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University of Pangasinan-Phinma
Arellano St., Dagupan City, Pangasinan


Ed. D. – Student Course Professor

Topic: The Contigency of Language, Selfhood, and Subject: Contemporary

Community ( Richard Rorty ) Philosophy

1) The contingency of language

Rorty begins by discussing the problem of conceptualizing reality through language. Because
humans have no secondary point of view to reckon their perceptions to, they are left experiencing and
describing only the world as they experience and describe it, which means that our descriptions of the
universe are more a reflection of our minds than of the external world. He also mentions the problem of
reference and subjectivity (Rorty might say "Two subjective people agreeing does not make real

Here, he argues that all language is contingent. This is because only descriptions of the world
can be true or false, and descriptions are made by humans who must also make truth or falsity: truth or
falsity is thus not determined by any intrinsic property of the world being described. Instead they purely
belong to the human realm of description and language. For example, a factual case of green grass is
not true or false, in and by itself, but that grass is green may be true. I can say that that grass is
green and you could agree with this statement (which for Rorty makes the statement true), but our use
of the words to describe grass is distinct and independent of the grass itself.
Apart from human expression in language, notions of truth or falsity are simply irrelevant, or
maybe inexistant or nonsensical. Rorty consequently argues that all discussion of language in relation to
reality should be abandoned, and that one should instead discuss vocabularies in relation to other
vocabularies. In coherence with this view, he thus states that he will not exactly be making "arguments"
because arguments, as expression mostly within the domain of a given vocabulary, preclude novelty.

 The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have programmed ourselves with
a language, cause us to hold beliefs. But it cannot propose a language for us to speak. Only other
human beings can do that.
 Vocabularies, even those which contain the words which we take most seriously, the ones most
essential to our self-descriptions - are human creations, tools for the creation of such other human
artifacts such as poems, Utopian societies, scientific theories, and future generations.
 Truth cannot be out there - cannot exist independently of the human mind - because sentences
cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only
descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own—unaided by the describing
activities of human beings—cannot.
 Temptation to Suppose the World Has an Essence: Languages Made, Not Found. Languages are
made rather than found, and that truth is a property of linguistic entities, of sentences.
2) The contingency of selfhood

Rorty explains his belief that each person holds a set of ideas to be true about themselves, and
this fundamental set of axioms Rorty calls, "final vocabulary." Rorty argues that this final vocabulary
helps us to interpret our past so we can develop a sense of unique identity.
He proposes that each of us has a set of beliefs whose contingency we more or less ignore,
which he dubs our "final vocabulary". One of the strong poet's greatest fears, according to Rorty, is that
he will discover that he has been operating within someone else's final vocabulary all along; that he has
not "self-created". It is his goal, therefore, to recontextualize the past that led to his historically
contingent self, so that the past that defines him will be created by him, rather than creating him.
 On the traditional view, there is a core self which has beliefs and desires. Beliefs are assessable
in terms of whether they correspond to reality. Desires are criticizable if they fail to correspond to
the essential nature of the human self.
 Individuals are not fully conscious of who they are.
 Selfhood is the product of upbringing and educational background
 Socialization and enculturation have a contingent character.
3) The contingency of a liberal community

He begins this concept by addressing critics who accuse him of irrationality and moral relativism.
He asserts that accusations of irrationality are merely affirmations of vernacular "otherness". We use the
term "irrational" when we come across a vocabulary that cannot be synthesized with our own, as when a
father calls his son irrational for being scared of the dark, or when a son calls his father irrational for not
checking under the bed for monsters. The vocabulary of "real monsters" is not shared between father
and son, and so accusations of irrationality fly. As for moral relativism, for Rorty, this accusation can only
be considered a criticism if one believes in a metaphysically salient and salutary moral, which Rorty
firmly does not.
He then discusses his liberal utopia. He gives no argument for liberalism, and believes that there
have been and will be many ironists who are not liberal, but he does propose that we as members of a
democratic society are becoming more and more liberal. In his utopia, people would never discuss
restrictive metaphysical generalities such as "good", "moral", or "human nature", but would be allowed to
communicate freely with each other on entirely subjective terms.
He sees most cruelty as stemming from metaphysical questions like, "what is it to be human?",
because questions such as these allow us to rationalize that some people are to be considered less
than human, thus justifying cruelty to those people. In other words, we can only call someone "less than
human" if we have a metaphysical "yardstick" with which to measure their prototypical human-ness. If
we deprive ourselves of this yardstick (by depriving ourselves of metaphysics altogether), we have no
means with which to dehumanize anyone.
 Liberal community is a society where there is freedom from pain and humiliation and where open-
mindedness is practiced.