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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Friday, January 1, 2021

THE PITS

I have always found the eight days between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day to be the absolute pits. Nothing is open, the usual TV shows are not on, the amount of daylight is at its smallest of the year, and between Christmas and New Year's Eve comes my birthday. The Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association used to meet and perhaps still does meet on December 27 – 29th which meant that it was always on my birthday so I might as well amuse myself if not my readers by telling again my favorite story about the APA.


It must have been in 1952 or maybe 1953 that the APA met in New York and since I was home from college for the holidays I went. I was standing around with a group of Harvard philosophy department graduate students desperately trying to look older than I was when the great man himself – Willard Van Orman Quine – walked up and greeted us. He looked around the circle and then said to me, "well, Wolff, you must be the youngest person here." I wanted the earth that open up and swallow me. He went on, "Good to see you here. The sooner you start coming to these things, the sooner you will realize they are not worth coming to." Then he walked away.


I think that was the same meeting at which I made the remarkable discovery that actual people wrote the books that we were reading in our courses. I was wandering around aimlessly when I saw a man leaning up against the wall just standing. He had a name tag on and I edged closer to see what it said. The name tag read "Wilfrid Sellars." I had just finished taking a course in which we read some things in a collection edited by Hospers and Sellars and strange as it may seem, it had not occurred to me that those were actual human beings.  It was a revelation.


Well, as you can tell, I am just doing what musicians call vamping till ready. Even my walk this morning on a dark and drizzly New Year's morning did not provide me with anything of interest to say. It is now four days until the Georgia senatorial elections and although the turnout figures are promising I am steeling myself to discover that the Republicans have salvaged control of the Senate.


One final thought that did occur to me as I walked. Commentators always say that Ted Cruz is smart because he went to Harvard Law school. Now they are saying that Josh Hawley is smart because he went to Stanford and Yale law school. I think it is about time that we take these and other similar facts as establishing that going to an Ivy League school is not in fact evidence of great intelligence.

39 comments:

David Palmeter said...

It's clearer to me that it's not an indication of great integrity.

s. wallerstein said...

I agree with David Palmeter for once.

I had to google Josh Hawley, but I recall Ted Cruz from the 2016 Republican primary. One thing that one realizes as one gets older is that not all intelligent or smart people come to the same conclusions or have the same values as one does. Thus, Ted Cruz's rather ugly values do not necessarily indicate a lack of intelligence or smarts, but a really different set of values than mine and of belonging to another tribe than mine.

I'd say that to get into Harvard Law School and to get elected to the U.S. Senate one has to have a certain level of intelligence, of knowing what to say to order to get what one wants, a certain sense of political realities (in both cases) and of how society functions, etc. I'd call that "smarts". I would not call it "wisdom".

LFC said...

I believe Hawley and Cruz were both Supreme Court clerks (at least Hawley was), which means they not only attended certain schools but also did very well there in terms of grades etc. What that indicates about them, in terms of intelligence or whatever, I will leave to others to discuss.

On another topic, I am slowly making my way through K. Forrester, In the Shadow of Justice (2019). While I'm reading it page by page, I've also taken the liberty of skipping ahead (before going back), and that is one reason I happen to know that Prof Wolff's name is mentioned, albeit in passing, on page 214.

Here's the (abbreviated) passage: "Philosophers came to the Anglophone revival of Marx some years after a 'historically centred Marxist culture' developed among historians and sociologists.... With exceptions like Robert Paul Wolff and the New Left followers
of Herbert Marcuse, [Anglophone] philosophers in the 1970s steered clear of Marxism."

I guess this is a commenter's equivalent of vamping till ready...

LFC said...

p.s. Sorry about the weird spacing there.

marcel proust said...

@S. Wallerstein wrote: I'd say that to get into Harvard Law School and to get elected to the U.S. Senate one has to have a certain level of intelligence, of knowing what to say to order to get what one wants, a certain sense of political realities (in both cases) and of how society functions, etc. I'd call that "smarts". I would not call it "wisdom".

