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Revisiting Rorty: Contributions to a Pragmatist Feminism




In this paper, I contribute to the ongoing investigation of the similarities and dissimilarities between feminism and pragmatism—a project explored more than fifteen years ago in the Hypatia special issue on Feminism and Pragmatism (1993)—by looking at the value of Richard Rorty's work for feminist theorists and activists. In this paper, I defend Rorty against three central feminist criticisms: 1) that Rorty's defense of liberal irony relies upon a problematic delineation between public and private, 2) that Rorty's endorsement of reform over revolution is too conservative to be of use for feminism, and 3) that the role of the ironist in social progress is not useful for, nor does it accurately reflect the history of, the feminist movement. I argue that these criticisms can be mitigated by being located within the broader context of Rorty's philosophical and political commitments, which we are now in a better position to understand and thus revisit. More specifically, I contend that bringing together Rorty's private discourse of redescription with his public discourse of justification provides for feminists new methods for animating social progress. I conclude by offering examples of how adopting a Rortyan perspective would be well-suited to achieving further feminist aims.