June 9, 2007

Philosopher Richard Rorty, RIP

My favorite Rorty quote is from his November 1999 Atlantic Monthly article "Phony Science Wars:"


"... 'the homosexual,' 'the Negro,' and 'the female' are best seen not as inevitable classifications of human beings but rather as inventions that have done more harm than good."


I've often reflected since then on how "the female" is not an inevitable classification of human beings. I mean, who are you going to believe? A famous philosopher or your lying eyes?


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Who you gonna believe? Some dead white male or your own lying eyes?

Anonymous said...


Full text of Rorty's article

Ron Guhname said...

Let me try my hand at Rorty-type thinking: An individual human being is an unfortunate invention that is anything but inevitable, in at least 2 ways. First, there is no "me" since I change over time. Second, we're all part of the web of society, and it's arbitrary to put a dividing line at my skin. If "I" get cancer, all society should get chemo since my condition is just a sign that the system is sick.

tommy said...

Tragic. I haven't been this torn up since Gould passed away. We've lost an irreplaceable intellectual in Rorty. Who can doubt that his name will echo through the centuries along with fellow philosophical luminaries like Derrida, Sartre, Barthes, and Baudrillard? And what calamity might befall mankind next? Perhaps that master statesman and true patriot, Ted Kennedy, will bite the dust. Then again, we can always take comfort in the fact that death, as life, is nothing but a social construct.

Anonymous said...

The body ain't cold yet. You stay classy.

rast said...

From the abortion thread on the other site:

I almost can't believe I'm reading this stuff. Sailer is the most offensive sexist little pig I've come across in some time.

I know Steve is used to those kind of comments by now, but I got a real kick out of it.

Mark said...

The greatest members of the Deluded Generation are one by one going to their reward. Does one hold out hope that society will one day repair itself?

It's possible.

Anonymous said...

This is almost too good to be true. Can this gasbag be really dead? I believe it is ONLY a social construct, to delude us into thinking that reality exists.

You might have noticed, though, that the people that these insufferable gasbags venomously hate are NEVER treated as social constructs. It's almost like claiming "Germans are such racist pigs, not matter what you do they don't change; it's in their DNA to be racist." (Don't laugh, I've heard this pearl of wisdom actually claimed by one, ehem, "deconstructocombabulationist" or whatever mouthful they get a socially-constructed kick out of being called.)

BTW May we shouldn't be too unkind to Derri-dada. He went ahead and wrote almost all possible varieties of bullshitting in umpteen books and articles, so he might have inadvertantly created a catalogue of it which can be put to good use for "profiling" purposes of all gasbag "discourses."


JD

Mary Pat said...

I should tell that to my husband the next time we want to have a kid: "It's your turn."

ricpic said...

If the female is a construct then what a construct is she!

J. said...

Sir, remember Seneca: "About the dead, good or nothing". Wiki clearly explains that Rorty took up a strong position against reality, i.e. a mind-independent external reality. On Rorty's view, the success of modern science has led academics in the humanities to mistakenly imitate scientific methods. His critique of analytic-synthetic distinctions such as Negro-Not Negro, Female-Not Female is the foundation of contemporary social science. He discovered that problems could not be "solved", they can only be "dissolved".
Sir, Rorty was a giant, a hero, a revolutionary. No ignorant sarcasm will taint the irreality of his greatness.

Martin said...

I refuse to believe that Richard Rorty was an invevitable classification. Rather he was a social construct - an invention - that did more harm than good.

josh said...

I "inevitably" classified females very early on,as I recall! Once,as a kid,we were watching 60 Minutes or some Mike Wallace thing on TV and the word "homosexual" was mentioned. Well sir,my ears perked up at the word "sex" being employed,so I asked my mom what a homosexual was. She said it was a man who loved men. (She didnt mention the "other" stuff...:D )I thought,they must be nice guys if they love people so much. Another inevitable classification...

Anonymous said...

One of the great affirmations of Western civilization was the hunting down and execution of the King Charles Regicides still alive by the time of the Restoration.

