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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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."




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Monday, September 3, 2018

A NEW ADVENTURE


Tomorrow, before dawn, I shall set out for RDU airport to start a new adventure in my long life.  On a day on which the temperature threatens to hit 95 in the Big Apple, I shall fly to LaGuardia, catch a cab to Morningside Heights, and after touching base in various offices and having lunch with Todd Gitlin in the Pulitzer building café, I will go upstairs with him to launch Sociology GU4600, “The Mystifications of Social Reality.”   I feel a little as I did in 1958 when I went to the first meeting of my section of Social Sciences 5 to begin surveying two millennia of European history for a class of Harvard preppies who had learned a good deal more Roman history at Choate, Groton, and Philips Academy than I had managed to swot up in the preceding several months.

Columbia these days turns out to be less efficiently run than a V. A. hospital, if that can be imagined.  Over the last sixty years, I have one way or another taught at close to two dozen colleges and universities, and Columbia is by several orders of magnitude less well run than any of them, private or public, big or small, rich or poor.  Thus it is that as students begin the first day of the new semester, they will find that our course [alone among all the others] is listed on line as meeting in a room TBD.  We shall see whether anyone shows up.

Every Tuesday this fall, save Election Day, I shall fly up to New York, sometimes returning that night, sometimes staying over.  This means that there will be a regular hiatus in my blog postings, but I will keep you informed as to how it all goes.

Wish me luck.

12 comments:

Jordan said...

Good luck, Prof!

s. wallerstein said...

I also wish you luck.

Dean said...

Good luck, and have fun. (I wish the same for the students.) Prof. Gitlin will be presenting a lecture at my campus on the other coast in early November. Its title is "The Other 1968s: Counterrevolution, Communism, and Desublimation."

Andrew Cameron said...

I look very much forward to hearing how the course unfolds. A lucky bunch, this group of students. I'm curious about the airfare to and from NYC. Presumably you aren't paying this out of pocket. Is the cost of flying to and fro baked into the contract you signed with Columbia? I ask because in college I had a Spanish professor who, if I am remembering correctly, flew weekly from California to the blustery heights of Mt. St James in sunny Worcester, MA. It always struck me as a ludicrous arrangement, and I often wondered about the contractual specifics. Forgive me if this seems an invasive question.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Not invasive at all. I get paid an absurd pittance as an adjunct professor [$8000] and then the Society of Senior Scholars chips in separately another $7000 which, after I pay taxes on it, will cover my travel if I do not stay over more than four or five times. This is rather less than I was paid by UNC Chapel Hill, a state university under budgetary attack by a right wing legislature. At eighty-four, this is something of an adventure.

Carl said...

The M60 bus also runs from LaGuardia to 116th & Broadway, if you have an extra half hour and want to save $30.

Jerry Fresia said...

I'm confident that you'll show these fortunate students what a real teacher is all about!

Sohail Rao said...

Dear professor,
I watched full series of your lectures on critique of pure reason on youtube. In the end you talked about second part of the critique and commented that Kant has finally disproved God’s existence and anyone who believes in religion is acting illogically. I disagree to this statement and will try to present my case.

I never had formal logic or philosophy education so I will present my case in layman’s terms. What I say may already have been countered in philosophy. If that is the case then I apologize to have wasted your time.

We can agree that Kant has disproved that God can exist but the question arises: How can we consider Kant’s work as final? Have we not witnessed elaborate theories in the past being disproved? How can we say Kant’s will not be in future? Newtonian physics is an example that has been proved to be wrong at least at subatomic level as well at level of galaxies, that is when things are at very small scale or very large scale. I believe possibility will always be there that Kant’s theory may be disproved in future and as a result God may get his right to exist.

Secondly what Kant has presented is not something new in my view. The concepts are already there explicitly given in Quran (or Koran, the holy book of Muslims). Kant only has tried to prove it philosophically what was already stated in Quran in 6th century. The starting point of his proof, that we have to have at least some knowledge a priori, is just stated in my view but he does not justify how we got it. This is already in Quran, if I can quote:

‘When thy Lord said to Angels, “Verily I am about to place one in my stead on earth, they said, “Wilt Thogh place there one who will do ill and shed blood, when we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness?” God said, “Verily I know what ye know not!” And He taught Adam the names of all things, and then set them before Angels, and said, “Tell me names of these if ye are endowed with wisdom.” They said, “Parise be to Thee! We have no knowledge but what Thou hast given us to know. Thou art the knowing, the wise”. He said, “O Adam inform them of names.”. And when he had informed them of the names, God said, “Did I not say to you that I know the hidden things of the Heavens and of the earth, and that I know what ye bring to light and what ye hide” (2:30-33)

