Has, as Richard Rorty hoped, solidarity successfully replaced objective truth as the aim of cognition?



It seems relatively clear that Richard Rorty's postmodern project of eliminating "objective Truth" as something that inquiry and cognition can (reasonably?) hope to attain, or aim for, has to a large extent come to fruition, at least in the realm of soft/non-hard science. Rorty's project has shaken our political and, to some extent, scientific, discourse to the very core.

Because I have addressed these issues in this forum several times before (for instance: What is the role of public intellectual/philosopher in "post truth" world?, inspiring little interest), I am reluctant to again trot out evidence/arguments in favor of this claim. Particularly so, since I believe that the evidence is everywhere, and that these notions have become so entrenched that we hardly even notice them anymore. However, I have been asked provide some justification. So here goes.

Consider academia’s critical theory, or simply “theory”, which is based upon a substantially deflated notion of Truth, Reality and Reason. Consider how logic/reason in argumentation is being gradually displaced by rhetoric, often disguised as logic. Consider the growing distrust of “causation” in favor of “correlation”, and of metaphysical realism in favor of instrumental pragmatism, furthered and enhanced by the methods and proliferation of big data science. Consider how the notion of “lived experience” has taken precedence over so-called “objective empirical evidence.”

Consider how frequently the term “narrative” is used today, compared to just a few years ago, to explain/describe phenomena, and not just by academics/philosophers, but by journalists and the general public. Consider how the notion of facts as being “theory laden” has become a philosophical/scientific truism; all this while noting the similarity between the function of a scientific “theory” and that of a folk “narrative”. Suggesting that such a “narrative” would seem to be but a layman’s theory about an aspect of the external world (reality). According to the anthropologist Christopher Butler, these notions see reality/culture as:

containing a number of perpetually competing stories [narratives], whose effectiveness depends not so much on an appeal to an independent standard of judgment, as upon their appeal to the communities in which they circulate[.]

If it is so that (folk?) facts are narrative-laden, consider how this phenomenon wreaks the havoc of circularity over Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous quip that everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.

My point is that these postmodern notions appear to be permeating mainstream culture. And my question is this:

Assuming this is the direction we are headed, how can Rorty’s candidate "solidarity" be expected to fare as an alternative-to-objective-truth (an alternative to an “independent standard of judgment”) in our cultural discourse about to how to create a better future for humanity, to increase the quanta of what Hillary Putnam called “human flourishing”? (And, as an aside, how might the notions of identity politics, or identitarian epistemology, impact the liklihood of ever attaining the required solidarity?)


Posted 2017-08-23T01:18:26.207

Reputation: 1 666

, how successfully has his candidate as an alternative-to-objective-truth candidate, "solidarity", fared, in our political discourse ... seems to be a question for politics.SE that involves philosophy rather than a question about philosophy itself. – virmaior – 2017-08-23T01:40:28.430

I would say that his project has not come to fruition and never will, and that 'solidarity' is nothing at all like objective truth and nothing like a replacement for it. He speaks of human cognition but it has long been understood that true and certain knowledge does not come from cognition but consists in 'knowledge by identity. His ideas seem naive. – None – 2017-08-23T12:16:17.663

One experiment to try is to as yourself what might be good about Rorty's pragmatic approach. The idea of "truth" or "the truth" in politics could lead to totalitarianism perhaps. Remember the political "true" solutions put forward on the left and right starting in the 19th century and coming to fruition in later wars and political "solutions". – Gordon – 2017-08-23T17:08:46.003

Of course he had epistemology in mind too, and perhaps the feeling that we had wasted a considerable amount of time on the issue. I consider Rorty to be a pragmatic/hermanutic approach. At one time there was a Rorty-Davidson discussion on YouTube. I don't know if it's still there. – Gordon – 2017-08-23T17:15:00.890

In my first post I meant try to ask yourself. In my second post I meant time on the issue of truth. – Gordon – 2017-08-23T18:44:36.603


Could you provide references for "shaking our political and scientific discourse to the very core"? I suspect that most scientists do not much care for postmodernism in general and Rorty in particular, and there was a backlash against it even among former practitioners, see e.g. Latour. In this sense Rorty's suggestion to replace epistemology with cultural politics did not bear much fruit. As for politics, it never took much interest in human cognition, postmodernism just changed the prevailing rhetoric.

– Conifold – 2017-08-23T20:41:21.313

I agree about the influence on literary academia and pop-culture. But were those really bastions of truth-seeking in the first place? The attitude of science oriented intellectuals (scorn) was expressed in the aftermath of the Sokal hoax, Rorty was skeptical of the intellectual virtues of de Man inspired literary intellectuals even on his terms. Philosophical pragmatists, Rorty counted himself as one, rejected his brand of postmodernism, see Zammito. And pop-culture always long perpetuates what is already intellectually dead.

