Rorty, Connolly, and the Role of Irony


ABSTRACT: Despite agreeing on the importance of irony, Richard Rorty and William Connolly differ sharply on its role for the individual, and for society more broadly. That is, Rorty understands irony as of strictly personal use, whereas Connolly bases an entire public realm on ironic discourse. I will, in this paper, analyze each thinker’s views on irony’s ultimate function. That is, I will articulate Rorty’s view of ironist theory as problematic, and will attempt to apply Rorty’s claims regarding the ironist theorist to Connolly’s project. Also, I will attempt to support Rorty’s argument for liberal democracy as a savory alternative to public irony.

Despite agreeing on the importance of irony, Richard Rorty and William Connolly differ sharply on its role for the individual, and for society more broadly. That is, Rorty understands irony as of strictly personal use, whereas Connolly bases an entire public realm on ironic discourse. I will, in this paper, analyze each thinker’s views on irony’s ultimate function. The first section will be concerned with Rorty’s view of ironist theory as problematic. This discussion will explicate Rorty’s view both generally and as applied to Heidegger. In the next section, I will attempt to apply Rorty’s claims regarding the ironist theorist to Connolly’s project. Also in this section, I will argue that Connolly’s project suffers from yet another difficulty, namely that it is cruel. In understanding Connolly’s work as ironist theory, and in characterizing it as cruel, I hope to bring out a number of difficulties in Connolly’s  position on irony’s place in the public realm. Finally, in the third section, I will attempt to support Rorty’s argument for liberal democracy as a savory alternative to public irony. The purpose of this paper, in short, is to make questionable Connolly’s extension of irony into the public realm.

The Problem of Ironist Theory: Rorty on Heidegger

Rorty understands theory as pertaining only to the ironist’s personal project. However, within the ironic realm, theory has played a role in broader projects than those concerned only with personal redescription. In attempting to explicate this notion of the ironist theorist, Rorty discusses theory’s function in the later work of Heidegger. Within this discussion, Rorty characterizes Proust as using irony more successfully than Heidegger, due primarily to Proust’s making use of the novel, as opposed to Heidegger’s use of theory.[1] In the end, Rorty understands the novel as a vehicle better suited to the ironist than theory.

Before discussing these specific ironists, it is necessary to elucidate Rorty’s notions of metaphysical theory and ironist theory. Rorty’s notion of metaphysical theory complies with the common view of philosophical discourse. Namely, metaphysical theory is concerned with that which lies behind what is normally perceived as reality, or that on which all things are universally and fundamentally grounded. Ironist theory, on the contrary, does not begin with the idea that there is anything fundamental or universal on which all other things rest. Instead, ironist theory tries to understand and redescribe metaphysical theory, such that it may do away with the necessity for metaphysical discourse.[2] Once this weight of metaphysical theory has been lifted, the ironist is able to create her own final vocabulary, and live on her own terms. The specific topic of ironist theory, then, is redescription of the Plato-Kant canon in order for a redescription of the self.

For Rorty, there are two problems with ironist theory that do not also affect the ironist novel[3]. The first of these problems is given as the problem of self-reference. This problem pertains to a certain paradox that comes from a combination of redescription and finitization. That is, the ironist theorist who is aware of her own finitude does not only redescribe, but finitizes old discourse. However, to finitize this discourse requires a break from her own finitude that the ironist does not want to make. The problem with this leap beyond redescription lies in creating a new set of possibilities out of the old discourse, and outside of that discourse. In doing this, the ironist theorist does not allow for her own reinterpretation, at least not outside of her new discourse.[4] The ironist novelist, however, does not experience the problem of self-reference. That is, she is not concerned with the way that her redescriptions are understood outside of her own project, or in the public realm. Further, she is not concerned with how someone else may redescribe her own view, as this view is only meant to be her own redescription towards autonomy, and is not meant to be universally applicable. The ironic theorist, therefore, falls prey to the problem of self-reference whereas the ironist novelist does not.

