'That's the way we happen to do things around here' : Richard Rorty and political liberalism
This thesis advances a defence of Richard Rorty's political liberalism. It is widely held that what Rorty calls anti-foundationalism either consciously proposes, or logically entails, the denial both of ethical commitment and the possibility of moral justification. Others argue that Rorty reduces commitment to a parochial concern, and that justification is relative to the standards of a narrowly conceived community. Commitment and justification, it is said, reduce to pointing out whatever it is that constitutes 'the way we happen to do things around here'. In turn, anti-foundationalism is said to render obsolete any normative project in political theory. The thesis rejects these claims, arguing that Rorty does not reduce commitment and justification in this way. Anti-foundationalism is shown not to reduce reason-giving to 'what we happen to think around here', and it is also cleansed of claims that it is relativistic, irrational and nihilistic. Justification as the response for reasonable requests for explanation of our beliefs and practices remains important for Rorty, centrally in his account of justification through 'wide reflective equilibrium'. The thesis shows how Rorty's view of liberal ironism is the completion, not the negation, of liberalism. It demonstrates that he is able both to justify and defend liberal principles and institutions, and to do so in a way that undercuts many of the criticisms of liberalism that have been levelled by communitarian critics and others. It examines his view of liberal political thought not as providing a philosophical justification of liberalism, but as offering an articulation of it. It closes by considering the scope of liberal claims, suggesting that Rorty is, in the only meaningful sense of the term, a liberal universalist.