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Goethe, Kant, and Hegel: Discovering the Mind. Volume one. Paperback – February 1, 1991
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About the Author
Ivan Soll, who provides the introduction, was a student of Kaufmann and is now professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin. He has written widely on Hegel and German philosophical thought.
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With the three important German authors he only comes across favorably to Goethe. He takes Kant and Hegel to task for the obscurity of their writing style. He blames Kant for introducing this type of writing into German philosophy. He does recognize the brilliance of Kant and Hegel. He goes into the background of these men highlighting the impact on their thoughts and writing. It is noteworthy that Kaufmann resists the tide of popular opinion in regard to Kant and Hegel and dares to bring their obvious shortcomings into sharp focus.
I found this volume helpful in clarifying issues with philosophy in general. His criticism of struggling to find meaning where none actually exists can save a person from hours of futility.
At the end of Section II, Kaufmann offers us some insight into his feelings about his critical review of Kant:
“Looking back upon my account of Kant, I feel like quoting the conclusion of Lessing's
Duplik, the polemic in which the image of the two hands of God is found:
‘I had meant to let the reader gather casually the reasons
for this judgment; and yet I have often literally pronounced
the judgment myself. What shall I do? Apologize? Ask for
forgiveness witli the silly mien of an
incompetent hypocrite? Promise that next time I'll be
‘Can I do that? Promise? Yes, yes, I promise-never
even to resolve to remain cold and indifferent in certain
matters. If a human being is not permitted to generate
warmth and take sides when he recognizes clearly that
reason and scripture have been abused, when arid where
is it permitted?’
“In my juxtaposition of Goethe and Kant I might have taken the time and trouble to conceal my feelings better, but decided against that, not only for the reasons stated by Lessing. It would be perverse to try to discover the minds of several dead writers while taking pains not to discover one's own. By seeing how we react *emotionally* to Goethe and Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche, Heidegger and Buber, Freud and jung, we can find out a great deal about ourselves. While I see no need to burden my discussion of these men with the discoveries I have made about myself in the course of writing about them, I believe that not hiding my emotions may make it easier for you to discover your feelings and your mind.
“Disapproval, of course, can be based on intellectual considerations, but a little observation of ourselves and others shows quickly that the emotion accompanying it is not always proportionate to our reasons. Whenever this is the case, the question arises why we have such strong feelings about some faults and not about others. Usually, though not always, powerful negative feelings are an indication that we sense the same faults in ourselves and have taken some trouble not to give in to them. When this is not the case, we generally associate these faults with someone else or with a group of people whom we dislike intensely, possibly for very good reasons. I am far from hating Kant and if, contrary to my pronounced opposition to Manichaeism, I were to divide writers into good and evil people, I should certainly include Kant among the good. Why, then, does a certain animus against him come through here and there? And why do I bother to discuss him at such length when I think that in important respects he was a disaster?
“I love philosophy and have given much of my life to it, put it seems to me to be in very poor health, and this, as I have tried to show, is due in no small measure to Kant who, with lhe best intentions, came close to ruining it. To restore its health, we need to understand what has gone wrong. Actually, I doubt that mainstream philosophy will ever become strong enough to be of much help in the discovery of the mind. Nor do I think, upon reflection, that it was strong enough before Kant came along. In many ways he is an embodiment on a large scale of what is wrong with philosophy, but he also had an enormous influence, and its very enormity makes one wonder what might have happened if he had pushed philosophy in a different direction. Suppose he had not insisted on certainty, necessity, and completeness! This, it seems to me, was his most fateful error, and his obscure style may be considered a mere corollary of that. Suppose he had been more like Lessing! Such questions are obviously unanswerable. If one thing had been different, ever so many others might have been different as well; for example, all the professors of philosophy who took to Kant like fish to water might in that case have found Kant much less attractive. At the very least they might not have followed his example in this respect. One only needs to compare the Nietzsche literature with Nietzsche to appreciate that point, or the Kierkegaard literature with Kierkegaard. One might well consider reflections of what might have happened if only Kant had done things differently so futile that they are not even worth mentioning if it were not for the fact that reading Hegel makes such questions almost inescapable. For the bizarreness of Hegel's philosophy is due largely to his misguided attempt to reconcile Goethe and •Kant, and it is fruitful to separate out these two strains and see what remains when the Kantian elements are eliminated."
This volume introduces the reader to three great minds, which Kaufmann sees as leading to the great psychologists if the 20C. First, with Goethe, we find a man who broke new ground in the investigation of human psychology, bringing a poets depth and eloquence to bear. It is so exciting and well written that Kaufmann makes the reader want to learn German and then specialize in Goethe. He is seen as an ideal of bringing poetry to the study of the mind, a tradition that waited until Freud to be renewed. Second, he examines Kant, whom he respects but sees as a rather dry intellect, and alas, as the one who began the tradition of sloppily and hastily written modern philosophy. But his critique goes much farther than that as we see Kant turn the mind into something abstract, immutable, and that neither evolves nor reflects the context into which it is born. This sets philoophical inquiry into psychology, in my interpretation, on a long and infertile road that took the poetry out of the study of the mind. Finally, with Hegel, Kaufmann sees the reintroduction of certain notions of evolution and context, but still in a way that lacks poetry.
This is a fascinating interpretation and it is so beautifully written that many will enjoy as did I. Warmly recommended.
However, very little of the book addresses its topic. Kaufmann tends to get lost in digressions concerning the text, biographical details, etc.
He claims that these details are important but never really gets to the point.
He never really defines what he means by "mind" or goes into much detail on how Goethe, Kant or Hegel define or develop the concept.
He tends to be repetitious, repeating the same criticisms of Kant again and again-- without any clear exposition of Kant's thinking.
Nonetheless I rated it three stars because it is generally clearly written and provides some useful information about these philosophers. I even ordered the other two volumes in the series to see if he gets anywhere in the later books.