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This review is taken from PN Review 62, Volume 14 Number 6, July - August 1988.

RECONSTRUCTING REASON Christopher Norris, The Contest of Faculties: Philosophy and Theory after Deconstruction (Methuen) £7.95 pb.

This is a very brave book. Christopher Norris was one of the first in England to take account of the real importance of Richard Rorty and his growing influence in American literary theory, and he is now the first to advance a powerful and nuanced warning that Rorty's thought may involve running conceptual risks which we may not, on further reflection, be prepared to take, however attractive the package.

Norris sets the work of Rorty within the long-running debate between Georg Gadamer and Jurgen Habermas. This shift of attention from America to Germany is itself powerfully dislocating:

On the one side are those advocates of 'hermeneutic' thinking who argue that all forms of knowledge - even the most abstract or theoretical - have their origin within a context of tacit assumptions and values which can never be reduced to any 'rational' explanation. On the other are thinkers like Habermas who reject such inherently conservative attitudes and argue that reason is empowered to comprehend - and hence potentially to criticize and change - its background and motivating interests.

For Norris, Rorty's power game undermines the universalistic, legislative power of reason as Habermas defends it: 'Richard Rorty, for one, argues that philosophy had better give up its delusions of intellectual grandeur and learn to regard itself as just another voice in the medley of present-day cultural exchange.'

Norris makes no secret of the fact that The Contest of Faculties ...

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