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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016


A long direct flight, Paris to RDU -- I had the great pleasure of seeing Manhattan from 40,000 feet -- couldn't spot Zabar's at the elevation but it was there.  I spent part of the flight re-reading my book on the First Critique by way of preparation for my lectures.  I was appalled by how much of it I had forgotten.

My lectures will resemble the drawing in The Little Prince of a boa constrictor that has eaten an elephant [or alternatively, of a bowler hat.]  That is to say, I will cruise along easily and smoothly until I get to the First Edition Deduction, at which point my commentary will balloon and go on for some weeks, before I resume my leisurely stroll through the text.  I hope the students in the lectures, and the dozens, even scores, of people who watch them on YouTube, will read the text as they follow my lectures.

This should be exciting.


wallyverr said...

I feel like I've been swallowed by the boa constrictor.

I found a new paperback copy of the Kemp Smith translation in a London university bookstore, and am trying to read 10 or so pages a day. I’m just underlining text and scribbling a bit in the margins; not making detailed notes, let alone writing summaries. But I hope that I will manage to complete a first reading of the text by the time the UNC term starts in late August. I am now up to B129, on the brink of the first edition (A95) version of the Deduction.

The Kemp Smith and Paton commentaries are both online at (and possibly elsewhere), but I'm trying not to look at them yet, until I've finished a first reading.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Good for you! How wonderful to encounter it for the first time. It is sixty-three years since I first read it. I did not have the money to buy a copy, so I took it out of the library. My two close friends and fellow madrigal singers bought me my own copy as a graduation present at the end of that year. I read it until it fell apart, had it rebound, and bought a newer copy to work with. In that old copy, there are passages where I have written question marks. Then those are crossed out and I have written "Oh yes, I see.' And now I cannot recall either what puzzled me or what I later saw that cleared up my befuddlement.

I hope the lectures are useful.

s. wallerstein said...

Maybe you can explain in your lectures or here in your blog why a Marxist like yourself (as far as I can see, most regular participants in your blog come here because of your Marxism, as I did) finds Kant, who at least to a superficial observer like myself seems as different from Marx as any philosopher can be, so fascinating.

Perhaps I am mistaken and you somehow integrate Marx and Kant in your thought or it may be that Marx and Kant represent two unreconciled aspects of your mind.

Jerry Fresia said...

I had wondered if you made comments or underlined in your books. I can't read a book
without a pen. Do you do this regularly? Certainly not with the rare books?

Anonymous said...

Salutary background reading (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, part 1.11, trans Zimmern).

11. It seems to me that there is everywhere an attempt at present to divert attention from the actual influence which Kant exercised on German philosophy, and especially to ignore prudently the value which he set upon himself. Kant was first and foremost proud of his Table of Categories; with it in his hand he said: "This is the most difficult thing that could ever be undertaken on behalf of metaphysics." Let us only understand this "could be"! He was proud of having DISCOVERED a new faculty in man, the faculty of synthetic judgment a priori. Granting that he deceived himself in this matter; the development and rapid flourishing of German philosophy depended nevertheless on his pride, and on the eager rivalry of the younger generation to discover if possible something--at all events "new faculties"--of which to be still prouder!--But let us reflect for a moment--it is high time to do so. "How are synthetic judgments a priori POSSIBLE?" Kant asks himself--and what is really his answer? "BY MEANS OF A MEANS (faculty)"--but unfortunately not in five words, but so circumstantially, imposingly, and with such display of German profundity and verbal flourishes, that one altogether loses sight of the comical niaiserie allemande involved in such an answer. People were beside themselves with delight over this new faculty, and the jubilation reached its climax when Kant further discovered a moral faculty in man--for at that time Germans were still moral, not yet dabbling in the "Politics of hard fact." Then came the honeymoon of German philosophy. All the young theologians of the Tubingen institution went immediately into the groves--all seeking for "faculties." And what did they not find--in that innocent, rich, and still youthful period of the German spirit, to which Romanticism, the malicious fairy, piped and sang, when one could not yet distinguish between "finding" and "inventing"! Above all a faculty for the "transcendental"; Schelling christened it, intellectual intuition, and thereby gratified the most earnest longings of the naturally pious-inclined Germans. One can do no greater wrong to the whole of this exuberant and eccentric movement (which was really youthfulness, notwithstanding that it disguised itself so boldly, in hoary and senile conceptions), than to take it seriously, or even treat it with moral indignation. Enough, however--the world grew older, and the dream vanished. A time came when people rubbed their foreheads, and they still rub them today. People had been dreaming, and first and foremost--old Kant. "By means of a means (faculty)"--he had said, or at least meant to say. But, is that--an answer? An explanation? Or is it not rather merely a repetition of the question? How does opium induce sleep? "By means of a means (faculty), "namely the virtus dormitiva, replies the doctor in Moliere,

Anonymous said...


Quia est in eo virtus dormitiva, Cujus est natura sensus assoupire.

But such replies belong to the realm of comedy, and it is high time to replace the Kantian question, "How are synthetic judgments a PRIORI possible?" by another question, "Why is belief in such judgments necessary?"--in effect, it is high time that we should understand that such judgments must be believed to be true, for the sake of the preservation of creatures like ourselves; though they still might naturally be false judgments! Or, more plainly spoken, and roughly and readily--synthetic judgments a priori should not "be possible" at all; we have no right to them; in our mouths they are nothing but false judgments. Only, of course, the belief in their truth is necessary, as plausible belief and ocular evidence belonging to the perspective view of life. And finally, to call to mind the enormous influence which "German philosophy"--I hope you understand its right to inverted commas (goosefeet)?--has exercised throughout the whole of Europe, there is no doubt that a certain VIRTUS DORMITIVA had a share in it; thanks to German philosophy, it was a delight to the noble idlers, the virtuous, the mystics, the artiste, the three-fourths Christians, and the political obscurantists of all nations, to find an antidote to the still overwhelming sensualism which overflowed from the last century into this, in short--"sensus assoupire." . . .

wallyverr said...

For S Wallerstein,

RPW is not alone in combining specialist interests in Kant and Marx; Allen Wood has published extensively on both, and presumably many German scholars as well. That said, I tend to agree that other pairings are arguably more compatible, e.g. Kant and Max Weber. The Anglo-Czech polymath Ernest Gellner (who RPW has mentioned in a past post, small-world heading) has a section in his book Legitimation of Belief comparing Kant and Weber (pp188-194: "the preoccupations of Kant and Weber are really the same... The philosopher Kant was naturally superior in working out the inner logic and strains of the rational vision; but the sociologist was greatly superior in painting the portrait of a ['rational'] life style, one amongst others, in its historical setting and its contrasts with other, rival styles."