Those still alive and even the dead ones. Cromwell's remains received posthumous execution. Which is not a waste of time at all, but an effective symbolic act.

The point is that those who strike at the very heart of tradition, and perform a decapitation of the existing order, must never go unpunished.

The problem with the Western world today is that the vile Marxists were never punished, except in purges by their own kind. But rather, regime agents and acolytes were allowed to bleed into the West from the Soviet bloc and then prosper in their new homes. The direct result was the Marxist infestation of western universities, and their continued "respectability".

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, what was the result our magnanimous actions as Cold War victors? An almost immediate stranglehold of cultural Marxism all across the Western world. It has taken less than 20 years and we are drowning as a result of hard Left infiltration. In fact, we, as a people, are facing existential crisis as a result of Marxist infiltration today.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall every culpable Soviet era apparatchik in the Eastern bloc countries should have received capital punishment. If we had the stomach to do that, then the universities would not be filled with Marxist acolytes today. If we had the stomach to do that, then Marxism would not have retained its cache with students and bohemians. It would have been relegated to fringe Nazi status instead.

The essential criminality and evil of Marxism was never demonstrated to the people of the West. Faces were never put on the evil. Trials serve to connect the dots of history. But the trials never occurred. The percentage of people on the street in America who could correctly identify a portrait of Lenin or Stalin is probably 5%.

How many fathers in this nation have refused to send their children to an elite university because of the Marxist professorariat?

Marxists play for keeps. And they understand that they essentially got away with it in 1917. Without their own exiled to lunatic fringe status, without their own Nuremberg trials, well, why not just rejigger the approach and do it again?

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you guys don't believe the female is invention that has caused more harm than good.


-fifi

michael farris said...

Without reading Rorty's mind, I assume he meant the western folk classification by which 'female' is contrasted not with 'male' but with ... (for lack of a better word) normalcy.

Very few people would object to a definition of 'actress' as 'a female actor' while many would object to a definition of 'actor' as 'a male actress'.

Most theologians claim that God (if you believe in such a concept) has no gender. If this were true no one could get anymore upset when someone refers to God as 'she' than they do when God is referred to as 'he'.

I assume it's this particular folk model of biology where maleness is taken for granted and females are defined almost exclusively in how they differ from males that he's critiquing.

Do you really not get that?

Anonymous said...

The "harm' has been more fun than the "good"!

Anonymous said...

Rast - whats this 'other site'?

Anonymous said...

OK not to worry Ive worked it out. The link from the main isteve site.

tommy said...

Without reading Rorty's mind, I assume he meant the western folk classification by which 'female' is contrasted not with 'male' but with ... (for lack of a better word) normalcy.

I assume it's this particular folk model of biology where maleness is taken for granted and females are defined almost exclusively in how they differ from males that he's critiquing.

Do you really not get that?


Well, if he meant that, then he went out of his way not to state it clearly. I thought philosophers were supposed to be good at being precise? After all, yours would be an awfully generous and expansive interpretation of:

"... 'the homosexual,' 'the Negro,' and 'the female' are best seen not as inevitable classifications of human beings but rather as inventions that have done more harm than good."

Still, even if you are correct, his idea here is hardly profound or novel. (Unless you think stating that there are other ways of seeing the world is something novel.) His notion holds dubious relevance in the real world where the "harm" or "good" he speaks of would presumably be done. After all, how do you define or say anything relevant about "maleness" and "femaleness" or "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" if not by contrasting them with one another? How can such classifications be anything but "inevitable" if you want to understand their differences? Rorty and others like him are the sort of morons who seem to think distinctions and classifications are inherently bad. I'm glad the sciences never adopted such a mentality, because the sciences, with their insistence on classification and reductionism, have carried us a lot further than philosophy in the last few centuries.

michael farris said...

"Well, if he meant that, then he went out of his way not to state it clearly. I thought philosophers were supposed to be good at being precise? "

People who spend most of their lives at universities are not known for saying things in ways that your or I might consider to be clear or concise.

