Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

AUTUMNAL MUSINGS IN MID-WINTER

As I prepare for my first Marx lecture, I turn naturally to the Bible for passages I shall quote.  Re-reading the opening lines of the Gospel According to John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” in my head I hear the lovely Yiddish accent of the great scholar Harry Austryn Wolfson speaking about the Preexistent Logos of Neo-Platonic philosophy, and that in turn leads me to reflect how extraordinarily fortunate I was, as a young teen-ager, to sit at the feet of three great teachers:  Willard Van Orman Quine, Harry Austryn Wolfson, and Clarence Irving Lewis.  From Quine, during my very first semester as an undergraduate, I learned standards of clarity and precision that became a beacon for me as I went on to write philosophy myself.  From Wolfson, I learned what it is truly to be a scholar, and I understood that that honorific title would forever and appropriately be denied me.  From Lewis, I learned that it was possible to combine philosophical rigor and clarity with a passionate commitment to the truth.  I have spent a great deal of time and energy struggling against Harvard’s inadequate commitment to principles of justice, but I must confess, after all these years, that I got a pretty good education there two-thirds of a century ago.

DISORIENTING

It is disorienting to prepare for an extended series of public lectures on the thought of Karl Marx while simultaneously obsessing over the minute-by-minute reports of the negotiations regarding the government shutdown.  I can understand why Marx holed up in the British Museum for years while preparing to write Capital.  I am reasonably comfortable about the lectures; the shutdown not so much.

Did Chuck Schumer do the right thing or was he a traitor to the cause?  Lord, I don’t know.  I have never so much as served on a town recycling committee.  My practical experience with negotiations does not extend farther than getting all of the Den Mothers of the Northampton Cub Scout Pack on the same page in the planning for the annual bake sale and auction.  The Democrats are in a very weak position legislatively.  They got the Children’s Health Insurance Program renewed for six years at the cost of a weekend shutdown that was probably less disruptive than a winter storm.  In seventeen days it will all happen again, unless the bipartisan group of Senators can bring a DACA fix to the floor of the Senate and pass it.  If that happens, will the House go along?  It hardly seems likely, in which case we could never have gotten a DACA fix in the first place.

Cable News commentators are talking disapprovingly about the leftward tilt of the Democratic Party, so that is good news.  The North and South Koreans are going to field a joint ice hockey team, which gives me hope [does anyone know whether they are any good?]


It is all too much for my aged brain.  I am going to return to Chapter One of Capital.

Monday, January 22, 2018

TAKING CREDIT

I will just point out, modestly, that Andrew Blais wrote his doctoral dissertation under my direction, and I therefore take credit for all the good things he has done since, hem hem.

SOME BRACING WORDS FOR THE NAY-SAYERS

I was, I confess, surprised and a little disturbed by the responses to my sunny post of yesterday.  I find hope a more powerful motivator than despair, and so, in advance of a battle, I concentrate on what can be won rather than on the likelihood that we will not win everything.  The history of popular progressive uprisings makes it clear that even when they are successful, they fall short of the aspirations of those who make them.  I have written about the deeper reasons for this, most recently in my Columbia talk, so I shan’t repeat them here.  But it is worth reminding ourselves of the consequences of the movements we have been a part of in our lifetimes.  The Black Liberation Movement accomplished an enormous improvement in the daily life chances and experiences of African-Americans.  But it was unable to overcome institutional racism deeply embedded in the structure of the American economy, and of course it left capitalism untouched.  Was it worth the effort?  I think the answer to that question should be left to Black respondents.  The Women’s Movement made astonishing changes in the life chances of women, and seems poised to dramatically shift American politics leftward.  But as the #MeToo movement makes clear, women continue to suffer daily assaults on their bodies, on their dignity, on their very lives.  Has the Gay Liberation Movement been worth the effort?  As the father of a proud gay man, I have seen close up the changes in the status and acceptance of LGBT men and women in just his adult lifetime.  I will leave it to him to say how much remains.  If we cannot recognize, acknowledge, and bear up under the disappointments attendant upon these victories, we might as well leave field and repair to our studies, where we can daily remind ourselves of the vast evils and injustices of this world.

