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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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, May 31, 2023


Rather than respond directly today to the comments posted on my blog yesterday, I should like first to complicate my account somewhat by adding some additional facts.


The response of capital to the various so-called liberation movements has been complex, as one might expect. Let me offer just two examples to indicate this complexity.  In the later 19th century, employers sought to hold down wages by making a devil’s bargain with their white workers. In return for refusing to hire black workers, employers were able to resist the endless pressure to raise the wages of their white workers. In these cases, capital was opposed to the homogenization of the workforce. However, in the 20th century employers embraced the demand by women to enter the workforce because it made it possible for them to reduce the wages of male workers, who no longer required wages that would enable them to support a family. The so-called “family wage” presupposed that the man in the family was the breadwinner while the woman stayed home, raised the children, cooked the food, and cleaned the house.  The statistics from 2021 are suggestive and quite characteristic of the current American situation. In 2021, median household income in America was $70,784 a year, or $1416 a week for 50 weeks of full employment. But the median weekly wage for the same period of time was $1104 for men and $929 for women. Obviously most households depended on the wages of two workers. In general, it has been in the interest of capital to support the elimination of the privileges enjoyed by white men because by increasing the available labor supply capital can keep wages lower. 


One of the principal things Marx got wrong about the development of capitalism was his expectation that the hierarchical structure of skilled, semiskilled, and unskilled workers would gradually be replaced by a more uniform mass of semiskilled machine operators. He believed that this would facilitate the development of class consciousness among the workers, leading them to form powerful collectives in opposition to the ever more unified capital. In fact, what developed was a seemingly permanent pyramidal hierarchy of wages and salaries, with those in the upper reaches of the pyramid being paid salaries and benefits that were forever out of the reach of the majority of workers below.  On the books of a corporation, the worker who cleans the toilets and the president who sits in the corner office on the top floor are both employees and the compensation of each is listed as a cost to the corporation.  But the reality is of course quite different.

Half a century ago or more Samuel Bowles and Herb Gintis wrote a lovely little paper in which they constructed a mathematical model of an economy exhibiting what they called “relative exploitation,” in which capital exploited labor and higher paid labor exploited lower paid labor. That is indeed the situation that the American economy now exhibits and I confess that I do not now see how solidarity can be achieved in the face of that persistent structure of relative exploitation. The Occupy movement with its emphasis on a contrast between the 1% and everyone else was an imaginative effort in that direction, whatever its limitations may have been.


Well, I will stop here for the moment and await comments and reactions to these observations.




I am an atheist more out of a lack of conviction than out of conviction, and so I am always looking for evidences either of the existence or nonexistence of a good God. My latest evidence, I am afraid, is of the nonexistence of a benevolent deity: Henry Kissinger has just turned 100. I mean really, there was no need for that


I knew Kissinger 65 years ago when I was a young instructor at Harvard and he was a somewhat older assistant professor. He was ambitious, condescendingly scornful of those of us who were terrified by the dangers of nuclear weapons, not very bright, but ominously skillful at advancing his career.


I only actually met Kissinger once and then, I am pleased to say, I was able conversationally to slip a shiv into him.  It happened like this. A number of us at Harvard were doing everything we could to warn of the dangers of nuclear weapons. At one point, Kissinger wrote a letter to the Harvard Crimson in which he undertook to explain to us that “this is a very serious subject.” Not long afterward, he invited me to make a presentation to the seminar he gave each year on international relations in which he postured and preened before the young men who had come to Harvard from various third world countries and would go on in later years to be important figures in their home governments.


Kissinger asked me to make a presentation about The Strategy of Conflict, a splendid book by Thomas Schelling that had just been published. When I stop by Kissinger’s office before the class, I asked whether there was a blackboard in the room where we would be meeting. Kissinger asked why I needed one, and I said that I wanted to put up some mathematics as part of my discussion of Schelling’s book. Kissinger got a rather squirrelly look. It was obvious to me that he did not have a clue about game theory or anything associated with it and was afraid of being shown up for the poser he was. I looked at him seriously and said, “Well, Prof. Kissinger, it is a very serious subject.”


