My Stuff

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The passing of a great man

Pete Seegar has died at the age of ninety-four. As a teen-age high school student , I heard him in concert at Town Hall in New York City perhaps sixty-five years ago. He gave a rousing rendition of The Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase , a marvelous virtuoso banjo piece that I can still hear in my mind today. He and Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly defined politically inspired folk music for me. So few of the old minstrels remain true to their political commitments throughout their lives.  That, more than anything else is for me the mark of true greatness.

Ninety - four. A good age.

Things my grandmother neglected to tell me

One of the things I have learned on the long road to eighty is that if you do not blow your own horn you may not hear trumpets until you approach the Pearly Gates. Well , this morning I re-read the concluding chapter of my e -book on The Use and Abuse of Formal Models in Political Philosophy --  the chapter devoted to the so -called Prisoner's  Dilemma, and it is (Here come the trumpets) terrific.

So as soon as I am back on my computer next Monday I am going to re - post it as a stand alone blog post. Some of you may have read it but many have not and I honestly think it is really important.

Now, St Peter , about those imprudent expressions of atheism ....

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A miracle

Holy Batcave. It seems that my phone has a voice recognition capability. This post is being dictated. A new world has opened up.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Dreadful Deceit

I have now finished A Dreadful Deceit, the extremely important new book by the great American historian Jacqueline Jones. I shall have a good deal more to say about it when I again have access to a functioning computer, in ten days, but I wanted to give you all a heads up that this is a brilliant book that anyone interested in questions of race and class in capitalist America should read.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Home in nine days

This business of writing on an IPhone with one fat finger is a royal pain. I have a great deal I want to say about the world but it will have to wait until I  back ony computer (where I can enjoy the luxury of two fingers )

Stay with me!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Divided Loyalties

Americans have a long tradition of divided loyalties going all the way back to the Colonial period, when many Colonists retained their loyalty to the Crown. In my grandfather's day many socialists who had come to America from Germany or Russia were deeply ambivalent about America's entry into the war. In the mid-twentieth century the most well known and widely discussed divided loyalty was of course the emotional and financial support given by Irish-Americans to the IRA at a time when the US government was labelling them a terrorist organization. One tends to forget that Joe McCarthy got his start representing a heavily German-American Congressional district and defending Germany against the condemnation of its WW II atrocities.

So the divided loyalty of American Jews with regard to Israel is not surprising. What I find disturbing is the unwillingness of many left-wing Jewish intellectuals to speak openly and honestly about their divided loyalty and either to defend Israel's apartheid policies and bellicose foreign policy or openly acknowledge their rejection of those policies.   It is interesting that Israeli left intellectuals do not have that difficulty.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Even the Despicable Have Their Uses

Charles Krauthammer, bless his black heart, has said straight out what others do not dare to confess. The game-changing negotiations with Iran, because they have been successful, are making it impossible for Israel to launch a war against Iran and then suck America into it. This is undermining Netanyahu 's bellicose policy. AIPAC has succeeded in getting a large number of Democratic senators to attempt to sabotage Obama's foreign policy initiative, thus demonstrating once more the extraordinary power of the Israel lobby.

Krauthammer 's open acknowledgement of this forbidden truth is a welcome bit of honesty from the War Party in America. Iran has refused to cooperate with Netanyahu and his American lapdogs by cooperating both with negotiations and with the implementation of the agreements.  I leave it to Israel to judge what is in its national interest but as an American I feel justified in calling out these Senators (including my own) as craven chicken hawks happy to send others to their death rather than offend AIPAC.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Saints Anne and Joachim have Heard my Prayer

(For those of you who do not travel in those circles, Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary according to some traditions, are the patron saints of grandparents).

Both the Patriots and the Niners lost. I  am cool with my grandson ( although they could have arranged for the Niners to win, but then they only appear in the Apocrypha).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The limitations of the IPhone and one fat finger

At my request Charles posted as a comment the link to an interesting and useful NY Times column. I have a great deal to say about it but I simply cannot navigate well enough with the IPhone to make that feasible. It will have to wait until I get home two weeks from today.

