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The Journal of Value Inquiry 29: 241-253, 1995.

1995 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

Putting ourselves up for question: A postmodern

critique of Richard Rorty's postmodernist bourgeois
Birmingham-Southern College,ArkadelphiaRoad, Birmingham, AL 35254, USA
Among those who have abandoned the philosophical heritage of the
Enlightenment, Richard Rorty is to be commended for never having ducked
the difficult question of what is to become of the Enlightenment's political
heritage. Resolutely committed to the futility of the Enlightenment's
philosophical heritage as well as the continuing value of its political
heritage, Rorty has argued that we should abandon the urge to philosophically ground liberal-democratic ideals and institutions with appeals to such
things as the nature and rights of "man." Characterizing his position as a
"postmodemist bourgeois liberalism," Rorty stresses that we can do without
what Jean-Franqois Lyotard dubbed the "metanarratives ''1 of modernity
which attempt to secure the worth of one's historical traditions by way of
recounting their participation in the universal history of humanity. Liberaldemocratic politics have nothing to do with any emancipatory aspirations
common to humanity as a whole. They are a unique product of, as Rorty
puts it, "the hopes of the North Atlantic bourgeoisie. ''2 To this extent, they
can only be defended in this cultural context. But this need not strike
anyone as inadequate. For their worth lies not in their relation to any
ahistorical grounds, but only in relation to a historically specific array of
desires and aspirations: to a liberal-democratic culture's "we-intentions," as
Rorty puts it, borrowing a phrase from Wilfred Sellars - the sense of the
things we, as a community which shares liberal-democratic ideals, would or
would not do. 3
For this reason we find throughout Rorty's account persistent appeals to
such phrases as "we liberals," "we heirs of the Enlightenment," and "we ...
social democrats. ''4 Given his postmodern rejection of what we might call
the universal voice of humanity, Rorty is emphatic in stressing the need to
speak with the voice of a particular community with its distinctive
vocabulary for describing and evaluating its place in the world. But it is
precisely at this point that Rorty has failed to follow through with the
implications of his postmodernism. In taking for granted the perspective of

a historically situated community, he has not realized the extent to which a
postmodern rejection of the voice of humanity entails, as Lyotard notes, the
problematization of the "we" that must come to terms with the loss of that
voice. 5 In failing that, Rorty has not come to terms with how an adequate
postmodern appraisal of the significance of democracy must escape the
historicist terms in which he poses the issue. In continuing to take for
granted the status of the subject of his discourse, the "we" in his persistent
appeals to "we liberals" and the like, Rorty overlooks the "unprecedented
historical adventure ''6 that is inaugurated with democracy, an adventure that
cannot be adequately assessed from an Enlightenment perspective as the
universal adventure of humanity or from Rorty's perspective as the adventure of a particular community.
Rorty's work begins with his critique of the Enlightenment urge to
philosophically ground liberal-democratic political commitments.
"Critique" may not be the best word to use here, however. It is not as if
Rorty has any philosophical arguments against that urge. His pragmatism
does not claim to have the "truth" regarding our inability to ever uncover a
truth compelling enough to justify those commitments to anyone and
everyone. He merely wants to persuade us to drop these efforts by drawing
attention to their historical lack of success. 7 This is not to say that such
efforts have never been worthwhile. Thinking of the value of liberaldemocratic political institutions in terms of their relation to some ahistorical
ground - the respect they pay, for example, to the rights of the individual to
a sense of freedom shared by humanity as a whole - has not been without
its utility. But the worth of that endeavor, Rorty suggests, lies only in its
rhetorical value as an inspiring slogan, an imaginary goal capable of
moving us in the right direction, not in its ability to ground the claim that
the direction in which we are moving is, necessarily, the right one to take. 8
When we set about justifying our political stances, the only thing we can
do, and need to do, is to justify them to people like ourselves who share
enough of our liberal-democratic values and intuitions to get a viable
conversation about them off the ground. We justify where we have come
from in terms of where it has gotten us and where it is likely to lead. We
critically compare our stance with those of other communities, but only in
terms of our hopes and desires, 9 out "we-intentions." Justification remains
circular and ethnocentric. 1 But this is only a problem for those who believe
that there is something better to aspire to, some perspective on our
vocabulary for describing and evaluating the world that would not merely
be another vocabulary, but the vocabulary - an absolute perspective for
drawing such distinctions as that between right and wrong, or just and
unjust, in terms that don't presuppose or beg the question against our or
some other vocabulary. To lose that idea is to lose the sense that there is

