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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Sunday, July 21, 2013

SELF-REFERENTIALITY

Back in the forties and fifties [and maybe even in the thirties] the secretary of the Harvard Philosophy Department was a lovely woman named Ruth Allen who seemed to be the embodiment of the collective memory of the department.  At a department meeting during my brief stint as a lowly Instructor in Philosophy and General Education a question came up about whether something or other could be done in conformity with Harvard's rules.  No one knew the answer, and a question was dispatched to Ruth Allen to see whether she knew.  Back came the answer, Yes, that could be done.  When one sceptical member of the department asked on what precedent she based this judgment, her answer was, Something she had decided to do in an earlier year!  Shades of the U. S. Supreme Court.

Earlier today I was turning over in my mind an idea for a blog post.  I wanted to use as a title the lovely phrase, "shit to airy fineness spun," which I recalled as coming from Alexander Pope's great eighteenth century attack on his fellow poets, The Dunciad.  "I had better check exactly where it appears in The Dunciad," I thought to myself, so I googled the phrase.  Only one site popped up:  My own blog from 2010, where I used the phrase in my rumination on leftwing cant, "Macros and PC's."

A trifle panicked, I found an online edition of The Dunciad and did a search.  Nothing for "shit to airy fineness spun."  Nothing for "airy fineness."  "Nothing even for "spun!"  Now I know that I did not make up the phrase.  I really did not.  But no amount of Googling ever turns up anything but my own blog.

I have turned into Ruth Allen.

3 comments:

Angus said...

Frank C. Stanford (Notre Dame 1913, B. Litt.) published some undergraduate doggerel called The Three Fates in The Notre Dame Scholastic that begins: "Frail cord of life, a silken thread / Of airy fineness spun." http://www.archives.nd.edu/Scholastic/VOL_0046/VOL_0046_ISSUE_0004.pdf. There is also another poet named Frank Stanford (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Stanford), but the author of "airy fineness spun" predated him.

So it may not be from as august a source as The Dunciad, but "shit from airy fineness spun" still has a nice ring!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Fantastic! Did you just happen to know that, or do you have a better search engine than I do? Thank you. Maybe I am not going nuts.

Magpie said...

Prof.

Now that we are speaking of leftwing cant, cliches, unthinking people, intellectual fashions and such, there is a question I'd like to ask you (as a philosopher, you are probably in the best position to answer).

But, I want to be fair and not put you in an uncomfortable situation; so, let me warn you before you give any answer: this topic could easily degenerate into a flames war; so, I honestly understand if you decide to pass.

What's your opinion of the so called Sokal affair of a few years back? What do you think of post-modern thought, relativism, Nietzche and other things like that?