Truth and Progress

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty, in the first part of TRUTH AND PROGRESS: PHILOSOPHICAL PAPERS, critiques correspondence theories of truth which rest on a distinction between what human beings say about the world and how the world is in itself. For Rorty, a self-described linguistic idealist, there is no way the world is other than how it is described by various human groups.

For this reason there is more cash value in talking about truth as a kind of honorific applied to claims most in a particular community would subscribe to, rather than to insist that true statements somehow “represent” an essence present in the world out there. True claims are habits of practice that are useful to this or that group. TRUTH AND PROGRESS features lively replies to such contemporary philosophers as Crispin Wright, Hilary Putnam, John Searle, Charles Taylor, Daniel Dennett, Robert Brandom, John McDowell, Michael Williams, and Donald Davidson.

The second part of the book turns to the implications for moral progress of Rorty’s position. Unabashedly ethnocentric (since there is no universal rationality nor any ahistorical God or Human Nature to provide guidance), Rorty commends to his readers political actions that would help usher in a liberal “culture of hope.”

The final section of the book views the work of philosophy as one of convincing people that they have only themselves on which to lean for the extension of Western liberal ideals of freedom and equality to those who are suffering.

Sources for Further Study

Library Journal. CXXIII, May 15, 1998, p. 87.

The Nation. CCLXVII, July 27, 1998, p. 25.

New Criterion. XVII, September, 1998, p. 60.

The Times Literary Supplement. August 28, 1998, p. 3.