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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

MORE ABOUT THE LAND OF BLOG


The re-posting of my little Swiftian fantasy triggered a tsunami of comments -- well, three, but since I really do think of this blog as a conversation, that is a lot. So let me respond. First of all, to my friend Warren Goldfarb [who is, as perhaps a few of you may not know, a famous senior logician in the Philosophy Department at Harvard], what on earth is "der shmekel hack"? Google fails me on this one, but it sounds like something I ought to know about.

To James Camion McGuiggan:

What you say strikes a responsive chord in me.  There is something extremely odd about making one's living as a philosopher.  This is a rather recent development, of course, as philosophy goes -- really only in the 18th century did people start to earn their bread as philosophers.  By the way, recall that until Kant was elevated to a professorship at Kรถnigsberg, he was a privat docent, which meant that he was paid by the student.  For those of us who considered the transition from a 2-2 to a 3-3 teaching load the end of an era, it is chastening to recall that the greatest  philosopher since Aristotle lectured fourteen hours a week or more on every conceivable subject.

It is even odder that in the United States there are perhaps eight thousand people whose job description is "Professor of Philosophy."  I have not been to a convention of philosophers in a number of decades, but the last time I attended the annual meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, I recall standing in the crowded lobby of the hotel where the meeting was taking place and thinking to myself, "This could be a meeting of the sales force of United Porta-Toilet Corporation, except that they would be better dressed."  What on earth would Socrates think of eight thousand philosophers?  Did Plato charge Aristotle tuition in the Groves of Academe?  I hope not.

By the way, I don't know about where you are, but in the United States, although the manifest function of higher education is to introduce students to the life of the mind, the latent function [to employ Robert Merton's useful distinction] is to sort too many young people into too few high paying jobs.  We are gatekeepers, essentially.

To Magpie:

Your comment reminds me of the hierarchy of characters in the great comic strip Peanuts.  Charlie Brown talks to his dog, Snoopy.  Snoopy talks to his little bird friend, Woodstock, in language that is printed in very small letters.  Woodstock talks to his even littler bird friends, but Woodstock is so small that what he says is represented simply as a series of tiny exclamation marks, which presumably are comprehensible to the tiny birds.  Well, when I was young, Quine talked to people like Charles Parsons and Hao Wang and Burton Dreben and Hartley Rogers [or, later  on Warren Goldfarb], who in turn talked to folks like me, but in characters too small to be read by the likes of Quine, and all of us little birds talked to one another in equally small characters, understandable by ourselves but probably heard only as high-pitched squeaks by Quine.

Still and all, life was fun among us baby birds.  I still recall all of us going out for a collective Chinese meal, whose cost we shared equally, and trying to eat faster than Hubert Dreyfus, who, thin though he was, wielded chopsticks with deadly speed and accuracy.

4 comments:

James Camien McGuiggan said...

Thanks for the response! Regarding the last paragraph in your response to me, let me out-Tigger you and insist that although the latent function may be what you say it is (my sense (I'm in the UK) is that people are trying to make it so but with a huge amount of fightback from academics, which renders the whole situation messy and confused, which is fine by me, considering the forces ranged against us), as educators and teachers and members of the academy, we have some say in what the function is. Philosophers especially can teach their students about hegemony and Marxism, about how art can change your life in a deep way, about how we have to act politically; more generally, we can undermine the problematic latent function in many and various ways. And some of us do! (With eight thousand philosophers in the U.S. alone you might hope that this battle would be easier, but imagine how much harder again it would be if we didn't have these eight thousand.)

Warren Goldfarb said...

"Shmekel hack" is a somewhat made-up Yiddish expression, by the comic actors Jamie Elman and Eli Batalion (whose four short routines, which I find really funny, can be found at yidlifecrisis.com): "shmekel" is one of the many Yiddish words for the male organ; "hackn" is Yiddish for "to cut". (In traditional Yiddish the word that would have been used is simply "bris".)

I don't think further explanation should be needed, but the fact is that Sullivan has been obsessed with the practice of circumcision: he thinks it is genital mutilation on a par with what is done to women in the Middle East.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Thank you, Warren What is the Twitter acronym for smacking one's head with the palm of one's hand? I should have guessed. He is indeed obsessed about circumcision. Well, as Richard Nixon famously said about himself after losing the California governor's race [I think], we won't have Andrew Sullivan to kick around anymore.

Magpie said...

...!!! :-)