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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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, July 22, 2019

NIGHT THOUGHTS


Lying awake at 1:40 this morning and reviewing the arc of my life, I had a really odd thought, one that revealed to me the absurd randomness of our existence.  It occurred to me that I do not regret a single thing I did, a single movement of my limbs, a single breath I took at any time in my life up to May, 1969.  Why?  Because in that month, on some evening, I know not which, my second son was conceived.  One among the millions of sperm struggling toward that egg made it and the resulting fertilization became, in the fullness of time, Tobias Barrington Wolff, just as a similar conjunction two years earlier had become Patrick Gideon Wolff.  Any revision of my previous existence might have resulted in a different sperm winning the race, and that would have meant that Tobias and perhaps Patrick would not now exist.

I would not give up one of those random happenstances for anything I can imagine – not world peace, not immortal fame, indeed not genuine immortality itself.  Oh, no doubt if something, anything, had been different in my life until then, I would have sired two other children, and had I done so, I am sure I would have loved them as completely as I love Patrick and Tobias.  But that sentence is in the subjunctive, and Patrick and Tobias are in the declarative.

I spend much of my time seeing the deeper necessary causes and conditions of the world and its evils.  It is sobering to reflect that what matters to me most of all is accidental, inexplicable, and yet utterly essential to my life.

17 comments:

J. Bogart said...

Would not trade for world peace? A curious moral stance.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

No, I would not trade one of my sons for world peace. There it is. Feel free to disapprove. Do you have children?

s. wallerstein said...

You wouldn't be trading your sons for world peace. It's not like Abraham sacrificing Isaac for world peace. You'd still have sons, but they would be different.

Dean said...

Perhaps J. Bogart isn't familiar with the story of the judgment of Solomon?

Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
You may appreciate this short essay. The argument ultimately doesn't work well, but it's an interesting rumination on kin versus world peace divide.

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/05/do-i-have-the-right-to-be/

J. Bogart said...

I do not see the value in your ad hominem remark.
Why would your child be more valuable or more important than all the other children in the world? How do you get any kind of transpersonal moral values into place? Is it just a version of Hume you are committing to?


Howie said...

Hobbes might disagree and your father might feel the same way about you

Matt said...

There's a nice little sci-fi movie about this called About Time. A young man gets the ability to travel through time, but realizes that after he has children, he can't use the ability to go back before his children are born, because it would mean having a different child after he returned.

David Zimmerman said...

A question:
Who first offered the "necessity of origins" argument about human conception ["just that egg and that sperm producing just that person"]? Was it Saul Kripke in "Naming and Necessity?

LFC said...

I think the post as phrased may be overstated inasmuch as a fair amt of what you did before May 69 has no bearing on the particular circumstances that led to your marrying your first wife and conceiving your children. One could hold those circumstances constant, so to speak, and still regret certain things, such as e.g. studying the violin when you would rather have studied the French horn or whatever (that's hypothetical, obviously, but conveys the general pt). The "don't regret a single thing" language assumes that everything is connected to everything else, which seems at least not demonstrably true.

Michael Llenos said...

Professor Wolff,
You must realize that you are the richest man in the world. If everyone in the world were to give you their money in exchange for permanently taking one of your son's away from you, you would immediately & automatically reject such a deal. So you see you are the richest man in the world.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Indeed, as the Good Book says, in Proverbs, their price is above rubies.

s. wallerstein said...

The problem is that every event is related to every other event.

So if your life is not to be modified to any degree, then all of history must not be modified. That means you accept the Holocaust, slavery, child labor in the mines, etc., which I doubt that you want to accept.

decessero said...

Think: this is the blog of a World Famous Philosopher, a man known, among many other things, for his ability to reason. Do we not just this once suspend our ever-driving need for reason and accept this thinly veiled poem from the very heart of our ever-rational host? Why can we not simply read this post as a father’s paean to the two beings for whom he has now and has always had unconditional love? Are we not, in fact, privileged to read this, his nocturnal, lupine public declaration THAT HE LOVES HIS SONS BEYOND REASON? [In point of fact, even here he shows the good sense to recognize that his love would be equally fierce for a different progeny had the zygote happened differently]. This is the one post which does not need to pass the censorship of the aggregate magnifying glasses. Read and reread it for the purity of the father’s love for his sons.

Talha said...

Simply perfect, decessero.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Indeed. Bravissimo!

jgkess@cfl.rr.com said...

Had the title of your Post any reference to Dr. Young's book," Night Thoughts"--- a work both Boswell and Johnson esteemed?