The Frontal Cortex

Dennett on Rorty

I’m a fan of both Dennett and Rorty*, and I thought this touching anecdote from Dennett really captures a crucial difference between the two philosophers:

At one three-hour lunch in a fine restaurant in Buenos Aires, we [Dennett and Rorty] traded notes on what we thought philosophy ought to be, could be, shouldn’t be, and he revealed something that I might have guessed but had never thought of. I had said that it mattered greatly to me to have the respect of scientists–that it was important to me to explain philosophical issues to scientists in terms they could understand and appreciate. Rorty replied that he didn’t give a damn what scientists thought of his work; he coveted the attention and respect of poets!

Must this be an either/or situation? Why can’t the same figure have the respect of scientists and poets?

*Although if I had to choose I’d go with the pragmatist over the Quinian.

Comments

  1. #1 Carl Pham
    June 15, 2007

    Why can’t the same figure have the respect of scientists and poets?

    He can, it’s just that historically he doesn’t.

    Scientists are concerned with discovering what is. Poets are concerned with discovering what ought to be.

    If that doesn’t seem like an unbridgeably fundamental difference in perspective, why then I suggest you are a poet at heart. Poets believe reality is, or can be made to seem, consistent with all our fondest hopes and aspirations, no matter how arbitrary or self-contradictory they may be.

  2. #2 Tex
    June 16, 2007

    Poets believe reality is, or can be made to seem, consistent with all our fondest hopes and aspirations, no matter how arbitrary or self-contradictory they may be.

    Wait a minute! This sounds like you are saying that George Bush is a poet. That can’t be right.

  3. #3 Caledonian
    June 16, 2007

    Scientists are concerned with rational thought and denotations, while poets are concerned with prerational thought and connotations.

    They’re not really compatible concerns.

  4. #4 Jonathan Vos Post
    June 17, 2007

    I am, professionally, both a scientist and a poet. I’ve tried reading Rorty several times, as Philosophers I spoke with said that he was important. I got the same impression from him that I get from C.S. Lewis: a very very clever man trying to manipulate me into sharing his belief system But C.S. Lewis told better stories. Maybe I’ll try Rorty again.

    Re: Caledonian’s comment: if connotation and denotation are mutually exclusive, why is there a genre of Science Poetry?

    “… Poetry was at one time the language of philosophy, science, and all serious thought. Major treatments of Science expressed as Poetry included the works of Lucretius (especially De Rerum Natura), Parmenides of Elea, Archytas (Pythagorean general, statesman, philanthropist, educator) and Empedocles of Acragas, plus the “Phaenomena” of Aratus and the Latin “Astronomica” of Manilius….”

  5. #5 P. C.
    June 17, 2007

    Scientists work to discover the truth.
    How can a philosopher say that he doesn’t “give a damn” about what scientists think of his work?

  6. #6 Scott Wood
    June 17, 2007

    If you can make some grand statement that captures the purposes of poets and poetry, and I doubt you can, it won’t be anything like “Poets are concerned with prerational thought and connotations” or “Poets believe reality is, or can be made to seem, consistent with all our fondest hopes and aspirations, no matter how arbitrary or self-contradictory they may be”.

    Where do you come up with this stuff? No doubt a few poets would fit either of these descriptions, but add them up and I doubt you would even have a significant minority.

  7. #7 James Eilers
    November 28, 2011

    Without a tape of the luncheon, can we trust that Rorty said that he “didn’t give a damn,” or is this an exaggerated response for his actual words, which may have been something like “It is not my concern that some people do not relate to my words.’ Rorty is the voice for relative and individual relative reality, include far greater differences than the old scientist versus poet game. Why the concern for an absolute unity of thought or expression? Rorty, turning from notions of absolute eternal verities, would certainly not be interested in that old-fashioned intellectual totalitarianism that insists on absolute unity. Some in the human race like football; some like ballet; and a very small number like both football and ballet. Get used to freedom and diversity.