In an essay he wrote for the Nation Magazine, Philosophical Convictions, Richard Rorty said that, “Every anti-foundationalist movement within philosophy produces a spate of books by nonphilosophers denouncing ‘the treason of the intellectuals'”. Offended by what foundationalists (and anti-foundationalists) consider “undoubtedly the most degenerated, most artificial, and most eclectic phase in history,” (a quote from Jean Baudrillard) they make it their duty to attack the self-defeating, absolute nihilism supposedly found in the theories of postmodernism.

Why do people think, or say they think, that postmodernism is nonsense? Is it for good reason, or is it because it means something pretentious and disconnected from the ‘real world’ to them? Or is it a combination of their upbringing and development of propositional attitudes toward such a critical perspective? Could it be because of a seminal flaw in postmodernism? (There are plenty of good contradictions found in postmodernity, and hence lots of good jokes.)

But postmodernists are accepting of this. Rorty argued that we are always dealing with multiple and conflicting claims of truth, none of which can be conclusively established. We choose what to believe based on what is useful for us to believe. This is just not that inspiring for most people. It leaves them stranded in a sea of groundless pragmatism, and they end up saying things like, “Even Rorty himself cannot establish the conclusions of his own statements!”

Perhaps that’s true, that he cannot establish it. So maybe it is entirely treasonous. The whole corpus of Rorty’s work might simply boil down to an ad hoc pattern of “on the one hand…on the other hand…” But in the end, most people will choose what’s in the hand that makes them feel the safest, the most secure. So Rorty is right, that we choose to what to believe based on what is useful for us to believe!