The Contingency of Language

I love Richard Rorty. A lot. That is why I am devoting this post to quoting some juicy sections from the first chapter of Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity.

We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.

The world does not speak. Only we do.

From our point of view, explaining the success of science, or the desirability of political liberalism, by talk of “fitting the world” or “expressing human nature” is like explaining why opium makes you sleep by talking about its dormitive power.

Interesting philosophy is rarely an examination of the pros and cons of a thesis. Usually, it is implicitly or explicitly, a contest between an entrenched vocabulary which has become a nuisance and a half-formed new vocabulary which vaguely promises great things.

To see the history of language, and thus of the arts, the sciences, and the moral sense, as the history of metaphor is to drop the picture of the human mind, or human languages, becoming better and better suited to the purposes for which God or Nature designed them, for example, able to express more and more meanings or to represent more and more facts.

The line of thought common to Blumenberg, Nietzsche, Freud, and Davidson suggests that we try to get to the point where we no longer worship anything, where we treat nothing as a quasi-divinity, where we treat everything – our language , our conscience, our community – as a product of time and chance. To reach this point would be, in Freud’s words, to “treat chance as worth of determining our fate.”

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Contingency of Language

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