Do liberal votes count for less than conservative votes?  Of course they do.  The sainted Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to guarantee that result.  Just to be extra careful, they made amending the Constitution to change that fact almost impossible.  Does Gerrymandering systemically diminish the power of Democratic votes?  Of course it does.  The only remedy is to turn out extra-large votes for state Democratic candidates.  Are liberal votes wasted by being cast in coastal urban enclaves?  To be sure.  Unless a quasi-religious movement catches fire among Liberals exhorting them to move to West Virginia and Utah “for the good of the party,” there is nothing to be done but suck it up, order another half caf skim milk latte with two shots of vanilla, and try to persuade some of the two-thirds of Democratic voters who do not bother to turn out for the mid-term elections that they might consider spending an hour every two years dropping in at their local polling station.


So stop complaining and organize!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE SUN IS OUT AND I AM FULL OF HOPE

When I attended the Women's March in Washington just one year ago, I was stunned by the seemingly endless river of people marching.  I had never been a part of anything remotely like it.  Even so, a small voice in my head said, "This is lovely, but will it last?"  Well, one year later, after Virginia and Alabama and #MeToo and the endless series of horrors of the Trump presidency, the answer appears to be, Yes.  There is not the slightest evidence that the resistance has flagged or grown weary.  If we keep this up, in ten months' time we shall swamp the Republicans and retake enough of the Government to inflict holy hell on Trump and his minions.  He has done vast harm, and will continue to do so, but if we can avoid a brutal, terrifying, and unnecessary war, I think the sun may once again shine in my heart as it now shines in Chapel Hill.

Friday, January 19, 2018

APOLOGIA PRO LABORE SUA [forgive the bad Latin]

I must confess I was rather surprised by the response to my brief post about my preparations for my forthcoming lectures on Marx.  Anonymous [sic] said “Bob, will there be anything genuinely original in what you have to say, as far as you know? Why trek through the thought of another fellow long dead, whose corpus has been mapped and remapped ten thousand times? Is this a showy intellectual exercise, a public tour-de-force you aim to undertake, but one that leaves everything the way it is and nothing new under the sun? What can Wolff add to Marx? Why Wolff on Marx/Kant/Freud? Why not just leave them to speak for themselves?”

Why indeed.  Why has anyone in the last 2,500 years bothered to write about Plato, considering that his first student, Aristotle, was undoubtedly his best?  Even if I think I have something of interest to say about Marx, why on earth bother when I have already written two books and a number of journal articles about his thought?


Two answers.  Make of them what you will.  First, my attempt to bring together in an integrated fashion the most sophisticated mathematical reinterpretation of Marx’s political economy and Marx’s extraordinary literary performance in Capital is, I honestly believe, quite literally unique.  I challenge anyone to cite another author who has attempted such a reading, one that seeks to read the irony into the equations.  Second, for reasons that are simply beyond my comprehension [that, just so we are clear, is an ironic utterance, okay?], not everyone interested in Marx has read my two books.  Indeed, if publishers’ reports can be trusted, almost no one has read my second book.  So perhaps videotaped lectures posted on YouTube will reach a few folks who might otherwise be unaware of what I have written.

Needless to say, you are free to watch clips from The Big Bang Theory instead.

PREPARATIONS

I have been working on the outline of my Marx lectures, preparing a series of pages that Staples will enlarge to 36 x 24 inches so that they can be displayed behind me during each talk.  As I do this and arrange in my head the order in which I am going to explain things, it becomes clear to me that what I have to say will be way more complex than my lectures on Kant's First Critique, difficult though that was.  My goal will be to capture in these lectures my vision of Marx's thought as an integrated fusion of history, political economy, political sociology, philosophy, revolutionary practice, and mathematics, all articulated in an ironic authorial voice that is indispensable to the expression of his understanding of the mystifications of capitalism.

It should be a hoot.