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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

MY PERSONAL OPINION

I watched the Putin-Trump press conference.  I do not speak Russian, but I do speak English.  I also have the average human being's ability to read body language.  My personal judgment?  Putin has something on Trump.

Monday, July 16, 2018

JERRY FRESIA AND ME


My exchange with Jerry Fresia has now become much more serious than a dispute between two old lefties.  Since I think his latest extended comment must be read, I will reproduce it at the end of these remarks, rather than simply suggest that you hunt it up in the comments section.

Jerry’s statement is a cry from the heart, a cri de coeur, as the French say, and it takes precedence over everything I wrote in my previous posts.  We are, in this life, not disembodied spirits, but real human beings who have been born into a specific moment in time and have lived specific, concrete lives, lives that shape what we experience and believe.  Jerry has earned his deep-rooted skepticism about everything the powers that be proclaim in a way that I have not earned my readiness to credit Robert Mueller’s investigation.  Since I knew McGeorge Bundy and Henry Kissinger personally before they become lying defenders of America’s imperial brutality, I feel a certain confidence in my evaluation of them as lying sacks of shit, but to the larger world, they were no less credible than Robert Mueller.

I hope this investigation leads to Trump’s downfall, or at least to his political emasculation, whatever the underlying truth may be, but as regards the truth, we must simply wait and see.

Here is Jerry’s comment:

“First let me say that I hate being a fly in the ointment and, as well, I hate having to take positions that might even bolster Trump's claims of fake news. I will add that the latter part of your post is perfectly reasonable and I am attempted to say, "Yeah, that makes sense. I can accept that." But there's a big BUT that prevents me from doing so.

You haven't addressed two aspects of the situation that just flat out bug me. One has to do with trust, the other with the smearing of leftists. My guess is that you would probably agree that the CIA and FBI have have lied to the American people so many times on so many important issues (including Mueller re the WMD/Iraq debacle) that refusing to trust what the national security state declares as truth is rational. So for me, the issue has less to do with epistemology than it does with heartfelt trauma.

Your work with African Americans and South Africans seems to have had a searing impact on you and your point of view. We all probably have these kinds of searing, gut wrenching experiences that impact whom and what we trust. I was an intelligence officer with the Air Force during the Vietnam War. I never saw combat but I had a very high top secret clearance and I saw not only the reality of the horror of that war, I saw the orders of various barbaric missions days in advance of those order being carried out. It was painful watching all that unfold. But here's the kicker: as these events unfolded, government spokespeople and the media ALWAYS lied about was going on. There was no doubt about this from where sat. I knew various media military analysts knew almost as much as I did. I even tried to be a whistle blower but was rebuffed.

I had volunteered. But I was duped. I felt betrayed. It became clear to me that my life, not to mention the lives of the Vietnamese didn't count for squat. As time went on, I would learn (thanks to academics such as yourself) that the systems of betrayal had no limits. The US military tested bacterial weapons on unsuspecting Americans in San Francisco (MKULTRA), to cite one example of the contempt gov officials can have toward ordinary people. The CIA lied to JFK about the Bay of Pigs, knowing it would fail while telling him it would help oppressed Cubans overthrow the authoritarian Castro (had JFK, by the way, not shown enormous resolve in refusing US air support, revolutionary Cuba would never have survived). I believe that Malcom X, JFK, MLK, RFK, Fred Hampton and many Black Panthers, along with so many young African Americans today have been either murdered or their murders covered up by the national security state. And so what is behind all this mayhem and mendacity? Well, it begins with a simple fact that you have so eloquently explicated time and again: capitalism requires the exploitation of workers. And so it is not surprising that Martin Niemöller's first targeted population (First they came for the communists....") were leftists challenging fascism.

I once believed it all. I seriously drank the kool-aid. But those days are long gone. Mueller et al may be right. But I won't grant him that validation, not until he is shown to be correct in a court of law or in some process that permits his case to be challenged publicly on the evidence. I'm like the wife, I suppose, who has been cheated on many times. Trust the bastard? Never again.”

WHAT IS TRUTH?, ASKED PILATE


The exchanges in the comments section triggered by Jerry Fresia’s comment and my response raise very interesting questions about what we know and how we know it.  To an extent that most of us do not often reflect upon, our knowledge of the world is socially grounded, not the product of individual observation or the formulation and confirmation and disconfirmation of hypotheses.  Let me offer, as a start, a few trivial examples and then a more serious extended example, all without venturing into politically or ideologically contested territory.