According to Rorty, the ironist theorist’s second problem is the quest for the historical sublime. This quest for sublimity entails an effort towards something universal or infinite, which is larger than the theorist herself. The ironist theorist, so as not to fall into metaphysical discourse, understands the necessity of remaining within the realm of history. However,  the sublime that the theorist must relate to in order to claim autonomy entails a clear break from the redescribed past.[5] In contrast, the ironist novelist remains content in her search for beauty, which remains in the realm of the temporal, the private, and the finite. Similar to her ability to avoid the problem of self-reference, the novelist avoids the problem of the historical sublime because she welcomes redescription and finitization within another’s quest for beauty. Therefore, the ironist theorist, once again, is subject to a problem that the ironist novelist may avoid.

Above, I have attempted to elucidate the distinction between the ironist theorist and the ironist novelist, and have also tried to make clear the problems that the ironist theorist is sure to face. Next, I will discuss Rorty’s critique of Heidegger’s ironist theory. This critique is important, as I will later argue that Heidegger and Connolly suffer from similar problems.

Heidegger’s project is not wholly sound as an ironic project, on Rorty’s view.[6] The most important mistake that Heidegger made in attempting to merge metaphysics with irony is his universalization of specific elementary words. That is, the words that Heidegger understood as elementary, those words used by the metaphysicians that have created a certain final vocabulary, were supposed to apply to the final vocabulary of all of Europe. The importance of such a universalization, in critiquing Heidegger’s role as an ironist, is that these words were meant to apply to more than just his own project, or were meant for the public at large. However, for those who do not associate with metaphysics, or those who do not see such discourse as important, there is no way that these elementary words may apply to them, or be vital to their own redescription and self-creation.[7] In universalizing these elementary words, Heidegger suffers from both problems of the ironic theorist. That is, he attempts to reach a sublime foundation from which to make broadly “European” prescriptions, and from which he might not be redescribed. Therefore, in as far as Heidegger aspired to a merging of metaphysics and irony, his project was not wholly satisfactory.

This discussion of Heidegger, and of ironist theory more generally, is important for Rorty’s support of private, not public, irony. That is, the ironist theorist’s failure lies in her necessity to apply ideas further than her own redescription. More explicitly, Rorty understands irony as “of little public use… Metaphysics hoped to bring together our private and our public lives… Ironist theory ran its course in the attempt to achieve the same synthesis…But the attempt was hopeless.”[8]

On Rorty’s view, the ironist should be content with a certain split between the private and public realms, and should not attempt to bridge a gap between these realms. Such a split entails a separation of private and public final vocabularies. The ironist may question and redescribe her private final vocabulary, but may not search for foundational claims as to why, in the public realm, cruelty is the worst thing that can be done.[9] Therefore, for Rorty, the combination of self-creation and politics is destined to be unsuccessful.

Connolly’s Ironist Theory: Explication and Problems

Here, I will explicate Connolly’s view as to how and why irony and self-creation are to be extended into the political, or public, realm. After characterizing Connolly as in favor of public irony, a characterization that he explicitly recognizes, I will attempt to show that Connolly succumbs to the same problems as does Heidegger. If this attempt is successful, Connolly may be understood as an ironist theorist, and as subject to the Rortian criticisms of such a position.

Connolly argues that an ethos of critical responsiveness is necessary in order to enact a pluralization of pluralism. This pluralization is a way in which a new understanding of identity, and this identity’s relation to other identities, may break free from traditional standards of political judgment. That is, within the pluralist framework, certain dominant moral and political relations between constituencies have become impediments on these constituencies’ self-creation. Such an impediment has occurred, at least in large part, due to what Connolly understands as a “primacy of epistemology”. This primacy of epistemology allows a historical regime to be concerned only with a very limited understanding of truth, such that ideas that question the fundamental principles are excluded.[10] Questions regarding the specific onto-political interpretations on which contemporary pluralism is founded, then, are left out of most discourse. Those ideas that rely on notions of truth and falsity are within the accepted epistemological realm, whereas those that rely on “untruth” are not. In clarifying the divide between these ideas, Connolly evokes the Foucauldian concept of the transcendental doublet. This transcendental doublet is that aspect of one’s mode of thought that is, paradoxically enough, always present as a certain governing agent of thought, but is unable to be successfully identified.[11] A pluralization of pluralism, in Connolly’s view, will reduce the gap between the thinking subject and her double, will recognize the paradoxical nature of authentic constituent identities, and will allow for a broadening of the way that these different constituencies may relate to one another.[12]

