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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Sunday, July 31, 2016

MARQUESS OF QUEENSBURY RULES

One of the oldest rules of thumb in politics and satire is always to punch up, never punch down.  If you are going to launch an attack or make someone the target of your mockery, pick someone higher up the chain of status and power, or at least on your level, not someone farther down.  Beating up on the weak makes you look petty and fearful.  It is what bullies do.

Naturally, therefore, Trump responded to the devastating criticism of him by the Muslim American mother and father whose soldier son was killed in Iraq by mocking the mother, saying she probably was not permitted by her husband to speak.  He then compounded the error by saying that he had also sacrificed, by hiring thousands of workers and building big buildings!

What ought he to have done?  Simple.  He should have said, "Like all patriotic Americans, I honor the sacrifice of Mr. and Mrs. Khan.  I hope as this campaign unfolds I can win their support."  If Trump had a single sane, competent person in his entourage and was capable of taking good advice, he would be a much more formidable candidate.  Thank God he does not.

And now he is complaining that the Clinton campaign has rigged the presidential debate schedule.  I think there is at least a non-zero chance that he will back out of the debates.  It is going to be a long three months.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

SMALL PLEASURES

As many of you know, two years after Kant published the Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, he published a short work intended to help puzzled readers make their way into the difficult arguments of that monumental work.  It was called Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, and Kant hoped that the essay would make his arguments sufficiently accessible to encourage the German-speaking philosophical community to do the hard work of mastering his dramatically revolutionary doctrines.  The brief work was not intended in any sense as a restatement of the proofs Kant had given in the Critique, but was simply a way of acquainting his readers with his new teaching so that they could make more sense of the Critique itself.

Accordingly, in the Prolegomena Kant assumed as true his central conclusion, that we can a priori have scientific and mathematical knowledge that is expressed in synthetic judgments, and then asked how that is possible, without in any way actually attempting to prove that it is.  This was of course not intended as any sort of answer to Hume's scepticism, for although "yes we can" may be a powerful political slogan, it is not much of a philosophical argument.

Unfortunately for subsequent generations of puzzled readers, Kant was so taken with the formula he devised in the Prolegomena for posing that work's problem ["How is mathematics possible?  How is natural science possible? etc.] that he lifted it from its original source, where it was quite appropriate, and stuck it wholesale into the revised Introduction to the second edition of the Critique, published in 1787.

In the Prolegomena, Kant had described himself as using the analytical or regressive method of exposition, ascending from his conclusion, which was what was to be proved, to the conditions or premises from which the conclusion follows.  Now, any beginning student of logic knows that from the fact the p entails q, and q is true, it does not follow that p is true.  p might quite well be false and yet entail q.  [For example, from the premises Donald Trump is a New Yorker and All New Yorkers are despicable, it follows necessarily that Donald Trump is despicable.  The conclusion is true but at least one of the premises is false.]  Thus, even if we assume the conclusion, q, and show that it follows from p, that lends no weight whatsoever to p.  So even if his audience was willing, at least provisionally, to grant that q, and was willing to grant as well that q follows from p, that by itself would give a reader no reason to suppose that p is true.   Kant knew all of this, of course, so why on earth would he confuse his readers and undermine the cogency of his Introduction by introducing this "analytical or regressive" mode of exposition where it had no business being?

Well, there is in fact one circumstance under which the fact that p entails q and that q is true actually constitutes an argument for p, namely if q also entails p, which is to say, if p is a necessary condition of q.  For somewhat counterintuitively, if  p is the necessary condition of q, then that amounts to saying that q entails p.  And that is the same as saying that p is the only condition [the conditio sine qua non] of q.

Now, I had a memory from long, long ago that somewhere in the Prolegomena Kant actually inserts the magical word "only," thereby making what he was saying true, however misleading it might be.  So a few minutes ago, I took out my tattered copy of the Prolegomena, read and re-read fifty years and more ago until its cover fell off, and went looking.  Within moments, I found the essential word, just where it ought to be, in a long footnote to subsection 5.

It was rather like finding the face of an old friend in a crowd.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

BE PREPARED!

Now let me turn to a more important matter, namely my forthcoming  lecture series on the Critique of Pure Reason.  The launch of the series is only five weeks away, not to soon to start preparing yourself.  In addition to obtaining a copy of the Critique and downloading the e-book version of my commentary, Kant's Theory of Mental Activity, available at amazon.com, you really should review the most important sections of David Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature.  For purposes of my lectures, there are three sections of the Treatise it would be wise to review.  Of course, if you have never  read the Treatise, you really should read all of Book I, but perhaps not everyone is as enthusiastic about this project as I.

The three critical passages of the Treatise are Book I, Part iii, sections 3 and 14, and Book I, Part iv, section 2.

Can it be that there are some readers of this blog who will consider this not quite as important as the outcome of the presidential election?  I shudder at the thought.

Monday, July 25, 2016

WHOA BIG FELLA, EASY THERE

All right now, let us take some deep breaths and relax.  This presidential campaign is driving all of us a little bit crazy, and it has not even, technically, begun!  If I am going to survive until November, and if you are as well, then we must agree to certain ground rules.

Let me begin with something that Freud taught us.  It is not possible to make well-grounded psychiatric judgments about someone who is not one’s patient [an important truth that Freud himself then forgot when he undertook to make such judgments about famous historical figures whom he neither had nor could ever have encountered!]  There are several reasons for this caveat.  First of all, one can only have available the invaluable products of free association in the setting of a psychoanalytic therapy.  And since, as Freud humorously reminded us, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar [rather than a phallic symbol], only through the techniques of the analytic couch do we have access to the symbolic meaning of the manifestations of the unconscious.  Second, judgments of psychiatric disorder rely on extremely subtle signs of body language, tone of voice, pacing of speech, facial expressions, and the always complex phenomena of transference and countertransference.

