The nature of knowledge has been of great concern to many prominent thinkers and philosophers who may represent different historical periods or schools of thought. Many of them examine the ways in which people can determine whether a certain premise is valid or not. This paper is aimed at discussing Richard Rorty’s approach to the interpretation of such a concept as truth. One should keep in mind that Rorty is a representative of pragmatism; according to this theory, the truth can be described as a “changing, subjective, and relative” phenomenon (Velasquez 414). In particular, it is necessary to evaluate his claim that when a person says something is true, he/she “commends” it (Rorty as cited in Velasquez 416). In other words, this argument implies that a person can accept anything as truth, provided that it is compatible with the standards of validity that are adopted by a group. Overall, this argument should not be overlooked because it highlights the unreliability of human knowledge; nevertheless, its relativism can be used to justify absurd or even atrocious ideas that can eventually prove to be disastrous. These are the main issues that should be discussed more closely.
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Overall, Richard Rorty believes that individuals accept something as truth if it passes the “procedures of justification” established in a certain community (Velasquez 416). In this context, the term justification procedures can be described as the tools or tests which are used to distinguish truth from falsity. The main issue is that various communities may apply different tests of validity. Therefore, it is possible to argue that the notion of truth is not a static phenomenon; on the contrary, it can vary and evolve considerably with time passing. It should be mentioned that the tests of justification can also evolve considerably. Therefore, one cannot say that a certain statement may always be accepted as true even in the same community. The main implication of that there is no statement that can be viewed as universally true. These are the main details that can be identified. On the whole, this approach to epistemology is accepted by many sociologists, anthropologists, or psychologists; yet, its principles can also be often debated, and these controversies should be examined in greater detail.
To some degree, Richard Rorty’s claim can be partly supported because there are different criteria or procedures that can be used to test the validity of a certain statement. For instance, scientists can rely on logical axioms and empirical data in order to determine whether a specific claim is true or false. In their turn, poets, artists, or literary critics may apply different standards in order to evaluate the validity of any argument. However, it is important to remember that these groups of people may not speak about the same phenomena. For instance, critics can tell whether a book has any literary merits or not. Nevertheless, they are hardly qualified to pass any judgment on the validity of mathematical theorems or physical laws. The main argument is that some communities may not always have the necessary procedures of justification in order to distinguish truth from falsity. In their turn, Richard Rorty and other representatives of pragmatism do not show how a person can evaluate the appropriateness of justification procedures used by a certain group or a community. Such notions as truth or falsity can play a critical role in the decision-making of a person. However, Richard Rorty does not explain how an individual should act when he/she is confronted with conflicting truths. This is one of the limitations that should be taken into account by people who evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of pragmatism.
Apart from that, Richard Rorty’s ideas can be used to justify even the most absurd ideas. For instance, before Copernicus, people took it for granted that the Earth had been flat. Moreover, very few of them could question this premise. The justification procedures, which existed at that time, could not falsify this idea. Yet, according to the principles of pragmatism, this view on astronomy could also be accepted as true, at least at that time. The history of science is full of examples illustrating that the validity of a certain postulate can be re-evaluated or rejected. However, researchers do not tell that physical laws changed over time. They simply state that they were able to gain better insights into the nature of a specific question. This is why scientists cannot easily accept the ideas expressed by Richard Rorty and other pragmatists. Yet, there are even more dangerous consequences of pragmatism. In particular, this approach can be used to justify the most atrocious ideas, such as the premise according to which a certain race or an ethnic group is inferior to others, and it should be exterminated. One should keep in mind that in some communities, policy-makers tried to impose justification procedures that were supposed to legitimize such arguments. This approach can be applied to legitimize almost anything that is accepted by the majority of the elites of the community. This is probably the main pitfalls that should be avoided because it can pose a threat to a great number of people or society, in general.
It is possible to say the approach taken by Richard Rorty changes the very notion of truth. In particular, it is a context-determined phenomenon, but not something that remains valid regardless of the external environment. The examples provided in the previous sections indicate that this theory can lead to the existence of conflicting statements that can be accepted as true in different communities. This is why one should be careful while using the key principles of pragmatism. This is one of the issues that should not be overlooked. Nevertheless, this interpretation is beneficial because it shows that scientific or ethical principles, which can be universally accepted nowadays, may eventually be rejected. This is why this approach to epistemology should not be discarded. On the whole, Rorty’s claim highlights the main principles of pragmatism.
The arguments discussed in this paper imply that it is rather difficult to gain so-called objective knowledge. On the whole, it is possible to say that Richard Rorty’s ideas may help a person better understand the complexity of such a concept as truth, which is determined by the existing epistemological standards as well as social norms. In particular, this thinker argues that such notions as validity or falsity do not exist outside the community or a group. Nevertheless, his ideas can be applied to justify even the most controversial ideas. Moreover, this author does not provide methods of evaluating conflicting truths. These are the main points that can be made.
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings, New York: Cengage Learning, 2013. Print