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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, October 9, 2017

CREDO [I BELIEVE]

From time to time, it is appropriate to re-post what I have written before, on the principle, articulated by Kierkegaard in Either/Or, and by Plato before him in The Gorgias,  that the essence of the Ethical is repetition.  Accordingly, I re-post here my Credo, which first appeared here on November 28, 2010, and was re-posted, with elaborations, on February 25, 2014:


We human beings live in this world by thoughtfully, purposefully, intelligently transforming nature so that it will satisfy our needs and our desires. We call this activity of transforming nature "production," and it is always, everywhere, inescapably a collective human activity. Every moment that we are alive we are relying on what those before us have discovered or invented or devised. There is no technique, however primitive, that is the invention of one person alone. Like it or not, we are all in this life together. Even those giants of industry who think of themselves as self-made men are completely dependent for their empire building upon the collective knowledge and practice of the entire human species.

All of us eat grain we have not grown, fruit we have not planted, meat we have not killed or dressed. We wear clothes made of wool we have not combed and carded, spun or woven. We live in houses we have not built, take medicines we neither discovered nor produced, read books we have not written, sing songs we did not compose. Each of us is completely dependent on the inherited knowledge, skill, labor, and memory of all who have gone before us, and all who share the earth with us now.

We have a choice. We can acknowledge our interdependence, embracing it as the true human condition; or we can deny it, deluding ourselves into thinking that we are related to one another only as parties to a bargain entered into in a marketplace. We can recognize that we need one another, and owe to one another duties of generosity and loyalty. Or we can pretend to need no one save through the intermediation of the cash nexus.

I choose to embrace our interdependence. I choose to acknowledge that the food I eat, the clothes on my back, and the house in which I live are all collective human products, and that when any one of us has no food or clothing or shelter, I am diminished by that lack.

There are two images alive in America, competing for our allegiance. The first is the image of the lone horseman who rides across an empty plain, pausing only fleetingly when he comes to a settlement, a man apparently having no need of others, self-sufficient [so long as someone makes the shells he needs for his rifle or the cloth he needs for his blanket], refusing to acknowledge that he owes anything at all to the human race of which he is, nonetheless, a part.

The other is the image of the community that comes together for a barn-raising, working as a group on a task that no one man can do by himself, eating a communal meal when the day is done, returning to their homes knowing that the next time one of their number needs help, they will all turn out to provide it.

These images are simple, iconic, even primitive, but the choice they present us with remains today, when no one rides the plains any more, and only the Amish have barn-raisings. Today, as I write, there are tens of millions of Americans who cannot put a decent meal on the table in the evening for their families, scores of millions threatened with the loss of their homes. And yet, there are hundreds of thousands lavishing unneeded wealth on themselves, heedless of the suffering of their fellow Americans, on whose productivity, inventiveness, and labor they depend for the food they eat, the clothing they wear, the homes they live in, and also for the luxuries they clutch to their breasts.

The foundation of my politics is the recognition of our collective interdependence. In the complex world that we have inherited from our forebears, it is often difficult to see just how to translate that fundamental interdependence into laws or public policies, but we must always begin from the acknowledgement that we are a community of men and women who must care for one another, work with one another, and treat the needs of each as the concern of all.


If all of this must be rendered in a single expression, let it be: From each of us according to his or her ability; to each of us according to his or her need.

7 comments:

Jerry Brown said...

That is definitely a post worth reposting. A lot.

s. wallerstein said...

We're all interdependent, sure.

However, a slaveholder generally knows that they are dependent on their slaves, just as a capitalist knows that they depend on the workers that they exploit.

It's not clear to me how we get from the fact of interdependence to the idea (which I agree with) that we must care for one another and treat the needs of each as the concern of all.

Either you care about other people or you don't. I'm not a saint, but I have the impression that I care about the anonymous others that I run into every day in urban life a bit more than the average anonymous other cares about me. I'm a bit more considerate, more respectful, more courteous, more empathetic than the average anonymous other, although some are more considerate and more respectful and more courteous and more empathetic than me, to be sure.

How do we convince that average anonymous other to care about those outside their immediate family group? Teach them the Sermon on the mount?

Ginger Sanches said...

I was very impressed and touched to the depth of my soul by your reasoning, best resume writers since I fully agree with many of your words.

Alexander McColl said...

I totally agree.

Worth reposting, so I shared it on my blog (amccoll.com/robert-paul-wolffs-credo)

Richard said...

I have some questions.

(1) Are all human activities transformative of nature? Is the activity of knowing that, say, there are billions of galaxies transformative of those galaxies?

(2) Are all of any one person's acts of knowing completely dependent, i.e., dependent in all aspects, upon those of others?

(3) Are these things matters of choice? Is the choice of a thesis opposed to the one you have chosen the choice of an error?

By the way, the proof that I am not a robot was truly ridiculous? Is the post one which a sign is posted a sign or not?

tom llewellyn said...

This is a great statement of the human condition. I wish you would post it on Facebook so I could share it with my friends.

Richard said...

Um, it should have been: Is a signpost on which a sign is posted a sign or not?