Re: MD Unofficial Rorty Dictionary

From: Platt Holden (
Date: Wed Sep 25 2002 - 18:07:55 BST

Hi Matt the E., Scott:

Thanks much for correcting my original stab at defining terms used by
Rorty. Here is the revised list as a result of your suggestions. I've
eliminated several words for lack of pertinence including ad hoc,
biconditional, Oedipal cycle and plurality.

aesthetic axis - an arrangement of writers and thinkers by their beliefs
ahistoric - generic
ahistorical - universal
causally - caused by
context - circumstances
contextualize - to describe the circumstances
contingent - dependent on particular circumstances
cultural context - beliefs of a group
dialectical - logical
distaste - don't like
diversity - differences
essentialism - the doctrine that things have generic essences, like
final vocabulary - one's beliefs that arguments won't change
historicist - one who reveals particular circumstances
historicized - particular circumstances are revealed
incorrigibility - stubbornness
intersubjective - agreement among a group as opposed to objectivity
ironic - recognition that one's beliefs are contingent
ironist - one who points out the contingency of one's position
mediate - compromise
narrative - story
nominalist - one who holds that the map is not the territory
poeticized - said in non-literal, unfamiliar way
poetized - to say differently
pragmatism - true if useful
pragmatist - one who believes truth is determined by usefulness
recontextualization - rewritten
recontextualize - rewrite
self-creation - the reinvention of oneself
sensitive - empathic
solidarity - agreement without appeal to universal truths
text - words, writing
vocabulary - words, word use

Without in any way intending to put Matt "in a box" I'd like to point out
some things about Rorty's philosophy that are brought to light by this
little exercise in defining his "vocabulary."

First, Rorty completely rejects all universals, absolutes and self-evident
truths. (That his total rejection is itself an absolute doesn't phase him.
Logic in his view is "contingent" like everything else.) By contrast,
Pirsig's explanation of reality is based on an universal absolute he
identifies as "Quality."

Second, in Rorty's view, reality can only be known by words which are
infinitely flexible. Therefore, reality is also flexible, or as he might put it,
"corrigible." Truth cannot be established without recourse to language
and "intersubjective" agreement. By contrast, Pirsig posits that truth
can be established by a self-evident, nonverbal reaction to the moment's
Quality. like viewing paintings in a gallery.

Third, Rorty's moral philosophy is circumstantial. His moral guide is
"contextualism" whereby moral decisions can only be made when all
the factors involved in a unique situation can be weighed by those
involved in the problem. By contrast, Pirsig establishes universal moral
levels in ascending order of rightness whereby, for example, it's "more
moral for a doctor to kill a germ than a patient" and "for an idea to kill a
society than for a society to kill an idea."

Fourth, Rorty adheres to the cause/effect principle, i.e., the assumption
that nothing happens without prior cause and that the cause and effect
principle applies universally. (That this contradicts his anti-universal
stance doesn't phase him, as noted in No. 1 above). In Rorty's world,
everything including human behavior, is "contingent." In contrast, Pirsig
advocates free will where "To the extent that one follows Dynamic
Quality, which is indefinable, one's behavior is free."

Finally, Rorty believes that whatever can't be defined doesn't exist. His
world totally consists of "narratives" and "texts." It's maps on maps on
maps all the way down. In contrast, Dynamic Quality, which cannot be
defined, being prior to all concepts, is an essential part of existence in
Pirsig's MOQ.

If my comparison of Rorty and Pirsig is anywhere near accurate, it
appears the two are miles apart. In fact, Rorty's philosophy far from
being original like Pirsig's seems to be a throwback to medieval thought.
When I looked up the word "nominalism" in my unabridged Random
House dictionary, the only entry was as follows"

"(in medieval philosophy) the doctrine that general or abstract words do
not stand for objective existing entities and that universals are no more
than names assigned to them"

When you get through the thickets of verbiage, isn't this what Rorty is

Perhaps Matt or Scott can show me the error of my ways by listing the
points of agreement between Pirsig and Rorty, or where my summaries
of Rorty's views are way off.


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