International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 121 11th October 2006


I. 'A meta-theoretical analysis of the philosophy of Richard Rorty' by Herman Pietersen

II. 'The Teleological Argument for the Existence of God' by Namita Kalita

III. 'Philosophy Of The Body' by Akoijam Thoibisana



The Indian Institute Of Technology Guwahati appears to be a hive of philosophical activity. In this issue we have two more offerings, from research scholars Namita Kalita and Akoijam Thoibisana.

Namita Kalita, in her second article for Philosophy Pathways, has written a careful and informative account of the teleological argument for the existence of God which I recommend to any undergraduate student taking a course in the Philosophy of Religion. Akoijam Thoibisana offers a provocative but all too brief account of the radical shift in our view of the human body and its role in society, religion and philosophy.

Heading up this issue is the latest article from Professor Herman Pietersen on the American philosopher Richard Rorty, following on from his 'Critical Commentary on Richard Rorty's Thought' which appeared in Issue 111.

Geoffrey Klempner



The philosopher maketh the philosophy -- but not just any philosophy. HJP

1. Introduction

The writings of the American pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty seem to have achieved quite an unusual level of prominence and broad appeal over the past two decades. This could arguably and in part be ascribed to the particular style of exposition that he adopts, which manifests itself in a unique combination of thought and poeticized narrative -- worthy of a thinker who may aptly be viewed as both word-smith and word-artist rolled into one.

By virtue of its persuasive appeal, well-knitted (though not uncontested) selections from the history of ideas, and an ongoing barrage of attacks on Platonism (which his philosophy by own admission is 'parasitic' upon), Rorty's works make for interesting and deceptively smooth reading. With his deliberately provocative descriptions, binary comparisons, and rhetorical flair (which attests to his own achievement as 'vocabularist'), an influential writer wishes to persuade us that the search for master propositions or single 'great' truths in philosophy (specifically in analytic philosophy, and by extension also in metaphysics, and science itself) is a failed project. His self-declared therapeutic aim from the outset is to turn us away from this 'blind alley' in human thought, to release us from the age-old grip of the 'disease' he calls foundationalism and of the mind as mirror of nature.

The present essay takes a closer look at Richard Rorty's thought, from a meta-philosophical perspective. For the present author the task is made easier by the attractiveness of Rorty's laid-back and conversational yet also critical and authoritative approach, his obvious erudition and quite sweeping style of exposition. What is also intriguing (as an aside) is the fact that this erstwhile leading member of American academic philosophy left camp to venture into the realm of humanistic philosophy -- deliberately swapping a career as analytic (scientific) philosopher for that of the narrative thinker and writer, the proponent and practitioner of intellectual re-descriptions.

The main thrust of Rorty's philosophical critique, as indicated above, is that there is no final, once-for-all, theory, explanation, or master truth to be discovered 'out there' -- that the central focus of philosophy since its inception, namely: the Platonic-Cartesian-Kantian ideal of a rational and transcendent 'super-truth' about the world revealing itself to us, was wrong-headed and needs to be discarded.

For Rorty, the existentialist-pragmatist thinker, there is no immutable truth as 'representation' of an external reality. No skyhook, no mirror of nature in our knowledge endeavors. Only human minds that, in the Darwinian tradition, pragmatically try to cope with (survive) and make progress in life -- communities of humans who, with greater or lesser success, temporarily happen to agree among themselves about what should count as 'truth' or 'knowledge'.

Consistent with his diagnosis (and incorporating elements of Jamesian-Deweyan pragmatism, but on a decidedly less optimistic note) Rorty's solution is a process of intellectual muddling through, of trying to make things 'hang together' (Consequences of Pragmatism, 1982: 32) as best one can. As he succinctly describes it in Philosophy and Social Hope (1999), we 'make' truth -- we don't 'find' it.

2. Paradigmatic modalities of mind

Richard Rorty's philosophy is approached in this paper by utilizing a meta-theoretical set of four basic modalities or 'ways of understanding' (Pietersen, 2000, 2003). This framework has previously been applied to a range of different knowledge disciplines, and will in the present case be used to analyse fundamental characteristics of Rorty's thought.

David Hall (1994), the author of a highly regarded text on Rorty, points to Stephen Pepper and Richard McKeon as North American exemplars of this type of approach, which he designates 'meta-theoretical pluralism'. In Rortian terms the present analysis could likely be viewed as a 'meta-narrative' clothed in Platonic dress (or, for that matter, as Platonism in thinly disguised narrative form using a foundationalist vocabulary of description). However, the chosen approach is not, it is believed, in conflict with Rorty's basic tenet of multiple vocabularies (of letting a hundred flowers bloom), merely a certain example of it. For Rorty, the synoptic approach is a case of: '...just muddling through on a large scale' (Rorty, 1979: 168). David Hall, however, more constructively portrays the aim of the meta-theoretical pluralist as: '...not dialectical refutation nor the resort to dismissive reductionism; his purpose is to account for the variety and diversity of view-points (Hall, 1994: 74) [my italics].

