Richard Rorty and the pragmatic theory of truth

For Rorty pragmatism is most and for all a theory of truth. The picture that the mind can represent things outside of it, is for Rorty the reason for all the philosophical trouble we had. He follows Sellars in the critique of the “Myth of the Given” and Quine’s critique of the analytic-synthetic distinction. But he also cuts the rope to concepts like reference, truth and rationality. rorty

The pragmatic theory of truth means, for Rorty at least, that we can’t make sense of truth as a representational connection betweend concepts and things. First of all there are no concepts, but even as connection between words and things there is no sense to be made. Rorty thinks there is no better way to determine if a sentence is true than to give some reasons for it and reasons are propositions. Furthermore, only propositions can justify propositions. Therefore, a causal connection to a thing can never justify one of our believes.

This is what the pragmatists had right, Rorty claims. They contested the traditional conception of truth. Even though that might be right, Rorty never really engages with the traditional pragmatists like James, Peirce or Dewey. It is true that they criticised the endevor to find criterias for truth that are independent of any context. But all of these writers also had some realistic points in their philosophy. Rorty just never seems to take them seriously.

The most severe problem for positions like Rorty’s is that they see justification only as deduction. A proposition is justified if it follows from true premises which are also propositions. That is actually an extremly narrow picture of justification. If I want to know, wether the proposition “There is beer in my refigerator.” is true, usually I just look intomy refigerator. Under usual circumstances simple visually confirm a proposition is enough to justify it. If there are different criteria for truth in different contextes, why should there not be different criteria for justification in different contextes. Why always deduction? (William James was a direct realist in the philosophy of perception. I bet he would never ask for another justification in form of a deduction for a perceptual judgement.)

So Rorty takes a special feature of pragmatism and declares it as pragmatism itself. But there are many more features to pragmatism that are even better argued for by James, Peirce and Dewey.

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