Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Rorty How would you relate Rorty's breakthrough to the "is-ought" problem that began with Hume and reached its first clear and formal presentation in G.E....

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Rorty

How would you relate Rorty's breakthrough to the "is-ought" problem that began with Hume and reached its first clear and formal presentation in G.E. Moore's Principia Ethica?  Also, I'm having problems with the characterization of logical positivists as being part of the "mirror" tradition, when they were the first to repudiate it completely.  They brought moral philosophy to a standstill for years, arguing (I'm referring to Ayre here), that all moral assertions are meaningless -- just linguistic artifacts disguised as morally foundational.  It seems to me that Rorty saved moral philosophy by grounding it in pragmatism.  Something William James had already done a century earlier.

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Natalie Saaris | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The "is-ought" problem first expounded in David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature creates a distinction between the observed world and the hypothetical one. Hume questions how anyone can create a prescriptive statement about how things "ought" to be if that statement has no correlation to observed reality.

Hume's question later came to be known as the "naturalistic fallacy", or the error one makes in basing moral judgments on empirical observations. Moore argues that morality cannot be answered empirically. Unlike the natural sciences, ethics is always "open" and dependent on belief rather than observable, undoubtable phenomena. 

Rorty looks at this philosophical tradition and its attempts to create scientific (empirical) systems to answer ethical questions and repudiates its entire premise. Rather than distinguishing morality and science, Rorty contextualizes the history of both and recognizes that both science and morality evolve over the course of time. There is nothing "objective" about systems that are constantly in flux, changing to best adapt to the needs of humans at a particular time and place. His approach is indeed very pragmatic: rather than disputing whether one way of creating knowledge is superior to another, Rorty considers what is most effective given a particular historical context. 

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