Connolly suggests a way in which this primacy of epistemology may be re-evaluated, after which a pluralization of pluralism may be sought. This re-evaluation, as I will characterize it, may most succinctly be understood as a combination between Foucauldian genealogy and a democratic reassessment of Nietzschean self-creation. Nietzsche’s influence, first, comes in his profound rejection of commonly held, but historically contingent, moral dualities. For Connolly, this rejection may be adopted as a way to step outside of the paradigm of contemporary pluralism, or that paradigm which is founded on the primacy of epistemology, and work towards an alternative strategy of ethical cultivation.[13] This ethics of cultivation is defined by an engagement with a diversity of life that lies outside of pluralism’s hegemonic modes of identification. In Connolly’s own words, the importance of such an ethics for a pluralization of pluralism is its attempt to

“…Thaw out frozen perspectives, to identify arbitrary threats to difference created by the dogmatism of established identities, and to advance accounts of danger and possibility crowded out by established regimes of thought. You draw from this protean care for difference as you move and you tap into numerous points of resonance and affinity with others as you proceed.”[14]

Another of Nietzsche’s influences on Connolly’s ethics of cultivation, then, comes from Nietzsche’s non-theistic gratitude for a rich diversity of being.[15] This gratitude may be understood in contrast with an atheistic drive towards rationality. From this gratitude comes an explicitly public coexistence between a larger variety of identities, which may be derived from the realm of  “untruth”.

Foucauldian genealogy plays an important role in Connolly’s pluralization of pluralism through its strategy of detachment from the metaphysical. Connolly adopts this strategy of attachment, but refines it in order to establish the concept of “positive onto-political interpretation”. First, Foucault’s genealogies of certain widely accepted concepts and practices, such as madness, sexuality, and medicine, have stripped these ideas of their supposed transcendental grounding.[16] That is, this sort of genealogical investigation locates the establishment of certain conventions within the context of specific events, or other historical and social contingencies. This way of understanding ideas as within the realm of the historical allows Connolly to promote the creation of new identities, which must not rest on universal principles. Further, as no one concept or identity may be understood as more transcendentally valid than another, there is no basis for an appeal to ideological superiority within inter-constituency engagement. However, these new identities, and their engagement with one another, may only come about if genealogy is taken as a necessary, but not as a sufficient, condition for detachment from the contemporary political realm. That is, when engaging in such detachment based on genealogical investigation, it is impossible not to reattach oneself to another set of dispositions.[17] For Connolly, then, it is important to engage in positive onto-political interpretation, or to articulate a certain set of dispositions. This articulation must take place only after acknowledging the inability to prove these dispositions’ universal validity, as well as the irrelevance of doing so. Connolly’s specific, and certainly idiosyncratic, account of positive onto-political interpretation is as follows:

“To practice this mode of interpretation, you project onto-political presumptions explicitly into detailed interpretations of actuality, acknowledging that your implicit projections surely exceed your explicit formulation of them and that your formulations exceed your capacity to demonstrate their truth. You challenge closure in the matrix by affirming the contestable character of your own projections, by offering readings of contemporary life that compete with alternative accounts, and by moving back and forth between these two levels.”[18]

This combination of positive onto-political interpretation, which is derived primarily from Foucauldian genealogy, and an ethics of cultivation, which is derived from a democratized Post-Nietzscheanism, informs the majority of Connolly’s claim for the pluralization of pluralism. That is, in employing ideas, Connolly puts forth a notion of public and political engagement that is influenced by an awareness of contingency, and a respect for ironic self-creation outside of the contemporary pluralist matrix.

