Two Faces of Irony: Kant and Rorty

In Nebil Reyhani (ed.), Essays Presented at the Muğla University International Kant Symposium (Muğla, Turkey, Oct. 6-8, 2004). Vadi. pp. 560-570 (2006)
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It might, at first sight, seem objectionable to compare Kant and Rorty in terms of their respective irony, for two reasons. First, usually, irony is not considered to be a striking stylistic feature in Kant, whereas it is a key concept in Rorty´s political philosophy. Second, Rorty's liberal ironist is the prototype of the edified individual in post-modern civil society who has overcome metaphysics of both realms: nature and morals. It just is proposed as a remedy against all forms of political foundationalism. However, in his minor political works of the 90s, Kant´s style is marked by his use of irony. Irony performs several functions: it is a polemic device, a means of persuasion, and a safeguard against those who might otherwise take his critical appreciation of political custom too personal. Moreover, Kant's political foundationalism is intertwined with his philosophy of history. Arguably, Kant treats the contingency of historic events with due regard and, hence, his political outlook must not be considered to be vindicatory. Irony, therefore, might, though seemingly un-Kantian at the outset, be a clue to the differences, and, perhaps, in contrast with Rorty´s distancing himself from Kant, similarities between their respective political philosophies. A comparison of Kantian with Rortian irony might thus reveal continuities and discontinuities in political thought between the European Enlightment and American post-modernism. It, therefore, might help to better understand our time. In my paper, I perform a contrastive analysis of these two faces of irony. The analysis starts with an interpretation of these two faces as different ways to cope intellectually with the vicissitudes of the human condition. Next, I relate their irony to the way both philosophers deal with the split between the private and the public spheres, which is, in different ways, central to their political philosophies. This analysis will provide the material for an assessment of whether or not their irony can be considered as an evasive move, which allows for a safe distance from the contingent needs of mankind, and thus prohibits or supports solidarity with its fate.
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