Richard Rorty: An Intellectual Memoir

By Crispin Sartwell

Richard Rorty, who died in 2007, was often called the most famous philosopher of the late-20th century writing in English. That’s not necessarily impressive to the world at large, as most English-speaking people of the late-20th century probably couldn’t have named a single contemporary philosopher. But within academia, he was as famous as anyone, which in his case involved being almost universally hated: both envied (he was the first and is still one of the few philosophers ever to get a MacArthur) and attacked relentlessly. The London Review of Books called him the “bad boy of American Philosophy,” which made him sound pretty intriguing: half Iggy Pop and half René Descartes. Ultimately, Dick Rorty became an emblem of postmodern relativism in the golden era of the culture wars, and was treated as a symptom of all that had gone wrong with the human intellect and the world in general.