gitlin on rorty


It may seem strange to say we have just lost our national philosopher. Is a philosopher, after all, like a bird or an anthem? It’s the wrong question, Richard Rorty would have answered. Rorty, who died June 8 in Palo Alto, Calif., was for some 30 years the chief conductor of such national philosophical conversation as we have about the nature, meaning, and traps of our collective life.

In the classical sense he was of course a philosopher — a lover of wisdom — and only another philosopher could have denied it.

Rorty was also, in the words of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “an anti-philosopher’s philosopher.” He was more widely read and influential among humanists and activists of a left-liberal stripe than in departments of philosophy, two of which (Wellesley and Princeton) he eventually left behind for appointments in the humanities (University of Virginia) and comparative literature (Stanford).

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