As Connolly can now be understood as approving of public irony, I will now compare Connolly’s ideas to those of Heidegger. With this comparison, I hope to show that Connolly suffers from those same problems of ironist theory as does Heidegger. First, both thinkers are quite aware of the explicit problem that they face in doing ironic theory. That is, there always remains the prospect for the ironic theorist, in criticizing and redescribing metaphysics, to engage in metaphysics herself. In both Heidegger and Connolly’s cases, Nietzsche’s sort of “anti-metaphysics” seems to be the paradigm case for such a problem.[19] In his discussion of positive onto-political interpretation, Connolly explicitly articulates ironist theory’s danger of a relapse into metaphysics. Here, Connolly emphasizes a “moving back and forth between these two levels,” where the two levels seem to refer to metaphysics and ironist theory.[20] Such an emphasis is reminiscent of Heidegger’s claim regarding elementary words, which concerns the ability to speak metaphysically and finitely at the same time. Similar to Heidegger, Connolly’s reason for grappling with this problem at all comes directly out of his desire for political, or public, irony. Specifically, if Connolly’s concern for ontological interpretation was confined to the private realm, there would be no need to attach oneself to a certain set of dispositions in order to articulate those dispositions in public discourse. That is, the first step towards a positive onto-political interpretation, which is the detachment from the contemporary pluralist matrix, would suffice for a private redescription. From here, the ironist is able to freely engage, albeit privately, in any ontological interpretation that she chooses. In my understanding, Connolly’s criticism of Foucauldian genealogy, regarding its insufficiency for critical detachment because of a “refusal to affirm any positive directions or reforms of its own,” would not hold from Rorty’s point of view.[21] For Rorty, it is this refusal to make any sort of positive public claim, from the ironic standpoint, that prevents the ironist from contradicting herself. Therefore, both Connolly and Heidegger, in attempting a more careful way of doing ironist theory, remain steeped in metaphysics. For Heidegger, this position involves the use of elementary words, while for Connolly, it involves positive onto-political interpretation.

Heidegger and Connolly both go beyond redescription of small, personal contingencies. Because of this effort to attach himself to a larger project, Connolly, like Heidegger, suffers from the problem of self-reference, as well as from the historical sublime. That is, Connolly makes numerous references to his public project as involving

“…a new possibility of being [which] both disrupts the stability of established identities and lacks a sufficiently stable definition through which to present itself. This is because to become something new is to move the self-recognition and relational standards of judgment endorsed by other constituencies to whom you are connected.”[22]


“…the introduction of a new possibility of being…[includes] the drive to recognition…”[23]

Connolly’s attempt to bring about this “new possibility of being” must be understood with regard to his familiarity with the failure of inverted metaphysics, as in Nietzsche’s case.  Like Heidegger, who understood the use of elementary words as a pertinent prescription for all of Europe, Connolly seems to take his Foucauldian-Nietzschean derived project as relevant to all members of contemporary liberal society. Further, as the quotes above clearly demonstrate, Connolly’s project may only be undertaken publicly, as the inter-relatedness of different identities and constituencies is crucial to his notion of self-creation.[24] In attempting to rise above both Foucault and Nietzsche through a publicly and universally applicable extrapolation of their ideas, Connolly goes far beyond private redescription. It is here that his sort of irony suffers from the problem of self-reference, as the success of his new possibility of being, which may only be universally and publicly successful, understands “the realm of possibility [as] now exhausted”.[25] However, this decisive exhaustion’s appearance through a theory based on contingency and irony seems paradoxical. This paradox, similar to that created by Heidegger’s universalization of elementary words, is created by the problem of self-reference.

Similarly, Connolly’s universal and theoretical approach evokes an attempt at the historical sublime. That is, on Connolly’s view, one will cease to find identity within a supposedly natural, already constructed set of identities, and will instead create an identity out of critical engagement with others. This universal prescription involves historical investigation through genealogy, and is employed as a seeming end to metaphysics. Connolly’s task as involving this end to metaphysics, which is applicable to all members of pluralist society, may not be “redescribed except in [his] own terms…[or may not] become an element in anybody else’s beautiful pattern, one more little thing”.[26] Instead of being content to associate with the beautiful, Connolly’s explicit reference to a “new possibility of being” straightforwardly correlates to an attempt at the sublime, or an attempt to “make a pattern out of the entire realm of possibility”.[27] Therefore, in doing a similar sort of self-aware ironist theory as Heidegger, Connolly also succumbs to the problems of self-reference and the historical sublime.