Figure 1 and Table 1 provide a typology of four basic modalities of mind or thought, each of which is complementary but also oppositional to the others. For each paradigm of knowledge or thought a cluster of typical and related descriptors have been identified. Although variations obviously occur in the extent to which all elements of each cluster applies to an individual or community of thinkers and scholars, experience has shown these to be very useful in characterizing different schools of thought. No claim is made for the completeness of descriptors. Collectively these clusters do, however, for each type provide a coherent meta-theoretical profile (if not a core philosophical identity) -- a way of understanding man and world (and of the products of human thinking about it).

FIGURE 1: The Circle of Knowledge -- Meta-types in human thought


       II.                                    I.
       ARISTOTLE                              PLATO
       knowledge                              knowledge
       technologized                          divinized

Empiricist                   +                        Empyrean

       III.                                   IV.
       PROTAGORAS                             PLATO
       knowledge                              knowledge
       poeticized                             politicized


TABLE 1: Knowledge archetypes -- general characteristics

     Q: What is behind this?
Essential truths (Ideas)
     Impersonal / Speculative inquiry
     Theoretical / mystical
     Generalist / 'boulder-building' / Integration
     Concepts ('patterns that connect')
     Deterministic / foundational / transcendent
     Q: What is this?
Empirical truths (Facts)
     Impersonal / Controlled inquiry
     Observation / measurement
     Specialist / 'Pebble-picking' / Differentiation
     Systematic analysis and prediction
     Deterministic / foundational / immanent
     Q: What is wrong/wonderful about this?
Existential truths (symbols, linguistic)
     Expressive -- revelatory -- poetical
     Personal -- engaged
     Values (humanism) -- empathic
     Voluntaristic / contextual / immanent
     To praise, eulogize, tell inspiring stories;
     To unmask, debunk, critique and tell 'sad' stories
     Q: What ought to be done about this?
Ideological truths (concepts; principles)
     Political -- advocacy -- action
     Communal -- engaged
     Values (humanism) -- developmental / reformist
     Voluntaristic / contextual / transcendent
     To influence and engineer life/world/society
     according to valued ideals and principles

3. Meta-theoretical dimensions of Rorty's thought

3.1 The Destructive Critic (Strong Poet) -- Type III

Although Rorty's later thought tends to be more ideological, focusing on the promotion of his liberalist political vision for society, there is fair agreement among commentators (such as Bernstein and Hall) that his work since Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) predominantly reflects that of the narrative philosopher or poetical-critical thinker -- a role that he himself identifies as that of the 'strong poet', who deliberately 'misread' others in order to generate interesting and 'edifying' new vocabularies of description. His primary impact (and source of fame one surmises) is as an almost archetypal critic and debunker of established intellectual dogmas in the Platonic mould. As 'un-masker' of the scientistic pretence of analytic philosophy, Richard Rorty has been very effective. A well-known colleague (and also critic of Rorty) Richard Bernstein freely acknowledges that Rorty: '... had effectively exposed the artificiality, narrowness, and arrogant pretensions of analytic philosophy...and opened the way for discussion of important cultural issues long neglected by professional philosophers' (Bernstein, 1990: 31).

Here, then, we have a clear example of a philosopher mainly operating in what can be described as the subjectivist-empiricist (type III) meta-theoretical mode, the pluralist advocate of a blooming variety of vocabularies -- -someone whose express purpose with his main work (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature) is to: ' undermine the reader's confidence in 'the mind' as something about which one should have a 'philosophical' view, in 'knowledge' as something about which there ought to be a 'theory' and which has 'foundations,' and in 'philosophy' as it has been conceived since Kant' (Rorty, 1979: 7).

This is a romantic philosopher who took the 'linguistic turn', the thinker who wants to keep matters open and unsettled. Someone who dreads the idea of hierarchy and system; of a deterministic Authority, of a Final Vocabulary; of a nothing-but (Kuhnian) 'normal discourse'; of Foundations and a 'resting place' for all knowledge endeavours. He expresses it thus: 'The fear of science, of 'scientism,' of 'naturalism,' of self-objectivation, of being turned by too much knowledge into a thing rather than a person, is the fear that all discourse will become normal discourse. That is, it is the fear that there will be objectively true or false answers to every question' (PMN, 1979: 388) [my italics].

A key element of Rorty's underlying meta-narrative (metaphysic) is found in his: 'fear...of being turned...into a thing rather than a person'. The common denominator and rallying cry of voluntarist thinkers, and deeply committed humanistic philosophers and intellectuals is the fear of the 'impersonal' -- of being treated as object rather than as a person. And this, of course, points to the home-turf of the poet-romanticist, the critiquing but also eulogizing storyteller, of passion expressed in thought. For this type of thinker the vibrancy of being, of kaleidoscopic variety, of the here-and-now (James' 'stream of consciousness'), of experiencing self, others and life is more important than, in Rortian terms, 'getting it right'. Familiar examples in philosophy are the ancient Sophists, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Santayana, Ortega and Sartre.

In Consequences of Pragmatism Rorty keeps up his, at times, anguished poetry of opposition to what he experiences as the stifling impersonality of objectivist (scientistic) thought. He writes: 'To accept the contingency of starting-points is to accept our inheritance from, and our conversation with, our fellow-humans as our only source of guidance... In the end, the pragmatists tell us, what matters is our loyalty to other human beings clinging together against the dark, not our hope of getting things right' (Rorty, 1982: 166) [my italics].

