Discovering the Mind
WALTER KAUFMANN Vol. II (McGraw-Hill, $14.95), ills.
Somewhere in the interstice between psychiatry, religion and philosophy lies the synthesis of a social ethic for the next generations. That "new" thought is but dimly seen, barely revealed even to the alchemists who litter lecture halls and speaker's platforms with the bird-droppings of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the offal of Werner Erhard.
It is torturous business, this effort to "discover the mind," as the prolific Princeton philosopher-photographer-literateur Walter Kaufmann makes clear in this second volume (on Nietzshe, Heidegger and Buber) of his trilogy on the roots of contemporary social philosophy (the first dealt with Goethe, Kant and Hegel). Nietzsche, Goethe, Freud, respectively philosopher, poet and psychiatrist, have contributed, each in his own fashion, to our understanding of ourselves.
"Nietzsche really belongs with Freud," Kaufmann insists, "because he offered far more than the scattered insights that we find in Shakespeare or even Dostoevsky, and he was a psychologist in a sense in which even Goethe could not be called one ... Except for Freud, professional psychologists have contributed far less than have Goethe, Hegel and Nietzsche [to the discovery of the mind]."
Heady stuff this, argued intelligently, understandably, with only a bit of scholarly overquotation to slow down the brisk pace. Freud himself said Nietzsche, much maligned for his supposed "Nazi" affinities, "had a more penetrating knowledge of himself than any other man who ever lived or was ever likely to live." Surely Freud's concept of the superego was inspired by Nietzsche's ubermensch or superman. Further, argues Kaufmann the petty iconoclast, Nietzsche's will to power provoked Freud to posit the "death instinct" as a second principle motivating human behavior.
Kaufmann deals out persuasive arguments, though one suspects volume three, which will cope with Freud, Adler and Jung, is to be the grand synthesis of Kaufmann's philosophy for a new age. (He never says that's what he is about, perhaps for fear of shocking those of us who still cling to such dishonored idols as Hume, Bentham, Locke and Mill, howling about desecrations by infidels from 19th Century Germany.)
If this book has a disappointing aspect, it is the rather scanty treatment of Martin Buber, the towering religious humanist or humanistic religious. Somewhere in Buber, it would seem, lurks the kernel of the new understanding of self, and the relationship of man to Almighty. We are not powerless, victimized by an existential fate, doomed to fraudulent, terrorized lives. We can (not shall) overcome.
Kaufmann's guarded optimism is infectious.