chapter  27
14 Pages

Richard Rorty

ByJAMES BRASSETT

Richard Rorty falls tenuously into a volume on ‘critical theorists’ and international relations. He doesn’t meet the formal criteria of ‘Critical Theory’ encapsulated in the Frankfurt school project to build an Enlightenment critique of modernity, to construct a rational vision of ethical transformation (Rorty 2000). Equally, on many readings, and despite his oft-cited selfdescription as a ‘postmodern bourgeois liberal’ (Rorty 1991b), he fails to live up to the critical openness associated with poststructural theory. Indeed, Rorty himself would have been deeply skeptical of attributing any power to the word ‘critical’ as a formal quality of a particular type of theory or theorist. However, principled throat clearing aside, there is much in the work and life of Richard Rorty that should be of interest for the development of critical thinking in international relations. Rorty maintained a dialogue with key figures in critical philosophy such

as Habermas and Derrida (Rorty 1998c). His written work developed an ongoing ‘conversation’ with an exhaustive range of critical writers including Adorno, Dewey, Foucault, Freud, Hegel, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, Orwell, Wittgenstein, and Nabakov. Moreover, Rorty’s thinking changed over his lifetime, providing good reasons for critical theorists to stop worrying about the ontological, epistemological and methodological differences between them and instead focus their energies upon what the benefits of a creative (and imaginative) engagement might look like. This change in Rorty’s thinking occurred via three crucial steps:

(1) his critique of foundationalism; (2) his use of ‘conversational’ method; and (3) his celebration of sentimentality and imagination.