A new religion of mankind?

Not the usual MR fare, but I found the following Richard Rorty essay interesting reading. Rorty appears to have moved away from his anti-foundationalism — (roughly) the belief that truths cannot be proven from first principles — and is calling for a new pluralistic religion of humanity:

Rorty believes that we in the West are all polytheists now because we think that there are various goods and no overarching good. He chooses this term “polytheism” carefully–and not altogether ironically–because he believes that the idea can bring together John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, and William James in the belief that “there is no actual or possible object of knowledge that would permit you to commensurate and rank all human needs.” If gods and goods are plural and serve different people in different ways, why should we feel the need to rank them? In fact, it may be the pursuit of such divergent human ends that benefits us all in the long run…

So far I am close to agreeing…although I recognize the possible use of a “stolen concept” of general well-being at the end. If you can’t rank goods, don’t tell me at the end that recognizing this fact will make us all better off. There is more:

Rorty is convinced that such an inexorable transition from traditional monotheism to this secular civil religion is already under way: “I think that the religion of love has gradually moved out of the churches and into the political arena. That religion is in the process of being transfigured into democratic politics. What is left in the churches is the fear that human beings may not be able to save themselves without help–that social cooperation is not enough.” Rorty hopes that the American civil religion of democracy will be enough for most people, so that those left over will be an inconsequential minority.

I agree with much of this point, though I do not approve as Rorty does. Now how about this part:

…Rorty describes the role of college professors in almost fundamentalist terms: professors should see their work in the classroom as nothing less than an exercise in conversion. They ought “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” With no hint of his usual irony, Rorty writes that “students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.”

As this point I will offer no further comment.


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