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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."





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Monday, September 16, 2019

WHISTLING TO KEEP MY SPIRITS UP


One of the problems I have faced in preparing my up-coming Columbia lectures is that there is simply not enough time to say everything I want to say in the three remaining seminar meetings devoted to Marx.  Obviously one solution is to refer the students to the books I have written, but I was concerned that I might scare them away from the first book, Understanding Marx, if I mentioned that it had math in it.

Well, some years ago when I was working pro bono at Bennett College, an HBCU in Greensboro, I surfed the web until I found the state-wide standards promulgated by the North Carolina State Board of Education for all public schools K-12.  There I discovered that the math I use in the body of the text of my book is required to be taught in all North Carolina schools in grade 9.

So I shall say to my Columbia students, by way of encouragement, that if they made it through the Freshman year of high school, they can handle my book.

As teachers, we do what we can.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

IDLE SPECULATION ON A SLOW SUNDAY


Stymied in my lecture preparation by the fact that I have too much to say and not enough time in which to say it, I decided to relax by reminding myself of the rules governing the Iowa caucuses and by checking 538.com for the last month and half of Iowa polls.  It was as I thought.  Candidates getting less than 15% in the first round are eliminated and their supporters sort themselves, if they so choose, among the remaining possibles.  For the past six weeks, the polls indicate that only Biden, Sanders, and Warren would make it past the first round, freeing up anywhere from 45% to 28% of caucus goers to reassign themselves. Biden leads all the polls, save for one outlier, but the two crucial questions are obviously: First, which candidates can get their supporters to the caucuses? and Second, who is the second choice of those caucus goers freed up by the cut?

I think [which is to say, I hope against hope] that this is bad news for Biden.  If his current lead is more or less his ceiling, then Warren or Sanders should beat him out for the win.  Since the number of delegates at stake is tiny, what matters is the momentum and publicity of the win, not the actual group of delegates awarded.  My hope is that his huge lead among the African-American vote, based apparently on his popularity with older Black voters, will evaporate should he come out of the caucuses [and perhaps also the New Hampshire primary] a loser.

I really, really, really don’t want Biden.

IMPORTANT NEWS FLASH

The twin towers existed!  I have epistemically solid proof.  I just received this message from my son, Patrick:

"I can tell you how you can be pretty certain the Twin Towers existed. Anand played the 1995 World Championship match against Kasparov there, and I was Anand’s second, thereafter writing a book about the match. I went into one of those towers (I forget which one) many times."

Now, if my sister had only bagged a job in the West Wing ...

Saturday, September 14, 2019

EPISTEMOLOGICAL MUSINGS


I had intended to turn immediately to my Marx lecture this morning after my walk, but the discussion in the comments section proved too interesting, so let me say a bit about what, somewhat presumptuously, might be labeled popular epistemology.  In short, how do I know, indeed do I know, that 9/11 was the work of Al Qaeda terrorists seeking to strike a death blow to American Democracy?

I might think to begin by asking how I know that the twin towers were actually destroyed on September 11, 2001, but that would reveal a distressing credulity.  Clearly, I must first ask how I know that there ever were two tall buildings in lower Manhattan commonly referred to as the twin towers.  You think I jest, but I am serious.  How do I know that?  Indeed, do I know that?

I grew up in New York [well, Queens, which is not quite the same thing], and after leaving in 1950 for college, I returned in 1964 to teach at Columbia.  But Wikipedia says the World Trade Center was built in 1973 [if you can believe Wikipedia], and I left Columbia in 1971.  I never saw the twin towers in person, nor can I recall talking about them with anyone who saw them up close.  To be sure, I have seen pictures of them, but in some of those pictures King Kong is climbing up the side of one of them and then jumping to the other, so I am not sure I can rely entirely on those pictures.

Clearly, my belief in the existence of the twin towers depends on what in the old days was called the consensus gentium.  But that same consensus has it that the destruction of the buildings was the work of Al Qaeda, and I am a trifle puzzled how to know which bits of common knowledge to accept and which to reject.  I mean, I was alive when Jack Kennedy was assassinated, or at least when it is said he was assassinated.  I never met the man.  I went to college with his baby brother, Teddy, but I never met him either, so that is no help.  Maybe LBJ and J. Edgar Hoover spirited him away, put out the unlikely story that a loser named Lee Harvey Oswald shot him, and then kept him alive, wearing an iron mask, until he died during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.  Stranger things have happened.

