ABSTRACT. The paper sketches the context in which Einstein and Freud’s joint publication Why War? appeared under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1933. Instead of the authors’ holding a lack of rationality and the human proclivity for aggression responsible, the paper emphasizes the increasingly precarious relation between the observable historical situation of the late Weimar Republic (its Wahrnehmungswelt) and its imagined counterpart (Vorstellungswelt). A summary analysis of Einstein’s and Freud’s arguments is followed by an overview of the broadly accepted historical situation of the Weimar Republic from 1929 to 1933. By contrast, the Weimar Republic is then viewed in terms of the dominant sentiments of the day, against which Einstein’s and Freud’s explanatory strategy looks unsatisfactory. Foregrounding the human capacity of imaginability, the Conclusion replaces their emphasis on reason and instinct by the claim that under certain circumstances the Wahrnehmungswelt itself becomes irrelevant, instead becoming subservient to the imagined world. When the discrepancy between an actual historical situation and the imagined community becomes unbridgeable, anything, including the option of war, becomes preferable to the status quo.

Keywords: reason; thanatos; Weimar Republic; Wahrnehmungswelt; Vorstellungswelt; imaginability

How to cite: Ruthrof, Horst (2020). “Einstein and Freud on Why War?,” Review of Contemporary Philosophy 19: 7–25. doi:10.22381/RCP1920201

Received 8 April 2019 • Received in revised form 11 July 2019
Accepted 15 July 2019 • Available online 1 August 2019

Horst Ruthrof
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Murdoch University, Perth, Australia

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