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Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature: Thirtieth-Anniversary Edition Paperback – 18 Jan 2009

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Praise for Princeton's original edition: "This is an ambitious and important book. Ambitious because it attempts to place the main concerns and discussions of contemporary philosophy within a historical perspective; important because this is all too rarely attempted within our present philosophical culture, and almost never done this well."--Charles Taylor, Times Literary Supplement

Praise for Princeton's previous edition: "[Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature] is . . . something of an event. . . . It is going to be a long time before a better book of its kind appears."--Alasdair MacIntyre, London Review of Books

Praise for Princeton's original edition: "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature brings to light the deep sense of crisis within the profession of academic philosophy. . . . Rorty's provocative and profound meditations impel philosophers to examine the problematic status of their discipline--only to discover that modern European philosophy has come to an end."--Cornel West, Union Seminary Quarterly Review

About the Author

Richard Rorty (1931-2007) was a prolific philosopher and public intellectual who, throughout his illustrious career, taught at Princeton, the University of Virginia, and, until his death, Stanford University.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Rejuvenated My Interest in Philosophy 14 Jan. 2010
By Anonscribe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While certain aspects of this book will be unintelligible to those lacking a technical education (like me) in American analytic philosophy--or to those who've never read Sartre, Hegel or Heidegger--the style of the book renders its main points interesting and comprehensible to an intelligent, thoughtful reader. Rorty's main points come through clearly and powerfully. The metaphor of philosophy as a mirror of nature--and the imperative need to move beyond this metaphor--is compelling and independent of the more analytically dense portions of the book. The full second half is fairly easy to follow for those who have more than a passing interest in philosophy.

But, this isn't it's main value. If you're daunted by the prospect of reading Derrida or Foucault--or even Sartre--parts of this book are the most honest and readable abridgments I've run across. As a lit grad student, I barely understood Derrida. Reading Rorty was like being given a magic key to unlock the inscrutable mysteries of continental postmodernism. Some find Rorty's style strained, but I think he's one of the most talented English-language stylists philosophy has known--perhaps second only to Jane Addams or William James.

This isn't light beach-reading material, but it is a great read for those at all interested in contemporary philosophy.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Remembering Rorty 28 Sept. 2014
By Jeffrey Rubard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book is as old as I am. Still, when I was first confronted with the problem of Richard Rorty in the late '90s, it was -- as one might guess from Rorty's position at that time as Philosopher Laureate, the most public face of a discipline which often shuns attention -- *au courant* enough to contribute an impetus and general casts of mind to the debate on many topics. By now the book is, like me, old enough to no longer be directly relevant to the livest currents of thought in analytic philosophy, and somewhat beside the point to Continentalists poring over Badiou and Agamben (neither of whom Rorty ever commented on directly, although one can guess he would not have been fond of the "fundamentalist" tone of some of their arguments). However, it is still relevant to understanding what philosophy has been and what it could be, perhaps even more so now that the dust has settled and we can historicize the inveterate historicist.

Beginning as a student of ancient philosophy who had been taught by Richard McKeon and Leo Strauss, Rorty entered the consciousness of mainstream philosophy in the '60s with a bold new plan for understanding the operations of the mind: namely, that there was no such thing, no "mind" presenting an ahistorical problem for science and cultural inquiry, just a collection of tropes about personal awareness that did not militate for a "reifying" approach to psychology. This position -- called "eliminative materialism" and subsequently enthusiastically adopted by many bright young scholars working in the philosophy of psychology -- was a textbook example of "analytic" philosophy, that approach to philosophical research predominant in the English-speaking world, which places greater stress on clarity and rigor than historical learning and political import. But Rorty began to drift towards "Continental" thinkers, Europeans who doubted the possibility of a knock-down philosophical argument and who expected you to know your Plato (and much else) so well as to richly enjoy a series of punning plays on famous philosophical profundities.

This book, written when Rorty was still relatively young, begins his journey in synthesizing the approaches of analytic and Continental philosophy, joining what Kant called the "school" and "cosmic" conceptions of philosophy, striving for both exactitude and relevance. As Rorty explains early on, the focus here is primarily on bold thinkers in the analytic camp, people like Willard van Orman Quine and Wilfrid Sellars who started dismantling key preconceptions of logically-minded philosophers not long after the paint had first dried on these "rational reconstructions" of concepts like knowledge and truth that we were *finally* getting to the bottom of -- after 2500 years of muddling through. *Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature* takes the arguments of Sellars and Quine as exploding the idea that there is a timeless, ahistorical context for philosophical inquiry; drawing on the American Pragmatist tradition (which bulked very much larger in philosophical awareness after Rorty hit the scene), the author argues that what is called "philosophy" is really about what matters to us now, and that this might be very different than what was understandably important to a Kant or a Locke or an Aristotle.

