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Walter Arnold Kaufmann

Walter Kaufmann
Full name Walter Arnold Kaufmann
Born July 1, 1921(1921-07-01)
Freiburg, Germany
Died September 4, 1980 (aged 59)
Princeton, New Jersey
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
Main interests Existentialism, Philosophy of Religion, Tragedy

Walter Arnold Kaufmann (July 1, 1921 Freiburg, Germany - September 4, 1980 Princeton, New Jersey) was a German-American philosopher, translator, and poet. A prolific author, he wrote extensively on a broad range of subjects, such as authenticity and death, moral philosophy and existentialism, theism and atheism, Christianity and Judaism, as well as philosophy and literature. He served for over 30 years as a Professor at Princeton University.

He is particularly renowned as a scholar and translator of Nietzsche. He also wrote a 1965 book on Hegel which contributed to the reception of his thought in the English-speaking world. Kaufmann's lucid English helped make accessible to an English-speaking readership the dense language and thought of many of the theologians and philosophers whom he discussed. Kaufmann also published a translation of Goethe's Faust, Part I.



Kaufmann immigrated to America in 1939 and began studying at Williams College, where he majored in philosophy and took many religion classes. Although he had the opportunity to move immediately into his graduate studies in philosophy, and despite advice not to do so by his professors, he ultimately joined the war effort against the Nazis by serving in British intelligence. During World War II, he fought in the European front for 15 months. After the war, he completed a PhD in the philosophy of religion at Harvard in a mere two years. His dissertation was titled "Nietzsche's Theory of Values" and eventually became a chapter in his book, Nietzsche.

He spent his entire career, from 1947 to 1980, teaching philosophy at Princeton University, where his students included the Nietzsche scholars Frithjof Bergmann, Richard Schacht, Alexander Nehamas, and Ivan Soll. Kaufmann became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America in 1960.


Kaufmann was brought up in the Lutheran faith. At age 11, finding that he believed neither in the Trinity nor in the divinity of Jesus, he converted to Judaism.[1] The rise of Nazism did not deter him. Kaufmann subsequently discovered that his grandparents were all Jewish. In a 1959 article in Harper's Magazine, he summarily rejected all religious values and practice, especially the liberal Protestantism of continental Europe that began with Schleiermacher and culminated in the writings of Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. (He had little to say about Roman Catholicism.) In their place, he praised moralists such as the biblical prophets, the Buddha, and Socrates.[2] He argued that critical analysis and the acquisition of knowledge were liberating and empowering forces. He forcefully criticized the fashionable liberal Protestantism of the 20th century as filled with contradictions and evasions, preferring the austerity of the book of Job and the Jewish existentialism of Martin Buber. Perhaps the best exposition of the part of Kaufmann's thinking touched on in this paragraph is his 1958 Critique of Religion and Philosophy, although all of his books elaborated on his ideas to some extent.

Kaufmann wrote a good deal on the existentialism of Kierkegaard and Karl Jaspers (the French existentialism of Sartre, Gabriel Marcel, and Albert Camus interested him less). He edited the anthology Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. He disliked Heidegger's thinking and unclear writing.

Kaufmann did much to enhance the respectability of Nietzsche and Hegel studies in the English-speaking world. He is especially renowned for his translations and exegesis of Nietzsche, whom he saw as gravely misunderstood by English speakers, as a major early existentialist, and as an unwitting precursor, in some respects, to Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Kaufmann wrote that superficially

" also seems that as a philosopher [Nietzsche] represents a very sharp decline [from Kant and Hegel] ... because [Nietzsche] has no 'system.' Yet this argument is hardly cogent. ... Not only can one defend Nietzsche on this score ... but one must add that he had strong philosophic reasons for not having a system."[3]

Kaufmann also sympathized with Nietzsche's acerbic criticisms of Christianity. However, there was also much in Nietzsche that Kaufmann faulted, writing that "my disagreements with [Nietzsche] are legion."[4] Regarding style, Kaufmann argued that Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra, for example, is in parts badly written, melodramatic, or verbose, yet concluded that the book "is not only a mine of ideas, but also a major work of literature and a personal triumph."[5]

