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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, September 28, 2012

DE MORTUIS

John Silber has died at the age of eighty-six, thus confirming Billy Joel's view ["Only the good die young."]  Silber was trained as a philosopher, and early in his career he wrote several decent articles about Kant's ethical theory, one of which I anthologized in my 1967 book Kant: A Collection of Critical Essays.  It is hard to imagine a person in whom the philosophical temperament was less manifest.  Indeed, it was Silber who is responsible for the only time in my entire life that I voted for a Republican.  He managed somehow to get the Democratic Party nomination in 1990 for the office of Governor of Massachusetts, and after much anguish, I decided -- correctly, I think, in retrospect -- that the Republican, William Weld was by far the less objectionable of the two.

There are many things to reproach Silber for, his homophobia among others, but it was in his twenty-five year long presidency of Boston University that he fully revealed himself as completely devoid of any comprehension of, or respect for, the guiding principles of Academe.  He bullied the faculty, did everything in his power to destroy the faculty union, drove good people on the faculty to leave, and comported himself as a pint-sized dictator.  [He also blocked my appointment to a professorship in the B. U. Philosophy Department, through his cat's paw, Jon Westling, but since in the end my failure to join the B. U. faculty worked out well, I do not hold that against him.]

Those of us in the Philosophy game like to believe that a serious engagement with our field of study will have the effect of leading us to wisdom as well as tenure, and though professional philosophers [an oxymoron if ever there was one] are not generally wiser or more possessed of the virtue of gravitas than those in other fields of academic work, they are generally a pretty humane lot.  If one were to draw a curve plotting philosophical knowledge against common human decency, that tiny blip at the far end of the curve, completely removed from the general locus of points, would be John Silber.

I cannot imagine that anyone will mourn his loss.

5 comments:

David Auerbach said...

When I use 'only the good die young' as an example in my baby logic class, Kissinger is my stock example. Of course, these days there are a lot of blank looks. Who else is old,evil and has a chance of being known to undergrads?

Sean said...

David: Dick Cheney?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

For some reason, I always get that line mixed up in my mind with "None but the brave deserve the fair," which is of course from Dryden's great poem, Alexander's feast.

Another marvelous example, by the way, is from the Chronicles of the Franks by Gregory of Tours [6th century], which I have cited before on this blog.

Don Schneier said...

Thanks for opening the door for me to overrule my maxim to not speak ill of the recently deceased. I'll just add that I found his Kant scholarship pedestrian, and that his destruction of the state Democratic Party in 1990 gave rise to the Republican dynasty that ultimately inflicted Romney on Massachusetts, and, perhaps, on the rest of the world.

Ian J. Seda Irizarry said...

Don't forget the famous Silber vs Chomsky episode, where they were seconds away from going at each other. Of course, the show ended at precisely that moment were facts were the point of contention.