- Values, Valuations, and Axiological Norms in Richard Rorty's Neopragmatism by Krzysztof Piotr Skowroński
Taking full measure of Rorty's influence and legacy demands encountering his reception outside North America. One such case, Eastern Europe, where Rorty spent considerable time and enjoys a committed following, is especially interesting, given the post-1989 resonance of his claims about the priority of democracy to philosophy.
Polish philosopher Krzysztof Skowroński's attention to the underappreciated normative dimension of Rorty's pragmatism opens a window into this reception. This wide-ranging book advances a core – and, in my view, essential – insight: there is a "profoundly axiological character" to Rorty's philosophy (2). Even though Rorty consciously eschewed a theory of values or a system of axiology, for Skowroński Rorty's writings offer "basic answers to and numerous suggestions about the issues that concern all those who are interested in philosophy of values" (9).
Rather than a comprehensive, systematic account of his philosophy, Skowroński tells us, his book treats Rorty selectively, with the aim of identifying "the enormous potential that Rorty's later thought possesses." This approach frees him to devote chapters to topics that have received little attention: Rorty and normativity, neo-Kantianism, political humanism, cinematic philosophy, aesthetic persuasion, and economic crises. The early chapters are more successful than the later ones. But, taken as a whole, the book offers an important contribution to our understanding of Rorty and his ongoing relevance, a contribution [End Page 339] made possible, at least in part, by Skowroński's ability to move seamlessly between classical and neo-pragmatisms, without rant or rancor.
Skowroński grasps that Rorty's shift to narrative and redescription marshals values, valuation, and norms no less than traditional modes of philosophical argumentation. Rightly, in my view, he intentionally reads Rorty "from the angle of socio-political factors" to emphasize the role of "nonphilosophical" influences in philosophical discourse (4). The first chapter establishes Rorty's naturalistic axiology, defined principally by an anthropocentrism that holds human agents responsible for shaping values and norms, "not by cognitively reaching the sphere of objectivity, but rather by arranging social life" (15). Like Dewey and Mead, for Rorty values and norms are intersubjective. They also are pluralistic: "Because there are plenty of cultural and philosophical systems, concepts, and traditions saying what is valuable and what is not, and yet no bird's-eye-view description is possible, we are doomed to listen to what particular groups have to say on those issues" (14).
Skowroński is on board thus far. With Rorty, he recognizes the "omnipresence and the significance of the cultural battlefields" upon which values and norms exist. His fundamental worry is that Rorty offers scant analysis of what happens within this contested terrain. Too often for Rorty our linguistic schemes float free of contextual moorings and seem revisable at will. To get purchase on this problem, Skowroński employs "a partly external, or non-Rortyan, platform" that results in a reconstructed Rorty – a more active "cultural politician," dedicated not only to altering our vocabularies but transforming the socio-political contexts and powers that shape those vocabularies.
Chapter 2 reads Rorty and Kant fruitfully by highlighting, despite certain basic incompatibilities, where their axiology and normativity intersect in what is valuable and worthy of practicing as free, future-oriented moral beings deserving of recognition and respect. By establishing pragmatism as an attempt to read Kant through a social perspective, where the social and democratic aspects of human life replace metaphysics as "an ultimate and axiological point of reference," Skowroński elucidates the ameliorative and teleological strand in Rorty's normative forging of democratic moral communities, aligning him in different ways not only with Dewey but Peirce, Royce, and James. Against Kant, Skowroński sees Rorty as reminding us that discourses and cultural politics are the province of values and norms as well.
The third chapter situates Rorty's neopragmatism within the tradition of humanism. Like Montaigne, Skowroński holds, Rorty's primary interest "centers not exclusively around language...