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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

A RESPONSE TO SOME LENGTHY AND INTERESTING COMMENTS

My obsession with preparation for my lectures combined with the frigid cold here in the Southland has numbed my brain and made me remiss in responding to some of your comments, so while I wait for it to get light enough so that I can walk without slipping and falling on the remaining icy patches, I shall attempt to make amends.

First, a quick reply to Andrew Blais a propos Quine [whose middle name, a correspondent informs me, is spelled Van Orman, not van Orman]:  Quine was, in my experience, a witty and elegant stylist, in speech as well as on the page, and I am sure he was well aware of the voice he adopted in his writings -- see, for example, the wonderful opening lines of "On What There Is."  But I do not think the indeterminacy of translation thesis is his effort to deal with the complexities of voice.  The problems of translation are, of course, a standard theme in literary studies, but it is not prudent for a monolingual idiot like me to say too much about them.

Second:  Jerry Fresia, clearly more of a Tigger even than I, invites me to view the events in Greece as the first faint suggestions of a new day dawning.  Lord, I am ever ready to see a drop of water in a glass and call it half full, so I shall acquiesce.  I must say that there has been a striking sea-change in the public discourse on matters of inequality, in the streets [the Occupy Movement] and in the halls of Academe [Piketty and all].  That is scarcely enough, but it is not nothing, and I choose with wanton disregard for evidence to see it as a rebirth of class struggle.  With regard to class struggle, I have been reflecting on the fascinating inability of ostensibly progressive Democrats to utter the words "working class."  Even Elizabeth Warren speaks endlessly of "the Middle Class," with no seeming awareness of the fact that the locution implies the existence of someone below, as well as someone above, that social position.  In America, the unmentionable position below the Middle Class has come to be identified with the Ghetto, which is to say with people NOT WHITE, and so not to be evoked when one is trying to speak inclusively.  I will know there is a new wind blowing when some aspirant to major public office stands up and declares "I speak for the Working Class."

And so we come to the matter of Hegel.  I officially thrown in the towel.  I freely confess that my inability to appreciate Hegel is a lamentable, but alas irreparable, failing on my part.  Add him to the list of twenty-five!  Praise him on Saint's Days!  Remember him in your prayers!  Acknowledge his centrality to the coming to self-awareness of Western Civilization!  But spare an old man and do not require me to read him.  The defense of Hegel offered by classstruggle in the lengthy quotation from Walter Kaufman is, I admit, completely new to me.  Hegel, Kaufman tells us, was a witty and sprightly writer who chose not to reveal that fact on the page because -- He vass German.  [I cannot help thinking of Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein.]  This apparently is the converse of the explanation that Descartes could not help writing clearly because he was French.  I had not realized that when it comes to literary style, Nationality is Destiny.  But so be it.

Finally, a brief response to LFC, who notes that Rawls does in fact mention Freud in A Theory of Justice, in a fashion that makes it clear that he had read him.  I stand corrected.  Jack was ferociously smart, and I have no doubt at all that he had read much by Freud.  I should say, by way of curious self-exculpation, that I found A Theory of Justice so stultifyingly boring after the first third or so that I actually managed to read through it only once before writing my book on it.  I am absolutely certain that this fact had not the slightest effect on the correctness of my analysis in Understanding Rawls, but if someone wants to accuse me of being no sort of scholar at all, I accept, indeed, I embrace that characterization.  Perhaps I should add that if there are any young apprentice philosophers reading this, that is no way to behave as a serious professional philosopher.  In this regard, you must reverse the old political advice and do as I say, not as I do.

Well, the rosy fingers of dawn are creeping upward in the Eastern sky, so I shall venture out into the 20 degree cold.

12 comments:

David Auerbach said...

For timid politicians in the left of the Democratic I offer, instead of 'working class', 'working people'. Or, for better pre-emptive pandering, 'poor and working people' which has, for the timid, a useful scope ambiguity.

Magpie said...

@David

That, it seems, is the origin of the "working poor" that we hear about in Australia every now and again.

As far as I can tell, it's become a bit of a trademark among the socially-conscious wealthy: representatives of charities and the occasional Labor politician.

Great quote, by the way.

Joseph Streeter said...

