Responding to the powerful myths and countermyths that had sprung up around Nietzsche, Kaufmann offered a patient, evenhanded account of his life and works, and of the uses and abuses to which subsequent generations had put his ideas. Without ignoring or downplaying the ugliness of many of Nietzsche's proclamations, he set them in the context of his work as a whole and of the counterexamples yielded by a responsible reading of his books. More positively, he presented Nietzsche's ideas about power as one of the great accomplishments of modern philosophy, arguing that his conception of the "will to power" was not a crude apology for ruthless self-assertion but must be linked to Nietzsche's equally profound ideas about sublimation. He also presented Nietzsche as a pioneer of modern psychology and argued that a key to understanding his overall philosophy is to see it as a reaction against Christianity.
Many scholars in the past half century have taken issue with some of Kaufmann's interpretations, but the book ranks as one of the most influential accounts ever written of any major Western thinker.
Walter Kaufmann was born in Freiburg, Germany in July 1, 1921. He arrived in the United States at the age of 17 and became a citizen in 1944. He received a B.A. degree from Williams College in 1941 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1947. During World War II, he served in the United States Army from 1943-1946. He was a member of the philosophy department at Princeton University from 1947-1980. He was a philosopher, translator, poet, and photographer. His first book, a critical study of Nietzsche, was published in 1950. His other works include Critique of Religion and Philosophy, From Shakespeare to Existentialism, The Faith of a Heretic, Tragedy and Philosophy, Without Guilt and Justice, Religions in Four Dimensions, and Man's Lot. He died on September 4, 1980 at the age of 59.
Kaufmann traces the intellectual tradition that culminated in Freud's blending of analytic scientific thinking with humanistic insight to create "a poetic science of the mind." He argues that despite Freud's great achievement and celebrity, his work and person have often been misunderstood and unfairly maligned, the victim of poor translations and hostile critics. Kaufmann dispels some of the myths that have surrounded Freud and damaged his reputation. He takes pains to show how undogmatic, how open to discussion, and how modest Freud actually was.
Kaufmann endeavors to defend Freud against the attacks of his two most prominent apostate disciples, Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav Jung. Adler is revealed as having been jealous, hostile, and an ingrate, a muddled thinker and unskilled writer, and remarkably lacking in self-understanding. Jung emerges in Kaufmann's depiction as an unattractive, petty, and envious human being, an anti-Semite, an obscure and obscurantist thinker, and, like Adler, lacking insight into himself. Freud, on the contrary, is argued to have displayed great nobility and great insight into himself and his wayward disciples in the course of their famous fallings-out.
Kaufmann's version of psychohistory stays clear of gossip and is carefully documented. He offers us a radically new understanding of two centuries of intellectual history, but his primary focus is on self-knowledge. He is in a unique position to perform this task by virtue of being, according to Stephen Spender, "the best translator of Faust"; and in Sidney Hook's view, "unquestionably the most interesting and informative writer of Hegel in English."
The foremost interpreter of Kant, Lewis White Beck, has called this book on Goethe, Kant, and.Hegel "fascinating" - a work which "will stir up a good many people by telling them things they have never heard, and providing an alternative to what is the accepted reading of that part of the history of philosophy. The story of how personality affects philosophy has never been better told." We are shown how Goethe advanced the discovery of the mind more than anyone before him, while Kant was in many ways a disaster. Hegel, like others between 1790 to 1990, tried to reconcile Kant and Goethe.
Kaufmann shows this is impossible He paints a large picture, but he is always highly specific and details the major contributions of Goethe and Hegel as well as the ways in which Kant's immense influence proved catastrophic.