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Philosophy as Poetry

Richard Rorty. Introduction by Michael Bérubé

BUY Cloth · 96 pp. · 5 × 8 · ISBN 9780813939339 · $21.95 · Dec 2016
BUY Ebook · 96 pp. · ISBN 9780813939346 · $21.95 · Dec 2016

CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, American Library Association (2017)

Undeniably iconoclastic, and doggedly practical where others were abstract, the late Richard Rorty was described by some as a philosopher with no philosophy. Rorty was skeptical of systems claiming to have answers, seeing scientific and aesthetic schools as vocabularies rather than as indispensable paths to truth. But his work displays a profound awareness of philosophical tradition and an urgent concern for how we create a society. As Michael Bérubé writes in his introduction to this new volume, Rorty looked upon philosophy as "a creative enterprise of dreaming up new and more humane ways to live."

Drawn from Rorty’s acclaimed 2004 Page-Barbour lectures, Philosophy as Poetry distills many of the central ideas in his work. Rorty begins by addressing poetry and philosophy, which are often seen as contradictory pursuits. He offers a view of philosophy as a poem, beginning with the ancient Greeks and rewritten by succeeding generations of philosophers seeking to improve it. He goes on to examine analytic philosophy and the rejection by some philosophers, notably Wittgenstein, of the notion of philosophical problems that have solutions. The book concludes with an invigorating suspension of intellectual borders as Rorty focuses on the romantic tradition and relates it to philosophic thought.

This book makes an ideal starting place for anyone looking for an introduction to Rorty’s thought and his contribution to our sense of an American pragmatism, as well as an understanding of his influence and the controversy that attended his work.

Page-Barbour Lectures


In these lectures Rorty is singing the same old (and good) song about what we must give up. We must give up our striving to be in touch with the really real, and we must give up the illusion that by paring away the accidental features of our temporal lives we can finally be in touch with our true, authentic, selves. The lesson is so bracing and so difficult because it is delivered in the context of a tradition--philosophy since Plato--that had been dedicated to the doing of these impossible things for centuries. Where is Richard Rorty when we need him? He is here.

Stanley Fish, Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Florida International University and the Floersheimer Visiting Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School

Richard Rorty, in these wonderfully clear and compact lectures, gave the best summary of his views of the meaning of truth and the philosophy of language and mind. His defense of ‘narrative philosophy’ is enhanced by the vivid and memorable sketches of Hegel, Nietzsche, William James, and other moderns who aimed as Rorty did to reconcile the work of reason and imagination.

David Bromwich, Yale University

[O]ne of the world’s most influential contemporary thinkers.

New York Times

These lectures connect Rorty’s distinctive and controversial views about the nature and history of philosophy to a number of topics and issues he has not previously considered. The vigor with which Rorty presents his account of philosophy, and the questions raised by how he connects it to topics like poetry and romanticism, are stimulating and fascinating.

John Koethe, University of Wisconsin author of Scepticism, Knowledge, and Forms of Reasoning

These lectures are a fine introduction to Rorty’s work. It’s all here: the affirmation of poets over philosophers, the interest in conversation as against analysis, the theory of the "new vocabulary" as preferable to the (sought for) perfect representation of the world as it is, the attempt to meld Nietzsche with American pragmatism, the mistrust of analytical philosophy and the affirmation of the imaginative. There’s also the great sweep, the grand statements, and the provocative temperament. Rorty is one of the most eloquent, provoking and original mid to late-century American writers with an interest in philosophy.

Mark Edmundson, University of Virginia, author of Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals

In 2004, the American pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty spent three days holding his Page-Barbour lectures entitled Philosophy as Poetry. Its beautiful title captures important aspects of Rorty’s philosophy.

Philosophy as Poetry

About the Author(s): 

Richard Rorty was affiliated over the course of his long teaching career with Princeton University, the University of Virginia, and Stanford University. Recognized as one of the most important voices in American philosophy of the late twentieth century, he was the author of numerous landmark works, including Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature and Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Michael Bérubé is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature at Pennsylvania State University; his most recent book is The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter, How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read. Mary V. Rorty is Clinical Associate Professor at the Stanford University Medical center and a Fellow of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

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