By the time of his Essays on Heidegger and Others: Vol II (1991) Rorty's tone became even more stridently Nietzschean and poetical -- the 'strong poet', the Critic, was now in full swing, it seems. So-called 'non-analytic' philosophers for whom Rorty increasingly seemed to act as an unofficial intellectual spokesperson (amidst the voices of Foucault, Derrida and others) are described by him as having a clear preference for the poetical and activist roles: 'They would like their work to be continuous either with literature on the one hand or with politics on the other' (Rorty, 1991: 24). Rorty's turning away from (a sort of farewell to) mainstream analytic (scientific) philosophy is emotively expressed in the following words: 'If we ever have the courage to drop the scientistic model of philosophy without falling back into a desire for holiness (as Heidegger did), then, no matter how dark the time, we shall no longer turn to the philosophers for rescue as our ancestors turned to the priests. We shall turn instead to the poets and the engineers, the people who produce startling new projects for achieving the greatest happiness of the greatest number' (Rorty, Essays on Heidegger and Others, 1991: 26).

Then, of course, there is also the Rorty who sings the praises of his own pragmatist heroes such as Dewey, Sellars, Quine, Davidson and especially of the important influence of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions on his thought -- he even adopted a similar phraseology ('normal discourse' in lieu of Kuhn's 'normal science', and so on). For Rorty: 'Kuhn was one of the most influential philosophers of our century because he did as much as anyone else -- even Wittgenstein -- to get this useful [anti-foundationalist] work done' (Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope, 1999: 189).

To summarise: in the ongoing and so-called culture war between scientistic and humanistic tendencies among scholars, scientists and intellectuals Richard Rorty has thoroughly established himself as a foremost figure and voice for the latter approach. As Hall describes it: '...(t)he destiny of philosophy in the modern period has involved an erratic vacillation between the literary and the scientific enterprises as models of philosophic discourse. Rorty's preference is clearly for the literary, poetic model' (Hall, 1994: 21).

3.2 The Liberalist Missionary (Self-Creation & Social Hope) Type IV

Interspersed with the predominantly poetical-critical strain in Rorty's thought, is his missionary (political, type IV) inclination -- his concern with having voice, with proposing solutions.

Despite his talk about 'inter-subjective agreement' and 'edification' as communitarian and revelatory ideals, also for educating the youth, Rorty wishes to maintain a separation between public and private spheres. His solution for the former is a liberal democracy that gives rise to 'social hope', for the latter it is the private pleasure of 'self-creation'. However, and in conformity with the individualistic focus of type III thinkers, he seems to favour the private utopia alternative. Witness, for instance, his statement that: 'The point of a liberal society is not to invent or create anything, but simply to make it as easy as possible for people to achieve their wildly different private ends without hurting each other ' (Rorty, 1990: 6). The emphasis is on a society that facilitates development and growth of its citizens -- and not on citizens as members of Society whose purpose in life should be to serve and contribute to the (Platonic) ideals of the State.

Rorty is, to be sure, at root still the 'strong poet', the 'deconstructive' thinker -- not the 'rabble-rouser'. He speaks about and to fellow intellectuals -- not, it seems, with the aim to win public office or lead a transformation of society, but by now as an avuncular elder statesman and defender of the humanistic faith among literary intellectuals. Although favouring stimulation and development of the individual imagination (as opposed to succumbing to a culture of obedience and the search for 'deep' truths about reality), Rorty can also be the idealist and social utopian, as when he praises the: '...the search for a single utopian form of political life -- the Good Global Society' (Rorty, 2000: 20).

On the whole, from the earlier and more circumscribed 'therapeutic' goal of advocating an alternative to Platonist philosophy, to (especially in his later work) turning his attention to the promotion of a philosophy of 'social hope' (his 'leftist, liberal democracy'), the reformist aim is a distinctive element of Rorty's narrative (type III) philosophy.

In the opening lines of one of his recent works (Philosophy and Social Hope, 1999) Rorty perhaps most succinctly shares with us the main tenets of his subjectivist (humanistic) concern with: 'how we should live'. In the Preface he pulls together two main threads appearing throughout in his writing, when he says: 'Most of what 1 have written in the last decade consists of attempts to tie in my social hopes -- hopes for a global, cosmopolitan, democratic, egalitarian, classless, casteless society -- with my antagonism towards Platonism' (Rorty, PSH, 1999: xii). Again, the subjectivist concern with 'agreement' and 'action', and not truth for its own sake, shine through in an explicit statement that: '...we pragmatists ...cannot regard truth as a goal of inquiry. The purpose of inquiry is to achieve agreement among human beings about what to do, to bring about consensus on the ends to be achieved and the means to be used to achieve those ends' (Rorty, PSH, 1999: xxv).

3.3 The Analogical Thinker (Pebble-Picker and Taxonomist) Type II

Richard Rorty adopts the same basic approach and on numerous occasions states the view that his philosophy is not about 'arguments' (dialectical, or discursive reasoning as in analytical philosophy) but about interesting new 'vocabularies of description'; not about Analysis -- the correct application of the rules of logic (or 'demonstrative reasoning' as in Aristotle), but about truth as relatively fleeting instances of 'inter-subjective agreement'.

