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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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




Total Pageviews

Sunday, April 22, 2012

WOLFF THROWS IN THE TOWEL

I am licked.  I admit it.  After four more or less preliminary posts on Kant's ethical theory, I realize that I simply cannot summarize what needs to be said in anything short of an entire book-length series of posts.  It is not as though I don't know what to say.  I have, after all, written a book about the subject. But I just cannot see how to be true to Kant's meaning in a manageable series of posts.

You might ask, How can it be that you managed to write a tutorial on the Critique of Pure Reason, which is surely more complex than the Grundlegung?  The reason is that I have been able to see into the bowels of the Critique and extract from it the core argument in a fundamentally simple way.  But I have never been able to do that with Kant's ethical theory.  As my book on the subject makes clear, I struggled without success to find a core argument that I could defend as coherent and at least initially plausible.  That is why, in the end, I came to the conclusion that Kant's theory is wrong -- that there is no fundamental moral law that all agents will embrace insofar as they are rational. 

So I am suspending my tutorial.  I may come back to it if I can see how to say something really useful without going into the morass of the argument.  But if I do that, I will not in any direct way be commenting on and explicating the text.

I apologize for this failure.  Maybe I am just getting old!  It is, after all, no accident, as we like to say in old Marxian circles, that where as the book on the Critique took me two summers to write, the book on the Grundlegung lingered for seven years before I could finish it, and even then, I was painfully aware of its shortcomings.  It was, I think  that hardest thing I ever wrote, and in many ways the least successful.

On a happier note, I have just been asked by the University of California Press to bring out a new edition of In Defense of Anarchism.  That book was written in 1965, published in 1970, and then, when Harper & Row finally allowed it to go out of print in 1997, reissued with a new Preface by UC Press in 1998.  I am going to take the opportunity to expand on the last paragraph of that 1998 Preface, incorporate into the new text the Credo for Progressives that I have just posted on this blog, and in general address the question how my political commitments and theory differ from those of the right-wing Free Market libertarians who have appropriated the anarchist tradition and turned it into a justification for exploitation and oppression.

7 comments:

Don Schneier said...

I occasionally suspect that Kant himself wanted to write something simple, but it exploded beyond his ambitions into the labyrinthine architectonic, that, as the continual footnotes to the B edition of the 1st Critique indicate, remained without closure.

imcdpe said...

I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new edition of the book from U of C Press!

Jacob T. Levy said...

I think that will be a real shame for IDOA-- it will muddy the central argument of the book. As it is now it's a spectacularly useful teaching book, one that can help unsettle settled views about submission to authority for all students regardless of their left-right political position.

Put it another way: I think that the book as it stands now has actually persuaded and moved a great students from across the political spectrum. Adding a progressive manifesto to it will, for many of them, be a barrier to their receptiveness to the core argument about authority.

Given that there are many more left-progressive manifestos in the world than there are accessible defenses of anarchism, the positive marginal value of another left-progressive manifesto is surely less than the marginal negative value of losing a gem of a short-book-length argument about one clearly-defined question.

Bob Talisse said...

A suggestion: What about adding to the Preface a summary of what you take to be the most compelling of the many criticisms that have been developed of your view, with a few rejoinders?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jacob, that is a really depressing but thoughtful comment. I will have to give it some real consideration.

Sean said...

Will the new edition of the book include a Kindle edition, do you know?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Sean, I don't know. I am scheduled to talk by phone with the eduitor on Monday, and maybe then I will know more.