That "and" in the first sentence is doing much work. I suspect that since you are outside the US, you have more useful ways of spending time than going too far into the weeds on US politicians, so I don't hold this ignorance against you. Getting elected to the Senate has little to do with intelligence, as Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) or Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) make clear. For Tuberville, read the paragraph just above this link for some prime examples. I'll let you poke around for Johnson on your own.

LFC said...

Unless things have changed drastically in the last x years which I doubt, "elite" law schools (or really all law schools), unlike "elite" colleges, don't practice "holistic" admissions. Rather than the "whole person," law school admission committees are, for the most part, interested mainly in numbers: college grades and LSAT scores. (There's also some commitment, no doubt, to racial/ethnic diversity in a class, but we'll put that to one side.) So what you need to get into Harvard Law School or Yale Law School or Stanford Law School or U Chicago Law School or etc. etc. is primarily impressive numbers. It may well help on the margin to have gone to an "elite" or well-known place for undergrad, but it's secondary. What any of this says or doesn't say about "intelligence" I'm not sure. Someone can get v. good college grades and v. good LSAT score w/o being a towering intellect. On the other hand, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are in fact probably smart; they're just wrong about most things.

s. wallerstein said...

This is a long time dispute I've had with the left.

I believe that they underestimate the intelligence of their political adversaries, a fact which leads them into error after error as they are "outsmarted" by the right.

I don't know how many times here in this blog people have laughed at how dumb Trump is. I find him to be very shrewd, an able con man who astutely used the U.S. media to get himself elected and I still bet that in spite of his crimes, he will never spend a day in jail.

I had this same argument with the Chilean left during the Pinochet dictatorship. Pinochet was a brute, a moron, they claimed. Look at how he talks, his limited vocabulary, his lack of imagination, his lack of new ideas, etc. Yet this idiot and his secret police (also idiots according to the left) tracked down, tortured and disappeared several groups of young geniuses playing at guerrilla warfare who had read and mastered the complete works of Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara. That took a certain intelligence. Pinochet transformed Chile, economically and socially, not for the better, but he transformed it and when he exited, Chile stayed that way for 30 years, until the 2019 mass demonstrations. Didn't that take some smarts?

I would wager that almost all of us are underestimating how much Trump transformed the U.S, not for the better again. Biden is not going to heal the soul of America, because Trump
was smart enough to see through most of the false ideals of the so-called American dream and manipulate much of the country to his advantage.

The constant Machiavellianism of the right, their ability to perceive and manipulate people's fears, prejudices and egoism is not a sign of stupidity, but of genuine smarts. Maybe in spite of all the books we've read, we're the stupid ones. Our sin is intellectual hubris, repeated intellectual hubris.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein,

The miracle continues: I agree with you. I think people take Trump’s ignorance for stupidity. He doesn’t know many things that are important for a president to know, e.g., that India and China have a common border, that Finland is not part of Russia, that we don’t have troops in foreign countries in order to make money like the Prince of Hessia. (This is not to say that that the troops should be there, only that he may be right for the wrong reasons).

He also has an enormous ego and truly believes that he is, in his own terms, a “stable genius.” In fact he is neither stable nor a genius. He can deny to himself the truth of any fact that displeases him, e.g., that buyers, not exporting countries, pay tariffs, that masks reduce the rate of covid transmission, that other government officials and employees do not take oaths of loyalty to him but to the Constitution. He is totally devoid of empathy, of any concern for anyone apart from himself, and perhaps his immediate family. The importance of anything, in his view, depends upon its importance to him personally.

s. wallerstein said...

The miracle still works its wonders.

I agree with everything you say about Trump, but he invented a new style of politics, of demagogy, that is being imitated internationally. People are already talking about the Chilean Trump, Pamela Jiles, who is not even rightwing. Like Trump, she comes from reality TV; like Trump, she insults all her rivals, giving them nicknames (lying Ted, etc.); like Trump, she practices nepotism, it's all in the family; like Trump, she has no sense of truthfulness; like Trump, she connects to the resentments, fears and prejudices of a large number of voters in a way that most conventional politicians, on the right and on the left, don't. She is now leading in some polls for this year's presidential election.

It seems that someone who reinvented the way politics is done has be given some credit for smarts, even for creativity.

MS said...