And I don't think my explanation is exactly what he meant. But I think it's clear enough that he's critiquing a world view in which male and female are not complementary concepts that have meaning only in relation to each other, but in which 'the female' (note the article, it's important here) is abstracted out as a category of 'the other' quite independently of any concept of 'male'. (Okay maybe I've spent too much time at universities too).

Steve Sailer said...

I don't see much evidence for Michael Farris's interpretation in Rorty's Atlantic Monthly article. Here's the full paragraph:

He sets up a conflict between Edward O. Wilson and Derrida, then offers a compromise third way:

"These philosophers can agree with the social constructionists that notions like "the homosexual" and "the Negro" and "the female" are best seen not as inevitable classifications of human beings but rather as inventions that have done more harm than good. But they are not sure that "X is a social construction" adds much to "talking about X is not inevitable, and there are probably better ways of talking." They see the point of Foucault's famous observation that in the nineteenth century homosexuality was "transposed from the practice of sodomy onto a kind of interior androgyny, a hermaphroditism of the soul." Foucault went on to say, "The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species." They agree that we would have been better off with the commonsensical thought that some men prefer to have sex with other men than with the sophisticated attempt to ground this preference in a deep, dark psychopathology. But they think that the energy Foucault's disciples have put into arguing that something is a social construction would be better put into proposing some alternative social construction: a more effective and less damaging way of talking about what is going on. All our controversial ways of talking are, to be sure, choices that society has made about how to classify things. In that sense these classifications are of course socially constructed. But the interesting question is whether anybody can suggest a better classification."

I have some sympathy for Foucault's argument about homosexuals -- it's hard to tell for sure whether modern-style Castro Street gay men existed far back in the past. For example, which character of Shakespeare's is clearly gay? You would think that as a man of the theatre, Shakespeare would know a lot of gays, but it's a lot murkier than you'd expect.

But Rorty doesn't seem to realize his latter two examples -- race and sex -- are quite different. Granted, a lot of semi-smart people fell victim to the Race Does Not Exist fad, but to claim that Sex Does Not Exist is so stupid that you have to be a famous philosopher to do it.

Perhaps Rorty is attempting to maintain an above the fray ambivalence about all this, but clearly the third view is his favorite.

tommy said...

People who spend most of their lives at universities are not known for saying things in ways that your or I might consider to be clear or concise.

Please don't insult my intelligence. I'm saying his thinking is imprecise and his reasoning is dubious, not that it's merely too complex to understand. Kant can be a tough to understand, but he was no obscurantist. Derrida is tough to understand and was nothing more than an obscurantist. A more likely explanation is that individuals who spend too much of their time in university philosophy departments get sloppy in their thinking. Let me give you an example:

I assume he meant the western folk classification by which 'female' is contrasted not with 'male'

In other words, femaleness is not contrasted with maleness.

but with ... (for lack of a better word) normalcy.

In other words, femaleness is contrasted with (what we shall call) normalcy.

I assume it's this particular folk model of biology where maleness is taken for granted

In other words, maleness is normalcy.

Can you spot the logical inconsistency in these three statements?

Femaleness is not contrasted with maleness.
Femaleness is contrasted with normalcy.
Maleness is normalcy.

michael farris said...

"Can you spot the logical inconsistency in these three statements?

Femaleness is not contrasted with maleness.
Femaleness is contrasted with normalcy.
Maleness is normalcy."

There's a folk model in the west, where maleness is unmarked and femaleness is marked (marked and unmarked are used here in the meanings they have in linguistics and some relate disciplines).

Therefore, as I wrote an actress can be described as a female actor much more easily than an actor can be described as a male actress.

When maleness is unmarked, the concept 'female' exists not as a counterpart of 'male' but as a single marked, exceptional state. So that (roughly speaking)

male = normal, unmarked
female = unsual, marked

Therefore yes, roughly speaking:

"Femaleness is not contrasted with maleness.
Femaleness is contrasted with normalcy.
Maleness is normalcy"

As long as you remember:
Maleness is not contrasted with normalcy.

