Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

Total Pageviews

Saturday, March 31, 2018


I hate holidays in general, and religious holidays especially, even though the music played on classical music stations during Easter isn’t bad.  Here I am sitting at my computer on the day before Easter Sunday, casting about for something to blog about, but nothing comes save idle thoughts.  Still and all, a blog is just the place for idle thoughts, so here goes.

Let me begin with the delightful fact that a high school senior has driven an A-list right wing bloviator off the air, at least for a week.  David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland massacre and a participant in the nationwide student protest against gun violence, was ridiculed by the reliably despicable Laura Ingraham, who described him as whining because he had been rejected by four colleges despite having a 4.1 GPA.  Unfazed, Hogg tweeted the names of twelve companies who advertise on her Fox news show, urging his fellow students to contact them, and so many of the companies withdrew their advertising that she has announced a one week absence from her show.  And they say there is nothing good about capitalism!

[By the way, in case anyone is mystified as to how a student could have a GPA that averages better than an A, the reason is that Advanced Placement courses for students aiming for college carry an additional point on the grade score, so 5.0, not 4.0, is the top GPA possible.  Schools with a heavy minority representation are less likely to offer AP courses, one of the countless structural obstacles facing Black and Latino/a students.]

Which brings me to a question much discussed and misunderstood by cable news commentators:  Why can’t Donald Trump fire anyone face to face or even on the phone, despite having made his name on TV by “firing” people on The Apprentice.  The answer is obvious.  Trump is a coward.  He quite literally does not have the courage to look someone in the eye and tell him or her to pack up and go.  His language is completely revealing.  He repeatedly describes people as kneeling before him, abasing themselves before him, begging him for money or a job or approval.  He is obsessed by such fantasies as only a sniveling coward would be.  Like all cowards, he is desperately insecure.  There is no amount of flattery sufficiently fulsome [in the correct meaning of that word] to reassure him.  I think we can assume without too much risk of error that as a very small boy he was ridiculed mercilessly by his father, and nursed secret fantasies of retaliation.

On a more serious note, I have been brooding about the curious strengths and weaknesses of the odd Republican form of government established by the Constitution.  Beneath the clown show of presidential politics, a group of genuinely awful cabinet secretaries and other appointed government officials have been doing everything they can to reverse eighty years of socially and economically progressive federal policies.  The latest example is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s attempt to roll back regulations limiting automotive exhaust fumes.  This is pointlessly, gratuitously terrible, but thanks to the federal structure of the United States, it is probably fruitless.  California has enacted strict pollution standards as a sovereign state, and California’s economy is so large that car manufacturers are forced to comply or lose that market.  Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, is dedicated to destroying public education, but the funding for education is so radically decentralized that there is very little she can actually do.  And so on and on.  The striking exception is Jeff Sessions, whose Justice Department can in fact inflict a very great deal of serious harm on people of color, something Sessions has lusted to do his entire life.

When progressives controlled the Congress and the White House, people like me fumed [rightly so] at the resistance put up by benighted states to humane, decent, forward-looking policies.  Now we can take comfort that those structural obstacles to centralized power are working for us rather than against us.

Needless to say, these thoughts raise interesting questions about the best form of a socialist government.

I end with a troubling thought that came to me as I was walking this morning.  I have been blogging for nine years now, and some of you have been with me most of that time.  I think of you not as an audience but as friends, as comrades, as, at the very least, reliable conversationalists.  And yet, save for a handful of you whom I knew before I started, like Tom Cathcart, I have never met any of you.  Indeed, I do not even know most of your names, let alone how old you are.  That is, for someone my age, really strange.


Michael Llenos said...

Dr. Wolff,

You typed:
"Why can’t Donald Trump fire anyone face to face or even on the phone, despite having made his name on TV by “firing” people on The Apprentice. The answer is obvious. Trump is a coward. He quite literally does not have the courage to look someone in the eye and tell him or her to pack up and go."

Obviously, Trump had the courage to fire people on The Apprentice, with millions of people watching, so you mean he is not a coward in that sense.

