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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Thursday, August 4, 2016

A PEDAGOGICAL PUZZLE

In the course of preparing for my opening lecture on the Critique, which I shall deliver [and record] on August 29th, I have encountered a curious problem that may be of some interest to those of you who are serious students of early modern philosophy.  In the philosophical world in which Kant came to intellectual maturity, there were two overlapping debates that had dominated the scene for more than a century, and much of Kant’s philosophical work can only be understood as an effort to arrive at a position midway between the two compering parties.  The first of these debates was the metaphysical and scientific dispute between Leibniz and Newton, captured brilliantly in a series of five extended exchanges between Leibniz and Samuel Clarke, a disciple of Newton.  The second debate was the epistemological standoff between the rationalists – principally Descartes and Leibniz – and the empiricists – Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.  The structure and organization of the Critique is a reflection of these two debates as Kant understood them and his effort to resolve them.

My problem is that three-quarters of a century of scholarship in the latter twentieth and early twenty-first centuries has made it clear that Kant’s view of the philosophical situation in which he found himself – a view widely shared at the time and for 150 years after his death – was in important ways wrong.  Descartes, Leibniz, and Hume in particular have been the subject of deep and extensive reconsideration that has altered our contemporary understanding of their writings.  Indeed, my own doctoral dissertation and the very first serious journal article I published were early contributions to that scholarship.

So, do I begin my lectures by explaining to my audience the philosophical situation as Kant understood it or the rather different view of things that all of this scholarship has provided to us?  Clearly, I must choose one or the other if I am not completely to lose my audience before I have quite begun.  I am making an enormous demand on those who attend the lectures or watch the videos by speaking at length and in detail about so difficult a book as the Critique.  It would be intolerable to preface those lectures with five or ten hours of discussion about recent re-evaluations of Descartes or Leibniz or Locke or Hume.


Accordingly, I have decided to lay out Kant’s problematic as he saw it, not as we may think he ought to have seen it.  I do hope I shall not be subjected to too much criticism by clued up viewers!

5 comments:

Tom Hickey said...

Good choice. The chief issue is how Kant himself understood the Critique in terms of historical context. That is, what did Kant think he was going about doing in terms of the problems that he was attempting to solve.

Perhaps a few brief qualifiers could alert the audience where the understanding has shifted resulting from subsequent analysis without going into the details of it.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Perhaps an epilogue that assesses the historical impact of the Critique and how its place in philosophy has changed over the years since publication?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

an epilogue would be great if I ever get to the end!!! I am beginning to think this will have to be a year long series of lectures.

Tom Cathcart said...

As an extreme popularizer and oversimplifier, my two cents worth may be worth considerably less than two cents, but, for what it's worth, I think the classic publishers' question is the right one: who's the audience you want? Serious scholars of the history of philosophy? You probably need the 5-hour footnote. People with limited prior knowledge of Kant's epistemology? Then I think your choice is just right (with a 20-second footnote for the scholars with a tip on where to dig deeper.)

Alan Nelson said...

Sent you an email about this.