Now, Rorty was probably not thinking exactly in those terms (or maybe not anything like it). But it can be argued that what he was arguing with stems from this folk model.

Similarly, "the Negro" is a cultural construct distinct from (though related to) biological considerations of what some people like to call 'race'.

Mark said...

Can you spot the logical inconsistency in these three statements?

Femaleness is not contrasted with maleness. Femaleness is contrasted with normalcy. Maleness is normalcy. - tommy

Is that a syllogism?

God is love.
God is dead.
Love is blind.
Therefore, Ray Charles is God.

tommy said...

michael farris,

Therefore yes, roughly speaking:

"Femaleness is not contrasted with maleness.
Femaleness is contrasted with normalcy.
Maleness is normalcy"

As long as you remember:
Maleness is not contrasted with normalcy.


No, I think what you mean to say is that:

Maleness is normalcy.
Femaleness is contrasted with maleness.
Femaleness is contrasted with normalcy.


Otherwise, you wind up with the invalid reasoning:

Femaleness is not contrasted with maleness/normalcy.
Femaleness is contrasted with maleness/normalcy.


Or, to put it in plain English, maleness is the normal state of affairs in something or other (biological models, English linguistics, etc.) and femaleness is regarded as exceptional. Which is, indisputably, a brilliant and original insight if Rorty really meant that. Truly ingenious! Who else could have come up with such a deduction? No one short of a professor in philosophy from Stanford, that's who. ;-)


Mark,

Is that a syllogism?

God is love.
God is dead.
Love is blind.
Therefore, Ray Charles is God.


Yes, and an equally invalid one.

Anonymous said...

A child who doesn't show an early ability to categorize people versus animals versus things or momma versus daddy (often generalizing to label all males as daddies, females as mommies) is considered to be mentally disabled.

A child's mind isn't a blank slate. It doesn't take "dialogue" to communicate with a child about categories. Often nothing more than providing the child with a descriptive word or label is all that's needed. The child generalizes easily from there.

Rorty ignored psychobiology because he had a social(ist) agenda. The truth is, our brains are hardwired to comprehend the world in certain ways. Social learning dictates what we should value and how we should feel but the basic need to compare and contrast in order to understand is with us at birth. It's the basis for language and thought.

Let's keep the world less annoying and confusing for concrete thinkers and Richard Rortys under age 12. Ignore fatuous philosophical musings with no basis in reality

Josh! said...

Uhmm,did this guy get paid to write this stuff? Surely he couldnt put food on the table and support a "wife"--if he recognized the reality of such a creature?? "Richie!! Theyre gonna turn the phone off! When are you getting a %#$#@ job!?!?" "Not now,dear i'm writing a very important article!" "Oh no,not more of that 'female contrasted with male' crap!You want "normalcy",hot shot? Its NORMAL for the man to get off his keaster and pay some bills around here! (Dialing...) Uh Wanda,its Marge.Yeah. Dya think you can put me on for Fridays? We need some extra dough. Yeah,Twinkle Toes over here wont get off his ass..."

SFG said...

How many fathers in this nation have refused to send their children to an elite university because of the Marxist professorariat?
Not too many. You get a lot more money coming out of those things, and nobody takes the professors seriously. I went to a lesser Ivy; plenty of righties majored in econ, slept through the PC freshman writing course, and went merrily off to Wall Street to make loads of money destroying people's jobs through mergers.

Really, the liberal professoriate does more damage through their influence on the media than anything else. It's like this.

1. Liberal professors dominate the humanities and arts.
2. Media people (journalists, directors, designers) have a greater-than-average interest in the arts. It's not too hard to understand why a journalist might like to read fiction; their brain's just wired in that verbal way.
3. Media people take Ivy League arts/humanities courses and get influenced that way.

It's not that simple, these people grow up in an already-liberal environment (the child of college professors is going to hear very different things from her parents when they talk about politics than the child of businesspeople) but this is IMHO the primary influence of the professoriate on society; it's secondary, mediated through the media.

You guys want a countermeasure? It's already happening as conservative media like Fox News and the wide array of Christian media have sprung up.