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Rorty or Kierkegaard: Social Amelioration, Truth and the Ground of Cornel West’s Normative Commitments

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This article examines the work of Cornel West as a resource for public theology. Inspired by the prophetic biblical tradition, he seeks to uphold ethical commitments to social amelioration in order to ‘let suffering speak’. However, uncertainty about the capacity of his work to serve in this way is rooted in questions about the competing sources grounding his thought. When evincing the influence of Richard Rorty’s neo-pragmatism he fails to give expression to a realist account of truth. Yet such an account is necessary to uphold a robust commitment to amelioration. His work is on surer ground and serves better as a resource for public theology when it gives expression to a Kierkegaardian realism. Such a position, which affirms the socially mediated nature of truth claims while upholding their aspiration to refer to reality, solicits a ‘renunciative’ understanding of theology that is open to social suffering and seeks its amelioration.

Affiliations: 1: William Jewell College Liberty, Missouri USA

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