Philosophy, Poetry, and Utopian Politics: The Relevance of Richard Rorty

12 September 2019 - 13 September 2019

CRASSH, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT

Further details about this conference will be made available in the near future. 

Please email if you would like to be kept informed about the event, or have any other questions. 



Elin Danielsen Huckerby (University of Cambridge)

Nicholas Devlin (University of Cambridge)

Céline Henne (University of Cambridge)

Erlend Owesen (University of Cambridge)

Ross Wilson (University of Cambridge)



Richard Rorty (1931-2007) holds a vital position within the current surge of interest in pragmatism and its approaches. Once called 'the man who killed truth' Rorty was most (in)famous for insisting that we must give up the idea of language as a mirror of nature, and with it the idea of philosophy as able to provide us with foundational truths. While the negating or dismantling aspect of Rorty’s work has been intensely debated, this conference is motivated by a desire to draw attention to the other, affirmative side of it. It commences from the belief that Rorty’s vision of a culture which no longer understands truth as correspondence between word and world might offer narrative and rhetorical strategies that can help us foster a working democratic culture in a 'post-truth era'. 

The idea that there is such a thing as 'moral progress', and that literature, not philosophy or political thought, is its main driver, was a vital part of Rorty’s argument and will be a main topic of inquiry for this conference. How can we best encourage an attitude of 'human solidarity', expand our 'we', as Rorty glossed it, and create a just society where individual humans can flourish? Can literature really take on the monumental task of increasing empathy and reducing cruelty and humiliation? Rorty wanted philosophy to be reconceived as 'literary criticism' – to compare contingent vocabularies to find out what 'works' for a given purpose. But is this enough: do we not need enduring principles, set criteria and lasting systems to ensure and protect our freedoms and our values? 

To mark the 30th anniversary of the publication of Rorty’s Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989) – a volume which remains one of his most influential and controversial works – this conference will examine Rorty and his contemporary relevance. Eight scholars working in or at the junction of various fields (history of ideas, feminist studies, literary studies, aesthetics, philosophy, politics, and more), who have previously engaged deeply and constructively with Rorty’s work, will present working papers on these and related topics for plenary analysis and debate. We aim for our collective discussions to provide stimulating perspectives on Rortian pragmatism, but also on the challenges facing our society, and the individuals living within it, today.










Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge University Press, the Mind Association, the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy (SAAP), and the University of Cambridge's Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of English, and School of the Arts and Humanities.




Administrative assistance:

The full programme for the conference will be made available as soon as this is confirmed. 


Speakers at the event will include: 

  • Michael Bacon (School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)

  • Susan Dieleman (Department of Philosophy, Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, USA)

  • Neil Gascoigne (School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)

  • Nicholas Gaskill (Faculty of English, University of Oxford, UK)

  • Yvonne Hütter-Almerigi (Deutsche Philologie, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, München, Germany)

  • Marianne Janack (Department of Philosophy, Hamilton College, New York, USA)

  • Wojciech Małecki (Institute of Polish Philology, University of Wrocław, Poland)

  • Bjørn Torgrim Ramberg (Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Arts and Ideas, University of Oslo, Norway)