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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Saturday, March 16, 2013

THE BANALITY OF EVIL

The title of my post today is taken, of course, from Hannah Arendt's famous work on the 1963 trial of Adolf Eichman, Hitler's architect of the Holocaust.  In my Memoir, I tell the story of a brief encounter with Arendt in the 60's, during my time as a Columbia University philosophy professor.  I gave a lecture on John Stuart Mill at a session of a faculty seminar series at Columbia, and Arendt, whom I knew casually, attended.  My lecture was taken from an essay I had published as my contribution to a little volume called A Critique of Pure Tolerance authored by Herbert Marcuse, Barrington Moore, Jr., and myself, in which I beat up on old J. S. pretty bad.  At the end of the lecture, Arendt came up to say hello.  She was pretty clearly not too thrilled with my talk, but she asked, politely, what I was working on.  I replied that I was hard at work on a book on Kant's ethics.  When I said this she brightened visibly, smiled, and said, "Ah, yes.  It is so much better to spend time with Kant!"

I thought of her remark this morning as I was wondering what I might say today on my blog.  During the past week and more, while I have been writing my unsatisfactory three-part unfinished essay on the concept of money, interrupted by the posting of my little paper on The Color Purple, America's political clown show has continued, complete with the bizarrerie of the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, known familiarly as CPAC.  I have feelings about what has been happening politically in America, but it would be too much to say that I have thoughts, which would imply that America's politics have a formal structure adequate to support rational discourse, and about that I have serious doubts.  [Compare the well-known passage in the Parmenides (130C) where Plato has the young Socrates question whether "hair or dirt or mud or any other trivial and undignified objects" have Forms.] 

Still and all, we live in this world, and it behooves us to engage with it as it is, not -- pace the Utopian Socialists -- as we wish it were.  So I shall try to find something to say that is  "useful or agreeable to myself or others," to quote David Hume's description of those things about which we experience a sentiment of approbation. 

Well, in the course of complaining about the abysmal state of contemporary American politics, I have managed to allude to Hannah Arendt, Herbert Marcuse, Barrington Moore, Jr., John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, Alice Walker, Plato, Socrates, Parmenides, and David Hume.  Not a bad day's work.

8 comments:

Don Schneier said...

I have some of the rudiments in place for an 'Evil of Banality' piece. Projected subtitle: 'How America is Unlike Nazi Germany.'

Will said...

Don't forget the utopian socialists. You dropped that too. Saint-Simon, Robert Owen, and that other French guy whose name I always forget.

Will said...

Fourier. It was definitely Fourier.

Chris said...

Wolff,
Can you put the JS Mill essay up on box.net?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am not sure. It is in THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, which I think you can "borrow" from Amazon if you have a Kindle, but I do not have a digital copy of it. Let me see what I can find out.

Bridget Cotter said...

Hi. Do you remember what it was about your account of Mill that Arendt objected to?

Bridget Cotter said...

Hi. Do you remember what it was about your account of Mill that Arendt objected to?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I don't think she objected to any particular points in the essay. I had launched a slash and burn attack on Mill, and I think she thought that the object of my attack was not worth the effort or attention. In effect, if I can really pull this one out of thin air, she thought I was slumming, intellectually, by talking about Mill, and when I said I was working on Kant, she was pleased and relieved that I wasn't hopeless. By the way, welcome to the blog.