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Richard Rorty’s View in “Pragmatism, Davidson and Truth” Essay

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Richard Rorty, who lived between the years 1931 and 2007, brought up a unique and debated type of pragmatism that is debated along two key lines (Taylor 2). The first one is adverse, which gives a thorough analysis of Rorty’s understanding of the current philosophy’s defining projects. The second one is progressive, which seeks to explain the appearance of intellectual culture when men have unbound themselves from the ruling symbols of the brain and understanding.

An entrenchment of the old challenges of epistemology and metaphysics is found in the brain. Rorty attacks the notion that man ought to recognize and adhere to life’s normative limitation with regard to the belief systems for him to remain rational. He, particularly, uses natural science as his reference point and source of facts (Sansom 68). This essay evaluates Rorty’s idea in “Pragmatism, Davidson and Truth” regarding the customary arguments about truth. The essay offers an insight into the truthfulness of Rorty’s assertions, compared to the submissions of Davidson.

Rorty’s understanding of ‘Truth’

In Rorty’s understanding, it is a waste of time for man to seek fairness, while the essence of his language, independence, and society is embedded in the struggles to communicate. Being objective or impartial negates the characteristic of man and it is no longer maintainable in the society (Pritchard and Ranalli 352). Similarly, Rorty believes that man ought to abandon any petitions for truth due to the fact that one can never have a proper understanding of the world.

Therefore, man should never attempt to create a normative understanding of truth. Accordingly, people should not attempt to find or define truth, or criticize falsehood (Levine 255-257). Further, man should not criticize scepticism, because it is not within the human province to allocate the subject or object on the planet. The world is a metaphor and the best that one can get out of it is to make the metaphor attend to self-interests. Accordingly, Rorty argues that metaphors are not permanent and the future will always bring new ones. All one has to do is to ensure that they keep changing such metaphors to place oneself at the heart of self-interests (Glanzberg 156-158).

The pursuit for the objectivity of the world and the objectivity of the person or society only serves as a barrier to the growth and development of individual lives and communities at large. By doing away with the imaginary need for objectivity, the society opens up doors and sets the stage for a discussion of the critical question; which is building unity in the society in order to have the existent metaphors attend to self-interest. Rorty is fond of referring to Nietzsche’s description of ‘truth’, stating that it is the “mobile army of metaphors” (Taylor 3).

He asserts that truth represents a contingency and it is malleable at all times. In other words, truth is attached to the eventuality of a future event that is meant to limit the interests of man and it may be argued in several ways. People should act like poets and argue the angle of truth that best serves their interests.

Davidson’s account on Truth in “Pragmatism, Davidson and Truth”

It is important to evaluate the understanding of Davidson on radical interpretation. In appreciating the possibility of radical interpretation, Davidson’s propositional attitudes are to be put into perspective. These are expressed in phrases, such as “mean that”, “trust that”, and so on (Sansom 70-72). These expressions lack reference to linguistic elements that bar normative features, but they point to objects. They serve to interpret, because in interpretations, one ought to know the meaning of propositional attitudes. The attitudes, consequently, require one to know the intentions of the world. Davidson, therefore, asserts that a theory of truth is required in order to carry out a radical interpretation. Nevertheless, he rubbishes any theory of causation that attempts to link words to non-verbal truths (Zipursky 526).

In accounting for the prospect of claims of truth, Davidson uses Tarski’s definition, which posits that S may only be true in L when S is the linguistic word and L is the common language of the speakers (Pritchard and Ranalli 359). Hence, a statement such as “skies are blue” is true, where in fact skies are blue. This, however, should not be taken as a formula to determine truths, but a manner of interpreting the account of others and arriving at similar propositional attitudes. Davidson, therefore, asserts that truth is imperative, as people make their propositional purposes understood by others with similar intentions in their propositions using truth. With the lack of truth, it would be impossible to get the minds of others or to learn that one actually thinks like they do.

A criticism of Rorty’s posits

Despite the fact that Rorty insists that his work and that of Davidson are similar in as far as appreciating a communal sense of seeking knowledge is concerned, there are huge and striking differences that exist between the two. Rorty’s assertions are quite arguable in light of the work of Davidson (Levine 259). Rorty’s argument is based on the idea that man exists in a society that allows him to get away with his opinion of the world through his interpretation of the existing metaphors.

In other words, Rorty understands the world to be made of a myriad of metaphors about truths, which are analysed and applied in differing ways. Davidson, on the other hand, understands the notion of communalism in truths, as the society or community enables man to understand the world through truthful claims. In other words, Davidson’s posit is that the truth about the world is revealed to man through the community. Davidson’s assertion may be regarded as more credible, as it bears better precision in articulation in contrast to the idea of Rorty.

First, Rorty appears to suggest that the world is made of a formless creation of substances that lack meaning or definition, which are only understood once persons build opinions on them. It means that everything is nothing, till one says it is something. The idea itself is ludicrous and lacks in common knowledge and the theory lacks understanding. The creation of the world remains to be so, whether people build opinions or they do not build opinions. Truth is tangible and real; it does not depend on any imagination or opinion of the human mind to be what it is.

As Davidson states, it is the world that reveals itself to us through society that enables us to understand it, rather than our understanding being the truth. Additionally, the fact that the human mind builds opinions about certain things does not necessarily make these things true. What the mind and body opine is simply their view of the thing, but it does not make the thing what the mind opines it to be.

Second, the idea that the truth is surrounded by metaphors that ought to be interpreted in a manner that suits the individual is not just self-centred, but it is also ridiculous, bizarre, and shallow in understanding. Rorty drives the idea that truth is what the mind makes of it through opinion and belief, but he fails to appreciate that the metaphors that he refers to are the same opinions of the people built communally for longer periods of time.

