A Critique of Religion as Conversation Stopper

Richard Rorty was a famous and influential American philosopher of pragmatism some of whose ideas were adopted and applied by prominent pragmatic legal thinkers like Richard Posner. One of the phrases for which Rorty is known is that religion is a “conversation stopper”–the sort of appeal to authority for any social or moral question that ends rational discussion and should therefore itself be abandoned.

Here is a new book that considers Rorty’s thought about religion in specific and offers a criticism of it: Rorty, Religion, and Metaphysics (Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Books), by John Owens.

“Believing that humanity would be better off if it simply dropped its traditional religious and metaphysical beliefs, Richard Rorty proposes an alternative approach, drawn from the American pragmatist tradition, where things get their significance against a background of broad human interests, and knowledge is regarded as part of the active pursuit of a better world. Rorty, Religion, and Metaphysics argues that while Rorty’s case is clearly and robustly made, it is fundamentally challenged by the phenomenon of human recognition, the relationship that arises between people when they talk to one another. John Owens demonstrates that recognition, so central to human life, cannot be accommodated within Rorty’s proposals, given that it precisely attributes a reality to others that goes beyond anything a pragmatist framework can offer. It follows that there is more to human interaction than can be explained by Rorty’s pragmatism.”

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