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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS


Well, I have started re-reading Book I of Hume's Treatise in preparation for my video lectures and, as I feared, I have immediately run into two problems.  The first is this:  Hume’s prose is so graceful, so disarmingly and misleadingly simple, that the only rational choice is for me just to read aloud from the text for an hour each time, until, perhaps six or seven lectures in, I venture an observation or a quibble.  But that clearly will not do. So I must find some way to summarize.  I mean, no one would undertake to summarize Emily Dickinson or William Shakespeare, would they?

The second problem is that I had forgotten how much there is, worthy of extended discussion, even in sections I imagined I could skip over.  I had thought perhaps three lectures would do it for Book I.  Not bloody likely!

7 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

I sense that "Problems, Problems" is the same anxiety or fear of loss as "Night Sweats."

Dean said...

"I mean, no one would undertake to summarize Emily Dickinson or William Shakespeare, would they?"

Proust, on the other hand...http://www.montypython.net/scripts/proust.php

s. wallerstein said...

"no one would undertake to summarize Emily Dickinson or William Shakespeare, would they?"

No, but Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare are read as literature, while Hume, even though he's a great stylist, is read as philosophy. That is, Hume proposes a series of reasoned arguments which can be put in other words, perhaps in more contemporary language and be understood as arguments in the same way that someone who does not write well, for example, Kant, can be explained in simpler language and with more graphic examples.

One could, on the other hand, summarize Shakespeare's philosophy of love or of kingship or
of time or of revenge, etc.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

OK, Dean, Clearly I need to dress for the occasion.

Charles Pigden said...

I teach each a Hobbes to Hume course in moral and political philosophy and my experience is that students find Hume FAR more difficult to deal with than Hobbes, despite the fact 18th century prose is much closer to 21st than 17th century prose. The reason I think is that Hobbes is trying to prove is points *more geometrico* (though giving himself an ideological license to spice up his arguments with humour and rhetoric). He wants to convince his audience of important claims which he thinks can be demonstratively proved. So he simply sets out what to him appear to be proofs with all the perspicuity that he can command. He is only obscure when he has to be cautious which is why there is continuing debate about whether he was an out and out atheist or a weird kind of theist. Hume’s literary ideal is different . Yes he want to persuade and convince but not by hitting people over the head with anything so vulgar as a logical syllogism. Rather he wants to persuade in the context of a refined conversation with other 18th Century gents as cultivated and civilised as himself. He perfected this refined-conversation style in his later works but in the Treatise it is a bit hit and miss. It is very much the work of a young man sitting up late at night , and scribbling away feverishly as he pursues his pet ideas down intellectual rabbit-holes. Thus it is often quite hard to work out what he is tryign to say and how his arguments are supposed to work. What on earth is going on (for instance) in the middle sections of Treatise 3.1.1 (that is *after* he concludes the motivation argument but *before* he begins on No-Ought -From-Is? I *think* I know now but for decades these passages were pretty opaque to me. Equally obscure to my mind is the is the ‘arguing in a circle argument’ at Treatise 321, though here I still haven’t really managed to make sense of it after all these years. So by all means read them passages of Hume’s ‘limpid’ prose. But THEN get them to get up by ones and twos and to covert what they have heard into perspicuous arguments on the whiteboard. They won’t find it easy even if they are tip-top students.

Unknown said...

Even if you rad the whole book out loud, take your time going through EVERYTHING and all up make 100 hours worth of content. I'd be so bloody happy! Lol

NP

Fred said...

I hope you will focus on Hume's discussion of causality, in detail, and with his criticisms of Newton's views. I have heard you refer to this difference before. I am sure you have more insights to share about the relation between Hume and Kant, and with 20th century philosophy of science, on this problem of causality, in the context of the science wars. The issue is the necessity of the connection between cause and effect.