Walter Kaufmann’s Classic Lectures on Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre (1960)

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Wal­ter Kauf­mann spent 33 years (1947–1980) teach­ing phi­los­o­phy at Prince­ton. And more than any­one else, Kauf­mann intro­duced Niet­zsche’s phi­los­o­phy to the Eng­lish-speak­ing world and made it pos­si­ble to take Niet­zsche seri­ous­ly as a thinker – some­thing there was­n’t always room to do in Amer­i­can intel­lec­tu­al cir­cles.

With­out sim­pli­fy­ing things too much, Kauf­mann saw Niet­zsche as some­thing of an ear­ly exis­ten­tial­ist, which brings us to these vin­tage lec­tures record­ed in 1960 (right around the time that Kauf­mann, a Ger­man-born con­vert to Judaism, also became a nat­u­ral­ized Amer­i­can cit­i­zen). The three lec­tures offer a short primer on exis­ten­tial­ism and the mod­ern crises philoso­phers grap­pled with. Kierkegaard and the Cri­sis in Reli­gion begins the series, fol­lowed by Niet­zsche and the Cri­sis in Phi­los­o­phy and Sartre and the Cri­sis in Moral­i­ty. You can hear them right below:

Kierkegaard and the Cri­sis in Reli­gion

Niet­zsche and the Cri­sis in Phi­los­o­phy

Sartre and the Cri­sis in Moral­i­ty

Kauf­man­n’s talks are now list­ed in the Phi­los­o­phy sec­tion of our col­lec­tion of 1100 Free Online Cours­es. There you will also find cours­es pre­sent­ed by oth­er major fig­ures, includ­ing John Sear­le, Hubert Drey­fus, and Michael Sandel.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es, part of our col­lec­tion, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

The Phi­los­o­phy of Kierkegaard, the First Exis­ten­tial­ist Philoso­pher, Revis­it­ed in 1984 Doc­u­men­tary

Lovers and Philoso­phers — Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beau­voir Togeth­er in 1967

The Phi­los­o­phy of Niet­zsche: An Intro­duc­tion by Alain de Bot­ton

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Comments (19)
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  • Piotr says:

    Thanks, I enjoyed his talks so much!

  • Trey says:

    Is Wal­ter still alive? I have dire need to speak with him about niet­zche. It’s an Apol­lon­ian and dionysian prob­lem put togeth­er and made real. Cough. Hint. I most def­i­nite­ly need guid­ance on this path some­one dreamed up for me. And I’m tired of tak­ing walks alone and debat­ing niet­zche to myself cuz my wife’s too busy tak­ing care of the kid.. So Wal­ter! Do you wan­na help niet­zch­es lit­tle mon­ster lol. Any­way what does the moon­light have to be like to see the sym­bol on the birth of tragedy?

  • Trey says:

    Damn… He isn’t around. Um.… Beep blupe borp

  • What a treat! It was Kauf­man­n’s Niet­zsche that got my world spin­ning faster as a late teen. Around ten years lat­er, I came out with my first book (apho­risms) and near­ly ten years after that my book of essays, ‘From Niet­zsche to Bel­ly Danc­ing’. Still med­i­tat­ing on Niet­zsche, and the artist as mys­tic (in cur­rent issue of Agni mag­a­zine:

  • Caruthers Minor says:

    Niet­zsche spent most of his intel­lec­tu­al life react­ing against the final part of Schopen­hauer’s Die Welt als Wille und Vorstel­lung. Kauf­mann min­i­mized this and tried to make it seem that Niet­zsche was most­ly con­cerned with Hegel’s con­cept of devel­op­ment.

  • Michael says:

    Respect­ful­ly, Kauf­mann was non-reli­gious, even though as a child and ado­les­cent he briefly was reli­gious­ly involved first as a Protes­tant, then a Catholic, and final­ly a Jew. But he quick­ly put aside all religion…as he writes about in no uncer­tain terms in his book “Faith of a Heretic.”

    To describe him as “a Ger­man-born con­vert to Judaism” is, there­fore, inac­cu­rate.

  • JKop says:

    Niet­zsche seems to be wide­ly mis­un­der­stood. Bri­an Leit­ner high­lights some com­mon myths about Niet­zsche at

  • Chris says:

    Yeah! This is tip top! Thanks for post­ing!

  • A.R BHAT says:

    Does this state­ment belong to Sartre.If it does do you have any proof ? Here is the state­ment,
     “When we speak of for­lorn­ness, we mean only that God does not exist and that we have to face all the con­se­quences of this.…The exis­ten­tial­ist thinks it very dis­tress­ing that God does not exist, because all pos­si­bil­i­ty of find­ing val­ues in a heav­en.…

  • Pog says:

    This is an inter­est­ing talk. The only thing is that I think if some­one knows who Niet­zsche is they know he was­n’t an anti-Semi­te. Although, that may only be my own expe­ri­ence.

