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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet




We come now to the final two Profiles in this collection. You will notice that we have departed from our practice of listing the various philosophers in order of their dates of birth: both Derrida and Rorty are older than Searle and Kripke. This modification has been made for convenience, as both philosophers are perhaps to be regarded as 'post-modernists' rather than 'modernists'. These are of course somewhat vague terms. Modern philosophers for the most part consider the world to be knowable either directly through sense-experience or through reason, or indirectly — our knowledge being in some sense partial and 'filtered' through Kantian categories, or through a variety of contingent conceptual schemes. Modern philosophers are thus, we might say, either 'strong' or 'weak' realists. Post-modernists, by contrast, claim that no such access to the 'real' world is possible: there are no epistemological foundations, be they a priori or grounded in experience; and notions such as the 'metaphysics of presence', or the 'mind' or language as 'mirroring' or representing nature, are not tenable. There are only linguistic structures, social discourses within which we are confined. There is no way we can get outside of language to investigate whether supposedly true statements do in fact correspond to 'reality'. Language is doomed forever to be chasing its own tail. We can of course adopt a different social discourse, but this is but to engage in another 'conversation', as Rorty puts it.



You could hardly do better than to read Rorty's own Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. It is stimulating and provocative, and covers a vast range of philosophical thought.

For the historical background to Derrida and a treatment of other similar movements see:

R. Harland, The Philosophy of Structuralism and Post-Structuralism