Hirsch Perlman


by Richard Rorty, Cambridge: at the University Press, 1989, 224 pp.

This book shoulders the recognition that there is no complete, noncircular answer to the question “Why not be cruel?” while maintaining that “cruelty is the worst thing we do.” It’s hard to dispute this dilemma, and Rorty never implies that it can be solved, but it’s not hard to dispute the way Rorty suggests that some cruelty might be avoided.

Rorty describes the vocabulary of justice as “necessarily . . . shared, a medium for argumentative exchange” that is public and political. This is contrasted with self-creation, which is described as a search for autonomy carried out in a “necessarily private, unshared” vocabulary. And he discerns “tendencies to cruelty inherent in searches for autonomy,” for example the “incuriosity” of some of Nabokov’s characters, or Nietzsche’s turning of

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