Now, I have never so much as seen in person or been in the same room as the people I have been evaluating and judging, let alone engaged in a therapeutic relationship with any of them [a relationship for which I am not trained.]  So quite clearly I am not professionally competent to conclude that Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton [or Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein or Barack Obama or Cedric the Entertainer] is a sociopath or a psychopath or even, if I am using the terms properly, a narcissistic personality.

Therefore, I am going to stop using the powerful [and, in a non-therapeutic context, extremely judgmental] language of psychotherapy, and I suggest that all of you do so as well, unless you are professionally trained and have had access to the person you are discussing.

This does not mean that we must stop making judgments about Trump and Clinton.  What else is a political campaign for?  We are perfectly at liberty to form considered judgments of their character on which we base predictions about their probable future behavior.  To do that is simply to be human.  Some of us are good at sizing up people, some of us are not.  Every day, we make such judgments and find them either confirmed or disconfirmed by subsequent events.  I have been observing Hillary Clinton from afar [and seeing her on television is observing from afar, remember] for many years, and I have been observing Donald Trump for more than a year now [although it seems vastly longer!]  I think I have become pretty good at making judgments about public figures and predicting their behavior, but of course my judgments may be wrong and have been in the past.

On the basis of past experience with American politicians [but not, note, with French or Chinese or Russian or Argentinian politicians], I have concluded – to take one example among many – that Hillary Clinton’s embrace of several of Bernie Sanders’ signature policies is a temporary shift to the left to win the nomination and secure her left flank in the general election, rather than a change of her firmly held opinions about policies.  I therefore anticipate that if she is elected, neither the fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage nor free public college will be a proposal on which she is willing to expend much political capital.  On the basis of my observation of Donald Trump, I have concluded that he has very little ability to control, even for his own benefit, his impulse to lash out at those who have attacked him.  I predict, therefore, that in the next three months, he will repeatedly engage in politically unproductive verbal battles with Republicans whose support he could use to win the election.  And so forth.

I shall continue to make such judgments, but I shall try to avoid expressing them in the language of psychoanalysis – “narcissistic,” “sociopath,” “psychopath,” and the rest.  I think it would be well if we all adopt this course.


Finally, a word of political advice from someone old enough to have seen and engaged in six decades and more of political struggles on the left.  Social change is not like brain surgery – a delicate, precise activity in which a single wrong move, however slight, can lead to disaster.  Social change is much more like a landslide, with rocks, boulders, bushes, twigs, trees, and great gobbets of dirt rolling down a mountainside.  Most of us are pebbles, a few are bushes, and a tiny handful – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, for example – are great trees and huge boulders.  What matters most is that you are rolling down the right side of the hill.  Social change in a nation of three hundred million and more requires coalitions of vast numbers of people who find a way to make common cause with one another, even if on very important matters they disagree.  I think most of the people who visit this blog would be said to be on the left rather than on the right in American politics, although that is certainly not universally true.  It would be politically wise for everyone who comments here to treat other commentators with courtesy.  Believe me, in the context of contemporary American politics, we are all the good guys!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

KISSINGER

S. Wallerstein asks my impression of Henry Kissinger.  I knew him when he was a young professor at Harvard very much on the make and on the rise.  He was a wretched human being even then, but he was also, I thought, rather limited intellectually.  One brief story will make the point. 

After I had acquired some local notoriety around Harvard Square because of my advocacy of nuclear arms reduction and elimination, Kissinger asked me to address his graduate seminar in the Government Department [which is what Harvard calls Political Science.]  I wanted to talk about some rather technical game theoretic issues related to the disagreements between those defending the Navy's point of view -- Thomas Schelling [a genuinely brilliant man],  et al. -- and those defending the Air Force's point of view -- Herman Kahn, an intellectual fraud, and Kissinger.  [The underlying issue at stake in the theoretical disputes debated by the think tanks was which branch of the service would get the big Congressional appropriations for its form of nuclear delivery systems -- nuclear submarines, which were a Second Strike weapon or Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, which were a first strike weapon.]

When I showed up in Kissinger's office, I asked him whether the seminar room had a blackboard.  Why did I want to know, he asked.  I explained that I wanted to put some equations on the board.  He got a squirrely panicked look in his eyes and asked whether that was really necessary.  It was obvious that he neither knew anything about nor understood the theoretical foundation of the position he was espousing.

The week before, he had published a pompous letter in the Harvard Crimson [the student newspaper] criticizing me among others for failing to realize that nuclear deterrence was a "very complicated subject."  I looked at him after his nervous question about the blackboard and said quietly, "Well, this is a very complicated subject."  I did not like him even then.

Two more things that may be of historical interest.  First, that seminar played an important role in subsequent American foreign affairs because many of the foreign graduate students who took it went home to become important figures in their governments.  Kissinger cultivated them as students, anticipating this, and used his connection with them when he was in the government to aggrandise his influence.

Second, the big book of the moment in deterrence theory was Herman Kahn's pretentious but hollow book, On Thermonuclear War.  In anticipation of the 1960 election, Kissinger published The Necessity for Choice, much of its intellectual content lifted from Kahn.  Shortly after his inauguration, Kennedy gave a television interview in the Oval Office which showed Kissinger's book prominently displayed on the desk.  Kissinger's bags were all packed, but Kennedy chose McGeorge Bundy, the Harvard Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, as his National Security Advisor, so Kissinger had to unpack until Nixon was elected.

