Book Chapter: “Nihilism” for A Companion to Richard Rorty, ed. Alan Malachowski (Wiley-Blackwell, 2017).
The concept of nihilism plays an interesting role in Richard Rorty’s oeuvre. On the one hand, Rorty barely refers to the concept; on the other, Rorty’s critics pejoratively characterize his pragmatism as nihilistic. This entry seeks to clarify Rorty’s position. It suggests that Rorty avoids the concept in order to get away from the conceptual baggage that accompanies the existential sense of the term. Rorty neither endorses the idea that human lives are meaningless nor thinks that abandoning the Platonic quest for truth diminishes our capacity to experience meaningful lives. By challenging these assumptions, Rorty can then be seen as a thinker who may have much more to say about the modern challenges to human meaning than meets the eye. In this light, the entry presents three cases that explore Rorty’s contributions to our understanding of existential nihilism. It also suggests contemporary research approaches to Rorty and nihilism.