All serious thought utilizes defensible forms of reasoning and argumentative processes -- it's what distinguishes thinking from the expression of mere popular and unreflective opinion, faith or dogma. So it also is with Rorty's philosophical writings, which is built upon and richly reflects the analogical (poetical, metaphorical) mode of thought and reasoning. Substantive sections of his writings are also examples of history-based arguments -- in his case primarily the non-discursive use of ideas and descriptions (from selected authors) taken from the history of thought, to bolster his attack on Platonism and to justify his own choice of philosophy, influenced by the thought of Dewey, Sellars and others.

The type II mode in Rorty's philosophy is therefore that of the analogical thinker who chooses, interprets and uses selected pieces from the history of thought to provide force of reason to his exposition. His writing is replete with binary comparisons, of weighing up foundationalism against (his preferred, neo-pragmatist version) of pluralism. Thus, Rorty also argues, gives reasons for his utterances, he is not just the 'strong poet' and destructive critic of scientific philosophy -- despite his strained attempts at times to avoid taking an argumentative stand, such as when he says: 'edifying philosophers have to decry the very notion of having a view, while avoiding having a view about having views' (PMN, 1979: 371).

David Hall (1994) also points to a perhaps neglected aspect of Rorty's thought, namely that it is thoroughly taxonomic, thus providing further indication of Rorty the type II (scientific-explicatory) thinker. Examples are his discussion of the two roles of the philosopher, namely, as the '...the informed dilettante, the poly-pragmatic Socratic intermediary between various discourses', on the one hand and as the '...the cultural overseer who knows everyone's common ground-the Platonic philosopher-king who knows what everybody else is really doing...' on the other (PMN, 1979: 317).

In Consequences of Pragmatism, Rorty gives us another indication of the taxonomic tendency in his thought, when he expresses the desire for a (pluralist) culture that supports and promotes freedom and imaginative new opportunities for all as: '...a culture in which neither the priests nor the physicists nor the poets nor the Party were thought of as more 'rational,' or more 'scientific' or 'deeper' than one another' (Consequences of Pragmatism, 1982: 31). The taxonomic Rorty appears again in Essays on Heidegger and Others (1991), where he discusses the influence of historical figures: 'Three answers have been given, in our century, to the question of how we should conceive of our relation to the Western philosophical tradition, answers which are paralleled by three conceptions of the aim of philosophizing. They are the Husserlian (or 'scientistic') answer, the Heideggerian (or 'poetic') answer and the pragmatist (or 'political') answer' (Rorty, 1991: 9). Lastly, and perhaps even more explicitly theoretical, he declares: 'I can now state my thesis. It is that the intellectuals of the West have, since the Renaissance, progressed through three stages: they have hoped for redemption first from God, then from philosophy, and now from literature' (Rorty, 2000: 3).

In good old scientific-positivist fashion Rorty offers the following (though for the experienced human scientist rather platitudinous) analysis of social science: '...there are two distinct requirements for the vocabulary of the social sciences: (1) It should contain descriptions of situations which facilitate their prediction and control (2) It should contain descriptions which help one decide what to do' (Rorty, 1982: 197). And one should note that contrary to his avowed non-separation of 'is' and 'ought', Rorty here gives sanction to that very distinction.

3.4 The Subjectivist Metaphysician (Neo-Pragmatist) -- Type I

What does Richard Rorty's metaphysics (or 'grand narrative' as David Hall, 1994, refers to it) consist of? Many subjectivist thinkers would probably say that this is a self-defeating, self-contradictory question -- that metaphysics (in the conventional sense) is a 'disease' that others such as Platonists, foundationalists and objectivist philosophers are guilty of and suffer from, and that 'metaphysics' is exactly what existentialist-pragmatist philosophers have been trying to get rid of.

In a post-Kantian world of a multitude of special sciences (and literary and art disciplines), the classical view of metaphysics has become obsolete -- a theory that attempts to accounts for everything is just not taken seriously any more. But, as pointed out elsewhere (Pietersen, 2003), this does not mean that there is no basic metaphysical or meta-theoretical striving or inclination in human thought -- and that includes subjectivist or humanistic philosophers. In that sense all modern metaphysics has become a concern with the most general structures and premises (world views) of thought -- making us at least de facto meta-theoretical pluralists trying (in Rortian terms) to achieve an intellectual synopsis or hanging together on a larger scale.

The key elements or meta-theoretical influences on Rorty's philosophy (which, as pointed to above has clear taxonomic characteristics) are, in no particular order, his: Darwinism, historicism, nominalism, pluralism, naturalism-empiricism, voluntarism and an epistemology of truth by consensus or agreement (and not as 'representation'). These 'foundational' elements are often so closely enmeshed in Rorty's writings, that it will be best illustrated by selected extracts from his works.

