Leiter's points against the poor man are generally correct, as Professor Romano has indeed tended (needlessly carelessly, in my view) to sacrifice accuracy (and often cogency) to his florid narrative agenda. But let's take a look. The issue about the usual practices concerning Festschrifte we may put to one side, as no one cares (for the record, I think of Rorty and his Critics as, well, a "... and his critics" volume more than as a Festschrift); but the next bone of contention is more serious. Here's the contested sentence:
The big chill began with [Rorty's] 1970s apostasy from positivistic analytic philosophy.Leiter jumps on this slip like the wolf on the fold:
What in the world is "positivistic analyic philosophy"? Logical positivism was moribund by the 1970s, and Princeton in the 1970s was the fertile ground for new metaphysical theorizing, launched by Kripke and Lewis, which would have been anathema to positivists. The make-believe label "positivistic analytic philosophy" is the first clear giveaway that Mr. Romano has no idea what he is talking about.At the very least, this is a giveaway that our author is writing for non-philosophers. Now of course this is no sin in itself; and a couple of posts ago I allowed as how non-philosophers might indeed, in a quick-and-dirty way, see many or even most philosophers as having failed to grasp something that, when stated as a philosophical thesis, looks trivial or false or both, or in any case not that helpful even if true (in that case, it was that the answers to Is there a world out there? and If so, do the differences and similarities we see in it come from it, from us, or both? are "yes" and "both" respectively). Here too, non-philosophers often do refer very generally to a certain philosophical tendency typical of those analytic philosophers who were Rorty's targets, even when we within philosophy see them (i.e. as well) as differing significantly from and indeed as opposed to each other. The confusion is compounded – again, unnecessarily, as Romano might very well have taken the opportunity to clear it up – when the term used to denote this tendency is "positivist." For Leiter is right that no analytic philosopher called his own view "positivist" for 50 years; the term functions within philosophy as labeling a tendency which everyone takes to have been overcome. Accusing fellow Princetonians Kripke and Lewis of being "positivist" is precisely what Rorty did not do, and rightly so.
Yet I have suggested that the terminological muddle conceals a similar point. For we should indeed see metaphysicians like Kripke and Lewis as targeted by Rorty in much the same way he (with Davidson) targets the residual positivism in Quinean empiricism (but see below for his ambivalence on this matter). How so? What, if not "positivism," do these philosophers have in common, which we would fail to see if we accepted Leiter's point at face value? Here Romano has a chance to save himself; but he boots it. For what he accuses analytic philosophers of (as an implicit explanation of the "positivist" jab) is a lack of interest in history:
Princeton philosophy professors and grad students at that time liked to act as if any work not mimeographed within the past three years, and circulated exclusively in the department, was probably too passé to be worth studying.But of course this leaves Leiter with the obvious comeback:
Really? This would certainly come as news to [a whole list of historians of philosophy at Princeton in the 70's].and allows him to make a valid, if delimited, version of Romano's (and Rorty's) point himself:
What is unfortunate about Mr. Romano's mindless polemic is that there is a real point that could be made here, namely, that some Anglophone philosophers really were (and are) indifferent to the history of philosophy, and that includes some of those at Princeton: but it is just a falsfication of the history to saddle the Princeton Department in toto with that attitude.Maybe a look at Rorty's key break with the tradition, in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, will help. Here's Romano:
In the shrinking Fach of academic philosophy — its territory truncated by psychology, invaded by literature, long ago reduced by natural science — Rorty challenged the theory of knowledge, the last remaining crop philosophy professors could sell to overlord deans and presidents, and declared it practically carcinogenic.As Leiter points out in rhetorical puzzlement ("did Mr. Romano actually read the book, one wonders?"), this can't be right. Philosophy in 1980 was much more than epistemology. So what was Rorty's project in PMN? Leiter fills us in, turning to one of his two favorite contemporary reviews of the book, this by Jaegwon Kim (the other, equally dismissive, is Ernest Sosa's). According to Kim,
the argument of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature is directed [not against epistemology specifically, but instead] against three very general doctrines, none of which are peculiar to (or even distinctive of) English-speaking philosophy in the 20th-century. Kim identified them (again, correctly) as [quoting Kim now]:Rorty does indeed attack these very general doctrines in PMN, and again Leiter's riposte is a natural one: that these doctrines (as the terms "Platonic" and "Cartesian" suggest, as does Rorty's explicit blaming of Kant for (3)) are not particularly "analytic":
(1) The Platonic doctrine concerning truth and knowledge, according to which truth is correspondence with nature, and knowledge is a matter of possessing accurate representations.
(2) The Cartesian doctrine of the mind as the private inner stage, "the Inner Mirror," in which cognitive action takes place. The Platonic doctrine of knowledge as representation was transformed into the idea of knowledge as inner representation of outer reality. The Cartesian contribution was to mentalize the Platonic doctrine.
(3) The conception of Philosophy according to which it is the business of philosophy to investigate the "foundations" of the sciences, the arts, culture and morality, and adjudicate the cognitive claims of these areas. Philosophy, as epistemology, must set universal standards of rationality and objectivity for all actual and possible claims of knowledge.
