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Rorty and education

I heard of Richard Rorty for the first time a few days ago. Randall Niles, a Christian with a law firm ( 🙂 ) has a radio show called “Thinking it Through.” Profound name, I know, but he fires off tons and tons of quotations just like this and ties everything back to The Humanist Manifesto of 1933 and Potter saying that education is the greatest single help to humanism.

I thought I would include a little of what the late Rorty has to say, and after I have included a short quotation from Dinesh D’Souza, who represents the polar opposite viewpoint.

“It seems to me that the regulative idea that we heirs of the Enlightenment, we Socratists, most frequently use to criticize the conduct of various conversational partners is that of ‘needing education in order to outgrow their primitive fear, hatreds, and superstitions’ … It is a concept which I, like most Americans who teach humanities or social science in colleges and universities, invoke when we try to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic, religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own … The fundamentalist parents of our fundamentalist students think that the entire ‘American liberal establishment’ is engaged in a conspiracy. The parents have a point. Their point is that we liberal teachers no more feel in a symmetrical communication situation when we talk with bigots than do kindergarten teachers talking with their students … When we American college teachers encounter religious fundamentalists, we do not consider the possibility of reformulating our own practices of justification so as to give more weight to the authority of the Christian scriptures. Instead, we do our best to convince these students of the benefits of secularization. We assign first-person accounts of growing up homosexual to our homophobic students for the same reasons that German schoolteachers in the postwar period assigned The Diary of Anne Frank… You have to be educated in order to be … a participant in our conversation … So we are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable. We are not so inclusivist as to tolerate intolerance such as yours … I don’t see anything herrschaftsfrei [domination free] about my handling of my fundamentalist students. Rather, I think those students are lucky to find themselves under the benevolent Herrschaft [domination] of people like me, and to have escaped the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents … I am just as provincial and contextualist as the Nazi teachers who made their students read Der Stürmer; the only difference is that I serve a better cause. (emphasis added)
– ‘Universality and Truth,’ in Robert B. Brandom (ed.), Rorty and his Critics (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 21-2.

“I illustrate with a quotation from the atheist philosopher Richard Rorty, who died recently and is, I suspect, now having a lengthy conversation with his maker. Rorty argued that secular professors ought “to arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” The goal of education, in his view, is to help them to “escape the grip of their frightening, vicious, dangerous parents.” Indeed, Rorty warned parents that when they send their children to college, “We are going to go right on trying to discredit you in the eyes of your children, trying to strip your fundamentalist religious community of dignity, trying to make your views seem silly rather than discussable.” Rorty keeps using the term “fundamentalism” but I think he means traditional Christianity. Of course, he is quite oblivious to his own secular fundamentalism, which is just as narrow and bigoted as anything you will find among religious people.”
– Dinesh D’Souza: ‘What’s So Great About Christianity?’ Q & A with Dr. Paul Kengor

I have difficulty reconciling my desire to attend an in-state secular college because it’s less expensive and Mr. Rorty’s comments. It isn’t my goal to create dissent here, but I am interested in hearing what my readers have to say about Rorty’s comments. They’re fairly straightforward, and now that the world is on the same page, we can do what we deem necessary to counter his statements…or go along with them. Really, it’s our choice.

Who but a left-leaning professor could compare a college professor to a Nazi and not get into huge trouble for it?!

(No offense to any of my readers.  I understand that Rorty’s views are extreme…feel free to rant at me, or just inform me coldly that you’d rather not read my blog now… O_o)

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9 Responses to “Rorty and education”

  1. I think if you truly understand where the secular teachers are coming from and understand your own views well enough, you don’t have to be intimidated by the teachers. I understand the problems with atheism and the intolerance of the tolerance movement. I also understand the good and sufficient reasons to believe that the Bible is true, and that Jesus really was God come to earth. I also don’t see the dichotomy between faith and reason, which in my humble opinion is the main problem with most Christians these days.

    If one truly understands these things, then it is easy to expose the flaws in the teachers’ arguments, and show them for the intellectual bullies they are.

    $0.02

  2. I agree with Elliott.

    University is a difficult place, but not so much like “real life” as the professors would have you think. For one thing, I am one of those fundamentalist parents – does he think me uneducated? Or was it just because I didn’t have *him* as a professor that I escaped forced secularization? Is Rorty so smart that 99% of the world’s population throughout history has been wrong? Sounds like Dawkins to me.

    Most “religious” schools are just as bad as state run schools. One has to play the game while they are there (or so they say. Personally, if I get kicked out of Harvard Divinity because I am too “narrow minded” I think that is just as good as a certificate of graduation to the places I really want to work for anyway.)

    Intolerant, narrow-minded and bigoted sound like good descriptions of many secular professors, not just backwater unedukated folk like me. They may be so “open-minded” as to have their brains fall out.

    Do not be intimidated by arguments from professors – beware the sound of one hand clapping, so to speak. In other words, there is always a rebuttal to their argument. (And they will always have one back to you as well. Don’t cast your pearls before swine.) This is, for the most part, not a Philosophical nor scientific discussion; it is meta-physical and people in general, not just professors, are set in their ways and refuse to see any side of an argument that doesn’t fit their world view. And, like most people, Rorty seems to, in the heat of battle, to turn ad hominem – even to one’s parents. (Rather childish, don’t think? “Yoa momma’s sooo dumb…”)

    In the end, it does boil down to faith; something that secular professors only have in themselves.

  3. Indeed. He seems to resemble Dawkins very closely. For some people, that’s an advantage, I suppose, but for others (like myself) I see that as a bit of a drawback. Just a bit.

    Ah, real life. Yes, if I never get a degree from Harvard, I will be every bit as equipped to work for the companies and individuals I truly ::want:: to as I would being completely secularly educated. Excellent point.

