16 November 2008

The Importance of Our Great-Great-Grandchildren: "Creating a Future World for Future Mortals"

In this short clip of Richard Rorty discusses the source of meaning and justification. He claims that the emergence of the modern world marked a shift from locating that source in the "afterlife" or "natural order" or whatever, to grounding it in the desire to provide a better world for one's great-great-grandchildren. I think Rorty had a remarkable (and sometimes infuriating) facility for identifying prosaic formulae like that. I think too that Rorty is correct that the source of meaning lies just there. But it seems to me, just as clearly, that he is making a normative (or political) statement, not describing the world in which we live. Modernity remains (as Habermas noted long ago) an "incomplete project," something that, insofar as it allows us to escape the need to ground our lives in the beyond - however defined - needs to be pursued and defended. It is also the case that giving up on the notion of a natural order (pragmatists from Peirce on stress the contingency and indeterminacy of the natural and social worlds) does not mean that there is no natural world whose exigencies are independent of us and our interests and that we need to discover how to navigate successfully. Rorty claims that there is no "end" of inquiry, that the best we can hope for (or make any sense of) is an exchange of justifications of our beliefs and desires. He would, however, have to acknowledge that a central sort of justification involves pointing to relative success that some set of beliefs or desires afford us in our efforts to navigate the world.



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