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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, August 30, 2022


I want to say a word or two in a speculative mode about the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, but first I must acknowledge my delight at Serena Williams’ victory last night. It was obvious that everyone came expecting her to lose and wanting then to give her an enormous sendoff as she “evolved” into retirement. But then she won, and won decisively, 6 – 3, 6 – 3. Wednesday evening she plays the number two seed.  If she wins that match you can just cancel every other television show until she finally either loses or, against all the odds, wins the title.


As for the important news, I am more convinced than ever that the FBI has evidence, in the form of intercepted phone calls or whatever, that Trump not simply had in his possession documents which he was not legally permitted to have but actually did something really, really bad with them. Since the Justice Department is clearly pursuing Trump for the effort to reverse the results of that 2020 election, by sending phony electors of the Congress and so forth, it is inconceivable to me that they would bring down on their heads the storm of trouble that has resulted from their search warrant simply to gain the return of documents Trump ought not to have had.


We shall see.


Meanwhile, what was not too long ago impossible to conceive, namely that the Democrats should both pick up two seats in the Senate and hold the House, is now considered a “longshot.” My natural Tigger is reasserting itself

Saturday, August 27, 2022


Jerry Fresia has written a simply lovely response to my exclamation that I love to teach, a response that warms my heart and fills my lungs with air. At the end of his marvelous comment, he writes “sounds to me that Fast Eddie is back”


The references of course is to the classic old movie The Hustler from 1961, starring Paul Newman, George C Scott, Jackie Gleason, and Piper Laurie. For those of you who have not seen it (if indeed there can possibly be anybody in this category), the movie concerns a smalltime pool hustler, Fast Eddie Felson, who goes up against the king of the hustlers, Minnesota Fats. In what is, at least for me, the greatest scene in the movie, Eddie takes on Fats in an epic all night match. At one point, Paul Newman runs off a long streak of successful shots, moving around the table like a great cat. He is “in the zone” as great basketball players describe it, and says he cannot miss.


That is, in my small way, how I feel sometimes when I am in the classroom explaining a complicated idea to the students, showing it to them in its power and beauty and simplicity. It is at those moments that I feel myself to be most fully and completely who I am. It has nothing to do with winning an argument or being right. It must be the way Yo-Yo Ma feels when he leans back in his chair and seems to be listening to his cello rather than playing it. 


The first time I felt that way was in the spring of 1960. I was teaching philosophy 130 at Harvard – CI Lewis’s great old course on the Critique of Pure Reason.  I had been working harder than I ever had before and ever would again to make absolutely clear and simple Kant’s central argument in the Transcendental Deduction of the Categories. The course met on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I had called a special Saturday extra meeting to finish my analysis and all the students had shown up! I spoke nonstop for an hour and a half, until finally I could write on the blackboard those magical letters Q. E. D. When I laid down the chalk and started to walk out of the room, the students burst into applause. I knew then that it was the greatest moment I would ever have in a classroom and reflected on the strangeness of the fact that it came at the beginning rather than at the end of my career.


I am 62 years older now and feeling the effects of age and Parkinson’s disease, not to speak of the general awfulness of the world, but last Monday, as I sat in front of my class wearing a mask and speaking of the thought of Karl Marx, there were moments when the look in a student’s eyes or the nod of her head told me that I had reached another mind and had shown the beauty of an idea.


 I couldn't miss.

Thursday, August 25, 2022


I am now ready for my third class, which will be devoted to a quick survey of classical political economy: the Physiocrats, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo. Then we take a 50 year break for Labor Day, and when we return it will no longer be 1817, the year in which Ricardo published his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, but it will be 1867, the year in which Karl Marx published volume 1 of Capital. Thanks to the indispensable help of Alex Campbell, now Dr. Alexander Campbell, my lecture will be supported by a series of slides projected on the drop down screen at the front of the classroom.  God, I love to teach!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022


Fritz Poebel comments:  “The world—or the microcosm of it here—awaits your exegesis of the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 verses 16 – 19. So what is God telling us there about work--and workers and their bosses?”


Let us begin with the words of Genesis themselves:


16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.


17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;


18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;


19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”


This is the seminal moment in the human story, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition. God has created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden, commanding them only that they shall not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But Adam and Eve disobey God, so he drives them from Eden and lays upon them a curse. This curse becomes the universal human condition, for each of us inherits Adam’s original sin. What is this curse?