Partial bibliography


Original works

  • Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist
  • From Shakespeare to Existentialism
  • Critique of Religion and Philosophy
  • Tragedy and Philosophy
  • Hegel: A Reinterpretation
  • The Faith of a Heretic
  • Without Guilt and Justice
  • Cain and Other Poems
  • Existentialism, Religion, and Death: Thirteen Essays
  • The Future of the Humanities
  • Religions in Four Dimensions
  • Discovering the Mind, a trilogy consisting of
    • Goethe, Kant, and Hegel
    • Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Buber
    • Freud Versus Adler and Jung
  • Man's Lot: A Trilogy, consisting of
    • Life at the Limits
    • Time is an Artist
    • What is Man?


As written or published by Friedrich Nietzsche in chronological order:

Anthologies/edited works

  • The Portable Nietzsche. Viking.
  • Basic Writings of Nietzsche, designed to complement the preceding.
  • Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre
  • Religion from Tolstoy to Camus, a companion to the preceding.
  • Philosophic Classics, in two volumes: 1, 2
  • Hegel's Political Philosophy

Articles, book chapters, and introductions

  • “Nietzsche's Admiration for Socrates,” Journal of the History of Ideas, v. 9, October 1948, pp. 472–491. Earlier version: “Nietzsche's Admiration for Socrates” (Bowdoin Prize, 1947; pseud. David Dennis)
  • “Goethe and the History of Ideas,” Journal of the History of Ideas, v. 10, October 1949, pp. 503–516.
  • “The Hegel Myth and Its Method,” Philosophical Review v.60, No. 4 (October 1951), pp. 459–486.
  • “Some Typical Misconceptions of Nietzsche's Critique of Christianity,” Philosophical Review v. 61, no. 4 (October 1952), pp. 595–599.
  • “Hegel's Early Antitheological Phase,” Philosophical Review v. 63, no. 1 (January 1954), pp. 3–18.
  • “Nietzsche and Rilke,” Kenyon Review, XVII (1955), pp. 1–23.
  • “Toynbee and Superhistory” Partisan Review, vol. 22, no. 4, Fall 1955, pp. 531–541. Reprinted in Ashley Montagu, ed., Toynbee and History: Critical Essays and Reviews (1956 Cloth ed.), Boston: Extending Horizons, Porter Sargent, ISBN 0-87558-026-2 
  • “A Hundred Years after Kierkegaard,” Kenyon Review, XVIII, pp. 182–211.
  • “Jaspers’ Relation to Nietzsche,” in Paul Schilpps, ed., The Philosophy of Karl Jaspers (New York: Tudor, 1957), pp. 407-436.
  • The Faith of a Heretic,” Harper's Magazine, February 1959, pp. 33-39. Reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • “Existentialism and Death,” Chicago Review, XIII, 1959, pp. 73–93. Revised version reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • “” in The Meaning of Death, Herman Feifel, New York: The Blakiston Division / McGraw-Hill, 1959.
  • Preface to Europe and the Jews: The Pressure of Christendom on the People of Israel for 1900 Years, 2d ed, by Malcolm Hay. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961.
  • “A Philosopher's View,” in Ethics and Business: Three Lectures. University Park, Pa., 1962, pp. 35–54. Originally presented at a seminar sponsored by the College of Business Administration of the Pennsylvania State University on March 19, 1962.
  • “Nietzsche Between Homer and Sartre: Five Treatments of the Orestes Story," Revue Internationale de Philosophie v. 18, 1964, pp. 50–73.
  • “Nietzsche in the Light of his Suppressed Manuscripts,” Journal of the History of Philosophy v. 2, October 1964, pp. 205–226.
  • “” in Philosophy and Educational Development, Ed. by G. Barnett. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1966.
  • “,” in Art and philosophy, a symposium. Hook, Sidney, ed. New York University Press, New York. 1966