Connolly may, however, argue against the claim that he is engaging in a definitive and universal project, or a project that necessarily implies a complete paradigm shift. Such a defense may rest on Connolly’s emphasis on an “ethos of pluralization”. That is, in suggesting a critical responsiveness towards those who redefine their relational identities, as well in suggesting a resistance to entrenched interpretations of constituencies, Connolly argues for an ethos from which new relations may form.  “Another way of putting this,” Connolly maintains,

“is to say that the recurrent disjunction between the injuries suffered by particular constituencies and that barriers to their reifications posed by cultural codes of morality and normality requires mediation by an ethos of critical responsiveness never entirely reducible to a code.”[28]

This statement seems to exempt Connolly from Rorty’s criticism of the ironic theorist. That is, Connolly’s thrust towards an ethos or critical responsiveness that is not foundationally bound addresses his attempt against a relapse into metaphysics. On my view, however, Connolly’s declaration of concern does not translate into an escape from these problems. Rorty’s account of Heidegger already points to a specific ironist thinker’s inability to remain consistent with his initial, historically contingent project. In particular, Rorty characterizes Heidegger as falling into the role of metaphysician after having previously denounced the legitimacy of such a role. I hope to have already shown, through a critical discussion of Connolly’s project, that Connolly’s initial denunciation of cultural and moral “codes” does not relieve him from the public ironist’s collapse into metaphysical discourse.[29] Indeed, such reliance on the metaphysical can be seen in Connolly’s shared problems with Heidegger, or in the problems of self-reliance and historical sublimity.

My final criticism of Connolly’s public sort of irony is that, on my view, such an extension of irony into the public realm may be understood as cruel. This kind of criticism against public irony is informed by a combination of similar views given by Rorty and by Judith Shklar.  In Connolly’s universally prescriptive application of irony, which must be grounded in interaction between individuals and constituencies,  it seems essential that all members of contemporary pluralist society undergo self-creation. This self-creation, which is necessary for critical engagement between constituencies, occurs before this critical engagement. However, it is also motivated by an urge to interact. That is,

“…the drive to recognition precedes consolidation of the identity to be recognized, and the panic it often induces in the self-confidence of established identities tempts them to judge the vulnerable entry through disabling identifications already sedimented in the old code.”[30]

It appears, then, that the individual is unable to engage with others within a “pluralized” pluralist society if she is not willing, or able, to undergo self-creation.

My previous characterization of Connolly’s view as universal requires that all undergo self-creation, and that no one’s identity is off-limits to critical responsiveness. Rorty addresses the implications of such a situation in which the individual is not taken on her own terms. For Rorty, public redescription is “potentially very cruel” towards those being redescribed, as “the best way to cause people long-lasting pain is to humiliate them by making the things that seemed most important to them look futile, obsolete, and powerless”.[31] Indeed, the very idea of public redescription is an engagement between self-created individuals towards a dialectical transformation of both identities. With this transformation comes new, more informed versions of previously created identities. However, those who believe strongly in their present identities, whether these identities have been self-created or not, do not wish to be redescribed by others. It is, presumably, from these already-present identities that certain individuals derive meaning in life.[32] Here, the cruelty and humiliation involved with such a publicly redescriptive enterprise becomes apparent.

