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To browse Academia. Skip to main content. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Walter Kaufmann: Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. Valentina Cizmar. He received his doctorate from Har-vard University in and in the same year joined the staff of Princeton University, where he is now Associate Professor of Philosophy.

On His Mission 84 2. On His Works 85 3. On His Mode of Existence 86 4. On Free Death 4. The Beginning of The Will to Power 5. An Imperial Message 2. Before the Law 3. On My Philosophy 2. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche 3. The Wall 2. Self-Deception 3. Portrait of the Antisemite 4. Of course, it is the reader's right to browse, to skip, and not to read, whether a volume is by a single author or by ten. What matters is that a book should offer, when read straight through, more than the sum of the parts.

The present volume is intended to tell a story, and the growing variations of some major themes, the echoes, and the contrasts ought to add not only to the enjoyment but also to the reader's understanding. There are several new translations made especially for this book.

I am deeply indebted to Princeton University for a year's leave of absence and to the Fulbright Commission for a re-search grant which enabled me, among other things, to listen to lectures by Jaspers and Heidegger and to talk with them and many of their colleagues and former students. To Heidegger I am also indebted for answering, orally and in writing, questions about his essay which is here offered in English for the first time.

My wife, Hazel Kaufmann, has given me invaluable aid and comfort. ONE Kaufmann: Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre Existentialism is not a philosophy but a label for several widely different revolts against traditional philosophy. Most of the living "existentialists" have repudiated this label, and a bewildered outsider might well conclude that the only thing they have in common is a marked aversion for each other.

To add to the confusion, many writers of the past have frequently been hailed as members of this movement, and it is extremely doubtful whether they would have appreciated the company to which they are consigned. In view of this, it might be argued that the label "existentialism" ought to be abandoned altogether.

Certainly, existentialism is not a school of thought nor reducible to any set of tenets. The three writers who appear invariably on every list of "existentialists'' Jaspers, Heideg-ger, and Sartre-are not in agreement on essentials.

Such alleged precursors as Pascal and Kierkegaard differed from all three men by being dedicated Christians; and Pascal was a Catholic of sorts while Kierkegaard was a Protestant's Protestant. If, as is often done, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky are in-cluded in the fold, we must make room for an impassioned anti-Christian and an even more fanatical Greek-Orthodox Russian imperialist.

By the time we consider adding Rilke, Kafka, and Camus, it becomes plain that one essential feature shared by all these men is their perfervid individualism. Existentialism is a timeless sensibility that can be discerned here and there in the past; but it is only in recent times that it has hardened into a sustained protest and preoccupation. It may be best to begin with the story of existentialism before attempting further generalizations. An effort to tell this story with a positivist's penchant for particulars and a relent-less effort to suppress one's individuality would only show that existentialism is completely uncongenial to the writer.

This is not meant to be a defense of arbitrariness. A personal perspective may suggest one way of ordering diffuse materials, and be fruitful, if only by way of leading others to considered dissent. In the Socratic schools and in Stoicism a little later, philosophy is above all a way of life. Throughout the history of philosophy other, more or less similar, examples come to mind, most notably Spinoza.

It is easy, and it was long fashionable, to overestimate the beautiful serenity of men like these, and it is well to recall the vitriolic barbs of Heraclitus, the inimitable sarcasm of Socrates, and the passions of Spinoza.

Even so, it is an altogether new voice that we hear in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground. The pitch is new, the strained protest, the self-preoccupation. To note a lack of serenity would be ridiculous: poise does not even remain as a norm, not even as an element of contrast; it gives way to poses, masks-the drama of the mind that is sufficient to itself, yet conscious of its every weakness and determined to exploit it.

What we perceive is an unheard-of song of songs on individuality: not classical, not Biblical, and not at all romantic. No, individuality is not re-touched, idealized, or holy; it is wretched and revolting, and yet, for all its misery, the highest good.

Nothing could be further from that softening of the contours which distinguished all romantics from the first attack on classicism to Novalis, Keats, and Wordsworth. Romanticism is flight from the present, whether into the past, the future, or another world, dreams, or, most often, a vague fog.

It is self-deception. Romanticism yearns for deliverance from the cross of the Here and Now: it is willing to face anything but the facts. The atmosphere of Dostoevsky's Notes is not one of soft voices and dim lights: the voice could not be shriller, the light not more glaring.

No prize, however great, can justify an ounce of self-deception or a small departure from the ugly facts. And yet this is not literary naturalism with its infatuation with material circumstances: it is man's inner life, his moods, anxieties, and his decisions, that are moved into the center until, as it were, no scenery at all remains.

This book, published in , is one of the most revolutionary and original works of world literature. If we look for anything remotely similar in the long past of European literature, we do not find it in philosophy but, most nearly, in such Christian writers as Augustine and Pascal.

Surely, the differences are far more striking even here than any similarity; but it is in Christianity, against the background of belief in original sin, that we first find this wallowing in man's depravity and this uncompromising concentration on the dark side of man's inner life.

In Rousseau's Confessions, too, his Calvinistic background has to be recalled; but he turned against it and denied original sin, affirmed the natural goodness of man, and blamed his depravity on society. Then he proceeded to explain how all depravity could be abolished in the good society, ruled by the general will. In Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground no good society can rid man of depravity: the book is among other things an inspired polemic against Rousseau and the whole tradition of social philosophy from Plato and Aristotle through Hobbes and Locke to Bentham, Hegel, and John Stuart Mill.