any problem with being circular or ethnocentric. For someone who has
abandoned his or her belief in such an absolute perspective, the sense that
they are doing something inadequate, something too relativistic, will vanish
in the same way that the sense of being blasphemous vanishes for someone
who no longer believes in God. 11
In this way, Rorty can embrace Lyotard's postmodemism as a pragmatically inconsequential tum of events. The loss of faith in the narratives
which secured the worth of modem political institutions and traditions in
terms of their participation in the universal emancipation of humanity need
not disturb us. Whether those narratives took a Marxist or a Liberal turn,
telling the story of our emancipation from the exploitation of capital or
from arbitrary uses of power which deny us our "natural and inalienable"
rights, their loss is merely the loss of a universal perspective from which we
could impartially evaluate the worth of our vocabulary for describing and
evaluating the world. But this need not prevent us from continuing to
evaluate the worth of our political traditions. It only restricts us to terms
that are distinctive to o u r vocabulary.
We need not even give up the Enlightenment predilection toward
increasingly universal narratives in which we connect our history with that
of humanity. The ethnocentric bias of the liberal tradition is to be committed to increasingly less exclusive modes of identification, modes of selfunderstanding which enable us, as Rorty puts it, "to think of people wildly
different from ourselves as included in the range of 'us. ''q2 What we lose
with those universal narratives of emancipation is not our ability to think of
ourselves in such increasingly inclusive terms, but only the metaphysical
guarantees that underwrite that possibility by reference to a common
humanity or human nature we can already be said to share. "What the
pragmatist seeks," Rorty stresses, "are vigorously cosmopolitan narratives,
not narratives of emancipation. ''13 In a classically liberal fashion, Rorty
argues that we justify the worth of our traditions in practice through our
ability to persuade others of their worth, 14 "creat[ing] an ever larger and
more variegated e t h n o s ''15 for ourselves.
In losing the voice of humanity, we are not stuck with a single, narrowly
provincial voice that would exclude the voices of others. We are, instead,
opened up to a variety of voices whose intercourse goes to form what
Michael Oakeshott has described as "the conversation of mankind. ''16 We
may, he suggests, think of a liberal culture as composed of multiple voices,
each the expression of a distinct and conditional understanding of the
world and a distinct idiom of human self-understanding, and of the
culture itself as these voices joined, as such voices could only be joined,
in a conversation - an endless unrehearsed intellectual adventure in
which, in imagination, we enter into a variety of modes of understanding

the world and ourselves and are not disconcerted by the differences or
dismayed by the inconclusiveness of it all. 17
But, in stressing the multiplicity of voices that go to constitute a liberal
culture, our reading of Oakeshott brings us to a question Rorty has failed to
address concerning the status of the "we" in his work. If the "we" that Rorty
cites in such phrases as "we liberals" and "we heirs to the Enlightenment" is
a "we" open to ever more inclusive modes of identification and selfunderstanding, and is, thereby, open to what Oakeshott describes as an
inherently "inconclusive" endeavor, how can we ever be said to have
determined who w e are? We might appeal to a unifying framework that ties
all of our voices together. With the Enlightenment narratives of emancipation, for instance, we could speak of the harmony of the multiple voices of
humanity in terms of a common human nature or a shared sense of freedom
that binds us all to a common telos. We could take for granted who we are
in relation to that universal narrative. But this option is no longer open to
us, on Rorty's postmodern account.
We might, then, appeal to something more mundane and finite, such as
our common institutions and traditions or, as Rorty sometimes puts it, our
shared "vocabulary." We could speak, as Aristotle does, of a common
language which institutes a common perception of what is good or bad, just
or unjust. 18 We often say these days that such things form the context for a
community's interpretation of the world. Stanley Fish, for example, has
popularized the idea of "interpretive communities" bound together in a
shared understanding of the world by virtue of a common set of institutional
practices. 19 And Thomas Kuhn has for some time made us accustomed to
speaking of a shared paradigm as the condition for the possibility of a
scientific community coming to share a world in which its investigations
make sense. 20
But with this we have only pushed back a step the question of the
determination of who we are, as we must now inquire into what it means for
a community to share such a context. Though we always appeal to shared
contexts in forming an interpretation of the world, this does not prevent
these contexts themselves from being subject to interpretation. And just as
no rule determines its own application, so no context of interpretation
determines its own interpretation. There is always what Derrida refers to as
an "indefinite opening" to every context which prevents its univocal
determination. 21 A paradigm is, for example, always capable of coming
apart at the seams as different scientists apply it in different ways. 22 No
institutional practice is ever immune to interpretive or experimental
transformation. As Lyotard notes, "the limits the institution imposes on
potential language 'moves' are never established once and for all (even if
they have been formally defined). ''23 Such institutional limits are always the

