Pragmatism and 'compassionate' political change: Some implications of Richard Rorty's anti-foundationalist liberalism

Philosophy and Social Criticism 28 (5):537-557 (2002)
This paper calls into question Richard Rorty's recasting of the traditional justifications of liberal political philosophy in an anti-foundationalist ironic mould. Rorty suggests not only that his irony is compatible with the liberal commitments to human flourishing but also that it can clear up many of the conceptual difficulties that liberal reformers face today. Two objections are raised against the Rortian approach to politics, one conceptual, the other practical. Conceptually, because Rorty does not wish to burden political irony and imagination with a constraining political theory, his proposal increases the likelihood that two liberal commitments that he judges essential, the separation of the public and the private, and the aversion of wilful cruelty, will clash with one another. Practically, the success of his anti-foundationalist irony among sophisticated liberal reformers is jeopardized by its potentially negative impact upon the non-ironic, metaphysically minded political actors who most need to be brought into the liberal debate. Key Words: irony • liberal imagination • political theory • pragmatism • social change • Third World.
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DOI 10.1177/0191453702028005665
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