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Walter Arnold Kaufmann (July 1, 1921 Freiburg, Germanymarker - September 4, 1980 Princeton, New Jerseymarker) 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 Universitymarker.

He is particularly renowned as a scholar and translator of Nietzsche. He also wrote one of the best books on Hegel. 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 emigrated 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 Harvardmarker 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 Universitymarker, 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. 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 Karl Barth, 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. 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 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."
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." 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."

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
  • “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"
  • "Kierkegaard and the Crisis in Religion"
  • "Sartre and the Crisis in Morality"
  • "Nietzsche and the Crisis in Philosophy"
  • "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 (1976), "Editor's Preface" to Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, New York: Penguin Books, pp. 120-124. ISBN 0140150625

External links

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