In other words, no metaphor exists in the world per say, but what thrives is the belief systems and understandings of people through opinions held on certain matters. If any metaphor does exist, it may only be so because the human mind has perceived certain things in the manner of the metaphor. Hence, Rorty contradicts himself by referring to opinions and metaphors as two separate distinctions, rather than one that leads to the attainment of the other. In essence, one need not interpret the truth with the use of the existing metaphors, but one ought to use his own opinion (‘metaphor’) to get his view of the truth (Sachs 683-685).

From the writing of “Pragmatism, Davidson and Truth” and several other writings that he did, Davidson states that “coherence yields correspondence”. Here, Davidson attempts to underscore the centrality of communication, which creates the understanding of the world as he believes. Where there is a proper operation of coherence, then there is correspondence, as meanings are brought out clearly.

Davidson attempts to explain that “correspondence” is created by the language of the people, which is used as a means of transmitting knowledge amongst the people. This mirrors the world. However, Rorty attacks this idea with claims that communication is not connected amongst persons with the ability to communicate or coherence, but with the understanding that is within the human being. This understanding comes out as the person’s opinion of the world and, ultimately, his truth.

According to Rorty, the truth is not realized through coherence and correspondence amongst people in the society, but the society is created through the mental conception of it and, to an extent, such coherence and communication. In other words, a huge point of divergence is created when Rorty suggests that the world, truth, and facts are created by mental conceptions. On the other hand, Davidson suggests that communication amongst people is what brings about understanding and an appreciation of the truth.

Rorty’s idea may be challenged on a number of grounds. First, he appears to suggest that one is born knowledgeable of his surroundings and the facts that exist in the world without the necessity of having to seek other knowledge. However, science itself disapproves this notion, as the human brain is without knowledge during birth and only acquires it as life progresses and experiences come about in life. Communication through experiences, teaching, and learning and observation are the elements that build opinions, which finally crystallize into an understanding of the truth.

Therefore, the mind does not build an opinion of truth and objectivity in isolation of its communication with the world, as this informs its ability to comprehend reality. Second, Rorty may be said to suggest that there is no need for education or improvement of a person’s level of information because the mind remains to comprehend the same truth and understanding that it does from birth. In other words, he suggests that a professor, for example, thinks and reasons in the same way that he would if he were not a professor, because his understanding and appreciation of the world and truth remain the same.

However, this is false because education is used to transform minds from ignorance to knowledge, understanding and mental growth, all of which contribute to the person’s understanding and opinion of the world and the truth. As Davidson suggests, therefore, the personal comprehension of truth and the understanding of reality is based on the communication that he has with the society through a coherent manner that brings about correspondence and understanding. Men are not born all knowing, but they acquire this knowledge through the long process of life that enlightens their minds progressively.

In his theory of translations’ indeterminacy, Davidson is of the view that the ultimate determination or the meaning of something may not be realizable through communication and correspondence in achieving knowledge. At this point, Rorty appears to agree with Davidson. He states that knowledge and understanding are infinite, thus language may only be best applied by men in a metaphorical way, without the need to reflect the world through claims of truth.

Nevertheless, Davidson applies the theory of indeterminacy or infinity of understanding in a slightly different way. He states that the entirety of the minds in the world cannot come to a common conclusion on the nature of a thing indisputably or eliminate all claims of knowledge to build one. On the other hand, Rorty’s understanding of the indeterminacy of knowledge is with regard to the metaphors that he believes take the place of truth in the world (Sachs 686).

According to Rorty, there may not be an ultimate truth in the world because metaphors and opinions are what exist in its place and man interprets them to suit his own ways. Indeed, both arguments may be taken to be true and relevant because the different versions of knowledge that exist may not allow a final determination of truth. On the other hand, people create opinions that are built into metaphors that define the making of the planet and the truth. In a sense, this creates a point of convergence in the two (Goldberg 5).


In conclusion, Richard Rorty has succeeded in creating a new style of pragmatism through his arguments on the truth. He asserts that truth is non-existent and it solely depends on the mental comprehension of those in the world through their understanding of the existing metaphors. However, his comprehension has been criticized in this essay on several grounds. First, he fails to appreciate that the world exists in isolation of opinions to guide it and opinions do not actually create the world. Similarly, he is criticized on the suggestion that coherence comes after knowledge, with the understanding that communication is required to have knowledge and understanding as the mind gradually acquires it. Ultimately, the article on “Pragmatism, Davidson and Truth” gives a better understanding of the truth.

Works Cited

Glanzberg, Michael. The Concept of Truth. In Lepore Ernie and Kirk Ludwin, A Companion to Donald Davidson, Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2013: 156-172. Print.

Goldberg, Nathaniel. “Davidson, Dualism, and Truth.” Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy 1.7 (2012): 1-19. Print.

Levine, Steven. “Truth and Moral Validity: On Habermas’ Domesticated Pragmatism.” Constellations 18.2 (2011): 244-259. Print.

Pritchard, Duncan, and Christopher Ranalli. “Rorty, Williams, and Davidson: Skepticism and Metaepistemology.” Humanities 2.3 (2013): 351-368. Print.

Sachs, B. Carl. “Rorty’s Debt to Sellarsian Metaphysics.” Metaphilosophy 44.5 (2013): 682-707. Print.

Sansom, L. Dennis. “Truth and the World: Why Davidson is Right and Rorty is Wrong.” Philosophy Study 1.1 (2011): 67-76. Print.

Taylor, Alistair. . 2012. Web.

Zipursky, C. Benjamin. “Two Takes on Truth in Normative Discourse.” Boston University Law Review 90 (2010): 525-533. Print.

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