  • ermiyas Yirga says:

    Inter­est­ed in phi­los­o­phy but not have access for it

  • William gundry says:

    Start­ed in phi­los­o­phy at Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta, them trans­ferred to Kid Anges City Col­lege, got my Bache­lirs at Cal­i­for­nia State, Dominguez Hills, trans­ferred to Cal State Los Ange­les for a Mas­ters, dropped out for 20 years to raise fam­i­ly then got accept­ed for PHD at Inter­na­tion­al Col­lege West­wood, in tutot­ship under Mr Kiley, dropped lack of finances, and spent next 20 yeare work­ing , and now the only thing going for me is con­tribut­ing to a web-sight by the name of I love phi­los­o­phy. My thirst for phi­los­o­phy has gone on un ceas­ing.

  • Steve_Robbins says:

    Yes. Which is why the mod­ern roots — from ‘philosophia’ [L] fr. ‘philosophos’ [Gk] — speak of love of wis­dom. Now, you may have set aside for­mal aca­d­e­m­ic pur­suits, even on a few occa­sions. But it sounds to me like you did­n’t ever real­ly drop out. And my guess would also be that the frame­work was still very much with you through­out — and occa­sion­al­ly, quite help­ful.

    Recall also that Socrates did­n’t write any­thing, let alone some for­mal the­sis! Dia­logue was the method. And yet, it was he who was forced to take the hem­lock for his sup­posed impi­ety and cor­rup­tion of the youth.

    It was Pla­to record­ed the bulk of the dia­logues. I’d also wager that what­ev­er books you have in your home, at least the bulk of the ones that have last­ed through the years, are phi­los­o­phy-relat­ed.

    A phi­los­o­phy teacher I had back in col­lege would, every once in a while, men­tion some­thing like, “La pos­si­bil­ité de la pos­si­bil­ité de con­nais­sance,” which was mad­den­ing to most in the class, espe­cial­ly those who believed every­thing has to have an answer.

  • James says:

    It is Sartre’s expe­ri­ence in wartime, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing the Ger­man occu­pa­tion, that leaves the biggest stamp on his phi­los­o­phy, and one could even argue, on some­thing we might risk call­ing the French Out­look, a dis­po­si­tion shared by both Sartre and Camus : one is respon­si­ble for one’s own deci­sions and involve­ment. Sartre’s essay, Exis­ten­tial­ism is a Human­ism, may indeed recon­fig­ure the French Chris­t­ian out­look but it is hard­ly a fail­ure in depict­ing the Exis­ten­tial­ist out­look. As for ethos, or a pro­gram­mat­ic Ethics, no, Sartre did not pro­duce that in his lief­time. It is a mat­ter for the indi­vid­ual, much as the young man in the essay must decide between his moth­er and join­ing the resis­tance. To quote from The Plague (Camus) : “What on earth prompt­ed you to take a hand in this, doc­tor?” “I don’t know. My… my code of morals, per­haps.” “Your code of morals. What code, if I may ask?” “Com­pre­hen­sion.”

  • James says:

    A rather bru­tal com­ment. For­give me, I was just wip­ing the sleep from my eyes after spend­ing a good part of the night with Sartre’s essay, Exis­ten­tial­ism is a Human­ism from ’47, which Kauf­man both prais­es and dis­miss­es. No ethos! No pro­gram­mat­ic pro­gram of what to do. Here is a rel­e­vant quote which may give you some sense of Sartre’s approach to phi­los­o­phy-in-action : “The oth­er is indis­pens­able to my exis­tence, and equal­ly so to any knowl­edge I can have of myself. Under these con­di­tions, the inti­mate dis­cov­ery of myself is at the same time the rev­e­la­tion of the oth­er as a free­dom which con­fronts mine, and which can­not think or will with­out doing so either for or against me. Thus, at once, we find our­selves in a world which is, let us say, that of “inter-sub­jec­tiv­i­ty”. It is in this world that man has to decide what he is and what oth­ers are.”

  • James Graham says:

    “The exis­ten­tial­ist, on the con­trary, finds it extreme­ly embar­rass­ing that God does not exist, for there dis­ap­pears with Him all pos­si­bil­i­ty of find­ing val­ues in an intel­li­gi­ble heav­en. There can no longer be any good a pri­ori, since there is no infi­nite and per­fect con­scious­ness to think it. It is nowhere writ­ten that “the good” exists, that one must be hon­est or must not lie, since we are now upon the plane where there are only men.” Exis­ten­tial­ism is a Human­ism”

  • David S Easton says:

    NOTE: Freud’s Vien­nese pro­teges met Thurs­day evenings to appre­ci­ate NIETZSCHE, whom Freud described as one of few writ­ers who had any­thing to teach him.
    NIETZSCHE WRITES IN tHE ZARATHUSTRA …THAT HE WOULD ENLIGHTEN THE “HIGHER MEN” …those who take them­selves for high­ly refined men of virtue.
    The Philoso­pher, accord­ing to Mar­cuse, is attempt­ing to root the val­ues of the Enlight­en­ment not in the con­scious­ness —but in the instincts.

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