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Humanities 2013, 2(3), 404-420; doi:10.3390/h2030404
Richard Rorty in Context
Received: 7 May 2013 / Revised: 17 July 2013 / Accepted: 24 July 2013 / Published: 2 August 2013
(This article belongs to the Special Issue The Legacy of Richard Rorty)
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Abstract: Richard Rorty was a strong contextualist in his approach to philosophical and political ideas, yet his own most characteristic arguments are typically evaluated without much reference to the historical circumstances that provoked them. A key participant in the post-1980 revival of pragmatism within North American and European intellectual circles, Rorty reaffirmed the strong connections between American pragmatism and German idealism. This move placed him at odds with scholars who forged the unity of pragmatism—united John Dewey and William James—under the banner of radical empiricism. Those engaged most enthusiastically in celebrating Rorty’s achievements, in short, defend a conception of pragmatism that Rorty sharply criticized and ideas about the history of philosophy that he did not share. His distinctive intellectual agenda is best appreciated after setting it in the context of the history of the American Left and, more specifically, the reckoning with the tumultuous 1960s that animates so many ongoing debates—inside and outside the academy—about cultural and political affairs.
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