So much for fond memories. Later today I shall address the comments on my post of yesterday.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023


I think the comments on my most recent post are the most interesting and suggestive I have had in some time. Tomorrow I shall try to respond to the comments and expand on what I said. Perhaps together we can come to some deeper understanding of this matter.


For the past 70 years and more, I have been struggling to understand two sorts of social and economic inequalities in America. The first is the many ways in which groups of people, identified by race, by ethnicity, by gender, and so forth are unequally treated and have unequal life chances. Women make only a fraction of what men make in jobs for which they are equally qualified. Black women are much more likely to die in childbirth than white women who are by other social and economic metrics equivalent. Gay and lesbian men and women are denied legal and social opportunities that are routinely available to straight men and women.


These inequalities have given rise to a number of “liberation movements,” so-called – The Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation, etc. Much of the progressive energy of millions of people for the past three quarters of a century has been devoted to these movements.


The second sort of social and economic inequality in America with which I have been concerned for most of my life is the enormous inequality in the distribution of income and wealth that characterizes American society. These inequalities are persistent and growing worse, as Thomas Pickety and many others have demonstrated.


Marx, bless his soul, thought that the development of capitalism would progressively eliminate the first kind of social and economic inequality while exacerbating the second in such a way as to finally trigger a revolutionary transformation that would result in a society exhibiting neither of the structures of inequality. But he was wrong, alas, as I tried to argue in my paper “The Future of Socialism.”


What has been troubling me all these years is that I can imagine the various liberation movements progressively eliminating the differential inequalities associated with race, gender, or sexual orientation while not at all having any serious effect on the systematic inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. That is to say, I can imagine an America in which women and men, black and white and Latino and Asian American and Native American individuals, gay and straight individuals are represented at every level in the economy in numbers strictly proportional to their presence in the larger society and yet without altering or even slowing the progress of the economic inequality of wealth and income in the society as a whole.



Monday, May 29, 2023


Maybe he was playing 11 dimensional chess. This suggests as much.  This is clearly well above my pay grade.

Sunday, May 28, 2023


Well, he was not playing three-dimensional chess.  

Friday, May 26, 2023


As I have observed, I cannot tell whether Biden is playing three-dimensional chess or has made the fundamental mistake of bringing a knife to a gunfight. As I wait to see which it is, here is my fantasy of how things ought to play out.

Step one: in tthe next 24 hours or so Biden and McCarthy reach a tentative deal in which Biden gives a bit around the edges in response to McCarthy's promise to raise the debt ceiling.

Step two: McCarthy takes this deal back to his caucus and Biden says that he will only sign off on it if McCarthy can pass it with nothing but Republican votes. Hakeem Jeffries holds his caucus in line and McCarthy cannot deliver the necessary votes. 

Step three: more in sorrow than in anger, Biden reluctantly invokes the 14th amendment and/or mints the coin.

Step four: Republicans in fury vote to impeach Biden and that farce goes down to a disastrous defeat in the Senate.

We shall see.

Monday, May 22, 2023


Once again I have been absent from blogging for a while.  I have a great deal to say and nothing to say. I watch the news obsessively, worrying about things over which I have no control.  I have been binge watching a television show called “Madam Secretary” starring Tea Leone and feeling guilty about the time I have spent watching it, even though there is nothing else demanding my attention. 

In a few weeks, I will do a zoom interview with one of the staff people at Harvard’s Social Studies Program. A group of five faculty started it 63 years ago and I am the last surviving member of that group, so I will talk for a bit about what I recall of its origins as part of their archive. Then in the fall, when the students return, they will arrange for me to have a zoom conversation with as many of them as wish to participate. That should be fun. 

I have proposed giving a lecture next fall at the UNC philosophy department on the logical incompatibility of Kant’s theoretical philosophy   with his moral philosophy, a subject I have been thinking about for the past 50 years or so and about which, so far as I know, no one else has written. I have just agreed to appear via zoom in a summer course being taught at St. John Fisher University in Rochester, New York in which the students will be using my textbook, About Philosophy. And I have just received through my email the text of a book written in English by a philosopher in China who wants me to read it and respond to his efforts to establish some sort of connection between Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Hegel, and Kant.  That sounds like a lot when I put it on paper, but it does not really take much of my time.


