Rorty’s Philosophy as Cultural Politics

Over at Book Forum, Arthur Danto reviews Richard Rorty’s Philosophy as Cultural Politics.


In a particularly straightforward chapter in Philosophy as Cultural Politics, “Kant vs. Dewey: The Current Situation in Moral Philosophy,” Rorty raises serious doubts as to whether students of moral philosophy have anything much to tell us about making the right moral decisions in life. Professors of moral philosophy do not, he writes, “have more rigor or clarity or insight than the laity, but they do have a much greater willingness to take seriously the views of Immanuel Kant.” But can Kant really help us find answers to our moral problems? Maybe, as Martha Nussbaum has suggested, we would do better to read novels. “The advantage that well-read, reflective, leisured people have when it comes deciding about the right thing to do is that they are more imaginative, not that they are more rational,” Rorty writes. They “are able to put themselves in the shoes of many different sorts of people.” But what if taking Kant seriously consists in working out the relationship between moral and factual judgments, without attempting to answer questions about right and wrong in daily life— just as working out a theory of truth will not tell you whether it’s true that global warming, say, is something human beings have caused? What if philosophy is philosophy and not something else—a professional activity within a sphere of its own?