So I am reduced to assessing probabilities, since my personal knowledge is, speaking generally, inadequate even to establish decisively something as non-controversial as the existence of Iowa.  And I must say that it strikes me as implausible that Cheney and company arranged for a bunch of Taliban backed Saudis to slam some hi-jacked planes into two big buildings and the Pentagon so that they would have an excuse for attacking Iraq.  If that was the plan, why on earth didn’t they just recruit some Iraqis for the job?

More to the point, I have enjoyed enormously the contributions of Jerry Fresia to our on-going conversation, but I have never met Jerry, nor do I know personally anyone who has told me that he or she has.  I believe that Jerry is an accomplished artist with a doctorate from UMass, but maybe, in the immortal words of our glorious leader, he is a four hundred pound man in his mother’s basement.

Friday, September 13, 2019

CHANGING COURSE

In preparation for writing about Piketty, I did a search of this blog, initially to locate the dates of my original review, and discovered that I have written quite a lot about Piketty.  So I decided instead to return to the preparations for my next Marx lecture at Columbia.  I then found, as Hannah Arendt once said to me about Kant, that it is "so much more pleasant to spend time with Marx."

BEFORE I BEGIN


I promised today to revisit Piketty, but before I do, let me comment briefly on some of the reactions to yesterday’s post.  Jerry Fresia suggests that someone high in positions of power knew of the attack sufficiently in advance to plant explosives in a third building near those slated for attack, and this complicity extended even to news reporters who claimed the building was collateral damage of the attack while it could be seen standing behind the reporter.

This is an extraordinary, apparently incredible accusation.  What do I think of this?  Do I know whether it is true?  Of course not.  Do I believe it?  I am, on this question, agnostic.  If it is true, would it change my understanding of the world?

Well, if it is true then I would be compelled to acknowledge that Bush, Cheney, and their compatriots, whom I have always thought of as sinister, cruel, heartless, hypocritical criminals, are actually … sinister, cruel, heartless, hypocritical criminals.

Which brings me to Piketty.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

THREE LITTLE THINGS


I want later today to return to the Piketty book and talk about its implications some more, but first, brief comments about three things that arose while I was in New York:  9/11, the Taliban at Camp David, and the firing of Bolton.

9/11:   The attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001 is universally considered the defining moment of modern twenty-first century America, the transformative event that has shaped everything that has come after, an event that people of all political persuasions memorialize by ritually recalling where they were when they first heard of it.

It was also, statistically speaking, not a very big deal.  Roughly 2,800,000 people die each year in America, which is to say somewhat more than 7,600 a day.  The three thousand or so deaths in the attack were thus a blip, the equivalent of a single day with ten extra hours in it.  That number is dwarfed by the body count of many other disasters:  the number of Americans who die each year because of the denial of readily available medical help, the number of Americans who die each year from opioid overdoses, the number of Americans who die each year from gunshot, the number of Americans who have died in wars ostensibly initiated in response to the 9/11 attacks, and so forth.

Just sayin’.

The Taliban at Camp David:  The bloviating classes were aghast at the insensitivity of even considering inviting Taliban leaders to Camp David in the very week of the sacred 9/11 remembrances.  Their collective horror at the thought somehow was transformed into the notion that the Taliban had something to do with 9/11 but that, of course, is nonsense.  9/11 was a Saudi Arabian manned operation, a fact that led the Bush administration to suspend the nation-wide grounding of commercial aircraft sufficiently to allow a bunch of high placed Saudis to fly home before public outrage trapped them in this country.

The Taliban are cutthroat religious fanatics, to be sure, but they are our cutthroat religious fanatics.  We did not create them, but we funded them and provided them with the shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles with which they could down the Soviet helicopter gunships that were wreaking havoc with the Mujahadin during the ill-fated Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  [For movie fans, the go-to film is of course Rambo III.]

They have a greater claim to a Camp David invitation than does Prince MBS.

John Bolton:  Bolton is a genuinely dangerous man, and I am delighted to see him gone.  His summary dismissal highlights the odd but welcome fact that Trump is a dove.  A belligerent dove, a bullying dove, a bombastic dove, an ignorant dove, a feckless dictator-loving suck up of a dove, but a dove nonetheless.  This is a dangerous world.  We must take our comfort where we can find it.