Richard McKay Rorty’s Understanding of Moral Philosophy

Richard McKay Rorty’s Understanding of Moral Philosophy

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Rorty is aware that there are some particularly disturbing implications in his epistemology.

For example, imagine kidnapping my neighbor’s hamster and doing all imaginable torture to him just to hear him squeak for fun. We can all agree that doing such a thing to the poor hamster (or my neighbor for that matter) would be considered morally wrong. We can argue that doing such a thing to another creature is absolutely and fundamentally wrong, and we can agree that other humans should be punished for such things. But things get interesting when we look at the reasons we’ve put forward for this to be considered a morally wrong move. For example, suppose a rather odd moral philosopher asks you why it is wrong to treat hamsters (or horses or humans) that way. At first, you can count all kinds of reasons. But if philosophy is what it is, and moral philosophers are what they are, your fellow philosopher may answer any reason you can think of with a counter-reason or lead you to some kind of contradiction.

This is exactly what the philosopher Socrates did in ancient Athens. Socrates wants to find out what concepts like “goodness” and “justice” really are, and begins to question people who use these concepts to see if they really know what they are. As Plato’s dialogues show, most of the people Socrates spoke to were surprisingly hesitant as to what they really were, even though they had previously claimed that they understood the concepts completely. Likewise, after being questioned for an hour or two by modern-day Socrates about how to treat hamsters, you might tensely say: “But I know from the bottom of my heart that this is wrong!”

We say or think about this sort of thing relatively often, but it’s not entirely clear what we mean. To examine the idea closely, we can break it down into three parts. First, “But I know from the bottom of my heart that it’s wrong!” When we say that, we are talking as if there is something called “false” out there in the world, and this thing can be known. Or, as some philosophers have put it, we speak as if there was an essence of “falseness” and this particular example of falsehood fits it. Second, by saying that we know it from the bottom of our hearts, we are implying that this mysterious entity—from the bottom of our heart—can grasp a special truth for unknown reasons. Third, if we know something from the bottom of our hearts, we talk as if we could access absolute certainty, as if there was a direct relationship there in the world between our “deep heart” and this “falseness”. In other words, it’s just another version of the idea that knowledge reflects the world like a quince. And Rorty believes this is unacceptable.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook