The (In)Compatibility of Knowledge and Social Hope?
Democracy . . .has been and is carried on all by the moral forces, and by trade, finance, machinery, intercommunications, and, in fact, by all the developments of history, and can no more be stopped than the tides, or the earth in its orbit.
-- Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas, 1871: 344-345
In order to change a situation one has first to see it for what it is. . . . To accept one’s past--one’s history--is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.
-- James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time, 1963: 81
In making his case for a hopeful, democratically engaged stance in living, and for the kind of democratic epistemology he thinks social hope requires, Richard Rorty has seriously distorted pragmatism’s legacy and cramped its transformative potential, while clouding the very issues he aims to clarify. Because of his frequent homage to John Dewey, various aspects of Rorty’s "neo-pragmatism" have misled many readers about Dewey’s views in ways that obscure the greater clarity and the continuing usefulness of Dewey’s own pragmatist insights. Two of Rorty’s recent books, for example, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America (1998) and Philosophy and Social Hope (1999), express an untenable and un-Deweyan separation of public and private spheres, and of the value claims proper to each, motivated by Rorty’s hope of excluding religion and churches from any influence in democratic public life. Likewise, for the sake of shaping a motivating story and common dream of "achieving our country" that can advance Rorty’s strategy of rebuilding a once-effective Left alliance, working to achieve limited reforms that create conditions of equal economic opportunity within America’s existing institutional framework, these books express a contra-Deweyan lack of interest in the pursuit of social knowledge of our history and our present situation, even fallibilistically conceived, as well as a total rejection of any philosophical basis for assessing competing claims about how to conceptualize and to realize human flourishing. "Nobody knows," Rorty says, "what it would be like to try to be objective when attempting to decide what one’s country really is, what its history really means, any more than when answering the question of who one really is oneself, what one’s individual past really adds up to. We raise questions about our individual or national identity as part of the process of deciding what we will do next, what we will try to become" (Rorty 1998: 11).
Claiming the companionship of Dewey and Whitman, Rorty rejects the possibility of social knowledge of the kind Marx and Spencer claimed to theorize "in order to make room for pure, joyous hope" (Rorty 1998:23). Yet contra Dewey, he curtly opposes activist citizen participation and organized social movements to deepen democracy; he swiftly dismisses multicultural education and related diversity-acknowledging strategies for promoting cross-difference cooperation; and he emphatically denies the possibility of concretely imagining and eventually achieving any alternative to admittedly anti-democratic and freedom-limiting emerging forms of globalized market capitalism. Dewey’s self-transforming democratic community disappears from view as Rorty’s Whitmanesque self-creating poet ironist takes center stage as a model of human excellence and freedom.
Social hope is possible, Rorty argues, because and only because social knowledge is impossible; imagining and achieving democratic conditions in which diverse individuals can live freely and self-creatively requires a democratic epistemology that rejects freedom-limiting, hope-diffusing truths about nature and history. In Rorty’s view, there is and can be no knowledge of the truth of our history that could rightly ground or undercut our social hopes. But if Rorty is right about this, how are we to respond morally to claims that great social harms have been and still are part of our national life? How is effective, life-transforming hope possible without some kind of knowledge of the past, the present, and the probable course of the future? My thesis here is that Rorty’s democratic epistemology is dangerously misconceived; rather, as Whitman, Dewey, and Baldwin suggest, the project of "achieving our country" requires deepening our democracy with the guidance of a fallibilistic, morally responsible knowledge of our history and of our present situation that can ground and guide the moral emotion of social hope’s much-needed transformative power.
Baldwin’s Challenge: Achieving Our Country without Forgetting and Forgiving
In framing Achieving Our Country, Richard Rorty quotes two passages from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963) that both motivate and challenge his own conception of a democratic epistemology. The first focuses on what Baldwin treats as a central moral fact of American history, the great and continuing moral harm of slavery-linked racism in America and the impossibility of forgiveness: "This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it" (Baldwin 1963: 5; Rorty 12). The second passage from Baldwin, which is the source of the title of Rorty’s book, implies that because of this central moral fact, a historically informed, transformatively engaged partnership in living between thoughtful, caring representatives of the greatly harmed and the harm-doing groups can and must make reparations that reframe the meaning of the past while ending these harms in the present and changing the prospects for the future: "If we--and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others--do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world" (Baldwin 1963: 97; Rorty 1998: 12-13).
While pointing out that Baldwin and and his contemporary Elijah Muhammad agreed that the crimes of America and of white Americans against black Americans are unforgivable, Rorty contrasts their positions on the question of whether blacks should affirm American citizenship and claim an active place in shaping the future of America, arguing that there is no truth of the matter than can and should guide their free choice about how to regard history for action-directive purposes. Like Frederick Douglass and John Dewey, James Baldwin treats "America" as a to-be-realized ideal that can be used to judge the past and the present as well as to guide transformation of present conditions toward a preferable future. At the same time, like Douglass and Dewey, Baldwin actively identifies himself with America and directs his agency into launching a cooperative project among "relatively conscious" blacks and whites--and, we must now make explicit, other people of color, too--that he argues must be undertaken with an awareness that the past and the present are unforgettable and unforgivable, and at the same time, that they are the context and the spur for shaping a more democratic American future by influencing the consciousness of those who would forget, as well as those who would opt out of the American project because they cannot forgive.1
In Rorty’s view, Baldwin’s choice to hope, to reach out, and to work to "achieve our country" in spite of its unforgivable past cannot be justified over the alternative path to condemn America and to reject the moral claims of citizenship that his contemporaries Elijah Muhammad and the Black Muslims chose. For the same reasons, it makes no sense to ask whether Whitman and Dewey got America’s story right (and perhaps whether Rorty got Whitman and Dewey right). Social hope concerns issues of moral identity, national and personal, not of knowledge, in Rorty’s view: "Stories about what a nation has been and should try to be are not attempts at accurate representation, but rather attempts to forge a moral identity. The argument between Left and Right about which episodes in our history we Americans should pride ourselves on will never be a contest between a true and a false account of our country’s history and its identity. It is better described as an argument about which hopes to allow ourselves and which to forgo" (Rorty 1998: 13-14). How, then, are we to choose among different stories, different hopes?
Rorty’s Whitman, Rorty’s Dewey: Replies to Baldwin’s Challenge
Rorty’s social hope depends upon forgetting and denial--forgetting the quest for knowledge, denying any particular knowledge claims about our history and "the real world" that might limit imagination and therefore hope, denying any traditional claims of human or nonhuman authority, forgetting eternity and extra-human divinity. Rorty sees the image of America he attributes to Whitman and Dewey as retaining the Christian scriptures’ emphasis on fraternity and loving kindness while excising "supernatural parentage, immortality, providence, and--most important--sin" (Rorty 1998:16). Luciferean pride is no longer a sin in Rorty’s world, both because there are no more sins, and because we deny any other source of our being, as well as any authority that we can and should respect in our creative becoming, other than our own individual imaginations and the active choices they guide, acknowledging in our freedom only our fellow archangels as equally potent and equally free from external authority as we ourselves are.
In claiming that this self-understanding has and should guide the American party of hope, Rorty cites passages from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with which he claims Dewey would have agreed, suggesting that these indicate the deeper democratic motive for pragmatism’s rejection of the correspondence theory of truth, and of any other conception of preexisting Truth that limits humanity’s imagination and our freedom to agree among ourselves alone about what we will regard as binding upon us.
I speak the password primeval . . . I give the sign of democracy;/ By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms./ . . . Logic and sermons never convince,/ The damp of night drives deeper into my soul./ Only what proves itself to every man and woman is so,/ Only what nobody denies is so. (Rorty 1998: 26-27, quoting Whitman 50 and 56).
Rorty does not offer a close reading of Whitman’s lines, but his implied praise of them in combination with his explicit anti-religious commitments and his emphasis on self-creation suggest that he takes them to express moral egalitarianism grounded only in a personal stance of choosing to reject inequality and to reject any extra-individual ground for well-warranted belief other than universal convergence in personal experiences.2
This reading of Rorty is further supported by his implicitly praising gloss of pragmatism’s conception of truth that immediately follows: "These passages in Whitman can be read as presaging the doctrine that made pragmatism both original and infamous: its refusal to believe in the existence of Truth, in the sense of something not made by human hands, something which has authority over human beings" (Rorty 1998: 27). Instead of an independent Truth serving as the criterion for the descriptive accuracy and moral desirability of any American story, Rorty’s pragmatism sees the aspirations and active needs of America as a nation-state as the criterion for the adequacy of conceptions of truth and rightness.3 Having no basis other than personal opinion for criticizing America’s arrogant self-preoccupation, or alternatively, no grounds to which they can appeal other than agreement of their fellow citizens for reassuring those same citizens that America’s institutions, its international policies, or even its perceived shortcomings are justifiable, philosophers must recognize that they have no public role to play and can contribute nothing more (or less) than poets to their nation’s guidance.
We like what we have achieved; our self-satisfaction is what makes it true or right, Rorty argues, claiming Dewey’s support.4 Though he makes Dewey sound like a modified moral emotivist, who has simply added descriptive criteria in order to better explain why we cheer what we like and boo what we dislike, Rorty has captured two important aspects of Dewey’s conception of an action-guiding hypothesis: we are motivated to act in order to change circumstances that have given us problems in the past, and our ideal goals are too vague to be achievable through Platonic stage-wise approximations. However, Rorty understates Dewey’s assessment of the importance of those vague ultimate goals or guiding ideals in our lives. For Dewey, scientists who rightly have given up belief in an antecedent Truth still do and should seek truths and better truths, and American citizens who rightly have given up belief in Manifest Destiny still do and should guide their actions by the democratic ideal. The term ‘rightly’ as used in the previous sentence has meaning for Dewey, expressing more than personal opinion or a widely shared social belief, in his view, even if one has given up the correspondence theory of truth and belief in a divinely foreordained course of human history.
In Rorty’s view, Dewey’s epistemic democracy was motivated by and served the needs of his moral and political democracy, understood as a faith he shared with Whitman in the ultimate value and authority of individual human beings, and at the same time, in the exceptional nation dedicated to creating the conditions for their diverse self-creation: "Repudiating the correspondence theory of truth was Dewey’s way of restating, in philosophical terms, Whitman’s claim that America does not need to place itself within a frame of reference. Great Romantic poems, such as ‘Song of Myself’ or the United States of America, are supposed to break through previous frames of reference, not be intelligible within them. To say that the United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem is to say that America will create the taste by which it will be judged. It is to envisage our nation-state as both self-creating poet and self-created poem" (Rorty 1998: 29). In an unexplained departure from his earlier metaphysical individualism, Rorty here describes the nation as the agent in this great project of self-creation, whose success will assessed by the citizens this emerging nation shapes. Other nations’ opinions will not and should not matter to them unless they agree with their own, and they will tend to agree with their own to the extent that other nations recreate themselves according to the model of the American "paradigmatic democracy . . . one in which governments and social institutions exist only for the purpose of making a new sort of individual possible, one who will take nothing as authoritative save free consensus between as diverse a variety of citizens as can possibly be produced" (Rorty 1998: 30). Thus, Rorty’s nation-state here replaces Dewey’s community as the indispensable mode of human social organization.
A few pages later, Rorty treats social individuals (presumably those shaped by the nation) as the arbiters by their democratic consensus of what is "objectively" the case. For Dewey, Rorty argues, as for Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Derrida, ". . . objectivity is a matter of intersubjective consensus among human beings, not of accurate representation of something nonhuman. Insofar as human beings do not share the same needs, they may disagree about what is objectively the case. But the resolution of such disagreement cannot be an appeal to the way reality, apart from any human need, really is. The resolution can only be political: one must use democratic institutions and procedures to conciliate these various needs, and thereby widen the range of consensus about how things are" (Rorty 1998: 35). Rorty is partly right here in his emphasis on the importance for a democracy of achieving a wide consensus about how things are, and also about what should be done if we seek to guide public deliberation democratically and toward more deeply democratic end. However, he is also misleading, and certainly far from Dewey, in his suggestions that the agreement in question is only that among the citizens of a nation-state, and that it requires no rational and evidential warrants.
Rorty’s Dewey or the Real J. D.?
It is important for the reader to realize that Rorty’s Dewey is an odd mixture of the real American pragmatist, who left traces in texts and in living memory, and a fictional character of Rorty’s making who advances quite different arguments to serve Rorty’s purposes--rather like Plato’s Socrates in the Middle Dialogues. Rorty’s Dewey has forgotten the community. His hopes are groundless, dependent on forgetting. Democracy is a dream, an image, a story, but no longer a guiding practical ideal already partly actualized in history and lived experience. Moreover, Rorty’s Dewey has given up on framing a general procedure for fruitful inquiry that leads to truth fallibilistically understood as "warranted assertability," a project to which the real Dewey devoted at least three books and countless essays, hoping to achieve its adoption within the various sciences and also within participatory democratic processes.5 On the subject of truth, as on many others Dewey considered, keeping one eye on his reconstructed metaphysics is the key to understanding both what he says and how Rorty misrepresents him.
Like earlier views in the Western philosophical tradition that Dewey criticizes, Rorty treats the theoretical and the practical as separable and as hierarchically related; he merely inverts the hierarchy to give control to the practical. This is not Dewey’s view. Instead, Dewey treats the theoretical and the practical (like the polar elements in the other classical dualisms) as inextricably interrelated, whether we intend and acknowledge them to be so in our philosophical analyses and our ways of living, or not. Likewise, we are not just agents, but both agents and "patients," in Dewey’s language, acting and undergoing simultaneously and sequentially, always becomings-within-Nature, both reflecting and collaboratively causing emergent outcomes that introduce new structures, new relationships, and genuinely new kinds of actor-patients.6 Moreover, in Dewey’s view, humans are and need to be members of communities, which give our individual lives context, meaning, some measure of security, and various opportunities that we need if we are to develop some of our unique, eventually valued, individuality-defining potentials. These have become increasingly complex individual potentials as the structures and needs of human communities have become increasingly complex over the course of human history. However events came to pass that led to humanity emerging within Nature, we are an active kind of creatures who need to ask questions, to seek answers, to reflect on our surroundings and on events in our shared-and-individual lives, both in order to understand this world we experience as exceeding our grasp, and to gain at least some small measure of control in shaping the future’s course in ways that matter to us, including but surpassing a pleasure-pain economy.7
Unlike Emerson and Rorty, who attempted at times to shake off earlier layers of history and antecedent forms of civilization in order to attend to a unique American context within which an unprecedented new being with an utterly new vision might be shaped, the real Dewey reflects on and sustains continuity with the past, treating it as a resource of human experience and longing that can offer some guidance in new contexts. We carry forward within ourselves, he suggests, the "immanent impulse" toward the conditions of mutual human flourishing that we inherited from our biological and social progenitors--a longing inherited in our bodies, our central nervous systems, and our deep emotions, as well as in our thought-world and the institutions, social practices, and ritual reenactments that sustain it. We call the future conditions that would fulfill that longing "democracy"--each generation adding insights about what must be avoided, what must be protected, what must be risked, and what may be gained by such risks, yet passing the task of advancing that project to each new generation in new circumstances, in which their progenitors’ experience can be at best only a partial guide.8
The real Dewey was a practical meliorist, trying to make problematic aspects of human experience better in various ways, rather than a utopian optimist of the kind Rorty calls us to be, because he had experienced so much tragedy in his own life and through the reports of others he incorporated into his reflections, including through his reading of history. Moreover, Dewey was not a Whitman disciple, as Rorty suggests, much as he appreciated him. Even Whitman was not Rorty’s Whitman--in addition to celebrating the creative potentials of his own body-spirit and those of his fellow men and women, the real Walt also lamented their role in causing Lincoln’s death, as well as all the hopes that died with him, in "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed" and "O Captain! My Captain!" The real Dewey did not make up his own goals single-handedly; like Baldwin, he claimed and reframed those he had inherited. Nor did he listen only to his own heart in determining whether a course of action and the belief-structure that directs and explains it are likely to advance those goals in a context of real dangers and obstacles. Rather, inquiring cooperatively with others, he drew upon and added to the best evidence available, acting practically within a theoretical framework fallibilistically adopted, and put to the test even as it was being relied upon to bring about consequences that mattered greatly to him and to others.9
In so doing, the real Dewey acted within his American context, but for the sake of a wider world, whose welfare he rightly saw as inseparable from America’s welfare, and whose citizens he included in the "we" of his Great Community. Moreover, that welfare included the satisfaction of the ancient human impulse to aweful wonder that stimulates our human need to understand how things are because we are fascinated by the world, semi-independently from from our needs to know how to bend things to our will in creative play and to know how to enhance our mutual security. Like Rorty, Dewey regarded humanity as part of the world, and our quest for knowing about it as interactively affecting our world, instead of giving us infallible insight about how it is or would be independent of us. But he took this quest for knowing seriously, as Rorty does not seem to do. The real Dewey criticized his progenitors’ approaches to knowing and their hopes for its certain and permanent security not in order to end the quest for knowing, but to redirect it more fruitfully, though with chastened hopes. Justification from on high will not be forthcoming to the Deweyan knower both because we cannot exceed this world and because we are co-creators within its continuous process of becoming.10
In renouncing knowing per se, the real Dewey would challenge Rorty, you renounce the fulfillment of a deep and ancient part of our humanity that will not be denied, but whose direction in its unfolding you trust to less reliable guides. Without its processive fulfillment, the other parts of our being that are inextricably interlinked with it, including memory and imagination, will be stunted, overblown, undirected, untested.11 Thus, in imagining and acting to achieve America, we may forget the world of which it is a part, and the other processes active within the world’s becoming with which we must reckon if we are to be effective in achieving goals we will want if our aspirations are fulfilled. Agreement among committed members of a Left alliance is insufficient as a guide to feasible and desirable transformation processes, as students of on-going struggles in Ireland and the Balkans have come to understand. Yet we have a better alternative, Dewey suggests, than either calling upon Divine Authority and thereby refusing our human responsibility to inquire, or passively seeking validation by appeal to a correspondence theory of truth and thereby denying our inescapably interactive role within the world about which we inquire: we can draw upon and contribute to the growth of fallibilistic collaborative knowing, continuously improving our knowing in active processes of testing, revising, and remembering that both chasten and sustain our hopes.
Even supposing that I am right that Rorty has misrepresented the views of the historical person we know as John Dewey, and that my Dewey story is closer to the real Dewey’s own views (or at least the ideas expressed in his texts), why should this matter to Rorty or to Rorty’s readers? It should matter because Dewey’s unfinished story is better than Rorty’s revision, Dewey’s actual reasoning is better than Rorty’s sketchy revision of it, and we have a great deal at stake. Though Rorty is right that we need to tell an American story that can successfully re-call American intellectuals and the partners with whom we must work as respected, mutually transforming equals in a process of working together to "achieve our country," the kind of story that can successfully guide our efforts must continuously reframe what we hope for in light of active, widely dispersed, fallibilistic knowing that is expanded and corrected through collaborative inquiry. Forging such a collaboration and guiding it successfully, not just to achieve dominance but to deepen democracy, will require us, as Baldwin advises, to remember much that Rorty would have us forget.
Why Democratic Social Hope Requires Remembering and Reparations
In Rorty’s view, many things should "chasten and temper" our national pride, but "nothing a nation has done should make it impossible for a constitutional democracy to regain self-respect." Otherwise, he argues, we abandon shared social hope for the vocabulary of sin (Rorty 1998: 32). Rorty does not explain here why these vocabularies are necessarily incompatible. In fact, social hope that does not depend upon denial of the magnitude of social disasters like the Holocaust and American chattel slavery and its racist aftermath, in which citizens of constitutional democracies have been knowingly and willingly complicit, requires acknowledging unspeakably cruel human actions for which the vocabulary of sin seems woefully inadequate, while also acknowledging courageously moral human actions amidst these horrors that give rise to a fragile sense of a better possibility that can spur action toward a future in which such horrors do not occur. Rorty is surely right to call on Dewey’s support in arguing that what makes us moral beings is that there are some things we think we would die rather than do; and for our lesser moral failings, Rorty is helpful in suggesting that if we do such things in spite of our sense that they are wrong, we must remain agents, resolving never to do them again (Rorty 1998: 33). This may be the right way to respond to our own lies, broken promises, thefts, even some forms of personal violence.
However, such a prompt resolution seems wholly inadequate to greater crimes, individual or collective, which call for silence, reflection, self-reconstruction, making whatever reparations to victims may still be possible, and creating individual and collective defenses against repetition of such acts. Otherwise, the pledge "never again" is nothing more than a self-deceiving insult to the memory of the victims. "To forget would be a sin," Elie Wiesel writes of the Holocaust. "To remember is essential; is is a worthy endeavor, a noble cause for which many of us have fought relentlessly" (Wiesel 2001: A3). Though Wiesel uses the ambiguous, seemingly mental language of "sin" to characterize forgetting, what is involved in the alternative he urges--remembering--is more than a pious mental act. It is a re-calling into being of an active experience, shared by others, of as much as we can comprehend among us of what has been lost, combined with a demand for accountability, for reparation insofar as this is possible, and for forward-looking rededication to cultivating and protecting a sense of the precious. This is exactly what Baldwin calls a cross-difference coalition of people of conscience and of historically grounded social hope to do in challenging them to influence the developments of conditions that will allow a people now divided by chattel slavery and its continuing inheritance of racism, poverty, and spiritual devastation to "achieve our country."
Realistic social hope requires such remembering: acknowledgment and reparation of the enormous harms that beggar the language of sin that constitutional democracies have wrought in the still-living past, in combination with rededication to more widely actualizing the better possibilities that some of our prophetic brothers and sisters devoted their lives to manifesting even in the midst of such horrors. Because he is so determined to avoid the language of sin, Rorty fails to respond adequately to the great evils that social hope must both acknowledge and transform into motivations for engaged, transformative, more deeply democratic living. Rorty endorses Andrew Delbanco’s way of describing Dewey’s Emersonian conception of evil as "the failure of imagination to reach beyond itself, . . . to open oneself to a spirit that both chastises one for confidence in one’s own righteousness and promises the enduring comfort of reciprocal love."12 However, Rorty rejects Delbanco’s conclusion that Dewey’s conception of evil so described is inadequate, and that humanity needs a fixed moral standard. Dewey’s rejection of the language of sin in favor of a more hopeful conception of the human spirit required "intellectual courage," Rorty argues; such a reframing of human possibilities was basic to the Progressive Movement’s confidence in education and reform. We must also remember, however, that the Progressives were deeply divided in their own minds and against one another on the great moral issues of war and peace, industrial violence against and by workers, and what should be done about lynching, exclusion of African Americans from education and the professions, and other Jim Crow-era manifestations of America’s deeply ingrained racial attitudes.
The Progressives’ challenge, like ours in dealing with the still-resonating horrors of the past and of our own time, was to take in experientially the inexpressibly evil, to find language-in-action that acknowledges it without paralyzing us to respond deeply and appropriately, instead guiding committed efforts to achieve profound transformations in hearts, minds, and institutions while keeping our eyes open to the possibility that our opponents may be working equally hard in pursuit of incompatible hopes that, if realized, might devastate our own. Motivating and sustaining well-focused and effectively transformative social hope does not depend upon minimizing the significance of moral horrors through individual acts of strong imagination, as Rorty seems to read Delbanco’s Dewey. Instead it depends upon courage to reach out without intellectual assurance toward what Delbanco calls "a spirit"--what Dewey himself called, without dualistic metaphysics,
a "religious" spirit--that has the power to change one’s own heart and to raise up a transformative community whose goals and whose means arise through the powers and processes of interactive, future-making love. In his desire to separate religion from public life, and thereby to free human persons for individual self-definition, Rorty has too quickly accepted an impoverished language of social hope insufficiently complicated by the dreadful realities others have sought to evoke, though perhaps inadequately, with the language of sin. He also has failed to appreciate sources and processes of evoking and sustaining realistic social hope within the life experience of a loving community that are extra-rational, though they need not be other-worldly.
1. In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin acknowledges
interconnections among the sufferings of African Americans and those of Native
Americans and other people of color at various points during the course of the
discussion that leads to his powerful conclusion about how to transform America
and change the history of the world. However, the conclusion itself is framed
in terms of the binary logic of color that predominated at the time. It does
not seem desirable to simply include all people of color within the "black"
pole at this point in our history. Therefore, I propose that we pluralize the
logic of color even as we realize that the divisions we must work across involve
more than color.
2. Rorty may read "the password primeval" as referring to a generalized self-respect that humanity’s intuition or shared common sense has always taught us, in spite of unwarrantable claims of philosophers and theologians that there are other sources of epistemic and moral validity that can and do exercise authority over the adequacy of our own determinations. Probably, Rorty reads reference to the divinity as self-reference to the poet, while also claiming it as self-referring for him, too, and also for to any other self-creating and world-shaping human being--though many passages in Whitman’s writings suggest that he believed that human individuals participate in a divinity that includes but exceeds them, and his Democratic Vistas gives great weight to "moral forces" and "all the developments of history," comparing their givenness as facts and powers to "the tides or the earth in its orbit" (Whitman 1871: 344).
3. See Rorty 1998: 27-28: "Despite [his] historicism, Hegel could never bring himself to assert the primacy of the practical over the theoretical--what Hilary Putnam, defining the essence of pragmatism, has called the primacy of the agent point of view. Dewey, like Marx in the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach, took the primacy of the practical all the way. His pragmatism is an answer to the question ‘What can philosophy do for the United States?’ rather than to the question ‘How can the United States be philosophically justified?’ He abandoned the question ‘Why should one prefer democracy to feudalism, and self-creation to obedience to authority?’ in favor of the question ‘Given the preferences we Americans share, given the adventure on which we are embarked, what should we say about truth, knowledge, reason, virtue, human nature, and all the other traditional philosophical topics?’ America will, Dewey hoped, be the first nation-state to have the courage to renounce hope of justification from on high--from a source which is immovable and eternal. Such a country will treat both its philosophy and its poetry as modes of self-expression, rather than ask its philosophers to provide it with reassurance."
4. See Rorty 1998: 28: "The culminating achievement of Dewey’s philosophy was to treat evaluative terms such as ‘true’ and ‘right’ not as signifying a relation to some antecedently existing thing--such as God’s Will, or Moral Law, or the Intrinsic Nature of Objective Reality--but as expressions of satisfaction at having found a solution to a problem: a problem which may someday seem obsolete, and a satisfaction which may someday seem misplaced. The effect of this treatment is to change our account of progress. Instead of seeing progress as a matter of getting closer to something specifiable in advance, we see it as a matter of solving more problems. Progress is, as Thomas Kuhn suggested, measured by the extent to which we have made ourselves better than we were in the past rather than by our increased proximity to a goal."
