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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A RESPONSE TO TWO COMMENTS ON THE FIRST LECTURE


Several people have responded to my first YouTube lecture with interesting questions, which I shall try to address here.  The one real drawback of this peculiar mode of communication [lecturing to a camera on my desk and then posting the result on YouTube] is that there cannot be any real-time give and take as in a normal lecture.  There is no way I can edit the videos to incorporate my responses, so anyone who watches the video next month, or next year, or -- God help us -- next century will have no way of knowing how I have responded.  Oh well.

"Michael writes:  I look forward to your lecture! I have two questions, one logistical, one a bit more complicated. 
1) What chapters of Mannheim's work do you suggest we have read before the lecture?
2) I'm curious about Mannheim's understanding of the utopian point of view. He specifically links it to the thinking of oppressed groups, stating that the focus on the alleviation of one particular issue makes it more difficult for them to see the world as it is. As stated, this seems possibly true--anyone who thinks that if, say, racism would go away all the political problems in the world would be gone hasn't looked closely at other modes of oppression, for example. But this seems like it would contest the premises of something like standpoint theory, which states that those who belong to oppressed groups are best suited to understand their oppression. Would Mannheim reject such a view? It seems like it would go against his sympathies, but he does seem to be privileging a certain kind of observer. (At this point I should probably note that I've only read the first chapter, so this may be cleared up later.)"


As to chapters:  For the second lecture [being posted this Friday], Chapter Two.  For the third [and final] lecture on Mannheim, Chapter Four.  There is a great deal else in the book which I shall not talk about, needless to say.
Now, as for standpoint theory -- this is a large question.  The short answer is that what Mannheim says is really incompatible with standpoint theory, which was, I believe, developed long after he wrote.  His analysis is quite incompatible with the view that any social group has a privileged access to insight into the real nature of social reality.  Mannheim's discussion of total ideologies [weltanschauungen] makes that clear, I think.

Now, this does not settle the matter, it just situates Mannheim in that debate.  I think it is clear that oppressed groups can achieve an ironic understanding of their social situation [think of women, or African-American slaves, for example] that is demonstrably superior to the understanding of their oppressors, but Mannheim would insist, with some justification, I think, that nevertheless their understanding is shaped by [distorted by?] their interested perspective.

I think I need to mull this over some more.  A very good question.
Wallace Stevens said:  "I also enjoyed Lecture I.  One point that you made got my attention in particular, although I may have misunderstood it, or mis-remembered. (I was eating my lunch and not able to take notes at the time!) You seem to say, or to agree with Mannheim, that there is a marked difference between academic discourse and political discourse: that the former follows rules of fact, evidence and logic, which all sides to a question respect, however heated the argument, while the latter uses arguments of various kinds to "unmask" and, by so doing, discredit the other party. I hope I have got this right. If so, what occurred to me was that, while this relatively civilised state of affairs may exist in math and engineering--2 + 2 can't be 5 just because we wish it were so--my experience in the social sciences is quite different. For example, the neoclassical economists think the Marxists are talking nonsense and the Marxists repay the compliment! Both accuse the other of being "ideological"--i.e., refusing, due to the fog of dogma, to see or admit to what is "really" going on.  Now, I'm sure I'm not pointing out anything that you haven't already noticed yourself many times over. So could you perhaps clarify or provide further comment on the distinction between academic/political discourse. It seems to be a key concept and I feel that I, at least, have missed something."

This observation illustrates perfectly the drawbacks of the video/YouTube format.  Wallace Stevens is of course perfectly correct.  In my lecture, I was trying to capture Mannheim's perspective from the 1930's, but I spoke in a way that suggested I was describing present-day debates.  Had this all taken place face to face, he would have raised his question and I would have clarified my remarks before continuing.  My  apologies for the unclarity.

We are so accustomed now to debates that are overtly and unabashedly ideological that it is difficult to capture Mannheim's sense of things eighty years ago.  It is fascinating to me to read today what liberal economists like Paul Krugman write and watch them castigating their conservative opponents for willful ideologically motivated distortions and denials of reality while all the while exhibiting a complete incapacity to subject their own opinions to the same sort of penetrating critique.  I tried to say something about that in my second lecture [coming up this Friday.]

I thank both of you for sharp and interesting questions.  Keep them coming!

1 comment:

Michael said...

Thank you for the response! I'm glad you found it interesting.