Wonderfully Provocative and Useful Sentences from Richard Rorty’s “Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity”


“On this view, great scientists invent descriptions of the world which are useful for purposes of predicting and controlling what happens, just as poets and political thinkers invent other descriptions of it for other purposes.  But there is no sense in which any of these descriptions is an accurate representation of the way the world is in itself.” (4)

“We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there.  To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do no include human mental states.  To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.”  (5)

“Only descriptions of the world can be true or false.  The world on its own – unaided by the describing activities of human beings – cannot.”  (5)

“the human self is created by the use of a vocabulary rather than being adequately or inadequately expressed in a vocabulary” (7)

“a talent for speaking differently, rather than for arguing well, is the chief instrument of cultural change” (7)

“our purposes would be served best by ceasing to see truth as a deep matter, as a topic of philosophical interest, or “true” as a term which repays “analysis”  (8)

“The trouble with arguments against the use of a familiar and time-honored vocabulary is that they are expected to be phrased in that very vocabulary” (8)

“Interesting philosophy is rarely an examination of the pros and cons of a thesis.  Usually it is, implicitly or explicitly, a contest between an entrenched vocabulary which has become a nuisance and a half-formed new vocabulary which vaguely promises great things.”  (9)

“a picture of intellectual and moral progress as a history of increasingly useful metaphors rather than of increasing understanding of how things really are” (9)

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