Keywords: Richard Rorty, William James, John Dewey, Ethics, Responsibility.
This essay seeks to illuminate the ethical concerns that animate Richard Rorty’s philosophy. I argue that Rorty’s ethics foregrounds as its central priority the issue of responsibility and frame Rorty’s work as offering us a picture of ethical comportment in a post-foundational, pluralistic milieu, where citizens not only recognize the contingency of their own deepest beliefs but give up any sense of responsibilities owed to nonhuman authorities. To paraphrase Rorty, from any number of occasions, all we have to be responsible to is each other. Yet Rorty goes even further than antiauthoritarianism in ethics. He not only shifts to thinking about ethics in terms of our relations to others; he specifically attunes this ethics to those who are suffering or excluded or merely previously unnoticed. What emerges is an alternative Rorty to the smirking gadfly blithely shrugging off criticism and incapable of inhabiting a position of moral seriousness.