My Stuff

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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Wednesday, March 10, 2021


I have been about this business of writing and publishing for quite some time now. My very first publication occurred almost 70 years ago. I was a young sophomore at Harvard during what is now referred to as the McCarthy era. I was living in a cavernous single in an overflow dormitory called Claverly (in those days at the end of your freshman year you had to interview to get into one of the Harvard houses and because I refused on principle to do so I was stuck in Claverly.) The president of Harvard was a distinguished scientist named James Bryant Conant, who later went on to be the first High Commissioner of the American zone of Germany. Conant had stated publicly that although he would not fire a member of the Harvard faculty who was found to belong to the Communist Party, he would not hire a communist either. Having just read John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty I drew myself up to my full 17 years of height and wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson protesting Conant’s statement and calling on him to “step down from his high position” if he was unwilling to defend the principles of academic freedom. Conant did in fact step down at the end of the next academic year, though I seriously doubt that his decision was influenced by my letter.


My second publication came a year and a half later and again it was a letter, this time to my favorite pulp science fiction magazine, Astounding Science Fiction. (In those days the two leading pulp science fiction magazines were Astounding and Galaxy. I was a fan of the first.) Some science fiction writers had embraced something called non-Aristotelian logic and in fact one of the greatest of the science fiction writers, A. E. Van Vogt, had written a novel, first serialized in Astounding, called The World of Null-A. At that time I was still a logic student at Harvard and I was offended by what I considered an elementary misunderstanding of Aristotle so once again I drew myself up and wrote a letter to protest, which they published.


Thus launched on my writing career, I never looked back, and I have been at it ever since. When I was young, I very much wanted my voice to be heard and I wrote constantly, obsessively, publishing books and articles with abandon. As I grew older, my work became more interior. What was important to me was not being heard but rather making clear and coherent what was in my mind so that I could put my thoughts on paper, whether to be published or simply to be put back finished in my file drawers. Now that I am old, more and more I find myself looking back at this long 70 year period of thinking and writing.


When I started this blog I was a young man of 75, full of energy and badly in need of a medium in which I could articulate the thoughts that had been in my mind for so many decades. Now, 12 years later, it gives me pleasure to run my mind over the millions of words I have assembled into sentences and to identify those bits of writing of which I am particularly fond.


Leaving to one side my most serious work – the two books and many articles on the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the two books and many more articles on the thought of Karl Marx – there are three little pieces of writing that stand out as my favorites. Only one of them was actually published; the second was written for publication but was rejected in horror by the editors of the Journal where it was intended to appear, and the third was a speech that it never occurred to me to try to publish (although a version of it actually was published as part of an article co-authored by myself and my brilliant son Tobias Barrington Wolff – for that reason undoubtedly my all time favorite publication.)


I actually reproduced all three of these little pieces in this blog seven years ago but because I am so fond of them I am going to do it all over again in the next several days. I make no apology for this. If I were capable of composing a violin concerto or string quartet, it would never occurred to me to arrange for it to be played only once and then be put away.


The three pieces to which I am referring are a review of a book by Allan Bloom, a report of a conference on Kantian legal theory, and a talk given at the annual colloquium organized by the philosophy department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. All three of these pieces have in common the fact that they are written ironically, they are not what at first appearance they seem to be. This is no accident, as I shall try to explain when I am finished posting them one after the other on this blog.


While I am preparing to do this, the House of Representatives is going through the last tedious steps before approving and sending to the president for his signature the extraordinary $1.9 trillion Recovery Act that Biden has put forward and successfully seen to its realization. This is an accomplishment of such magnitude that it will require some commentary after I have finished my stroll down memory lane.


David said...

Good! I look forward to reading these three pieces. So far as I can remember, I didn't read them seven years ago. I'm looking forward to reading them this time.

Sparks said...

I'm not sure I've read any of them before, so I look forward to doing so in the coming days, particularly the Kant piece. Your work helped me immensely during my first, painful read of the First Critique.

Anonymous said...

Can you sneak in a post about Dr. Cornel West not having tenure at Harvard?

Ahmad Zareef said...

