Contingency, irony, and solidarity

by Richard Rorty

Paper Book, 1989



Call number

CI 6590 C762



Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1989.


In this 1989 book Rorty argues that thinkers such as Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein have enabled societies to see themselves as historical contingencies, rather than as expressions of underlying, ahistorical human nature or as realizations of suprahistorical goals. This ironic perspective on the human condition is valuable on a private level, although it cannot advance the social or political goals of liberalism. In fact Rorty believes that it is literature not philosophy that can do this, by promoting a genuine sense of human solidarity. A truly liberal culture, acutely aware of its own historical contingency, would fuse the private, individual freedom of the ironic, philosophical perspective with the public project of human solidarity as it is engendered through the insights and sensibilities of great writers. The book has a characteristically wide range of reference from philosophy through social theory to literary criticism. It confirms Rorty's status as a uniquely subtle theorist, whose writing will prove absorbing to academic and nonacademic readers alike.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member feistyscot
The definitive statement of Rorty's mature views. I'm willing to accept, what philosophers have always said about Rorty, that he fails to stay on the tightrope between making arguments and making suggestions about how to view one's relation to the world and to others. He does make arguments, and by
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and large they are bad. But I take Rorty's point that argumentation is inherently conservative---the point is to cast off old impressions and embark on projects of self-creation whereby arguments are irrelevant. No other book has had such a profound effect on my self-image, though I've grown out of, or been argued out of, much of the Rortyism found within it. Still, I agree with Harold Bloom that no philosopher of the last 30 years has been more interesting and stimulating than Rorty.
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LibraryThing member m.a.harding
A masterly synthesis. And so elegant. A pleasure, and as thrilling as a novel
LibraryThing member vegetarian
The book in which Rorty develops concepts of 'ironism' and 'final vocabulary'

Ironist (n. Ironism) (from Greek: eiron, eironeia) is a term coined by Richard Rorty to describe someone who fulfills three conditions:
She has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses,
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because she has been impressed by other vocabularies, vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered;
She realizes that argument phrased in her present vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts;
Insofar as she philosophizes about her situation, she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than others, that it is in touch with a power not herself.
— Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p.73
In Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty argues that Proust, Nietzsche, Foucault, Heidegger, Derrida, and Nabokov, among others, all exemplify Ironism to different extents.
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LibraryThing member Carl_Hayes
Obama's win inspired me to reread this book of pragmatic ideas, a favorite. Too bad Rorty didn't live to see his victory, not simply because our next President is an African American (which itself represents a liberal utopian ideal), but because Obama, in his actual speech, is a shift from cowboy
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cliches to liberal intellectualism. I'm hopeful that Obama will continue to redescribe America, as Rorty might say, rather than falling into old, ineffective ways of talking about things that matter to us all.
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LibraryThing member brleach
Ultimately, I don't find Rorty's attempt to redescribe the world in new language to be terribly compelling. Since he provides no criteria for choosing between languages, it would seem that his failure to move me is sufficient for me to ignore his philosophical thinking. That's not to say that this
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book isn't worth reading. It's clearly written, and it might be useful for those who find themselves adrift in a sea of uncertainty or those who uncritically harbor faith in transcendent truth. It's just that some of the shine has worn off a bit as time has passed; what may have been new ideas at the time have receded into the canon of dead metaphors.
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Original publication date


Physical description

xvi, 201 p.; 24 cm


0521367816 / 9780521367813
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