I believe that Jerry Fresia exists, that he holds a doctorate from UMass and is a distinguished and successful artist.   I believe this because I have read it online.  What is more, I believe that there is a single individual who repeatedly over the years has commented on this blog, and that this individual is the very same Jerry Fresia.  But I have never met Jerry Fresia, nor have I observed him writing and posting comments to this blog, and if someone claimed that this blog persona is the creation of a right wing conspiracy designed [somewhat unsuccessfully, to be sure] to sow discord on the left, I would have no sound counterevidence and would be reduced to ineffectual sputtering.

You who read this blog believe, I should imagine, that it is written by an American philosopher in his eighties named Robert Paul Wolff, but with the exception of Tom Cathcart, Charles Parsons, and a few others, including my sister Barbara, none of you has actually met me or talked to me.  For a long time, you could learn quite a bit about this character Robert Paul Wolff by going to Wikipedia, but some while ago one of Google’s internal police force decided the article on me was unsourced and with a keystroke wiped out all of it but the very first sentence.  Should that minatory figure revisit the entry, I may be completely obliterated, thereby, so far as the Cloud is concerned, becoming just one more bot.

I also believe that Pelham, Massachusetts, where I lived for twenty-one years, lies to the northeast of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I moved in 2008.  Why do I believe this?  Because a variety of maps show that it does.  To be sure, I have twice driven between the two cities, following interstate highways for most of the distance, but if I were called on to demonstrate to a sceptic the geographic relationship of the two towns I would be forced to appeal to generally accepted authorities, including the orientation display in the driving mirror of my 2004 Camry.  Someone who doubts such well-known facts is a nut, a kook, a conspiracy junkie, right?


Well, consider this case.  Charles Darwin, as we all know, launched modern evolutionary biology with his theory of natural selection.  But Darwin had no idea of the mechanisms of biological evolution.  It was the work first of Gregor Mendel and then of Thomas Hunt Morgan that located this mechanism in the genes lying on chromosomes in the cells of living things.  [Personal aside:  Hunt worked with fruit flies, specifically Drosophila Melenogaster, because they have unusually large chromosomes that are visible using the microscopes available in the early 20th century.  My sister, Barbara, won the national Westinghouse Science Talent Search in 1948 with research on phenocopies in Drosophila Melenogaster, and as a consequence during much of her senior year in high school, we ate dinner each evening in the Wolff household under a small cloud of fruit flies that had escaped from our basement and come up looking for food.]

The result was something in evolutionary biology known as the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis, given dramatic confirmation and specification by Watson and Crick’s demonstration of the double helix structure of the chromosome.  This synthesis dominated evolutionary biology for many, many years, yielding Nobel Prizes and other social recognitions of the brilliant work of several generations of scientists.

There were a few fringe dissenters, of course, as there always are in science, as in life.  One was a woman name Lynn Margulis, best known as the wife of the astronomer and TV superstar Carl Sagan.  Early in  her career as an evolutionary biologist, Margulis put forward the bizarre hypothesis that very early on, maybe two billion years ago or so, at a time when life was extremely primitive and organisms did not even have cellular structures with nuclei, two distinct organisms merged in a process she called symbiosis.  One of the two went on living inside the other, and when the host reproduced, so did the visitor, independently.  According to Margulis, the essential structures in modern cells known as mitochondria are the descendants of that early symbiosis.  What is more, she claimed, such symbiotic mergings continue.

Well, established evolutionary biologists scoffed, Margulis had trouble even publishing her papers, and she spent her career in the sticks first teaching at Boston University and then at UMass Amherst, where we overlapped for ten years, although I am sorry to say I never met her.  Margulis championed a number of fringe theories, including the claim that the 9/11 twin towers attack was a false flag operation and that the towers collapsed not as a result of the impact of the airplanes but because of timed detonations of bombs placed strategically in the buildings.

Clearly a nut, right?  Right, except for one inconvenient fact.  Her theory of symbiosis turns out to be correct, and is now regarded in the profession as one of the foundations of modern evolutionary biology, along with the work of Darwin, Hunt, and Watson and Crick.

