Santiago Zabala at the Los Angeles Review of Books.
A lot was expected of Rorty both intellectually and socially even at an early age. This is probably why he was sent at the age of 15 to the Hutchins College at the University of Chicago, which had recently begun accepting high school students to educate them in the great books of the Western tradition. However, there was a problem at Hutchins: the pragmatism of John Dewey, who was a hero to Rorty’s family, was considered vulgar, relativistic, and self-refuting. "As they pointed out over and over again,' Rorty recalls,"Dewey had no absolutes. To say, as Dewey did, that 'growth itself is the only moral end,' left one without a criterion for growth, and thus with no way to refute Hitler’s suggestion that Germany had 'grown' under his rule. To say that truth is what works is to reduce the quest for truth to the quest for power."The Hutchins program, as Neil Gross recalls in his biography of Rorty,"was too out of sync with the rest of the American university system for other schools to know what to do with someone who had graduated at age eighteen after only three years of coursework. Richard decided to stay on at Chicago, and the experiences he underwent during his next three years there would prove formative for his later thought."