By Joseph Bottum
Richard Rorty has died, passing away on Friday, June 8. A uniquely American mix of philosopher, pragmatist, and provocateur, Richard Rorty was the grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, the theologian who had been a key figure in the Social Gospel movement. And over the years of his professional career, Rorty grew to occupy—for good and for ill—an astonishingly large place in American intellectual life.
A search through the back issues of First Things reveals, in its dozens of references, just what a point of reference Rorty has been since his book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was published in 1979. Among the many articles referring to him, two particularly deserve revisiting: “Joshing Richard Rorty,” by Richard John Neuhaus in the December 1990 issue, and “How Richard Rorty Found Religion,” by Jason Boffetti in the May 2004 issue.
The iconic status he achieved is difficult now to understand. The frisson of postmodernism in its early days had something to do with, as did Rorty’s claim to be the last true heir of the American pragmatist tradition, the mantle falling to him from the shoulders of John Dewey. But he had a mind of enormous capability and energy, and he was always worth reading.
That’s not something that can be said of many. He will be missed.