  • “Buber's Religious Significance,” from The Philosophy of Martin Buber, ed. P. A. Schilpp and Maurice Friedman (London: Cambridge University Press, 1967) Reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • “The Reception of Existentialism in the United States,” Midway, vol. 9 (1) (Summer 1968), pp. 97–126. Reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • Foreword to Frau Lou: Nietzsche's Wayward Disciple, by Rudolph Binion. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969.
  • Introductory essay, Alienation Richard Schacht, Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, 1970
  • “The Future of Jewish Identity,” The Jerusalem Post Magazine August 1, 1969, pp. 607. Reprinted in Congressional Bi-Weekly, April 3, 1970; in Conservative Judaism, Summer 1970; in New Theology no. 9, 1972, pp. 41–58, and in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976.)
  • Foreword to An Introduction to Hegel's Metaphysics, by Ivan Soll. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1969.
  • “The Origin of Justice,” Review of Metaphysics v. 23, December 1969, pp. 209–239.
  • “Beyond Black and White,” Midway, v. 10(3) (Winter 1970), pp. 49–79. Also Survey no. 73 (Autumn 1969), pp. 22–46. Reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • "Hegel's Ideas about Tragedy" in New Studies in Hegel's Philosophy, ed. Warren E. Steinkraus (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1971), pp. 201–220.
  • “The Death of God and the Revaluation,” in Robert Solomon, ed., Nietzsche: A Collection of Critical Essays (New York: Anchor Press, 1973), pp. 9–28.
  • “The Discovery of the Will to Power,” in Robert Solomon, ed., Nietzsche: A Collection of Critical Essays (New York: Anchor Press, 1973), pp. 226–242.
  • Foreword in Truth and Value in Nietzsche: A Study of His Metaethics and Epistemology by John T. Wilcox. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1974
  • “Nietzsche and Existentialism,” Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Foreign Literatures, v. 28(1) (Spring 1974), pp. 7–16. Reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • “Hegel's Conception of Phenomenology” in Phenomenology and Philosophical Understanding, Edo Pivcevič, ed., pp. 211–230 (1975).
  • “Unknown Feuerbach Autobiography,” Times Literary Supplement 1976 (3887): 1123-1124.
  • “A Preface to Kierkegaard,” in Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age and Of the Difference Between a Genius and an Apostle, trans. Alexander Dru, Harper Torchbooks, pp. 9–29. Reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • “On Death and Lying,” Reprinted in Existentialism, Religion, and Death (New York: New American Library, 1976).
  • “Letter on Nietzsche,” Times Literary Supplement 1978 (3960): 203.
  • “Buber's Failures and Triumph,” Revue Internationale de Philosophie v. 32, 1978, pp. 441–459.
  • “Buber: Of His Failures and Triumph,” Encounter 52(5): 31-38 1979.
  • Reply to letter, Encounter 55(4): 95 1980.
  • “Art, Tradition, and Truth,” Partisan Review, XVII, pp. 9–28.

Sound recordings

  • "Existentialism" [1]
  • "Kierkegaard and the Crisis in Religion" Part 1 of 3 Lectures
  • "Nietzsche and the Crisis in Philosophy" Part 2 of 3 Lectures
  • "Sartre and the Crisis in Morality" Part 3 of 3 Lectures
  • "Oedipus Rex"
  • "Homer and the Birth of Tragedy"
  • "Aeschylus and the Death of Tragedy"
  • "The Power of the Single Will"
  • "Three Satanic Interludes"
  • "The Will to Power Reexamined"

Critical assessments

  • Pickus, David. "The Walter Kaufmann Myth: A Study in Academic Judgment", Nietzsche-Studien 32 (2003), 226-58.
  • Ratner-Rosenhagen, Jennifer. "'Dionysian Enlightenment': Walter Kaufmann’s Nietzsche in Historical Perspective", Modern Intellectual History 3 (2006), 239-269.
  • Sokel, Walter. "Political Uses and Abuses of Nietzsche in Walter Kaufmann’s Image of Nietzsche", Nietzsche-Studien 12 (1983), 436-42.