    Hmm…”your mom” arguments do seem a little old. I only attended “real” school for one year, and I was very tired of hearing that by about two months in. I would hate to hear it from a teacher, but that’s exactly what this is. Oh well.

    I see this is a pretty hot topic. 😉 Thanks for all the feedback, guys.

    Elliott – I have done my share of arguing, and in the end, I come away feeling like there’s just no way to win. Perhaps a different approach would be to just live your life like you mean what you believe instead of trying to pin down your professor on everything. They’re smart people, they just happen to be extremely misled and happy to spread that.

  4. Most people who don’t believe in a deity of any kind don’t realize that they have set themselves up as one, or if they do, they seem to actually be proud of it.
    Either way, most are set in their ways and we won’t be able to change their minds, no matter what we say or do. Only God can change hearts anyway, it is only our duty to sow the seeds. Just make sure the seeds you sow, whether it’s in Uni or chatting with strangers, are seen to be seeds of good fruit. If the fruit looks bad, no one will accept the seed.

  5. A funny note on Dawkins: in Ben Stein’s Expelled movie, during an interview, Dawkins says that it would be a terrible, awful thing indeed if it turned out that there really was a god like the One of Judeo Christianity. I agree.

    Terrible and awful for Dawkins.

    We must always keep people like this in prayer – they may treat us like children for doing so. Just smile and nod.

  6. I came across this post because I’m a Rorty fan and have a Google alert set up to notify me when his name turns up in blog posts. This quote has been republished a lot lately. But Rorty’s target in the quote is not so much fundamentalism per se as racism and homophobia. If you’re not racist or homophobic–or at the very least, if you don’t bring your racism or homophobia into the classroom–you probably won’t have much trouble with your secular professors.

    Rorty was by no means as fervent an atheist as Richard Dawkins. Indeed, toward the end of his life, he began to say that he should never have referred to himself as an atheist, and he cited, with approbation, George W. Bush’s assertion that atheism itself is a faith. Rorty began to say, instead, that he should have called himself an anticlericalist, because what he really opposed was attempts to insert church doctrines into public policy. His clearest statements of his position on religion can be found in the late book “The Future of Religion” and in a couple essays in “Philosophy and Social Hope,” notably “Religion as Conversation Stopper.”

    One last note: Rorty saw his philosophical work as an extension of that of William James, who wrote “The Varieties of Religious Experience.”

    • I know – I didn’t think I would find anything on this quote (or not much) but I Googled it and it has been around a LOT.

      I would contend that racism is not as much an issue in the “fundamentalist” or Christian community as professors seem to think. If anything, it is a reverse racism where we try to make things up to black people for what is done and over. However, racism may just be the topic for my next post, so check back for that if you’d like. It’s a concept I admittedly don’t know a lot about.

      Atheism does seem to be a faith. The book title “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist” really jumped out at me, and I don’t think Bush was far wrong in saying that it is a religion of sorts. It’s a worldview, at very least – it has something to say about everything in life, because the concept of God and higher power touches every part of life.

      It would probably be wise for Dawkins or Rorty to differentiate between solid values that just so happen to be Christian and what you call here church doctrines. Admittedly, there are differences! “Church doctrines” are different from common-sense, helpful values that just happen to come from a Judeo-Christian background.

  7. I don’t think that Rorty believed that fundamentalism ENTAILS racism. What I was trying to get at before is that the target of the quote is not fundamentalists tout court, as the philosophers say, but homophobic, bigoted fundamentalists. I’m sure that Rorty, like the rest of us, knew plenty of unbigoted, unhomophobic Evangelicals.

    I’ll look up the full quote tonight when I get home, but I suspect that in this passage, Rorty was defending the view of rationality that led people to charge him with “relativism.” In the same way that he thought of value systems–Nazi or leftist academic–as local, contingent human constructs, he thought of norms of rationality as local, contingent, human constructs. Here, he’s probably pointing out that appeals to “rationality”–like the ones that Dawkins and Dennett make–in arguments with people who aren’t obviously insane probably just amounts to saying, I’m not going to play that game. But he’s probably also pointing out that refusing to play a game is as secure away to avoid relativism as appealing to an “ahistorical, transcultural” (two adjectives he used in conjunction a lot) faculty like “reason”.

    And Rorty certainly does “differentiate between solid values that just so happen to be Christian” and church doctrines–although most of the social values that he thought met that description also happened to be Buddhist, and Taoist, and Hindu, and Muslim. But he didn’t think that bigotry and homophobia were among those values. What he hoped for was a culture in which people had to defend their beliefs only according to “common-sense, helpful values”, not according to sacred writ. I.e., if you adopt a policy that injures some group of people, it’s not enough to justify it by saying that the Bible, the Qur’an, the Bhagavad-Ghita, the Book of Mormon or whatever says so.

  8. P.S. A quote from “The Future of Religion” that hasn’t been nearly as broadly broadcast online as the one you blogged about:

    “A growing tendency … to abandon what Habermas calls ‘subject-centered reason’ for what he calls ‘communicative reason’ has weakened the grip of the idea that scientific beliefs are formed rationally, whereas religious beliefs are not. … These developments have made the word ‘atheist’ less popular than it used to be. Philosophers who do not go to church are now less inclined to describe themselves as believing that there is no God. They are more inclined to use such expressions as Max Weber’s ‘religiously unmusical.’ One can be tone-deaf when it comes to religion just as one can be oblivious to the charms of music. People who find themselves quite unable to take an interest in the question of whether God exists have no right to be contemptuous of people who believe passionately in his existence or of people who deny it with equal passion. Nor do either of the latter have a right to be contemptuous of those to whom the dispute seems pointless.”


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