The Contingency of Truth and Normativity: Toward a Reconstruction of Rorty's Account of Truth

Dissertation, University of Notre Dame (1997)

Rorty describes truth as "what comes to be believed in the course of free and open encounters" and "just the nominalization of an approbative adjective," rather than as accurate picturing of, or correspondence with, reality. Critics have charged that this account is emotive, nihilistic, relativistic and anti-realistic. Opponents also object to Rorty's anti-essentialism, allege self-referential inconsistency, and contend that Rorty has a theory of truth despite his claims to the contrary. These objections are unsuccessful, but others are not. More effective critiques include the objection that Rorty's concepts of "success" and "community" are incoherent, and the objections that Rorty's account is not true by its own criteria, eliminates normativity, cannot explain the truth of some facts, and is unclear on the relationship between truth and majority endorsement. The damage done to Rorty's account by these latter criticisms necessitates a reconstruction of the Rortyian account of truth, a reconstruction able to preserve Rorty's anti-essentialism and emphasis on the contingency of truth while providing for the normativity of truth. This study presents such a reconstruction, arguing that truth is that which our community means by "what we ought to believe." Truth represents our goal of using our own epistemic concepts properly. The reconstructed account of truth withstands objections that might be raised against it, while incorporating the best elements of Rorty's and the correspondence accounts of truth
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