There are basically two kinds of intelligence, intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence. Prof. Wolff is referring to intellectual intelligence, which is commonly referred to as one’s IQ. S. Wallerstein is referring to emotional intelligence, referred to in the literature as EI. The latter have certain social skills which make them popular and can persuade people to follow them as leaders. One can have a high degree of EI, as Trump does, and understand the motives and desires of certain segments of society which allows him to manipulate them, without also having an impressive IQ. Different people can possess different degrees of IQ and EI combinations. Trump, I would guess, has a fairly average IQ, around 110-115. The IQ test requires the application of logic and a certain degree of linguistic, literary and cultural knowledge that his speech demonstrates he lacks. As some readers of this blog have asserted, as well as some of my friends, I have a relatively low EI – I am willing to offend people in order to make a point which I believe is valid, regardless rather I succeed in persuading (I, of course, must adapt this tendency to the context, for example in front of a jury). There is no correlation between IQ and EI levels and moral values.

Some people with a very high IQ often have a relatively low EQ. Robert Oppenheimer, for example, who was a genius in nuclear physics, often offended the people he worked with, which ultimately resulted in his security clearance being revoked when he made a snide remark which insulted the then Director of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss. Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower had both high IQ’s and high EI’s. Patton did not. There is dispute whether EI has the same incremental validity as does IQ – i.e., whether it is subject to measurement which has a useful predictive value. See Harms PD, Credé M (2010). "Remaining Issues in Emotional Intelligence Research: Construct Overlap, Method Artifacts, and Lack of Incremental Validity". Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice. 3 (2): 154–158. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9434.2010.01217.x.

Law schools do not test for EI, nor do they care. To be admitted into the top tier law schools, one must have high LSAT scores (at least in the 700s) and excellent undergraduate grades. To do well on the LSAT, one has to have analytical skills that can be applied relatively quickly to complicated fact scenarios, and the ability to interpret data and graphs. I am of the opinion that you cannot have both high LSAT scores and outstanding undergraduate grades (A to A-) from a reputable college or university without a relatively high IQ. This says nothing about the spectrum of EI levels among those admitted to the high tier law schools, as Ted Cruz eminently demonstrates.

LFC said...

Just as an addendum, as many readers will know it's possible to take prep courses for all standardized tests these days. Those courses cost something and thus are more likely to be taken by people from relatively affluent (or beyond that) backgrounds. That's not to say that taking a prep course will raise scores drastically, but they probably have some effect. This is just one of several ways, needless to say, in which affluent students/applicants tend to have advantages over less affluent ones. The other thing to mention is that doing well on standardized tests is a particular skill. What they measure, if anything, beyond that skill is, I think, debatable.

P.s. In common, no doubt, w/ a fair number of readers here (at least those in the U.S.), in my time I've taken the SAT, the LSAT, and some years later, the GRE. The only one of those I took a prep course for was the GRE. As I recall, it was a one-day thing (morning and afternoon), and I found it somewhat helpful (i.e., not completely useless).

David Palmeter said...

MS

I’m aware of EI, but know next to nothing about it. I understand it (perhaps incorrectly) as the ability to understand where others are coming from, how they feel. If this is correct, Trump may well have a high EI but still not care a whit about how something he does or says affects others. His only concern is for himself.

The Daily Beast reports that Trump has no intention of dropping his campaign against the legitimacy of the election after January 6:

<“The way he sees it is: Why should I ever let this go?… How would that benefit me?” said one of the sources, who’s spoken to Trump at length about the post-election activities to nullify his Democratic opponent’s decisive victory.>

“How would that benefit me” is the only thing he cares about.

MS said...

David,

AS I said, there is not correlation between IQ, EI and moral values. One can have a high EI, and still lack empathy for others. Indeed, one can have both a high IQ and high EI, and lack empathy for others. History abounds with examples of such people: Henry VIII, Napoleon, Julius Caesar, ...

s. wallerstein said...

Psychologists talk about three different types of empathy, cognitive, emotional and compassionate. As the article linked to points out, an effective torturer needs cognitive empathy in order to know how to best hurt his victim. Trump probably has a fairly high level of cognitive empathy and no emotional or compassionate empathy.

