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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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




Total Pageviews

Monday, January 12, 2015

THIS AND THAT

1.  The Wonders of Modern Medicine:  Last Wednesday, before the first meeting of the Marx course, I finally had a cortisone shot in my  painful left elbow.  The entire procedure was almost painless and took about fifteen minutes.  As of yesterday, I am totally pain free.  The doctor told me to wait a week and then start a little routine of exercises to strengthen the tendon.  He said I should do it "until you forget why you are doing it."  Now that the pain is gone and I can do a variety of simple things, like putting on and taking off sweaters, without discomfort, it is difficult even to remember how painful it has been for four and a half months.  Remarkable.

2.  Several comments on the list business, by LFC, Ludwig Richter and others, raised in various ways the notion of a canon, or received list of recognized texts, that has so dominated academic disciplines from the Renaissance onward.  The origin of the notion, of course, lies in the debates over which books of the New and Old Testament shall be authorized or certified or canonical.  My half-serious list of 25 Great Works of Philosophy was, among other things, a satirizing of the notion of a Canon. 

One of the ways of understanding the evolution of the field of Literary Criticism is to see that there is a constant tension between the list of Great Works that  one must master  to enter the field and the insistent demands from outside the walls of the redoubt for admission to the Canon:  Demands that novels be admitted, demands that works by women be admitted, demands that works by African-Americans be admitted, demands that works by or about Gays and Lesbians be admitted, demands that the writings of subaltern populations from the territories conquered and colonized by Europeans be admitted.  With these demands come also the demands that genres not acknowledged as literature be admitted -- movies [or films, as serious students call them], television shows, comic books, and so on.

What does it matter? you might ask.  Ah well, a great deal turns on what counts as part of the Canon:  publication, respectability, employment, tenure, a guaranteed inclusion in Distribution Requirements for the Bachelor's Degree.  Most of you are too young to remember when studying novels [as opposed to reading them for idle amusement] was not a fully respectable occupation for an aspirant to inclusion in the Academy.

3.  Ludwig Richter mentioned Machiavelli's Discourses on The First Ten Books of  Titus Livius.  In the Spring of 1958, having just completed my six months of active duty in the Army as part of my National Guard obligation, I took up a Social Science Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellowship that I had been awarded to study the history of Political Theory.  I proceeded to read my way through the canon of texts in that field, taking notes as I went.  I read Machiavelli's Discourses -- I still have the notes to prove it [as I do for every course I took as an undergraduate or graduate student], but I do not recall a word of it.  I was rather more impressed with the Defensor Pacis of Marcilius of Padua and the Six Books of the Republic of Jean Bodin, I must confess.  I even read Locke's First Treatise of Civil Government.  [Since no one ever reads that work any more, I will just  tell you that it is a crushing refutation of Sir Robert Filmer's claim that the authority of all of the ruling monarchs of Europe can be traced by primogeniture back to God's assignment to Adam of lordship over the earth.  Locke, of course, was holding out for a Social Contract -- see the Second Treatise.]

The six months I spent on the SSRC's dime was, by the way, the only time off in my fifty year career paid for by a grant.  I also had three one semester sabbaticals, which I put to good used.  Now that I am retired and collecting two pensions [one from TIAA-CREF, the other from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts], I am, as it were, on permanent sabbatical. 

2 comments:

Jacob T. Levy said...

I've just started my annual course in medieval and Renaissance political thought-- my leg of a four-semester relay in the history of political thought.

As always, I'll do my disciplinary duty as a political theorist and spend three full weeks on Machiavelli (one and a half each on the Discourses and the Prince)-- longer even than I spend on Augustine or Aquinas.

And as always, I'll do so grudgingly, thinking how much more I'd enjoy devoting those extra classes to Marsilius or Vitoria or Dante.

I understand what's important about Machiavelli; but I've never been able to bring myself to care. In my heart of hearts, my sympathies are with the philosophers on this one.

Ludwig Richter said...

Professor Wolff, one small correction: LFC was actually the one who brought up "Discourses on Livy."

By the way, I've also read Locke's First Treatise of Civil Government. But that's because I didn't know any better. Still don't.