1. On studying
"philosophy" in Amsterdam
a list of
3. On "Charlie Hebdo"
This is a Nederlog of Friday,
January 9, 2015.
This is mostly about a list of philosophical books I found on R.P.
Wolff's site, preceded by brief bits of biography, and followed by an
even briefer remark on Charlie Hebdo.
studying "philosophy" in Amsterdam
In the next item I will be
quoting and commenting on a list I found on Robert Paul Wolff's blog.
You can skip there immediately or first read the
present section with some biographical details.
Who is Robert
Wolff? He is an American of 81, who is a professor emeritus in
philosophy, and who says about himself that "in politics I am an anarchist, in religion I am an atheist,
and in economics I am a Marxist".
He got educated at Harvard, where he also got some good courses in
mathematical logic (in the 1950ies), and he is presently still teaching
on Marx this year.
I have been - more or less - following his blog for a while, and he
published the present list yesterday on his blog, and started this as
I met my Marx
yesterday for the first time, and talked non-stop for two and a half
hours! After class, I was chatting with one of the Philosophy
Department first year grad students in the course and I mentioned that
there are about twenty-five books by great philosophers that every grad
student should read by the time he or she gets the Ph. D. That,
along with a firm foundation in mathematical logic, would stand you in
good stead for a career.
Yes, indeed - especially the
mathematical logic, I should say, precisely because this is a list for
students of philosophy.
In fact - as I mentioned before - I studied
philosophy (or better "feelosophy") at the University of Amsterdam,
where I did very well, but was nevertheless removed there, as
in: cast out from the university, in 1988, briefly before
taking my M.A. there, basically because I was not a marxist and
also because I asked questions
, as an invited speaker - only questions! - that displeased my teachers (who were a
bunch of very lazy very well-paid loons, degenerates
and quasi-marxist quasi-philosophers).
Nobody else had been removed from a Dutch university
since WW II for stating his opinions (in the form of questions!), but it happened to me, and was
also supported by the - corrupt, degenerate, sick - board of directors
of the University of Amsterdam. I was also ill and invalidated, as my
teachers and the board also knew - but out I went.
As to my not being a marxist: My parents were prominent marxists; three
out of four of my grandparents were marxists or anarchists; my father
and his father were locked up by the
Nazis in concentration-camps, for resisting Nazism, that
my grandfather did not survive; I was myself a marxist until age
20 (and had
read more of Marx
than anybody I'd ever met by that time), but I gave
it up essentially because there was no one I could take
seriously, in a theoretical way, in the Dutch communist party;
I had found serious problems with Marx's labor theory of value (see Ian Steedman's "Marx
after Sraffa", that I discovered much later); because I was quite
upset by the totalitarianism
of much of the left,
and especially of - claimed - marxists; and
because I also did not believe
the Soviet block was socialistic in any interesting sense since I had
been there in 1964. (There were more reasons, but these were the most
In fact, in terms of background, I was the best educated in Marxism in
the University of Amsterdam that I have ever met there - but I was thrown out of the University of Amsterdam
because I was not a marxist, and asked questions, and also because I did not
lie (like virtually everybody else there, indeed: No one there
was a real marxist, for example, like my parents were ).
2. On a list of
the list that follows (in fact: 26 books). I must start with
I like the list and indeed had read nearly all of these by the time I
was 23, all on my own initiative, because I only started "the
study" of philosophy, in which I learned precisely nothing of
any intellectual interest, when I was 27.
But also (and this is the
confessional part, though it is not really about me) I have never
met any student of philosophy - I must have seen hundreds of
them, and talked with quite a few - who had read most of the list,
and I do not think more than two of my professors in philosophy
fairly suspected of having read most of the books that follow (and one
was an Englishman, also educated in England).
Anyway... here is the list, which I quote and indent, with my comments,
1-5. Plato, the
EUTHYPHRO, APOLOGY, and CRITO [all short, pretty much a quick read],
GORGIAS [my all time favorite dialogue], the REPUBLIC, the THEATETUS,
consider this five books, not seven. The
first three are really one book.
Yes, a good selection - and I
Plato, though I agree he was a great philosopher and a fine writer. If
you want to see
why read The Republic: Parts are Monty Pythonesque (but were seriously
Also a good selection, though
perhaps his CATEGORIES
(a short work) should have been added.
METAPHYSICS, PHYSICS, NICHOMACHEAN ETHICS.
Not a good list. I would
have put up some translation of parts of Ockham's SUMMA
LOGICAE (I have
several partial English ones, of some thirty or forty years ago, while
Summa is translated and available on the internet); Duns Scotus : A
TREATISE ON GOD
AS FIRST PRINCIPLE; and a selection from Thomas Aquinas:
Reading all of
the Summa Theologicae is too much (it was for me as well), but there
are good abbreviations.
(And the three writers mentioned here were quite amazing
intellects.) Another good reference is to Paul Vincent Spade's "Mediaeval Logic and Philosophy".
Philosophy -- I don't know. You can't
read the entire SUMMA by Aquinas, God knows. But
you need somehow to familiarize yourselves with
debates of the Middle Ages [which includes the important Jewish and
Also a good choice (and
the links are generally to editions on my site). Wolff is right that
most of the objections appeared very fast (and they can be found in the
version that I owe of the Meditations), but then these were mostly by real
philosophers, much rather than by students or
teachers of academic philosophy.
