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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

QUICK RESPONSE

While I write the next part of my bourse, let me respond quickly to a question that several of you have posed. Mannheim was deeply troubled by the sceptical implications of his analysis, especially as it unfolded beyond these preliminary stages [I shall get to that in the next Part.] He advanced a "solution" to the problem, but, as we shall see, it is almost a cry of desperation, and coming as it does after his extraordinarily powerful analysis of ideological critique, does not seem [at least to me] to be successful. I have been struggling for most of my life with the apparently relativistic implications of the work of people like Mannheim. Marx understood the problem very well, which is one of the reasons why he eschewed moralising and claimed merely to be identifying what he called "the laws of motion of capitalist society." Marx did not argue for socialism. He claimed simply to be able to show that socialism would emerge from the womb of capitalism. I engaged [pessimistically] with that claim in my essay, the Future of Socialism.

I eventually came to the conclusion that one must make a life choice. One must answer the question posed by the old union song, "Which side are you on?" Or, as I like to put it, Whom do you choose in life as your comrades, with whom do you make common cause? That is a question whose answer cannot emerge from a value-neutral theoretical analysis, but only from an existential choice.

4 comments:

Andreas Baumann said...

I think this is the essential point of Stephane Hessels recent pamphlet "Indignez-Vous!" - that the decision to move politically cannot arise from theoretical analysis, but most arise from a life-choice (Lebenswahl)... Hessel points to Sartre and the existentialists as his inspiration, his indignation - cf. Camus "Cet ├ętat de l'absurde, il s'agit d'y vivre." We have to create a project for ourselves in this absurd world, and since so much of the absurdity in this world arises from the inequal distribution of goods, health and happiness, the obvious project is to fight these... Just a random musing.

Best,
Andreas

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, Andreas. That is not my style of discourse, but it expresses almost exactly the view to which I have come after a lifetime. Strange as it may sound, I find it liberating, not immobilizing, to recognize that committed action does not have to wait upon an a priori demonstration of a universal moral principle [the quest that led me to write my second book on Kant -- THE AUTONOMY OF REASON.]

Noumena said...

I finally read Alasdair MacIntyre's first book, Marxism and Christianity, a week or two ago, and complemented this by re-reading a few of his more recent papers on Marx. I think MacIntyre was powerfully attracted to Marxism for the ideological critique it offers, and many of his books do the same thing (albeit in a way that he admits is somewhat idealistic). Reading between the lines still further, I believe he eventually left Marxism in favor of Thomism and the Catholic church because he did not see how the former could plausibly claim that it, and only it, was not vulnerable to ideological critique. Thomism (according to MacIntyre) provides the resources for what we might call transcending ideology -- a way by which a piece of ideology can plausibly aspire to eventually achieve universality.

That was quite compressed, so I'm happy to expand further if anyone's confused and/or intrigued.

Anyways, MacIntyre is, of course, very much not an existentialist. It may even be fair to say that he recognizes, and attempts to resolve, the problem in a way much more in the trends of Anglophone than French philosophy.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am interested by what you say about Alisdaire. I was not at all aware of that earlier phase in his thinking. Thanks for the brief info.