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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Monday, November 16, 2015

THE OLD PHILOSOPHER RETURNS, SADDER BUT NO WISER


I had a light-hearted post prepared for my return, but the events of Friday evening in Paris require some comment, even though I have absolutely nothing to add to what you will all have learned from news reports and television and web commentary.

Friday evening, after a day spent packing and cleaning the apartment, Susie and I went to dinner at Le Petit Pontoise, a local restaurant that we have long enjoyed.  [I had ravioles dauphinés and  joues de porc -- a red wine stew of pig cheeks and vegetables].  At about nine-thirty we walked home and went to bed.  A bit after midnight, the phone rang.  Our Paris phone has a jaunty ring tone quite different from the harsh sound I knew as a boy.  The first time I heard it, I had no idea where the sound was coming from.  When I picked up the phone and heard the voice of my son, Tobias, saying "Dad?" I had a terrible fear that something awful had happened in America.  Why else would he be calling in the middle of the night?  But his first words were, "Are you all right?"  It was then that I learned what had happened.  While we talked, I surfed the web for news and he responded to a text message from his brother, Patrick.

Susie and I spent much of Saturday watching CNN as the terrible story unfolded.  Many people, including some of you, very kindly sent e-mail messages of concern, and I responded to them all, assuring people that we were well.

Even though the attacks took place only a mile or two from our apartment, we were as distant from them as we would have been had we already been back in Chapel Hill.  All of the incidents occurred on the Right Bank, north of the Seine.  My turf is the Left Bank, and save when I circumnavigate the 4th arrondissement during my morning walk, I rarely venture north of the river.  I had never heard of the Bataclan theater or the Cambodian restaurant that came under attack.

The next morning, the Saturday Place Maubert food market, the largest of the week, was cancelled, an eerie sight since all the stanchions and awnings had been put up on Friday before the attacks occurred.  Shakespeare and Co., the famous English language bookstore opposite Notre Dame, was closed "until the situation is clarified" but people were in the streets.  Perhaps the only visible response to the attacks was an increased police presence.

What do I think of the events?  I will leave geo-political analysis to those who know more about the Middle East and Islam.  My overwhelming feeling is one of world-weary sadness.  Human beings are the only mammals who regularly kill large numbers of their own species, not for food or sex or territory, but simply out of anger or despair or boredom or religious ecstasy.  The communicants of the great Abrahamic religions have been slaughtering people for centuries -- indeed, for millennia -- and when their enthusiasm for blood wanes, secular mass murderers step forward to fill the void.  Perhaps it is because I will soon be eighty-two, but I am weighed down by the fragility and brevity of our insignificant moment of life.  So many of our greatest works of art are either explorations of this blood lust or celebrations of it.  "Make love, not war," we said in the Sixties. 

Fat chance.

3 comments:

Lounger said...

I am relieved you are home and safe.

"...our insignificant moment of life" -- No..Your blog has not been "insignificant" in my life. Significance occurs within our lives, no matter the brevity.

Magpie said...

Welcome back, Prof.

formerly a wage slave said...

I had wanted to write "Amen, Brother"--writing as one Atheist to another, and writing from a country of atheists (The Czech Republic), but I want to say something else.
Leiter quoted your remarks and when I read it, I missed your lovely "fat chance" until I re-read it at your blog. That's a bit of genuine USA English that I don't hear in the CR.
But I've tried to talk to my Advanced English students about this. (Very sadly, I do not currently teach Philosophy, and it makes my life more of a misery than I can describe.--And I say that without self-pity.)

And what I've shown my students, and would like to point out to you is an article from The Nation linked at Leiter's blog. (HT BL) http://www.thenation.com/article/what-i-discovered-from-interviewing-isis-prisoners/

That article may have flaws, but about one thing, it's right: the details matter, and it's no good speculating about people when you could speak to them.

On the other hand, the diagnosis sounded like one influential approach to the violence of gangs in the USA. So, either it's a theory influencing that article, or there is a truth behind the theory. But if young men resort to violence because they have been disrespected, then there is a logic to events--even if it is one which is systematically disregarded and ignored by a cruel system.

I am myself losing heart at this moment, but I shall continue: we have only certain familiar tools with which to face such enormities, and you know as well as I do what they are. So, don't lose heart. I think here you need to remember Freud, and his insistence that we look for the causes behind the apparently irrational.

I do not know now whether this makes any sense. But I am saying to you much of what I've just written to my eighty-nine year old mother, who is frightened by a world which seems to be getting worse. I have taken to telling my students that the world can get worse, and that this is a truth I was not allowed to know growing up in the USA. And the only tools we have are difficult to acquire and can be passed on only with difficulty--especially with the current barbarism sweeping universities....

Well, I can't continue coherently; so I will stop. Please forgive me for not producing a bit of elegant text with a beginning, middle and end. I hoped to repay you in some small way for what I've gotten from my erratic reading of your blog.