Books October 2001
Ideas as anecdotes
A review of The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America by Louis Menand.
In the early 1970s, Richard Rorty, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, decided that his discipline had reached a point of exhaustion. Although his anthology The Linguistic Turn (1967) was assigned in every first-year graduate seminar in the country, and his introduction had praised “linguistic philosophy” for cleansing the field of metaphysical rubbish, the activity seemed to him academic and inconsequential. At one time, philosophers had expounded wisdom and justice to a broad intellectual audience. But, by 1970, philosophers discussed counterfactual conditionals within a shrinking circle of professionals. “American philosophers’ disinterest in moral and social questions became almost total,” Rorty recalled (though he surely meant “uninterest.”) The problems were linguistic, the solutions technical, their significance doubtful.
The renovation of...
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