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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A JAUNDICED VIEW

Students of Philosophy are not required to know very much, aside from the content of a rather select canon of great texts.  Some logic, perhaps, and a bit of Classical Athenian history [to set the stage for the great early quadrivium of Platonic Dialogues:  The Crito, Euthyphro, Apology, and Phaedo.]  But those of us who persevered and read the classic texts of what we called "Modern Philosophy" -- which is to say, the works of Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant -- did actually pick up a few bits and tatters of information along the way, one of the most memorable of which was that to people afflicted with jaundice, the world looks yellowish.  This example of the subjectivity of perception was repeated so often in the Philosophy I read as a boy that by the time I encountered it in writings of modern sense-datum epistemologists like H. H. Price, I simply nodded and moved on.

One day, in an adult education class I was teaching, attended by men and women who had actually done something with their lives, I invoked this example and was brought up short by a "student" in the class who was a physician.  "That is not true," he said.  Now, as you can imagine, this is not a statement that a Philosophy Professor hears very often.  "I don't agree" -- one hopes and prays for that, as it can signal the beginning of a lively and useful debate.  But "That is not true"?  What on earth could he mean.

Well, it seems that people who have jaundice do not see the world tinted yellow.  Things do not look yellow to them.  They look yellow to things!  To be more precise, yellow pigment is deposited in the whites of their eyes [among other less obvious places], with the result that their eyes take on a yellow cast.  Four hundred years of great Philosophers had got it wrong, very probably just repeating what a prior thinker had said.  So much for the experimental method.

These odd thoughts have been prompted by the political events of the last twenty-four hours.  Suddenly, after swamping Gingrich with a multi-million dollar negative ad buy, Mitt Romney has been in turn humiliated hy a bigot in a Leave it to Beaver sweater.  Rick Santorum, whose bizarre sexual perversions lead him to think of polygymy and "man on dog" whenever he encounters the phenomenon of same-sex love, has emerged from the back of the pack as the current darling of the anyone-but-Mitt evangelical crowd.  One more day like yesterday, and Mitt is going to look like yesterday's fad.

I view all of this [yes, I am connecting it up] with a jaundiced eye.  I find myself no longer able to take a simple, boyish pleasure in the bizarrerie of the Republican field.  Too much is at stake to allow any of these appalling people to come anywhere close to the Oval Office.

The Republican aspirants are looking more and more like a sickening, cowardly, revulsion-inspiring yellow.  I think I shall retreat into H. H. Price's Hume's Construction of the External World to regain my composure, even of he did think that jaundice makes things look yellow.

2 comments:

Kewball said...

That brought a much-needed burst of out-loud laughter. Thanks!

Don Schneier said...

As they say on Facebook, LOL! Very nicely constructed, evidence that this format can be an art form.