result of agonistic moves within and without the institution that are perpetually renegotiating its boundaries.
We are never without a shared interpretive context inasmuch as we are
never without a range of background beliefs and assumptions which permit
us to make sense of what we do and say in relation to one another. But it is
insufficient to appeal to such a context to account for the determination of
anything like a community's sense of belonging together in a shared
understanding of the world, its sense of who we are. For every context
opens up a multiplicity of interpretive horizons in which the determination
of w h a t is shared or, better, what ought to be shared is subject to question.
Every context opens up the value and significance of a community's
background beliefs and assumptions to a range of contestable interpretation.
A shared context provides the basis for raising the question of how we
ought to understand the world and our relation to it, but it does not provide
the basis for a univocal resolution of that question. 24
Rorty is not wrong to argue for the need to situate a defense of our moral
and political ideals in terms of a particular tradition. We must begin from
somewhere. But to the extent that the need for such a defense stems from
questions which put our interpretation of the value and significance of that
tradition into question, it cannot merely be defended by appealing to the
ideals we share within that tradition. For our very interpretation of the
significance of those ideals has been put into question. This is why Rorty's
appeal to what we share as "liberals" and "heirs of the Enlightenment" as a
way of justifying our faith in liberal-democratic institutions must overlook
the conflicts of interpretation which make those identities problematic. In
taking for granted the value of "leaving people alone to dream and think
and live as they please, so long as they do not hurt other people, ''25 Rorty
must be silent on the doubts raised for liberals concerning the unqualified
cogency of that ideal in the light of leftist concerns over the way that sense
of liberty serves to mask oppression in capitalist societies or over the
conflicting interpretations of the meaning of freedom between those who
advocate a "negative" as opposed to a "positive participatory" understanding of it. 26 To recognize these doubts and conflicts is to bring into sharp
relief the way the shared hopes and aspirations of liberalism are haunted by
questions which cannot reasonably be answered by a defense which takes
them for granted. Such questions can only be answered by addressing the
issues which call our understanding of the value of those shared hopes into
The issues which call forth a defense of the ideals of such a shred
tradition are not addressed to the question of what we share. They are
addressed to the question of how we ought to understand the value and
significance of those ideals, of what our ideals ought to be. The