My apologies.

A Sunday Morning in Paris

Ten years ago, when we bought our Paris apartment, we also bought a Segway. Susie was losing mobility because of her Multiple Sclerosis and she hoped that the Segway would serve as a substitute for her legs.  We disassembled it and took it to Paris, where, each time we come, she makes a Sunday morning expedition to the Jardin des Plantes about a kilometer from our apartment.  It is truly wonderful to see her gliding along with me trotting beside her to keep up.  For the brief time of the ride to the Jardin and back, she has conquered the MS and is as mobile as a girl. Parisians of course studiously take no notice as it would not be sophisticated to turn and stare.

The Segway is cranky and irritable and requires a good deal of attention to keep it functional but it is all worth it to see Susie cruising down the quais.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crise de Conscience

I face a serious personal crisis and I honestly do not know whether, should it come to it, I will be able to rise to the occasion. I am a Patriots fan. My only grandson , eight year old Samuel Emerson Wolff, is a Forty-Niners fan.  If the Patriots beat the Broncos tomorrow and the Niners beat the Seahawks, my Patriots and Samuel's Niners will meet in the Super Bowl on the day I fly home from Paris. I have sent a message to Samuel that I will stand with him and root for the Niners but I do not know whether I am strong enough to stand by my commitment

Oh Lord, Let this cup pass from me.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Head games

I did not bring my viola to Paris because it would not be fair to subject Susie to my practicing in a 330 square foot studio, but I did bring the music for K423 and K424 so that I could practice in my head. I have just "played" K424 and I have to say that Mozart is a real monster. The last movement starts easily enough but by about the fourth variation it is so tricky that I cannot quite hear it in my head. I look forward to trying it for real when I get home.


I have watched with dismay and puzzlement the effort by a large group of democratic senators to subvert Obama 's major Iranian diplomatic initiative. There is only one rational explanation - viz that they are in the pocket of AIPAC and Netanyahu. But why on earth is my Senator Hagen part of this cabal?

Does anyone have any actual information?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I am here

I have read your comments but the constraints of the IPhone make it difficult for me to respond.  Today I attempted without success to deposit cash in my Paris bank account. The local branch of my bank was unable to process so arcane a transaction so I must go to the home office in Place de l'Opera. There are times when I wonder.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Another Day Another Dinner

Rabbit this evening, dipped in egg, then dredged in a mixture of chopped hazelnut and five spices and curry, then braised and cooked in butter.  With that, clementine sections sautéed on butter and finally, my own dish, cherry tomatoes sautéed with garlic and chopped basil , washed down with a Sancerre blanc for Susie and a Beaume de venise for me, all to the exquisite lute playing of Paul O'Dette. Not a bad Paris evening.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Hanging in there

Rain this morning. No walk. Tomorrow I shall circumnavigate the fifth Arrondissement.  Coquilles St    Jacques for dinner this evening with Carmelized carrots. Still no computer. Argh!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

still Here

Well, I  still here, unable to blog but enjoying the Chris Christie meltdown. For those of you of a more serious turn of mind, Jackie Jones' new book, A Dreadful Deceit , is brilliant. The work now being done by the finest American Historians is far better than anything being done by sociologist or economists or political scientists or philosophers.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Trouble in Paradise

We are here but my computer is misbehaving. I may not be able to blog until I get home.   How will the world survive?

Monday, January 6, 2014


In the old days, American philosophy subsisted on European imports -- first Locke's New Way of Ideas, then Kantian rationalism, then Absolute Idealism, then Logical Positivism, then Analytic Philosophy, then Ordinary Language Philosophy, then Existentialism, then Phenomenology.  The only native American philosophical school was Pragmatism.  Because of the structure and timing of tenure, American Philosophy Departments resembled the alluvial deposits of river beds.  Young men [it was almost always men] would take up the latest European import, and just about when they got tenure and were sedimented for life, a new wave of Philosophy would wash up and a new batch of junior men would get tenure doing it.  If you cut a trough through a Philosophy Department, you could read off the successive European imports like a paleontologist.