Now the way I see Kant has started his argument from what is mentioned above, that we have (or we must have in order to be able to gain further knowledge) some knowledge, the capability to have concepts, a priori, but never proves how we got it and takes it as a given. It is clear that the statement in Quran “He taught Adam the names of all things” means God gave the man the capability to build concepts. Now if we keep religion out then we have no way to have even a clue why, in all the universe, man is the only one who has this capability. Out of millions of species why only we got it?

I cannot add anyore words so will post another comment to complete my argument
Thanks and Regards,

Sohail Rao said...

Dear professor,
I watched full series of your lectures on critique of pure reason on youtube. In the end you talked about second part of the critique and commented that Kant has finally disproved God’s existence and anyone who believes in religion is acting illogically. I disagree to this statement and will try to present my case.

I never had formal logic or philosophy education so I will present my case in layman’s terms. What I say may already have been countered in philosophy. If that is the case then I apologize to have wasted your time.

We can agree that Kant has disproved that God can exist but the question arises: How can we consider Kant’s work as final? Have we not witnessed elaborate theories in the past being disproved? How can we say Kant’s will not be in future? Newtonian physics is an example that has been proved to be wrong at least at subatomic level as well at level of galaxies, that is when things are at very small scale or very large scale. I believe possibility will always be there that Kant’s theory may be disproved in future and as a result God may get his right to exist.

Secondly what Kant has presented is not something new in my view. The concepts are already there explicitly given in Quran (or Koran, the holy book of Muslims). Kant only has tried to prove it philosophically what was already stated in Quran in 6th century. The starting point of his proof, that we have to have at least some knowledge a priori, is just stated in my view but he does not justify how we got it. This is already in Quran, if I can quote:

‘When thy Lord said to Angels, “Verily I am about to place one in my stead on earth, they said, “Wilt Thogh place there one who will do ill and shed blood, when we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness?” God said, “Verily I know what ye know not!” And He taught Adam the names of all things, and then set them before Angels, and said, “Tell me names of these if ye are endowed with wisdom.” They said, “Parise be to Thee! We have no knowledge but what Thou hast given us to know. Thou art the knowing, the wise”. He said, “O Adam inform them of names.”. And when he had informed them of the names, God said, “Did I not say to you that I know the hidden things of the Heavens and of the earth, and that I know what ye bring to light and what ye hide” (2:30-33)

Now the way I see Kant has started his argument from what is mentioned above, that we have (or we must have in order to be able to gain further knowledge) some knowledge, the capability to have concepts, a priori, but never proves how we got it and takes it as a given. It is clear that the statement in Quran “He taught Adam the names of all things” means God gave the man the capability to build concepts. Now if we keep religion out then we have no way to have even a clue why, in all the universe, man is the only one who has this capability. Out of millions of species why only we got it?

I cannot add anyore words so will post another comment to complete my argument
Thanks and Regards,

Sohail Rao said...


To continue my argument:

Thirdly, on determinism and free will I do not see any conflict that can not be resolved. I see there are three type of creations in this universe:
1- Non-living things. They have a fixed path and they have no capability to act out of their own will. E.g galaxies and planets have a fixed path that they need to take in time
2- Living things, except man, have capability to act but their action is restricted by instincts only. They must behave in way that minimizes individual pain and maximizes individual pleasure
3- Man has instincts as well, but in addition he has the capability to know right and wrong. The actual test, according to religion, in my view, is if he acts on his instincts or on moral principle of right and wrong.

Now let me show why I see no problem in reconciling free will with deterministic realms.
The Einstien theory says that we live in time-space. Now the way I see is that all the outcome of all the possibilities resulting as a result of action of a subject already exist in this time-space. Lets say at some point in time I decide to tell a lie or truth. The outcome of both exists in time-space as present reality I just chose one of the two to materializes. As I would say, events don’t happen, we just encounter them or in case of living things, chose one of them in time. All the possible events are already there pre-existing in time-space and one of all those is chosen by the subject’s action. If we consider Einstein’s theory as true then the seed of a tree, from the very beginning carries within itself the organic unit of the tree as a present fact. It just unfolds to us in serial time.

