Why don’t I blog more? I don’t know. Should hans’s blog even count as a blog, or should it be called “Really good theological reflections once a year?” With those questions in mind, keep reading. This is a random post about something I’ve been thinking about.
I don’t think Richard Rorty is a relativist. I even wrote a paper about that once, took it to Texas, and presented it. Some of the people didn’t agree with me--some did. But the ones who didn’t were able to point to statements like the following:
“A given society is just if its substantive life is lived in a certain way – that is, in a way faithful to the shared understanding of its members.”
That was actually written by a political theorist named Michael Walzer. (Just to throw you off, if he sounds like a peace-loving latte-sipping cutting-and-running hippie relativist, think again: he supported the war in Afghanistan and was critical of our European allies for their conduct before the Iraq war.)
Rorty quotes Walzer in multiple places in his work and endorses such statements. Since for Rorty there are really no such things as “moral principles,” only “things most people agree about,” the above definition is all that’s possible for a society: if no one's complaining, how would you know anything was wrong?
I don't agree with the statement, however. Just because a society gets together and decides what's just and then lives it out and no one complains is NOT a necessary and sufficient condition for justice. To be honest, I don't know what those conditions are. (John Rawls might, but since I can't get through his books, it doesn't look good for me.) I would say that a given society is just if and only if it's just. There's more to say, but I can't get it into one sentence.
Rorty says that lots of people think of morality as the following: a thin, core set of unarguable principles and practices surrounded by a thick accretion of customs and contingencies. He proposes that we think of evyerthing as contingency, and "principles" as those things we can abstract from the set of all behaviors of the human race.
In conclusion: Richard Rorty remains not a relativist. The unqualified endorsement of statements like the above does not help his case.