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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

A REPLY TO AN INQUIRY


I awoke this morning to find the following message in the in-box of my e-mail:

“Dear Mr. Wolff,

I am a personal assistant who has been tasked with finding out who Kant is referring to when he states, " Caius is a man, man is mortal; therefore, Caius is mortal." In trying to find this information, I came across your blog.

I will admit, I have not read Kant's works. I have, however, spent the last couple of hours combing through post after post after post about this particular quote from the book and cannot find a single soul who would say who they think Caius is.

In reading these many posts, I have come to the conclusion that Kant is probably referring to Pope Caius as he has been venerated by the Catholic Church as a Saint. Given that title, and the fact that Saint's are given to a quasi-immortal status, I have ascertained that this is who Kant is most likely referring to. My question for you is, do you think that my assumption is correct? or do you have a deeper insight into who he is referring to?

Any information you can share is beneficial to my search. I thank you in advance for any and all help.

Sincerely,
Pamela N.”

Herewith my reply:

“Dear Ms. N,

Thank you very much for your inquiry concerning the identity of the person referred to as Caius by Kant in an example of a valid syllogism.  If you will permit me to say so, this strikes me as a rather odd quest on which to send a Personal Assistant.  Your inquiry reminds me of a charming old one-page short story called “Pet Department - Dog” by the great American humorist James Thurber. https://umail.oit.umass.edu/webmail/themes/graphics/spacer_red.png

I am afraid I cannot be of any assistance, as I have not a clue whether the Caius referred to by Kant is even a real person.  I think it is highly unlikely that he was referring to Pope Caius.  The argument in which the name appears is an example of what medieval philosophers called a syllogism in Barbara – referring to a mnemonic device they invented to help them remember which syllogisms are valid and which are invalid.  A syllogism is said to be valid if the conclusion follows with necessity from the premises, regardless of the truth of the premises or of the conclusion.  The following is an example of an invalid syllogism:  “Some Republicans are people who are in insane asylums.  Some people who are in insane asylums are sane.  Therefore some Republicans are sane.”  This syllogism is invalid, even though I am assured by highly respectable NEW YORK TIMES Op Ed columnists that the conclusion is true [a matter of which I have no personal experience.]

By the way, saints are not quasi-immortal.  They are mortal men and women whose exemplary lives have excused them from the unpleasantness of a stay in Purgatory.  Since they ascend directly to heaven upon their deaths and sit, as it were, at the footstool of God, they are available to intercede with The Almighty on behalf of prayerful sinners.  No one on earth knows for sure which of the dearly departed are saints, but the Roman Catholic Church has for many centuries made a pretty good living from proclaiming certain individuals to be saints, typically after ascertaining that they have been instrumental in working three authenticated miracles.  By and large, if you want to be declared a saint by The Church, it is best either to die painfully or be elected Pope.  Seventeenth century English Protestants, in an admirable show of egalitarian fervor, took to classifying as saints all those who had been elected from all eternity to be among the Saved.  In practice this meant members of their own or affiliated congregations.

I hope this was of some use.  If your duties as a Personal Assistant leave you any free time, you might try actually reading something by Kant, preferably not too long.  Perhaps I might suggest his well-known essay “On the Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives.”

Sincerely,

Robert Paul Wolff

5 comments:

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

"Caius" is a form of "Gaius". Gaius was Gaius Julius Caesar. No?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

That was my first thought, but who knows?

Charles Pigden said...

No! 'Caius' is simply an arbitrary name in an example of a valid inference. It's not meant to be anyone in particular. 'Caius' was in fact a very common Roman name as Kant would have known. For example in the Cambridge edition of Kant's Lectures on Logic, Kant alludes to three other famous Romans who happen to have had the first name Caius apart from Julius Caesar, the two Plinys and Maecenas. If he had meant 'Caesar' he would have said 'Caesar' as in some places in the Logic he does.

Whoever put Ms N on the search for the real Caius sent her on a fool's errand. People like that don't deserve to have research assistants.

formerly a wage slave said...

The Internet has a part to play in this sort of idiocy. Given the sorts of questions it allows one to answer quickly and easily, some inexperienced people start imagining that there are no other sorts of questions.

Moriarty said...

Are you sure she wasn't also saying you had inherited $10m from an unkown African benefactor?

You've been had.