Richard Rorty and the problem of cruelty

Philosophy and Social Criticism 23 (1):49-69 (1997)
Truth, the pragmatist claims, is something we make, not something which corresponds to reality. If this view of truth is accepted, Rorty notes, two problems arise: the pragmatist will have little to say to those who abuse others, because he or she will not be able to point to some universal standards that the abusers are vio lating ; and the torturers may be able to quote pragmatic principles in their own defence. Rorty argues that the pragmatist can reduce cruelty by splitting himself or herself into public and private parts. I examine this problem and Rorty's solution. I argue that his solution fails for two reasons: first, keeping our public and private selves apart is unlikely to reduce cruelty; and, second, he cannot maintain the public/private split. Consequently, Rorty is unable to deal with the anti-pragmatic criticism that his theory of truth could lead to an increase in cruelty. Key Words: democracy • liberalism • political theory • pragmatism • Richard Rorty.
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DOI 10.1177/019145379702300104
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