In Essays on Heidegger and Others (1991) Rorty re-affirms his view that '...sentences are the only things that can be true or false' (his nominalism) and that: 'Thinking of truth in this way helps us switch over from a Cartesian-Kantian picture of intellectual progress (as a better and better fit between mind and world) to a Darwinian picture (as an increasing ability to shape the tools needed to help the species survive, multiply, and transform itself)' (Rorty, 1991: 3). This provides a clear indication of Rorty's evolutionist/ historicist roots -- hence his pragmatist preference for truth as those changing new linguistic expressions (vocabularies of descriptions) that have survival value. In a 2000 paper at his website, he describes himself as follows: 'I myself am a convinced holist, historicist, pragmatist, and contextualist' (Rorty, 2000: 16).

In an interesting autobiographical chapter in his Philosophy and Social Hope (1999), Rorty reveals how his youthful Platonic vision of: '...the place 'beyond hypotheses' where the full sunshine of Truth irradiates the purified soul of the wise and good: an Elysian field dotted with immaterial orchids.(PSH, 1999: 9) became shattered by the realization that: 'There seemed to be nothing like a neutral standpoint from which these alternative first principles could be evaluated. But if there were no such standpoint, then the whole idea of 'rational certainty', and the whole Socratic-Platonic idea of replacing passion by reason, seemed not to make much sense' (PSH, 1999: 10).

In A World without Substances or Essences (1994, included in PSH, 1999) he again emphatically describes his meta-philosophy in relation to other existentialist thought: 'Various labels and slogans are associated with this anti-essentialistic, anti-metaphysical movement in various Western traditions. Among (1999: 47) them are pragmatism, existentialism, deconstructionism, holism, process philosophy, poststructuralism, postmodernism, Wittgensteinianism, antirealism, and hermeneutics. Perhaps for merely patriotic reasons, my own preferred term is pragmatism; among the slogans are 'Everything is a social construction' and 'All awareness is a linguistic affair'' (PSH, 1999: 48).

One suspects that Rorty, the disillusioned Platonist, may not have managed to really get 'it' out of his 'system' after all those years -- as the not so hidden (Platonic) love for broad theoretical classifications (his 'binary descriptions') that shows up all along in his writings, seems to indicate. This suspicion receives added support further on in PSH when he (almost wistfully) confesses that: 'Those who, like me, were raised atheist and now find it merely confusing to talk about God, nevertheless fluctuate between moods in which we are content with utility and moods in which we hanker after validity as well.' (PSH, 1999: 163).

4. Conclusion

To summarise: For Rorty (and pragmatism) fleeting, ever-changing Experience and temporary views about it is the really real -- the hustle and bustle of a democratic way of life and of philosophy-in-process. In Rorty's historicist approach super-sensible Forms, Principles, and Laws are mere passing signposts (yesterday's truths). There are no absolutes (God, Divine Principles, Absolute minds etc) -- only what you and I as a community of thinkers can agree on is useful or worthwhile for the time being. There is no final, super-ordinate vocabulary of description of anything. Inter-subjective or agreed-upon and fallible understandings of the many impulses and experiences, of the past present and future, are what philosophy is and should be about.

The question how should we live and the implications for living of answers to this question take precedence in pragmatism. It says that there are only varied and replaceable ideas, views and 'models' of thought, and that these are created ('made' not 'found') and have meaning only for deciding on questions of what to do -- not what is. There is no Meaning of Life -- -you only get meaning(s) from living life -- as you go along so to speak. No stepping outside of history to obtain a firm position, no God's eye view on anything or everything.

Richard Rorty's philosophy has, from a meta-theoretical perspective, been shown to be, primarily, a critical-narrative philosophy in the romantic-poetical mode (type III intellectual tradition), interspersed with a less dominant but still substantive reformist element (type IV intellectual tradition). Both modalities reflect the subjectivist (humanistic) current in philosophical thought.

In conclusion, Richard Rorty may justifiably be regarded as one of the foremost modern critics and debunkers of a naive or strict objectivism.

5. References

Bernstein, R J (1990) 'Rorty's liberal utopia', Social Research, Vol. 57, Issue 1, p31, 42p

Hall, D L (1994) 'Richard Rorty: Prophet and Poet of the New Pragmatism', New York: State University of New York Press

Pietersen, HJ (2000) ' Meta-paradigms in philosophical thought', The Examined Life, Vol. 1, (4). [http:---]

Pietersen, H.J (2003) 'A review of metaphysics: Part II', The Examined Life, Vol. 4 (15).

Rorty, R (1979) 'Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature', Oxford, London: Blackwell

Rorty, R (1982) 'Consequences of Pragmatism', New York: Harvester

Rorty, R (1991) 'Essays on Heidegger and others', New York: Cambridge University Press

Rorty, R (2000, 2 November) 'The decline of redemptive truth and the rise of a literary culture', Richard Rorty Homepage.

Rorty, R (1990) 'Foucault/Dewey/Nietzsche', Raritan, Vol. 9 Issue 4, p1, 8p.

