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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.
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NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
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ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH

Professor Warren Goldfarb recently sent me an e-mail message with the following very interesting and useful comment on my argument that we should read philosophical works in their entirety.  Goldfarb is the latest in Harvard’s long line of philosophical logicians – a line that includes my classmate Charles Parsons, his doctoral dissertation director Willard Van Orman Quine, and his dissertation director Alfred North Whitehead.  Here is what Goldfarb had to say:


“Let me add something to your reasons for reading philosophical works whole, which you posted about a few days ago. 

Philosophical methodology is not a set thing.  In dealing with a philosophical issue, a great philosopher is at the same time working out the tools you can use to treat the issue, what the nature of the problem really is, and so redoing the whole nature of the enterprise.

There is no way of gleaning all that by reading excerpts.  You can't understand the real shift that Descartes was making without reading the whole of the Meditations and the Discourse, at least; or Hume without reading most of the Treatise (the interplay of skepticism and naturalism is certainly not something you can get by reading the usual excerpts).  The idea that the philosopher is reshaping the question while trying to answer it is very prominent in my area: when Frege says "arithmetic is nothing but logic" he means something very different from what Lotze meant; Carnap means something different again, although using the same language.  And of course, the interplay of methodological reshaping and the content of the philosophical question is the most important thing in all of Wittgenstein's work.”

5 comments:

Tom Cathcart said...

One more name for your list: Bert Dreben, who taught the introductory symbolic logic course the year Quine was on sabbatical. One of the two smartest, liveliest, and overall best phil. faculty (and that excludes Quine, whose course on "Word and Object" I took when Quine got back.) I'll leave it to you to guess who the other was.

s. wallerstein said...

Still another reason for reading works of philosophy in their entirety is that given by Nietzsche in "Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks".

According to Nietzsche, the reason for reading philosophy is not so much to learn ideas or systems, but to get to know great men (and women, I add), whom one meets reading their works.

If I had no interest in getting to know Herr Kant, I see absolutely no reason to read his Critique, since there's no final exam and there is no one whom I can impress by telling them that I've read the Critique.

tom llewellyn said...

Why stop at one book? To "really" know a philosopher shouldn't you read his entire corpus? It's like the study of history. Lines of definition have to be drawn (most of us can't read everything). Any interpretation of a philosophical work may be characterized as a misreading, depending on one's values and goals. The best we can do is to state our position and then defend it against criticism. But although finite, criticism can be massive, and how much time we take in answering it depends of how we choose to spend our time.

wallyverr said...

Goldfarb's "means something different again, although using the same language."

Struggling through deduction B, I noticed the Kemp Smith footnote at B 149 for "Sinn and Bedeutung"
which he translates into the end of the sentence "Only our sensible and empirical intuition can give to them body and meaning"

and which Guyer and Wood translate as "Our sensible and empirical intuition alone can provide them with sense and significance.

As Dorothy nearly said,
Todo, I have a feeling we're not in Frege-land anymore.

s. wallerstein said...

There's a Woody Allen joke:

I took a speed reading course. I read all of War and Peace in half an hour.

It's about Russia.....

It's true, as Tom Llewellyn points out, that to get to know a philosopher you should read everything they wrote, including letters, notebooks, etc.

Still, there must be a reason someone as creative and methodical as Kant put all that stuff together in one volume called the Critique of Pure Reason and you can only understand that reason (and hence, know Kant better) if you read the whole work. That is, the work has a unity of meaning or at least Kant believed it had a unity of meaning.

If someone whom you want to get to know invites you to dinner, you probably will want to stay for all the courses of the meal because the meal (including the wine, the setting, the conversation, the background music, etc.) most probably is a unity and if it isn't a unity, that tells you a lot about the person you want to get to know.