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An Imperial Message 2. Before the Law 3. On My Philosophy 2. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche 3. My Way to Phenomenology 2. What is Metaphysics? The Wall 2.

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Self-Deception 3. Portrait of the Antisemite 4. Existentialism is a Humanism 5. Category: Philosophy. Walter Arnold Kaufmann. Existentialism is perhaps the most misunderstood of modern philosophic positions-- misunderstood by reason of its broad popularity and general unfamiliarity with its origins, representatives, and principles. Existential thinking did not originate with Jean Paul Sartre.

It has prior religious, literary, and philosophic origins.

In its narrowest formulation it is a metaphysical doctrine, arguing as it does that any definition of man's essence must follow, not precede, an estimation of his existence. It is the differences between Nietzsche and Kierkegaard that strike us first; and in an over all accounting, the differences would surely far outweigh the similarities which Karl Jaspers has catalogued so carefully. See his lecture on the two men, below. Jaspers assimilates Nietzsche to Kierkegaard and loses hold of that which mattered most to Nietzsche.

Before Nietzsche published Zarathustra, he wrote in The Gay Science: "What is good-heartedness, refinement, and genius to me, when the human being who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments … Among certain pious ones, I found a hatred of reason and appreciated it: at least they thus betrayed their bad intellectual conscience. Believe me, my brothers: it was the body that despaired of the body It would be absurd to claim that such a psychological analysis does justice to his work.

Of course, it does not. The only reason for as much as mentioning these matters is that the desire not to know the truth was an important element in Kierkegaard's faith. Sigmund Freud could not have said of Kierkegaard what, according to Ernest Jones, he often said of Nietzsche: "that he had a more penetrating knowledge of himself than any other man who ever lived or was ever likely to live. When he first received attention, different facets of his thought were noted, and it was only in a defeated Germany after the First World War that Kierkegaard, who had made much of the "existential," became popular and Nietzsche was seen in a new light.

Judged by our initial criteria, Nietzsche might well be called an existentialist.

Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (Revised and Expanded Edition) - chansierotulo.ga

The refusal to belong to any school of thought, the repudiation of the adequacy of any body of beliefs whatever, opposition to philosophic systems, and a marked dissatisfaction with traditional philosophy as superficial, academic, and remote from life—all this is eminently characteristic of Nietzsche no less than of Kierkegaard, Jaspers, or Heidegger. Nor could it be argued that this conception of existentialism is generous to the point of being altogether amorphous and meaningless.

Clearly, it excludes such relatively more traditional philosophers as, for example, Whitehead or even Russell, let alone the neo-Thomists; and although positivism and the analytic movement are also in revolt against traditional philosophy, the above description does not fit them. Still, it is possible to be a little more specific about existentialism. There is yet another feature which all but deternmines the popular image of this movement. It is entirely proper to consider the writings of these four men as the hard core of existentialism: Kierkegaard introduced the "existential"; Jaspers entitled one of his main works Existenzerhellung and another, smaller volume Existenzphilosophie; Heidegger's Sein und Zeit is widely taken for the magnum opus of this movement; and Sartre is the only major writer who admits he is an existentialist.

If we consider this striking preoccupation with failure, dread, and death one of the essential characteristics of existentialism, Nietzsche can no longer be included in this movement. The theme of suffering recurs often in his work, and he, too, concentrates attention on aspects of life which were often ignored in the nineteenth century; but he makes much less of dread and death than of man's cruelty, resentment, and hypocrisy of the immorality that struts around masked as morality.

It is not the sombre and depressed moods that he stresses most but quite another state of mind which appears even much less often in the literature of the past: a "Dionysian" joy and exultation that says Yes to life not in a mood of dogged resolution, which is prominent in later German existentialism, but with love and laughter.

If we broaden our definition of existentialism to include preoccupation with extreme states of mind generally, it fits Nietzsche, too, as well as Rilke, the Dionysian poet. Nevertheless, the difference between Nietzsche's amor fati and the German existentialists is quite considerable, though in many ways French existentialism is much closer to him. Nietzsche's wit, his praise of laughter, and his sparkling prose, now limpid, now like granite, could scarcely be more unlike the vast and solemn tomes of Jaspers or the twilight style of Heidegger.

Nor does Kierkegaard with his more epic and self-conscious humor, writing—in the words of an admirer—"almost with tongue in cheek," equal the devastating and incisive style of Nietzsche.

In the story of existentialism, Nietzsche occupies a central place: Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre are unthinkable without him, and the conclusion of Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus sounds like a distant echo of Nietzsche. As we shall see, however, Heidegger's and Jaspers' Nietzsche pictures tell at least as much about the German existentialists as about Nietzsche.


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Existentialism suggests only a single facet of Nietzsche's multifarious influence, and to call him an existentialist means in all likelihood an insufficient appreciation of his full significance. To be sure, his name is linked legitimately with the names of Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre; but it is linked no less legitimately with the names of Nicolai Hartmann and Max Scheler, and with Spengler, and with Freud and Adler, and with Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse, with Stefan George no less than with Rilke, and with Shaw and Gide as well as with Malraux.