DISCOURSE ON METHOD and MEDITATIONS. With
the MEDITATIONS, it is fascinating to read around
in the volume of
Responses that Descartes got when he sent it out to all the important
philosophers in Europe [there is a funny story with that -- remind me
you.] The fascinating thing is that most
of the objections that four centuries of philosophers have thought up
MEDITATIONS appear in those responses, which were written within weeks
receiving the work.
Yes - and the last link
is to a translation of the Monadology with my comments. Another
Leibnizian book Wolff might have mentioned is his "Nouveaux Essays".
Spinoza, ETHICS. Maybe not.]
As to Spinoza's Ethics: Wolff is quite right when he said that "the Ethics
is really impenetrable without a guide" - as I've argued several times in Nederlog, in Dutch,
also with a reference to George Boole,
who thought the same.
Yes. There are - or were
- quite good and cheap editions of it, and he was a much better
writer and thinker than was John Locke (I agree with William Hazlitt,
thought the same).
Well... I never managed
to finish all of Locke's Essay, mostly because of its many mistakes in
reasoning, and because it seemed mostly taken, but in a worse style,
ESSAY CONCERNING THE HUMAN UNDERSTANDING, SECOND TREATISE ON CIVIL
[the FIRST TREATISE is a hoot, but it is not necessary.]
Actually, a better
reference - but probably hard to get, even in libraries - is
the late 19th century edition by A.C. Fraser: "BERKELEY'S COMPLETE
WORKS" in four volumes, because these are quite well done; contain an
admirable introduction by Fraser; and also show what Berkeley wrote
later, e.g. on the virtues of tarwater. (I like Berkeley, but don't
agree with him, as indeed very few did. Fraser made a good case
either A TREATISE CONCERNING THE PRINCIPLES OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE or THREE
DIALOGUES BETWEEN HYLAS AND PHOLINUS. Berkeley
published both of these in his middle
twenties! When I was a student, we had a
"I am now older than *** when he wrote ***.] Berkeley
and Hume were killers. Locke and Kant were
reassuring. There was still plenty of
Yes, although I
might have replaced Hume's Treatise by his Enquiry
concerning the Principles of Morals. (My reason is that I agree
with Hume that his Enquiries are better written and more clear than his
Treatise, which indeed may be deeper.)
I never liked
Rousseau, but that may be - in part - a matter of temperament and
tastes. (In contrast, William Hazlitt,
with whom I very often agree, was an enthousiast for Rousseau.)
Rousseau, OF THE SOCIAL CONTRACT. [When
I went to Oxford in 1954 as a twenty-year old graduate student on a
fellowship, the Kant scholar T. D. Weldon, who, I later learned, was
less permanently drunk, told me I had to read ḖMILE. It was
not good advice.]
First, I must admit
that I never finished a book of Kant, because the writing is atrocious,
and the reasoning is full of holes. (In fact, I read German easily, but
the least unclear edition of the Critique of Pure Reason that I
saw was an English translation made in the 19th Century by G. Lewes. I
did read most of this, but again could not convince myself of any
typically Kantian point - and no, I do not think that is a fault of
CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON, FOUNDATIONS OF THE METAPHYSICS OF MORALS,
silence over Hegel]
Second, I am missing someone who should be mentioned here, first
because his German was truly excellent; second, because he was a great
admirer of Kant; and third because he wrote a quite devastating
criticism of Kant: Arthur
Schopen- hauer's "Die
Welt als Wille und Vorstellung" ("The world as will and representation"), and also
his "On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason".
I liked both a lot, though the first more for the German than for the
philosophy, while I liked the second because it is intellectually quite
I did read a little
Bentham, but since I am not a utilitarian - see the next item - and
since Bentham is not an interesting or good writer, I did not read much
INTRODUCTION TO THE PRINCIPLES OF MORALS AND LEGISLATION [If you are
study Utilitarianism, you might as well know where it came from.]
The last items on the
list, and both are good choices, also because they are clear enough to
There might have been others on the list - Lucretius, Augustine,
Machiavelli, to name a few - but if the list is meant to include no
more than 25 thinkers, it is a good list.
Also, Wolff stops at Mill, and circa 1860, because after Mill there are
Frege, Peirce, Russell, Whitehead and the 20th Century philosophers,
and these indeed are much better read in modern departments of
3. On Charlie Hebdo
Yesterday I had again quite a few visitors. I suppose it was because of the
murders of twelve persons in the offices of "Charlie Hebdo".
Well... you are quite welcome, of course, and I suppose you have read yesterday's brief item. Here are my two
reason not to make it any longer: There is an enormous amount about it in the
daily papers and on the TV news - and I really can add nothing to it
that is original and unknown.
- questions - is a translation of the speech that got me
thrown out, and it
does consist only of questions, as you can see yourself. In case you
say that some of my questions sound odd or radical: I entirely agree -
but the Dutch universities were in fact from 1971 till 1995 completely
in the hand of the students; the students - those who had the power, at
least - were mostly "communists" (at least: they pretended to be
comminists, but were not, at least if my parents and grandparents were
communists, which these were for decades, since the 1930ies); and the
Dutch situation in the universities between 1971 and 1995 is a very
sick, very strange and morally quite degenerate affair that since then
almost everyone has been completely silent about.
Also, I was removed explicitly as "a fascist terrorist", which I have
often asked exsuses for, both from the philosophy department and the
Board of Directors, but I never got any, the last 27 years.
Incidentally: While my parents did not like that I gave up marxism when
I was 20, I never quarreled with them about it, and indeed they also
I had seriously studied Marx.