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Pragmatism is True, it Just Doesn’t Work

I was reminded of Sydney Morgenbesser’s crack reading Richard Rorty’s “Contingency, Irony and Solidarity”.  Rorty’s is a smart book and puts forward an entirely reasonable and banal approach to life: be as kinky as you want in your private imaginings but don’t be cruel to other people.  And yet, there is a problem at the heart of it.  Rorty says the most interesting writers are ones who come up with weird, exciting new “vocabularies” which change how we look at the world and at ourselves but his technique for reducing life to a sequence of intellectual historical patterns folding and unfolding is so boring, it makes any attempt to change vocabularies in the way he likes seem boring as well.  Rorty is a shot of novocaine right in the philosophical imagination and yet seems to be more or less true about a lot of things.    Old Sidney, the sage of Columbus Avenue was right: pragmatists say things that sound really correct but they don’t work to get the sort of things done that they’d like to get done.  A perhaps related issue: Rorty is a big fan of an ironic approach to life, but as soon as you say “I like irony” you stop being ironic.

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