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/empathy-types.html

jeffrey g kessen said...

Prof. Wolff mentioned Quine and Sellars. Quine first. For all this gentleman's travels, fluency in multiple languages, and learnedness in the ways of logic and analytic philosophy, he's always struck me as something of an American bumpkin. Nothing really wrong with that, I guess. His autobiography just put me off. Does anyone else share this opinion? As for Sellars, he's had his interesting say in almost every branch of modern American philosophy. Philosophy of mind, not least. Daniel Dennett says that his life-work in the philosophy of mind consists in his trying to reconcile Sellars' notion of our, "Manifest Image" (the world of our qualitative experience, as common-sensically understood), with the real world of neuro-science and Darwin. Sorry, that's a long way to go to ask this question: have you any traffic with Dennett? He's a left-leaning philosopher, politics-wise.

LFC said...

Once when I was procrastinating or wasting time in a university library, I happened to pull Quine's autobiography from the shelf. I remember basically nothing of the parts I read, except one trivial sentence. As far as Quine's philosophical work goes, I've read very little of it, just one or two pieces I had to read in an intro to analytic philosophy course that I took as a freshman, and disliked.

LFC said...

P.s. The trivial sentence being one where he tells the reader that his practice is to pay bills as soon he receives them. I don't know why that stuck with me, nor do I remember the context, though it must have been in a passage where he's talking about how he manages his daily affairs, or his time, or something like that.

LFC said...

correction: *as* he receives them

Anonymous said...

Jeffrey,

Not sure what you mean by your reference “American bumpkin.” Lacking in a certain measure of worldliness and sophistication? Certainly not a measure of one’s intellect or creativity. I know nothing about Quine’s autobiography, but the quality of his philosophical thoughts, by which I am sure he would prefer to be evaluated, are indisputable. Newton – whose genius no one would doubt – served in Parliament representing the district of Cambridge and is reported to have spoken only once – asking an usher to close a window because he felt chilly. Regarding his worldliness, it is believed he died a virgin.

s. wallerstein said...

I don't know almost anything about Quine or his autobiography, but did he have any sense of what was happening in 20th century European philosophy? Had he read Heidegger or anybody from the Frankfurt school or Hannah Arendt or Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir? I would guess that Jeffrey is referring to something a bit provincial about him.

MS said...

One might ask if Heidigger, Arendt or de Besuvoir, or Sartre, or any of the continental philosophers read Quine? Why would the claim of provincialism be uni-directional?

s. wallerstein said...

Heidegger was very provincial and more of a bumpkin than Quine. At least some members of the Frankfurt school read analytic philosophy; for example, Marcuse dedicates a large portion of One Dimensional Man to a critique of analytical philosophy. I'm fairly sure that Adorno read some analytic philosophy too. Hannah Arendt, as a charter member of the so-called New York intellectuals in the 50's and 60's, was more than familiar with analytic philosophy. Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir read lots of contemporary American literature; de Beauvoir even had a long love affair with Nelson Algren. They both served as members of the Russell commission on war crimes in Viet Nam and had some idea of what was happening in contemporary British philosophy.

Of other continental philosophers, Foucault traveled frequently to the U.S. and was very aware of what was happening in U.S. academic philosophy.

So the people I mention, except Heidegger, were very sophisticated and worldly.

jeffrey g kessen said...

S. Wallerstein has it about right. Quine never really seemed interested in the broader perspective of European philosophy. Let me just quickly add that I have no doubt whatever that I am the least worldly of any Commentator on this blog. I seldom get out and about, though I did travel to Daytona Beach three years ago---so exotic a place I won't soon forget.

MS said...

s. wallerstein,

I cannot resist asking this question. When Nelson Algren wrote, “Never play cards with a man called Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own,” regarding the romantic advice, did he have Ms. Beauvoir in mind?

s. wallerstein said...

Algren wrote some very negative stuff about De Beauvoir. He reviewed her book on Ageing in the U.S. media and panned it. He wanted to marry her at one point and she refused. She loved her him a lot and the sex was better than with Sartre, but she, for obvious reasons, did not want to give up her life in France and become Mrs. Algren. Remember that this is the woman who wrote the Second Sex. Hell hath no fury like a novelist scorned!

