Pragmatist Transcendence in Rorty’s Metaphilosophy

Nicholas H. Smith 1  and Tracy Llanera 2
  • 1 Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University,, Sydney, Australia
  • 2 Department of Philosophy, University of Connecticut,, Mansfield, USA


This article argues that a pragmatist ambition to transcendence undergirds Richard Rorty’s metaphilosophy. That transcendence might play a positive role in Rorty’s work might seem implausible given his well-known rejection of the idea that human practices are accountable to some external, Archimedean standpoint, and his endorsement of the historicist view that standards of rationality are products of time and chance. It is true that Rorty’s contributions to epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics have this anti-transcendentalist character. But in his metaphilosophy, Rorty shows great respect for pre-philosophical impulses aimed at transcendence of some kind, in particular the romantic (and indeed religious) experience of awe at something greater than oneself, and the utopian striving for a radically better world. These impulses do not disappear in Rorty’s metaphilosophy but are reshaped in a pragmatist iteration of transcendence which, we argue, can be characterised as horizontal (rather than vertical) and weak (rather strong). We use this characterization to distinguish Rorty’s metaphilosophy from other accounts that share a postmetaphysical ambition to transcendence.

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The Journal is devoted to the fundamental issues of empirical and normative social theory, and is directed at social scientists and social philosophers who combine commitment to political and moral enlightenment with argumentative rigour and conceptual clarity. Published articles develop social theorizing in connection with analytical philosophy and philosophy of science.