MILESTONES

I started blogging regularly on June 1, 2009, although the blog was officially launched two years earlier.  Recently retired and desperate to find some way to keep myself busy, I took my son Patrick’s advice and began writing The Philosopher’s Stone.   At first, so few people visited the site that I could significantly up the number of page views just by checking it several times a day, but once I started serializing my autobiography, word got out that I was an inveterate gossip and things picked up.  As the years passed, the numerical counter offered by Google as one of their add-ons ticked over steadily, until on April 28th, 2014, almost five years later, I recorded my one millionth page view.  The site has gathered a sizable coterie of readers, some of whom comment with regularity.  I have been delighted and rather astonished to discover that I have readers on all of the populated continents.  Indeed, I even once had a troll, although with a little guidance from readers more adept at these matters than I, I managed to discourage him or her.

Some time tomorrow, twenty-five more months further on, the Google Counter will record the two millionth page view.  Over these seven years, I have put up more than 2700 posts, which works out to more than one a day, and the community of readers have made almost four times as many comments.  And all of this with no term papers to read!  No teacher could ask for more.

During the seven years, I have grown seven years older, as have all of you.  If I keep at it, in another seven years I shall be eighty nine, and there is no telling how many page views this site will have drawn [always assuming that blogging still exists seven years from now and has not been superseded by some even less natural form of communication.]


Thank you all for nodding in.

A FURTHER REPLY TO ROBERT SHORE

Despite the sneering tone of his comment [“(Professor Wolff) cannot bear to have readers desecrating the sanctity of his blog…”], Robert Shore raises a question of the very greatest urgency, viz which of the two major candidates poses a greater threat of nuclear war, and I should like to address that matter at some length.  Dr. Shore is quite correct that this question takes precedence over all others.  Indeed, if I may invoke the jargon of rational choice theory, it is lexicographically prior to all other questions – which is to say, if one candidate poses even the tiniest greater threat of nuclear war, that consideration alone should outweigh any benefits, however large, in other realms.  Dr. Shore says that as he lives in a safely blue state, he plans to vote Green.  But that is hardly sufficient, if he is not simply using me as the occasion for blowing off steam.  He lives next to a battleground state, and I assume that in addition to donating to the Trump campaign and publicly supporting it, he will also go on weekends to New Hampshire to campaign for Trump.  Anything less would be a confession of unseriousness in the face of what he believes to be a mortal threat to civilization.

Let me note before I begin that I do not come late to a concern for this matter.  I first took an active public stance against the threat of nuclear war and the policies of the American government that increased that threat in 1959, some fifty-seven years ago, which, if I am not mistaken, is well before many readers of this blog were born.  I argued against Henry Kissinger and Zbigniev Bzrezinski at Harvard, where I joined forces with David Riesman and Erik Erikson and many others.  I debated Herman Kahn at Jorden Hall in Boston, I wrote, I published, I spoke on the radio, I served for several years on the Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, I lectured on military strategy and foreign policy at the University of Chicago, I chaired a protest meeting at Harvard seeking to reverse America’s Cuba policy.  Struggle against the threat of nuclear war has been a part of my private and public life for nearly six decades.  As we think through this vitally important topic, let us never forget that the United States invented nuclear weapons and is the only nation ever actually to kill people with them.

Historical perspective is useful in thinking about the present presidential campaign.  Some modern powers have pursued their imperial ambitions by seizing and holding territories far from their borders.  Great Britain and France come to mind.  Others, like China and the Soviet Union, have enlarged their empires by absorbing contiguous weaker nations, exhibiting great hesitation about sending their military forces to regions not connected to the homeland by a land bridge.  The United States has pursued an imperial project that is something of a combination of these two approaches.  Its principal imperial expansion has consisted of the absorption of contiguous lands to the west and southwest of its original borders, expanding to the Pacific Ocean and the boundaries of Mexico and Canada, but it has of course also extended its empire militarily overseas as well – one thinks of the Philippines, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and so forth.  The distinctive feature of American imperial expansion is that, unlike China, Russia, France, and Great Britain, Americans sought to exterminate rather than incorporate the indigenous peoples they conquered.

At the end of the Second World War, Germany and Italy were defeated and Great Britain and France, despite being part of the winning coalition of forces, began to lose their empires.  The two principal beneficiaries of the war were the Soviet Union and the United States.  The Soviet Union responded to the changed international balance of forces in characteristic fashion by incorporating territories in Eastern Europe.  The United States undertook to replace Great Britain and France as world hegemons, forging alliances with a wide array of states and stationing its troops permanently in every sector of the world not already claimed by the Soviet Union.  These efforts were of course not all successful.  The Soviet Union was several times compelled to use force to stop its Eastern European imperial appanages from breaking away, and its disastrous adventure across its southern border in Afghanistan led eventually to the collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union.  The United States, for its part, came close to destroying the cohesion and effectiveness of its military in its failed attempt to take the place of France in Southeast Asia, forcing it to bring the military draft to a close and substitute a professional army that could function effectively and without major political cost as an instrument of empire.

For a time, the collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States as the sole unchallenged imperial power in the entire world.  As one would expect, America responded to the Eastern European vacuum created by the breakup of the Soviet Union by expanding its sphere of influence eastward, using the device of membership in NATO.  Now, we see Vladimir Putin seeking to recapture some of the territory lost in the breakup, annexing Crimea, nibbling at Ukraine, beginning to make eyes at the Baltic States.  The fall in the price of oil has put severe strains on the Russian economy and hence on Putin’s ability to pursue his ambitions for a revived Russian empire.  But he does have some arrows in his quiver.  He has been offering financial and other support to extreme right-wing European political parties, such as the National Front of Marine le Pen in France, and Russian oligarchs allied with Putin have made several hundred million dollars in loans to Donald Trump [which may perhaps explain the fulsomeness of Trump’s praise for Putin.]  And of course, Putin has at his command a sizeable nuclear arsenal, even though it does not compare with the Soviet military force in Russia’s heyday.