The man whom Dostoevsky has created in this book holds out for what traditional Christianity has called depravity; but he believes neither in original sin nor in God, and for him man's self-will is not depravity: it is only per-verse from the point of view of rationalists and others who value neat schemes above the rich texture of individuality.

We have no right whatsoever to attribute to him the opinions of all of his most interesting characters. Unfortunately, most readers fail to distinguish between Dostoevsky's views and those of the Grand Inquisitor in Ivan's story in The Brothers Karamazov, though it is patent that this figure was inspired by the author's hatred of the Church of Rome; and many critics take for Dostoevsky's reasoned judgments the strange views of Kirilov, though he is mad.

As a human being, Dostoevsky was as fascinating as any of his characters; but we must not ascribe to him, who after all believed in God, the outlook and ideas of his underground man. I can see no reason for calling Dostoevsky an existentialist, but I do think that Part One of Notes from Underground is the best overture for existentialism ever written.

With inimitable vigor and finesse the major themes are stated here that we can recognize when reading all the other so-called existentialists from Kierkegaard to Camus. He had not known of Dostoevsky, nor did Dostoevsky know of him. Nietzsche, on the other hand, read Notes from Underground in and was impressed as rarely in his life; and a year and a half later, toward the end of his career, he heard of Kierkegaard, too late to secure any of his books.

Henceforth, the sequence of our major characters is clear. It is only at the beginning, faced with Kierkegaard and Dostoevsky, that we do better to reverse the strict chronology to start with Dostoevsky.

Kierkegaard confronts us as an individual while Dostoevsky offers us a world. Both are infinitely disturbing, but there is an overwhelming vastness about Dostoevsky and a strident narrowness about Kierkegaard.

If one comes from Kierkegaard and plunges into Dostoevsky, one is lost like a man brought up in a small room who is suddenly placed in a sailboat in the middle of the ocean.

Or you might even think that Dostoevsky had set out deliberately to make fun of Kierkegaard. It is as if Kierkegaard had stepped right out of Dostoevsky's pen. The underground man pictures the ease of the "crystal palace" as a distant possibility and tells us that some individual would certainly rebel and try to wreck this utterly insufferable comfort. And Kierkegaard, not exiled to Siberia, as Dostoevsky was as a young man, but well-to-do in the clean, wholesome atmosphere of Copenhagen, sees how easy life is being made and resolves "to create difficulties everywhere.

Nothing could be less in keeping with the author's own intentions. How strange Kierkegaard is when he speaks of himself, and how similar to Dostoevsky's underground man-in con-tents, style, and sensibility! There is something novel about both which may be brought out by a brief contrast with Heinrich Heine. Heine's self-consciousness is almost proverbial and at one time embarrassed romantic readers; but the strain in Heine is due largely to the tension between reverie and reason.

Kierkegaard's self-consciousness, like the underground man's, is far more embarrassing because it comes from his humiliating concern with the reactions and the judgments of the very public which he constantly professes to despise.

That he was physically misshapen might have remained without effect on his style and thought; but, like the underground man, he was inwardly out of joint —so much so that Heine seems quite healthy by comparison. How fluent is Heine's prose, and how contorted Kierkegaard's! Their love of irony and even vitriol they shared; but Heine's world is relatively neat and clean-cut: even his melancholy seems pleasant com-pared to Kierkegaard's.

They were contemporaries who died within a year, and yet Heine seems almost classical today, and Kierkegaard painfully modern. Heine came to part with Hegel because the philosopher was not liberal enough for him and too authoritarian. For Kierkegaard, Hegel was too rational and liberal.

Heine cannot fairly be called a romantic because he steadfastly refused to give up the ideals of the Enlightenment and because he would not curb his piercing critical intelligence to spare a feeling. Kierkegaard escapes classification as a romantic because he, too, rejects the dim twilight of sentiment as well as any lovely synthesis of intellect and feeling, to insist on the absurdity of the beliefs which he accepts.

Dostoevsky is surely one of the giants of world literature; Kierkegaard, one of its greatest oddities: an occasionally brilliant but exasperating stylist, a frequently befuddled thinker, yet a writer who intrigues and fascinates by virtue of his individuality.

His own suggestion for his epitaph is unsurpassable: "That Individual. In the vast thicket of his unpruned prose it is not easy to discover his importance for philosophy. He was an aggressive thinker, and the main targets of his attacks are Hegel, of whom he lacked any thorough first-hand knowledge, and Christianity as it existed for approximately eighteen centuries, which seems at first glance to have no immediate bearing on philosophy.

In fact, Kierkegaard was in revolt against the wisdom of the Greeks: it was the Greek heritage that he attacked both in philosophy and in Christianity. Owing to the vast prestige of Greek philosophy, which in turn was influenced by a profound respect for mathematics, Western thought has made its calculations, as it were, without the individual. Where something of the sort is recognized at all today, it is customary to blame secularism and to preach a return either to the Middle Ages, as if the individual had been central then, or to Plato's belief in the eternal verities or values.


Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre

One of the foremost resources on existentialism from renowned philosopher, poet, and Nietzsche translator Walter Kaufmann—a must-read for philosophers, both armchair and professional. On His Mission 2. On His Works 3. On His Mode of Existence 4. Dread and Freedom 6. Authority 7.


Post a Comment. The collection is thus of more interest to those with a passing or burgeoning interest in the subject compared to those wishing to dig deeper into a subject they already know a fair bit about. Fiction to philosophy, poetry to essay, a variety of representative texts are selected. Some of the texts naturally more accessible to readers than others, the novelists prove most readable, while Heidegger and Jaspers, as always, must be borne with patience.

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