The consequences of Connolly’s project for the redescribed individual may also be understood in light of Shklar’s characterization of humiliation as cruelty. For Shklar, cruelty is “not just a matter of hurting someone’s feelings. It is deliberate and persistent humiliation, so that the victim can eventually trust neither himself nor anyone else”.[33] This characterization of humiliation seems applicable to the content of Connolly’s agonistic politics. That is, the individual who is tied to her identity may very well experience this humiliation at the hands of the ironist. I will, here, apply Shklar’s characterization of humiliation in a step-by-step way to Connolly’s project. That is, as Connolly is explicitly prescribing a publicly critical view of one’s own identity and of the other’s identity, this critical engagement is obviously deliberate. Further, this public criticism, or irony, is sure to be persistent, as Connolly’s agonistic politics are  meant to be pushed “into corners that may seem unnecessary or excessive to liberal perspectives nested within the comforts of the normal individual, the private realm, the neutral state, and justice as fairness”.[34] Finally, the individual’s inability to trust herself or anyone else is not only a product of Connolly’s deliberate and persistent public irony, it is also precondition for this sort of engagement. More specifically, in adopting Shklar’s logic, the deliberate nature and persistence of such humiliating criticism leads to a certain incapacity for trust in the individual against whom this criticism is  directed. However, the individual who chooses to engage in “critical responsiveness” will also experience a certain inability to trust her own place in the public realm, as her place is necessarily unfounded and contingent. Therefore, in using Shklar’s characterization of humiliation as a seemingly adequate standard of judgment, it seems that Connolly’s public irony is cruel and humiliating for both the ironist and her victim.[35]

Private Irony, Public Liberalism: The Rortian Alternative

I have argued above that Rorty’s broad critique of public irony may apply to Connolly, and that Connolly’s public irony engages in Shklar’s and Rorty’s understandings of cruelty. Here, I would like to briefly elucidate Rorty’s vision of the individual’s role in the public sphere.

As previously explicated through a critique of public irony, Rorty understands redescription as a wholly private affair. There is, for Rorty, a definite split between the public and private realms, and this split calls for a separate final vocabulary for each realm. The final vocabulary necessary for the public sphere is founded upon Rorty’s self-proclaimed liberalism, and is that final vocabulary which allows us to avoid engagement with cruel or humiliating acts. This vocabulary, then, pertains directly to our relations with others, and to the effects of our actions on others.[36] Therefore, as cruelty is to be strictly avoided in liberal society, Rorty’s conception of a public final vocabulary is founded upon the avoidance of cruelty, not upon the individual’s personal redescription.

Rorty relies explicitly upon his pragmatism in arguing for a public language that is not grounded in philosophy or ironic redescription. That is, those who share Dewey’s views will say of liberal democracy that

“although it may need philosophical articulation, it does not need philosophical back-up. On this view, the philosopher of liberal democracy may wish to develop a theory of the human self that comports with the institutions he or she admires. But such a philosopher is not justifying these institutions by reference to more fundamental premises, but the reverse. He or she is putting politics first and tailoring a philosophy to suit.”[37]

Fundamental questions are, then, unnecessary for and possibly detrimental to politics. Instead, liberal society is comprised of individuals who find themselves facing the same problems within the same historical context.[38] When discussing social policy within this context, the pragmatist search for efficacy towards a broad, non-philosophical notion of justice takes precedence over philosophical discourse. Even those who engage in a private self-creation of identity must, for pragmatic reasons regarding liberal sorts of freedom, engage in liberal democracy. Further, these self-created citizens are to be grateful that the “models of human self that they develop…are not the concern of such a state”.[39] For Rorty, the active avoidance of cruelty must be the primary goal of public life.

In conclusion, Rorty argues against ironist theory’s aversion to mere redescription. This aversion subjects the theorist to the problem of self-reference, as well as the problem of the historical sublime. Heidegger, through an implementation of elementary words, suffers from both of these problems. As the ironist novelist is content with redescription, and as she does not, then, suffer from the theorist’s problems, Rorty favors the ironic novel over ironic theory. It is my view that Connolly, in advocating the pluralization of pluralism, as well as in outlining positive onto-political interpretation, joins Heidegger as a problematic ironist theorist. It is also my view that, in universalizing a critical responsiveness in the public realm, Connolly’s view suffers from a tendency towards cruelty. This tendency may be brought out through Shklar and Rorty’s common interpretations of cruelty and humiliation. Finally, Rorty’s alternative to Connolly’s public irony entails a grounding of liberal democracy on pragmatist conceptions of progress, and is concerned with the prevention of cruelty. It has been my aim to showcase the inconsistencies and dangers that come with a public utilization of ironic redescription.


[1] Due to the length constraints on this paper, as well as the irrelevance of Rorty’s description of Proust to the overall argument, I will not discuss Proust as the quintessential ironist novelist.