All of which brings me to the question with which I began:  As between a President Clinton and a President Trump, who is more likely actually to get the United States into a nuclear exchange with Russia?  For seventy years now, American presidents have embraced and implemented the American imperial project.  Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, I have watched them all, and all have pursued essentially the same project.  [We must not allow ourselves to be misled by their rhetoric, which is usually quite high minded and selfless.  Let us recall that it was not an American who coined the memorable phrase, “the white man’s burden.”]  Some presidents have been rather more belligerent, some less.  Only one, John F. Kennedy, brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

Clinton would clearly be rather more belligerent than Obama, rather less than George W. Bush.  She would resist Putin’s expansionist efforts, and would deploy American forces and weaponry in that resistance.  If she did not, Putin would push further.  Let me emphasize this point, as it is crucial to everything I am saying.  It is a left-wing fantasy to suppose that the United States is the source of conflict in the world, and that if it were to give up its imperial project, the world would be a peaceful multi-polar harmony.  Whatever room America leaves for Russia’s imperial expansion Russia will take.  And whatever room Russia leaves for America’s imperial expansion America will take.  And should both America and Russia, in a fit of self-abnegation, retreat from the field of imperial struggle, China and other nations will take their place.

Both Clinton and Putin, I think it is clear from the available evidence, would be as careful as possible to avoid a nuclear confrontation, but I am well aware of the dangers of miscalculation.  Clinton would not act rashly, precipitously, or without thorough consultation with the military.  Everything we know about her makes that clear.  Would she be more likely than Obama to start small wars?  Pretty clearly yes, but that is not the subject of this discourse.  It is not small wars against real or imagined enemies that risk nuclear war.  The threat comes from a miscalculation by Clinton or Putin in a confrontation involving American and Russian troops.

What then of Trump?  This is a much more difficult problem to work out, and that fact by itself is significant.  When it comes to nuclear confrontations, uncertainty is an even greater danger than belligerence.  Trump has no ideological commitments or beliefs on the basis of which we might make a prediction of his behavior, and he has no track record on these issues, nor any experience on which he could draw as president in making decisions.  He is vain, ignorant, and narcissistic, and exhibits no capacity for impulse control even when it is in his self-interest to rein in his impulses.  He is desperately in need of constant ego-reinforcement, and what is more, he is in hock financially to Putin.  I find this combination of traits and defects terrifying.

Nor can we calm our fears by telling ourselves that the civilian and uniformed leadership of the military would not permit Trump to make disastrously dangerous decisions.  That is a fantasy that ignores the realities of the bureaucratic character of American government.  A President Trump could quite well plunge us into a civilization ending nuclear exchange.


Therefore, I am for Clinton.  I look forward to hearing Robert Shore’s reports of his experiences on the campaign trail in New Hampshire working for the election of Trump.

Friday, July 22, 2016

CLOUD NINE

Every so often I check in on my other blog -- Formal Methods in Political Philosophy.  Usually, I find that eight or ten or twelve people have viewed it on that day, which I consider pretty good, considering the subject matter.  I mean, it is not often that a discourse on von Neumann's proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Game Theory goes viral.  Today, more than two hundred people have checked into the blog, and judging from Google's map, most of them are coming from Russia.

What's up with that?

THE WAYS OF THE LORD ARE PASSING STRANGE

Emily Dickinson observes, in one of her poems, that God requires that we die in order to see Him, thereby indicating a sadistic streak in the Almighty that does not comport well with His reputation for sublime mercy.   This penchant of His for pointless cruelty is construed by the faithful as a test of our faith.  I am afraid we are often presented with analogous tests in the political realm.

The latest word on the web is that Hillary Clinton will soon announce that she has chosen the egregious Tim Kaine to be her vice-presidential running mate.  Kaine is a pro-life Catholic who supports the TPP and just a day or so ago spoke of the need to DEREGULATE the banks.  

I understand that this is intended by Clinton as a test of my resolve to work for her election as the only way of putting an end to Donald Trump's megalomaniac dreams of dictatorship.  I also understand that her decision is a cold-eyed calculation of the relative advantage of appealing to the progressives, whom she obviously thinks she has secured, as opposed to moving to the center to draw in Republicans and so-called Independents appalled by Trump.

I trust I shall be worthy of the test.  Is it too much to ask that my readers express their outrage elsewhere?  It is difficult enough to do what I know I must do, without being berated by those who offer no viable alternative way of defeating Trump.  Those fortunate enough not to live in battleground states like North Carolina are of course free to strike heroic poses and vote for Jill Stein.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

THIS TOO SHALL PASS

I am very distressed by some of the comments that have appeared in reaction to my comments on the election, but I cannot bring myself to respond.  It is all I can do to endure the next three months and what will follow.  As soon as Bernie announces the formation of his political action organization, I shall sign up as a monthly contributor [I can afford more than $27], and in the meantime I shall work for the election of Clinton, which is to say the defeat of Trump.  I have already had my say regarding why I consider this the proper course for me to take.

Now, I shall return to the Critique [and, yes, I am well aware that he was a racist.]  As Hannah Arendt remarked to me almost fifty years ago, "It is so much more pleasant to spend time with Kant."

