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Rorty on Knowledge and Reality




Davis, Michael James

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The thesis identifies two strands in Rorty’s philosophy. One is an orientation towards practice in opposition to the traditional philosophical emphasis on theoretical knowledge. The other is Rorty’s anti-representationalist conception of knowledge. Rorty argues that these strands are mutually supporting, while the author argues they are incompatible. The nominal aim of Rorty’s anti-representationalism is to overcome many traditional dualisms of theoretical philosophy, such as subject and object, mind and world, and theory and practice. The thesis argues that anti-representationalism does not and cannot achieve this aim, since what is required to overcome these dualisms is the recognition of the practical basis of knowledge, with which anti-representationalism is incompatible. The author agrees with much of Rorty’s critique of foundationalist epistemology, but argues in opposition to Rorty that anti-representationalism does not follow necessarily from this critique. Where Rorty locates the error of traditional epistemology in the very notion that knowledge and language can represent the world, the author argues that this idea is benign. The fundamental problem is the desire to anchor our conceptual scheme to an external structure independently of human practice — but this idea can be rejected without abandoning the notion of representation. The thesis also looks to explain why Rorty takes anti-representationalism to follow naturally from a rejection of foundationalism. The motivation is located in Rorty’s fundamental metaphysical orientation, which is naturalistic. Anti-representationalism is the product of the wish to promote a naturalistic worldview without succumbing to scientism. In this way Rorty hopes to unite the manifest and scientific images of man. The author argues that this cannot be done from within a naturalistic metaphysics.



Rorty, pragmatism, Peirce, Wittgenstein, epistemology, metaphysics, metaphilosophy, philosophy of language, history of philosophy, analytic philosophy, 20th century philosophy, conceptual change, perception, justification, interpretation, representationalism, anti-representationalism, foundationalism, Sellars, Quine




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