Black Square, Kazimir Malevich, 1915
From The New York Times:
Studying with Fish and Rorty, it was awfully hard not to pick up a sense of the end: the end of their own disciplines — which Rorty, for one, explicitly declared — and vaguely the end of many things that they said had expired long ago: objective truth, determinate meanings, noncontingent values, a material external world. That certainly presented a quandary for a graduate student trying to generate a dissertation topic under their tutelage.
An eminent analytic philosopher of my generation, Timothy Williamson, writes this about his supervisor at Oxford, Michael Dummett, now deceased: “He was remarkably tolerant of the strident realism of my thesis, which effectively presupposed the futility of his life’s work and pursued other issues from that starting point.” Dummett’s anti-realism was more limited and technical than Rorty’s, but they were closely related (both men were influenced by Wittgenstein, for one thing). Dummett held that truth was internal to our linguistic practices of justification, rather than denoting access to external realities. And one thing that I think both Williamson and I were trying to do was find a way to keep going, or somehow to bulldoze exit routes from what seemed like a cul-de-sac.
But the ‘80s heyday of Rorty and Fish is beginning to seem like a long time ago, and a backlash seems to be in progress. More recent work in philosophy includes various forms of realism about the world: the idea that reality is not the product of consciousness, or of human perceptual structures or languages or interpretive communities, but exists independently. We don’t make the world, as one might put it; the world makes us. Where for decades or even centuries, philosophy has focused on our representations and descriptions of the world, on human consciousness and cultural systems, many are now turning to the external features of the world that constitute the content of our experiences and the context of our social practices.
Let’s call this phase after postmodernism post-postmodernism – “popomo” for short.