From “Essays on Heidegger and Others”, by Richard Rorty

An ancient Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica, sugi, 杉 ) on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail

” A pragmatist must also insist (with Goodman, Nietzsche, Putnam, and Heidegger) that there is no such thing as the way the thing is in itself, under no description, apart from any use to which human beings might want to put it. The advantage of insisting on these points is that any dualism one comes across, any divide which one finds a philosopher trying to bridge or fill in, can be made to look like a mere difference between two sets of descriptions of the same batch of things.

“Can be made to look like,” in this context, does not contrast with “really is.” It is not as if there were a procedure for finding out whether one is really dealing with two batches of things or one batch. Thinghood, identity, is itself description-relative. Nor is it the case that language really is just strings of marks and noises which organisms use as tools for getting what they want. That Nietzschean-Deweyan description of language is no more the real truth about language than Heidegger’s description of it as “the house of Being” or Derrida’s as “the play of signifying references.” Each of these is only one more useful truth about language — one more of what Wittgenstein called “reminders for a particular purpose.” The particular purpose served by the reminder that language can be described in Darwinesque terms is to help us get away from what, in the Introduction to Volume I, I called “representationalism” and thus from the reality—appearance distinction. Unsurprisingly, I see the best parts of Heidegger and Derrida as the parts which help us to see how things look under nonrepresentationalist, nonlogocentrist descriptions — how they look when one begins to take the relativity of thinghood to choice of description for granted, and so starts asking how to be useful rather than how to be right. I see the worst parts of Heidegger and Derrida as the parts which suggest that they themselves have finally gotten language right, represented it accurately, as it really is. These are the parts that tempted Paul de Man to say things like “literature … is the only form of language free from the fallacy of unmediated expression.”

From “Essays on Heidegger and Others”, by Richard Rorty

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