Back when I was a lad, some Oxford philosophers with too much time on their hands spent a good deal of energy drawing subtle distinctions among a variety of English words that, to a casual observer, might seem to mean more or less the same thing.  This so-called "Ordinary Language Philosophy" was all the rage on the East Coast for a brief time.  J. L. Austin, among others, made much of the fact, for example, that there was a subtle difference of meaning between calling something an "accident" and calling it a "mistake." 

Josh Marshall runs a blog called Talking Points Memo that I click on several times each day.  This morning, after I put the sheets in the washing machine as part of the wrap-up before departing for Europe, I checked and came across the following story:

"A San Tan Valley, Ariz. woman, Melisah Havens, on Friday accidentally shot her husband outside their residence because she thought he was an intruder trying to burglarize her vehicle, police told KTVK Phoenix."

I should explain that Marshall, in the fine old tradition immortalized by Lincoln Stephens in his Autobiography, has taken to listing every police report of gun lovers shooting themselves, each other, or their children because they have not learned the first thing about gun safety [in this respect following the lesson of their spiritual leader, former Vice President Dick Cheney.]

Look at that story again.  As soon as I read it, I heard the plumy voice of an Oxford Don saying, ever so superciliously, "My dear fellow.  You don't mean that she shot her husband accidentally.  Nor do you mean that she shot him unintentionally.  You mean that she shot him by mistake."

I guess Oxford Ordinary Language Philosophy was good for something after all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


Google tells me that there have been more than 6500 comments posted to this blog.  That is a staggering number in little more than five years.  When I was teaching, was there ever a like period of time during which I had six thousand five hundred questions or comments in my classes?  I doubt it [and certainly not of the quality of the blog comments].  Thank you all for staying with me.

I am off to Paris tomorrow, arriving on Tuesday, so there will be a hiatus of several days before I am up and running in the Paris apartment.  I trust the world will manage to survive without me for that period of time.  I am looking forward to my urban walks in the early Paris mornings.

By the way, my idea for playing the trill passages did not work out, but I think I am managing them nonetheless.  The real problem is the last movement of K424 -- andante con variazione -- which Mozart, lord bless him, wrote as maddeningly tricky for the viola.  I think he got bored and just amused himself with weird stuff by about the third variation.  I shall practice it in my head while I am in Paris and see whether I can master it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


Susie and I are in the last stages of preparation for our trip to Paris on Monday, so I am even less inclined to deep thoughts than usual.  This morning, a good deal of my brain during my walk was devoted simply to surviving the cold -- 19 degrees when I started at six a.m.   I spent some of the walk working out in my head how to play a troublingly difficult little passage in the first movement of K424, the second Mozart violin/viola duet that I am now studying -- a pair of very quick little trill runs that make my brain freeze up.  I decided that if I simply treat the passages as two series of thirty-second notes, it will be easier to play.  As soon as I finish this post, I am going to see whether I am right.  As I just observed to Susie, I am in perpetual awe of professional violin and viola players.  They in turn, it is my impression, tend to take a rather prosaic view of their skills, rather like mechanics, and think it is really hard to write books, which for me is easy. 

The thing that most non-musicians get wrong is supposing that the skill is all in the left hand, with the fingers flying over the strings, whereas the real secret to great string playing is in the bow arm -- the right arm, if you are not Cary Grant in Indiscreet

I shall as usual continue to blog from Paris.  I am looking forward to my Paris morning walks, some of which I have described in detail in past blog posts.  I shall be curious to see whether the big ugly stands in front of Notre Dame have been taken down.  They were erected to commemorate the 850th anniversary of the launching of the construction of the great cathedral, which took more than a century to complete.  A friend who sometimes sings in the cathedral choir told me that the Monsignor in charge of the celebration got the brilliant idea of offering indulgences to devout worshipers with a little spare change.  Considering how that worked out for the Church in the sixteenth century, one might think there would be some hesitation about that idea, but like the Bourbons, the lords of the Church have "learned nothing and forgotten nothing."


