The attempt to fuse the public and the private lies behind both Plato's attempt to answer the question "Why is it in one's interest to be just?" and Christianity's claim that perfect self-realization can be attained through service to others. Such metaphysical or theological attempts to unite a striving for perfection with a sense of community require us to acknowledge a common human nature. They ask us to believe that what is most important to each of us is what we have in common with others - that the springs of private fulfillment and of human solidarity are the same.
This passage represents the Plato-Kant tradition to which Richard Rorty's book Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity is opposed. In his book Rorty presents a historicist philosophy in which he separates the public sphere of human life from the private sphere. In the private sphere of our lives we should create ourselves, or more accurately, poetically redescribe ourselves. But, as it is with all theories of self-creation, Rorty inherits the problem of developing a moral guideline that will prevent one individual's project of self-creation from harming an other's. In an attempt to provide such a guideline Rorty introduces "liberalism." He believes that an individual should conduct himself as a "liberal" in the public sphere. Rorty defines a liberal as one "who believes that cruelty is the worst thing we do" (CIS, 146). A true liberal will feel an obligation not to be cruel to others and will try to increase his sphere of solidarity to encompass as many people as possible. Rorty believes that a moral guideline will arise from his ironist interpretation of liberalism. I contend that Rorty's ironist liberalism is incompatible with, and inhibits, his more important project of self-creation. I intend to show that Rorty's liberalism is incoherent. In light of this failure of ironist liberalism I will provide a new basis for a moral guideline for self-creation that arises from the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. Before I present an alternate "moral guideline" I will lay out Rorty's concept of self-creation and liberalism.
Rorty rejects traditional moral theory because of its reliance on a common human nature or essence. He defines human essence as being that "something within each of us . . . which resonates to the presence of this same thing in other human beings" (CIS, 189). Rorty rejects the concept of a common essence shared by all human beings regardless of historical or social context. Because of his rejection of human nature Rorty argues against "attempts to unite a striving for perfection with a sense of community" because such a synthesis necessarily requires presupposing a common human nature. That is to say, there is no single response that adequately answers both "How should I live my life?", and "How should I treat others?" that does not depend on metaphysical presuppositions. In order to avoid such presuppositions, Rorty abandons all attempts to...