Can Richard Rorty's Cultural Politics deal with Epistemic Injustice? A Feminist Critique of Rorty and a Defence of Deleuzean Empiricism

Thomas Waterton

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The view that philosophers should stop trying to analyse the nature of "experience" and focus instead on our linguistic and social practices is central to the philosophical project of neo-pragmatism. In this thesis I respond to arguments made to this effect by Richard Rorty, both in his 'Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature' (1979) and in his later political writings. Rorty is unique among neo-pragmatists in his decision, in his later work, to present this argument as a political one. This move is exemplified by his combination of Wilfrid Sellars' critique of the "Myth of the Given" with a critique of metaphysical "authoritarianism." Rorty argues that abandoning philosophical questions about experience would support pluralist democratic politics by rejecting the idea that there are sources of epistemic authority that stand outside our relationships with other people.

This thesis contends that, while Rorty's concerns about metaphysical authoritarianism are justified, his rejection of philosophical experience talk in its entirety may harm marginalised groups. I draw on critiques of Rorty from feminist theorists such as Linda Alcoff and Sonia Kruks in order to argue that Rorty's linguistic turn undermines our ability to deal with situations of "maximal hermeneutical injustice," Miranda Fricker's term for situations in which a marginalised individual or group is harmed by the insufficiency of their linguistic resources for making sense of their experience.

I conclude by offering an alternative concept of experience taken from French poststructuralist Gilles Deleuze. This concept provides the resources needed for dealing with situations of maximal hermeneutical injustice without falling into the trap of empiricist givenism. Through his revision of Kantian faculty theory and his theory of "expressionism," Deleuze allows us to talk about the experiential causes of our beliefs, desires and actions without ever treating "experience" as something that justifies beliefs. This enables us to critically examine the relationship between our experiences and our language and to assess whether the latter is adequate, without assuming that experience has contents which are communicated to our linguistic faculties.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Somers-Hall, Henry, Supervisor
  • Bacon, Michael, Supervisor
Award date1 Jan 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • Rorty
  • Deleuze
  • Sellars
  • Myth of the Given
  • Fricker
  • Epistemic Injustice
  • Feminist Epistemology
  • Empiricism
  • Pragmatism
  • Neo-Pragmatism
  • Hermeneutical Injustice
  • Social Epistemology
  • Experience
  • Given

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