For woman, labor is the pain of childbirth; for man, it is the work required to get our bread.


For six thousand years, labor is understood as a curse. Labor is done by the lowly, by the slaves, by the peasants, by the serfs. The high born, the nobility, do not labor.


Notice that it is not activity that is a curse, but labor. Both in the Judeo-Christian tradition and in the Greco-Roman tradition, activity is a blessing, a sign of divinity. God is conceived as pure activity, and the men meeting together in the public spaces to determine their collective will are manifesting their godlike nature by their activity. To be sure, monks and nuns labor in the fields but they do so as penance for their original sin, not as a fulfillment of their divine nature.


In a brilliant tour de force, Karl Marx takes this ancient and universal view of labor as a curse and transforms it. He seizes upon the Romantic understanding of artistic creativity as a self externalization, as a making actual of that which begins as an idea in the mind. The painter, the sculptor, the composer, the poet begins with an idea in mind which he or she then makes actual in the work of art. This act of creation is the fulfillment of the artist, the realization of his or her inner essence.


Marx changes this understanding of artistic creativity in two fundamental ways: First, he says that all men and women by virtue of their humanity have the capacity for this process of self externalization. It is not just the artistic genius in his or her garret but the farmer in the field, the weaver spinning flax into thread and weaving it into cloth, the carpenter carving wood into furniture, the potter shaping vases from clay, who engages in an act of creative self externalization; and Second, Marx says, men and women engage in this activity of creative self externalization not as isolated individuals but collectively, through the division of labor and its reintegration into the productive process.


Indeed, this act of collective and purposive transformation of nature is what makes us human, for, as he writes in The German Ideology the following year:


“Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like.  They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization.  By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.” 


Alas, under capitalism this natural fulfillment of our human nature is distorted and corrupted, and it is that distortion and corruption about which Marx writes in the essay on alienated labor.


That is where I began my lecture two days ago.





Tuesday, August 23, 2022


Since it appears to freak some people out when I repeat myself over the course of a year or two, I shall not explain why I think Marx wrote the opening chapters of Capital as he did.  Suffice it to say that comic relief had nothing at all to do with the matter. Marx was not telling a few jokes to lighten the mood – to lend humor to an otherwise bald and tedious narrative, to paraphrase Pooh Bah.  He had an exceedingly complex, deep, and utterly revolutionary motive that required him to write as he did. Anyone who is curious as to what that might be can read Moneybags Must Be So Lucky or watch my YouTube lectures on Marx. And yes, since I am so far as I know the only commentator on the thought of Marx who has ever made this argument, I do tend to repeat it.

Monday, August 22, 2022


When I was young, they were easy, but now a two hour class takes it out of me.

Next Monday, we spend two hours on Smith, Ricardo, and classical political economy. I am enough of a nerd to really enjoy this stuff but I am under no illusions about the students.

I promised them that after the Labor Day break, for the fourth class, I will take them on two imaginary field trips, the first to 16th century Notre Dame de Paris for a mass, the second to a local supermarket, a Food Lion, for a shopping trip. That will prepare them for chapter 1 of Capital.


For some time now, I have been struck by the fact that the readers of this blog – or at least that small group who comment regularly – seem to have virtually no interest in what I actually post on the blog, preferring instead to engage in lengthy discussions among themselves about just about anything else. Lord knows, there is a great deal going on right now in the world that is more interesting and more important than what I say here, but why come to this blog to talk about that rather than to make any sort of comment on what I have posted?


Yesterday, I decided to try a little experiment. I mentioned that I was preparing for today’s class, the first of a series of classes on the thought of Karl Marx, and that I had chosen to begin my lecture today by quoting a passage from the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 verses 16 – 19.  This, I suggested would be a natural-lead in to Marx’s famous 1844 discussion of alienated labor, about which so much has been written.  What sort of response, if any, I wondered, what I get to that statement?


Well, it is early in the day but the answer seems to be none at all, save for a tangentially relevant remark by “unknown” on the slightly earlier verses concerning God’s curse laid upon the snake.


