Review of "Nietzsche, Heidegger and Buber: Discovering the Mind Volume 2"

Continuing my research into secondary literature to assist forming a course on German philosophy with specific emphasis on psychological tenors I read the second of Walter Kauffman’s trilogy on the discovery of the human mind Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Buber. Given Kaufmann’s widely recognized credentials as a superb teacher and the writer, I was again rewarded with insight in how to make choices for texts to require and those to ignore especially so in this case as Kauffman personally knew Heidegger and Buber, has been widely acclaimed for his translations of Nietzsche and Buber, and is thus in a unique position to weigh the contributions of these three thinkers.

Kauffman, unsurprisingly given his previous writings on Nietzsche in, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist, devotes most of the book to laying out the case for Nietzsche’s contributions to, if not founding of, depth psychology. He relies not only on quotes from people such as Freud to demonstrate that he was one of the most self-aware people of his time, but also shows this via his identification as a psychologist (which is not necessarily an indicator of self-knowledge, though in his case it is) that he was concerned with wrestling with the dominant, moralistic and hedonistic assumptions of his age.

Kauffman does to great ends to disabuse many of the misinterpretations of Nietzsche, which abounds due to the style in which he wrote by doing what his detractors have not done – specifically giving contextualized, extensive quotation. Kauffman highlights the psychologically emancipatory aspects of Nietzsche, such as his encouragement of reflective writing practices, his hypothesis on the will to power, his theory of masks, his recognition that not only “philosophy” enriches the study of the human mind but art, literature and religion as well and does so while also noting the problematic aspects of his body of work. While many of Nietzsche’s claims at the time of their publication were considered revolutionary, many of them now seem almost commonplace. Stating that consciousness is a surface that sometimes resists the truth, experiences aren’t absolute but determined by frames and moods, body and spirit are not divided, it is important to to identify one’s heroes and villains to better define oneself now seem platitudinous. However as the first psychologist, and indeed the first psychohistorian, Nietzsche’s contributions to the study of the mind are legion. Just as important as demonstrating Nietzsche’s positions, Kaufmann complicates them and other’s criticisms against them – a practice that he inherited from Nietzsche.

One of the more rewarding sections for me was this second section on Martin Heidegger. During my time as an undergraduate and graduate student, I’d formed a dismal view of Heidegger due to his enthusiasts and the reasons why this was so is explained in Kauffman’s criticism of him. In a few short words Heidegger is shown to be a theologian, a categorization that Heidegger himself claimed and it’s shown that his approach to texts is not so much a matter of interpretation as that of placing his ideas, largely taken from others, onto the text. Kaufmann focuses his reading on Being and Time as this is widely regarded by man, including the author, to be his masterpiece. In the analysis which follows we see that Heidegger’s (1) “existential ontology” is dubious anthropology, (2) his thinking is deeply authoritarian, (3) Heidegger’s analysis of authenticity and inauthenticity is shallow and Manichaean, (4) Heidegger neither solved important problems nor opened them up for fruitful discussion but covered them up, (5) Being and Time belongs to the romantic revival in Germany, (6) Heidegger secularized Christian preaching about guilt, dread, and death but claimed to break with two-thousand years of Western thought, and (7) he blamed his own shortcomings on our “paltry time” rather than take responsibility for himself.

Kaufmann, not one for the same type of inflammatory invective used by Nietzsche, closes his analysis of Heidegger by stating not only that those who look to him to answer important questions due so out of a religious need but also that “he is a false prophet” (238). If this seems out of place for an academic text, one need only look to the above criticisms to see why this is so – or look at the picture included in the text where Heidegger wears the Nazi Party symbol and has the same mustache as Hitler.

Martin Buber is given a very short treatment in the book, a mere 37 pages, for reasons which Kaufmann makes clear as soon as he is introduced. Specifically that even though his major work I and Thou is widely regarded as his “classic work”, it is quickly dismissed as untenably dualistic. While Kauffman admits that it hints at profundity in it’s recognition theory, it is only speciously so and this is why Buber never finished the other books that he planned would build off of this framework. Classifying Buber’s philosophical writing as a conscious variation of Hegel’s early desire to create a rational folk-religion< Kauffman finds Buber's redeeming qualities in his theories of interpretation and re-writings on the Tales of the Hasidim - which he acknowledges as a classic of modern religious writing and wisdom literature. In these latter writings he rejects the theological notion of God which typify exegetical thinking and instead places it within the context of living communities. In Buber's theories of translation, Kauffman points to his recognition that to translate one had to make great efforts to know the author, and that this growing knowledge about someone else enhanced the knowledge of the self. This respect for the other which is also the self is a prominent value and gives insight into how we are to best approach others, as well as ourselves, should we wish to gain deep knowledge.