Saturday, January 01, 2005

Rorty and postmodern relativism

This is the review I mentioned previously from Rorty.

It is vintage Rorty: elegant, well-written...and deeply troubling for any democrat.

1. Rorty thinks we can get rid of the correspondence theory of truth. To translate for non-philosophers: The correspondence theory requires the real world to agree with the sentence in order for the sentence to be true. If President Bush says Iraq has WMDs, and it doesn't, then he's in trouble according to the correspondence theory of truth. But if you reject the correspondence theory, then perhaps it doesn't really matter if there aren't any WMDs. The Nation can only criticize the President on WMDs if the correspondence theory is correct. If the correspondence theory is not correct, then the 8th Commandment "thou shalt not bear false witness" doesn't seem to apply anymore to postmodern democracy.

2. Rorty is very clear that he thinks Jefferson is wrong about democracy: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?" (Jefferson, Notes on Virginia 1782). For Rorty, democracy can survive quite well without any basis in the laws of God.

Whatever one thinks on this, the American Republic has never tried to test Jefferson to see if he is wrong: since 1776 the vast majority of Americans have held to the belief that their liberites come from God. It was for that reason that JFK in 1961 had no hesitation about seeing this as one of the central points that divided democracy from communism. Hence the historical could reasonably cited as supporting Jefferson over Rorty: the only societies to have been explicitly based on a rejection of God have not exactly been models of democracy.


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