Kaufmann, Nietzsche and the Cretan

It doesn’t surprise me that Walter Kaufmann’s philosophy is studied alongside his scholarly interpretations of Nietzsche and other thinkers. In Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, Kaufmann’s personality comes across directly and clearly. Using relevant material from Nietzsche’s notebooks, Kaufmann is able to offer a less ambiguous, coherent interpretation of Nietzsche’s published works.

The following passages come from Kaufmann’s pursuit of the trajectory of one of Nietzsche’s two great insights, the will to power (the other being the eternal recurrence). The numbering is my own. These passages interest me to the degree they evince Kaufmann’s disposition. (Except number ten, all are Kaufmann’s words.)

What is also striking is the extent to which, particularly in 4-5, though Nietzsche had in mind the German Reich, the will to power concept applies to world’s sole remaining superpower.

  1. Primarily, however, fear is nothing but our attitude toward power-or, in Nietzsche’s own previous words, the negative aspect of our will to power.
  2. There is, first, man’s desire to find scapegoats, the quest of the weak and the impotent to find somebody upon whom they can look down and to whom they may feel superior.
  3. [The] sudden association of the will to power with the Greeks was one of the most decisive steps in the development of this conception into an all-embracing monism.
  4. The “history of culture” is thus to be explained in terms of man’s will to overwhelm, outdo, excel, and overpower his neighbour. The barbarian does it by torturing his neighbour. In the light of Nietzsche’s previous comments, he is essentially weak, else he would not need to inflict hurt. Nietzsche speaks of this as a low degree of the striving for excellence because he wishes to express that, quantitatively, we find little power at the bottom of the scale. Toward the middle of the scale, we find what might be called the normal degree of power: one seeks to evoke envy and admiration; one even seeks to elevate one’s neighbour and derives a sense of power from doing so; one gives him joy and gaiety and lets him laugh, saying to oneself, as it were: I have the power to impress and delight them.
  5. One might expect Nietzsche to base his repudiation on the assertion that only a weak nation finds it necessary to impress itself and others with barbarian brawn and armies, and that culture is a higher, i.e., a quantitatively greater, form of power. Instead Nietzsche refers to “the degree of reason in strength”.
  6. The will to power is … introduced as the will to overcome oneself.
  7. Nietzsche asserts that any attempt to understand the universe is prompted by man’s will to power. If so, it would seem that his own conception of the will to power must be admitted by him to be a creation of his own will to power. Is not Nietzsche therefore in the predicament of Epimenides, the Cretan? If his assertion is correct, then it is a fiction.
  8. His theory of the will to power might be the one and only interpretation of human behaviour of which we are capable when we consider the evidence and think about it as clearly as we can. Not only Nietzsche but mankind would then be in the position of the Cretan, and the dilemma-however ridiculous it might seem to the angel Gabriel- would be inescapable for us.
  9. … there “really” is no will, or that the will is “really” a fiction.
  10. “Wherever I found the living, there I found the will to power.”

I’ve enough interest in Kaufmann’s contribution to philosophy to look forward to an updated edition of his The Faith of a Heretic (foreword by Stanley Corngold), due in the summer, and to read his Discovering the Mind series.

9 thoughts on “Kaufmann, Nietzsche and the Cretan

  1. “Nietzsche understands teenagers. He speaks to their complexity and anguish, and they approve of his desire to shatter the tenets of their culture.”

    Is this a good thing? Maybe depends on how old you are? Have you seen the film “Little Miss Sunshine”?

    I have gone back and forth on Mr. N. Contra: http://wp.me/p3LmG-5N
    Then, reconsidered: http://wp.me/p3LmG-2qt
    My negative post got an avalanche of responses, some from teenagers, no doubt. I met Kaufmann a few times, but never took his courses…Not sure how that would have influenced me.

    Stanley Corngold…that name seems to be linked to things I’m linked to…somehow:

    . . . Men in their frenzy of despair and disbelief will turn the evil upon themselves, building houses at the bottom of hills, in marshes, and along oozing gulleys, while the Few Who Know will be the object of arrogant derision. And it is the folly of human inaction which will bring down on us this recapitulation of the Flood.*

    *Hilton S. Korngold, “Toward an Interpretation of the Drainage,” Journal of Historicist Philosophy, 98 (October, 1972): 302 – 398.

    • Is this a good thing? Maybe depends on how old you are? Have you seen the film “Little Miss Sunshine”?

      No value judgment intended, just a reflection on my statement that I’ve read Nietzsche since I was seventeen. But Nietzsche (and others I read at the time, over 30 years ago) gave me an invaluable set of concepts to use to look at the world. And no, I haven’t seen Little Miss Sunshine.

      Thank you for commenting and for the links to your posts, enjoyed reading both posts and comments.

      My previous form with Stanley Corngold are his Kafka books which are very useful.

  2. Ha, I started on Nietzsche at fifteen! 🙂 I could really misunderstand him well at that age!

    In the film, there is a sullen, troubled teen who is always reading an old Penguin edition of Nietzsche, and has his face on a huge poster in his room.

    I was talking about HILTON Korngold…not clear on if that is an erroneous citation of Stanley C.

    • Thanks, Caille. Kaufmann’s book would be a good place to start, as he wrote his book to introduce Nietzsche to the US, clear up misconceptions etc.

  3. Anthony, I want to thank you for the heads-up on the upcoming edition of Kaufmann, _The Faith of a Heretic_. I first read this book in, I think, my Sophomore year, and have read it numerous times since. I also read his _Critique of Religion and Philosophy_ about that time. I have not read his _Nietzsche_, but I will.

    I do have on my shelf a book by Graham Parkes, _Nietzsche and Asian Thought_—which may or may not interest you. I’m interested in how Eastern ‘ways of liberation’ (as Alan Watts called them) can be connected to or interpreted by western philosophy, and both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are important in that regard.

    Glad to have found your blog. I’m new to WordPress and to the blogosphere, and have started my own small effort at http://ridingmetaphor.com/ .


    PS: Sorry for lack of italics for book titles. Haven’t got that figured out yet for comments.

    • Thanks, StriderJim, for your comment. Pleased that my blog has been of interest and use.

      I’m very interested in the links between eastern and western thought, particularly those possibly forged by the pre-Socratics and the role of Persia in linking both thought systems. The Vedas, in particular, and their possible influence on western metaphysics is of great interest. I am therefore very pleased that you recommended the Graham Parkes’ study which I shall track down and read with interest.

      Good luck with blogging. I do hope you get as much from the experience as I have.

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