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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, January 9, 2015

A WORD OF CLARIFICATION

Well, I knew I was letting myself in for it when I posted a list.  The number of visits to this blog blipped up, and, everyone has a candidate for addition or substitution.  Recall the point of the list.  It is not a list of my favorite philosophers, or a list of the people anywhere in the world who have, in my judgment, made important contributions that I consider philosophical.  It is a short list of books [not people] that a graduate student pursuing a professional career as a Professor of Philosophy in America should read before he or she gets the doctorate and goes out to start teaching.  And it is not all the books he or she should read, of course.  Note that it stops in the earlier nineteenth century.  After that, philosophy goes in a number of different directions and there is no longer a single tradition one can identify.  I also simply assume that any graduate student will, in courses, become familiar with whatever contemporary texts his or her professors especially value.

The real point of the list was as part of a warning that no matter what hot questions and modes of philosophical discourse are "in" right now, you can be sure that in  twenty or thirty years [i.e., when the young grad student is still teaching and writing], they no longer will be.  So just reading the journals will prepare you rather badly for a lifetime of ptofessional philosophy.

Now, you may respond that to do serious philosophy well requires reading widely in fields other than philosophy, but if you said that, you would be guilty of teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, as the most casual perusal of this blog or my published works would make clear.

So, go read the twenty-six books on the list, and then we can have a fruitful discussion about what you should read next.

2 comments:

Nick said...

"It is a short list of books [not people] that a graduate student pursuing a professional career as a Professor of Philosophy in America should read before he or she gets the doctorate and goes out to start teaching."

But isn't it a problem for philosophy that a plausible list of required reading for a professional career in philosophy does not have any female or non-Western philosophers? It is not as if China or India (or Korea, or Japan, or...) lack philosophers and do not have philosophical works equal to what you listed. And as Matthew Brown notes, "it is difficult to come up with names that sound as significant as the ones on your list. But is that a statement about their work, or its historical significance, or just our own unconscious biases?" Given the short shrift female philosophers often receive, the latter seems likely.

Moreover, it seems unlikely that feminist philosophy and the philosophy of race are just fads. They introduce important philosophical concerns that often have been ignored, to philosophy's detriment, as well as pointed critiques and valuable extensions of the tradition. If you're worried about choosing any one work here, it seems you could simply say something like you did with medieval philosophy (though admittedly that obscures a whole lot of diversity--Dun Scotus isn't Aquinas who isn't Maimonides who isn't Ibn Tufail).

Philosophy departments, compared to most of the humanities, remain overwhelmingly white and male both with regard to faculty and who we study. Hopefully that will change because there is so much philosophy and so many philosophers of value that are neither. One way for that to change is for our required readings to include female and non-Western philosophers because while their work is as good as any on your list, it is often not treated as such.

In fact, while I suspect most of the people pushing back have read most of the books you recommend (I haven't read Locke's Essay but have read the others), we probably haven't read enough non-Western philosophy. I could come up with a plausible list of 25 Chinese Philosophy Books One Should Read, but not for other traditions. But I also don't think everyone should read Chinese philosophy (though it would be wonderful if people did). I mostly just want people to acknowledge that Chinese (or Indian, or...) philosophy is as much philosophy as Western philosophy is. A list of the books you should read that is exclusively the work of western males may be accurate as far as professional success goes, but that's a rather sad commentary on philosophy departments. Hopefully in the future that will not be the case.

tldr: The existence of a canon--especially one that is exclusively made up of western men--instead of various canons bothers me.

also, as someone who mainly lurks and rarely comments (mainly because most of the time my comment would be "right on!"), I do love reading your blog (and your work), but I'm uncomfortable with your list and especially your defense of it. hopefully I did not sound accusatory or harsh, though tone is hard to control on the Internet.

mesnenor said...

I think Professor Wolff's list is a list aimed at people who are considering studying philosophy in the US. If you're interested in studying Indian philosophy or Chinese philosophy, you should probably go to India or China, and the professors there would be happy to point you to the works that they consider canonical.

A list prepared by a professor from France, referring to French philosophy programs, would have a lot of overlap with the Wolff list. But would probably also include Plotinus, and both the Tractatus and Ethics of Spinoza. And would include works by such figures as Malebranche and Bergson, who are rarely read by American students.