In Book XII chap. 22 of The Analects it reads:

'A little while ago, when I had an interview with the Master, and asked for a definition of knowledge, he replied, "By promoting the straight and degrading the crooked you can make even the crooked straight,"' --Confucius (Lun Yu) English 1910

So the above quote is basically what President Trump is doing. However, his failure to pick good people for the job is either his lack of experience in politics, or the fact that the pool of people to pick from is limited in good people. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (I hope that's her name) was a very good pick as a press secretary).

LFC said...

The point in the OP about 'states rights' is interesting. Pressed for time at the moment, perhaps will come back and comment more fully later.

s. wallerstein said...

I agree with what you say about holidays, religious holidays and that the only good thing about them is the religious music that they play on the radio.

I once tutored an up and coming woman executive in English as a foreign language. As Christmas approached, I mentioned that the only good thing about Christmas was that I could listen to Handel's Messiah on the radio (long before the days of YouTube).

She was so befuddled that at the end of the class she took me to a record store (they still existed in those days) to buy a CD of the Messiah. Since she had money, she bought the most expensive version, which in those days I never would have done myself.

She took the CD home to listen to it.

The next class she handed me the CD with a sour face, explaining that it was depressing.
I tried to explain that it has its down moments, but at the end Christ rises and they all sing "hallelujah", but she lacked the patience to wait for the happy ending.

I still have the CD.

Jerry Fresia said...

- s. wallerstein, good story

- Professor, it would be interesting to see a distribution, geographically, of where your readers are. We could be living very
close, in some cases, to one another, and not know it. I think a world tour is in order.

- I miss Tom Cathcart comments; my fear is that he is just a reader these days.

Charles Pigden said...

Well, Professor Wolff, as regular (and appreciative) reader and an occasional commentator, here’s a brief bio so that you can imagine me better. I am 61 years old and thus a generation younger than yourself. (My mother is almost exactly your age.) Like you (for most of your working life) I am a professional philosopher. Here’s an augmented version of my blurb from our Departmental website.

After graduating from Kings College, Cambridge in 1979, Charles Pigden spent five years studying at La Trobe in Australia on a Commonwealth Scholarship before first coming to Otago as a postdoctoral fellow in 1986. After a brief stint teaching at Massey, he returned to Otago as a lecturer in 1988 where he has taught ever since. Charles has published on a wide range of subjects from the analytic/synthetic distinction through truthmaker theory and the existence (or otherwise) of abstract objects to Jane Austen’s Mr Elliot. He is (as they say) a 'Russell scholar'. He has edited Russell on Ethics (1999) (which won the Bertrand Russell Society Book Award for 2000), contributed the chapter on ethics to the Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell and written the entry on Russell’s Moral Philosophy for the Stanford Online Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.  (He also co-authored the entry on Lakatos.) He is an expert on the Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories, being the first to revive the issue after Popper’s denunciations of conspiracy theorizing in the forties, fifties and sixties. Though Charles dabbles his fingers in many philosophical pies, his chief interest is in meta-ethics. He is a defender of the error-theory with special interests in Moore, Hume and the Is/Ought Question. He is the only philosopher of his acquaintance to have published a philosophical dialogue in blank verse (‘Complots of Mischief’). He is interested in sketching, running, walking, chopping wood, gardening weight-lifting and swimming, having completed a thirty-kilometre swim down the Dunedin Harbor. He adores Karaoke but cannot claim to be a virtuoso.

The only thing to add to this as that for fourteen years I was a member of the New Labour Party which merged into the Alliance, a confederation of political groups that opposed the New Zealand Labour Party when it was (rather bizarrely) taken over by a set of set of New Right ideologues. I am a left-wing social democrat (not a socialist as I do not believe in the abolition of capitalism, though I would like to see it drastically modified). The Alliance helped to fight the neo-Liberal Revolution to a standstill before the party broke up in 2003, but we were not very successful in trying to reverse it. There were a lot of defeats and some very Pyrrhic victories. (The results are, as you would expect. New Zealand now has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world and surprise, surprise, the indigenous population are disproportionately represented in that swollen prison population. Child Poverty and Homelessness are also big issues.) In my capacity as a British citizen (I am also a naturalised New Zealand citizen) , I am a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. My biggest regret about my years as an activist in New Zealand is that we did not really wise up to the threat of climate change and consequently did not do much about it.