John Rapko said...

There are exceptions (such as Iris Murdoch and Arthur Danto on Sartre), but generally it would have been unusual for Anglo-American philosophers/philosophy professors to read works of Continental philosophy from WWII through the mid-1970's. In England in the 1960's the young Charles Taylor stood out as someone whose work was marked by a strong interest in Continental philosophy (in Taylor's case, it was especially Merleau-Ponty). And it was Taylor's book on Hegel, published in 1975, that stimulated Anglophone interest in Hegel that really started to effloresce with Robert Pippin's Hegel's Idealism (1989). Conversely, in retrospect, and maybe even back in the day, it's hard to see why the Continentals should or would have been interested in the Anglo-American analytic folks. The latter made no large contribution to any of the central interests of the Continentals from 1945 to nearly 1970; I mean, nothing the philosophy of history, or the philosophy of art, or political philosophy. In the 1980's Richard Rorty's prominence seemed to herald the collapse of the division, and I'm quite sure that it's not unusual now for there to be reading across the divide. But it seems to me that intensified specialization in academic philosophy and the inveterate monolingualism of the Anglophones has hampered the border passage.

LFC said...

Glad to see Iris Murdoch mentioned (though her book on Sartre is not one of the Murdoch books that I've read).

GJ said...

"Prof. Wolff mentioned Quine and Sellars. Quine first. For all this gentleman's travels, fluency in multiple languages, and learnedness in the ways of logic and analytic philosophy, he's always struck me as something of an American bumpkin. Nothing really wrong with that, I guess."

Quine, a yokel? Really? What did I just read? I'm relieved, though, that, per Kessen, there's 'nothing really wrong with that'.

jeffrey g kessen said...

GJ, glad to hear that you're relieved. I provide relief whenever I can, not least to the exasperated and outraged.

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

The discussion her about intelligence need to account for a distinction between intelligence and high functioning which often appears as intelligence, Pathological individuals are often capable of high functional capabilities which mask people’s perceptions of them.

I take Trump to be a malignant narcissist, i.e., a clinically pathological person. He is, however, highly functional in certain areas, and in certain contexts. He is a huckster/con-man/snake oil salesman who relies on personality (charisma), an ability to read an audience and adjust his patter to the situation. He has had a protective bubble, so to speak, that has allowed him to develop those traits and a persona that worked. That he was able to develop the persona of builder/developer/ reality show host were a function of inherited wealth that bought him an Ivy league education (the appearance of on Ivy League education), and allowed him to develop an organization the staff of which did all the analysis, and implemented what he wanted.

I can’t speak to the situation with Pinochet. But like and Hitler, he had political and military organizations that did what he wanted. The knowledge and ability to get things done lies in the organization, the state bureaucracy. Pinochet, as the leader of a military coup d’etat, and Hitler who had a state of emergency which gave him total control of the government, had all the resources of the state available to them. Trump had constraints that he couldn’t get around, so it was primarily through executive orders and rule changes that he governed. Other accomplishments, if you can them that, like the tax package, were party initiatives that he backed and for which he took credit. Incidentally, one can have a pathological personality disorder and be highly intelligent in the conventional sense of the word.

I agree with Wallerstein’s point regarding our limited awareness of the damage he has done to the conduct of politics, and to government. We don’t appreciate the full extent of it, and how it will impact things in the future. To develop one point further: Republicans had started the election fraud story to support their disenfranchisement of Black voters. Trump brought it to levels, claiming well before the election that it would be fraudulent. These claim have no evidence yet are widely believe by republicans, and the new Gang of Eleven Senators who, with their House allies, will push this narrative to new levels this week. We are well into a new era of mass social psychopathology fueling the far right for who knows how long.

Matt said...

