Volume 20, 1998
Philosophy and Gender
Pragmatism, Perfectionism, and Feminism
I consider the revision of pragmatism by three leading neopragmatists: Richard Rorty, Richard Bernstein, and Cornel West. I argue that their vision of pragmatism lacks a teleology, though a teleology is suggested by Bernstein's description of a pragmatic ethos. I appeal to Stanley Cavell's notion of 'moral perfectionism' to suggest a kind of teleology that is available to pragmatism. Finally, I find the weakness of pragmatism done without teleology well exemplified in the exchange between Rorty and Nancy Frazer at Rorty's 1990 Tanner Lecture. Rorty's paper, "Pragmatism and Feminism," was meant to offer feminists some pragmatic strategies for improving their position. Frazer's strong response finds Rorty's suggestions only marginally helpful. I interpret her criticism of Rorty's suggestions to be that they lack something like a teleology. To me, this suggests that pragmatism can learn from feminism.