I came across this choice nugget in the Introduction to Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and Social Hope, and have been chewing on it for the past day.
“The purpose of inquiry is to achieve agreement among human beings about what to do, to bring about consensus on the ends to be achieved and the means used to achieve those ends. Inquiry that does not achieve coordination of behavior is not inquiry but simply wordplay.” (Philosophy and Social Hope, p. xxv)
Provocative and unsettling, I think, with a bit of a scientistic undercurrent. Is what intellectual historians do inquiry? If so, is “agreement… about what to do,” or “consensus on the ends to be achieved,” ever presupposed as the outcome of historical scholarship? Rorty often used Darwinian theory to describe philosophy as a social tool, but he appears to go further here and apply an instrumental calculus to all forms of inquiry. As he puts it, “for pragmatists there is no sharp break between natural science and social science, nor between social science and politics, nor between politics, philosophy and literature. All areas of culture are parts of the same endeavor to make life better.”