Conceptualizing Kaufmann

I enjoy the etymological implications of “concept”, “synthesis” and “comprehend” and I’ve taken these implications as hints indicating how these words can be used in a complementary and systematic way.

Concept means taking together. A concept is a tacit, formless capacity to recognize a complex phenomenon as a particular something.

Synthesis means putting together. Syntheses are formal (in the sense of “having form”). Most of what we call “concept” I would call conceptually-directed synthesis: using a tacit conceptual understanding to synthesize words with the intent to indicate the very concept that guided the assembly of words. But we can also play with syntheses in order to acquire a concept, a process well known to researchers in pursuit of original theory.

Comprehension is grasping together: conceptually recognizing a complex phenomenon as something, and then viewing the simpler components of the complex whole as parts of the whole, each related to the others and to the whole in a way illuminated by the concept.

By the way, if all this smells a little Hegelian, that’s because I’m reading Walter Kaufmann’s book on Hegel. Some of my most extraordinary reading moments were mediated via Kaufmann’s translations. (I remember my friend Shaffer asking me how I knew it was Nietzsche I was responding to so powerfully and not some distorted Kaufmann image of Nietzsche. My answer was that it was my reaction that was primary, so I was fine being considered a fanatical enthusiast of Kaufmannietzsche, which was actually pretty damn pomo of my as-yet-prepomo self.) This, plus several strikingly gorgeous bits of original thought scattered through the preface I was reading, made me suddenly curious about who Walter Kaufmann. I realized I couldn’t even match this familiar voice to a face. And what do you know? The wikipedia article on him provided me yet more material supporting my Jewish conversion.

Leave a Reply