On reactions to Rawls, a while ago I came across this passage in a short piece by Raymond Geuss, recording a contemporary reaction to Rawls' Theory of Justice:
"To those engaged (in 1971) in the various and diverse forms of intense political activity which now collectively go under the title of “the Sixties,” Rawls’s Theory of Justice seemed an irrelevance. I completed and defended my doctoral dissertation in the spring of 1971, and I recall my doctoral supervisor, who was a man of the Left but also an established figure and full professor at Columbia University in New York, mentioning to me that there was a new book out by Rawls. In the same breath, he told me that no one would need to read it because it was of merely academic interest—an exercise in trying to mobilize some half-understood fragments of Kant to give a better foundation to American ideology than utilitarianism had been able to provide. Many will think that that was a misjudgment, but I think it was prescient. I cite it in any case to give contemporary readers a sense of the tenor of the 1970s."
I was curious as to who the professor might have been.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

What a wonderful quote. Well, I know I did not direct Ray's dissertation, so it might have been Sidney Morgenbesser, who was brilliant enough to intuit the essece of what Rawls was doing just from a peak or a sniff at it. The Spring of '71 was my last semester at Columbia.

Matt said...

I'm about 95% sure that Robert Denoon Cummings was Geuss's dissertation director at Columbia, for what that's worth.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

That is right. I tried [and failed, for some reason] to post a comment to the effect that Wikipedia says that Bob Cumming was Ray's director. As I tried to say, good for Bob!

Joseph Streeter said...

It is a nice quote. While I think Geuss' criticisms of Rawls are sometimes a bit unfair, I am sympathetic to their general thrust.

classtruggle said...

My apologies -- I should have made it clear that the quote was not to be read in such a way as to imply readers should like/read Hegel or that the Walter Kaufmann knew better than us average mortals. The quote about Hegel's style was somewhat related to your post concerning the literary aspects of Capital Volume I and since you mentioned Hegel, I thought I would share a few lines from Kaufmann [the points about Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein and Descartes not being able to write clearly because he was French were very funny by the way].

[And if I may digress for a minute -- concerning the literary aspects of Volume I which Marx intended (if I am not mistaken) to be a contribution to World Literature (Weltliteratur), I would like to share my personal favourite passage with you all (found in Chapter 10) and ask how you feel about it. Taking up the role in proletarian political economy that Smith and Bentham and the rest took up in bourgeois political economy, Marx expressed the perspective of the other class involved in the exchange, giving voice to the objective situation of the sellers of labour-power when he wrote: "Suddenly the voice of the labourer, which had been stifled in the storm and stress of the process of production, rises:

The commodity that I have sold to you differs from the crowd of other commodities, in that its use creates value, and a value greater than its own. That is why you bought it. That which on your side appears a spontaneous expansion of capital, is on mine extra expenditure of labour-power. You and I know on the market only one law, that of the exchange of commodities. And the consumption of the commodity belongs not to the seller who parts with it, but to the buyer, who acquires it. To you, therefore, belongs the use of my daily labour-power. But by means of the price that you pay for it each day, I must be able to reproduce it daily, and to sell it again. Apart from natural exhaustion through age, &c., I must be able on the morrow to work with the same normal amount of force, health and freshness as to-day. You preach to me constantly the gospel of “saving” and “abstinence.” Good! I will, like a sensible saving owner, husband my sole wealth, labour-power, and abstain from all foolish waste of it. I will each day spend, set in motion, put into action only as much of it as is compatible with its normal duration, and healthy development. By an unlimited extension of the working-day, you may in one day use up a quantity of labour-power greater than I can restore in three. What you gain in labour I lose in substance. The use of my labour-power and the spoliation of it are quite different things. If the average time that (doing a reasonable amount of work) an average labourer can live, is 30 years, the value of my labour-power, which you pay me from day to day is 1/(365×30) or 1/10950 of its total value. But if you consume it in 10 years, you pay me daily 1/10950 instead of 1/3650 of its total value, i.e., only 1/3 of its daily value, and you rob me, therefore, every day of 2/3 of the value of my commodity. You pay me for one day’s labour-power, whilst you use that of 3 days. That is against our contract and the law of exchanges. I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place. You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the odour of sanctity to boot; but the thing that you represent face to face with me has no heart in its breast. That which seems to throb there is my own heart-beating. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity."

Good stuff, would you not agree?]]

classtruggle said...

But what made Kaufmann so endearing to me, anyway was his defense of Hegel against the attacks of Popper and other like-minded critics who accused him of, for example, influencing the Nazis, among many other nasty things (see Kaufmann's 'From Shakespeare to Existentialism' which is also available online on MIA (https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/kaufmann.htm).


There is in Hegel, I believe, a real treasure of ideas, often not worked out, just implicit in his argument and waiting, in a sense, for another step in which they can be put into a cogent argument and made into a history of human development.