Oh, my wife (to whom I have been married for 38 years) is a social worker, cat-breeder and (formerly) a home-birth educator who I met when we were both at Cambridge where she studied French and Russian. I have one son who is a screen-writer, movie director, actor and wrestler, a daughter who is a croupier in Melbourne, and another who is completing a PhD in psychology as well as raising her baby son who turned one today. She and her husband (who runs a small plastering business) share a house with us.

One oddity. Though I have many American friends, I have never visited the United States except for the transit-lounges of the Los Angeles and Honolulu airports.

s. wallerstein said...

Charles Pidgen,

The philosophy of conspiracy theories sounds fascinating.

You've not missed much if you've never visited the United States. It looks better in the movies than it really is.

s. wallerstein said...

Jerry Fresia,

We Wolff blog readers in Chile have already begun to unite.

A young reader, who posts as anonymous, contacted me and we got together to have coffee
and converse. I'll preserve his anonymity, but he's a very bright, knowledgeable and politically aware young man.

Jerry Fresia said...

s. wallerstein,

How nice. Little RP Wolf Clubs sprouting up here and there; calling all Wolff readers in the great Milano area.....

Anonymous said...

@Charles Pigden,

I agree with Wallerstein. I had never heard about the Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories, but it sure sounds intriguing. Is there something introductory about it one could have access to? Lecture notes, tutorials, you know, that kind of thing.

Anonymous said...

I end with a troubling thought that came to me as I was walking this morning.... I have never met any of you. Indeed, I do not even know most of your names, let alone how old you are. That is, for someone my age, really strange.

The answer seems obvious. We must organize a Philosopher's Stone convention, but should it be held in North Carolina or Paris?

Anonymous said...

Wolff, how many sleeping bags can you accommodate in your appartement?

Charles Pigden said...

Yes there is a book: Coady, David (2006) ed. Conspiracy Theories: the Philosophical Debate, London, Ashgate This contains most of the important articles (including extracts from Popper) up until 2006. It reprints one of my old papers (‘Popper Revisited’ 1995 which was the first to challenge the Popperian orthodoxy on this subject, namely that conspiracy theories *as such* are somehow suspect or unbelievable) and includes a new one (‘Complots of Mischief’ which spoofs Shakespeare’s Coriolanus) . There is also a monograph, Dentith, Matthew (2014) The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories, Palgrave, Macmillan to which I contributed the foreword. (If you want a very concise exposition of my view, that Foreword is a good place to start. ) For those with ready access to a university Library there is a special issue of *Episteme: the Journal of Social Cognition*, 2007, 4:2, devoted to the subject. This includes my paper ‘Conspiracy Theories and the ConventionalWisdom’ due shortly to reappear in a much revised, improved and extended version as ‘Conspiracy Theories and the Conventional Wisdom Revisited’ . I have a paper in Brownlee, Coady, Lippert-Rasmmussen eds (2016) The Blackwell Companion to Applied Philosophy, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, ‘‘Are Conspiracy Theories Epistemically Vicious?’ (I say not necessarily and that a principled skepticism about conspiracy theories IS epistemically vicious). Most of my papers and many of those my co-workers such as Matthew Dentith, David Coady and Kurtis Hagen, can be found on our respective webpages on PhilPapers and One of my chief opponents is the legal scholar Cas Sunstein, who has a much -cited paper ‘Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures’ which I discuss in ‘Are Conspiracy Theories Epistemically Vicious’. So there is now a fair bit of writing on this subject but not more than a diligent person could master in a fortnight.

Anonymous said...

@Charles Pigden

Much appreciated!