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Rorty’s Daimon

 

Rorty, in view of his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, wrote “The Fire of Life” a Socratic-like, just-before-death turn to the power of the music of words.

I learned the bad news, I was sitting around having coffee with my elder son and a visiting cousin. My cousin (who is a Baptist minister) asked me whether I had found my thoughts turning toward religious topics, and I said no. “Well, what about philosophy?” my son asked. “No,” I replied, neither the philosophy I had written nor that which I had read seemed to have any particular bearing on my situation… “Hasn’t anything you’ve read been of any use?” my son persisted. “Yes,” I found myself blurting out, “poetry.”

Rorty’s father was a poet. Here he puts forth, in summing up his recent essay “Pragmatism and Romanticism”, that what comes from rationality must first come from imagination:

At the heart of Romanticism, I said, was the claim that reason can only follow paths that the imagination has first broken. No words, no reasoning. No imagination, no new words. No such words, no moral or intellectual progress.

This bears some connection to my thoughts on Davidson and Vico, and the nature of metaphor, for which Rorty was a partial guide. And we recall here Decartes’ comments about hammers having to be smithed at some point once without the aid of hammers (and Spinoza’s appropriation of the image).

What one is left with though is a sense that imagination itself is rational, that is, it both explains and constitutes our relationship to the world, and to others, and that what we call “imagination” is a production of reasons.

 

We thank with brief thanksgiving
  Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
     Winds somewhere safe to sea.

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