Autumn-winter 2004
 

 

  Autumn-winter 2004

  PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEMS ARE EPHEMERAL
  An interview with Richard RORTY by Asim MUJKIÆ
 
 
Q: It is often said that Pragmatism poses the question of utilization of philosophical tradition. In that light, can (Neo)Pragmatism stand a utilization test?

Rorty: We can't tell in advance. We can only wait and see whether various doctrines and slogans of the Pragmatist philosophers get picked up and used to good effect.

Q: Sometimes you are very critical of so-called radical thinkers. Yet, some of your own metaphors are the most radical things I have ever read in philosophy, for example, the world is one, but descriptions of that world are endless, there can be an absolute truth, but not the one, you stand for castless and classless society, etc. Does such metaphors realy help us in getting what we want? Is Western culture ready to stand behind these truths unflinchingly?

Rorty: I'm not cirical of radical thinkers, as far as I can see. I'm critical of those neo-Marxists who like to think of themselves as radical, as opposed to social democratic, in practical politics. Buth when it comes to philosophy, rather than politics, the more radical the better.

Q: Where do you see the philosophy of future, I mean, if we agree that analytic philosophy and some genres of continental philosophy (e.g. Frankfurt School) will soon (maybe in the year of 2096, as you noted) turn out to be just marginal episodes in the history of philosophical thought, as scholastic philosophy once was, could we say that the future thought will be positioned somewhere in Post-Nietzschean, rather hermeneutical context, and «rebelious» analytic philosophers?

Rorty: I believe that philosophy, like literature, is a matter of the occasional great man or woman coming along and making everything look different. We haven't had a great genious in philosophy since Wittgenstein, Dewey and Heidegger died. Someday we'll have another one. You couldn't have predicted Kant in 1770, or Heidegger in 1920, or the latter Wittgenstein in 1940. There's no point in trying to predict the future of philosophy.

Q: I am attracted to your idea of «fuzziness of terms» in oposition to ruling (rather Carthesian) philosophical representation of clear and distinct notions. How would you describe this «method»? could fuzzy terms be plausible in getting us where we want?

Rorty: It isn't in any sense a method. It's just a distrust of attempts to get what Aristotle, criticizing the Platonic theory of forms, called 'more precision than the subject-matter admits'.

Q: What happened with your idea of «edification» you drafted in the Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature? It seemed to me as a good hermeneutical project, especially in terms of expansion of «we-intentions».

Rorty: It wasn't a project, it was just a name for a kind of philosophical outlook which was distinct from the scientistic emphasis on problem-solving characteristic of analytic philosophy – an outlook which said that philosophical problems are ephemeral.

Q: From time to time you are being accused of misinterpretation of, for example, Dewey, James, etc. It seems that what we could call Neopragmatism is being divided in two blocks – one of them being «Real – Pragmatists», like Putnam or Bernstein, who say something like – when Rorty is squeezed by «the facts» he goes on saying 'well, that is my hypothetical Dewey'. Is redescription then purposeful missinterpretation in terms of, for example, 'strong reading', intended to achieve the most imaginative hermeneutical verschmelzung of horizons? In that case, 'their' Dewey could be considered also as only 'theirs'. Could there be any distinction between interpretation and missinterpretation?

Rorty: You can give a sense to 'misinterpretation' by letting it mean 'reading a text in a way the author would object to'. But that doesn't mean one should stop reading texts in this the-author-be-damned way, as long as knows what one is doing. Dewey would object to various aspects of my use of him, as Hegel would have objected to various aspects of Dewey's use of him, as Nietzsche would have objected to most of Heidegger's uses of him, but so what?

Q: What could be understood by your term of «social hope»? It sounds utopian. But then, how do the anti-essentialism and utopia fit together?

Rorty: There is only an opposition between utopia and anti-essentialism if you say something like 'this utopia is the natural destiny of the species', or 'this utopia is what history has always been leading up to'. I want to say that a social democratic utopia is neither natural nor destined, but a good thing anyway – an inspiring goal, the best goal we have so far imagined for ourselves.

Q: In some of your recent texts you say that the idea that the free market will solve all problems in 'transitional countries' seems terrifying to you. Can philosophy be of any help, since you refer to it, quite often, and in accordance with Pragmatist tradition, as a mediator, as a mean to bridge gaps?

Rorty: Market economies will impoverish the poor if unrestrained, but philosophy is of no help in figuring out what forms of restraint will work and which won't – which will kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and which won't. Figuring that out is a matter of social experimentation.