Bob Brecher, "Rorty through the looking-glass",
Res Publica III/1 (1997), 113-22: In this review of Norman Geras's,
Solidarity in the Conversation of Humankind (London, Verso, 1995)
I argue that the main force of his superbly coruscating critique of Richard
Rorty is to show the interconnectedness of questions of epistemology and
morality. 'If there is no truth, there is no injustice', as he puts it.
Iconoclastic but ultimately conservative, postmodernism merely projects
empiricism's subjectivism onto the wide screen of contemporary relativism:
Hume without grounds, so to speak. Its professed tolerance is thoroughly
self-defeating, as Geras elegantly but remorselessly demonstrates in the
course of his discussion of Rorty's claims about what motivated the rescuers
of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe (ch.1); the nature of 'human nature' (ch.
2); the relation of 'community' to universal values and claims (ch. 3);
and the inter-relations of language, truth and justice (ch. 4). In particular,
Rorty's version of anti-foundationalism, nuanced and sophisticated though
it is, is peppered with contradiction. How, for instance, can he claim both
that cruelty is 'the worst thing we do' and that 'there is no way to "refute"
a ... Nazi'? Whatever one's estimate of Geras's own ethical anti-naturalism,
Rorty's seductive counter that we cease to differentiate between 'rational
judgement' and 'cultural bias' is morally, no less than philosophically,
bankrupt. e-mail: R.Brecher@bton.ac.uk