Abstract: This essay responds to a (1991) Tanner Lecture by Rorty in which he criticizes ‘universalist-realist’ views in ethics, as exemplified by the work of Lovibond up to ‘Feminism and Postmodernism’ (where he is discussed, along with Alasdair MacIntyre and Jean-Francois Lyotard, as a specimen postmodern thinker), and promotes his pragmatist philosophy as a congenial intellectual basis for feminism. The essay questions the claims of pragmatism in this respect, and reflects more generally on issues of realism, essentialism, conceptual innovation, and legitimation. It argues that to acknowledge the historically situated character of human existence is not to give up on the idea of an ethically orientated politics. Likewise, it suggests that the risk of flawed or irresponsible generality in political discourse is not all located on the side of realism. Finally, some consideration is given to the notion of gendered identity as a basis for feminist consciousness.