Rorty wrote his Achieving Our Country as a philosopher, intellectual, academic and citizen, and each of these perspectives lead to a different emphasis in reading his book, and to a different story (and ‘storytelling’ is one of the themes of the book). The emergent pictures vary: the philosopher tells a story of the growing isolation and cultural sterility of analytic philosophy in the United States of America after the Second World War; the intellectual tells a story of the political bareness and practical uselessness of (the majority of) American leftist intellectuals in the context of the emerging new global order at the turn of the 21st century; the academic tells the story about humanities’ departments at American universities, especially departments of literature and cultural studies, and their students, and contrasts their possible future fate with the past fate of departments of analytical philosophy and their students; and, finally, the citizen tells a story about the nationhood, politics, patriotism, reformism (as well as the inherent dangers and opportunities of globalization). Rorty plays the four descriptions off against one another perfectly and Achieving Our Country represents him at his very best: Rorty is passionate, inspiring, uncompromising, biting and very relevant to current public debates. Owing to the intelligent combination of the above perspectives, the clarity and elegance of his prose, and (although not revealed directly) the wide philosophical background provided by his new pragmatism, the book differs from a dozen others written in the 1990s about the American academy and American intellectuals. It also sheds new and interesting light on Rorty’s pragmatism, providing an excellent example of the application of his philosophical views. One has to note that, generally, it is almost impossible to think of any piece written by Rorty outside of the context of his philosophy, and Achieving Our Country is no exception to this rule.
Richard Rorty and American Intellectuals
Between Contestation and Mediation
In light of the pragmatic aspirations of ordinary language philosophy, this essay critically examines the competing grammatical strictures that are often set forth within the theoretical discourse of 'power'. It repudiates both categorically appraisive employments of 'power' and the antithetical urge to fully operationalize the concept. It offers an attenuated defense of the thesis that 'power' is an essentially contestable concept, but rejects the notion that this linguistic fact stems from conflict between antipodal ideological paradigms. Careful attention to the ordinary pragmatics of power-language evinces the prospects for integrating various context-specific aspects of power and mediating between traditionally divergent theoretical frameworks.
Political philosophy has been under the sway of a certain picture since Rawls’s A Theory of Justice was published in 1971. This picture combines the idea that the problem of justice should be approached from the direction of ideal normative theory, and that there are some anchoring ideas that secure the justificatory role of a hypothetical agreement. I think this picture and the hold it has over political philosophy is beginning to fragment. This fragmentation I think is most evident in the skepticism that has become a routine response to the Kantian idea that ‘we’ can ‘discover’ the terms of an agreement that has both a categorical force and a universal scope. But as the picture fragments we are still left with the framework and vocabulary of Rawls’s difficult and elaborate theory. The major difficulty confronting the Rawlsian project (the problem of pluralism as I will argue below) is itself defined in terms of Rawls’s conceptual language. And this serves only to obscure the real challenge and keep us ‘bewitched’ by Rawls’s narrow way of seeing issues. In being bewitched in this way we do not see that the problem of pluralism confronts Rawls’s project as a whole, rather than requiring adjustments and accommodations.
In this article, I motivate for the view that the best account of the foundations of morality in the African tradition should be grounded on some relevant spiritual property – a view that I call 'ethical supernaturalism'. In contrast to this position, the literature has been dominated by humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics, which typically is accompanied by a direct rejection of 'ethical supernaturalism' and a veiled rejection of non-naturalism (Gyekye 1995: 129–43; Metz 2007: 328; Wiredu 1992: 194–6). Here primarily, by appeal to methods of analytic philosophy, which privileges analysis and (moral) argumentation, I set out to challenge and repudiate humanism as the best interpretation of African ethics; I leave it for a future project to develop a fully fledged African spiritual meta-ethical theory.