A few thoughts:

LFC quotes Katrina Forrester saying thus: With exceptions like Robert Paul Wolff and the New Left followers of Herbert Marcuse, [Anglophone] philosophers in the 1970s steered clear of Marxism."
I am not a fan of Forrester's take. I think she seriously misunderstands what the point of political philosophy is. But, that aside, this is a really odd claim, because it is, at least, grossly under-inclusive. To see why, you can just note that the volume of essays originally published in the main-stream analytic philosophy journal _Philosophy and Public Affair_ entitled "Marx, Justice, and History" is all made up of articles published in the 1970s. This is even ignoring books (not good ones, but nonetheless books) by Isaiah Berlin and he successor as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Thought, John Plamenatz, who also published on Marx. Several of those publishing on Marx in the 70s were (and are) "big names", and a few were even students of Rawls (Richard Miller, for example.) It's really just an amazing statement, and obviously wrong.

As for whether "analytic" philosophers read "continental" ones or not, there is of course lots of variation. Hilary Putnam read (and comments on) a fair number. Richard Rorty, who is perhaps an atypical analytic philosopher, but who is still properly counted as such, I'd say (*), wrote heavily on Sartre, Derrida, Foucault, etc. Foucault visited Berkeley regularly in the later 70s, and was friendly with Searle, Davidson, and Sluga, among others. Hans Sluga, in addition to being an expert on Frege and Wittgenstein, wrote regularly on Heidegger. The young Gilbert Ryle had been very interested in phenomenology. And so on. No doubt there are good examples of people who never read "the other side", but that's far from universally true. (The same applies on the "continental" side, of course.)
(*) Lots of "analytic" philosophers dislike Rorty - but Rorty was a major contributor to analytic philosophy, and his biggest philosophical heros were core analytic philosophers like Davidson, Wittgenstein, and Sellars. He has more in common with Daniel Dennett than with Sarte or even Foucault, I'd say.

Finally, in relation to getting in to law school, law schools care about, in order: 1) your LSAT score, 2) Your undergrad gpa, 3) grad school gpa, if any, 4) where you studied, 5) what you studied. They care about the first two the most, in part because they are modestly good indicators of likely success in law school, but even more so because they make up a significant portion of the US News law school rankings. I also briefly taught LSAT classes for Kaplan, and it's clear that these can help people. They can only help so much - I'd guess that they can move a dedicated student up 4 or 5 points, maybe a bit more, out of 180, but that can be a big difference as to where you get in, or if you get a scholarship or not. (I didn't take any classes myself. I took the LSAT while I was in the Peace Corps and so had no money for such things, even if they were available, but because I qualified for a fee waiver for the exam, I was given 3.5 practice exams, and even just doing those on my own improved my score a fair amount, as I learned to do things faster. I also am among a tiny handful of people who have taken the LSAT in Moscow.)

LFC said...

Matt,
I'm not defending Forrester's statement. My current impression is that, even if it is obviously wrong, nothing much hangs on it in terms of her main arguments or the main lines of her narrative.

I'm planning to write a review of the book, which may (or may not) appear somewhere. In the meantime, I'd be interested in an elaboration of your statement that she misunderstands what the point of political philosophy is. Are you talking about her book as a whole when you say that? Or what? I am genuinely interested, otherwise I wouldn't be asking. On the other hand, I believe I have your email address, and this is perhaps a conversation that we should have privately rather than on this blog. I'm not sure...

LFC said...

P.s. Her book is basically intellectual history, and she is interested in the intersection between political philosophy and the political and historical context in which it's written. I suppose it's possible to object to that whole approach. I myself don't much object to it, provided the author is transparent about what she or he is doing.

s. wallerstein said...

Rorty bridges the division.

I've read all the books of and seen lots of Youtube lectures of Dario Sztajnszrajber, an Argentinian philosopher, who's almost a rock star in Latin America.

His favorites are Marx (the young Marx), Nietzsche (read not as Leiter reads him, but as a proto-deconstructionist), Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida.

However, he very frequently refers to one and only one analytic philosopher and that's Rorty.

Matt said...

