Richard Rorty, the American philosopher and social critic who died on Friday aged 75, was a highly influential figure in what came to be known as “postmodernism”.
To his admirers and disciples Rorty was “the most interesting philosopher in the world today” and “one of the most provocative and influential thinkers of our time”.
But his views did not want for opposition. Rorty himself wrote, for his own entry in the Penguin Reference Dictionary of Philosophy: “Although frequently accused of raving irrationalism and unconscionable frivolity by the political Right, and of insufficient radicalism, as well as premature anti-Communism, by the political Left, I think of myself as sharing John Dewey’s political attitudes and hopes, as well as his pragmatism.”
He was certainly unusual among philosophers in being widely read outside his own discipline. In part this may have been because he advised students that they need not bother reading Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel or, indeed, much of the rest of 3,000 years’ worth of accumulated philosophical wisdom. Instead Rorty argued for a moderated form of pragmatism derived from the ideas of Nietzsche, William James and, above all, Dewey.