Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015


I have read that there are large dead zones in the world's oceans -- places where accumulations of plastic and other inert garbage have virtually killed off life, so that pretty much nothing grows there, from microorganisms to large schools of fish.  That is how I have always experienced the week between Christmas and New Year 's Day -- a spiritual, intellectual, cultural dead zone.  When I was young, this time was filled by the Eastern Division meetings of the American Philosophical Association, but I am afraid those meetings have taken on something of the character of dead zones too. 

What to do?  I have binge watched the first season of Mozart in the Jungle on my Amazon Prime, but the second season is not available until tomorrow.  I have completed my preparations for the first lecture in the Ideological Critique series, but I want to wear a sweater on camera, so I am waiting until it gets cold enough to start filming.  I have analyzed Donald Trump's chances of winning the Republican nomination in more detail than any sane person could possibly desire.  If I had enough socks, I would arrange my sock drawer.

Is there anyone out there with an unanswered question?  Like Gorgias in the Dialogue of the same name, I am in itinerant wise man who claims to be able to talk on any subject the audience may demand.


David Auerbach said...

which is preferable, the version of cassoulet with lamb or a version without?

Acastos said...

I read your book on Kant a couple of years ago, in preparation for an upper-level undergraduate course on Hume and Kant. (I also read your wonderful early essay on Hume.) The book was dense and intricate, requiring quite detailed knowledge of both the A- and B-editions of the Critique. Since I limited myself (and my students) to the B-edition, I was not able to use your analysis, either in my thinking or teaching.

Would you be able to provide a rough summary of your account of the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories, one that will be comprehensible to interested Philosophy majors or graduate students? I seem to recall you've done this kind of thing for Freud and Marx. How about Kant?!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Ah, a deep question indeed. The best cassoulet I ever had was at a restauant across the courtyard from Inn at the Market in Seattle [a location immortalized in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE when Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner -- "meathead" -- walk past it down the hill to the market.] I believe it had lamb, though that was many years ago. So I will go with the lamb.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Acastos, some while back, I wrote a 30,000 word essay under the title "Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason" and posted it day by day on my blog. It is archived in, accessible via the link at the top of this blog. About half to two thirds of the way through I finally get to summarizing my interpretation of the Deduction, on the basis of the First Edition. See whether you can find that, take a look at it and see whether it helps. Then perhaps I can answer questions you may have of a focussed sort.

Acastos said...

As a devoted - not to say, religious - reader of this blog, I'm dismayed to discover I entirely missed those posts! I've now downloaded the Introduction (and, for good measure, also the Hume document) and have started reading it. I'll write again if I have questions, but seeing how you start that Introduction, I feel confident you'll cover all my concerns. (What a profound, and surely correct, diagnosis (Kant's Jacobean struggle) of the weird intractability of the Kantian corpus!) Thanks so much!

Paul said...

On several occasions you've mentioned that long work has led led you to conclude that there is no neutral pou sto from which, by rational deliberation alone, we can decide the appropriate principles of distributive justice on which to base a social order. As a consequence, you maintain that the most fundamental decision each of us makes in life is our choice of comrades. My own theory of justice is a not very coherent kitchen table blend of Rawls, Lomasky and some luck egalitarianism. As I approach retirement I sometimes think that I should spend some time sharpening it up but suspect that my untutored efforts would not leave me with any great satisfaction. I'm interested in your reflections on choice of comrades. Can this sort of choice be usefully placed on a spectrum which might have a Kierkegaardian choice on one end and a Benthamite calculus on the other - or does that sort of characterization of the choice miss something important? Do you think that ultimately incomplete or unsatisfying theories of justice are important guides to or constraints on the choice?

Chris said...

I have a general question. Hell, more a curiosity. Please don't feel obligated to answer it. You seem to never mention any of the major continental thinkers, e.g., Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida,etc. That's fine as far as it goes. But I'm curious IFF you have read them, what accounts for the 1) the silence on their work, and 2) not incorporating it into your discussions over the years?

I'm mostly curious if you have read the continental thinkers and reject them for some reason, or if you simply never read them.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have not read them. I have read Nietzsche, to be sure [three or four books, anyway], and I have plowed all the way through Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY and his philosophy of History, but aside from reading Althusser's READING CAPITAL when I was at DisneyWorld with my children [!!], I have not.

Why not? Well, I read very little, generally speaking. I rely on my antennae to tell me whether a book is something I ought to read, and then I read very intensively. I have simply never felt my antennae quiver when I approached those authors.

Needless to say, I strongly advise my studentsm against behaving this way!

Steven J. said...

Do you have any observations on the evolution of education system-at all or any levels?
Ideas from Ideal of the University became topics discussed with fellow-students and administrators at the time.

enzo rossi said...

Can I re-ask something I asked in an earlier thread?

Your view on identity politics seems refreshingly similar to that of critical race theorist Adolph Reed Jr. What do you make of the recent developments at Yale, Mizzou, Oberlin, etc, if I may ask? I reckon the problems are very different from one campus to the next, but the lists of demands are quite similar.