LFC - I'd be glad to see the review you write, if you feel like sharing it. I understand that Forrester is an intellectual historian. And, philosophers often have a hard time reading things that touch on philosophy, but are not philosophy, treating them as if they were bad philosophy instead of something else. That's a mistake when it's done, for sure, and philosophers are the worse for doing this too often. But - I also think that to do intellectual history on philosophy (or economics, or science, or cooking, or anything) it's necessary to have a good idea of what the people in question are trying to do - what _their_ project is or was. That's where Forrester seems to go wrong in what I have read. You can get a taste of that in this review, which I liked a lot: https://newramblerreview.com/book-reviews/philosophy/political-philosophy-and-the-search-for-the-possible I also liked this review by Samuel Freeman: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/in-the-shadow-of-justice-postwar-liberalism-and-the-remaking-of-political-philosophy/ That said, while few people know more about Rawls than Freeman does, the first review has the virtue of being by someone who, while a very good young political philosopher, isn't a Rawlsian, and so who doesn't have the same sort of interest as Freeman does. Both show some of the philosophical misunderstandings, though, I think. (I should note that Freeman was my dissertation advisor, in case that influences what people say about his work.)

LFC said...

Thanks, Matt, for the link to those two reviews. As it happens I'd read the New Rambler review by Kogelmann already (I will say something about it a bit later in this comment). [I may offer my review, when I finish it (I have some other things on the plate right now) to Crooked Timber as a guest post. They may or may not want to use it. But in any event, I'll make sure to send it to you.]

What I'm going to do is, first of course, finish reading the book carefully; then, finish my review; then, before I send it anywhere, I will read the Freeman review and see if it changes my mind about anything. It may do so; then again -- despite Freeman's deep expertise on Rawls, which of course I acknowledge -- it may not.

Now on the New Rambler review. I read it late at night several weeks ago (or longer ago) but it didn't strike me as fully engaging with Forrester's book (not that *any* review can cover everything in the book, since the book covers too much ground for that). But a problem with that review is that Kogelmann says that Forrester thinks the point of political philosophy is to guide political action, and she -- as best I can tell so far -- never says that in that kind of bald way. Sure, chaps 2 and 3 are about civil disobedience and the Vietnam War etc., but chapter 1, where, among other things, she traces the evolution of Rawls's ideas through the 50s and into the 60s and what influenced him, makes clear that she understands that Rawls's project was more general and abstract.

Just b/c Forrester is not a big fan of ideal theory doesn't mean she doesn't understand what ideal theory is about or what motivates it. I'd say she and Kogelmann may disagree about what's valuable and important, but that's a different matter.

Kogelmann complains that at times it's hard to identify an underlying thesis in Forrester's book. That may be a more legitimate complaint, it strikes me. But bottom line, I think Kogelmann sort of barely reviewed the book. Rather, he used the occasion to make some points about Rawls that he wanted to make and to defend ideal theory (at least of a certain sort).

I'd never heard of Brian Kogelmann before reading the New Rambler review, and I have no reason at all to doubt that he's a "good young political philosopher" (your words), and he seems to be a successful and v. competent academic. However, I've written a fair number of book reviews over the years, and I take, generally speaking, a different approach to book reviewing than he did in that review. De gustibus, I guess; or in plain English for those whose fragmentary Latin tags may be rusty, it's a matter of taste.

Matt said...

Thanks, LFC. I did like Kogelmann's review, but as you say, tastes differ. (I've written a fair number of book reviews myself, and suppose different people have different reactions to them, but given that, I did generally like his.) I have no objections to people discussing works in the context in which they were written. As I understand Forrester, though, her work seems too reductive to me - as if a work cannot go beyond the context in which its written, and must be an attempt to justify that time and place. That seems obviously wrong - to misunderstand philosophy to a great degree. In any case, I'd be glad to see your review when it's done.

DANIEL said...



>>Some people with a very high IQ often have a relatively low EQ. Robert Oppenheimer, for example, who was a genius in nuclear physics, often offended the people he worked with, which ultimately resulted in his security clearance being revoked when he made a snide remark which insulted the then Director of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss.

See the Kai Bird biography of Oppenheimer. This was one of many reasons--Chevalier affair, his brother's activities, etc.

DANIEL said...

>>... it had not occurred to me that those were actual human beings. It was a revelation.

Thanks for these reflections Prof Wolff. I had the same thing happen to me at the beginning of my academic career when I met Dan Dennett. The "scales" fell out of my eyes.

Best for 2021. Daniel