and Nature as uplifting hymns.  As for his own alternative “pragmatism,” it is irrelevant for characterizing any attempts to do or know. It is best left discarded and forgotten.[7]


[1] Despite these objections, the anus doesn’t want to completely reject McDowell’s approach.  For there is much to be said for the idea that the meanings in symbolic discourse can be prefigured in important respects by the significance connections among real things, like smoke is a sign of fire in a sense independent of discourse about “smoke” and “fire,” otherwise that discourse would not be about smoke and fire but could equally apply to anything else.  But this correspondence between the meaning relations in discourse and the significance connections in existence is not a rational relation as much as it is a relationship of simple denotation.  In other words, if all McDowell wants to say is that discourse can be meaningfully related to the world because the world is inherently significant or meaningful as experienced, then the anus has no objection.  But McDowell seems to want more; he seems to want to say that the conceptual structure of experience inherently justifies beliefs about experience because those beliefs too are conceptually structured in an isomorphic way, just explicitly so.  And in that kind of explanatory justification for rationality the anus only sees a conceptual circle that begs the question on one level even as it answers it on another.  It seems enough to say that denotation in experience can play an evidentiary role in justification without saying that the denotative relation is itself rationally justificatory, i.e. without conceiving it as a “link that connects experiences to judgments as reasons for them”.

But perhaps at the end of the day this is a distinction without a difference, in which case McDowell’s approach is neither original nor very interesting, as it was laid out explicitly (and better) by Dewey in Chapter 5 of Experience and Nature and Chapter 3 of Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. The “smoke” and “fire” example is taken from the later.  It is also endemic to every phenomenologist who has written on experience for the past 100 years (but in particular see Husserl’s sixth Logical Investigation for an early formulation of the general idea, or his Experience and Judgement for a direct account of how formal logical concepts are meaningfully prefigured in pre-predicative experience).  Both accounts develop the general idea that ‘categorically structured pre-predicative experience’ anticipates the explicit structures of conceptual thought—an idea developed at considerable length in his lectures Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis.

[2] There is every reason to believe that this equivalency of “reasons” and “causes” follows from Sellars’ own account in “Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind”, where a causal account of replicas can be offered ‘in the space of reasons’ as justification for an empirical belief (see “Empiricism without Philosophy of Mind” for details on how, within theory, impressions and thoughts can be offered as noninferential, i.e. causal, justifications for belief).  The anus adds here that “the space of reasons,” as it were, amounts in practice to nothing more than piercing the ignorance of causal knowledge, in that causal stories are ‘voluntarily’ offered up for beliefs.  But if that’s the case, only in a trivial sense is this “voluntary” offering itself not caused, since the offered reason simply becomes an account of what caused the belief for which a “reason” is offered, i.e. “justification” becomes merely getting to the correct causal knowledge.  Besides, who’s to say that in this “space of reasons” even “voluntarily offering reasons” is not itself caused in some way.  For applying the computer metaphor back to Sellars, a diagnostic or account of a process (a “justification”) is caused by the occurrence of a specific event (certain conditions must obtain); therefore the justification for the output is itself caused….and so on and so forth in an infinite regress.  Just where and how one gets off the causal train to begin justification in “a space of reasons” as opposed to a “space of laws” can never be determined.  The whole distinction is therefore pointless.

[3] Rorty might rejoin that the metaphor is still apt because like programming the causal structure of computing into the computer using the “normative” (i.e. logical) dimension of “software,” so we program ourselves to respond to outputs from given inputs; therefore we are still like computers after all, even though once programmed, causation and justification appear to be the same, when in fact the “causes” in computing are really norms, not causes.  But this rejoinder will not do because even if we do ‘program’ a causal responsiveness into ourselves (the only kind that can be put into a computer) and call that program a “norm,” its operation is still causal (a computer can’t but do and can only do what it is programmed to do); the only justification under it one would ever need would remain knowledge of that programming– or simply, again, knowledge of just the inputs themselves.  “Justification,” such as it remains, would still be mere knowledge of the programming, or of the inputs, which, of course, like a “norm” could be changed by a programmer, but that change would bear on new causal input-output relations, not on whether or not a non-causal relation served as a justification in the first place.  It simply won’t do to say that justification is normative because we programmed the norms, for those norms are still strictly causal once programmed.  In any case, the whole point is rather moot because computers don’t program themselves, and as long as they don’t, we are not like computers at all if we program ourselves into having ‘dispositional states’ because no computer can receive any inputs from the world and produce an output unless it is programmed.  But we can; that is the causal occasion for getting the program started; and that is the issue McDowell raises.  He wants to know if the rationality of that programming remains answerable to the world.

[4] That Rorty rejects even this common sense view of “answerability to the world” should be clear when he says: “I see nothing worth saving in empiricism” (emphasis added).

[5] “Dumb” is appropriate if taken literally, for how else can one characterize “I stoutly deny thinking that Darwin explains reality, or even just us human beings, better than anyone else.” There is nothing philosophically significant—or for that matter even interesting—in the denial; it is just denial.  As such, no reply is necessary beyond pointing out that it is “dumb” to all the nuances that make any conversation about “reality,” “world” and “description” interesting and worthwhile.

[6] “Proper appreciation” is of course a relative assessment, but surely the idea that “British empiricism may well be seen as a mere unfortunate distraction, a parochial and unimportant movement whose only impact on contemporary philosophy has been to provide piles of rubbish for us to sweep away” says something beyond mere relativity.  Pot calling kettle hardly covers it.  The anus of course realizes that it too may be a pot…

[7] As a final note, let the anus observe that at the end of the day any pragmatist should at least answer the question that Rorty won’t even willingly pose: what conceivable way is there to test ideas and vet consequences without being answerable to something outside the norms of the testing and vetting itself?  And what can that answerability involve if not the experienced world, when experiencing the contingencies of the world is the very reason we test, vet, and aspire?  To answer that question and preserve the label “pragmatist,” Rorty’s only response seems to be that pragmatism isn’t about testing and vetting; it’s about redescription.  But then one need only ask further: redescription of what?  To what end?  Since there is nothing worth saving in empiricism, enlarging and enriching experience per James and Dewey appears out, so what’s left?  As noted already, Rorty has no answer because he won’t even pose the question.  As such, his pragmatism boils down to nothing more than a “discussion of the utility and compatibility of beliefs” answerable only to its own operations in a never ending redescription of, apparently either nothing or itself.  And from this emerges private irony and social hope.  This “pragmatism” obviously works for him, but it’s of no use anyone else who doesn’t already love aggrandizing self-exposition, as opposed to actually posing and solving the real problems in the alternatively dismaying alternatively delightful real world one can’t but encounter.  A “pragmatism” literally useless for navigating that encounter simply undermines itself as a pragmatism worth the name.


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