A well-constructed course of lectures should have a shape, an arc, a narrative that unfolds as the semester goes by. Creating that narrative takes thought and sometimes a good deal of work. The course I am now giving at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has such a structure, and creating it has cost me considerable effort. Indeed, when I look back over the sixty years during which I have been teaching, I realize that only twice before have I worked this hard to prepare and teach a course. The first such effort was in the Spring Semester of 1960 at Harvard, when for the first of what would be many times I taught Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I still have the formal lecture notes I prepared then, in three binders. Over the next two summers, I turned those lecture notes into my first book, Kant's Theory of Mental Activity. The second effort came fifteen years later, by which time I was teaching at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I decided to offer a graduate course on a variety of rather forbidding formal materials, under the title "The Use and Abuse of Formal Methods in Political Philosophy." I worked up a rigorous exposition of John von Neumann's great Fundamental Theorem in his new branch of Mathematics, Game Theory, complete with a proof of L. E. J. Brouwer's Fixed Point Theorem, on which von Neumann relies, followed by an equally rigorous exposition of Kenneth Arrow's General Possibility Theorem, for which he won the Nobel Prize in Economics. I followed that with formal critiques of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia and John Rawls' A Theory of Justice. The lectures I wrote and delivered on Rawls became, shortly thereafter, Understanding Rawls. The critique of Nozick appeared in the Arizona Law Journal [for reasons that now escape me.]
My present effort, offered in the Philosophy Department, bears the title "Karl Marx's Critique of Capitalism." The UNC semester is fifteen weeks long, so I must give fifteen two and a half hour lectures. The rather oddly configured room in which I lecture is blessed with a large screen on which I can project the outlines, quotations, and equations that I have prepared at home and loaded onto my laptop computer. Twenty students are enrolled in the course -- six Philosophy Department graduate students, two graduate students from other departments, and twelve advanced undergraduates -- and several folks are auditing as well. My goal in the course has been to integrate work I have done over forty years into a single unified reading of Volume I of Capital. In addition to that great text, the students are asked to read the early unpublished manuscript on Alienated Labor, the Communist Manifesto, and my two books on Marx's theories, Understanding Marx and Moneybags Must Be So Lucky. They are also asked to look at my 1981 essay "A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value," the math in which is too hard for me to require it. For the final lecture, they will read my essay "The Future of Socialism."
The course has unfolded in three stages plus a coda. The first three lectures were an introduction to Marx the man, to the economic and political situation in which Europe found itself when Marx was young, and to the two early writings -- the essay on alienated labor and the Manifesto. This first stage was followed by a series of nine lectures, in which the students were called upon to grapple first with the mathematics of the classical tradition of Political Economy, then with the rich, complex, mystifying and mystified opening chapters of Capital, then with enough Literary Theory to enable them to understand my reading of those chapters, then with the remainder of the first part of Capital, up through the great Chapter X on "The Working Day," and then once again with the math, this time integrated with the literary theory, all in the service of the original interpretation of Capital that I have worked out over the course of my life. The thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth lectures will deal seriatim with the remaining 450 pages of Capital, which are extraordinarily rich in insights, details, and analyses. I will give the first of those three lectures tomorrow. Finally, at the last meeting of the course, on April 22nd, we shall reflect on our journey together and take a look forward with my essay on the rather bleak future of socialism.
This is the first real course I have given in a Philosophy Department in twenty-three years, and for all I know it may be the last. I am enjoying it enormously. I hope some of the students are too.