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Document Details :

Title: Rorty's Painful Liberalism
Author(s): BARCUHELLO, Giorgio
Journal: Bijdragen
Volume: 63    Issue: 1   Date: 2002   
Pages: 22-45
DOI: 10.2143/BIJ.63.1.795

Abstract :
My paper is going to illustrate how a universal normative ground can be individuated behind Richard Rorty’s political philosophy, chiefly as he develops it in his well-known Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. I shall show how a foundational moral assumption is constantly backing his active defence of liberalism, which defines “cruelty” as “the worst thing we do” and claims that “no well-grounded theoretical answer” can be given in reply to the interrogative “why not be cruel?” After delineating very briefly Rorty’s two crucial concepts of “ethnocentrism” and “antirepresentationalism”, a clear understanding of which is necessary to appreciate Rorty’s position, I shall focus my attention on Rorty’s conception of cruelty. Structuring within a consistent frame the many hints that he furnishes with regard to this issue, I shall determine its most frequent and characteristic features, the study of which shall resolve into the individuation of the concept working as the universal normative ground for his liberalism, namely an underlying pain-aversion principle, which regularly supports Rorty’s claims against cruelty – and ergo his claims in favour of liberalism. Such a discovery is tantamount to the realisation that a contradiction undermines Rorty’s negation of the possibility to find a “well-grounded theoretical answer” to the question “why not be cruel?” Specifically, either a metaphysical aversion to pain is presupposed by Rorty, as Christine Korsgaar’s study on the sources of normativity can help us to see, or a similar point is actually inherent to Rorty’s arguing and acting pro liberalism, as he has been doing for more than twenty years. In the former case, the contradiction would be formal; in the latter case, the contradiction would be performative.

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