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Transcendental Phenomenology as Irony?

Crowell, Steven

Phänomenologische Forschungen, Bd. 2019 (2019), Iss. 2: S. 187–205

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Crowell, Steven


Richard Rorty famously characterized the attitude of philosophical pragmatism as a kind of irony with respect to traditional metaphysical positions or “final vocabularies.” In both Husserl and Heidegger, phenomenology is a kind of transcendental philosophy and so would seem, despite the many connections between phenomenology and pragmatism, to be “metaphysical” in Rorty’s sense. But, as I shall argue, it too gives rise to a certain attitudinal irony. The argument will proceed by first examining some connections between Husserl’s phenomenology and the pragmatic conception of truth developed by William James, arriving at a point where Husserl might be said to become a “metaphysician.” I will then consider some connections between Heidegger’s phenomenology of Dasein (“care”) and the pragmatic conception of truth. We will then be in a position to understand that, while the attitude in which transcendental phenomenology is practiced is not one of irony, the essential element of what, for Rorty, characterizes pragmatism’s irony – namely, the incommensurability between the norms at issue in our commitments and the project of ultimate grounding – plays a crucial role in transcendental phenomenology as well.