Re: MD food for thought

From: Matt the Enraged Endorphin (
Date: Sun Sep 15 2002 - 21:07:54 BST

Hi Platt,

Yeah, on irrationality, I think we are just using two different definitions
and, like good Rortyans, we're sincere in our incorrigibility. However, in
one last attempt to dissolve the difference, I would never describe
irrationality as unintelligent. I distaste the word intelligence and think
it is a facile representation of an amorphous collection of skills. So,
when I describe postmodernism, along with the MoQ, as celebrating
irrationality, if you don't like my ad hoc definition of the MoQ as
irrational, don't be so quick to continue to follow the description of
postmodernism as celebrating irrationality, the two are biconditional in my
phrasing. If pomo does, then so does the MoQ. If not, then not. And vice
versa. In fact, Hall (the same as below) puts the issue like this: "the
contrast rational/irrational is applicable only within a given language
game and therefore cannot be used to explain movements among language games
or the more radical changes in linguistic behavior associated with paradigm
shifts." This summarizes in much clear language what I hope to get across.

With beauty as an organizing principle, I think there is some truth. David
L. Hall, in his wonderful book on Rorty (Richard Rorty: Prophet and Poet on
the New Pragmatism), does an excellent job in drawing up the American
tradition of aesthetic pluralism and places Rorty within it. Hall briefly
sketches the tradition through Jonathon Edwards, Emerson, Peirce, James,
Dewey, and an adopted American, Whitehead. For Rorty desires a poetized
culture, a literary culture, a culture whose vocabulary "revolves around
the notions of metaphor and self-creation rather than around notions of
truth, rationality, and moral obligation." (Contingency, Irony, and
Solidarity) Indeed, the notion of Rorty's causal transformation of beliefs
is aesthetic. If you like what you hear, as opposed to what you already
believe, you change what you believe. So, while I don't think Rorty would
desire any kind of organizing principle, outside of any thing we propose
and follow ourselves, contingently, he definitely has an aesthetic tilt to
his thinking.

>I would make an important addendum to your breakdown of Pirsig's
>thesis, namely, "Everything makes choices, and some choices are
>better than others." Without the notion of "betterness" the MOQ is

The only reason I hesitate to add "and some choices are better than others"
is because that implies an absolute "betterness" which I don't think there
is room for in Rorty or an historicized Pirsig. The notion of "betterness"
for an historicist comes out of the contingent choices that have already
been made. A Dynamic choice would then be a deviation from past choices
because you now believe that, in this present context, to choose
uniformally with the past would not be better. So I think inherent in
"making a choice" is the presumption that one is better than the other,
without accidently encapsulating that "betterness" (like Plato did with the

And, like I said, I think Rorty could only agree that some things are
better than others (from an ethnocentric, historicist position). I know
for a fact that Rorty does think some things are better than others. Who
doesn't? A fortiori, who could not help but to?

>But the basic "the world is moral order" assumption that carries
>the MOQ is something I suspect Rorty would cast aside as being "not
>philosophically interesting" just as he considers the correspondence
>theory of truth to be passe. Am I right?

I think you're right, insofar as "the world is a moral order" implies
metaphysical baggage. If it doesn't, and it simply means that we can order
up the world into a catalog, ticking off who's being cruel to others and
who isn't, who's creating new metaphors and who isn't, then I think he
might agree.

Here's something I have not said yet, but probably needs to be said. As a
private route towards self-perfection, Rorty would have nothing bad to say
about the MoQ. If it strays into the public realm with metaphysical
baggage that provides an illusory, unneeded foundation for an absolute
vocabulary, then Rorty might not look not fondly upon it. Can the MoQ, as
a private project, accidently provide useful stratagies for the public
realm? Quite possibly. In fact, that is what many good liberals' private
projects are channeled towards: useful stratagies for the public realm.


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