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Almost every one of these writers saw something different in him. Existentialism without Nietzsche would be almost like Thomism without Aristotle; but to call Nietzsche an existentialist is a little like calling Aristotle a Thomist. One reason for his opposition to the label "existentialism" is that it suggests a school of thought, a doctrine among others, a particular position. Even of the term Existenzphilosophie he once said after using it: "The name is misleading insofar as it seems to restrict.

Philosophy can never wish to be less than primordial, eternal philosophy itself. Nietzsche was occasionally much more caustic than Jaspers about modern scholars; Kierkegaard was even more preoccupied with this theme and more vitriolic; and neither of them as much as approximated Schopenhauer's furor. In all three cases, however, this opposition was merely incidental to a specific positive purpose. Schopenhauer resented his own failure as a Privatdozent and the success of Fichte, Schelling, and particularly Hegel; and his positive intent was to obtain a hearing for his own philosophy which was developed in The World as Will and Idea.

Nietzsche, too, had, Jaspers notwithstanding, a wealth of positive ideas, and his main objection to the university professors was that, being state employees, they were prone to shirk uncomfortable insights. Philosophers in particular were, Nietzsche claimed, too often motivated by the wish to justify the moral prejudices of society. This fault, he felt, was not confined to university professors but came close to being the original sin of philosophy; and his great revolt was aimed not at professors but at Christianity and Platonism.

To Jaspers the differences between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche seem much less important than that which they have in common. What mattered most to them, does not matter to Jaspers: he dismisses Kierkegaard's "forced Christianity" no less than Nietzsche's "forced anti- Christianity" as relatively unimportant; he discounts Nietzsche's ideas as absurdities, and he does not heed Kierkegaard's central opposition to philosophy.


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All the many philosophers since Hegel and Schelling, however, fare far worse: they are at best instructive but lack human substance: "The original philosophers of the age are Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. For Jaspers any content is secondary, and in his essay "On My Philosophy" he san say: "As the realization overcame me that, at the time, there was no true philosophy at the universities, I thought that facing such a vacuum even he, who was too weak to create his own philosophy, had the right to hold forth about philosophy, to declare what it once was and what it could be.

The initial impulse of Jaspers' Existenzphilosophie was not a doctrine but a dissatisfaction with mere doctrines and the conviction that genuine philosophizing must well up from a man's individual existence and address itself to other individuals to help them to achieve true existence. The negative aspect of this effort is at first glance clearer than the positive development. For that matter, the negative part alone would be sufficient to insure the author a considerable following outside the universities, and even among university professors outside the philosophy departments.

At the very same time, lectures and seminars on Nietzsche were almost as common as courses on Kant and the Greeks, and Heidegger was discussed everywhere.

Existentialism from dostoevsky to sartre walter kaufmann

In part, to be sure, this was due to the large number of professorships held by Heidegger's former pupils. It was also due to the character of Jaspers' philosophy. Traditional philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche offered a wealth of ideas and suggestions, theories and doctrines, constructions and analyses which can be expounded by a lecturer or studied and interpreted. Since the death of Hegel, this kind of exposition has come more and more to dominate most courses in philosophy.

Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre

Consider an outstanding exponent of this approach: Kuno Fischer who taught philosophy at Heidelberg a generation before Jaspers started teaching there. His ten-volume history of modern philosophy is still famous, and the two volumes on Hegel, whom Fischer greatly admired, are no worse than the rest. Fischer paraphrases difficult texts, and when they become too difficult he quotes.

Does he understand what he paraphrases?

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Does he force the reader to think, to share in a common enterprise with Hegel? Does he make us feel like exclaiming, as Hegel did at times, "Oh God! Why did you curse me to be a philosopher? This is how Jaspers himself makes this point: "Kuno Fischer is outstanding both by virtue of his rational and clear reproductions, which remain useful, and by virtue of his utter innocence of philosophy itself which simply cannot be reproduced in this way. Indeed, Plato might well have said, as Jesus did: "I am come to kindle a fire on the earth; and what would I rather than that it burnt already.

Trying to do this with Kierkegaard, Jaspers discovered that it was impossible. Most American writers on Kierkegaard still have this discovery ahead of them. Jaspers chose Kierkegaard as a model, but without accepting those of his ideas which are easily repeatable. He decided to become unreferierbar, too, or—to put it differently—he made up his mind to concentrate his efforts on a sustained attempt, indeed an epic effort, to kindle a fire.

Of his three-volume Philosophie which is, of all his many books, the one which he himself likes best, he says: any reader who is looking for a doctrine in it is bound to be disappointed; and a reader who wants to remain passive and inert inside is bound to feel empty and let down. What does not happen in their case is what I have called the beating of the other wing which is necessary if that which is said in the text as the beating of one wing is to achieve the fulfillment of its meaning and soar up.