FYI

For those of you still flirting with the fantasy that Donald Trump might turn out, miraculously, to be a better president than Hillary Clinton, and also for those of you simply interested in a deeper insight into Trump's character, I recommend this interview with the person who actually wrote The Art of the Deal.  It is not surprising, but it is chilling.  He must not be allowed to become president.  You can vote for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party next time around.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A RESPONSE TO SOME COMMENTS

Periodically, an agitated exchange breaks out in the placid comments section of this blog, usually occasioned by my remarks on politics [although sometimes the accessibility of the umlaut is sufficient to excite the commentariat.]  I should like to address two aspects of the recent kerfuffle.  Let me begin with the dispute about wisdom versus foolishness, stupidity versus intelligence [and, I might add, ignorance versus knowledgeableness.]  In a later post, I shall move on to the tendency of some people in America to vote against what others perceive to be their interests [The Thomas Frank problem.]

I distinguish sharply between the acquisition of academic credentials and the possession of either intelligence or knowledge.  It is of course true [indeed, it is what logicians used to call a miserable tautology] that people who do not have college degrees have fewer educational credentials than those who do have college degrees.  But a long lifetime of experience as a university professor equips me to say authoritatively that there is very little demonstrable connection between possessing educational credentials and being either smarter or more knowledgeable than someone not possessing them.  To be sure, getting a college degree is likely to make someone more knowledgeable about some things [although even this is less obviously true than I, as a teacher, would like to think], but I rather doubt that the total number of things known by a person with a college degree is greater or less than the total number of things known by a person without a college degree.  However, the knowledge one manages to acquire in college, along with the habits, social traits, and stigmata left by the college experience, greatly increase the probability that one will get a job with good pay and benefits and no heavy lifting.

I am the product of a family that valued book learning [my father was a high school teacher], and my entire adult life has been spent in the upper middle class of American society, where what I know and what I can do are richly rewarded.  But I am reminded of the 2010 movie Company Men in which Ben Affleck plays a successful corporate executive who is laid off and eventually is forced to take a job with his carpenter brother-in-law [Kevin Costner] laying sheetrock.  Affleck is just awful at it, despite having the full panoply of educational credentials that his brother-in-law lacks.

I am reminded of the old joke about the counter-cultural Scholastic Aptitude Test, one question on which is “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?”  All the kids from the toney up-scale schools get it wrong, but all the ghetto kids get it right.  [The correct answer is, “Yo’ mama.”]

More seriously, I call to mind the debate on the left in South Africa about whether township residents, after liberation, should be awarded educational credentials for the things they had learned quite well without the benefit of access to the nation’s rigid, highly traditional English or European oriented universities.  Black men and women who had for years run the shadow township governments of Soweto or Alexandra had acquired thereby a great deal more usable knowledge about Political Science than their white age cohorts who had studied the subject at the University of Capetown or Stellenbosch University.



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

COLD TURKEY

James Schmidt says, "While I suppose that I shouldn't gloat over the failings of the current Mrs. Trump, I prefer my Schadenfreude straight, with no chaser."

I am on a strict diet and have been for five weeks now -- no wine, no snacks except carrot sticks, like that -- and one of the things I have given up for the duration is schadenfreude, which, while not itself fattening, is dangerously addictive.

But I am tempted.

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP

Forget about the floor fight that did not happen.   Forget about the Campaign Chair, Paul Manafort, kicking off the opening day of the Republican Convention in Cleveland, Ohio by dissing the enormously popular governor of this crucial battleground state, John Kasich.  Last night, the wheels came off the Trump bus.

Melania Trump, the gorgeous third wife of Mr. Trump, gave the premier speech of the first night, to thunderous applause, only to have it surface that she, or rather the speech writers, plagiarized sections of the speech given by Michelle Obama to the 2008 Democratic Convention.  Take a moment to watch this.

I cannot wait to see how Trump responds.,  He is the Alpha Male, the Big Dog.  His wife has just been made to look ridiculous on national TV.  He cannot allow this to pass.  Manafort has already blamed Hillary Clinton!!

This campaign may turn out to be more fun than I imagined.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A PUZZLE

As everyone knows who reads this blog, I am obsessed with national politics, and in particular with the outcome of the present election, which I consider truly fateful for this country.  Lately, I have been puzzling over what seems to me to be a contradiction between established fact and a belief so widespread and plausible that it seems absurd to doubt.  Let me explain.

In recent years, several sophisticated statisticians have had extraordinary success in predicting election outcomes by amalgamating the results of polls that they themselves do not conduct.  Nate Silver at 538.com and Sam Wang at Princeton Election Consortium simply take all the poll results that the rest of us read as they appear – Ipsos, Rasmussen, Gallup, Quinnipiac, et al. – and generate extraordinarily accurate predictions.  Sam Wang got 50 out of 50 states right in 2012, and predicted most of the senate races as well.  Silver adjusts his calculations by taking into effect non-poll data [popularity of the sitting President, unemployment rate, etc.] whereas Wang adopts a “polls only” approach.  And Wang’s record of prediction is even better than Silver’s.

This is the established fact – that amalgamation of polls, all by itself, is a spectacularly accurate predictor of election outcomes.

Now for the widespread and plausible belief.  Everybody who comments on national politics agrees that ground game, organization, outreach, use of social media, paid advertising and the rest – the nuts and bolts of electoral politics – make a significant difference in election outcomes.  Barack Obama’s game-changing get out the vote effort in 2008 and again in 2012 is credited by everyone with the strength of his success.  I put in my time in 2008 and 2012 here in Chapel Hill walking door to door, registering new voters at supermarkets, entering data in the headquarters office, and I can attest to the ground level sophistication of the Obama campaign.

But these two – the established fact and the widespread belief – are in flat out contradiction with one another, or so they seem.  The polls simply ask the chosen sample how they intend to vote [and other things as well, of course].  As the election grows closer, the polling organizations move from polling all registered voters to polling “likely voters,” a rather shaky and shifting classification, to be sure.