The big news in my life is completely personal. I have taken the first steps toward arranging in-home part time care for Susan and myself. My Parkinson’s freezing has gotten a great deal worse, so that I cannot walk anywhere either in my apartment or outside it without my three wheel roller and I can easily imagine that before too much time has passed I shall need help taking care of her and perhaps even taking care of myself. Even though I am in a Continuing Care Retirement Community in which many of the residents use rollers or canes or wheelchairs and need help with their lives, I feel diminished and somewhat ashamed by the fact that I shall need help as time goes on. Since I have now lived just shy of 9/10 of a century (that makes it sound much more than simply saying that I am almost 90), I ought not to feel shame at having these needs but alas, I do.


There are a number of subjects on which I have things to say, including the issue of grading and artificial intelligence which I raised briefly in a blog post and which triggered a long thread of comments, but for some reason I am less moved to write and post my thoughts than I have been for the past 14 years of this blog.


Meanwhile, I wait impatiently for Trump to be indicted again once or several times, I wait as well to see whether Biden has the courage and the strength to invoke one of the several methods available to him of unilaterally avoiding the debt crisis, I read of the large numbers of medical students pursuing careers in obstetrics and gynecology or as primary care physicians who say that they will not accept internships in states that ban abortions, and my heart weeps at the sheer pointless cruelty being visited on trans children and adults.

Thursday, May 18, 2023


A number of folks both on this blog and elsewhere have asked me what I think about AI in general and more particularly about the program called Chat GPT.  I have not yet been able to access one of these programs and try it so I am flying blind here, but let me say a few things that come to mind.


Suppose I am teaching an undergraduate course in philosophy and require students to submit ten-page papers as part of the work of the course. I read the papers, I comment on them, and I return them. I am reasonably familiar with this procedure because I have been doing it for the past 68 years.


Now let us suppose that I learn that some of the students, instead of writing the papers themselves, have had the papers generated by an AI program. Assume that the program is sufficiently advanced that I am not able to tell which papers were written by the students themselves and which were generated by artificial intelligence. How should I react to this information?


My first thought is that the students who have used an AI program to produce the paper have wasted their time and mine. My purpose in assigning the paper was to give them some practice in developing and expressing arguments and by submitting a paper generated by an AI program they have denied themselves that experience. They have also wasted my time since my purpose in reading the paper and making comments about it was to help them develop those skills.


But what about the grade!? Well, the grade has nothing at all to do with the process by which they learn and by which I teach. As I explained in a little book I wrote 54 years ago, the purpose of grading is to facilitate the sorting of too many people into too few desirable positions in society. It has absolutely nothing to do with teaching or learning. If I were a violin teacher I would comment on, correct, criticize the way in which my pupils played the pieces I asked them to learn.. I would do that whether they were beginners or were preparing for a debut performance at Carnegie Hall. Giving them grades on their performances would be an irrelevant and useless activity.


But if I do not give grades, then the college or university for which I work cannot decide which students have earned degrees. Indeed…

Wednesday, May 17, 2023


As I have observed over the years in various places, there is a considerable difference between thinking about the world and actually trying to change it. When you are merely thinking, it is no more trouble to think about everything than to think about something, so philosophers think about being rather than, say, about what is for dinner. And if you can think about everything actual, it is no greater effort to think about everything possible as well. Hence the popularity of speculation about possible worlds.


But when it comes to changing the world, it takes an enormous amount of effort to make a very small difference and a vast amount more effort to make a slightly larger difference. For example, I spent 23 years of my life raising money to support poor black men and women in South Africa who wanted to go to one of the historically black universities there but lacked the money even for the tuition down payment that got them in the door and eligible for government loan schemes. Month after month, year after year, I sent out letters and gathered money and managed in the end to help about 1600 young men and women have a chance at a higher education in South Africa. That is not even enough people to form a blip in the national statistics, and yet it was far away my largest sustained effort.


