Postmodernism, pragmatism, and the possibility of an ethical relation to the past

Theoria 44 (108):82-101 (2005)
In this article I explore background questions with reference to two recent strands in anti-foundationalist theory: Richard Rorty's neo-pragmatism, and Keith Jenkins's postmodernist treatment of historiography. Both approaches seek fresh perspectives on our relationship to history which reject the aspiration towards a perspective positioned at any kind of Archimedean point, beyond the clutches of time and chance. Both might be called 'historicist' in the sense that rather than seeking to play down or to escape the flux of contingency, they seek to embrace it. And both, it seems, seek a kind of 'zero point', as Adorno once called it: a plea to 'forget' the stain of past thinking and experience in order to begin on a new footing.4 They offer forms of therapy; a relief from anxieties to which only bad philosophical habits have made us subject.
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