A critical examination of Richard Rorty's liberal lexicon.
This dissertation examines Richard Rorty's liberalism, especially as articulated in Contingency, irony, and solidarity, from a perspective which is sympathetic to the broad features of his pragmatism. I argue that Rorty's liberalism is, in the first instance a moral, rather than a political project and I begin this dissertation by examining in Chapter One, the basis of this moral project in his rejection of any notion of human nature in favour of a focus on the individual as a contingent, self-creating vocabulary. The moral core of Rorty's work is found in the vision of the liberal self who abhors cruelty. His politics extends outward from one variant of this type, the liberal ironist, who tries to balance her liberal commitments with a disposition to radical doubt. In his attempt to secure society for, and from, the liberal ironist, Rorty constructs a vision of society based in a strong division between public and private. In Chapter Two I argue that we should reject this move, and I argue instead for a vision of society based in conversation. In Chapter Three, I argue that this conversational understanding offers us an increased chance to attain the sort of cosmopolitan community to which Rorty aspires. In particular, I argue that we should see conversation, rather than imagination and reading, as the best means to develop and extend our sense of solidarity. One of the biggest obstacles to our increasing solidarity through conversation is the way in which power operates to sustain existing social and political arrangements by setting the conversational agenda. Rorty, unfortunately, says little about the workings of power and so, in Chapter Four, I propose the use of Iris Marion Young's thought on oppression and domination as a means to illuminate the issue of power at work, and to help us in finding ways to deal with it. In the final chapter I look to the particular role of the intellectual in the conversation. I examine Rorty's rejection of philosophy-as-epistemology in favour of what he calls pragmatism, and how this move combines with a variety of other strategies to apparently silence intellectuals. I argue that in spite of these moves, Rorty's philosophy and his own example actually extend the space from which and through which intellectuals can participate in the conversation and its transformation.