This naturally invites questions about the practical value of Mr. Rorty’s own ideas. He thinks they will free us from the worship of science and from the notion that we can attain a “God’s-eye view” of the world or learn to speak “nature’s own language” (as opposed to the many languages that we invent). This liberation will make us better liberals in the broadest sense of the term: we shall be able to appreciate a diversity of views and thus be in a healthier position to continue the conversation of mankind. What we must do is see science and philosophy as on a par with imaginative literature. Naturally, this sort of stuff goes down well with some literature professors, who now find that they own Plato and Newton as well as Shakespeare and Milan Kundera.

The main problem with this idea is that not even Mr. Rorty himself can stay faithful to it. By his own lights, he ought to argue not that pragmatism is right but that it is useful. In fact, for the most part he uses good old-fashioned philosophical arguments to support it. It is hardly surprising that he seldom gives reasons for believing that pragmatism is somehow more helpful than its alternatives, since that is a most implausible claim. Science has been pretty successful even though most, if not all, of its major practitioners have taken themselves to be describing the world. How can Mr. Rorty be so sure that it would be even more successful if they dropped this idea?

And how does he propose to prevent the conversation of mankind from degenerating into the blathering of mankind? The Rortyan vision of heaven on earth, in which people merely tell enlightening tales and abjure the search for truth, sounds like a gathering of tipsy old sea dogs swapping dimly remembered stories of past voyages of discovery. If the earlier explorers had all been Rortyan pragmatists, the sea dogs would have had nothing to reminisce about.