See also

Notes and References

  1. ^ "After my conversion, we went to the synagogue together for many years ... ." Kaufmann, W., 1961. The Faith Of A Heretic. Doubleday & Co., p.18.
  2. ^ Kaufmann, Walter (February 1959). ""Faith of a Heretic"". Harper's Magazine. Retrieved December 26, 2007. 
  3. ^ Kaufman, Walter (1974). Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Princeton University Press. pp. 79. ISBN 0691019835.,+%27%27Nietzsche:+Philosopher,+Psychologist,+Antichrist%27%27#PPA79,M1. Retrieved December 17, 2008. 
  4. ^ Kaufman, Walter (19[ ]). Nietzsche, Heidegger, And Buber: Discovering The Mind, Volume 2. [Princeton University Press]. pp. 6. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/[]|[]]].,M1. Retrieved December 20, 2008. 
  5. ^ Kaufmann, Walter (1976), "Editor's Preface" to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, New York: Penguin Books, pp. 120-124. ISBN 0140150625

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Walter Arnold Kaufmann (1 July 19214 September 1980) was an American philosopher, translator, and poet.



  • Of course, not everything old is beautiful, any more than everything black, or everything white, or everything young. But the notion that old means ugly is every bit as harmful as the prejudice that black is ugly. In one way it is even more pernicious.
    The notion that only what is new and young is beautiful poisons our relationship to the past and to our own future. It keeps us from understanding our roots and the greatest works of our culture and other cultures. It also makes us dread what lies ahead of us and leads many to shirk reality.

Nietzsche, Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1951)

  • There is thus a certain plausibility to Nietzsche's doctrine, though it is dynamite. He maintains in effect that the gulf separating Plato from the average man is greater than the cleft between the average man and a chimpanzee.
    • p. 151

The Faith of a Heretic (1959)