Rorty, R (1999) 'Philosophy and social hope', London: Penguin

(c) Herman J Pietersen 2006




The teleological argument of the existence of God is also known as the argument from design in the world. This argument attempts to arrive at the conclusion that God exists by help of empirical proofs. Accordingly, the world is understood as consisting of various contingent realities which are not self sufficient in nature and refer to something beyond them as these are means toward some end or objective. Thus it appears to common sense that behind this world, there is a purpose for which world is created. For this purpose the world is designed or organized in a different way. Therefore, if there is a purpose then there must be a purposer or designer of the world. The teleological argument is a philosophical device of systematically organizing this common sense belief as logically justifiable as an attempt at rationalizing this belief as a legitimate evidence for the reality of design and to postulate an intelligent designer-someone who 'engineered in' all the purposiveness we see in nature. ( Telos is the Greek word for Goal, purpose, or end.)

Naturally this form of the argument, the so called teleological or the design argument, is one of the oldest devices for justifying belief in God. Perhaps it has its earliest roots in the thought of Plato, who argued that the physical universe is unintelligible apart from mind. According to Plato the designer of the world could never be the first cause, it has a conditional and a borrowed reality and its incompleteness and imperfections are revealing of something, which is the true reality. This argument may take many forms, establishing sovereignty of a divine creator as both the immanent and the transcendent cause of the world, or in the form of dualism of maker and the made, understanding creation out of void or zero or out of preexisting materials giving them form or shape in accordance with a plan. The main contention of the teleological argument is that the universe is not mere aggregate of events but it is a meaningful as an organized whole, in which there is order, harmony and discipline. For the believer this leads to justification of faith in an intelligent designer who has created the universe with strong conviction that the supreme cosmic designer can only be God and nothing else.

Among all the traditional theistic proofs, the design (or teleological) argument is, as Kant acknowledges it, 'the oldest, the clearest, and the most accordant with the common reason of mankind'[1], even though he remained a severe critic of all the proofs for God's existence, including the argument from design. Earlier thinkers often borrowed examples of such purposiveness, or 'good design,' from astronomy. From the nineteenth century onward, the most popular examples could come from biology. Using biological organisms as our example, we can try reformulating the teleological argument as follows: 'Organisms have features that are purposive; Purposive features must be the result of design; Organisms don't design themselves; and are not designed by humans; Therefore, there is a nonhuman designer, whom we call God.'[2]

The teleological argument refers to some features of the universe which are unique and this uniqueness and novelty and complexity in organisms and things rules out any human, who is also made or caused, becoming the designer or the maker of this vast universe. Therefore there must be a divine and a non-human designer. Just as we can infer the nature of the changes in the earth's crust during the past million of years on the basis of geological evidence, in a similar way we can infer the existence and nature of a designer on the basis of certain features of the universe in general. The teleological argument further justifies the fact that the universe is product of designer, as the making of the universe requires a being with intelligence and enough power to shape the materials of the universe in accordance with a plan. The order and the progress in the universe disclose an immanent intelligence and purpose. Let us take, for example, the long process of development leading to the human brain and the mind of man. The process has produced minds that began to understand the world, and it has produced thought and understanding. How could this occur unless the course of evolution is intelligently directed? That proofs that there must be a supreme being who finally guides the course of evolution. That Supreme Being is called God.

There are also other ways of presenting the argument in various forms, with reference to findings in sciences and life sciences. Now, we do find in the world things, like human eye, in which parts are so shaped that they work together to give us sight. From this, we can infer that there must be intelligent cause of the construction of the eye. Let us hear Henry More: 'Now why have we three joints in our legs and arms as also our fingers but that it was much better than having two or four? And why are our fore-teeth sharp like chisels to cut but our inward teeth broad to grind (instead of) the fore-teeth broad and the other sharp? Again, why are the teeth so luckily placed or rather why are there not teeth in other bones as well as in jawbones? But the reason is that nothing is done foolishly or in vain; that is, there is a divine providence that orders all things.'[3]

This type of argument has lost its value as the theory of evolution could explain to us why we have the most convenient number of joints in our fingers and why our teeth are in the jawbones. Mutation and Natural Selection explain the adjustment of parts to each other for the purpose of survival. It is true that Darwin's theory is not the complete explanation of the teleological order, it tells us only how some cases develop from other cases. If we think of the structure of the universe on the pattern of a living being like a tree or an animal, instead of on the pattern of a machine, we have no reason to posit a God. A tree in a jungle is not made like a watch. The whole process is purposive but instinctive, with no need of any intelligence or design behind this great show, all is as mechanical and arbitrary as anything chaotic could be.

Further, if there are beneficent adjustments in the universe, say grass for the lamb, there are evil maladjustments too, for there is wolf for the lamb, too. Let us look at the destructiveness in the animal world, where one species is out to destroy the other. There is cruelty and injustice in the jungle where the innocent animals live in terror or suffer death at the hands of strong and forceful animals. Man is heir to diseases, which are not due to his intemperance. No reasoning can wash clean the tragic deaths and sufferings in the human world due to natural calamities like flood, earthquakes, epidemics etc. If there are beautiful cases of valuable adjustments, there are tragic facts of maladjustments, too, and hence it is illegitimate to infer from facts in the world that it is a creation by a perfectly good God.

