Richard Rorty, was an American pragmatist in favour of “bourgeois liberalism.”

It is a phrase that shows up everywhere from the Chinese Communists using this phrase derogoratily to expunge too successful shopkeepers to Newark Mayor Ras Barkara claiming getting rid of the police is a bougeous liberal ideal. Rorty was the son of nonacademic leftist intellectuals who broke with the American Communist Party in the early 1930s, sometime after Rorty was born in 1931 (noticed Pluto at the Ascendant). He attended the University of Chicago and Yale University, where he obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy.

After two years in the army, he taught philosophy at Wellesley College (1958–61) and Princeton University (1961–82) before accepting a position in the department of humanities at the University of Virginia. From 1998 until his retirement in 2005, Rorty taught comparative literature at Stanford University. His wife Mary Varney Rorty taught there too.

Rorty’s views are somewhat easier to characterize in negative than in positive terms. He was against J.S. Mill’s Utilitarianism believing that knowledge cannot be grounded, or justified and the concomitant ethics was unnecessary. While he agreed with Descartes skepticism, he did not feel that experience would confirm it. Here he agrees with devoutly religious Blaise Pascal, and you thought just politics made for strange bedfellows.

Relative or not

According to his “epistemological behaviourism,” Rorty holds no statement is epistemologically more basic than any other, and thus no statement is ever justified “finally”, but is only relative to some circumscribed and contextually determined set of statements. So your truth is not mine, and each of us have our own individual truths that are not culturally or morally justifiable.

In the philosophy of language, the idea the relations between language, its users and others, Rorty rejects the idea sentences or beliefs are “true” or “false” in any interesting sense other than being useful or successful within a broad social practice. Language is a conceptual and not empirical, or as Irish philosopher George Berkeley said, words are a “mist and veil” of meanings, nuances and obscure definitions. Both of these men, were antithetical to George Orwell, the author of 1984, who felt they were playing with the idea of “Newspeak” where words were manipulated by those in charge. Rorty and Berkeley, believed that what things meants and how they were used are inherent in the idea of words.

Jacques Derrida was a champion of this with his word “differance,” which is said the same in French but the spelling only matters in written form.

Realism and Antirealism does it matter?

Finally, in metaphysics he rejected both realism and antirealism, or even idealism, as products of mistaken representationalist assumptions about language. Basically he held that there was no truth and because there wasn’t, it could not be relative either. Instead all man could hope to do is have a conversation to avoid conflict or as he said “The best we can do is seek “inter-subjective agreement” among the “members of our own tribe,” and be polite to others (Venus in rulership Libra in the third house conjunct his Part of Fortune at 0 Scorpio 17. This particular aspect hints that why Rorty won so many arguments was he was well prepared practising the question -response scenario in advance).

An impressive Cardinal Cross

Despite his rhetoric, he sounds very much like Algerian-French philosopher Jacques Derrida and not as he claimed an outgrowth of William James and John Dewey’s school of pragmatism. There is another video up on Youtube where he discusses why he was a pragmatist — basically he redefines the term and thus fits in. (Uranus in the ninth, the house of philosophy opposite Venus in third and part of his grand cardinal cross.)

That grand square is quite impressive. First it is at the cardinal points (directions, east west, north south) in the cardinal signs with three of the four planets all in their rulership (Uranus is the odd one out and that is up at the midheaven in the sign of philosophy). This probably expalins what a philosophical force Rorty for the past thiry years

Congratulations to you

Richard McKay Rorty was born in 1931 to James and Winifred Rorty, anti-Stalinist lefties who let their home in Flatbrookville, N.J., a small town on the Delaware river to Troskyites on the run. Rorty said of himself as having “weird, snobbish, incommunicable interests.” He sent congratulations to Tenzin Gyatso,the newly named Dalai Lama, in 1939 because he was a “fellow 8-year-old who had made good.”

I would imagine, Rorty thought he had too.