Gideon Calder is director of the Centre for Contemporary Social Thought at the University of Wales, Newport, the author of Rorty, and the editor of Res Publica: A Journal of Legal and Social Philosophy.
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Rather ineffective criticism of RortyOct. 12 2007
M. A. Krul
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Gideon Calder, an ethics teacher at the University of Wales at Newport, attempts in this book to attack Rorty's philosophy of redescription. He does so from several angles: firstly, by criticizing the assumptions that are secretly behind Rorty's reasonings; secondly, by criticizing Rorty's anti-foundationalism of itself; and thirdly, by criticizing Rorty's political conclusions from his philosophy.
A sizable part of Calder's criticism, however, seems ad hoc and missing the mark. He makes much of the supposed impossibility of Rorty's 'horizontal' emphasis on redescription, that is, that there is nothing "behind" a description and nothing a description can be "true about", and so on. This is apparently supposedly impossible, because Rorty, to state this view, must think his own redescription timelessly true! Of course Rorty thinks nothing of the kind and would never express his philosophy in that way, so this is merely a childish poisoning of the well. The same happens to much of his criticism of Rorty's views on historicism, selfhood and language. Calder scores a small point here and there, but rarely seems to actually discuss the main thread of Rorty's philosophy in this, preferring to point out occasional incidences in which Rorty's own description (how ironic) of his views is less than unambiguous.
It must be said though that Calder does hit home with his criticism of Rorty's political philosophy, although this is not very expansively dealt with. Rorty's own 'politics of hope' and his liberal individualism seem oddly incongruous with his rather neutral and historicist philosophy. In many of Rorty's interviews about political subjects, Rorty has shown himself to be surprisingly poor for such an intelligent man at explaining or defending his political views, and even seems to be singularly incapable of comprehending how his views could be problematic for others. Calder concentrates here on for example Rorty's view of what it means to be human; on the one hand, Rorty wants to be a humanist individualist, and on the other hand, his own philosophy totally precludes him from being able to defend this. This doesn't necessarily mean Rorty is wrong, but it does bare a weak spot in his general theorizing. Similarly, Calder points out how Rorty ignores entirely the issue of where exactly our redescriptions come from - they seem to be tacitly treated as exogenously given and wholly voluntary, leading Calder to conclude that there is a strong hidden idealist assumption within Rorty's metaphilosophical views. This is, I think, Calder's only strong argument against Rorty.
Overall, the book is rather short, and much of it poorly conceived. There is undoubtedly much to be said in criticism of Rorty's views, but few people so far have been able to do it satisfactorily, except when focusing on the political side, and this is rather disjointed from the rest. Calder has not done worse than other critics, but no better either.