Rorty's Debt to Sellarsian Metaphysics

Naturalism, Secularization, and the Enlightenment

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Abstract

Rorty regards himself as furthering the project of the Enlightenment by separating Enlightenment liberalism from Enlightenment rationalism. To do so, he rejects the very need for explicit metaphysical theorizing. Yet his commitments to naturalism, nominalism, and the irreducibility of the normative come from the metaphysics of Wilfrid Sellars. Rorty's debt to Sellars is concealed by his use of Davidsonian arguments against the scheme/content distinction and the nonsemantic concept of truth. The Davidsonian arguments are used for Deweyan ends: to advance secularization and anti-authoritarianism. However, Rorty's conflation of theology and metaphysics conceals the possibility of post-theological metaphysics. The key distinction lies between “metaphysics” and “Metaphysics.” The former provisionally models the relations between different vocabularies; the latter continues theology by other means. Sellars shows how to do metaphysics without Metaphysics. This approach complements Rorty's prioritization of cultural politics over ontology and his vision of Enlightenment liberalism without Enlightenment rationalism.

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