If Sam Wang can predict 50 out of 50 state results on the basis of those polls, then what earthly difference does the ground game make?  So far as I can tell from a Google search, the identification of who is a likely voter has nothing to do with the impact of the ground game.


I await the greater wisdom of my readers.

Friday, July 15, 2016

SO CLOSE

It is the egregious but forgettable Mike Pence.  Reports have it that late last night Trump was still trying to see whether he could get out of picking Pence.  So I am free to imagine that it would have been Ivanka had he had the courage of his convictions.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

FOND MEMORIES

I have just exchanged emails with Charles Parsons, asking him for some guidance about the evolution of the philosophy of mathematics after Kant [a subject of which he is a widely acknowledged master.]  It brought to mind the Kant study group that the two of us ran sixty years ago in our graduate apartment every Wednesday evening from eight to midnight -- the single greatest educational experience of my life, after C. I. Lewis' immortal Kant Course.  Over the course of the year, we worked our way through the First Critique and even tackled the mysterious Third Critique.

Kant introduces subsection numberings into the revised version of the Deduction in the Second Edition -- twenty-seven in all.  Now, as it happens, if you look at the Table of Functions of Unity in Judgment, you will see that combining and permuting the triads of Quantity, Quality, and Modality, there are 3 x 3 x 3 or 27 possible combinations -- for example,  a universal affirmative assertoric judgment, or a particular negative apodeictic judgment, etc.  

One of our little group, the inspired Sam Todes, who passed away far too early [and from whom I bought my very first car, for $100], got into his head the manically brilliant idea that each of the 27 sections of the Deduction in B was intended by Kant to exemplify one of those 27 judgment types.  I thought he was crazy, and we had an uproarious argument until we all collapsed in laughter.

That is what graduate study was supposed to be!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

THE MYSTERIOUS WAYS OF THE WEB

By far the longest thread [is that the correct term of art?] provoked by my deliberately provocative post about the SCHEMATISM concerns the ways of putting diacritical marks in one's writing when using a Mac.  Perhaps in order to pump up interest in my forthcoming Kant lectures I ought to have a guest lecture by a computer maven who can discuss the arcana of entering unusual markings with a Mac or a PC.  

I SHOULD GET OUT MORE

I just read some of the 74 comments appended to a Daily Kos story about the as yet unannounced speakers' list for the Republican Convention, and discovered that "Ivanka will be the VP pick" is a meme.  Who knew?  I should get out more.

DELICIOUS SCAM

I just received the following email message, which my spam program for some reason did not catch.  How were they to know that my FaceBook link does not have a photo on it?  I must say, I found this scam more imaginative than the standard offer to help a Croatian or a Spaniard dispose of three hundred million dollars in a frozen account.

"Hi,

 I am Williams an agent and representative of a Premier modeling company...I just want to inform you that we are interested in your profile picture on face book for a Pepsi bill board advert,Send an e-mail to the agency Public Relation officer  at  (samuel.colton@aol.com ) for more details about the bill board advert and make sure you attach a copy of picture to the email.
Thanks For your co operation.

Cheers"

INSIDE BASEBALL FOR THE REALLY SERIOUS

I have just this minute finished re-reading the Schematism in the First Critique.  The Schematism is a very problematic passage.  It ought not to exist, given the argument of the Deduction, but for a variety of reasons it does [this would take too long to explain in a casual blog post.]  Nevertheless, Kant, being Kant, manages to put some extremely important material into the chapter, about which I shall have to lecture at some length.

In the very last paragraph, several sentences before the end, Kemp Smith [the translator of the edition I am using] has an editorial footnote to the words "a concept."  It reads, "[Altered by Kant (Nachtrage lxi) to eine Erkenntnis.]"  The Nachtrage are papers left by Kant at his death which have been assembled, commented upon, published, and made much of by generations of German Kant scholars.  [By the way, I cannot put in umlauts in my blog facility.  Sorry about that.]

I am embarrassed to confess that I had never noticed the footnote before.  A very great deal is wrapped up in Kant's little emendation.  Indeed, from this one editorial alteration, I could [and will in my lectures] unpack the entire problematic and ultimately unsustainable relationship between Kant's theoretical philosophy and his moral philosophy, a subject of the greatest importance for Moral Philosophy in the past two centuries.

On to the Axioms of Intuition!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

MY INAUGURAL APPEARANCE AS A PUNDIT

After a long period of study and reflection, I have concluded that the role of pundit demands First, an ignorance of the subject about which one is pontificating; Second, a willingness to offer dramatic and unfounded predictions; and Third, instantaneous amnesia concerning prognostications that go wrong.  I think I am ready.

Herewith my first prediction.  The topic is Donald Trump's selection of a running mate.  It is clear that Trump's choice will be guided by his desire to shock, to seize and hold the attention of the media, and by his obsessive need for a running mate who is slavishly subordinate to his self-aggrandizing ego and will be completely obedient to his wishes.

 Accordingly, I fearlessly predict that Trump will choose his daughter, Ivanka, as his Vice Presidential counterpart.

If I am correct, you heard it here first.  If I am wrong, I have no recollection of having ever made so absurd a prediction.

YOU GOTTA LOVE HIM

POTUS pads his vita.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

TROUBLE IN PARADISE

I am now working my way through the second edition version of the chapter in the Critique entitled "Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding," the so-called Deduction in B.  Yesterday I read the Deduction in A.  For me, this is a stroll down Memory Lane.  Here are all the familiar terms and arguments with which I wrestled more than half a century ago -- old friends, I feel.  But as I read, a part of my mind imagines how these passages will appear to my audience, for most of whom they will be completely new, and I realize with dismay just how mysteriously difficult, nay impenetrable, they are.  How on earth can I get my audience to sit still for the elaborate explanations and clarifications that will be necessary?  And how many lectures will I require to do these passages justice?  In the Kemp-Smith translation, the A and B Deductions run 49 pages.  My discussion of them, in Kant's Theory of Mental Activity, occupies 127 pages!