Romano's polemic gives the wholly false impression that Rorty was simply overcoming a "recent" blip in the history of philosophy ("analytic" philosophy) in order to return the discipline to its "traditional" concerns. In fact, the opposite is the case: Rorty, like Marx (though for different reasons), would have us give up two thousand years of philosophical inquiry in order to do something else. He pitched part of that case as being against "analytic" philosophy, though the latter was far more continuous with the philosophical tradition than Rorty's (hard to pin down) alternative.Leiter segues into his next point with another dismissive swipe at Romano ("Romano, however, has no actual interest in or knowledge of philosophy, even of Rorty's critique of it, so he moves right along"), but in fact his disagreement with Romano's Rorty is getting tangled up with his rejection of Rorty himself, which tends to dilute the former somewhat. If Rorty did "[pitch] that part of the case as being against 'analytic' philosophy," which he certainly did, then it is hardly "wholly false" to speak in terms of "overcoming a 'recent' blip in the history of philosophy ("analytic" philosophy)", even if the ultimate destination is not after all the status quo ante. If there is a mistake here, it is just as much Rorty's (as accurately portrayed by Romano) as Romano's own. (I smiled here at Leiter's characteristic tic, a substitution for argument, on points to win which it would require more than a vitriolic wielding of proof-texts or obvious counterexamples, of attribution of obscurity, a tactic which Leiter often deploys against McDowell, an "unclear" writer. Still, he's not exactly wrong here, that Rorty's positive views are "hard to pin down." Indeed, on certain important points he flat-out equivocates.)
The next quotation features another gratuitous use of "positivistic," as well as a reference to Rorty as "a red-white-and-blue Nietzsche," the latter of which Leiter surprisingly lets pass without comment. Later, though, Leiter objects when Romano suggests that analytic philosophers were threatened by Rorty's endorsement of such controversial thinkers as Wittgenstein and Heidegger. He sidesteps the point about Heidegger, pointing to other, less radical appropriators of his thought (Dreyfus et al.); but even if we hadn't seen it before we could surely predict Leiter's riposte w/r/t the other guy:
Wittgenstein is, of course, part of the philosophical canon throughout the Anglophone world, even if opinion is divided about the import and sometimes the meaning of his ideas.Here again is the familiar "heads I win, tails you lose" attitude towards Wittgenstein's reception in contemporary philosophy. Do analytic philosophers ignore Wittgenstein? Heavens no, he's one of us! Russell's student, patron saint of the Vienna Circle, influence on Kripke and Dennett and Searle and Stroud! Don't you know anything?? Oh, it's your version of Wittgenstein you mean – well, opinions differ, you know – hard to say what he really meant, what with that obscure style of his.... But you "literary" types like that sort of thing, don't you....
We'll get back to this, as well as another look at the idea that "epistemology" is the target of PMN. Let's continue with Leiter's post first. What happens next is that both Romano and Leiter, in turn, take both opposing positions on whether Rorty was "marginalized." Romano: he was marginalized by the profession ... but he was discussed and honored the world over. Leiter: he marginalized himself by not responding to criticism ... and other philosophers besides Rorty were also discussed and honored the world over, so he's not that special. [Huh?] Leiter just falls down here; the idea that Rorty didn't respond to criticism is absurd. He didn't respond to the stupid criticism (duh, realism is so true, you, you relativist you), but not only are there detailed replies to essays in at least two books of criticism (the Brandom book and Saatkamp, ed., Rorty & Pragmatism: The Philosopher Responds to His Critics), many essays are entirely dedicated to responding to criticism (okay, some implicitly, but still, he engages the issues, or at least tries to): see Truth and Progress, which replies to Taylor, Dennett, Putnam, Brandom, McDowell, Davidson, and Michael Williams, among others. Plus there are a number of interviews and other things. Would that other people had done as well with him as he did with others (modulo, that is, the limitations in his view inherent in, well [heh heh], not saying about these matters what I would ...). Naturally the main issue here is that Romano writes as if Rorty had in fact won the day and rightly so (referring, in a phrase which Leiter naturally mocks, to "Rorty's devastating exposure [my emphasis – DM] of positivistic [there's that word again] philosophy's ahistorical, pocket-full-of-examples approach to knowledge"), while Leiter seems at one point to imply that Rorty as well as Romano falls into the category of non-philosopher (that is, non-actual philosopher). If Romano had characterized Rorty's views in exactly the same way, yet taken (mutatis mutandis) a negative view of them, I don't think Leiter would even have bothered to correct what are after all mostly minor and typically journalistic infelicities.