In general the mere struggle for life supports and sustains the higher life forms and all subserve ultimately to conscious existence. Insects and worms are the victims of small birds; reptiles of still higher and larger birds; the smaller fish of the greater or of the marine mammalian; the carnivorous animals remain the prey of the feline order. Finally, it is in the chase of these, or in conflict with them, that man learns his first arts, and wins his place at the head of all terrestrial races.[4] This is how Martineau concludes that the design-argument is not based on mere resemblance in nature to the human contrivance, but on the special character of this resemblance.[5]

Because of these critical points many philosophers have attempted to offer certain refined versions of the teleological argument. The most impressive twentieth-century restatement of the design argument is that of Richard Swinburne in The Existence of God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), offering a complex argument based upon Bayes's theorem in probability logic. In the modern period a distinguished philosopher of religion F. R. Tennant has offered an influential version of the teleological argument. In his book Philosophical Theology Tennant has mention six kinds of adaptation. The whole universe may be considered as a system of adaptations. The basic kinds of adaptations are according to F. R. Tennant,[6] are as follows:

1) The intelligibility of the world. The world and the human mind are so related that we can learn more and more without limit.

2) The adaptation of living organizes to their environments.

3) The ways in which the inorganic world is conducive to the emergence and maintenance of life. Life is possible only certain kind of chemical processes go on, etc.

4) The aesthetic value of nature. Nature is not only suited to penetration by the intellect. It is also constitute so as to awaken valuable aesthetic responses in man.

5) The ways in which the world ministers to the moral life of men. For example, through being forced to learn something about the uniformities in natural operation, men are forced to develop their intelligence, a prerequisite to moral developments. Moral virtues are acquired in the course of having to cope with the hardship one's natural environment.

6) The overall progressiveness of the evolutionary process.

Having mentioned these six basic types of adaptations Tennant points out that none of them establishes the theistic hypothesis conclusively. But the most reasonable course of things would be to accept the theistic hypothesis as highly probable.

Perhaps the major problem facing the design argument as thus reformulated centers upon the concept of probability that it involves. Tennant's conclusion is that in view of the various considerations which he presents, it is much more probable that there is a God than that there is not. It has often been pointed out that the statistical concept of probability, which is used in the sciences, cannot be applied to the unique case of the universe as a whole in order to be warranted in saying that the probability of our universe being God-produced. When the argument takes this form, it is no longer subject to competition from scientific explanations of the same facts. If our basic datum is a certain configuration of the universe as a whole, science can, by the nature of the case offer no explanation.

Apart from this there are some objections raised against this argument: The design argument conceives the relation between God and the world in the manner of the relation between a human being and a machine. Both human being and machine are objective phenomena and they are temporary, finite and limited. In the same manner if God is the designer like the watchmaker there. He is also limited by the world. The watchmaker prepared the watch out of the pre-existing materials; is it applicable in the same way to God? Kant pointed out that the design argument proves the existence of a contriver or an architect of the worlds, not its creator and this designer, as the architect, unlike the creative author, is constrained by the world, which does not keep room for divine freedom.

To overcome these difficulties teleology has been conceived as immanent and not as transcendent. It is not that god remains outside the materials supplied to Him. He is not the outward contriver but the indwelling shaper of things according to some definite plan and design. But there are some general criticisms against such reformulations:

1) That the teleological argument does not prove the existence of a necessary being, a first cause, or even a creator of the universe out of nothing; at best, it could only give evidence that the universe is the product of design which requires a designer; if He exists He should be called 'God'. Traditionally, we give the name 'God' to a spontaneous creator than an artificial maker.

2) The word 'order' is not very clear, as it is a relative term. The object, which seems orderly to one person, will not be the same to another. Nor is it clear that universe is orderly in any specific sense. In the world there are lots of disorders, disharmonies and disasters. In nature all things are not properly arranged or designed. The order or purpose is not the result of design. Here the defender of teleological argument would reply that the design or order of plants and animals is not the same as in case of watch or house. The order and design of the Divine designer is not relative but absolute.

3) According to Hume we cannot repose perfect confidence in reasoning by analogy. There is a wide difference between the universes on the one hand, and the finite things like machines, houses etc. on the other. The analogy between the world and human architect, such as a watch or a house, is rather weak. The universe is not like a vast machine.

4) Even if we could validly infer a divine designer of the world, we would still not be entitled to postulate the wise God and intelligent God. Besides, from a finite world we can never infer an infinite creator.


I wish to consider first the notion of world as a single, living whole; second, the possibility of participatory knowledge. In fact, what seems to be intended here is that the earth is such a whole. The whole world, after all, has been reckoned infinite since Giordano Bruno intuited the implications of Copernicus' theory -- though there are actually good reasons to doubt that the material world is actually infinite.[7] Any living organism survives by keeping its environment within that range (of temperature or biochemical condition) wherein it flourishes. The bacterial organisms in particular, on which our life is founded, will seek to control their environment, and all successful life-forms since will both adapt to that fundamental milieu and add their own dedicate adjustments.

