17 June 2007

Richard Rorty (1931–2007)

In the polite company of analytic philosophers, it is not fashionable to avow an appreciation of Richard Rorty. The man who famously defected from mainstream analytic philosophy in the late 1970s is today widely viewed as intellectually irresponsible: glib, self-serving, unconcerned with rigorous argument.

Rorty has long been a spectre looming over my own intellectual development. I was 18 years old when I enrolled in my first graduate seminar: a term-long discussion of Rorty’s controversial Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton, 1979). Only later did I come to appreciate that to begin one's study of philosophy with Rorty's work was about as advisable as beginning with Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols. I hadn’t worshipped all of the idols that Rorty was keen to hammer into oblivion -- I hadn’t yet done my due diligence with Plato, Descartes, Kant, et al. -- and I recall having the acute sense that I was skipping straight to the last few pages of a long novel the rest of which I hadn't read.

Maybe that’s why I haven’t felt the betrayal that many philosophers seem to have felt over the years. Or perhaps I just admire the maverick that Rorty was. And he was a maverick. Analytic philosophy is rather short on mavericks. Now that Rorty is gone, Peter Singer is about as close as we get -- especially since Cornel West doesn’t seem to identify as a philosopher anymore.

In any case, I for one will miss his presence.

Stanford University's obituary can be found here.

UPDATE: A wonderful collection of reflections and reminiscences can be found at Slate.com here.

05 June 2007

Make Me Fries!

I used to think that I was alone in struggling to understand Pearl Jam lyrics. It's comforting knowing that I have company ...