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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Friday, September 23, 2016

MURDER

I have just watched the newly released video taken during and after the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina.  It was murder, pure and simple.  I have no doubt the officer who killed Mr. Scott will eventually be exonerated.  This is an awful country.

YET ANOTHER RESPONSE, THIS ONE TO TED TALBOT

Ted Talbot offers the following comment:  “At the beginning of the Transcendental Aesthetic, when Kant says: “Diese [die Anschauung] findet aber nur statt, sofern uns der Gegenstand gegeben wird; dieses aber ist wiederum, uns Menschen wenigstens, nur dadurch möglich, dass er das Gemüt auf gewisse Weise affiziert” he seems to be attributing a causal relationship (“affizieren”) between objects in themselves and the mind, since „Gegenstand“ here is not the object as it appears to us (the “affecting” occurs prior to mental activity and gets the ball rolling). Is this talk of “affecting” merely the ladder that Kant will soon toss aside à la Wittgenstein, maybe hauling it out again for his ethical theory? (I think I may be raising what Sidney Morgenbesser would have called a "Philosophy 1 question"), but so be it.”

First of all, the passage that Professor Talbot quotes in the original German appears in the Kemp-Smith translation thus:  “But intuition takes place only in so far as the object is given to us.  This again is possible, to man at least, in so far as the mind is affected in a certain way.”  [ A 19 = B 33 ]

The simple answer to Professor Talbot’s question is, “Yes.”  But that, to ring the changes on the old joke, is less than he wanted to know about rainbows.  What is going on here is so complicated that I have given up any hope of including it in my lectures.  There are limits, after all!  However, I may be permitted to talk about it for a while on this blog.  Those insatiable for the subject can consult my book, Kant’s Theory of Mental Activity, where it is discussed at great length.

The text of the chapter called “The Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding” is, in the First Edition, famously convoluted and apparently internally in conflict with itself, so much so that a great old Kant scholar, Hans Vaihinger, developed an elaborate “patchwork” theory of its composition.  According to this theory, Kant, in haste to bring the book to publication [because he was a hypochondriac and thought he would not live to finish it], stitched together drafts lying on his desk from his nine years of labor, apparently not noticing that they contained passages that were flat out in contradiction with one another.  No fewer than four layers or stages of the argument could be discerned, Vaihinger claimed, representing a development of the argument from its earliest stage, philosophically barely beyond the position Kant took in the Inaugural Dissertation of 1770, to its most mature stage, recapitulated coherently and successfully in the Second Edition rewrite of the chapter.

Now, as speculative history [Vaihinger did not actually have any datable documents from the Nachlass to which he could point] this is manifestly crazy.  The greatest philosopher who has ever lived [he and I agree on that], when he is writing what he correctly believes to be the most important thing he will ever write, fails to notice that in the space of 20 pages or so he says four different incompatible things!  Hello?  Seriously?

BUT:  Vaihinger was smart, and correctly identified a number of places in the text where Kant stops saying one sort of thing and starts saying something clearly different.  Indeed, if we simply divide the chapter up by paying attention to the argument in a very intense, careful manner, it all divides up into pretty much exactly the passages that Vaihinger claimed were different drafts on Kant’s desk.

One of the crucial “tells,” as professional poker players call those subtle indications that an opponent is bluffing, is precisely how Kant identifies the object of representations.  Sometimes he talks as though the object is a spatiotemporally delimited region of Appearances that affects our sense organs and produces perceptions, which is to say empirical intuitions.  Sometimes he talks as though the object is a “Transcendental object = x,” whose status is quite unclear.  And in yet other places Kant seems clearly to say that it is the Thing-in-itself that affects our sensibility, generating a diversity or, as he says, a manifold of intuition.

Now it clearly cannot be all three.  Indeed, these identifications are not just diverse, they are contradictory with one another.  One possible explanation of what is going on is Vaihinger’s Patchwork Theory of the Deduction.  Another explanation [mine] is that Kant has so complicated a story to tell, a story so different from any story that had ever been told before by a philosopher, that he can only lay it out in stages, as it were, each stage a complication of its predecessor, until the final full-blown story is given to us not even in the Deduction, but in the Second Analogy.


Professor Talbot’s invocation of Wittgenstein’s ladder is thus, in my view, quite apt.  Indeed, if I can keep it in mind, perhaps I will use it [with due credit to Professor Talbot.]

A RESPONSE

Now that I have completed my preparations for my fourth lecture on the Critique, I have some time to address several very interesting comments that have been posted here in the last day or two.  The first is a short comment posted by TheDudeDiogenes, the second a technical Kant comment by Professor Ted Talbot.  Each calls for an extended reply.  I shall respond to each in a separate post.

TheDudeDiogenes writes as follows:  Prof, perhaps of interest to you is this book review that I just read of The Happiness Industry, which review includes this gem: "What Davies recognises is that capitalism has now in a sense incorporated its own critique. What the system used to regard with suspicion – feeling, friendship, creativity, moral responsibility – have all now been co-opted for the purpose of maximising profits."  I think I shall have to read this book!  [The spelling suggests that TheDudeDiogenes is English.  Is this correct?]

