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Richard Rorty Has Died June 10, 2007

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Philosophy.

Richard Rorty has died. 

I am saddened by his death. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I have spent countless hours reading his work and grappling with his arguments. He has influenced me deeply. 

Rorty devoted much of his intellectual life to showing that philosophy is not discovering timeless, ultimate truths but is inevitably situated in its cultural and historical moment. On that point, I am convinced Rorty was right, just as I am convinced that we are social creatures all the way down, another of Rorty’s themes. 

I remain unconvinced that we can do without metaphysical beliefs or that we can imagine something like a post-philosophical culture. And although I admire his commitment to liberalism and studied with interest his version of it, I think it is “weak tea”, insufficiently robust to withstand the forces that threaten liberalism. 

If he leaves us with one thought, it is that a quaking uncertainty about our foundational beliefs is necessary for the health of philosophy as well as culture. His work is a model of how to live intellectually with that uncertainty. He is indeed a legitimate heir to Socrates.

May he rest in peace. 

A discussion of his legacy is on-going over at Crooked Timber.



1. Melinda - June 10, 2007

Very sorry to to hear this sad news–I did once have the opportunity to hear him speak at a rather intimate venue. Excellent lecture and debate with Searle after. Only 76; I could not find the cause of death.

2. Mark Wheeler - June 11, 2007

I too am saddened by Richard Rorty’s death. This past fall, I heard he was suffering from a deadly form of cancer, and feared we would lose him soon.

Like Dwight, I never met Rorty in person, but I met him indirectly–as I have met countless other philosophers–through his writings. I learned a great deal from him.

My students and I spent most of this spring semester thinking through Rorty’s arguments about linguistic and mental representation, the fate of Western philosophy, and the possibility of liberal politics. Most of us disagreed with most of his claims, but all of us benefitted from the challenge.

In the morning paper, I read today some of the obituaries for yet more young American soldiers who have died recently in Iraq. There were more obituaries than I could read. Rorty was one contemporary philosopher whose work remained ever conscious of the relevance of philosophy to human life.

I am grateful for his gifts.

3. Nina - June 18, 2007

Thanks, Dwight. Good words.

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