The Adorno Reader, edited by Brian O’Connor. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000. Reviewed by Ben Parker
Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan, by Louis Althusser; edited by Olivier Corpet and François Matheron. Columbia University Press, 1996. Reviewed by Clayton Crockett
On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction: Preliminary Studies in the Theory of Communicative Action, by Jürgen Habermas; translated by Barbara Fultner. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2001. Reviewed by Iain MacKenzie
Senses of Culture: South African Culture Studies, edited by Sarah Nuttall and Cheryl-Ann Michael. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Reviewed by Arnold Shepperson
Rethinking Multiculturalism: Cultural Diversity and Political Theory, by Bhikhu Parekh. Basingstoke & London: Macmillan, 2000. Reviewed by Laurence Piper
Heidegger and Derrida on Philosophy and Metaphor: Imperfect Thought, by Guiseppe Stellardi. Humanity Books: New York, 2000. Reviewed by Patrick Lenta
Did Somebody Say Totalitarianism? Five Interventions on the (Mis)use of a Notion, by Slavoj Zizek. New York: Verso, 2001. Reviewed by Kevin A. Morrison
Ethics in Context: The Art of Dealing with Serious Questions, by Gernot Böhme (transl. by Edmund Jephcott). Cambridge: Polity, 2001. Reviewed by Deane-Peter Baker
9-11, by Noam Chomsky. Johannesburg: M&G Books, 2001. Reviewed by Derek Hook
The Politics of Lying: Implications for Democracy, by Lionel Cliffe, Maureen Ramsay and David Bartlett. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000. Reviewed by Ralph Lawrence
Feminism and Emotion: Readings in Moral and Political Philosophy, by Susan Mendus. London: Macmillan, 2000. Reviewed by Pamela Anderson
Stupidity, by Avital Ronell. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Reviewed by Patrick Lenta
Norbert Elias and Modern Social Theory, by Dennis Smith. London: Sage, 2001. Reviewed by Volker Wedekind
The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?, by Slavoj Zizek. Verso Press, 2000. Reviewed by Clayton Crockett
For most of its existence, the academic study of politics has been based on the reading of the texts of a recognised number of great thinkers from Greek and Roman antiquity through the European middle ages to modern Europe. In the English-speaking world, the example of ‘Greats’ at Oxford – and ‘Modern Greats’ (philosophy, politics and economics) after 1920 – has been crucial in establishing this approach. In 1928, in his inaugural lecture as Professor of Political Science at Cambridge, Ernest Barker (1930:204) still saw the central role of the history of political thought as uncontroversial: ‘The more the development of political ideas is studied, the richer will be the development of political theory’.
A Wittgensteinian Response to the Very Idea of a Social Contract
In the ordinary way, we all know very well what a contract is. It is a mutual undertaking or promise by two or more parties to do or refrain from doing something or another. Such promises may be made verbally, by means of gestures, or expressed in writing, but they must be expressed or else the contract is not merely null and void, but nonexistent. There is no such thing as an inaudible and invisible contract. To think otherwise is to mistake metaphorical for literal language. Yet the history of political philosophy from the 17th century until the present day has been dominated by the idea of a contract to which no persons living or dead ever affixed a signature or so much as nodded assent; a promise binding on the whole of civilised humankind, on which are thought to rest the complementary edifices of civil society and the state.
It is a great honour to have Cosmopolitan Justice reviewed in the pages of this journal. Indeed, the range and quality of the reviews are terrific, in the multiple senses of that word. I regret that I do not have the opportunity to respond fully to any of the reviews. Nonetheless, I shall try to do justice to the most serious issues raised. The next section, the most abstract of five, addresses challenges to the constructivist justification in Cosmopolitan Justice as well as the nature of duties of justice in the absence of a legal framework. Although this section may be particularly interesting to students of philosophy, those whose interests are relatively more applied can skip ahead. Section III takes up the issues of sovereignty and intervention; Section IV addresses matters of distributive justice.
An Article on the African Philosophy of Rights
A common communitarian criticism of rights discourse picks at the individualistic picture of rights which is said to presuppose a society where persons are conscious of their separateness. In contrast, an African communitarian society is said to put less emphasis on individual interests; it encourages harmony, not divergence of interests, competition, and conflict. Thus, preoccupation with rights would be incompatible with and even hostile to the possibility of community. This article argues the opposite; it submits that rights and community are mutually constitutive. To this end, I explore T. H. Green’s social recognition thesis which reconceptualises rights and obligations in a teleological framework. When conceived in this fashion, rights transcend antithetical relations between individuals and society as typified by classical natural rights thinkers. I argue that, considering a normative significance of the common good, a compelling account of rights in African philosophy is better conceived in a teleological framework.