There are several possible explanations for this total absence. The first of course is that the relevance of that passage to the discussion of alienated labor is so obvious to everyone as not to need comment. Somehow, I doubt that explanation, although of course it may be correct. A second explanation is that the connection between the two is so obscure that nobody has a clue what it is and everybody is too embarrassed to ask. I would like to believe this explanation, because it implies that the readers of this blog have some interest in what I say. But the most plausible explanation is the third, namely that in this as in almost every other case, the commenters view the blog post as simply an opportunity to talk about anything else that is on their minds.


I freely confess that this disappoints me but I persevere in the hope, if not the belief, that somewhere out there in the great blogosphere are readers who actually do have some interest in what I say and are hopeful that I will explain the connection at which I hinted.


Buoyed by that hope, supported though it is by so little direct evidence, I shall after my class explain what I had in mind. Then the commentators can go on talking about whatever is on their minds, ignoring my explanation as they have my provocative post.

Sunday, August 21, 2022


While we have all been watching the Mar-A Lago search unfold (and I am still convinced that there is some major portion of this story that we do not yet know), I have been making final preparations for tomorrow's lecture in my course.

This will be the start of a series of eight long two-hour lectures in which I lay out my complex reading of Marx's thought.  In those lectures, I shall be talking about economic history, philosophy, mathematical economics, sociology, and literary criticism. I am quite convinced that there is nobody who brings to Marx's thought  the complexity and diversity of materials and theoretical viewpoints that I do.  This may well be the last course I teach and I want to make it a good one.

The first text that I have the students read is the famous portion of the Economic–Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 devoted to "alienated labor."  I shall begin, therefore, by reading to them from the Book of Genesis, chapter 3 verses 16–19.  That will permit me both to set the stage for Marx's revolutionary view of labor and also to strike the appropriately devout tone for the beginning of so important to journey.

I shall let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022


Back in the classroom after 2 ½ years on zoom. It turned out I did not need my little voice magnifier, which was a great relief. I told the students about the course, tried out some of my old jokes, had each of them introduce him or herself, and generally had a ball. The room has a big screen and a projector connected to a computer on a side table and my assistant, Dr. Alexander Campbell (same person who recorded and posted my lectures on Karl Marx, my lectures on Freud, and my lectures on Kant) took charge of posting slides on the screen as I asked for them. It was just another class on the first day of the semester at UNC but for me it was a big deal and I enjoyed it enormously.


Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly clear that Merrick Garland is going full speed ahead against Trump and I may yet have the great pleasure of seeing him hauled off to jail in an orange jumpsuit.

Monday, August 15, 2022


At long last, after endless preparation, at 1 PM this afternoon I will meet my class on “Marx, Freud, Marcuse: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.” At this point I have 20 students enrolled – several graduate students, several exchange students, and a group of juniors and seniors. Lord knows, I have given the first lecture in my head so often that I sometimes think I have already delivered it. This will be a very unusual course, ranging as it does over philosophy, economic history, mathematical economics, psychology, sociology, politics, and literary criticism. I will report back to let you know how it goes.


Meanwhile, of course, I watch the rapid unfolding of the Justice Department’s investigation of Donald Trump’s cache of classified documents in Mar-a Lago. I remain convinced that Merrick Garland has evidence of some sort showing that Trump intends or intended to monetize those documents in some way.


I simply adore Trump’s claim that in his mind he declassified every document that he took back to his quarters in the White House, even though he may not have actually revealed this intention to anyone until now. It reminds me of the “think method” of playing band instruments that Prof. Harold Hill articulates in that great old movie The Music Man.


I cannot believe that Garland would have done all of this without intending to charge Trump, nor do I believe that when the charges come down they will be restricted to a mere mishandling of classified documents. Obviously, I could be wrong, but I live each day in the hope that it will be revealed via intercepted phone messages or whatever that Trump was trying to sell state secrets to foreign governments for cash. We shall see.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022


All right, speculation is free, so I will speculate. Atty. Gen. Garland has ordered the FBI to obtain a court ordered warrant for a search of Mar-a Lago.  This is the very first time that the home or possessions of an ex-president have been searched in this way. It is reported that what was being searched for was government documents illegally brought by Trump to his home.  This is, no matter what anybody says, a relatively minor infraction of the law. It is inconceivable that Garland would take so dramatic a step in order to pursue Trump for so minor a misdeed. So what on earth is going on?


