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O'Carroll, L. (2001). In Praise of Uncertainty: (Persuading, Inventing, and Believing). Free Associations, 9(1):58-81.

(2001). Free Associations, 9(1):58-81

In Praise of Uncertainty: (Persuading, Inventing, and Believing)

Larry O'Carroll

Consider These Prestigious Notions: truth as correspondence with reality; the conditions of the possibility of knowing anything at all; the nature of human subjectivity; the character of justice and the good society; the progress of our knowledge of the World Out There. The neo-pragmatist philosopher, Richard Rorty, suspects all these habits of mind of ‘foundationalism’ (Rorty, 1980, 1998). They can only be possible objects of sense, he holds, for an ‘edifying’, ‘representationalist’ philosophy conceiving of itself as conducting inquiries into the grounds of all thinking; into the general, ahistorical, and transdiscursive foundations of all truth; into the nature of the world's furniture, always and everywhere. The view Rorty contests is that once philosophy has inquired with such objects in mind, it is in the position to advise all knowledges — the lesser, parochial knowledges, so to say — as to how to keep themselves epistemically honest. Disputing its self-representation as the court of appeal before which all contenders for the ‘true’ must present themselves, Rorty (1989) proposes a more ironic, bracingly ethnocentric, picture of the philosophical enterprise. Philosophy may join the cultural conversation of belief and persuasion with sociology, anthropology and literature once it it prepared to renounce its grand(iloquent) way of conceiving itself. Schematically, then, Rorty's critique of philosophical foundationalism has two moments: it is a critical engagement with the old philosophy — what he dubs the Plato—Kant canon — and it envisages a post-philosophical culture in which voices as disparate as Plato and Kant, the ‘bad’ Heidegger and the transcendentalizing Derrida will be thanked for their edifying books, only to be placed on library shelves named ‘Of historical interest only’ and ‘Big noise’ (Rorty, 1991a, 1991b). Dust will gather where once devotion was demanded.

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