The net result is a world of interlocking engineers who keep global temperature, and global chemistry, far away from what they would be without living organisms and within a narrow range of possibilities. Although the gap between the incomplete effects to a perfect designer is much too wide to be systematically bridged, the teleological argument draws attention to the fact that there is interconnectedness and harmony in the universe, which keeps room for a meaningful participation rather than mechanical adjustment of parts. Whether this leads to an omnipresent God is not philosophically convincing though the argument from design continues to have its strong appeal to those seeking evidence of a divine and an intelligent God as the real architect of the universe who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

Notes and References

1. Edited by John Hick, Classical and Contemporary Readings in The Philosophy of Religion, p. 505

2. William James Earle,Introduction to Philosophy, Mc Graw-Hill's College core Books,Schaum's Series

3. Kanal, The philosophy of Religion. 38

4. James Martineau, A Study of Religion, Vol._, p. 297, Clarendon Press, 1900

5. Ibid., p.302.

6. F. R. Tennant, Philosophical Theology, vol._ (Cambridge University Press, 1930.)

7. Notably, Olbers' Paradox, and Bentley's: an infinite and homogeneous universe (however sparsely inhabited) would exert an infinite gravitational force, and be infinitely bright, at every point.

(c) Namita Kalita 2006

Research scholar Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati

Department of philosophy Nowgong Girls' College Nagaon, Assam




With the globalization of the world there also has been the globalization of the body. Our perception of the body is not simply 'natural', but has its deep root in culture. Like the project of the soul there is growing projection of the body, which aims at perfection -- the perfect design for a body, which is striven for not only in the media and the beauty industry, but also in the research and health industry. The body on the other hand is also worshipped and sacrificed to in the hope that that will bring salvation. Whereas for some people the possibility of shaping the body becomes central, for other its vulnerability remains at the center. The awareness of how much shaping the body can damage it and how emphatically its vulnerability shapes it has but yet developed sufficiently.

We live in body and it will not be easy to simply eliminate our bodily images. And one of the places where religion and culture intersect is the body. The body expresses and represents cultural and religious norms. Often it is the location where conflict between cultural and religions norms are sought to be resolved for example, abortion or euthanasia. The body is also used as metaphor to describe larger social units (a religious body, family body, social body), which in turn often prescribes certain bodily practices relevant to a given culture. Most religions feel the body should be transcended to release the spirit. There are also religions that worship the body on the one hand, and cultures like the Christian religion that feel that 'spirit is willing but the flesh is weak'. Society's attitude towards the body influences the  thinking of philosophers.

Hence what we take to be the 'natural' world is in fact socially constituted or fabricated by human action. Medical practice and medical authority have largely overtaken the social function of the church and religious doctrine. For some writers on the sociology of the body, in modern society the self is the body. The characteristic feature of high modernity is the reflective self that is the self in modernity is conceptualized as a project. Like the reflective self, the modern body can be refashioned by face lifting, by breast augmentation, by diet and jogging and, if necessary, by weight-lifting.

The question of women's body, the theology of sexuality, and the structural organization of the sexual division of labor within society can be understood only by understanding the cultural presentation of women's bodies in social space and this can ultimately help to understand the problem of sexuality and spirituality in human societies. Examples are the rediscovery and exploration of female 'thinking through the body', the canvassing of 'gay rights' and last, but far from least the arguments of 'queer theory'. Grave anxieties are caused by the redrawing of the 'body'-map of the political world: the uncertainties about what is now 'left' and what 'right', what friend and what foe.

One of the principle dangers of contemporary capitalist technological society is that it turns people into commodities. People or parts of people, their body parts can be brought or sold, the danger we face with the development of reproductive technologies is that the tendency to turn everything into a commodity will only increase. We have already crossed the line -- to buying and selling sperms, eggs and even the use of wombs.

The Platonic approach of the exact sciences is not applicable to medical reasoning or to exact sciences themselves. Descartes does not realize that the human machine differs from man-made machines by its capacity of self-healing. Medicine abandoned purging, which was practiced from ancient times, when it was realized that the body is not a machine. However many twentieth century thinkers have made the body a central philosophical issue. This is particularly true among French philosophers. Gabriel Marcel for example, at the end of his Metaphysical Journal concludes that: 'I am my body not that I have a body.' J.P.Sartre devoted a lengthy section of part II of Being and Nothingness to an analysis of the body as a fundamental modality of being-on-the-world. He writes: 'My body is not ' for me' like any other physical object.' Merleau-Ponty considered the body element itself of perception in his Phenomenology of Perception. To quote: 'I am a body which rises towards the world.'

There seems to be a re-orientation of transcendence of ethical values with the changing concept of modern-body. A person is more understood in terms of body than soul. There is a growing publicly defined conception of person in terms of body, nanotechnology and the scientific experimentation which makes us ask the question whether this body can be replaced by other parts. The idea of soul-talk can be interpreted in a different way. Perfection and liberation are no longer confined to soul. The question of ideas and actuality is outdated. In other words, the whole concept is changing. It is more about attaining a perfect/ ideal body than a perfect soul.

However the ideal body differs from time to time. The traditional moral values no longer fit in this context. The issues of surrogacy, buying and selling of body parts etc shows that man has become more daring and open to new experimentation. Hence the whole concept of philosophy is changing. The question of identity either of a common man or homosexuality, and salvation and perfection in particular need to be revised from a new perspective; from the way we understand the body.

(c) Akoijam Thoibisana 2006

Research Scholar Department of Humanities & Social Sciences Indian Institute Of Technology Guwahati


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020