Romantic longings, moral ideals, and democratic priorities: On Richard Rorty's use of the distinction between the private and the public

The heart of Richard Rorty's philosophy is his distinction between the private and the public. In the first part of this paper, I highlight the profound influence that the inherited vocabularies of Romanticism and Moralism have had on Rorty's understanding of both the distinction and the problems he intends to solve with it. I also suggest that Rorty shares with Plato, Kant, and Nietzsche philosophical habits that cause him to treat two importantly different problems as one. Once the moral problem is disentangled from the political, it becomes clear that Rorty's distinction is unnecessary to the former and inadequate for the latter. In the second part of the paper, I argue that Rorty's non-foundationalist pragmatism supports the view that the political problem is best resolved by what I call a democratic mechanism of arbitration. It is the lingering influence of Romanticism and Moralism, I suggest, that is the cause of Rorty's reluctance to embrace fully the political priority of democratic consensus. Finally, I discuss why this analysis of Rorty's liberalism may have implications for the general question of how best to resolve political disputes in pluralist societies.
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DOI 10.1080/09672550601143227
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