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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.