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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Thursday, December 4, 2014

SINCE YOU ASKED


i continue to write with the forefinger of my right hand in a desperate effort to allow my left elbow to heal.  perhaps tomorrow the orthopedic specialist will give me a shot of cortisone and put me out of my misery.

my story about nigel called to mind another story which has a happier ending and in addition has the great merit of being true.   in the spring of 1952 i took harry austryn wolfson's great course on the philosophy of spinoza.  wolfson's final exam [closed book] was three hours long and consisted of three essay questions.  i had studied very hard [unlike nigel] and tackled each question with enthusiasm.  i wrote feverishly until i had answered all three questions fully, only to discover that i still had another hour.  i could of course have handed in my blue book and left, but this was the only written work in the course -- no quizzes, hour exams, or papers -- and i did have another hour.  so i settled down and filled another blue book with everything i could recall about the ETHICS, whether it was relevant to the exam questions or not.  i guess the old man appreciated my energy, because he gave me an a  [this was back before you got an a at harvard just for showing up.]

one more story with a less up-beat ending.  that same year, i took a year-long humanities general education course, my section of which was taught by an inoffensive little man with the curiously appropriate name mr. brown.  one of the readings, which we actually were expected to complete the first weekend, was a penguin paperback prose translation of the ODYSSEY.  i was also taking willard van orman quine's graduate course on mathematical logic and hao wang's graduate seminar on set theory, and as you can imagine, i considered myself rather too good for a survey humanities course [i was all of seventeen at the time.]  i whipped through the ODYSSEY and did not give it another thought.  the first quiz in the course included ten spot identifications, one of which was 'nausicaa,'  by then, we had also read thucydides on the peloponnesian war.  i figured nausicaa was a city state, but i could not recall whether it was allied with athens or sparta, so i tossed a mental coin and wrote 'city-state allied with sparta in the peloponnesian war.'  mr. brown had the good grace not to mark it wrong.  he simply put a series of exclamation points next to it.

1 comment:

Magpie said...

It’s not so much the gist of your stories, but a contrast with Mr. Brown that reminded me of this.

I had to present the last general physics 101 exam. The professor, a lady who shall remain unnamed, passed a blank sheet, no lines, so that those attending the exam could write their names in block letters, their student ID numbers and sign.

When the sheet reached me, I noticed the previous signatories had left room enough above for another line. So, in addition to my line, I wrote Damien Thorn, ID number 666, and signed The Antichrist. For those not in the know, “Damien Thorn” was the protagonist of a 1970s-1980s series of schlocky horror movies called The Omen.

Why did I do that? Frankly, I don’t know. Stupid things kids do. I had just seen the movies. Maybe you could say that the Devil made me do it.

Anyway, I quickly forgot the whole thing and started answering the exam, until I noticed the Professor, counting the students over and over again, and checking back at the list.

Finally, puzzled, she asked: “Did anyone sign twice?”

No answer.

After discovering the “new” student; she was clearly upset. She said, her voice dripping sarcasm and barely contained anger: “Haha. Very funny. Who signed as The Antichrist?”

You could hear some giggling, here and there (which made her all the more upset), but again, no answer.

“Well, if nobody comes forward, I’ll suspend the exam”.

To cut a long story short, the Professor quickly recovered and changed her mind. She realized, I suppose, she was making a storm in a cup of tea, as it were.

I finished the exam rather quickly, and gave it to her and; as I passed the exam to her, I told her that, yes, ma’am, I was the Devil.

-----

Over ten/fifteen years later, in a social function, can you guess who I stumbled upon?

Her first words: “Deliver us from every evil! Do you have a brother who studied at such and such place?”

I still don’t know whether she was joking or not.