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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

EMBARRASSED

H[arry] Binswanger, in his comment about Ayn Rand, says that he took a course with me at Columbia circa 1970.  I have detailed records of every course I have ever taught, starting with my TF sections at Harvard in 1955.  I have just searched my files and I cannot find any record of his enrolment in one of my courses.  I am very embarrassed.  Dr. Binswanger, do you happen to recall which course it was?  I am very sorry.

8 comments:

HBinswanger said...

Hello. Yes, I have the transcript here. It was "Ethical Theory" in Autumn 1966. The reason you may not remember is that I took it for "R" credit--which means ungraded (in those days at Columbia grad school, you only had to take 1 graded course per semester, for 4 semesters, to complete your classwork for the PhD.

Even though I took it for R credit, I decided to write a paper for the class. I wrote on "The Objectivist Ethical System." I still have the paper, with your comments on it. You didn't like it, to say the least. You, rather amazingly, added this gratuitously to the end of your comments: "I do wish she didn't write such trashy novels." A comment one would not expect a teacher to make to a student who admired those novels, as I obviously did.

Which leads me to wonder if your question was in earnest, or a tongue-in-cheek way of casting doubt. Meaning no disrespect.

Chris said...

"A comment one would not expect a teacher to make to a student who admired those novels, as I obviously did."

Why? What's wrong with a teacher confiding that 1) they think an author writes poor fiction, 2) and they disagree with their student.

I haven't read Rand's novels, but I sincerely doubt they're of the aesthetic merit of a Dostoevsky or Steinbeck.... Those opening pages of Atlas Shrugged are about as poetic as a bowel movement, and are pungently more nauseating.

HBinswanger said...

Chris,

There's nothing wrong with disagreeing with a student per se. But here I did not go into esthetics and did not ask his view on her writing. It seems he wanted to insult and hurt me. Plus, he was supposed to be helping me.

When I taught esthetics at Pratt Institute, I had a student hand in a paper one paragraph of which was:

MATISSE IS ALL!

Now I happen to think Matisse is crummy. But I, an egoist, wouldn't dream of writing on her paper, "I do wish Matisse didn't paint such crummy works." Would you?

Chris said...

I very well may, if I thought it might open a dialogue on aesthetics. But I'm perhaps more 'objective' (not in your Randian sense) regarding aesthetics. Meaning I really do think Steinbeck is a better writer than King, or than Rand is no Hawthorne, McCarthy, or Faulkner, and that can be established through justified dialogue, and I really do think Quentin Tarrantino makes better movies than my students do with their iphones.

So, yes I have commented on students aesthetic choices, if and when I think it's fruitful for dialogue. I've also commented when I think a certain Aesthetic helps clarify a philosophy (e.g., Westworld is good on identity issues, The Wire on Marxist issues, Soprano's on Aristotle issues) But I know I'm in a minority position, and most people are happy to be rather 'liberal' about aesthetics (e.g., people like what they like and that's just their opinion man).

Chris said...

e.g., had a student insist during a lecture that 'Wedding Crashers' was the best movie ever made, no one could argue otherwise, but also that's his opinion so he can't be wrong.

You can see how, rationally, there's room for philosophical edification via serious disagreement here.

s. wallerstein said...

Hbinswanger,

You were a graduate student at that time, not a junior high school student.

Professor Wolff is frank about his opinions and I imagine that he has always been that way. By expressing his opinion about Ayn Rand's fiction, he treated you as a peer, not as a young soul who must be treated with tenderness. In a way, that he answered you that way is a compliment.

Ultimate Philosopher said...

I can just imagine Aristotle commenting on one of his student's writings the way Prof. Wolff commented on HB's. Really constructive and whatnot.

As for informed-aesthetician opinion on Atlas Shrugged, here's John Hospers':

http://www.objectivistliving.com/forums/index.php?/topic/1389-john-hospers-reviews/#comment-13583
“a supreme achievement, guaranteed of immortality”

Maybe the haters are just looking at something in a way it's not intended to be looked at. I think in this context of the "face illusion" where looking at the illusion from one perspective one sees a young woman and from another perspective one sees the old woman. Perhaps the haters go out of their way to see it only from the it's-an-old-woman vantage point.

And what the f is trashy about We the Living even by the haters' standards? I know that in one of her letters to a reader Rand explains that The Fountainhead cannot be analyzed by any of the usual standards for analyzing a novel; it's just too different/unique a novel. Really no room for face-illusion discrepancies with WTL however.

UP / CRC

Willard said...

Compare and contrast:

(1) I had a grad course from RW, circa 1970, while earning my Ph.D. there.

(2)I took it for "R" credit--which means ungraded.

I can just imagine readers noticing that (2) has been omitted in (1) whence the first was made to establish some (mostly irrelevant) credentials, ironically called bona fides.

***

> As for informed-aesthetician opinion on Atlas Shrugged, here's John Hospers' [...]

In Libertarian Review, Vol. VI, No. 6, October 1977.

Another intriguing omission.