This is a phenomenon I talked about a long time ago.  The Sixties – a period actually stretching from the middle of the 1960’s to the middle of the 1970’s – was a time of protest, of upheaval, of challenge to the duly constituted authorities in universities, in government, and in popular culture.   Triggered in part by the threat of obligatory military service in Viet Nam, it was principally a protest of the young [separate from the historic Civil Rights Movement, which was the continuation of an historic struggle that had been going on for several centuries, and which involved men and women in the Black community of every age and station in life.]

The protestors expressed their dissent by their hair, their clothes, and their self-presentations, as much as by their music, their use of drugs, and their language.  In those days, one could pretty well judge a man or woman’s politics at fifty paces.  The protests were not long on deep political analysis, but they were perfectly designed to drive the powers that be insane.  My favorite example was an open letter addressed by the 1968 Columbia University protest leader Mark Rudd to the then university president Grayson Kirk, a pompous stuffed shirt surrounded by crowds of university vice-presidents.  Rudd might have opened his letter, in the style then coming in to fashion with a rude salutation, such as “Up against the wall, M____F____.”  Instead, with a stiletto-sharp sense of generational confrontation, he began with the salutation, “Dear Grayson”.  Kirk could have borne foul language, but to be addressed by an undergraduate by his first name was simply intolerable!

For a while, the assault on the norms of polite society continued apace, with proper adults outraged by the mere sight of young people going barefoot or wearing their hair long or not wearing ties and dresses.  [I would remind those of my readers who are too young to remember that on their first triumphant tour of America, the Beatles actually wore ties when they performed.  Their sole manifestation of countercultural rebellion was to wear their hair, carefully coiffed as it was, long enough to brush the collars of their jackets.]

Then a funny thing happened.  Capitalism raised its head, sniffed the winds, and caught the intoxicating scent of profit.  The Mad Men of Madison Avenue began to feature the familiar symbol of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in their ads.  Fashion models started to look like campus protestors.  Pretty soon, you simply could no longer judge someone’s politics at a glance.  Wiser and more experienced than the Grayson Kirks of this world, capitalism understood that there was no intrinsic connection between body piercings, tattoos, and Collective Ownership of the Means of Production.  The rebellion dwindled into a fashion statement.  Men with shoulder length hair and pierced nostrils might actually be Republicans!  Once again, Capitalism had conquered.  It was all rather sad, but quite predictable. 


Marcuse called it repressive desublimation.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

REALITY HAS SET IN

My first lecture has drawn more than 10,000 views.  My second has drawn more than 7000.  The third has thus far drawn 1300.  A few more weeks and we will be down to the sixty or seventy people actually interested in the Critique.  That will still be three times as many people as ever took my course on the book at one time, so it is not so bad.  But I must give up my dreams of going on the road with Beyonce.  

Monday I tackle the opening sections of the Transcendental Analytic, up to but most definitely not including the Deduction in A.  That is for the following week.  For Monday's lecture, I have had Staples create two large 2 foot by 3 foot poster boards, one with the Table of Functions of Judgment on it in great big letters and the other with the Table of Categories.  I have also bought an adjustable easel to display them.  Expensive, but I figure it is tax deductible [as presumably was the $10,000 Trump paid out of his charitable foundation for a portrait of himself to display in one of his hotels.]

I shall open my lecture by replying to a question posed, after my second lecture, on this blog, thus fusing these two very different forms of self-expression.  I imagine Plato did the same thing, incorporating into a later Dialogue a response to an objection raised in the Groves of Academe by his favorite pupil, Aristotle.  [This is a bit of wry self-deprecatory humor, for those with tin ears.]

A strange peace has descended on me now that I have not heard Chris Matthews' braying voice for nigh on a week.  I think after the election, if all turns out as I hope, I shall never go back to my former obsession with political commentary.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

THIS AND THAT

I gave a puff to Robert Sapolsky's book, A Primate's Memoir.  For those who would like a quick introduction to this extraordinary man, here is a TED talk he gave on Class Day at Stanford, where he teaches.  It is a delight.

Although I have sworn off TV political commentary, I occasionally sneak a look at the probabilities posted on the various poll synthesizing sites.  Nate Cohn [I think] on The Upshot has the unsettling habit of stating the probability that Clinton will win and then comparing that to a sports probability.  Thus, Clinton used to be at 90%, which is the probability that an NFL kicker will make the point after.  Now she is at 75%, which is the probability that an NFL kicker will make a 45 yard field goal.  This makes me deeply uncomfortable.  Imagine that as you board a flight, one of the cabin personnel says "Our chance of crashing is quite low today -- as low as the chance that a .350 big league hitter will strike out.  Welcome aboard!"

My plan to move to Paris if Trump wins has hit a snag.  Several of my relatives have told me that they intend to stay in m apartment there in that eventuality.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

HERE IT IS

All right, here is the link to the Third Lecture, posted on You Tube.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 19, 2016

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

Lecture Three has been delivered and recorded, and should be up on YouTube tomorrow.  We are getting into the meat of the Critique now.