[While I am at it, I might as well share some Hegel quotes too, especially the interesting materialist arguments he made:


"In Austria, in Bavaria, in Bohemia, the Reformation had already made great progress, and though it is commonly said that when truth has once penetrated men’s souls, it cannot be rooted out again, it was indisputably stifled in the countries in question, by force of arms, by stratagem or persuasion. The Slavonic nations were agricultural. This condition of life brings with it the relation of lord and serf. In agriculture the agency of nature predominates; human industry and subjective activity are on the whole less brought into play in this department of labor than elsewhere. The Slavonians therefore did not attain so quickly or readily as other nations the fundamental sense of pure individuality – the consciousness of Universality ... and could not share the benefits of dawning freedom. (Philosophy of History, p.386 p.420.)

[I think Hegel is basically arguing that religious views and those liberating movements which arise in their development, must be sought in people's economic activity]


“A real state and a real government arise only after a distinction of estates has arisen, when wealth and poverty become extreme, and when such a; condition of things presents itself that a large portion of the people can no longer satisfy its necessities in the way in which it has been accustomed to do.” (Philosophy of History, pp.85-6.)

[Hegel's view on the state as the product of economic development]

"The real beginning and original foundation of states has been rightly ascribed to the introduction of agriculture along with marriage, because the principle of agriculture brings with it the formation of the land and consequentially exclusively private property ...; the nomadic life of savages, who seek their livelihood from place to place, it brings back to the tranquillity of private rights and the assured satisfaction of their needs. Along with these changes, sexual love is restricted to marriage, and this bond in turn grows into care for a family, and personal possessions. (Hegel’s Philosophy of Right)

[Hegel considers the historic appearance of marriage to be closely related to economic history]

"Such a Valley-Plain is China, India ... Babylonia ... Egypt. In these regions extensive Kingdoms arise, and the foundation of great states begins. For agriculture, which prevails here as the primary principle of subsistence for individuals, is assisted by the regularity of seasons, which require corresponding agricultural operations; property in land commences, and the consequent legal relations ..." (Philosophy of History, p.89.)

[Hegel argues that civilized life begins in the valleys owing its existence to the fertility of the rivers]

“keep to the historical, empirical soil”]

classtruggle said...

Marx and Engels owe much to the 'old man' [which is what Hegel was called by his peers apparently, or so Terry Pinkard claimed in his 'Hegel: A Biography' (2000) when he wrote:
"However rebellious against the ways of the Seminary Hegel became, he remained the industrious, serious fellow he always was; his friends at the Seminary referred to him by the nickname 'the old man'... He was not content with simply pub crawling, carousing and making merry; he was still reading quite a bit and still remained extremely serious about learning" -- though as another side note I would pose the question to Pinkard whether all 'work' and no play make Hegel a dull boy... ? Because I suppose this old expression falls down when it comes to Hegel. His ideas were/are anything but dull and the note by Pinkard is a bit pedestrian in its characterization of Hegel; it was probably not just hard work, but inspired work that kept Hegel at it. Merely hard work does make one dull and Hegel was anything but. Would you not agree?]

But I can understand why some people may not take a liking to the old lad, whether it is his style or argument (developmental model which for Hegel, at least in his Philosophy of Right, ended with a constitutional monarchy i.e., an incomplete bourgeois revolution to use Marxist terminology). Even during Marx's time there was already a revolt against him and in some cases, the criticisms were nasty and vulgar (Marx dedicated a few lines to defending Hegel in the Afterward to the Second German Edition of his late, sort of majestic late work CAPITAL volume I when he wrote: "The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre ‘Epigonoi who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell."

Hegel is hard to grasp, and expositions of his philosophy by people like Peter Singer are a good example of just how hard he is (no offense if anyone here is a fan of his).

To end this very long comment which has become a source of amusement for my wife who thinks it is more like a short paper than anything else, I would like to share an extremely long quote from Kaufmann's very short book entitled 'Hegel: A Reinterpretation' (1966). It inspired me in my earlier years and offers some rich insights into Hegel's philosophy as well as touch on some of the literary influences (Goethe, especially) on both Hegel and Marx:

"The basic idea of the Phenomenology of the Spirit is that a philosopher should not confine him or herself to views that have been held but penetrate these to the human reality they reflect. It is not enough to consider propositions, or even the content of consciousness; it is worthwhile to ask in every instance what kind of spirit would entertain such propositions, hold such views, and have such a consciousness. Every outlook in other words, is to be studied not merely as an academic possibility but as an existential reality.

classtruggle said...

