The ethics of rortian redescription

Philosophy and Social Criticism 32 (4):461-492 (2006)
Abstract
Certain features of Richard Rorty's account of liberal irony have provoked serious moral criticisms from some of his peers. In particular, Rorty's claim that anything can be made to look good or bad by being redescribed has struck some philosophers, such as Richard Bernstein and Jean Bethke Elshtain, for instance, as morally outrageous. In this article, I examine these criticisms and clarify the meaning and implications of Rorty's position. I argue that a more careful reading of Rorty reveals that his position is not morally objectionable or depraved. Instead, the idea that anything can be made to look good or bad by being redescribed is an important insight that fosters tolerance, moral imagination and novel self-creation. In the concluding sections of this article, I address as well possible tensions between Rorty's account of redescription and his endorsement of truthfulness and the role that his private–public split plays in alleviating these tensions. Key Words: contingency • democracy • irony • public–private distinction • redescription • Richard Rorty • self-creation • truthfulness.
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