Science and morality: Pragmatic reflections on Rorty's pragmatism

Abstract

This is an invited commentary on Richard Rorty's Dewey Lecture, given last year at the University of Chicago Law School. “Pragmatism,” says Rorty, “puts natural science on all fours with politics and art. It is one more source of suggestions about what to do with our lives.” I argue that the truth in pragmatism - that the epistemic norms that help us cope are the ones on which we rely - is obscured by Rorty's promiscuous version of the doctrine, which confuses the criteria for relying on particular epistemic norms (namely, that they work for human purposes) with the content of the norms themselves (most of which make no reference to human purposes, but rather criteria like causal or explanatory power). We need presuppose no Archmiedean standpoint to conclude, as Richard Posner does, that moral inquiry is feeble in a way physics is not; we need only take seriously our best current understanding of the world, how it works, and the epistemic norms that have proven most effective in making sense of it.

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Brian Leiter
University of Chicago

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