Even this might afford considerable scope for the imagination: one might draw one sharp vignette after another, probing characteristic weaknesses. But Hegel is fascinated by the sequence. How would a human being come to see the world this way or that? And to what extent does the road on which a point of view is reached color the view? Moreover, it should be possible to show how every single view in turn is one-sided and therefore untenable as soon as it is embraced consistently. Each must therefore give way to another, until finally the last and most comprehensive vision is attained in which all previous views are integrated. That way the reader would be compelled – not by rhetoric or by talk of compelling him, but by the successive examination of forms of consciousness – to rise from the lowest and least sophisticated level to the highest and most philosophical; and on the way he would recognize stoicism and skepticism, Christianity, and Enlightenment, Sophocles and Kant.

This is surely one of the most imaginative and poetic conceptions ever to have occurred to any philosopher. The parallel to Dante’s journey through hell and purgatory to the blessed vision meets the eye. The comparison with Goethe’s Faust may be elaborated briefly.

Two quotation from ‘The First Part of the Tragedy’ could have served Hegel as mottoes. The first of these passages (lines 1770-75) he knew from Faust: A Fragment (1790):
And what is portioned out to all mankind,
I shall enjoy deep in myself, contain
Within my spirit summit and abyss,
Pile on my breast their agony and bliss,
And thus let my own self grow into theirs, unfettered

though Hegel would scarcely have added, like Faust:

Till as they are, at last I, too, am shattered.

These lines express much of the spirit of the book; the author is not treating us to a spectacle, letting various forms of consciousness pass in review before our eyes to entertain us as he considers it necessary to re-experience what the human spirit has gone through in history and he challenges the reader to join him in this Faustian undertaking. As long as one does less than this, one lives with blinders on and is, to use an existentialist term, unauthentic. Most people prefer to use a term from Jaspers’ work (1919) to live in a shell (Gehause), hiding from the many possibilities. Hegel asks them not merely to read about such possibilities but to identify with each in turn until their own self has grown to the point where it is contemporary with world spirit. The reader, like the author, is meant to suffer through each position, and to be changed as he/she proceeds from one to the other. Mea res agitur: my own self is at stake. Or, as Rilke put it definitively in the last line of his great sonnet on an “Archaic Torso of Apollo”: du must dein Leben andern – you must change your life.”

Another quotation from Faust that would be an appropriate motto was not included in the Fragment of 1790 and appeared in print the year after the Phenomenology, when the whole of Part One was published in 1808:

What from your fathers you received as heir
Acquire, if you would possess it!

classtruggle said...

We do not truly possess our humanity and culture as long as we live only in the present, in our accidental environment. We have inherited priceless works of philosophy and literature but have to exert ourselves to master them and then truly our own. In the process, to say it once more, we are bound to be changed.

The comparison with Goethe’s play can be fruitfully extended by calling attention to the function of negation. In the Prologue of Faust (1808) the Lord says to Mephistopheles:

I never hated those who were like you,
Of all the spirits that negate
The knavish jester gives me least to do,
For man’s activity can easily abate,
He soon prefers uninterrupted rest;
To give him this companion hence seems best,
Who roils and must as devil help create.

Goethe’s ‘uninterrupted rest’ invites comparison with Hegel’s ‘inert simplicity’ or ‘immediacy’ in the preface to the Phenomenology, and as one reads the preface one cannot fail to note how similar the role of negation is in that book and in Faust. Even more obviously, people like to settle down in one position or another, and the negative power of criticism – and occasionally caricature worthy of a jester – keeps them moving up the ladder.

Later in Faust’s study, Mephistopheles himself explains the function of his negativity. To Faust’s question, ‘Enough, who are you then?’ he replies:
Part of that force which would
Do evil evermore, and yet creates the good.
Faust: What is it that this puzzle indicates?
Mephisto: I am the spirit that negates.
And rightly so, far all that comes to be
Deserves to perish wretchedly;
‘Twere better nothing would begin.
Thus everything that your terms, sin,
Destruction, evil represent-
That is my proper element

This is both a central motif of the Phenomenology and an essential feature of Hegel’s later philosophy, especially of his vision of history. Every finite position is destroyed, but tragic as this perpetual destruction unquestionable is, in the long run it serves a positive end by leading to a greater good. History is the realm of sin, destruction and evil but out of these terrors and human agonies freedom emerges and grows. The sacrifices are not all in vain; the prices is one that leads to salvation and a great vision. Without destruction and suffering the vision could never be had; without the negative, humanity would seek uninterrupted rest."


Thanks for lending me your eyes and my apologies for the extremely long posts =)