Essay published in Harper's Magazine (February 1959), using excerpts from his book of the same name.
  • It is less than honest to give one's own religion the benefit of every possible doubt while imposing unsympathetic readings on other religions. Yet this is what practically all religious people do.
  • Profound experiences stimulate thoughts; but such thoughts do not look very adequate on paper. Writing can be a way of rethinking again and again.
    In the process of teaching and writing one must constantly consider the thoughts of men with different ideas. And prolonged and ever-new exposure to a wide variety of outlooks — together with the criticism many professors seek from both their students and their colleagues — is a more profound experience than most people realize. It is a long-drawn-out trial by fire, marked by frequent disillusionment, discoveries, and despair, and by a growing regard for honesty, which is surely one of the most difficult of all the virtues to attain. What one comes up with in the end owes quite as much to this continual encounter as it does to any other experience.
  • We have no wish to indoctrinate; we want to teach our students to resist indoctrination and not accept as authoritative the beliefs of other men or even the ideas that come to us as in a flash of illumination. Even if one has experiences that some men would call mystical — and I have no doubt that I have had many — it is a matter of integrity to question such experiences and any thoughts that were associated with them as closely and as honestly as we should question the "revelations" of others. To be sure, it is easier to grant others their "revelations" as "true for them" while insisting on one's own as "true for oneself." Such intellectual sluggishness parades as sophistication. But true tolerance does not consist in saying, "You may be right, but let us not make hard demands on ourselves: if you will put your critical intelligence to sleep, I'll put mine to bed, too." True tolerance remains mindful of the humanity of those who make things easy for themselves and welcomes and even loves honest and thoughtful opposition above less thoughtful agreement.
  • To an even moderately sophisticated and well-read person it should come as no surprise that any religion at all has its hidden as well as its obvious beauties and is capable of profound and impressive interpretations. What is deeply objectionable about most of these interpretations is that they allow the believer to say Yes while evading any No.
  • The central question about Christianity concerns Jesus Christ. If he was God in a sense in which no other man has been God, then Christianity is right in some important sense, however Christendom may have failed. To decide whether Jesus was God in some such unique sense, a philosopher cannot forbear to ask just what this claim might mean. If, for example, it does not mean that Jesus of Nazareth knew everything and was all-powerful, it is perplexing what is meant. But a large part of what most Christians mean is surely that Jesus was the best and wisest man of all time; and many Protestants mean no more than that.
  • A great deal of theology is like a jigsaw puzzle: the verses of Scripture are the pieces, and the finished picture is prescribed by each denomination with a certain latitude allowed. What makes the game so pointless is that not all pieces have to be used, and any piece that does not fit may be reshaped, provided one says first, "this means." That is called exegesis.
  • Although Jesus is widely considered mankind's greatest moral teacher, the greatest Christians, not to speak of scholars, have never been able to agree what his moral teachings were. Matthew, and he alone, reports that Jesus said: "Let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No." But the four Evangelists agree in ascribing to Jesus evasive and equivocal answers to plain questions, not only those of the high priest and Pilate; and quite generally the Jesus of the New Testament avoids straightforward statements, preferring parables and hyperboles. Some of the parables are so ambiguous that different Evangelists. Not to speak of later theologians, offer different interpretations. ... On concrete moral issues, Jesus can be, and has been, cited on almost all sides.
  • The story of Christ remains uncomfortably similar to the saga of the boss's son who works very briefly in the shop, where he makes a great point of his home and is cruelly beaten by some of his fellow workers, before he joins his father as co-chairman of the board and wreaks horrible revenge. This "happy" end makes most of the Christian martyrs, too, untragic figures. These observations may strike believers as blasphemous, but they might do well to reflect on the manner in which they pass judgment on other religions, and there may be some point in considering how one's own religion must strike those who don't accept it.
  • Why, then, do I not accept Judaism? In view of all the things I do not believe, I have no wish to observe the six-hundred-odd commandments and prohibitions that define the traditional Jewish way of life, or to participate in religious services. With most so-called orthodox Jews I have much less in common than with all kinds of other people, Jews and Gentiles. Reform Judaism seems to me to involve compromise, conformism, and the wish to be innocuous. To that extent, it, too, stands opposed to the ethos of the prophets.
  • What remains if you give up the great religions? Many people think: only Communism, Nazism, and immorality. But the morality of Socrates, Spinoza, and Hume compares favorably with Augustine's, Luther's, and Calvin's. And the evil deeds of Communism and Nazism are not due to their lack of belief but to their false beliefs, even as the evil deeds of the Crusaders, Inquisitors, and witch hunters, and Luther's exhortation to burn synagogues and Calvin's decision to burn Servetus, were due to their false beliefs. Christianity, like Islam, has caused more wars than it has prevented; and the Middle Ages, when Europe was Christian, were not a period of peace and good will among men.
  • Renouncing false beliefs will not usher in the millennium. Few things about the strategy of contemporary apologists are more repellent than their frequent recourse to spurious alternatives. The lesser lights inform us that the alternative to Christianity is materialism, thus showing how little they have read, while the greater fights talk as if the alternative were bound to be a shallow and inane optimism. I don't believe that man will turn this earth into a bed of roses either with the aid of God or without it. Nor does life among the roses strike me as a dream from which one would not care to wake up after a very short time.
    Some evils and some kinds of suffering can be abolished, but not all suffering can be eliminated, and the beauty, goodness, and greatness that redeem life on earth are inseparable from suffering. Nietzsche once said: "If you have an enemy, do not requite him evil with good, for that would put him to shame. Rather prove that he did you some good." If life hurts you, the manly thing is neither to whine nor to feel martyred, but to prove that it did you some good.
    No one way is the best way of life for all.
  • "The unexamined life is not worth living". . . . If you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him that is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. Eternity is then only a single night.
    It would be folly to wish to foist this outlook on everybody. Professors of philosophy discourage and fail a large percentage even of their graduate students and are assuredly not eager to turn all men into philosophers. In philosophy, as in religion, teaching usually involves a loss of dimension; and the Socratic fusion of philosophy and life, critical acumen and passion, laughter and tragic stature is almost unique.
  • I am so far quite unable to justify one of my central convictions: that, even if it were possible to make all men happy by an operation or a drug that would stultify their development, this would somehow be an impious crime. This conviction is ultimately rooted in the Mosaic challenge: "You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy."
  • I do not believe in any afterlife any more than the prophets did, but I don't mind living in a world in which people have different beliefs. Diversity helps to prevent stagnation and smugness; and a teacher should acquaint his students with diversity and prize careful criticism far above agreement. His noblest duty is to lead others to think for themselves.
    Oddly, millions believe that lack of belief in God, Christ, and Hell leads to inhumanity and cruelty, while those who have these beliefs have a monopoly on charity — and that people like myself will pay for their lack of belief by suffering in all eternity. I do not believe that anybody will suffer after death nor do I wish it.
  • Man seems to play a very insignificant part in the universe, and my part is surely negligible. The question confronting me is not, except perhaps in idle moments, what part might be more amusing, but what I wish to make of my part. And what I want to do and would advise others to do is to make the most of it: put into it all you have got, and live and, if possible, die with some measure of nobility.