– Conifold – 2017-08-24T20:11:53.800

@Conifold I refer to its (be it Rortiam neoprag or continental poststructuralism) continued influence on the humanities, soft sciences (anthropology, history, psychology, sociology, etc.) and its ostensibly increasing grip upon journalism, social criticism and the culture in general (nothwithstanding the Sokol incident a few years ago) -- as evidenced by the increasingly deployed language of "lived experience", narrative, :identity politics", "intersementality" etc. And wonder how notions of "solidarity" or "human flourishing" might, given these trends, fare as replacements for obj stds. – gonzo – 2017-08-24T20:55:12.823

Remember, the general public does not know who Richard Rorty was. They don't know his philosophy. And I don't think he has been filtered down to the public by the intellectual class. What we have in America is liberal democracy. Liberal in its classic meaning of freedom. People and business will be allowed a good degree of formal freedoms at least. This alone will generate a fair amount of chaos, but it's mostly kitten chaos, highly surveilled, etc. and this type of society will always be up for grabs by unscrupulous people. – Gordon – 2017-08-24T21:25:25.400

It makes little difference whether the public, politicians and journalists (ie the creators of folk reality) actually know who Rorty is, or what his epistemology and politics propose. What is interesting is that they are well under way instantiating his project. That is, in replacing purported independent obj stds of judgment, reason, realism, the correspondence theory of truth, with rhetorical persuasion, essentially sophism, often couched in the guise of logical argument. My Q is, to what extent do notions of solidarity and human flourishing keep the unscrupulous sophists in check. – gonzo – 2017-08-24T22:15:41.243

@virmaior: I hope the edited version of the question addresses your concern. I am not talking politics here, and trust that your conception of "philosophy" is broad enough to include this type of discussion. – gonzo – 2017-08-24T22:50:43.067

@virmaior: If you don't consider philosophy to legitimately include meta-philosophy (the philosophy of philosophy), maybe you'll agree that these issues involve ethics, political philosophy, the philosophy of science, and, most relevantly, epistemology. You might want to reconsider your definition of the fach after rereading Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature or Dewey's, Reconstruction in Philosophy or William's The Limits of Philosophy, or any number of tracts composed by the continentals. – gonzo – 2017-08-24T22:51:06.497

Social criticism, politics and pop-culture were never knowledge-seeking enterprises, so there is no criterion of truth to be displaced there. Since you are asking about cognition I think situation in social sciences is the only relevant one. I am not so sure that objectivity has been displaced there so much as an alternative field of interdisciplinary social, ethnic, cultural, etc., studies emerged beside them. But they pointedly subordinated cognition to "righting social wrongs" from the start. So it is more that traditional truth-seeking has been supplemented rather than displaced. – Conifold – 2017-08-25T00:08:12.907

@gonzo the edit does address that concern.... but as worded the question seems too big to be answerable in the bounds of an SE answer. It would take several books to tease out (1) what one takes solidarity to be, (2) where one sees solidarity or similar post-truth expressions happening in the world today (in academia, in popular culture, in the hard sciences, in political discourse), and then further work to argue about whether this is "successful" (requiring a definition of success in each of these domains). Moreover, each stage invites debate. In short, the question packs in too much. – virmaior – 2017-08-25T00:52:36.490

I think what contributed to the situation that gonzo describes more than anything was the so-called fact-value distinction of the logical positivists. This fit well with classical liberalism, especially as it regards the social scene. Everybody was right, and everybody had a right. Any criticism of any group within society, anything like that, was immediately labeled a value judgment and considered of no worth. This absolutely caught fire in America among all classes (60s-70s). – Gordon – 2017-08-25T14:01:29.283

And a familiar pattern showed itself during this time. The fact-value slogan reached common currency as logical positivism itself was going out the door. – Gordon – 2017-08-25T14:08:53.817

The problem is that if you clamp down on this freedom, including the freedom to be ridiculous, then you also risk stifling the innovation and technology that we are known for. – Gordon – 2017-08-25T14:28:06.373

I sympathize with your two concerns, @virmaior. As to the first, I could edit the question by adding a reference to the last chapter of Rorty's Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, entitled "Solidarity," and limit the meaning and extension of the term to the outlined. The second is more complex. Though I actually intended the complexity that you note to constitute an element of the question itself, and expected some Rortian or new/neo pragmatism scholar to take a stab at it. Alas... emcompass concern – gonzo – 2017-08-26T20:41:46.890

@virmaior: Or maybe "What, according to Rorty and his disciples, constitutes [human] Solidarity" should itself be a stand alone SE question. – gonzo – 2017-08-26T20:49:00.623

No answers