Richard RortyThe Making of an American Philosopher

Richard RortyThe Making of an American Philosopher

Neil Gross

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226309903

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


On his death in 2007, Richard Rorty was heralded by the New York Times as “one of the world's most influential contemporary thinkers.” Controversial on the left and the right for his critiques of objectivity and political radicalism, Rorty experienced a renown denied to all but a handful of living philosophers. This biography explores the path of his thought over the decades in order to trace the intellectual and professional journey that led him to that prominence. The child of a pair of leftist writers who worried that their precocious son “wasn't rebellious enough,” Rorty enrolled at the University of Chicago at the age of fifteen. There he came under the tutelage of polymath Richard McKeon, whose catholic approach to philosophical systems would profoundly influence Rorty's own thought. Doctoral work at Yale University led to Rorty's landing a job at Princeton University, where his colleagues were primarily analytic philosophers. With a series of publications in the 1960s, he quickly established himself as a strong thinker in that tradition—but, by the late 1970s, had eschewed the idea of objective truth altogether, urging philosophers to take a “relaxed attitude” toward the question of logical rigor. Drawing on the pragmatism of John Dewey, Rorty argued that philosophers should instead open themselves up to multiple methods of thought and sources of knowledge—an approach that would culminate in the publication of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, one of the most seminal and controversial philosophical works of our time.