Rorty, Gutting, and Commonsense

in Theoria
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In his Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity Gary Gutting attempts to rescue Richard Rorty’s seminal work from various accusations of relativism and skepticism that have plagued it. These arise due to Rorty’s recurrent resistance to the inclusion of any hint of metaphysical realism, which has thus resulted in Rorty committing to (what are seen by many analytic philosophers as objectionable1) claims such as ‘everything we know is known only under “optional description”’ (Rorty 1979: 379), ‘the absurdity of thinking that the vocabulary used by present science, morality, or whatever, has some privileged attachment to reality which makes it more than just a further set of descriptions’ (Rorty 1979: 361), and to instances in later work when he states that ‘[t]he hardness of fact in all these cases is simply the hardness of previous agreements within a community about the consequences of a certain event’ (Rorty 1991: 80). In this paper I intend to describe the pragmatic liberal theory that Gutting puts forward, showing how he uses Rorty’s pragmatism to set his foundations, and how he then builds on this by appealing to a ‘humdrum’ commonsense view in order to save Rorty. I will follow Gutting’s strategy of approaching the theories of ‘knowledge without representation’, ‘justification as social practice’, ‘the problem of truth’, and ‘Davidsonian Therapy’ separately, arguing systematically that each of these aspects fails as a convincing appeal to commonsense, humdrum realism, and that the additions to Rorty do not strengthen his theory; instead, they show the importance of the epistemologies that the theory is trying to denounce.


A Journal of Social and Political Theory


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