“Truth,” Rorty, and Me

Diary 8/29 to 8/30/22: Climate & ozone; boys need help; everything you know is wrong; the ambiguity of “truth”; Vanaja and Atonement on DVD.

Recommended for parents

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{8/29/22} continued.

Something from Truthout yesterday: “Climate-Fueled Wildfires Are Depleting the Ozone Layer, New Study Shows.”  Oy.

Democracy Now (today’s show) is reporting that 30,000,000 human beings have been displaced by flooding in Pakistan.  That’s a lot of people.  Over 100 people died this weekend due to the floods, over 1,000 since June.

Essential viewing for parents of boys, one hour on YouTube:  Peggy Orenstein on her recent book, Boys and Sex.  She talks about vulnerability, hookup culture, consent, “What are you into?”, race and sex, and “the Talk,” among other subjects of relevance.

Caroline Winkler on YouTube again, this one a few months old.  “Living Alone + Unhinged AF.”  Episodic, less funny than some, but still fun.  Watch Caroline put on her makeup, do her hair, and obsess over her new coffee table.  It won’t change your life.


The philosophy of Richard Rorty has been important to me in developing my own point of view.  Mostly I’ve read his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature perhaps ten years ago, with occasional reviews of the “Introduction,” plus the Introductions of his Consequences of Pragmatism and The Linguistic Turn, plus some pages of the body of each book.  I also read another entire book edited by Herman J. Saatkamp, Jr.:  Rorty and Pragmatism: The Philosopher Responds to His Critics five years ago.  However, much of Mirror was obscure to me because I lack background in Kant and other relevant philosophers.  I mention all this as preamble to a mention of Robert B. Brandom (ed): Rorty and His Critics, Blackwell Publishers, Malden, Massachusetts, 2000, which I’ve owned for a year or more but never got much into—I recall reading Rorty’s introductory essay, is all, until last night, when I read the first half of Akeel Bilgrami:  “Is Truth a Goal of Inquiry?: Rorty and Davidson on Truth.”  Happily, it was generally clear and helpful and made me aware (again) that Rorty’s view of “truth” is essentially the same as mine:  in my words, “true” and “truth” are not philosophically useful concepts.  They are essential words for ordinary communication, of course, and even for philosophical discussion, but in my own thinking, I prefer to think of claims or propositions as either “useful” or “not useful” in deciding on a course of action.  This seems to me “basic pragmatism.”

Richard Rorty (1931-2007)

To get closer to Rorty’s words: we have no way of knowing which of our beliefs are true.  In addition, “truth” is not a legitimate goal of inquiry.  To anyone who has read little of what philosophers have written about “truth,” such statements I think must be quite shocking.  My own words are likely to be closer to “everything you know is wrong”—which I know is a quote, perhaps from a song in the sixties or seventies.  I don’t quite believe that EYKIW (thus I abbreviate it); but I like to think about the possibilities.  Whether EYKIW is true, or is entailed by “we have no way of knowing which of our beliefs are true,” are some of the questions that Bilgrami considers in the article I’m reading, though in much different words.  When reading philosophy, I am always trying to turn their words into my words, by a process of translation.  Undoubtedly I do violence to their actual thoughts, but I look on these things as raw material for my own conclusions.  I am not a professional philosopher, or perhaps not even an amateur philosopher (that is, I don’t generally call myself a philosopher).

I concluded my reading of this article halfway through with a couple of comments that I wrote in the margins.  In trying to hold on to the concept of “objective truth,” Bilgrami says, “To lay claim to this idea is to say with [John] McDowell that the expression ‘true’ signifies a kind of conformity our beliefs or sentences have ‘to things as they figure in our world view,’ and to ‘nothing more independent of our world view.’” I translated this into, “So ‘true’ means ‘true for me.’”  Of course I don’t accept this wording and this thinking.

“Truth” Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

I concluded as follows:  “Seems like the argument is finally about what to call ‘beliefs that we use with confidence.’  I don’t want to call these beliefs ‘true’ because the term is so ambiguous.  ‘True for me’ does not equal ‘objectively true’ [but that’s what people take the word to mean].”  So I’m not much in sympathy with Bilgrami’s aims (or at least this definition of ‘true’ in the previous paragraph), as they seem to me so far; but we’ll see what the rest of the essay has to say, and how Rorty responded.

Of course, if my cable TV is back on line today, that could sabotage any planned reading.  Tsk tsk.


I watched a couple of DVDs because the cable did not come back on.  I started with Vanaja (2006), an Indian (i.e., south Asia) movie about a young dancer of low caste.  It’s interesting (which I consider very weak praise) but tends to drag, especially during the lengthy dance sequences which were pleasant and entertaining up to a point, which point was exceeded sometimes.  The star of the show, Mamatha Bhukya, mostly is convincing as the 14-year-old girl, but her crying was not at all convincing.  This is not Bollywood, it’s almost anti-Bollywood, and I considered that a big plus:  it’s realistic and tends toward the gritty.  Scores 86% from critics, 84% from audiences at Rotten Tomatoes.

The second movie was also somewhat problematic, Atonement (2007), based on the novel by Ian McEwan which I read most of about a decade ago.  There is in the plot a critical error with a letter, which I found unbelievable in the novel and only slightly less unbelievable in the movie.  Aside from that, while the movie looks great and the acting is excellent throughout, at times it’s painfully pretentious.  During the movie I made a note to self that it was “Arty with a capital F,” if you get my drift, and more than once yelled at the screen.  Despite the directorial overreach, it’s a good movie overall, and scores 83% and 80% at RT.  It was good to see James McAvoy playing a straight, non-psycho role for once (I’ve mostly seen him in movies from M. Night Shyamalan previously), and Keira Knightley does her usual top-notch work.

I was unable to get back into the Bilgrami essay discussed above.  Tomorrow, perhaps.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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