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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, February 16, 2016

ANOTHER REPLY TO WALLACE STEVENS

Another thoughtful comment from Wallace Stevens.  Here it is, in part:

"It appears that Wilmsen, with convincing evidence, pretty well knocks the stuffing out of the idea that the Zhu people are intact representatives of pre-Neolithic, pre-agricultural times. But I am still curious about what can be said about human society in Paleolithic times, while concurring that the Zhu, and other people like them living today, are not a reliable guide. 

You seem to suggest that property, surplus and social hierarchy all begin with agriculture and settled living, although I may be misunderstanding you on this point. But for true hunter-gatherers (I assume that Wilmsen doesn't dispute the existence of such people at SOME time in our past) property would be equal to territory--the land that you used to hunt and to gather. And one can easily imagine blood being shed over such property and hierarchies being established based on control of such property. And why not a surplus too? If game and other items were bountiful through some natural good fortune, or if weaker or less well equipped tribes could be excluded from lands rich in food of various kinds. And if a surplus, then why not trading? It all seems quite plausible, without there being any agriculture or agricultural surplus. Notwithstanding the foregoing, what we do know for near certain is that there were periods of thousands of years where almost nothing changed, in terms of art and technology. These were extremely stable cultures, even if they did, as I am conjecturing, exhibit many features of post-Paleolithic societies.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this."

This poses a genuine puzzle, the answer to which may be forever denied us, despite the imaginative use to which paleontologists have put the available fossil evidence.  The dramatic contrast between the explosive change of the past 10,000 years and the apparent lack of fundamental change for the previous 200,000 is our starting point.  But the paucity of data forces us to retreat from evidence to speculation and theoretical reasoning.  Could there have been political and economic class divisions and hierarchies?  One would think so.  But then, why during 200,000 years no evidence of technological change?  Certainly there could have been, indeed must have been, violent conflicts over food, favorable cave sites, maybe mates, just as there are in other mammalian species.

The Neolithic Revolution is often attributed to the end of the last Ice Age, which affected Mesopotamia, I would think, more than Southern Africa. 

Lord knows I do not have a clue to the answers to these questions, and I do not think paleontologists do either.  There is one data point to keep in mind:  excavations of sites where there are art works and other evidences have led some anthropologists, as I think I mentioned in my lectures, to distinguish homo sapiens, biologically identical with modern human beings over a span of 200,000 years, from the sub-species homo sapiens sapiens, whose appearance is dated perhaps 50,000 years ago, and which is identified as culturally modern as well as biologically modern.  The evidence here, let us recall, comes from such sites as Altamira in Spain and Lascaux in France.  There are San cave paintings as well, but they are only 3000 years old.

One of my lasting regrets is that in 1954, when I was riding my tiny motorcycle from Oxford to Rome, I could have made a detour to Lascaux to see the cave paintings and did not.  Now it is impossible to gain admittance to the cave.


All of which is to say to Wallace Stevens, "I just don't know."

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