"inconclusiveness" of the adventure in self-understanding that is opened up
within a ctdture emerges, in its most pointed and radical sense, with this
question. For no shared context is ever sufficiently determined to rule out
differences in interpretation that constitute genuine differences in how we
understand a shared context. These differences always threaten to place
what we presumably share into question in a way that rules out any unproblematic determination of the question of who we are - of what it might
mean to speak, as Rorty does, of "we liberals" or "we heirs to the Enlightenment."
This "inconclusiveness" is well illustrated by the debates Rorty's claims
have themselves opened up. In Rorty's exchange with Richard Bernstein
and Thomas McCarthy 27 a major point at issue has been the contestability
of Rorty's assumptions about the liberal-democratic tradition. The debate
aptly reveals that Rorty is not appealing in any straightforward way to
common intuitions so much as he is offering an interpretation of ideals
whose value and significance are up for question. And by the time he is
finished with these debates he has so narrowed the sense of who "we" are
that he is forced to spell it out in an eight-point "political credo" that, upon
examination, conceals even further potential division. As Bernstein points
out, "Sometimes it seems as if what Rorty means by 'we' are 'all those who
agree with me. '''28 In ignoring the inconclusiveness of cultural determination, Rorty's ethnocentric strategy leads to increasingly exclusive and
insular appeals, in apparent contrast to the inclusive and cosmopolitan aims
of his view of liberalism.
We always feel an affinity with some people that we do not feel with
others in terms of a range of beliefs, predilections, or practices with which
we can identify. This affinity for one another constitutes a variable or
graded sense of mutual recognition that is not called into question by the
above analysis. But Rorty needs to determine a sense of who w e are that is
stronger than this in order to get his ethnocentric justification of liberal
democracy off the ground. He must be able to speak of how this kind of
mutual recognition can give us a sense of who we are that can answer our
normative concerns about how we ought to understand that graded sense of
affinity. He has to be able to speak of a normative determination of who we
are that would allow us to take the moral and political validity of our
democratic institutions for granted by answering the questions we may raise
concerning what we ought to share with one another. But it is this normative sense of community identification that eludes us: a sense of identity
that would be authoritative for the questions we raise concerning the shared
contexts in which we feel an affinity with some as opposed to others.
Bernstein has charged Rorty, along these lines, with "substituting an 'historical myth of the given' for 'the epistemological myth of the given' ...-29

that Rorty has otherwise abandoned in his work. In assuming that the
alternative to speaking with the voice of humanity is speaking with the
voice of a particular culture, Rorty acts as if we can find something like a
distinct cultural voice given to us prior to our interpretations of that voice.
In his account such a voice would be authoritative for our political concerns
in much the way empiricism assumes a world of immediate experience
given to us prior to our theoretical assertions about it that could be authoritative for our epistemic concerns. The assumption of such an authoritative
voice only makes sense, however, if we may also assume something like a
common nature binding us together with common interpretive interests and
commitments, a common aspiration to a shared sense of human freedom,
for example, that would constrain and organize a shared evaluation of the
world. But that is precisely what Rorty's postmodernism disallows.
As Lyotard argues, once we have lost the universal narratives in which
we identified ourselves with humanity, it is not sufficient to recognize, as
Rorty does, "that we are finite." We must also "work through the status of
the w e and the question of the subject. ''3 Once we are unable to take that
universal identification with humanity for granted, we have lost the basis
for taking ourselves for granted in any sense, no matter how fmite. The
issue of who we are becomes subject to question in terms of multiple voices
that may no longer be assumed to share a common interpretive horizon. Our
identification of ourselves ceases to be a given and becomes a problem, a
question to be deliberated rather than an answer to be presumed.
If there is such a thing as a distinctly postmodern understanding of
democracy it cannot be found in the ethnocentric recognition that is it o u r
political intuitions which determine its value and significance. Just such an
unproblematic appeal to a sense of community, to a common interpretive
horizon that would determine a shared set of "we-intentions," is lost from a
postmodern perspective. The very pursuit of a common voice, whether it be
universal or particular, is undercut here. An adequate postmodern understanding of the significance of democracy must begin with this recognition
and emphasize the way a democratic form of politics affords a unique
opportunity for constructing a sense of community based not in a common
voice but in a multiplicity of contesting voices, not in an answer to the
question of who we are but in the unresolved persistence of that very
The work of Lyotard and his one-time political comrade, Claude Lefort,
is a useful beginning in articulating such a sense of community. As Lyotard
elaborates it, the distinctive character of "the deliberative politics of modern
democracies" lies in the way it keeps the identity of a community open to
deliberation by keeping the question of "what ought we to be?" permanently raised and subject to debate. 31 Construed in this way, democratic