Let's get back to Mirror of Nature. It's certainly true that the three theses Kim mentions (above) are all targets in that book. But why does Romano say that Rorty thought that 1) all that was left of philosophy (analytic or otherwise) was epistemology, and 2) that he was set to deliver the death blow to it and thus to philosophy (or analytic philosophy) as a whole? Without going into great detail, we can look at Rorty's project in PMN like this (so this is my paraphrase, not Rorty's). At the time, the philosophy associated with the scientific revolution of the 17th century looked like (in the words of 1066 And All That) a Good Thing. The cure for metaphysics was a healthy empiricism. Descartes, however, bought the independence of the material world from (the need for) metaphysics at the unacceptably high price of substance dualism. This allowed the immaterial mind itself to remain a subject (no pun intended) for metaphysical speculation. Viewed from the empiricist angle, though, the salient thing about the mind is not its metaphysical constitution but the nature of its epistemic access to the external world. We are presented in experience with sensory data: how do we get from there – i.e., all we are entitled to, epistemically speaking – to knowledge? This is not metaphysics but epistemology.
Indeed, even today most people identify the Cartesian picture of the mind with substance dualism, and take empiricism (say in its Humean form) as the proper antidote, justifying a form of materialism to replace dualism. (This is why people like Searle can present themselves as "anti-Cartesian," i.e. materialists about the mind.) But Rorty sees the empiricist picture, which he naturally traces to Lockean foundationalism, and the epistemological problem of how to justify our knowledge (i.e., as an accurate representation of an external world our only connection to which passes through the senses, from which we must build said representation) as no improvement on Descartes. (Indeed, in the form of the skeptical problem it is Descartes.) So the supposedly "anti-Cartesian" movement from metaphysics to epistemology merely moves the bump in the rug from one place to another. A natural way of continuing the thought might then be that if (as Kim says) Cartesianism "mentalizes" Platonism, and empiricism "epistemologizes" Cartesianism, then if we can dissolve the empiricist problematic we may be able to achieve a final victory against Platonic metaphysics – the novelty in this thought being, again, that it was empiricist materialism which billed itself as the natural opponent, indeed the undertaker, of metaphysics. In this context, one in which it is qua metaphysics that epistemology is to be criticized, it makes sense to see contemporary metaphysicians like Kripke and Lewis as subject as well to Rorty's critique of what we might call the metaphysical realism-epistemological skepticism axis (especially given what he then goes on to say about "capital-P Philosophy" as what we must leave behind in order to usher in the pragmatist utopia). Again, though, calling this "positivism," as Romano does, is just odd.
I myself sing a version of this song (except for the part about the "pragmatist utopia," for which I substitute a Wittgensteinian acknowledgment of the ineradicable stain of original philosophical sin), although I have come to hear Rorty's own rendition as being importantly off-key in several ways. Ironically, given Romano's bizarre application of the "positivist" label to Rorty's target, one of the things holding Rorty back is his own ambivalence about his positivist heritage. The problem is not, I hasten to add, that he was ambivalent: we see an analogous ambivalence in Quine (Carnap's student and critic), and pragmatists cannot deny the positivist elements in their (our) own doctrine (Carnap, for example, sounds very pragmatist in spots – though not enough, for most people, to count as one himself). As an example of his own positivist sympathies, consider Rorty's near-pathological resistance to talk of (say) "believing the truth about how things are" in favor of consensus or "coping" or whatever – as well as, of course, the rank eliminativism on display in chapter 2 of PMN ("People Without Minds").
The other main problem (not counting his use of Davidson, about which I am myself ambivalent) was Rorty's attitude toward Kant. Kant figures in PMN, and Rorty's philosophy generally, as the poster child for a pernicious unpragmatic foundationalism. In bringing out the point about epistemology above, I elided Rorty's connection of the epistemic foundationalism of Lockean empiricism with the methodological foundationalism Rorty finds in Kant (philosophy as the "queen of the sciences" and all that). Leiter pounces on this as well, pointing out that for naturalists like Quine (i.e. an "analytic" philosopher if anyone is) philosophy is no queen but instead merely a "handmaiden" to natural science. (While true, this seems more like a point against Romano's sloppy summary than against Rorty himself; but let's not get into it here.) This use of Kant gives a superficially attractive symmetry to Kim's three theses above: Plato founds the discipline looking into Eternal Questions; Descartes mentalizes the Platonic picture, throwing the ball to epistemology; Kant rescues the tradition by cementing philosophy as the ground of intellectual culture generally (i.e., as the universal arbiter of intelligibility). I agree, although I guess not everyone does, that everyone telling this sort of world-historical story has to make narrative sense of the Plato-Descartes-Kant sequence. But if you do not bring out how Kant was just as much an anti-Cartesian as he was Cartesian, in the relevant senses, you make hash of the subsequent reaction to and development of that powerful anti-dualist force ("anti-dualist" in the most general sense). As only one example: why would Dewey want to "naturalize Hegel" if Hegel thought of his own task as that of finishing the Kantian project?
Plus you get Kant wrong. Leiter ends his post with a compound slam at Romano and Rorty, attacking Rorty for his, and I quote, "'bad' or 'fraudulent' scholarship" and Romano for his defense of it. This is an important issue (to tip my hand, I do think Rorty was too careless, and Romano says far too little to explain Rorty's practices), but let me provide the traditional ending for my post by promising to get back to that some other time.