The value of the history of ideas, for Rorty, is to ‘recognize that there have been different forms of intellectual life than ours’, and thereby see our problems as ‘historical products’ which were ‘invisible to our ancestors’ (Rorty 1998: 249, 267). By reflecting on the history of the mind-body problem, and thereby acquiring some grasp of how the world reached the point at which we were each of us able to discover and then engage with a ready-made problem, Rorty thinks our attitudes should be transformed. Such reflection reveals the contingency of the problem – that history might have delivered us a quite different mind-body problem, or even none at all – and thereby dissuades us from taking it for granted. Convinced of this, we must then decide for ourselves whether the problem is worth engaging with, disregarding its intuitive appeal as simply the ease with which we are able to fall in with an inherited pattern of talking. Rorty, as we have seen, thinks the mind-body problem carries various historical mix-ups in its trail, and hence is not worth bothering with. But the deeper, metaphilosophical reason for this negative assessment is his adherence to Dewey’s view that problems should be evaluated according to their relevance to contemporary
life. For Dewey, all problems originate in some sort of social need, but they tend to outlive their usefulness; this is what he thought had happened with all the traditional problems of philosophy. And this is what Rorty thinks has happened with the mind-body problem: ancient Greek philosophers felt the need to connect personhood and rationality, seventeenth-century philosophers felt the need to sup - port the New Science, and the remainder in our hands is a problem with no relevance to twenty-first-century life whatsoever.