politics does not and cannot presuppose the "we-intentions" of any community inasmuch as it forces a community to come to terms with its identity
a s a q u e s t i o n , and in doing so, compels it to recognize the heterogeneity of
voices concealed within any use of the term "we." The sense of community
fostered through a practice of democratic deliberation can never, therefore,
be completed or taken for granted. Indeed, that is its principle political
virtue. A democratic sense of identity maintained only in terms of how we
belong together in a deliberative practice raises our lack of a stable identity
to the level of contention and debate.
Once we have ceased to ground a democratic form of politics in the
universal aspirations of humanity, we must, as Rorty argues, speak of
democracy as a particular historical adventure undertaken by communities
under unique social and economic conditions. But the logic of that historical adventure escapes the historicist terms in which Rorty casts it by giving
rise to what Lefort describes as a "public space ... which is always indeterminate [and] has the virtue of belonging to no one .... -32 Lefort agrees with
Lyotard in understanding a democratic community as one "whose identity
will constantly be open to question .... " The democratic revolutions of the
eighteenth century were inaugurated with a challenge to the unconditional
power of the monarch to organize the political life of society. The exercise
of power is transformed, as a consequence, from an unconditional fight into
a permanent object of struggle among competing groups in which the
"quest for identiy," the quest for a politically stable understanding and
organization of ourselves, "cannot be separated from the experience of
division. ''33
As such, a democratically organized public arena which respects that
division cannot be defined in terms of any historical community's conception of what is or is not legitimate, but only, as Lefort puts it, in terms of
"the legitimacy of a debate as to what is legitimate and what is illegitimate
- a debate which is necessarily without any guarantor and without any
end. ''3a Even the Rights of Man, which could be said to inaugurate the
modem democratic debate, fall to guarantee its ultimate structure or
character. For their meaning itself is open to multiple interpretations and
hence subject to debate. Their effective significance is only, as Lefort puts
it, to establish "the fight to have rights," or the right to question and demand
fights in an unpredictable contest for which a final determination is always
lacking. 35
A democratic community is perpetually launched onto an unstable sea in
which the issue of justifying our political institutions and practices is
permanently raised but also permanently deferred as every justification,
every resolution and consensus, must be upset as it is once again put up for
question in this debate without end. Rorty is right to claim that there is no

"supercultural observation platform" to which a democratic community
might repair to justify its practices to another culture which contests them.
The democratic arena neither demands nor offers a transcendental perspective that would be equally acceptable to anyone and everyone. But this does
not mean that all we can and should do in the midst of such a confrontation
is to, as Rorty puts it, "get some idea of how we look to them, and whether
they have any ideas we c a n u s e . ''36 If the democratic arena is to remain
open, "belonging," as Lefort notes, "to no one," then we must attempt to
respond to their challenge, to appreciate it from its context of concern, and
to deliberate with them as to what we ought to do about it.
Though Rorty makes his point concerning our inability to justify ourselves in the face of such a radical challenge only in the context of once
again drawing attention to the limits of political deliberation in our sense of
who we are and what we believe - our inability to "leap outside our
Western social democratic skins ''37 - the limitations he invokes suggest a
political exclusivity in which we may justifably dismiss any genuinely
radical challenge to o u r shared ideals and belief. In such a confrontation all
we can be expected to do is to "use" their ideas to further our goals rather
than attempt to take their challenge seriously as a way in which the limits of
the validity of those goals may be put into question. But this is to effectively exclude them from the democratic arena by denying them a voice that
deserves not merely to be used, but to be answered. Rorty's strategy
effectively draws a boundary around the democratic arena, claiming it for
people like u s as opposed to people like t h e m . These exclusive attempts to
short-circuit democratic debate are all too common. But to see them
suggested in a work with such otherwise liberal and cosmopolitan aims is
I do not mean to suggest that Rorty would endorse such politically
exclusive tactics but only that his theoretical position may all too easily
lend itself to such exclusivity. To insist on an understanding of democracy
as a form of politics in which our identity is up for question is not merely to
raise a theoretical point. It is to raise a political concern as well. Keeping
w h o w e a r e radically open to question is, I believe, a necessary condition
for the kind of inclusive, cosmopolitan communities Rorty envisions in his
work. Rorty's ethnocentric understanding of democracy undercuts that
political ideal by making room theoretically for a political insularity in
which "we liberal democrats" could dismiss any radical challenge to our
ideals and institutions precisely because of its radicality, because of our
inability to recognize the concerns which motivate it as one of "our own."
But a part of what it takes to keep the democratic arena open is a willingness to respond to the claims of others we cannot immediately recognize as
someone like ourselves. For the threat in a democracy is never that we will

