The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 18 No. 2 (Summer 2016)

Pining Away in the Midst of Plenty: The Irony of Rorty’s Either/Or Philosophy

Susan Haack

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Summer 2016

(Volume 18 | Issue 2)

As too much tendentious history of philosophy whizzed by too fast and one dubious dichotomy was piled on another, Professor Rorty’s lecture left me with that old, familiar dizzy feeling, an eerie sense of déjà lu. It also presented me with a problem: What could I possibly say here that wouldn’t be equally familiar to my readers?

I don’t care to join the chorus of critics who think it sufficient to complain generically about “postmodern relativism.” For one thing, not all the extravagances of postmodernism are relativist; some would be better described as tribalist, or simply skeptical. For another, not all forms of relativism are self-undermining, or otherwise objectionable; some are harmlessly true.1 So this isn’t a promising avenue to pursue. Nor do I care to engage with Rorty’s sweeping speculation that “philosophy occupies an important place in culture only when things seem to be falling apart.” For one thing, I’m not convinced that ours is, as Rorty supposes, a time of broad political agreement. Maybe such comfortable unanimity is to be found in the rarefied circles of elite academia in which Rorty spent his career; but one need only open the newspaper to see that, elsewhere, it looks a lot as if things are falling apart. And in any case, I think there’s a much simpler and more direct explanation of the self-absorption, over-professionalization, hyper-specialization, cliquishness, and ahistoricism of the neo-analytic philosophy2 that, while intellectually close to exhaustion, is institutionally still so firmly established in the English-speaking world—the influence of those wretchedly corrupting “rankings” of graduate programs in our discipline.

Instead, wisely or not, I decided to try—so far as this is possible in the very limited time and space allotted me—to do two things. First, I’ll urge that we are not obliged to choose, as Rorty seems to assume, either clarity or else relevance, either truth-seeking, explanation or else “redescription,” aspiration, meliorism, either science or else poetry, either nature or else culture; but that we can, and should, seek a philosophy that has room for all of these. Second, I’ll show that, long before the now-familiar rivalry between “analytics” and “continentals” took hold, C.S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead—the remarkable thinkers of the pragmatist tradition that Rorty so often, but so misleadingly, invoked—had shown us the way to just such a rich philosophy of, not Either/Or, but Both/And.

To read the full article, please subscribe to our print ($30 yearly) or digital ($25 yearly) editions or purchase a copy at select Barnes & Noble bookstores.

Read More

Introduction: On the Business of Philosophy

Universalist Grandeur and Analytic Philosophy

Richard Rorty

Rorty’s Idealism

Matthew B. Crawford

Just Who Is It That We Have Become? Rorty’s Hegelianism

Robert B. Pippin


  1. See Susan Haack, “Reflections on Relativism,” in Haack, Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate: Unfashionable Essays (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998), 149–66.
  2. See Susan Haack, “The Fragmentation of Philosophy, the Road to Reintegration,” in Susan Haack: Reintegrating Philosophy, eds. Julia Göhner and Eva-Maria Jung (Berlin, Germany: Springer Verlag, 2016), 3–32.

Susan Haack is Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, Cooper Senior Scholar in Arts and Sciences, Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law, University of Miami. Her most recent books are Evidence Matters: Science, Proof, and Truth in the Law (2014); Perspectivas pragmatistas da filosofia do direito (Pragmatist Perspectives in Philosophy of Law) (2015); and Legalizzare l’epistemologia (“Legalizing” Epistemology) (2015). A second volume of essays on her work, Susan Haack: Reintegrating Philosophy, appeared this year. This essay © Susan Haack 2016. All rights reserved.

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 18.2 (Summer 2016). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

Who We Are

Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

IASC Home | Research | Scholars | Events | Support

IASC Newsletter Signup

First Name Last Name Email Address

Follow Us . . . FacebookTwitter