- Friedrich Nietzsche
I used to be a pragmatist. Famous last words. Well in my younger years I used to read the logical-postivists and Analytical philosophers as well. Continental philosophy at that time seemed foreign to my ways of thinking, and seemed to be leading into a realm of pure language, what has now been termed 'the linguistic turn'. Sometimes I go back and think about this part of my life. A guest on a previous post asked if I had any thoughts on Rorty's post-Quine Kuhn/Davidson mashup? Below is a little rendition of past thinking that I have now moved beyond, but fondly go back and remember as the portal onto a younger self struggling with philosophy.
No pragmatist will dispute that there is something beyond our physical being that people have termed 'reality'. What we are saying is that, as humans, we are not separated from that reality in any objective sense of the word, that we are already so connected and part of this continuum that the idea of 'Objective truth' would be to try to distance and separate ourselves from something that we are already so interwoven with that it would be impossible.
The idea of 'Representation' goes back to Kant. "Representation" means that the belief concerning the existence or the attributes of a "thing" in the world is a taking-inward of a substituent of the "thing", of the eidos, the idea, the ousia, the hyle or the sensual components of the thing or object into consciousness. Some part, some constituent or some feature of the object as substitute or "envoy" will be present in or to the subject's consciousness. In the traditional representational model the taking-inward happens through the sense organs and mostly by seeing, where seeing is always "impregnated" by cognition. To say it "in" the ocular metaphor, spontaneity and receptivity mediate the "world" to the "mental eye". What the mental "eye" "sees" is not the world or the thing in itself, but a result of an interaction. The structure and the capacities of the mediators determine what can be "seen" and so the object (or thing) as "seen" is constituted by the capabilities of the subject and by "something" out there. The main point of the transcendental turn was that the origin of knowledge is neither a sensorial taking inward of the outside world, nor an a priori rational construction of it, but a result of the interaction between object and subject, between world and the inseparable receptivity and spontaneity that happens in the gap between the two.
As I understand it Rorty argues, since Plato, philosophers have understood our primary relationship with the world as one of representation. We attempt to represent the world as accurately as we can; the pursuit of truth is based on the hope that we might represent the World As It Really Is, the world in-itself for-us. Representation, Rorty claimed in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, is a worn-out metaphor, a philosophical position that leads to endless squabbles: if we believe we have represented the world accurately, we fall victim to a blinkered and arrogant dogmatism; the other extreme, the fear that we may never overcome the gap between our subjective minds and the objective world, leads us to epistemological skepticism—the idea that we can never really know anything. Rorty suggests that we replace the idea of representations of the world with the idea of descriptions of the world designed to help us achieve particular, finite purposes. Rather than ask if we are in touch with the way the world really is, Rorty asks if our descriptions and our vocabularies help us complete our projects. This is the pragamatist path...
Rorty sees this break with the idea that reality can be 'represented' as abandoning the correspondence 'theory of truth', which means that we no longer need to insist that truth, like reality is one and seamless. As he states it: "If a true belief is simply the sort of belief which surpasses the competition as a rule for sucessful future action, then there may be no need to reconcile all one's beliefs with all one's other beliefs - no need to attempt to see reality steadily and as a whole (totality, totalist vision) (p. 270)."
For antirepresentationalism, the stance of Rorty, the "causal interaction" of the subject with the ("outside") world, the "coping with the world" is a broader term than the "receptivity and spontaneity" of Kantian thinkers. Antirepresentationalism does not try to see the world as it is, it does not investigate knowledge or accurate representation of reality, since in every statement about the world there is an inseparable "mixture" and "cohabitation" of the subject and the object. That means if we think that we know something about the world, we can never exactly make a distinction, what part of it comes from us and what part comes from the "outside world". Consequently, it makes no sense to make investigations about the epistemological presuppositions of the possibility of knowledge, it makes no sense to research "the idea of knowledge of, or successful linguistic reference to, a reality underlying the appearances that nature presents." Since in the model of Rorty there is no distinction between the objects as they appear and as they are in themselves, it makes no sense in his view to think substantially about the things and consequently Rorty argues for an anti-essential view of the world.
Also antirepresentationalists like Davidson and Rorty tell us we do not need mediation between "minds and the world", between beliefs, sentences and the world. Rorty thinks with Davidson that mind and human being are continuous with the world, we could even say, both philosophers ontologize the interwovenness (the impossible distinction) of scheme and content. Rorty follows from the impossibility of separation of scheme and content, that "philosophically" it makes absolutely no sense to make further investigations of the correctness of our knowledge, of the representative character of our cognitive structure. That is why Rorty rejects the separationist representational model of knowledge and proposes to think of knowledge as a continuous interaction between human beings and the outside world, as a "matter of acquiring habits of actions for coping with reality".
When I was younger I was an avid reader of Analytic and Pragmatist philosophy, but now I have problems with both... but, that is another story.