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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

AT LAST!

Here it is.   Lecture Four, replete with irrelevant stories and deep insights.  Enjoy.

MARKING TIME

Just exactly six weeks to go until the election results come in.  I have finished the Sapolsky book, which was a delight, and  have started on WHY ONLY US:  Language and Evolution, by Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky.  What a difference!  This one is very chewy, very condensed.  

An hour to go until Lecture Four is up and available.  I shall provide a link when it is on YouTube.

Monday, September 26, 2016

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER LECTURE

Number four is recorded and should be up tomorrow.  This one features stories about Ronald Dworkin, T. D. Weldon, and Peter Strawson, and show-and-tell with fancy boards courtesy of Staples.  Also, a political rant at the end.

Next week, big stuff:  The Subjective Deduction [always a crowd pleaser.]

ANOTHER IDOL SHATTERED

Susan Stamberg, long-time much beloved National Public Radio personality, is among other things the author of the Susan Stamberg Five Second Rule, by which I have lived for years.  The rule states that when you drop a piece of food on the kitchen floor while cooking, if you pick it up within five seconds it is all right to eat it.  Now I learn that scientific tests have proved that the Five Second Rule is false.  Apparently, germs take less time than that to get on food that has fallen on the floor.

This will require an entire reordering of my culinary routines.

Is nothing sacred?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

PREVIEWS OF COMING ATTRACTIONS

Tomorrow I deliver and record the fourth Kant lecture.  I have decided to say something briefly about the fact that the election looms over this effort.  It seems odd not even to acknowledge it.  Even though I am still shunning the TV news and commentary and the web commentary, the anxiety remains.  I have been watching some Robert Sapolsky lectures on YouTube, and have learned that high levels of continuing stress are neurologically bad for you.  Not surprising.  Six weeks to go.  How on earth will I survive?

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.]