Hello , I just wanted to tell you that how I am pleased to listen to your 4 lectures in Kant's philosophy, I statred reading the critique of pure reason 2 years ago , and then by a chance I found your lectures, now I am addicted to you Mr. Wolff .
Thank you so much , and stay safe , take care of yourself in this pandemic.
I am an Egyptian man, my name is Ahmad Zareef, and just wanted to thank you for now , and may I later have a question or argument with you about some thoughts which I am thinking of.
Ahmad said...

All is painful when reading Kant's, First Critique .The pain somewhat abates though, after reading the Prof.'s commentary on it, just as the commentary of Goldfarb on Kripke does. Good on you , Warren. As for those who, "bang upon tea-pots", at least as far as Comments on this blog go, I think we all know who bangs the loudest.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

The little story with the science fiction authors and the non-Aristotelian logic reminds me of the German philosopher Gotthard Günther who was also a big science fiction fan. Some stories (for example Stanislaw Lem's character of Ion Tychy) inspired Günther, the author of a book entitled "Attempt at a Non-Aristotelian Logic", to write numerous philosophical essays. He was also a short time in Germany after the war, editor of some American science fiction authors, such as Isaac Asimov, John W. Campbell, Jack Williamson, Lewis Padgett. Günther also published some articles in the magazine "Astounding Science Fiction" which later, as far as I know, were renamed "Analog" and "Startling Stories".

Günther had immigrated to the USA in 1937 and worked there first at the Widener Library and later in the 1960s at the University of Illinois Urbana.

He is considered to be an excellent expert on transcendental philosophy and German idealism, and in my eyes a really exciting philosopher who, long before we all talked about AI, algorithms and intelligent machines, thought very deeply about the entire problem of cybernetics.

henry said...

This bill is a bandaid.

It will not change anything structurally.

The gig economy is still in place.

The prior normal was not ok, except for those who kissed their asses into the middle upper classes and up and the oligarcs.

The democrats want it this way… basically they tried to do the minimum they had to do.

Corporate autocracy lives on. Has everyone forgot about the trilliosn they pumped into protecting the assets of the rich last year??

The fact that Biden promised a 15$ min wage and didn’t do any lobbying of Manchin before covertly backstabbing the voter base says it all. Biden didn't want it, he lied because he has contempt for the middleclass and poor. Even 15 is not enough to live a dignified live.

This is just a nice bandaid.

What is “extraordinary”, is that anything good for Americans got through at all since the corporate masters of Biden don’t want anything substantively better to pass. A majority of the country wants the 15$ minimum, but the “adults” in congress denied it. Democracy?

Honestly, it is confusing to see that cable news has convinced you that this bill is “extraordinary”. I guess we all need to live our comforting illusions and that's what the NYT and MSNBC sell to the professional classes. Your calling this bill "extraordinary" is what set me off; if you had even a modestly tempered view of it, I wouldn't have been.

…mass shootings, 1/4 young adults contemplating suicide and Trumpist fascism grind on...

Warren Goldfarb said...

@Achim Kriechel
Gotthard Günther had a long correspondence with Kurt Gödel from 1954 to 1959, before Günther found employment at Champaign-Urbana. The topics are metaphysics and logic (no science fiction or cybernetics). The letters are published in Gödel's Collected Works volume IV, along with a helpful introduction by Charles Parsons, Prof. Wolff's old grad school flatmate.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

@Warren Goldfarb
yes, you are right, I know about Günther's correspondence with Kurt Gödel. Perhaps I expressed myself in a misleading way. Günther took science fiction stories as an opportunity to analyze the metaphysical problems implied in them more deeply. This then resulted in Esseys like:

"The Logical Parallax" published in, Astounding Science Fiction, New York 1953, Vol. LII, No. 3, p. 123-133


"Achilles and the Tortoise" published in
Part 1-3: Astounding Science Fiction, New York 1954: Vol. LIII, No. 5, p. 76-88 / Vol. LIII, No. 6, p. 85-97 / Vol. LIV, No. 1, p. 80-95


"The Seetee Mind" published in
Startling Stories, New York 1954, Vol. 31, No. 3, p. 96-101

As for cybernetics, I recommend you
"The consciousness of machines, a metaphysics of cybernetics"
1st edition, AGIS Verlag, Baden-Baden, 1957

here you can find all this stuff in the internet:

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

I like that very much, if I want to post a comment here, I always have to confirm: I'm not a robot.

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