Now I sit in comfort in a continuing care retirement community as my Parkinson’s takes over my life, watching with horror the terrible things happening here in the United States and elsewhere in the world. It is no trouble at all for me to think about them and little more effort to write about them but neither thinking nor writing has of course the slightest effect on those terrible things. When I try to make a difference, the most I can think to do is to give my little bits of money to this or that political campaign and hope that tens of millions of other Americans do the same.


At the moment, I am waiting to see whether Joe Biden stares down the House Republicans and takes one of the available ways of handling the debt limit problem unilaterally. Today, Paul Krugman says that Biden has blinked. But perhaps Biden is playing a deep game and is trying to trap McCarthy into making impossible demands which he, Biden, can then righteously reject just before he mints the damned coin. No matter how subtle an analysis I could conjure while sitting in front of my computer, what I think and say will have no effect at all on what Biden does.



Saturday, May 13, 2023


I watch MSNBC and CNN more or less obsessively, switching from one to the other to avoid the on-air stars whom I dislike. Now I find that I cannot bring myself to watch CNN because of their obscene "town hall" with Trump.    


I see that E. Jean Caroll is considering suing Trump again for defamation.  I suspect her lawyers are well aware of the concept of preclusion. This could be fun to watch.

Several weeks ago I started taking a second medication for my Parkinson's. It has had no positive effect whatsoever but I have been having trouble getting to sleep. This morning I checked online to see what the side effects of the medication are and sure enough one of them is sleeplessness. In the middle of the night I find myself running over Wordle words.  Here is my latest imaginative construction:

"A young girl has a plump little puppy who is missing. She goes off looking for it, worried that it has not had enough to eat, will lose weight. and will get sick and that it will run away again if anyone tries to pick it up. She finds it alive and well at the local animal shelter and sends the following message home to parents: At the pound: hound, round, sound, found bound."

Wednesday, May 10, 2023


 My son, Tobias, who is a professor of law and an expert on civil procedure posted this comment on Facebook today.

A note about the impact of E. Jean. Carroll's victory going forward: If the Orange Monster defames E. Jean again in the way he has in the past, she and her lawyers can file another lawsuit and use the judgment in her earlier verdict to immediately seek damages against him through the doctrine of preclusion. It is important to take a moment to think about the practical implications of that fact.
First some basics on Civil Procedure. In U.S. courts, when a person prevails in a civil case and obtains a judgment, that judgment does not merely constitute a victory on their claims. It also constitutes a determination that binds the parties to the lawsuit on all the issues that were actually litigated and decided in the proceeding and wound up being necessary to the judgment. Going forward, if the exact same issue comes up again then the person who lost on that issue in the first proceeding can be bound to the determination of that issue in any subsequent proceeding. This is the doctrine of issue preclusion. (There are some exceptions to that doctrine but none would apply here.)
Here's what that means in practical terms. The Orange Monster is running for President. He will be asked about E. Jean Carroll and her successful verdict, and even without being asked he will no doubt feel the compulsion to hold forth about her. He can still try to deny that he sexually assaulted her and claim that the jury decision was wrong; that's fine. But if he demeans E. Jean Carroll in the way that the jury found to be defamatory -- calling her a liar and saying her story is a hoax that she made up to increase book sales -- then Carroll and her lawyers can go straight to court, file another lawsuit, and seek additional defamation damages against him without having to prove her case all over again. All they will have to show is that whatever he said raises the same issue of defamation that the jury already adjudicated in the first lawsuit and they should be entitled to summary judgment in their favor. They would only have to prove damages. All of this is true even though the Orange Monster and his lawyer are appealing the judgment. Preclusion attaches when final judgment is entered at the trial court level.
This means that the Orange Monster will have to give mealy-mouthed answers to questions about E. Jean Carroll when he is asked about the verdict by the media or in debates (and he will presumably be asked all the time) and he will have to restrain his impulse to keep calling Carroll a hoax, a liar and a gold-digger in front of adoring crowds in the ways that worked so well for him before. If he cannot manage to do those things -- consistently -- then he will be slapped with a second lawsuit on a fast-track to force him to pay more damages for defamation.
I do not think he will be able to show that kind of discipline. We are going to see round two.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023


You have to hand it to the American legal system. Trump is found liable and George Santos is indicted, all in one day.  You can't ask for more. Just a brief note about why the jury did not find Trump liable for rape. Apparently, in her testimony, E Jean Caroll said that she felt Trump penetrate her with his fingers and then she thought he pushed his penis into her, but she could not be sure because she could not see what was happening. I think that explains the otherwise puzzling nature of the decision, which was reached by the jury in an astonishingly short period of time.

