Rorty was a strange thinker but, it would seem, his stance on Kant, thence philosophy in general, tokens a real mystery, leaves the ‘end of philosophy’ next to the ‘end of history’ in limbo.
A student of the eonic effect sees the problem at once and why it arises, but must consider that in ‘theory’ the end of philosophy is arguably an illusion. The student of the eonic effect has a strange secret, but he may not understand it. Since we can’t predict the future, we leave the issue ambiguous. The history of philosophy, in a word, is bound up in the eonic effect and its mysterious sequence: philosophy arises and advances in clear concert with the eonic sequence, to the extent that we see it, the realm of Sumer, say, remaining hard to understand. Note that Kant, Hegel, and Marx, and a whole school of post-Kantians, Schelling, etc, cluster around the divide interval or point ca. 1800, and this is not a coincidence. Kant especially is a seminal figure nonpareil. Kant has been the object deconstruction later rascal boys posing as philosophers, the biggest target within range, and yet somehow eagle-perched on a timeless crag, beyond comprehension, and always surviving his critics.
So the problem is not the end of philosophy but a waning of a creative era, an effect all too obvious in classical antiquity in the wake of Plato, and then Aristotle.
Aren’t we seeing the same effect in our own time? An eerie timing lurks here.
But by this analysis there is no reason in principle why philosophy can’t advance. But that requires now a genuine understanding of Kant and his related milieu, and that effort defies one and all in its mystery. Kant by himself took philosophy to a height that few can match because they simply can’t understand such a complex figure, let alone his larger contemporary scene. The problem can be seen already in Hegel and Marx: has either of these two understood Kant? Kant’s ethics and transcendental idealism disappear in Hegel, the idealists lumped together and denounced by Marx, with a nearby woods of strange disciples and students, Schelling et al.
But that generation is short-lived and philosophy damps down rapidly because no one can really understand their own subject matter. Can anyone grasp Kant’s strange legacy in the Transcendental Deduction? One can study here to any depth, and yet the mystery there lingers. It is hard to advance from this moment. Schopenhauer can manage, yet he amputated a good deal of Kant’s work. But he keeps alive the sense of the noumenal, but that soon vanishes, and in the rise of science the era of scientism enters, next to the brief flush of the Romantic movement. And a crescendo of dozens of other effects. Just as this brief climax peaks, it wanes, and becomes a mystery that future philosophers cannot quite grasp. For example, classical music peaks in exact concert with the era Kant and his immediate milieu. Is this chance? Surely so. Are you sure. Don’t you have to solve the mystery of this generation in order to pass beyond it? We don’t even know that much. And it remains difficult to take in the whole moment, and the question of what philosophy is lingers to finally stall and then snuff out further advance, for the moment at least. Philosophy seemed to end after Plato and Aristotle (nonsense to some who study later thinkers in antiquity) and yet millennia later it returns.
To see the problem consider two additional figures, this time in the emergence of evolutionary ‘science’: Lamarck and the teleomechanists, in the milieu of Kant. They show a promising start to evolutionary thinking/science, they are soon swamped in the rise of Darwinism, one of most outrageous distortions of science, yet one that few philosophers can detect, even as ‘critical thinking’ becomes a key focus. Philosophy was mostly unable to deal with the strange arising of that evolutionary fiction, although Bergson came close to solving one of its aspects (or so I conjecture). The point here is simply the crisis of understanding in so many directions taken all at once.
Our position is different now. We can see the dynamics and transcend it. We don’t have to remain baffled by Kant forever, or distracted by misleading figures like Hegel and Marx.
Philosophy is part of a far broader flow of culture then, and its mystery begins to move in new directions. And we are left with the challenge of the great yogas that study the mind in a different way. Kant’s thinking almost seems like a form of Advaita and the senses and mentation seem the larger question of mind beyond mind.
We should annotate the obvious point: the theme of Plato’s Cave lurks in the background to explain perhaps one part of our philosophical paralysis.
Update: we should mention that the eonic model distinguishes ‘system action’ from ‘free action’. Clearly philosophy has two aspects and histories: we have just pointed the system driven aspect of philosophy. But the free agency in its wake points to the fact that man can transcend historical momentum and move to create in a period outside the driven moment. There has been a lot of philosophy since Kant and his era, but like Neitzsche the later era can confound itself even as it makes incremental advances, or simply, phases of being as a philosopher. The modern era can be seen as ambiguous, and the future of philosophy would be hard to predict.
But how can philosophy end? Surely the quest for Truth is eternal? Surely the hunger for Wisdom is part of human nature? Surely questions about the Good will never cease to exercise us? Well, yes and no. Certainly Rorty was not proposing that we simply give up on all the big questions. We will always mull over “how things, in the largest sense of that word, hang together, in the largest sense of that word,” a phrase he quoted often from one of his favorite philosophers, Wilfrid Sellars. But he thought that philosophy’s perennial abstractions, distinctions, and problems—including Truth, human nature, and the Good—though they were once very much alive, had by now led Western thought into a dead end and should be retired.