exclude the people with whom we feel solidarity, but that in some way or
other we will exclude those with whom we do not feel such solidarity.
Though the historical adventure of democratic debate may be the product
of a particular community this does not give any community a title to claim
it as theirs. To this extent, it cannot be adequately understood in terms of
any historical set of "we-intentions." The adventure of democracy is best
understood not as the adventure of humanity as a whole nor as the adventure of any historical community. For both of these conceptions claim the
idea of a democratically organized public space for a determinate community. But the idea of a public space in which the question, what we ought
to be, is debated has, as Lefort notes, "the virtue of belonging to no one."
No one, as such, neither humanity nor any historical community may,
therefore, claim to determine its limits. The unique virtue of a democratic
public space is to remain beyond any particular determination that might
capture it and thereby predetermine what we ought to be without need of
deliberation. In attempting to determine a historically finite subject for the
democratic adventure, Rorty remains blind to the distinctive nature of the
historical adventure that is inaugurated with democracy. The nature of a
democratic community lies in the opening of a public space in which a
community may come to speak not with the voice of humanity nor with any
particular voice, but only with a heterogeneous multiplicity of voices.
This multiplication of voices prevents any singular or conclusive
justification of the democratic adventure in terms of a transcendental
ground to which all could appeal or a finite sense of solidarity with others
like ourselves we might take for granted. Though any historical community
may claim the heritage of democracy for itself, offering a justification in
terms of the authority of its interpretation of its value and significance, none
may ever finally appropriate it. The democratic fate of all such attempts is
to remain contested, up for question in the very democratic space they claim
to determine, but which must finally escape all such determination. This is
not to say that the attempt to justify the prevailing ideals and institutions of
our democratic communities is futile - a pointless endeavor which cannot
get us anywhere and with which we may as well be done, taking for granted
their worth for us. The willingness to accept a challenge to our ideals and
institutions and attempt to justify their worth in the light of that challenge is
part and parcel of what it takes to keep the democratic arena open and
contested, which is to say, democratic. The attempts we make at justification are, for that reason, far from futile. They are part of what keeps the
democratic adventure alive.
Such efforts at justification fail to get us anywhere stable, anywhere
where we can assure ourselves of what we do and believe, only because
they succeed in getting us farther along in the adventure of democracy itself

by keeping the question of who we axe and what we ought to be open to
further deliberation. If, therefore, we continue to be concerned about the
worth of our democratic practices and institutions, as indeed we must, we
will have, I believe to get used to thinking of that project of justification
differently. We may adequately pursue the worth of our democratic practices only in terms of their responsiveness to the heterogeneous contests
they engender, their ability to defer their own final determination, in terms
of a final understanding of what good they serve and how best to serve it, in
the way they keep that determination contested. This acknowledges that,
while a democratic politics must always raise the issue of the justification
of its practices and institutions, this process of justification can never be
arrested or concluded. We must get used to thinking of a democratic
justification of democracy as an inherently multiple and contested process
that is without guarantee and that can know no end; as, in short, a process
identical to the unpredictable adventure of democracy itself in which the
question who we are and what we ought to be is never finally answered but
kept permanently up for question. 38


1. Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, trans., Geoff Bennington

and Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984),
p. xxiv.
2. Richard Rorty, "Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism," The Journal of
Philosophy (1983), p. 585.
3. See ibid., p. 587.
4. See Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge, England:
Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 64, "The Priority of Democracy to
Philosophy," The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, eds., Merrill Peterson
and Robert Vaughan (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press,
1987), p. 263, and "Thugs and Theorists: A Reply to Bernstein," Critical
Inquiry 16 (Winter 1990), p. 565.
5. Jean-Francois Lyotard, "Universal History and Cultural Differences" in The
Lyotard Reader, ed., Andrew Benjamin (Cambridge, Mass.: Basil BlackweU,
1989), pp. 314-323.
6. Claude Lefort, "Human Rights and the Welfare State," Democracy and
Political Theory, trans., David Macey (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1988), p. 24.
7. Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1982), p. xiv.
8. Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, p. 195.
9. See ibid., p. 53; and Richard Rorty, "Solidarity or Objectivity," Relativism:
Interpretation and Confrontation, ed., Michael Krausz (Notre Dame, Ind.:
University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 43-44.
10. Rorty, "Solidarity or Objectivity," p. 44.

11. Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, p. 50.
12. Ibid., p. 192.
13. Richard Rorty, "Le Cosmopolitisme sans emancipation: en rrponse h JeanFrancois Lyotard," Critique (1985), p. 570.
14. Ibid., p. 572.
15. Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, p. 198.
16. See Michael Oakeshott, "The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of
Mankind," Rationalism in Politics (New York: Methuen, 1962), pp. 197-247.
17. Michael Oakeshott, "A Place of Learning," The Voice of Liberal Learning,
(New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 39.
18. Aristotle, Politics, 1253a.
19. Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1980), in particular, ch. 13, "Is There a Text in This Class?"
20. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970).
21. Jacques Derrida, Limited Inc., ed., Gerald Graft (Evanston II1.: Northwestern
University Press, 1988), p. 137, "the finiteness of a context is never secured or
simple, there is an indefinite opening of every context, an essential nontotalization .... " This is, I believe, the upshot of Derrida's critique of the appeal to
context in Speech Act Theory in "Signature, Event, Context" (in Margins of
Philosophy, trans., Alan Bass [Chicago; The University of Chicago Press,
1982] as well. See p. 310, where he states, "I would like to demonstrate why a
context is never absolutely determinable, or rather in what way its determination is never certain or saturated."
22. See Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 83, regarding the
inconsistent applications which, in part, led to the dissolution of the Ptolemaic
paradigm in astronomy.
23. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, p. 17.
24. Georgia Warnke makes something of the same point in her defense of Michael
Walzer's work, "Social Interpretation and Political Theory: Walzer and His
Critics," The Philosophical Forum, 21.1-2 (Fall-Winter 1989-90): 204-226, in
arguing that though a shared context of meaning is necessary even for
disagreements within a community, there is no univocal interpretation of those
shared meanings.
25. Richard Rorty, "Truth and Freedom: A Reply to Thomas McCarthy," Critical
Inquiry 16 (Spring 1990), p. 634.
26. See Richard Bernstein, "One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward: Richard
Rorty on Liberal Democracy and Philosophy," Political Theory, 15.4
(November 1987): 553 and 549.
27. See Bernstein, "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back", Rorty, "Thugs and
Theorists: A Reply to Bernstein"; Thomas McCarthy, "Private Irony and
Public Decency: Richard Rorty's New Pragmatism," Critical lnquiry 16
(Winter 1990), and McCarthy and Rorty, "An Exchange on Truth, Freedom,
and Politics," Critical Inquiry 16 (Spring 1990).
28. Bernstein, "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back," p. 554.
29. Ibid., p. 551.
30. Lyotard, "Universal History and Cultural Differences," p. 317. For more on
this point and the above discussion in the context of Lyotard's work, see my
"Lyotard and the Question of Community," Selected Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, 19 (Albany, N.Y.: State University of New

York Press, forthcoming).
31. Jean-Franqois Lyotard, The Differend, trans., Georges Van den Abbeele
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), #210.
32. Lefort, "Human Rights and the Welfare State," p. 41.
33. Lefort, "The Image of the Body and Totalitarianism," The Political Forms of
Modern Society, ed., John B. Thompson (Cambridge, Mass.: Polity Press,
1986), pp. 303-304.
34. Lefort, "Human Rights and the Welfare State," p. 39.
35. Ibid., p. 37-40.
36. Richard Rorty, "Cosmopolitanism Without Emancipation: A Response to JeanFrancois Lyotard" in Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers,
Vol. 1 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 212-213.
37. Ibid.
38. I am grateful to Jay M. Van Hook whose commentary on my presentation of
an earlier version of this essay at the Eastern Division meeting of the American
Philosophical Association in 1991 aided me in its revision.