Monday, May 8, 2023


I feel myself to be very much in a holding pattern with regard to the events taking place in the larger world. I wait for jury deliberations to begin in the E. Jean Caroll case, I wait for the inevitable indictments in Fulton County, Georgia, I wait for the next revelation of Supreme Court corruption. At night, I lie in bed rehearsing extended speeches about “tactical nukes” and “the immigration problem,” on both of which topics I have somewhat unusual views. I rehearse my formal analysis of the central argument in John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice.


Yesterday I had a lovely email from a young man in India who is studying philosophy at a University there. He had watched my YouTube lectures on Ideological Critique and The Thought of Karl Marx and wanted to let me know what he was studying now.  I confess I am old enough to be astonished by the reach of the Internet.


It has been obvious for a while that we desperately need to enlarge the Supreme Court, but there seemed to be absolutely no taste for this move in the White House or in the Senate Democratic leadership. Then the revelations began to appear of corruption and questionable actions not only by Clarence Thomas but also by Neil Gorsuch and the Chief Justice. It is just barely possible that that may open the way to Supreme Court reform.


I thank all of you for your kind comments about my rather self-indulgent remarks concerning my physical problems. I have lived for much longer than I had any right to expect, and my problems, while debilitating, are not at all painful. I have matched the donations you have alerted me to 2 to 1, and if I do not hear from any more of you in the next few days I will simply send the rest of my $2000 to the DLCC.

Saturday, May 6, 2023


The comments on this blog have been rather interesting lately and I think I should explain why I have not been responding.  This is a strange and rather difficult time for me. I watch the news virtually all day long, stunned by the cruelty and ugliness of so much that I see in the world. Speaking only of what is happening within the United States, I am appalled by the daily accounts of pointless shootings, by the vicious attacks on trans children and adults, by the assault on knowledge, fact, and truth.  I give my little bits of money here and there, well aware that in a country this size their effect will be so small as to be unnoticeable.


Meanwhile, I struggle with the worsening of my Parkinson’s disease. My freezing and stumbling has now become so severe that I use my little three wheeled roller everywhere, both inside the apartment and out. When I go to the nearby supermarket to shop, I park next to the place where used carts collect.  Leaving my roller in the car, I use the cart to support me as I go into the store and collect up the items on my list. Then I go back to the car, put the bags of groceries in the trunk, and drive home. When I park outside the building in which I live, I use my roller to carry the bags upstairs. I am painfully aware that one wrong step can produce a fall which could be painful or even, if it is serious enough, life altering.


But my mind is clear and I respond eagerly to invitations to appear by zoom in college classes or even, when possible, to give lectures by zoom.


There are good moments, of course, when Supreme Court justices are revealed to be cheap grifters or when Trump, during a deposition, misidentifies as his wife a picture of the woman whom he raped and who he says is “not his type.”


But taking all and all, this is a difficult time and I apologize that I have been less responsive than I ought to have been to your comments.


Tuesday, May 2, 2023


I have been following the civil suit brought by E. Jean Carroll against Trump, but I cannot find out how much she is suing him for. Does anybody know?

Monday, May 1, 2023


Jerry Brown, in the midst of the chatter on this blog your news about the passing of your sister came as a terrible reminder of the real world. I am so sorry to hear of it.


As my Parkinson's progresses, I find it harder and harder to walk without stumbling and freezing.  But my mind, such as it is, is clear. I have enjoyed appearing via zoom here and abroad in classes and such, and I hope other opportunities present themselves. It is very odd to be so old and so comfortably fixed financially and so safe in my continuing care retirement community and simultaneously so appalled and frightened by what is happening in the world around me.