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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

NOODLING

My old student Tom Cathcart asks whether I ever taught the famous Kant Course at UMass.  The course was famous, by the way, not because I taught it but because Clarence Irving Lewis taught it for decades at Harvard, and generations of Harvard philosophy students, of whom I was one of the very last, took it.  It was ferociously difficult and the best course I ever took in my life.

The answer is yes, I taught it on several occasions.  There is a sad story connected with one of the first times I taught it at UMass.  In the middle '70s [I am in Paris and do not have access to my file cabinet] I decided to offer a year-long graduate seminar on Hume and Kant, something I had always wanted to do.  I took the students, over the course of the year, through Hume's Treatise and Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Kant's First Critique and the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals.  At the time, I was living in a beautiful brick Federal style house in Northampton, six or seven miles to the east of the university, and I thought it would be splendid to have the seminar meet in my home one evening a week.  I would serve tea and coffee and snacks and hold forth on Hume and Kant.  What could be better?

Well, some while into the first semester word came back to me through the rumor mill that the students were seriously put out by the necessity of having to come over to Northampton for the course, so I gave in and rescheduled it for one of the ugly barren seminar rooms in Bartlett Hall where the Department had its offices.

I am somewhat ashamed to admit that the experience put me in mind of the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 7 verse 6.  Oh well.

9 comments:

Tom Cathcart said...

In 1960, when C.I. Lewis was a memory (except for your tutorial on "Mind and the World Order"), the Kant course under your baton was still famous, still ferociously difficult, and still the best course many of us had ever taken. And even in the hallowed halls of Harvard, I'm afraid it was largely pearls before swine (myself included.)

Robert Paul Wolff said...

That 1960 course was the first Philosophy course I ever taught, and I am happy to say that at the time I knew it was the greatest teaching experience I would ever have. I will never forget calling an extra 10 a.m. Saturday class to complete my reconstruction of the central argument of the Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding. I lectured to the class, who had shown up on the Saturday [unheard of at Harvard] for an hour and a half, and when I wrote q.e.d. on the blackboard at 11:30 a.m., the entire class burst into applause. It was the best moment of my entire teaching career. I felt like Fast Eddie [Paul Newman] in The Hustler, moving around the pool table beating Minnesota Fats [Jackie Gleason.]

Tom Cathcart said...

Unfortunately, you weren't there the second time we burst into applause. You beat a hasty retreat on the last day of class, and we stood there, clapping like crazy and looking at each other idiotically as if to say, "Why are we clapping? He's not even here." But we couldn't stop. Thank you.

David Auerbach said...

It turns out that there's some controversy over the interpretation of Matthew 7:6. (mostly, if I understand it, is that the sentiment, on most interpretations, stands out like a sore nonchristian thumb). So, for instance, there's this:

One modern argument is that dogs and pigs represent Gentiles and heathens, and that this verse is rare relic demonstrating that Jesus' original message was intended only for the Jews. Harrington notes that such warnings are found in rabbinic works of the period.[6] In Jewish literature heathens were often compared to dogs, and the unclean pig was a Jewish symbol for the Roman Empire. In 2 Peter 2:22 dogs and swine quite clearly refers to heretics. According to Schweizer this verse was used by Jewish Christians to attack the Gentile churches, to argue that Gentile Christians would turn on the Jews by rejecting their laws and destroying Israel.[7]

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I love it! Thank you, David.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Tom, it is I who should thank you! It was the greatest teaching experience of my life. I am deeply grateful that there is still someone around with whom I can share that memory.

formerly a wage slave said...

It never occurred to you that commuting to your comfortable digs might be in and of itself unpleasant? Or ugly? I don't know the area you refer to or the commute, but the fact that it was a routine for you is no measure of its difficulty. Nor do you mention how long it would take, or when it would occur. If your seminar were in the evening someone might have to drive in the dark when tired--but you would be comfortably home already.
People don't always have cars. Public transit is sparse. ETC. People with cars often make presumptions. It's not always nice being forced to rely upon someone else for a ride.
In this case, your measure of aesthetic value seems slanted toward your own comfort.

Your story reminds me of many times in my life when someone has invited me to their beautiful home in the country (or wherever) and the trip itself was in no way a pleasure..... and returning home tired made the whole business seem hardly worth the effort.....

formerly a wage slave said...

ok my mistake, you mentioned the time.....

s. wallerstein said...

Now since we have internet, it's possible to listen to your Kant lectures online, whether or not (I have no idea) the journey to your house is onerous.

Could you consider doing a series of online lectures on Kant after those on Marx which we have all asked you to do?