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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, May 31, 2011

FIRST RESPONDERS

Because of the peculiar nature of this series of posts -- this "bourse" -- I think I am going to intersperse parts with responses to comments, as though it were a classroom. This will enable me to pay attention to the comments as they occur, and also give me a bit more time to write each post.

First, to "formerly a wage slave," the central point here is not the rather familiar notion that the norms of polite behavior are conventional and variable, but that, as Mannheim says, there are certain modes of thought that cannot even be understood without attending to their social and historical context. It is comprehensibility, not truth, that is inseparable. That is a very powerful claim.

My favorite example of cross-cultural misunderstanding [this may be the anthropological version of an urban myth] is the visitor to a foreign country who eats everything on her plate, thinking that that is the polite way to show how good the food is, not realizing that in this new cultural situation, one is expected to leave a little food on the plate to show that one is full. She keeps eating, her hosts keep offering her more. You get the idea. The following is a true story about me. Many years ago, I had dinner at a nice bistro in the Marais in Paris named Les Philosophes [who could resist?]. I ordered filets de hareng marinees [herring in wine sauce], which came in a large handsome cast iron tureen. Not realizing that I was supposed to take a few filets and return the tureen, I stoically ate the whole damned pot! The waiter, to his eternal credit, never said a thing.

Now, to Chris. Yes, that is right. Marx saw this too. The norms of feudal justice and right linger on even after the bourgeois revolution. It takes time for the new socio-economic order to transform the law, politics, art, and philosophy.

By the way, Mannheim's views are very complex. As is my custom, I prefer to expound complex ideas slowly, starting with the simplest cases and building in more and more complexity until the fully developed idea is before us. We are at this point just at the very beginning of a long and fascinating story.

3 comments:

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

Just to be clear, the social and historical context of a mode of thought is not an objective thing? Or. is it? Insofar as I read or understand Plato, I impute a social and historical context to him, but insofar as Kant reads or understands Plato, he imputes a different social and historical context; no?

Marinus said...

How on earth could a historical and societal context not be objective? Histories and societies don't exist just in our head -- actually existing objects have actually existing histories and relationships to other objects.

Michael said...

Marinus, I think that it's not so much whether or not a historical or social context is objective (that is, no one is suggesting a Berkley-like Solipsist Idealism) but instead that this context powerfully and profoundly shapes the way in which we understand the world. So "histories and societies don't exist in just our heads," it's true, but the dialog produced by these contexts do influence our thought nonetheless.
It seems to me that Mannheim is saying that the very nature of how our minds are shaped, the variety in intelligent thought and disagreement available, makes the task of getting to the truth of a matter almost impossibly difficult. That could be wrong, since I've only read a few pages of the book,and I've always been inclined towards skepticism.