I have heard television commentators speculate that in these documents might be something as secret as the nuclear codes. But I assume they have long since been changed several times and although it would certainly be unconscionable for Trump to bring these to his Florida playground, that cannot be why the feds searched his home now.


What occurred to me immediately was that the FBI had picked up evidence that Trump is offering to sell US secrets to foreign governments. Despite his bragging, Trump is, I am convinced, perpetually short of cash and hence constantly on the look for relatively small-scale grafts to line his pockets. Is there something in those papers that would be worth a great deal of money to foreign governments now? I do not know, I cannot even guess, but it strikes me as likely that what Garland is after is something along these lines. Otherwise, why break with two centuries of tradition and uncountable norms of government behavior?


I have to say, I am feeling more and more cheerful about the next couple of months.

Saturday, August 6, 2022


Some of you, although of course perhaps not all, may have noticed that I have not been posting as much on this blog lately, and I thought I would take a few moments to explain why. Until 2008 I was quite unaware of the phenomenon of blogging, but as I approached retirement and became concerned about what I would do with myself, my son, Patrick, suggested that I start a blog and so I did. I began blogging steadily in June 2009 and at first the floodgates opened. It had been a while since I had been writing regularly and I had a great deal to say. In those early years, I wrote a 250,000 word autobiography online, I wrote enough tutorials, mini–tutorials, and appreciations to fill several volumes, which eventually found their way onto Amazon as Kindle books. Thanks for the most part to periodic links by Brian Leiter, I eventually built a readership that seems now to number perhaps several thousand people scattered around the world. I taught adult education courses at Duke University, spent a year visiting at Bennett College in Greensboro, taught several courses close to home at UNC Chapel Hill, and even for two years traveled every Tuesday in the fall to New York to teach at Columbia. I recorded and posted more than 30 hours of lectures on a wide range of topics. In short, I have kept busy since I retired in 2008.


Time passes and inexorably I have grown older until now, as I am not too many months from my 89th birthday, I have finally begun to describe myself, albeit reluctantly, as “old.” Somehow along the way I managed to develop Parkinson’s disease – I was diagnosed 2 ½ years ago, but the doctor who made the diagnosis offered the opinion that I had in fact had the disease for two years before that. Almost a year ago, I was forced to give up the early morning walks that had been a part of my life for many years. I took to using what is called a “rollalator.”  What started as a tremor in my left hand has now progressed to “freezing,” a result I am told of insufficient dopamine getting to certain points in my nervous system. Last month my wife and I finally sold the little Paris apartment that has been our delight since 2004.


Although I shall start teaching a new and complex course at UNC a week from Monday, I am not the man I used to be and the course, which would have been, 40 or 50 years ago, a demand on my time and energy so slight as scarcely to be noticeable now consumes my days.


Added to my personal troubles are of course two rather larger matters that have had an unexpectedly powerful effect on my thoughts and feelings: the two years and more in virtual lockdown because of the Covid pandemic and the serious threats to the very life and continuation of such electoral democracy as we have in the United States. I find myself wondering what it must have been like to live in Germany or Italy or Spain in the years leading up to the onset of fascism in those countries.


I am, for the first time since the early 1960s when I was consumed by the threat of nuclear war, perpetually angry.  I have always described myself somewhat wryly as a Tigger rather than an Eeyore, but it has become more and more difficult to maintain a bouncy cheerfulness in the face of the world and my own personal disabilities.


I shall continue to blog, but perhaps not as frequently and not at as great length as I have been these past 13 years. As I say, some of you may scarcely notice the change but for those who have noticed I thought I should say something.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022


When the Alito memo leaked, I predicted that overturning abortion rights would become the central issue in the midterm elections. Last night, I got up at 1:30 AM (do not ask) and learned that in a midterm primary with no important contests on the Democratic side, voters had turned out in presidential election numbers to defeat a sneaky effort to deprive Kansans of their abortion rights.  It is just possible that November may not be a disaster it was shaping up to be.

As I lay in bed, trying to go back to sleep, I reminded myself that in seven out of the last eight presidential elections, Republicans have lost the popular vote, lately by enormous margins.  Democrats have won 16 of the last 24 presidential election popular votes. All is not entirely lost.