Much has has been made of the very real and debilitating Continental/analytic divide in academic philosophy. In response many talk aboutneeding to build bridges across the divide and how they appreciate the bridge building currently being built by postanalytic philosophers.
It is, therefore, suprising that Richard Rorty, who has done of lot of bridgebuilding should be so quickly dismissed. More considerate commentators say that he leaves them cold; or even though they-----eg.,purse *lips* square jaw
appreciate aspects of pragmatism, American pragmatists like Richard Rorty doesn't appeal.
What Rorty has been able to achieve from the perspective of someone who was nearly ground down into the dirt and hung out to dry by analytic philosophers in Adelaide whilst doing their PhD in the philosophy institution is an opening to other ways of doing philosophy. After Rorty you can discuss Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidgger, Adorno, Derrida, Foucault etc legitimately. After Rorty you can talk about philosophy needing to transform itself. After Rorty you can talk about philosophy allied to literature rather than science. You may not agree with lots of things that Rorty says but at least he has opened the windows of the philosophy institution and allowed some fresh air in. That's important because it was getting to be so stale in the philosophy institution that it was becoming difficult to breathe. Though philosophy was a part of the Humanities in the liberal university it saw itself as a part of the natural sciences. Analytic philosphy drew a stark divide between philosophy (ie., scientific philosophy) and the rest of the humanities including literary criticism.
In his paper ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY AND TRANSFORMATIVE PHILOSOPHY
this state of affairs is addressed by Rorty
He says that the 1960s left movement did not change the way that philosophers understood their discipline. They became politically active and continued on with doing analytic philosophy and concentrating on the hard core specialities ---metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and science. Everything else, including the history of philosophy was seen to wimpish and girlish-----it contributed to opinion rather than knowledge much like literary criticism. Rorty says:
"..analytic philosophers would like, above all else, to feel that they are adding bricks to the edifice of knowledge...That sense of definitiveness and finality is what analytic philosophers yearn for."
This is "deeply ingrained in the culture of analytic philosophy"
and it leads to "the ideal of the pursuit of non-time-bound, unrevisable, truth."
Consequently, analytic philosophers dismiss histories of philosophy as being more like literary criticism than genuine philosophy " because it invites intellectual historians to tell another competing story about the same trends, just like setting up a literary canon invites the next generation of critics to revise that canon."
Rorty argues that the division between analytic and non-analytic philosophy roughly parallels C. P. Snow's contrast between the scientific and literary culture. Rorty says that:
' Most people who go in for what analytic philosophers call "Continental philosophy" are willing, and often eager, to fuzz up the boundaries between philosophy, intellectual history, literature literary criticism and culture criticism.They are relatively indifferent to the results of the so-called hard sciences....The typical reader of Heidegger and Derrida views the hard sciences as handmaidens of technological progress, rather than as providing windows through which to glimpse reality unveiled."
Most of these readers would concur with Nietzsche giving priority of art and literature to science, the need to view science through the eyes of art, and the emphasis on an art-centred education rather than a science-centred education. In an art centred-culture the poets determine our ends whilst the scientists merely provide the instruments and means to realize these ends.
Rorty's use of C. P. Snow's two cultures thesis is useful because it highlights the differences between analytic and continental philosophy in a way that is readily understandable. So what do those in the humanities do? According to Rorty they tell stories about past transformations in human culture:
"these are stories about, for example, how the Greeks got from from Homer to Aristotle, how literary criticism got from DR., JOhnson to Harold Bloom, how the German imagination got from Schiller to Habermas, how Protestantism got from Luther to Tillich, and how feminists got from Harriet Taylor to Catherine MacKinnon.These narratives tell us how human human beings managed to change their most important self-descriptions. All such narratives are endlessly contestable, and endlessly revisable in the light of more recent changes."
Such narratives are then woven together with one another and the resulting tapestry is what Hegel called 'holding our time in thought'. Rorty says that this alternative understanding of philosophy gives us a plausible understanding of what humanities department in our universities offer their students:
" By telling stories about past transformative encounters members of these departments hope to put students in a better position to have similar encounters of their own...Holding one's time in thought is the humanities what puzzle-solving is to the sciences."
What they are doing is making things hang together by telling stories about how past transformations do or do not hang up. Rorty says the "greatest non-analytic philosophers of our centurry, Dewey and Heidegger, spend a lot of their time telling stories about decline and about progress, stories which led their readers to reconceive themselves and their surroundings."
This account by Rorty opens a doorway into an other way to write philosophy to the analytic conception of system building scientific knowledge by professionals through solving deep philosophical puzzles within a materialist program of scientific research. It opens up a doorway through which you step through to make contact with people trying to put the old and new together, trying to make sense of historical and cultural change, trying to make human life hang together in a rapidly changing world.