Let me offer an historical answer to arfamo posted comment. In the sixties, when I wrote In Defense of Anarchism, the US had a universal male military draft. During the Viet Nam War, a great many men were ordered to report for induction into the Army and then to fight in Viet Nam. Some went willingly. Many went unwillingly. And there were a not inconsiderable number of young men who anguished over the question whether they had an obligation to obey even though they opposed the policy, BECAUSE AMERICA IS A DEMOCRATIC POLITY. Now, you may dismiss such considerations as foolish, but to those faced with the draft, they made a very great deal of difference. My little book was, among other things, a direct attack on this principled defense of the obligation to obey in a democracy. The disaster of the Viet Nam War almost destroyed the Army, in response to which the military high command switched to an all volunteer army so that the US would never again have to justify ordering citizens to fight. This switch to an all volunteer army was the last step in transforming the US into an imperial power. The Iraq and Afghanistan Wars would have been next to impossible with universal conscription. I never considered my book an argument for a utopian anarchist society. I have always believed that we must begin wherever we are in trying to change the world.

Friday, January 3, 2014


No walk today.  I got all suited up at 5:15 a.m., but it was 30 degrees outside and the high winds made it feel more like 15, so I turned around and came home.  I figure eighty has its privileges.

Andrew, I am ashamed to admit that I have never given much thought to the hot issue of nominalism versus Platonism,  despite the fact that when I was not yet eighteen I had studied with both Willard van Orman Quine and Nelson Goodman.  I even constructed a little Calculus of Size along nominalist lines for my term paper in Goodman's course when I was a Freshman [got a B+ -- bummer], but it was all just a lark for me.  My sights were set on bigger game:  The Transcendental Unity of Apperception.

LFC, you are indeed correct that Sam Beer was in the Government Department, not the History Department as I said.  I looked him up on Wikipedia and discovered to my astonishment that he passed away only four years ago, at the age of ninety-seven!  Perhaps Billy Joel was wrong.

Michael, I never encountered either Julian Schwinger or Alan Dershowitz while I was at Harvard.  My high school friend, Herb Winston, who went to Harvard a year before I [and told me to take Quine's Methods of Logic course] took Schwinger's advanced Quantum Mechanics course, despite being pre-med.  Schwinger was quite upset when he found out that a pre-med was in his course.  [In those days, pre-meds were considered pond scum by serious academics.]  Herb said that when he went to the annual meeting of the American Physics Society, senior physicists clustered around and quizzed him on what Schwinger was lecturing on in his course.  For reasons that need not be detailed, I am just as happy not to have met Dershowitz.

Finally, just a word on the exchange between Mesnenor and David Auerbach [to whom thanks are due for a recipe for pork cheeks.]  I have always thought of myself as striving to express the insights of the non-analytic philosophers about politics and other matters in a fashion that was consistent with the methodological strictures of Analytic Philosophy, but not necessarily constrained by the prejudices and blindness of Analytic Philosophers.

Now that I am caught up, I can go back to packing for our trip to Paris on Monday, while also practicing the viola part to K424 -- which turns out to be even harder than K423.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


It is a new year, and though the world looks pretty much unchanged from yesterday, some drawing of a line is called for, so today I shall try to catch up on a variety of interesting comments to which I have not yet responded.  In no particular order:

Andrew, when I wrote that post, I thought of your difficulties many years ago with my insistence that a metaphor is not an appropriate foundation for a philosophical theory.  Apparently it continues to haunt you.  I shall take a pass on your invocation of Plato and Aristotle.   Far be it from me to attempt to settle a dispute between those distinguished gentlemen.

