Walter Kaufmann

Biographical Information


"Let people who do not know what to do with themselves in this life, but fritter away their time reading magazines and watching television, hope for eternal life.....The life I want is a life I could not endure in eternity.  It is a life of love and intensity, suffering and creation, that makes life worth while and death welcome.  There is no other life I should prefer.  Neither should I like not to die."

(Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic, Pg 386)

Walter Kaufmann's Death occurred on September 4, 1980.  He was 59 years old.

The following is a description of Walter Kaufmann's final days and the likely cause of his death, by his brother Felix Kaufmann:

     In August 1980, Walter became ill in Egypt. At first it did not seem severe enough to him to change his travel plans, which included a Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, followed by a tour to a few of his favorite places in Europe, first of all Sils Maria, where they still show the house in which Nietzsche liked to stay.

In Nairobi he suffered a more severe episode and was taken to a Hospital. By the time he arrived there, the attack of whatever it was had passed. One look at the hospital convinced him that it might be better to abrogate his African trip and be in Europe in case he should need hospitalization again.  

He flew to Zurich Airport and rented a car to drive to Sils Maria. In the car he had such an acute attack that his companion had to take over the driving. The nearest  hospital was in Chur. Walter was admitted.  They did a week of tests, but were unable to reach a diagnosis.

"The best chance for a diagnosis is during one of these episodes," they told him. "We do not know when the next one will occur and should not be keeping you from going home. Fly back home and check into a hospital immediately. The important thing for you is to be under medical observation from the first moment of the next attack."

He flew back to Princeton on 3 September 1980 and called me to say he was back. He described in detail what had happened to him.

I urged him to check into the hospital without delay. He promised to do so first thing in the morning. Early in the morning his wife woke up and noticed he was not in his bed. She found him in the bathroom, dead from a ruptured aneurysm of the aorta.

That was the only diagnosis the pathologist was able to give. It caused me to do some library research on tropical diseases. I found three cases in the literature, in which a parasite contracted in Africa, probably by ingestion, found its way into the aorta and attacked the wall of the aorta, causing an aneurysm.  The other patients suffered similar attacks of extreme weakness, probably while the aneurysm ballooned out, abruptly decreasing blood pressure and blood flow to vital organs. There were a few such episodes before the aneurysm eventually burst. Spacing of attacks and total duration were similar to Walter's.

The parasite has not been identified.

In my opinion, it is unlikely that the hospital in Princeton, even if he had been there that night, would have been able to diagnose the situation in time to take the prompt measures that would have been necessary to save his life.


Felix Kaufmann

March 9, 2005

Time Line of Kaufmann’s Life and Work


July 1, 1921  

Kaufmann is born in Freiburg, Germany.

1933   Converts from Protestantism to Judaism.

January, 1939  

Kaufmann migrates to the United States.  In a 1959 article Kaufmann indicates this year as a turning point in his life during which he stopped believing in the God of Judaism and embarked on the series of studies and research that eventually issued in his 1958 Critique of Religion and Philosophy.

1941          Graduates from Williams College with high honors.

1942   Receives M. A. from Harvard.

Spends 15 months over seas in military service during World War II.


Receives Ph.D. from Harvard University and becomes a member of the faculty at Princeton University.

1950   Publishes Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist

1954   Publishes Nietzsche translations in The Portable Nietzsche

1955-56     Fulbright research professor at Heidelberg.

1956   Publishes Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre

1958   Publishes Critique of Religion and Philosophy

1959   Publishes From Shakespeare to Existentialism

February, 1959  

Article entitled 'The Faith of a Heretic' published in Harper's Magazine.

1960   Publishes The Faith of a Heretic

1962-63     Fulbright research professor at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

1968   Publishes Tragedy and Philosophy


Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar at the Australian National University in Canberra.

1973   Publishes Without Guilt and Justice: From Decidophobia to Autonomy


Visiting Fellow in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University in Canberra.


Visiting Professor in the Institute of Philosophy at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

1978   Publishes Man's Lot: I Life at the Limits, II Time is an Artist, III What is Man?

1979   Kaufmann becomes Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton.

November, 1979  

Interview with Trude Weiss-Rosmarin.  Later published in Judaism, Winter81, Vol. 30 Issue 1, pp.120-128  


Publishes Discovering the Mind Trilogy.  Volume I in March, Volume II in September and Volume III published posthumously in March 1981.

September 4,1980   Kaufmann passes away at the age of 59.

February 23, 2013     A memorial to Kaufmann is dedicated in the University Chapel at Princeton University.