Richard Rorty 1997 on Democracy and Philosophy

When I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin in the 1990s, I was an occasional guest host on a public affairs program of the local PBS station. In 1997 I interviewed the philosopher Richard Rorty.

This afternoon, with the help of Emory graduate student Karen McCarthy, I finally got around to digitizing it. Then we uploaded it to YouTube.  It’s kind of eery watching it again.  So many of the issues Rorty and I discussed are still with us today in the clash of cultures between religion and secularism, attempts at democratization in the Middle East versus the Taliban, and the near-impossibility of finding a way to adjudicate between our differences.  Rorty stuck by his position that we can never really get outside our culture and history to adjudicate anything, yet at the same time he appealed to notions of “better” and “worse” that could be understood through stories we tell ourselves.  I wasn’t satisfied with that then, and I’m still not now.  But maybe that is simply because there is no philosophical panacea that could ever be satisfying and, in the end, we are really just left, rather bereft, with our ability to tell compelling stories. Rorty at one point appealed to the occasional geniuses like Jefferson and Jesus and Socrates (a weird troika) who, perhaps struck by a cosmic ray, could move us forward.  Then and now this appeal to genius is hardly helpful. But I think I get what he was saying — that the occasional fluke could get us out of our constituting context.  At the very end I bring up a piece he had written the year before for the New York Times on what might happen in the future in America, the future, specifically 2014 and 2015.  So it is a fascinating kind of time travel to watch this interview now, from here in the future.

Neoliberalism and the Mail

The conservative / neoliberal attack on public sector enterprises, namely the United States Postal Service, has worked so well that now I, a leftie, am hating the US Postal Service.  They are clearly understaffed and so I see mail carriers trying to deliver the goods as late as 8 p.m.  God bless them. But when I want a package delivered on time — or delivered at all  (first world problem) — they are no where to be found  And if during a lull time I get through to customer service in under 20 minutes, I get a non-answer.  And so, personally, I’ll go with a privatized mail service (FedEx or UPS) but they, UPS at least, are notorious for treating their workers horribly.  My US postal worker gets treated well, but if Congress won’t back this public service then we all fail. Quandary.

On Nothing

Purging all the detritus in my home office, I wonder whether it’s time to get rid of my 4-volume Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Surely with the new online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy this is just taking up shelf space.  But I do love this one entry, even though I completely disagree with it, because it is quite funny:

(from The Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Nothing is an awe-inspiring yet essentially undigested concept, highly esteemed by writers of an existentialist tendency, but by most others regarded with axiety, nausea, or panic. Nobody seems to know how to deal with it (he would, of course), and plain persons generally are reported to have little difficulty in saying, seeing, hearing, and doing nothing. Philosophers, however, have never felt easy on the matter. Ever since Parmenides laid it down that it is impossible to speak of what is not, broke his own rule in the act of stating it, and deduced himself into a world where all that ever happened was nothing, the impression has persisted that the narrow path between sense and nonsense on this subject is a difficult one to tread and that altogether the less said of it the better. Continue reading

20th century philwiki rocks a sinking boat

Even as I try to ignore those mean spirits, today I went to a certain blog and found this delightful bit:

More PhD program wikis!

Now we have 20th-century Continental philosophy, started by (brace yourselves) Noelle McAfee.  Fortunately, since a wiki is just as good as its contributors it does not matter who started it.  As with Philosophical Logic, it’s purely informational (who works on what, links to pages etc.), and devoid of crucial qualitative information.  Again, students can start with the PGR results on the latter front.

[please avoid clicking here but here’s the source:

Ummm — devoid of crucial qualitative information?  Oh, let’s see, you could go to the 20th century continental philosophy wiki and quickly see the strengths of PhD programs around the world, see faculty professional webages and PhilPages profiles listing all their publications, or you could go to the PGR listing of 20th century continental philosophy and see what a handful of mostly Nietzsche scholars and hardly any who do work in contemporary French theory think. You’ll find 13 programs listed without any detail on who is doing what. Some of these programs show up well on the 20th Century Philosophy wiki.  But many who look really great from info on the wiki don’t show up at all on the PGR — perhaps because the evaluators don’t have expertise in the wide range of work going on in 20th century continental philosophy.

As for the wiki, much more work is needed, especially in listing programs outside the US.  So please help pitch in.