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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, October 13, 2009

GIANTS IN THE EARTH

There were giants in the earth in those days [Genesis 6:4]

I had a dream last night in which I found myself talking to a group of Harvard students [prompted, perhaps, by the telephone chat with my son, Tobias, who is teaching this semester at Harvard Law School.] When I woke up, the dream was still vivid in my mind, and it prompted me to think back to my time as an Instructor at Harvard, in the late '50s and very early '6os [of the twentieth, not the nineteenth, century!] I ended up looking back at my course files from that period, including the file on the tutorial that I taught jointly with Barrington Moore, Jr. in the first year of a new interdisciplinary undergraduate major, Social Studies, now about to celebrate its fiftieth year in operation. I was the first Head Tutor of Social Studies, appointed by McGeorge Bundy, who the next year left Harvard to become John Kennedy's National Security Advisor. Social Studies was intended to give a select group of students an opportunity to study the social sciences in an integrated fashion, without regard for the disciplinary boundaries that at that time so markedly divided the several branches of the sozialwissenschaften from one another. The program has been a considerable success, and is now, I believe the third or fourth largest major field at Harvard.

Moore and I took charge of six sophomores, for whom, it should be noted, this tutorial was an ungraded add-on to their normal course load. Oncde a week, we met in my rooms in Winthrop House, where I was a resident tutor, for two hours. It was a bit like tag-team wrestling. Moore would start in ion them for a while, quizzing them about the reading for that session. When he flagged, he would tap me and I would jump in, picking up the pace. After two hours, the students were wrung through.

To give you some idea of how intense it was, let me simply reproduce, from my notes, the year's reading list [there were, that first year, three tutorial groups of six students each, taught by pairs of faculty so selected that each pair represented two different disciplines.]

The first reading was Adam Smith's WEALTH OF NATIONS -- all 900 pages of it! This was followed either by Schumpeter's THEORY OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT or John Stuart Mill's two-volume POLITICAL ECONOMY [the choice Moore and I made.] Next up was a volume of Marx's writings edited by Lewis Feuer, and then Alexis de Tocqueville's THE OLD REGIME AND THE FRENCH REVOLUTION [a relatively light bit of reading.] Students now then did an abrupt turn, and tackled the two volume PRIMITIVE CULTURE by Sir Edward Tylor [some groups substituted Maine's ANCIENT LAW.] We were also supposed to go through Franz Boas' THE MIND OF PRIMITIVE MAN, but Moore and I took a pass on that one -- I think we had lingered too long on Marx. This was followed by Nietzsche's GENEOLOGY OF MORALS and Freud's CIVILIZATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS. The Nietzsche was drawn from a large collection edited by Walter Kaufman, and students were advised, parenthetically, that they should read other selections from the volume. Whether any of them did, I do not recall. Well, after that light Freud break, it was back to Emile Durkheim's SUICIDE and 350 pages of Marx Weber [the merest scratching of the surface, as those who are familiar with Weber weill recognize.] The year-long tutorial wrapped up with R. G. Collingwood's THE IDEA OF HISTORY and Alfred North Whitehead's MODES OF THOUGHT [I was opposed to that choice, never having found Whitehead's philosophy, as opposed to his mathematical logic, of much interest, but as the only non-tenured member of the Social Studies Committee I was overruled, even though I was the only philosopher in the group.]

Well, as the Emperor Joseph says in AMADEUS, there it is.

In those days, tuition at Harvard was a couple of thousand dollars a year. I think the students got their money's worth.

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