Chris, the answer to your question is yes.  When I wrote In Defense of Anarchism in 1965, I was convinced that an  a priori justification of objective moral principles could be found.  When I published that little book five years later, I was in the midst of my struggle to find such a justification in the pages of Kant's Grundlegung.  It was my failure to find the argument there that persuaded me to give up my long-held belief [on the pious supposition that if Kant could not produce the argument, it did not exist, a methodological guideline that I still adhere to all these years later, having seen nothing to change my mind in the intervening forty-four years.]

LFC. a propos Sam Beer, I actually once scrubbed his floors!  As an undergraduate, I earned my own pocket money as a way of lifting from my parents some of the burden of putting me through school -- tuition at Harvard when I began was $400 a year, after all, rising to $600 by the time I graduated.  One of the odd jobs that I got through the Student Employment Office called for me to wash the floors in the Beer household.  I met Mrs. Beer, a wonderful woman who chatted with me as I worked.  She told me a hilarious story that, for some reason, seems not to have made it into my Autobiography, so I will tell it here.  Shortly after her husband was made a tenured Associate Professor in the History Department, she invited the wives of the senior members of the department to tea.  Although she made every effort to produce an elegant afternoon tea, it was obvious to her from the stiff and awkward behavior of her guests that something was seriously wrong.  As everyone was leaving, one of the oldest ladies kindly took her aside and explained what the trouble was.  Mrs. Beer had seated the wife of an Associate Professor higher up at the table than the wife of a Full Professor.  To Mrs. Beer's credit, she made it clear when she told me the story that she thought it was hilarious.

Joseph Streeter, I was quite interested in your comment about Lewis and Cheryl Misak.   There is no question that Quine and others took a dim view of Lewis' pioneering efforts in modal logic -- Quine because he thought all modal logic was nonsense and others because they thought [correctly] that Kripke's work made Lewis' work outdated.  But it is Lewis' work in the theory of knowledge that I consider important, and still do.  For those of you who are completely unfamiliar with it, I can perhaps say, in a phrase, that it was an effort to achieve a fruitful conjunction of Kant with Peirce and James.  As I think I indicated, it is in my opinion Lewis' early book, Mind and the World Order that is really important, not his magnum opus, Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation.   My copy of Analysis by the way is a gift from Lewis and is inscribed by him.  His very last semester, Spring of 1953, which was my last undergraduate semester, I took Lewis' graduate seminar on Theory of Knowledge.  At the last session, he brought in a stack of books he had no further use for -- mostly presentation copies of new books from the authors.  He offered them to the students.  The grad students -- stupidly, in my opinion -- grabbed for the latest work by some minor figure, but I saw a copy of Lewis' own book in the pile and dove for it.  That last year, I took all three courses Lewis offered, including his great course on the Critique of Pure Reason.  The paper I mentioned on Hume to which he penned his comment was the term paper for his Fall semester undergraduate course.

Michael, I have lots of stories about Harry Austryn Wolfson, who will always be my image of what a true scholar is.  I have told some of them on pages 97-100 of my Autobiography, which you can find by following the link at the top of the blog to [look for Total Memoir, or alternatively look in Volume I.]

Several people:  I agree with many of you that severe income inequality is not the root of the problem, although it is a very severe symptom.  As Chris said, the root problem is capitalism.  But there is no serious possibility of capitalism being replaced by socialism in America, so having identified capitalism as the problem, we must then ask, What if anything can we do to alleviate the suffering of those who are so adversely affected by the workings of capitalism?  I do not take the apocalyptic view that we must hope for things to get worse so that then they will [miraculously] get better.  That way lies end times eschatology.  I also agree that the Occupy folks were quite wrong to think that greed, as a human failing, has anything at all to do with the workings of capitalism.  But we are in a bad way, folks, and we must start with whatever we have.  If large numbers of people can be brought out into the streets to protest Wall Street, that is a start, admittedly a small start, but a start.  It is a measure of how bad things are that we would all consider it a great victory to return to the state of affairs that obtained at the beginning of the nineteen seventies.

And finally, to one and all, another warm thanks for the generous and friendly birthday wishes.  On the basis of the early evidence, I can report that being eighty is pretty much like being seventy-nine.  Who knew?