 I think the specifications in the indictments secured by Mueller are reliable, I genuinely do.  Will it turn out, some months from now, that Trump consciously and deliberately conspired with Putin.  I have no idea, although I strongly suspect he did.  Is the investigation a deep state conspiracy designed to frustrate the legitimate will the American people as expressed in the 2016 election.  Of course.  Does that make the charges false?  Of course not.  I think the charges are true.  I also suspect that if an establishment candidate had engaged in the same behavior, it would have been buried.  Does that mean Trump is no worse than Bush or Obama or Clinton?  Nope.

Is that all perfectly clear now?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

READ IT AND WEEP

I have just read the entire 29 page indictment handed down by the Grand Jury against a group of Russian military intelligence officers.   You can read it here.  I urge you to do so as well.  It is quite remarkable.  Mueller and his team seem to know a good bit about each of these Russians:  their names, their cover names, their ranks, the precise addresses of their offices, the time to the minute when they logged on, began to hack, planted malware, tried to erase evidences of their hacking, and on and on.  For all I know, Mueller knows what they have for breakfast.  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Do I believe what the indictment says?  Yes I do.  I also believe a man walked on the moon, that vaccinations can protect children from infectious diseases, and that the sun rises in the east. Could I be wrong about all of these beliefs?  Of course.  I have read Descartes’ Meditations I and II.  I know the difference between logical certainty and well established fact.  Do I understand the difference between an indictment and a conviction? Yes, in fact I know that too. 

Do I think there will, before too many months have gone by, indictments of Americans who conspired with the Russians?  I do, actually.  Is this speculation on my part?  Of course.  We shall have to wait and see.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A MYSTERY


After Serena Williams powered her way into the Finals at Wimbledon, I spent some time idly watching a pathetic array of Republicans do everything they could to harass FBI Agent Peter Strzok during his testimony before their committee.  They managed to establish three facts:

1.         Strzok was personally extremely opposed to Donald Trump being elected president.
2.         Strzok believed that the FBI had evidence that Trump was conspiring with the Russians to gain an advantage in the election, evidence which if revealed would hurt Trump’s election prospects.
3.         Strrzok did absolutely nothing to reveal this evidence to the public before the election.

If we assume that the Republicans desired that Donald Trump be elected president, why are they not pinning a medal on him?


[The question is a mocking rhetorical question, for those who have trouble identifying irony.]

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

BOOK REVIEW


David Baldacci is an enormously successful schlock fiction writer whose titles, if book jackets are to be believed, have sold 130 million copies worldwide.  I picked up a copy of his recent 2017 book, End Game, in the Carolina Meadows library and am now eighty pages from finishing it.  About a fifty pages ago, it suddenly dawned on me that the character who is going to turn out to be the bad guy has a life story that point for point parallels that of Donald Trump.  Suddenly, what was a rather mediocre read has taken on new interest.

FAIR IS FAIR, PART TWO


Alert students of the higher reaches of the intellectual sphere will have seen the distressing stories about the distinguished Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.  It seems that Professor Dershowitz, who summers on Martha’s Vineyard, has been shunned lately by the elite inhabitants of that storied vacation retreat who, because of his defense of President Trump, have stopped inviting him to their dinner parties.  Dershowitz, exhibiting admirable restraint, has compared this behavior to McCarthyism.  But I think a more substantive legal argument can be advanced.

It is of course second nature to a famous constitutional law expert like Dershowitz that the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution “prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines, or cruel and unusual punishments.”  What is more, the Supreme Court has ruled that the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause applies to the states as well.   It is beyond dispute that banishment from a Martha’s Vineyard dinner party is cruel and unusual, and it is surely a very small reach indeed to extend the constitutional prohibition from states to vacation resorts.

I am no scholar of the law, but I think Professor Dershowitz has a legitimate cause of action.  Inasmuch as such suits can be costly, and Dershowitz, as an emeritus Harvard professor, is compelled to live on whatever pension that financially strapped institution provides, I propose that all fair-minded defenders of the rule of law launch a gofundme effort.  I am prepared to commit a penny to the effort, and if one hundred million good Americans will join me, Professor Dershowitz will have the beginnings of a defense fund.

I mean, fair is fair.