So, I would say the below:
1- Non-living things actions are pre-determined. They have no option to choose any event. It is predetermined for them from start. So, a planet cannot change its trajectory, it must follow what has been pre-determined for it
2- Living things, except humans, chose the outcome based on their instincts. They do not have capability to know right from wrong and act in a way that minimizes their pain and maximizes their pleasure. They still pick one of many possible outcomes those are already there in time-space, but their choice is limited by instincts
3- Man has the free will to chose whatever outcome he wants out of all the possible outcomes those are pre-existing in time-space. So, man is the only one who has the capability to decide based on right or wrong as well as well as on instincts that minimizes personal pain and maximizes personal pleasure. The test, according to religion, is if he acts out of instincts or based on moral principle that has already been instituted in him.
According to Quran:

“By the soul of man and Him who perfected it and inspired it with the knowledge of vice and virtue.” (91:7-8)

‘Verily We proposed to the Heaven and the earth and to the mountains to receive the trust (of personality), but they refused the burden and they feared to receive it. Man alone undertook to bear it, but hath proved unjust, senseless!’ (33:72)

Above two verses explicitly say man has the capability to act according to his free will and that the faculty that allows him to know right from wrong has already been inspired in him. He does not need elaborate theories of philosophy to know right from wrong, he just knows it. But he also has the capability to act out of instincts. It is his actions those are based on instincts that apparently show us he faults many times and does wrong, but it does not mean he can not know right from wrong and act accordingly.

Thanks and regards,

Sohail Rao said...


To continue my argument:

Thirdly, on determinism and free will I do not see any conflict that can not be resolved. I see there are three type of creations in this universe:
1- Non-living things. They have a fixed path and they have no capability to act out of their own will. E.g galaxies and planets have a fixed path that they need to take in time
2- Living things, except man, have capability to act but their action is restricted by instincts only. They must behave in way that minimizes individual pain and maximizes individual pleasure
3- Man has instincts as well, but in addition he has the capability to know right and wrong. The actual test, according to religion, in my view, is if he acts on his instincts or on moral principle of right and wrong.

Now let me show why I see no problem in reconciling free will with deterministic realms.
The Einstien theory says that we live in time-space. Now the way I see is that all the outcome of all the possibilities resulting as a result of action of a subject already exist in this time-space. Lets say at some point in time I decide to tell a lie or truth. The outcome of both exists in time-space as present reality I just chose one of the two to materializes. As I would say, events don’t happen, we just encounter them or in case of living things, chose one of them in time. All the possible events are already there pre-existing in time-space and one of all those is chosen by the subject’s action. If we consider Einstein’s theory as true then the seed of a tree, from the very beginning carries within itself the organic unit of the tree as a present fact. It just unfolds to us in serial time.

So, I would say the below:
1- Non-living things actions are pre-determined. They have no option to choose any event. It is predetermined for them from start. So, a planet cannot change its trajectory, it must follow what has been pre-determined for it
2- Living things, except humans, chose the outcome based on their instincts. They do not have capability to know right from wrong and act in a way that minimizes their pain and maximizes their pleasure. They still pick one of many possible outcomes those are already there in time-space, but their choice is limited by instincts
3- Man has the free will to chose whatever outcome he wants out of all the possible outcomes those are pre-existing in time-space. So, man is the only one who has the capability to decide based on right or wrong as well as well as on instincts that minimizes personal pain and maximizes personal pleasure. The test, according to religion, is if he acts out of instincts or based on moral principle that has already been instituted in him.
According to Quran:

“By the soul of man and Him who perfected it and inspired it with the knowledge of vice and virtue.” (91:7-8)

‘Verily We proposed to the Heaven and the earth and to the mountains to receive the trust (of personality), but they refused the burden and they feared to receive it. Man alone undertook to bear it, but hath proved unjust, senseless!’ (33:72)

Above two verses explicitly say man has the capability to act according to his free will and that the faculty that allows him to know right from wrong has already been inspired in him. He does not need elaborate theories of philosophy to know right from wrong, he just knows it. But he also has the capability to act out of instincts. It is his actions those are based on instincts that apparently show us he faults many times and does wrong, but it does not mean he can not know right from wrong and act accordingly.

Thanks and regards,

Sohail Rao said...

I apologize to have posted my comments twice. I got timeout on first try on both postings so did not realize it was already successful and tried again.
Regards,