Plato, Marx & Kaufmann
To the Editor:
Werner J. Dannhauser’s review of Walter Kaufmann’s Without Guilt or Justice [Books in Review, September 1973] represents the worst disservice imaginable to anyone interested in philosophy in the broadest sense. No one expects a critic to be totally free of personal bias, but Mr. Dannhauser’s superficiality ill conceals his intent: to kill ab initio any interest in what promises to become a genuine classic in the humanities.
Perhaps it is symptomatic of the present state of philosophy in America that COMMENTARY assigned the review of Kaufmann’s book to someone who has no status as an academic philosopher. After the great age of American philosophy from Emerson to Dewey, the erstwhile “queen of the sciences” has now been totally captured by Carnap and others, the champions of the analytical school, according to which philosophy . . . “has no right to deal with anything but itself.” . . . Far be it from me to run down a school which has undisputed merits, but I do strongly object to its megalomaniac claim to be the only philosophy. . . . This Ungeist drove away . . . Abraham Kaplan, the University of California’s towering mind who challenged his narrow-minded colleagues with the irrefutable statement: “Philosophy is culture become self-conscious.” . . .
Since Kaplan’s departure for Israel, Walter Kaufmann remains one of the few, and in my opinion by far the greatest, of those who stand for a vital, viable philosophy. . . . All his works have lived up to the demand stipulated by Kaplan; in Without Guilt or Justice Kaufmann calls his philosophy a “depth philosophy . . . that inquires into the concrete human realities behind various philosophical positions.” That he—successfully—tries to do away with “guilt feelings,” a relic from man’s archaic past, and replaces them with an “intellectual conscience,” will not only meet with the approval of all humanistic psychologists (with the possible exception of Mowrer), but even of all those who, like myself, look at themselves as religious anthropologists. . . . It is interesting to notice how much in Kaufmann’s system—whether known to him or not—rejuvenates classic Jewish ideas. . . .
My only personal regret is that Kaufmann, in his discussion of what he calls Manicheanism, the spirit that sees everything in black or white, seems unfamiliar with my . . . analysis of the Talmudic yetzer ha-ra, always translated as “evil impulse” and . . . the opposite of the “good impulse,” whereas, according to the Rabbis of about the year 100 C.E., the latter is but the molded, trained expression of the former. This clearly anticipates Kaufmann’s distinction between “untutored emotion and cultivated emotion.” (As for my own findings, see “1,800 Years Before Freud,” in Judaism, 1971; my book, Hebrew Humanism, 1965; and, more recently, “Die rabbinische Reaktion auf des Paulus Grundgedanken,” in Emuna, Cologne, 1972.)
Mr. Dannhauser severely takes Kaufmann to task for attacking not only Marcuse, Reich, and Rawls but for taking issue with Plato and—what heresy—with Marx. As for Marx, what makes him more infallible than Moses or Jesus, both of whom modern religion dares to approach critically? I am inclined to agree with . . . H.-J. Schoeps: “If only his [Marx's] brother-in-law, the secretary of the interior . . . F. W. Von Westphalen, had gotten him a chair of political economy at one of the Prussian universities, the world would have been spared much.” . . .
As for Plato, anyone who has ever studied him seriously knows how often the brilliant Athenian changed his views—on the role of women, the permissibility or criminality of pederasty, and many other subjects. He himself stated: “Philosophizing rather than philosophy.” In other words, Plato would have been the last person to swear by any system, including his own. Hence Kaufmann’s critical approach to Plato is totally warranted.
Where does Kaufmann fall victim to the assumption that “he is the equal (at least) of even the greatest philosophers”? Can Mr. Dannhauser cite page and passage to prove such a monstrous assertion? Yet I maintain that Kaufmann is one of the most eminent thinkers of our age. I see in him the leading philosopher of modern America. What gives me the right to such a sweeping statement? Not my forty years in the rabbinate, although I was a close disciple of Leo Baeck who opened my eyes to what was towering in German philosophy. But as the holder of a Ph.D. from the University of Berlin when it was still the equal of Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale . . . and as a former lecturer in humanities at Stanford, the University of California, and other schools, I think I have the necessary credentials for taking the liberty to add my views to the discussion. . . .
(Rabbi) Harris H. Hirschberg
Werner J. Dannhauser writes:
I scarcely know what to say. In my innocence, I thought that an eminent rabbi would object to a book providing a new morality, since the old morality came by way of Mount Sinai from a source more exalted than Walter Kaufmann; but I see I was wrong. Be that as it may, I am reluctant to argue with a man of the cloth, so I will try to be brief.
- I am not a prisoner of “Carnap and others”; some of my best enemies belong to the analytical school.
- I did not take Kaufmann to task for attacking Marcuse, Reich, and Rawls. I tried to take him to task for attacking Marx unfairly. I learned about fairness in Sunday school. I have never been accused of being a partisan of Marx and I thank Rabbi Hirschberg for that compliment.
- I did study Plato once, and the only reason I didn’t do it seriously is because I am frivolous. I don’t know how often the brilliant Athenian changed his views. Was it twice? Ten times?
- About citing page and passage for my assertion that Kaufmann seems to assume “he is the equal (at least) of even the greatest philosophers”: I suggest Rabbi Hirschberg reread the passages of the book dealing with Plato, Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. He can find them by consulting the index, which begins on page 265.
- I am painfully aware of the fact that I have no status as an academic philosopher and am unable to rival Rabbi Hirschberg in distinction. I am a graduate of Miles Standish Elementary School of Cleveland, Ohio, and of some other educational institutions; I will not mention them for fear of destroying them. I know I’m only a little chimney, but I’m studying very hard to be a smokestack.