I hope I have not bitten off more than they can chew.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

A SENTIMENTAL REPORT FROM THE TRENCHES

I have just returned from my first gig as a volunteer for the North Carolina Clinton campaign, and I thought folks might be interested in my reactions.  I put in two hours pushing voter registration in front of the Harris-Teeter supermarket in the University Mall in Chapel Hill.  I write as a Bernie supporter, a Clinton campaign worker, an anarchist, a Marxist, and an unabashed sentimentalist.

First, let me give you a worm’s eye ground level report of how the national campaign is going.  If the rest of America is like Chapel Hill, then I can confidently predict that 99% of eligible voters are already registered and will vote, 95% of them will vote for Clinton, and the Democrats will take North Carolina so overwhelmingly that you will need to go to the Museum of Unnatural History to see a Republican.  Of course, some sceptics may say that Chapel Hill is not entirely representative of North Carolina, or even of Orange County.  Alas, they may be right.  In two hours, my co-worker and I found one man who, having recently moved, needed to re-register.  A second man asked when early voting starts, as he expected to be at work on election day, November 8th.  The Republican dominated State Legislature has recently cut early voting, but it is still possible to vote early in North Carolina from October 27th to November 5th.

A great many people thanked me for the work I was doing, and one exuberant man planted a kiss on my forehead.  Several people volunteered that they were very enthusiastic about voting, and with several folks I held whispered conversations [jokingly] about voting several times.


Now, let me be serious.  I was oddly and deeply moved by the experience.  Here I was, standing in front of that most American of institutions, the supermarket, on a sunny Saturday morning, encouraging my fellow citizens to vote, chatting with them, exchanging easy banter, clearly welcomed by them.  I was glad to be there, tired feet and all.  I thought about the men and women who had died for the right to vote, about John Lewis, whose body was beaten and broken by those trying to stop him from voting.  I thought about the billions of people in the world who do not have this simple right.  And despite the rage that consumes me over voter suppression and racial repression and economic exploitation, on this Saturday morning, I felt good about myself and about the people who passed me on their way to shop for dinner.

READ AND THEN REFLECT

I am not usually a fan of Michael Eric Dyson, but this piece is splendid, and exactly right, and should be read and thought about.

Friday, July 8, 2016

THE LIMITS OF THE INTERNET

I bought Paul Guyer's translation of the FIRST CRITIQUE so Amazon suggested that I might like Hegel's PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND.  Somebody has to reconfigure their program!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

GIVE CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

I have just read a report that Bernie Sanders will endorse Hillary Clinton next week.  I think this is a good time to observe how brilliantly he has played his hand for the last six months.  Starting from a hole so deep that he could scarcely see daylight at its top, he ran a campaign that made him a genuine contender for the nomination.  His small donation fund raising completely turned conventional wisdom on its head, and, at least to my astonishment, he made "socialist" an acceptable label in mainstream American politics.

Ever since it became clear that he could not win the nomination, which is to say some months ago, sober, realistic talking heads have been calling on him to drop out and endorse Clinton.  His refusal has brought down on his head all manner of abuse and created the myth that he is an obstinate old fool who cannot put the good of the party and the nation ahead of his own overblown ego.

Meanwhile, he has forced Clinton to move farther and farther to the left, turning against TPP, embracing a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage, calling for free tuition at public colleges and universities for all children of families below the upper middle class.  The draft party platform leaked this week is by far the most progressive in the history of the Democratic Party, all because of the influence of Bernie Sanders.  

Now he will endorse Clinton and work all Fall to defeat Donald Trump.  With his help and Elizabeth Warren's, the diehard Sanders loyalists will come round to voting for Clinton, holding their noses as I will.  But his influence will continue, and if he chooses, as I hope, to create an on-going progressive movement, funded by a flood of small donations, then he may well succeed in transforming American politics.

Not bad for a grumpy Vermont socialist with bad hair and the oratorical skills of a bulldog.

TECHNICAL DETAILS

It seems that I shall be using my little camcorder to record my Kant lectures.  So much for my dream of fancy production values a la Michael Sandel!  But I shall hire a student to handle the camera, so that we can zoom in on the blackboard and neat stuff like that.  Inasmuch as there is no way to record folks asking questions or making comments, I shall have to repeat them.  Very low tech.  I wonder what future generations will think of such primitive procedures, if there is anyone watching twenty years from now.

ONCE MORE

Well, it appears that this blog draws to it a significant number of grammar mavens.  Who knew?  Rather than quibble further about the correct classification of “a priori” and “a posteriori,” let me take a few moments to explain what is actually at stake. 

Analytic judgments, Kant says, are judgments in which the predicate unpacks or spells out what is already contained in the subject.  Hence, he calls them “explicative.”  In the judgment “All bachelors are unmarried,” for example [I like the old-time favorites], the subject term “bachelor” is defined as “unmarried man.”  The judgment “All bachelors are unmarried” simply explicates what is contained in the concept of the subject.  Synthetic judgments, on the other hand, such as “Most bachelors are unhappy,” add something to the concept of the subject.  Hence Kant calls them “ampliative.”  [I am expounding Kant here, so don’t pester me with modern revisions of this classical story, please.]

