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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Sunday, January 25, 2015


I have been so wrapped up in preparing the next lecture for my course on Karl Marx's Critique of Capitalism that I have allowed a number of comments to go by without proper responses.  Perhaps a Sunday morning, now that the crossword puzzle and double crostic are out of the way, is a suitable time to catch up.

I have a special treat for my UNC students, by the way.  They get to watch an octogenarian attempt to employ modern technology.  It seems that the classroom in which I teach is equipped with whatever device it is that allows me to project prepared images of one sort or another onto a screen.  I have been creating these on my home computer and transferring them by way of a flash drive to the laptop I plan to take to Paris.  I will take the computer with me to class and, with the assistance of some of the students, connect it to the device.  All of this will produce yawns in my readers, but this is the first time I have attempted this, and I am enormously impressed with myself.

Herewith some responses:

To Andrew Blais, who asks, "Aren't your comrades a result of your socialization and other extra deductive causal factors? "I'm with the rabbit whompers like my father and my father's father...." Why, then, is it a matter of choice?"  Yes, absolutely, but that is the human condition.  There are countless examples of people who have made life commitments very different from what their social location might have led us to expect, but enough probing usually exposes causes and reasons for those choices.  That is the human condition.  There is no escape from it, not into pure reason, not into an Original Position.

To Carl, who wrote:  "I showed this post to a friend who's a philosopher of science. He notes that the more commonly cited Cognition in the Wild ( advances the same thesis, and comments, "The big problem for the view is why, if scientific reasoning is 'fundamentally identical' to tracking cognition that has been part of the human cognitive endowment for 100k years, did modern science only arise in Europe in the 1500s?"  I think Liebenberg's response [and mine] would be that the fundamental structure of scientific reasoning has been a part of human intellectual capabilities for 100,000 years, but social, religious, economic and other factors explain why the distinctive explosion of knowledge that we identify with modern science is a very recent development.  The ancient Greeks thought "scientifically," as do all other peoples of whom we have any knowledge.  If you look at what sorts of thought processes Kalahari trackers go through, you will recognize them as the common possession of all human groups, though manifested in many different ways.

Again to Carl, who remarked, a propos my post on Deflate-gate, "The argument for disqualifying the Patriots is not that they won because they cheated. The argument is that they should be disqualified because they cheated."  I know that.  I was just snarking at the TV commentators who talked as though the inflation of the ball had anything at all to do with the outcome of the game.  Besides, I am a Patriots fan.

Jerry Fresia responds to my rendering of the wind-up of my last Marx lecture:  "Thanks for the summary. This is quite a course! I love the parallels you are drawing. I can't remember: what level are the students? What has been the reaction thus far? I suspect a few heads are exploding."  The course has seven graduate students in it and twelve undergraduates, almost all of whom are Juniors or Seniors.  I really am not sure yet what the reaction of the students is.  I suffer from a life-long character defect -- I cannot stop talking.  I warned the students about this on the first day, and told them that if they waited until I fell silent before making a comment or asking a question they would never get a word in edgewise, but so far the tsunami of words coming out of my mouth has all but swamped them.

As Porky Pig used to say, "Tha tha tha that's all folks."  Keep the comments coming.

1 comment:

Carl said...

My friend responds:

"Mentioning the Greeks is a cheat since they're the most plausible society outside of post 1492-Europe for engaging in science. Thousands of other societies in the past 100k years don't come close.

'social, religious, economic and other factors explain why the distinctive explosion of knowledge that we identify with modern science is a very recent development' - This could be mostly correct; it's an extremely difficult issue.

A central problem with the approach is that then scientific reasoning plays only a small role in explaining 'the distinctive explosion of scientific knowledge'. My view is that that probably speaks against a classification of hunter-gatherer and scientific cognitive processes that types them as highly similar.

There's certainly an appeal to highlighting the similarities -- they're both inductive and abductive inferences based on available evidence. But that doesn't mean there aren't fine-grained distinctions that potentially should be emphasized by accounts of scientific reasoning. Hunter-gatherers didn't formulate highly general regularities in the language of mathematics via idealization and abstraction, Galileo did.

The issue also depends on how unique social conditions in post 1492-Europe were compared to other societies in which science didn't arise. China in the middle ages is particularly puzzling in this regard. Lots of information, communication and travel opportunities available, the upper classes had leisure time and nobles supported intellectual pursuits, etc. Yet no science.

Of course anybody trying to understand the scientific revolution faces problems of how and why it developed, and why it didn't develop elsewhere. But I think placing lots of emphasis on social/cultural/economic factors while downplaying differences between scientific and non-scientific cognition has unique difficulties."