[2] Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (New York: Cambridge University         Press, 1989), 5.

[3] I have explicated the differences between the ironist theorist and the ironist novelist in a longer version of this paper. It enough to say, though, that the ironist theorist engages in grand historical investigation, whereas the ironist novelist is satisfied with personal redescription.

[4] Ibid. 104.

[5] Ibid. 105.

[6] Again, this previous description may be found in a longer version of this paper. It is important only to note that Heidegger suggested a redescription of the “elementary” metaphysical vocabulary towards a description of “Da-sein”.

[7] Ibid. 119.

[8] Ibid. 120.

[9] Ibid. 120.

[10] William E. Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995), 5.

[11] Ibid. 11.

[12] Ibid. xv.

[13] Ibid. 27.

[14] Ibid. 28.

[15] Ibid. 31.

[16] Ibid. 34.

[17] Ibid. 35.

[18] Ibid. 36, italics mine.

[19] Connolly’s hesitancy to take Nietzsche as having been a theorist without fault can be found in Identity\Difference, as he states: “…I owe my most salient debts to Nietzsche and Foucault. Not to Nietzsche alone or Foucault alone, but to each as a…corrective to the other…A critical extrapolation from this combination is needed after one has linked Nietzschean affirmation of the ‘abundance of life’ to Foucauldian care for identity and difference.” (ID, 10) This Foucauldian care for identity and difference, then, is a corrective to Nietzsche. This correction seemingly alludes to Nietzsche’s inability to take the identity seized from metaphysics’ destruction as merely one of many possible identities.

[20] Ibid. 36.

[21] Ibid. 35.

[22] Ibid. xvi, italics mine.

[23] Ibid. xv, italics mine.

[24] A further discussion of the foundational roles of identity and difference may be found in Connolly’s aptly titled work, Identity\Difference. As identity, for Connolly, is only coherent with regard to the individual’s relations with others, self-creation may only take place if its results are to be extended into the public realm.

[25] CIS, 104.

[26] Ibid. 106.

[27] Ibid. 105.

[28] EP, xvi, italics Connolly’s.

[29] This “metaphysical discourse” includes, as previously alluded to, a post-metaphysical reliance on the prescriptive power of historical investigation. This sort of discourse may be characterized, “ironically” enough, in Heidegger’s critique of Nietzsche. Rorty writes: “This was Heidegger’s point when he called Nietzsche ‘merely an inverted Platonist’: the same urge to affiliate with somebody bigger which had led Plato to reify ‘Being’ led Nietzsche to try to affiliate himself with ‘Becoming’ and ‘Power’.” (CIS, 107).

[30] Ibid. xv, italics mine.

[31] CIS, 89.

[32] In fact, on some existentialist views, it is from a self-created identity that one may engage in an existence-justifying free project.

[33] Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), 37.

[34] EP, 29.

[35] In regards to the role of one’s self-created identity in the public realm, I will only say that Rorty regards personal irony as a means to autonomy, which must certainly be useful for public engagement (CIS, 97). A similar, yet more eloquently worded view may be found in George Kateb’s discussion of the democratic individuality in Emerson. Kateb argues, in analyzing one of Emerson’s passages, that individuality may be expressed publicly only “when one rids oneself of the possessive grip of those qualities in oneself that one has tried hardest to acquire as distinctive, that one is proudest of. Even if they are not merely socially induced characteristics, but the attainment of positive individuality, they are minor in themselves, and serve only by their alienating effects on individuals…” (Kateb, 345, italics mine).

[36] CIS, 141.

[37] Richard Rorty “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy,” in Reading Rorty, ed. Alan R. Malachowski (Cambridge: Basil Blackwell, 1990), 282.

[38] Ibid. 286.

[39] Ibid. 292.

Works Cited

Connolly, William E. The Ethos of Pluralization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Rorty, Richard. 1990. “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy.” In Reading Rorty, ed. Alan R. Malachowski, 282. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell.

Shklar, Judith. Ordinary Vices. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Matt Friberg (’10) is a Philosophy and Politics major at Oberlin College.

Art courtesy of crayon2papier

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