5. Dewey’s pragmatist conception of truth had already been misrepresented by William James in the much-misunderstood essay on that subject that made pragmatism infamous; like Rorty, James in his originality often misrepresented his friends as well as his opponents. James had so misrepresented his dear friend Charles Sanders Peirce’s significantly different pragmatist conception of truth in an earlier essay that Peirce renamed his position "pragmaticism" in order to dissociate himself from the school of thought increasingly associated with James’s own views. James’s own pragmatist conception of truth, as this emerged in his texts over time, is well worth reconsideration. The important point here is that Dewey’s conception of truth was neither that attributed to him by James, nor that attributed to him by Rorty. For Dewey’s own view, see, among other works, The Quest for Certainty (1929), Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), Theory of Valuation (1939), and Knowing and the Known (1949). All of the works by Dewey cited in this essay are from the last two periods included in the encyclopedic Collected Works of John Dewey, the now-complete scholarly editions edited by Jo Ann Boydston and published by Southern Illinois University Press, which divide Dewey’s writings into three broad periods (early, middle, and late). 6. Peirce and James called this world process of generating emergent newness "tychism."
7. These remarks about Dewey’s views about the classical dualisms, our roles as both agents and patients, our transactional location as becomings-within-Nature, the necessity of community life for development of human individuality, and about our purposes and processes of valuation express ideas that interlink many of his late books and essays, including Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Experience and Nature (1925), The Public and Its Problems (1927), The Quest for Certainty (1929), Ethics (1932), Art as Experience (1934), Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), Theory of Valuation (1939), and Knowing and the Known (1949).
8. For a discussion of Dewey’s traditionalism that Dewey himself regarded as insightful, see John Herman Randall, Jr.’s "Dewey’s Interpretation of the History of Philosophy" in Paul Arthur Schilpp and Lewis Edwin Hahn, ed., The Philosophy of John Dewey (LaSalle: Open Court/Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. 1, 1939). For Dewey’s views on the "immanent impulse" toward democracy and the on-going project of creating conditions for its satisfaction, see, among other works, The Public and Its Problems (1927), A Common Faith (1934), Theory of Valuation (1939), and "Creative Democracy--The Task Before Us" (1939).
9. For a discussion of Dewey’s approach to belief adoption and practical decision-making, see, among other works, Human Nature and Conduct (1922), Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), and Theory of Valuation (1939).
10. For Dewey’s reasons for critically reconstructing earlier views in the history of Western philosophy about truth, knowledge, human responsibility, and the co-creative role of human beings in shaping the world within which they act, see, among other works, Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Experience and Nature (1925), The Public and Its Problems (1927), The Quest for Certainty (1929), Ethics (1932), A Common Faith (1934), Art as Experience (1934), Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), Theory of Valuation (1939), and Knowing and the Known (1949).
11. Many of Dewey’s works relate to this question of how memory and imagination are grounded, stimulated, directed, and tested by an immanent, sometimes conscious longing for a transactional knowing about processively developing world--knowing what, knowing how, and knowing why--as necessary to our individual becoming and to influencing the development of conditions in which shared aspirations of various kinds can be fulfilled; see, among other works, "Time and Individuality" (1940) and "Creative Democracy--The Task Before Us" (1939), as well as Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920), Experience and Nature (1925), The Public and Its Problems (1927), The Quest for Certainty (1929), Ethics (1932), A Common Faith (1934), Art as Experience (1934), Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), Theory of Valuation (1939), and Knowing and the Known (1949).
12. Rorty 1998: 34, quoting Delbanco’s The Death of Satan: How Americans Have Lost the Sense of Evil (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995: 175-176).