2007 Thomas Jefferson Medal

2007 Spring General Meeting

Richard Rorty

The 2007 recipient of the American Philosophical Society's Thomas Jefferson Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts, Humanities, or Social Sciences is philosopher Richard Rorty, professor of comparative literature emeritus and, by courtesy, of philosophy at Stanford University. The citation for the medal reads, "In recognition of his influential and distinctively American contribution to philosophy and, more widely, to humanistic studies. His work redefined knowledge "as a matter of conversation and of social practice, rather than as an attempt to mirror nature" (Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, 1979) and thus redefined philosophy itself as an unending, democratically disciplined, social and cultural activity of inquiry, reflection, and exchange, rather than an activity governed and validated by the concept of objective, extramental truth."

Richard Rorty is considered among the most influential of English-speaking philosophers. His synthetic thought brings together a pragmatic linguistic philosophy with a variety of naturalistic materialism. He is the latest in the line of a distinctively American tradition that includes James, Dewey, Sellars, Kuhn, and Quine. His is the most significant attempt to bridge the gap between "continental" and "analytic" philosophy in the United States, and his ideas have made an impact in philosophical circles around the world. Rorty is not only one of the few philosophers in the United States to enjoy a reputation in disciplines other than his own, he has resurrected the pragmatist tradition of commentary by philosophers on public affairs. At the same time, his influence beyond the field of professional philosophy has entailed no compromise of the logical and analytical skills admired by professional philosophers.

Dr. Rorty's published works include Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), Consequences of Pragmatism (1982), Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1988), Objectivity, Relativism and Truth: Philosophical Papers I (1991), Essays on Heidegger and Others: Philosophical Papers II (1991), Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth Century America (1998), Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers III (1998), and Philosophy and Social Hope (2000). He was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2005.

The Thomas Jefferson Medal was created in 1993 by an act of Congress to honor the American Philosophical Society and its third president, Thomas Jefferson, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the Society. It is the Society's highest award for distinguished achievement in the arts, humanities, or social sciences.

The selection committee consisted of the Society's president, Baruch S. Blumberg, Fox Chase Distinguished Scientist at Fox Chase Cancer Center; the co-executive officers Mary Maples Dunn, president emeritus of Smith College, and Richard S. Dunn, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania; vice president Harriet Zuckerman, senior vice president at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; and Council members Elizabeth Cropper, dean of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art; Lionel Gossman, M. Taylor Pyne Professor Emeritus of Romance Languages at Princeton University; Barbara B. Oberg, general editor, The Papers of Thomas Jefferson; John W. O'Malley, University Professor at Georgetown University; and Charles E. Rosenberg, Ernest E. Monrad Professor in the Social Sciences at Harvard University.