There are some judgments whose truth can be know independently of and hence prior to experience.  The judgments can, in other words, be known a priori.  “All bachelors are unmarried” is such a judgment, as are all analytic judgments according to Kant.  There are other judgments whose truth can be known only on the basis of, or after, experience.  These judgments can, in other words, only be known a posteriori.  “Most bachelors are unhappy” [supposing this to be true, as I, a married man, confidently believe] is an example. 

Can analytic judgments be known a posteriori?  Yes.  One can imagine a team of not too bright sociologists wanting to know whether all bachelors are unmarried.  They get a grant, round up some graduate students, draft a three question survey, and identify a carefully chosen representative sample of the population.  They ask each subject three questions:  Are you a bachelor?  Are you a man? Are you married?”  After a careful statistical analysis of the results, they draft a journal article in which they report that, within the margin of error, 100% of bachelors are unmarried.  A secondary result is that, within the margin of error, 100% of bachelors are men.

Kant can state with confidence that the proposition “All bachelors are unmarried” is universally and unconditionally, hence necessarily, true.  It can be known to be true a priori.  But the sociologists are only able to state that the proposition “All bachelors are unmarried” is confirmed with a high degree of probability, within the margin of error.  Hence they have only established it a posteriori.

Can a synthetic judgment be known a priori?  It would seem not, for, as Kant recognized shortly after delivering the Inaugural Dissertation of 1770, there does not seem to be any way in which we can have knowledge a priori about the independently real. 

The Critique of Pure Reason is devoted to this problem.


I trust all of this is clear.  The question for Kant is:  Can we know a priori the truth of certain propositions [most notably the Causal Maxim] that are synthetic?  One can, in abbreviated form, express this as the question “Are there any synthetic a priori propositions?” if one wishes.  But to my ear, anyway, that is a misleading way of articulating his central question.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

PICKY PICKY PICKY

I continue my slow, careful re-reading of the Critique.  Today, I begin the Deduction in A, the heart of the book.  As I have been reading, I have once again been bugged by something in Norman Kemp-Smith’s translation that first caught my attention fifty-six years ago.  Indeed, although I shall be using the Kemp-Smith translation, I sent off yesterday to Amazon for Paul Guyer’s translation to see whether he gets this right.

Many of you will be familiar with the phrase “synthetic a priori judgment," which we might call Kant’s signature phrase.  Almost any philosophy student who has studied Kant will know that in the Critique Kant claims that the fundamental principles of math and science are synthetic a priori.

Except that Kant never says that!  What on earth do I mean?

Well, “synthetic” and “analytic” are adjectives.  They modify the noun “judgment” and related nouns, such as “[modes of] knowledge” [erkenntnisse].  “a priori” and a posteriori” are adverbs.  They modify verbs such as “to know,” “to assert,” “to possess” and the like.  There is no such thing as a synthetic a priori judgment.  There are, however, Kant argues, synthetic judgments that are known a priori to be true.  Showing that, and explaining how it can be, is one of the central tasks of the Critique.

Ascertaining whether a judgment is synthetic or analytic requires no philosophical heavy lifting, although sometimes it takes an ear finely tuned to the nuances of language.  But determining whether there are any synthetic judgments that can be know [to be true] a priori requires a deep investigation of what Kant calls Transcendental Philosophy, which is what we today call Epistemology or Theory of Knowledge.

Let me give you just one example, this concerning not “a priori judgments” but “a priori sensibility.”  At A76-77 = B102 Kant writes:  “Dagegen hat die transzendentale Logik ein Mannigfaltiges der Sinnlichkeit a priori vor sich liegen, welches die transzendentale ”ísthetik ihr darbietet …”  Kemp-Smith translates this as “Transcendental logic, on the other hand, has lying before it a manifold of a priori sensibility, presented by transcendental aesthetic …”  This is clearly wrong.  Kant does not say that Transcendental logic has a manifold of a priori sensibility lying before it or presented to it by Transcendental aesthetic.  He says that it has a manifold of sensibility lying before it a priori or presented to it a priori by Transcendental aesthetic.  


The entire translation is filled with instances of this mistake.  I will be very curious to see the Guyer translation when it arrives tomorrow.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

TIME-SAVING RECOMMENDATION

Here is a simple, foolproof way of figuring out how the election will go.

1.          Necessary truth:  100% of those who vote will be either men or women.

2.         Highly probable prediction:  At least 50%, and probably a bit more than 50%, of those who vote will be women.  [Projection from recent elections]

3.         Strong Polling Indication:  More men will vote for Trump than for Clinton.  More women will vote for Clinton than for Trump.  The two “gender gaps.”

4.         Current Polling Results:  Trump’s gender gap advantage with men is smaller than Clinton’s gender gap advantage with women.

Inference:   If point 4 holds up, Clinton will win the popular vote [simple arithmetic.] 

If Clinton wins the popular vote, she will almost certainly win the Electoral Vote.


Recommendation:  Periodically check the gender gap polling.   Instead of spending the time surfing the political commentary on the Web, read the Critique.

HOME AGAIN

Well, I have seen Alaska, or at least the tiny sliver of it that reaches down the coast of British Columbia.  I cannot say I was thrilled, and No, from where I sat on the deck, I could not see Russia.  However, I did start a systematic re-reading of the entire Critique in preparation for my lectures.  As I opened the book to begin, I realized that it has been in all probability half a century since I last read it from cover to cover.  I had forgotten how much there is to say.  These lectures may go on for a good deal more than one semester.


Picking up the Critique and starting with the Preface in A was like coming home.  This is going to be fun.  I got through the Prefaces, the Introduction, and most of the Transcendental Aesthetic on the cruise.  Today I shall finish the Aesthetic and launch into the Analytic.