ssrn-id955037 - THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW...

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T HE U NIVERSITY OF T EXAS S CHOOL OF L AW University of Chicago Law Review (forthcoming) Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 128 January 2007 Science and Morality: Pragmatic Reflection on Rorty’s Pragmatism Brian R. Leiter The University of Texas School of Law This paper can be downloaded without charge from the Social Science Research Network at http://ssrn.com/abstract=955037
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To appear in University of Chicago Law Review (2007) SCIENCE AND MORALITY: PRAGMATIC REFLECTIONS ON RORTY’S “PRAGMATISM” Brian Leiter * Draft of January 3, 2007 Please do not cite or quote without permission “Pragmatism,” says Richard Rorty, “puts natural science on all fours with politics and art. It is one more source of suggestions about what to do with our lives.” 1 Some self-professed pragmatists, like the American philosopher W.V.O. Quine, would obviously deny this. 2 I shall not engage in a proprietary dispute here about the label “pragmatism,” 3 but I do want to present a kind of pragmatic challenge to the idea that we have reason to think “science [is] on all fours with politics and art.” Let us start with a familiar distinction between questions of “theoretical reason” (questions about what we ought to believe) and questions of “practical reason” (questions about what we ought to do). Ethics, politics, and, on some views, art address what we ought to do (“what to do with our lives” as Rorty puts it); science, insofar as we credit its deliverances, tells us what we ought to believe. When Mendellian genetics supplied the * Hines H. Baker & Thelma Kelley Baker Chair in Law, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Law & Philosophy Program, The University of Texas at Austin. 1 Dewey and Posner on Pragmatism and Moral Progress , __ U. CHI. L. REV. __, 2 (2007) [page references are to the MS version]. 2 See generally my Why Quine is Not a Postmodernist , reprinted in BRIAN LEITER, NATURALIZING JURISPRUDENCE: ESSAYS ON AMERICAN LEGAL REALISM AND NATURALISM IN LEGAL PHILOSOPHY 137 (2007). 3 As a point of personal privilege as a Nietzsche scholar, I do want to observe that Rorty’s claims about Nietzsche’s “vacillations” at the start of his essay betray either an ignorance of or indifference to both Nietzsche’s texts and Nietzsche scholarship. See generally, MAUDEMARIE CLARK, NIETZSCHE ON TRUTH AND PHILOSOPHY (1990); BRIAN LEITER, NIETZSCHE ON MORALITY (2002). 1
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causal mechanism explaining the truth of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection it did not tell us “what to do with our lives.” But when Herbert Spencer and other social Darwinists interpreted Darwin’s theory metaphorically as describing patterns of wealth distribution in society, it did entail a practical conclusion: the socio- economically “weak” ought to be allowed to perish, as they are not “fit” enough to survive in the marketplace. Unfortunately for the Social Darwinist apologists for man- made inequities, there was no genetic mechanism to support their story. Like Rorty,
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ssrn-id955037 - THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW...

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