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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, September 18, 2020


As I have several times remarked, Susie and I live in a retirement community just south of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It is now just six months since the directors of the community closed down the dining halls, the lecture halls, the exercise room, and all the other public spaces and went on virtual quarantine. In all of that time, I have not been to a restaurant, a movie theater, a concert, a lecture, or indeed any other form of social entertainment. I have not been to a supermarket, or to any other kind of store. In fact, with the exception of several trips to doctors or to the dentist, I have not been inside any building other than the apartment building in which I live and in that apartment building, I have been only in my own apartment and in the hallways, lobby, and elevator. Even when I had to get my car inspected for the annual registration, I was able to take it to the local Toyota dealer, sit outside, and wait until my keys will returned to me. My sole concern during this six months has been to ensure that neither Susie nor I contract the virus. My best guess from the flood of information I have seen or read is that it will be the better part of another year before this changes. Chatham County, where the retirement community is located, has only suffered something like 57 deaths from the virus but because it is a sparsely populated county the rate per hundred thousand residents is among the highest in North Carolina.


To be sure, in those six months I have taught five meetings of my seminar at UNC Chapel Hill on the thought of Karl Marx, I have made several guest appearances in a course on the philosophy of Kant taught in Laramie, Wyoming, I have done a podcast in Sri Lanka, and I happily attended my big sister’s 90th birthday party in Southern California, all thanks to zoom.


This is not really how I expected to be spending my 87th year and the first half of my 88th year but, as our glorious leader is prone to say, it is what it is. Lord knows, I am immensely better off than scores of millions of my fellow Americans who now cannot put food on the table, cannot send their children to school, are losing their jobs, and are threatened with losing their homes. So I will just go on blogging and playing with my cat until I can go back to my Paris apartment.


PhilosophicalWaiter said...

Having listened to your Youtube lectures on Kant's Critique, and also having listened to Dan Robinson's Youtube lectures on Kant's Critique a question comes to mind about Kant and your cat. Dan Robinson rhetorically asks the question, "Does a dog see a tree?" It would seem (and I am edging way out on a very thin branch of my understanding here) that without the pure concepts of the understanding, a dog (or a human for that matter) could not "see" a tree, that is, have an experience of a tree.

So what is your Kantian view of your cat's capacity to "see" things and have actual experiences? In your view, does your cat have genuine experiences of the physical objects you make use of when you play with it? Or more broadly, do you think Kant's Critical philosophy is consistent with some animals having experiences, in the Kantian sense? Did Kant think, or should we think, that some animals too also come with a priori pure concepts of the understanding?

jeffrey g kessen said...

I had thought we all agreed, on this blog, that cats are superior beings, sent here from outer space, to pacify an intemperate and egregiously deluded species. What with their purring and all.

PhilosophicalWaiter said...

In response to Jeffrey, well that should settle the question then. If cats are superior beings then they will of course have the pure intuitions of time and space and the pure categories of the understanding, and so would have at least equal capacities to our own to produce internal representations in the (several step response) of their minds as they are affected by RPW's manipulation of noumena, e.g. as he drags around a piece of string.

Anonymous said...

Cats are karma binders and nothing else. They play for keeps and know if you kill them the bad karma will rebound back. They are ungrateful, their litterbox stinks, and they will eat you if you die if there is no one to stop them. I curse the egyptians for deifying them.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I thought I would consult my cat about the status of her intuitions and categories but when I went looking for her I found that she had climbed the ladder in my library and was inspecting my books, whether to read them or eat them I could not tell. My impression is that she possesses a terrifying Unity of apperception from which I infer that she can deduce the categories but I do not think that what I can see in her necessarily applies to other cats as well. She is, as she makes it clear to me from time to time, a quite superior cat.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Jeffrey g kessen
Jeez, really? I will only note that the allegedly superior beings have had millennia to work their magic but have flat out failed to moderate our intemperate and deluded specie. In as much as cats lack empathy, they must also be morally inferior beings.

PhilosophicalWaiter said...

RPW, I retain a similar respect for a cat's Unity of apperception, but I wanted to amend my earlier conclusion due to the following argument: Kantian synthesis is (or requires) reproduction of a manifold of sensation in imagination according to a rule. Now while I have no doubt about any cat having imagination, I don't think it is reasonable to conclude that any cat would allow any aspect of its behavior to be governed by a rule. So while cats may have the ability to deduce the categories, they resolutely refuse to so so because in their very nature they reject all possible rule-governed behavior.

In this, I am tempted to conclude that they have similar conceptual limitations as those who reject wearing masks due to equivalently fundamental rejection of any rule governed behavior. But after a moment's reflection, it occurs to me that in this case the cat is rejecting rules that exist a priori, whereas anti-maskers are rejecting rules that only exist a posteriori.

In simple terms you might say, cats can't possibly know any better, and humans can, but some choose not to.

jeffrey g kessen said...

Just one last tedious Comment about cats. Christopher, yeah, I guess you're right. Cats are a failed extra-terrestrial experiment. The back-story is, is that cats, having been exposed to humans for so long, succumbed to an appalling Dis-unity of apperception. Sociopathy could not but be the result.