Dewey and Rorty: Pragmatism and postmodernism


My job has been made easier tonight, given that Larry Hickman has already done most of the ‘heavy lifting’ for me. I think his paper is an excellent and convincing intervention into this debate, and one of the problems for me in constructing my talk has been that our discussions have forced me to rethink what I wanted to say. Given my Continental biases, I had expected to come out on Rorty’s side; in writing this paper, however, things have become more complicated. So let me here thank Larry for both at once making my job tonight easier, and much to my chagrin, surprisingly difficult. What I want to suggest, in contrast to what you’ve just heard, is that the neopragmatism of Richard Rorty is not wholly inconsistent with Dewey’s pragmatism – or, at least, with a ‘thin’ version of Deweyian pragmatism. As we shall see, while the differences between Dewey and Rorty on the status of metaphysics are in all probability irreconcilable, Rorty’s reclamation of a ‘thin’ Dewey can be read as consistent with at least the spirit of Dewey’s work. I will try to make the stronger case that this reconciliation is possible according to the letter of Dewey’s philosophy as well, and the interrelated issues of method and social hope will serve as the avenues for this investigation. Given my audience, I imagine that what I’m about to say will be fodder for some interesting conversation, and so, in the spirit of Rorty’s thought, let me get on with my paper.

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