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Rorty as Virtue Liberal

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
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  • 1 Department of Political Science, University of Portland, 5000 N. Willamette Blvd., Portland, or, 97203 curtisw@up.edu
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Virtue liberalism holds that the success of liberal politics and society depends on the citizenry possessing a set of liberal virtues, including traits like open-mindedness, toleration, and individual autonomy. Virtue liberalism is thus an ethically demanding conception of liberalism that is at odds with conceptions, like Rawlsian political liberalism and modus vivendi liberalism, that attempt to minimize liberalism’s ethical impact in order to accommodate a greater range of ethical pluralism. Although he claims to be a Rawlsian political liberal, Richard Rorty’s pragmatic liberalism is best understood as a version of virtue liberalism that, in particular, recommends a controversial civic virtue of irony for good liberal citizenship. Indeed, Rorty ultimately joins Dewey in conceiving of liberal democracy as a “way of life,” rather than merely a set of political relations that have a minimal effect on our characters or on the shape of our private commitments and projects.

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