Along the way Rorty talks about almost everything that had happened in analytic philosophy up to 1979, and his glosses of more "foundationalist" thinkers like Putnam and Fodor are well worth the price of admission: you will get a very clear idea of just why something like the "computational theory of mind" perhaps ought to be allowed to go on its merry way, while the "causal theory of names" has to be waylaid -- one is a fruitful program in a young science, not particularly beholden to its supposed ontological commitments, while the other takes uncontroversial logical arguments and attempts to wring metaphysical conclusions from them. To historicize the historicizer (as mentioned above) Rorty is speaking from a particular viewpoint at the further reaches of "post-positivism" as it existed in the '60s and '70s, and much of what you will find in contemporary journals blithely ignores his complaints. But the arguments, though perhaps less relevant than they once were, are extremely crisp and Rorty's prose highly rewarding.

This "30th Anniversary Edition" avoids some of the mistakes made in preparing the anniversary edition of Quine's *Word and Object*: The themes of the attractive cover for the original and its readable typeface are maintained. Michael Williams, one of Rorty's most prominent students, draws attention in his Introduction to contemporary thinkers like Robert Brandom and Huw Price whose theses simply could not have existed without Rorty's example; David Bromwich provides a biographical Afterword which captures something of the subsequent importance of Rorty when he was nearly an American Sartre, combining philosophy and left-liberal politics in *The New Leader* and *The Nation* and drawing attention to discarded plans for "social hope" through his marvelous philosophico-cultural tract *Contingency, Irony and Solidarity*. If you already own the book, I don't think it's necessary to pick the new version up; but if you don't own the book, please acquire it.
2 of 26 people found the following review helpful
A place to learn about Rorty, not from him 2 Oct. 2013
By Burgess Laughlin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First, you should be aware that my own philosophy is a philosophy of reason. It is thus radically different in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics from Rorty's philosophy. My interests show up in my two books. The first is The Aristotle Adventure: A Guide to the Greek, Arabic, & Latin Scholars Who Transmitted Aristotle's Logic to the Renaissance. The second is The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith. In other words, I am not a fan of Rorty.

I have read some of Rorty's writings in order to learn about him for my next project, a look at the current war between reason and mysticism in the USA.

From this viewpoint, I can recommend Rorty's book only if you are determined to "know" postmodernism first-hand. Consulting secondary sources--about Rorty's philosophy--will be helpful before or after struggling through Rorty's book.

What about the content of the book? In an April 11, 2012 post on my weblog, _The Main Event_, I said:


For a partial summary of Rorty's main points in PMN, see Michael Williams, "Introduction to the Thirtieth-Anniversary Edition" [of the book]. Williams's "Introduction" also provides historical background information that makes this difficult book easier to understand.
OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK. In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature Rorty examines philosophy as performed by academics in the 1970s. He sees philosophers making false assumptions. His main target is a certain set of related ideas, which Descartes created: (1) each person has a mind, (2) the mind is like a mirror reflecting reality ("nature"), and (3) truth is ideas corresponding to that reality. Rorty's intention is to destroy that set of ideas and that metaphor. Rorty's approach, through most of the book, is to critique in detail the ideas (and the accompanying metaphor) as presented by a range of philosophers, including Descartes, Locke, Kant, and a train of post-Kantians such as Ludwig Wittgenstein. In this way, most of the book is negative. Rorty devotes one chapter, the last one (Ch. VIII, "Philosophy Without Mirrors") to a presentation of his own views.
Rorty is determined to destroy reason. About his own book, he says:

*** The aim of the book is to undermine the reader's confidence in "the mind" as something about which one should have a "philosophical" view, in "knowledge" as something about which there ought to be a theory and which has "foundations", and in "philosophy" [centered on epistemology] as it has been conceived since Kant. *** (p. 7)

This passage is typical of Rorty's writing style. Clause by clause, it is moderately clear, but the sentence as a whole is hard to assimilate. It is long, but more importantly rational readers who are new to Rorty's philosophy will have trouble believing he means what he says. His statement is radically destructive of reason, but expressed banally.


If you want to get a direct taste of postmodernism, for American culture, this is a book to read. You will need dedication to work your way through it. But then you will have experienced postmodernism.
8 of 79 people found the following review helpful
Rorty 24 Oct. 2009
By Craig R. Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was a bit disappointed. Some interesting issues raised about science and linguistics, but the philosophy is somewhat tenuous. Clearly following the trend that only academic philosophers need understand each other leaves the intelligent layman out in left field. Carl Sagan once lamented this same trend in the sciences, that is, that astronomers need only write for other astronomers. Obviously, String Theory is headed in the same direction, making it unintelligible for all but physicists who have been trained in the new math. Great thinkers are readily grasped by readers outside their own field. I met a philosopher who didn't want me to read his book because it was too "technical". As far as I am concerned, if you can't put your theories into plain and lucid language, your work will become useless and discarded by the majority of people who read books and use libraries.
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