The Faith of a Heretic (1959)

  • The Greeks had considered hope the final evil in Pandora's box. They also gave us an image of perfect nobility: a human being lovingly doing her duty to another human being despite all threats, and going to her death with pride and courage, not deterred by any hope — Antigone.
  • Hopelessness is despair. Yet life without hope is worth living. As Sartre's Orestes says: "Life begins on the other side of despair." But is hope perhaps resumed on the other side? It need not be. In honesty, what is there to hope for? Small hopes remain but do not truly matter. I may hope that the sunset will be clear, that the night will be cool and still, that my work will turn out well, and yet know that nine hopes out often are not even remembered a year later. How many are recalled a century hence? A billion years hence?
    • "Death", p. 371
  • There may be surprises in store for us, however improbable it seems and however little evidence suggests it. But I do not hope for that. Let people who do not know what to do with themselves in this life, but fritter away their time reading magazines and watching television, hope for eternal life. If one lives intensely, the time comes when sleep seems bliss. If one loves intensely, the time comes when death seems bliss.
    Those who loved with all their heart and mind and might have always thought of death, and those who knew the endless nights of harrowing concern for others have longed for it.
    The life I want is a life I could not endure in eternity. It is a life of love and intensity, suffering and creation, that makes life worthwhile and death welcome. There is no other life I should prefer. Neither should I like not to die.
    • "Death", p. 372
  • If I ask myself who in history I might like to have been, I find that all the men I most admire were by most standards deeply unhappy. They knew despair. But their lives were worthwhile — I only wish mine equaled theirs in this respect and I have no doubt that they were glad to die.
    As one deserves a good night's sleep, one also deserves to die, Why should I hope to wake again? To do what I have not done in the time I've had? All of us have so much more time than we use well. How many hours in a life are spent in a way of which one might be proud, looking back?
    • "Death", p. 372
  • Lives are spoiled and made rotten by the sense that death is distant and irrelevant. One lives better when one expects to die, say, at forty, when one says to oneself long before one is twenty: whatever I may be able to accomplish, I should be able to do by then; and what I have not done by then, I am not likely to do ever. One cannot count on living until one is forty or thirty but it makes for a better life if one has a rendezvous with death.
    Not only can love be deepened and made more intense and impassioned by the expectation of impending death; all of life is enriched by it. Why deceive myself to the last moment, and hungrily devour sights, sounds, and smells only when it is almost too late? In our treatment of others, too, it is well to remember that they will die: it makes for greater humanity.
    • "Death", p. 373

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