Richard Rorty dies

1. He emphasized that there is no unique way to translate the results of a model into an interpretation of the real world.  This is trivial for those who know it, but not everyone does. 

That means when DSquared writes: "[The case for free trade] can’t be derived in an economy with a positive rate of profit; Ian
Steedman proved this one in a series of papers discussed on Rob
Vienneau’s blog" the correct response is one never thought it could be derived in the first place.

See Rorty’s readable Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature; to some this is warmed-over Quine mixed with Continental gobbledy-gook but you can think that and still value the book.  This book (only $200!) has a wonderful essay on the importance of Rorty for economists and economic method.

2. Rorty stressed the importance of knowing fiction and the humanities for the social sciences or policy assessment.

3. Rorty wanted to erect "avoidance of cruelty" as a starting point for thinking about the liberal order.  I don’t think this quite works but it does represent a major and important challenge to the economic way of thinking and indeed to the entire classical liberal tradition. 

Unlike many modern liberals I take "the inevitability of death, probably painful" to be one of the starting points for political thought.  That being the case, cruelties are looming all the time and we need to pick and choose our noble actions.  I have mixed feelings about the "letting happen/causing" distinction and I place greater weight on ensuring the peaks of human existence.  Rorty’s view, consistently applied, would turn the entire planet over to the (other) animals.  I am not comfortable when I hear the phrase "optimal amount of cruelty" but I don’t wish to ignore those issues either.

Check out these comments.

The bottom line: Rorty is easy to criticize, but he remains one of more important contemporary thinkers to read.


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