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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy

Philosophische Notizbücher
Band 2: Zeiteinteilung (Maximen) I und II

Philosophical Notebooks
Volume 2: Time Management (Maxims) I and II

Kurt Gödel

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To purchase Philosophical Notebooks: Volume 2

Title: Philosophische Notizbücher (2)/Philosophical Notebooks (2)
Author: Kurt Gödel
Genre: Notebooks
Written: 1937-40/43 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 528 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Philosophical Notebooks: Volume 2 - US
Philosophical Notebooks: Volume 2 - UK
Philosophical Notebooks: Volume 2 - Canada
Philosophische Notizbücher: Band 2 - Deutschland
directly from: De Gruyter
  • German title: Philosophische Notizbücher - Band 2: Zeiteinteilung (Maximen) I und II
  • English title: Philosophical Notebooks - Volume 2: Time Management (Maxims) I and II
  • Edited and with an Introduction by Eva-Maria Engelen
  • Translated by Merlin Carl
  • Introduction translated by John Crutchfield
  • This is a bilingual edition

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Our Assessment:

(--) : fascinating glimpse into man and mind

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 16/6/2021 Ulf von Rauchhaupt

  From the Reviews:
  • "Anders als im ersten Band werden hier allerdings Gedanken öffentlich, die sicher nicht als mögliche Vorbereitung philosophischer Publikationen niedergeschrieben wurden. Vielmehr sind es sehr private, oft geradezu intime Bemerkungen, in denen Gödel seinen Alltag in den Blick nimmt. (…) Engelen ordnet das Material der Individualethik zu, macht in ihrem einleitenden Essay aber deutlich, dass es Gödel hier um das eigene Leben und Handeln geht, um ein Bemühen zu „Selbstvervollkommnung,“ mit dem er in einer langen, aus der Antike stammenden Tradition steht. Ein Hauptmotiv bilden dabei die titelgebende Zeiteinteilung und die Maximen, also Richtlinien, die Gödel sich selbst vorgibt" - Ulf von Rauchhaupt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Philosophische Notizbücher: Band 2 / Philosophical Notebooks: Volume 2 (hereafter: PN II) is the second published volume of Kurt Gödel's Maximen Philosophie-notebooks, collecting two more of the fifteen preserved notebooks, as part of the landmark scholarly edition edited by Eva-Maria Engelen. As with the first volume [PN I], the presentation of the material -- around the transcription of the German original as well as the English translation -- is exemplary; see my review of that volume for a discussion of the editorial apparatus and other aspects of how the material is presented, which is consistent across the series.

       In her Introduction to PN II Engelen notes that it is here that: "we find the core of Gödel's individual ethics", noting in particular the influence of Heinrich Gomperz and suggesting, for example, that Seneca is a useful point of comparison, as Gödel here essentially drafts: "a modern version of Seneca's directives for self-empowerment through the correct management of time".
       The notebooks do not offer a diary-like or other strict progression, with a neatly ordered succession of thoughts and observations (though Gödel does discern an improvement in the quality of the maxims that he proposes as he goes on). But, while they are very much notebooks, they are more than just jottings. The focus does remain largely (if not solely) on the issue of 'time management' and there is some organization to the material; it is in its variations of repeatedly addressing similar questions that the notebooks are most revealing.
       Gödel sets out his objectives for these two notebooks on the opening page, where he writes:

What and how ?
Content: Time Management
o.) for each day separately
a.) for each week precisely
b.) roughly for several months
c.) for next year by the highest objectives to be reached (correctly contains the general directive for dealing with mail)
d.) "What should I do and how should I do it ? That is, how should I behave with regard to certain matters and situations ?" (Maxims)
       (The underscoring is Gödel's; in the German original several of the words and phrases are doubly-underscored.)
       As in PN I, Gödel proposes a variety of 'programs' here -- especially reading that he would like to do (or thinks it is incumbent on him to do) -- and begins here with a long list of activities that he wants to (or thinks he should) dedicate himself to, beginning with the professional ("Write my own publications. Productivity as a practical necessity"), through various areas of study (mathematics, foremost, but also philosophy, languages, and theology -- as well as, amusingly: "general education (what I forgot from middle school or should have learned but did not"). This is followed by a section on various 'Practical matters (necessities)', such as dealing with the mail or his budget -- as well as ... 'Time Management' (as organizing his time and scheduling activities turns out to be a time-consuming activity as well: at a much later point he finds it necessary to be: "Always reserving time (one hour or at least half an hour per day) for time management" -- something he there maintains is: "Not a general maxim" but rather only necessary for "the coming days", but one gets the sense that he found this making-time-for-time-management necessary more often than not generally). Beyond that, he then considers: 'Pleasures beside cognition' ('Genüsse außer Erkenntnis'), such as taking the time to enjoy nature, art, women, even narcotics. ('Dealing with people' is listed under practical matters; reading 'Literature (belles lettres) (fiction)' is, interestingly under the first category (as opposed to the enjoyment of art ('music, poetry, theater, narrative poems, paintings, architecture, sculpture, etc.'), which he considers 'Pleasure besides cognition) -- though Gödel's unsureness about the field has him add the question: "Which books should I buy ?")
       This first long list already mentions most of the areas that preöccupy him throughout -- including those that one might think would be reasonably straightforward to deal with, such as the mail (a reminder that letter-writing, especially in academic circles, was a much bigger deal in that time than we are used to in our much more immediately connected internet and e-mail age). But Gödel is obsessed with managing his time in the best possible way, every bit of it -- realizing also that downtime can be equally useful in ultimately being 'productive' and the like. A detailed classification of what he does at home and what outside the home still leaves him wondering whether the personal should be limited to certain after-work hours ("always be dealt with only after 6h ?") -- and if maybe he should/can: "Telephone at the same time as mail".
       Gödel believes that:
One of the main reasons for wasting time and not being able to get many things done is that I want to do things too accurately.
       Hence the need for 'time management'. He therefore proposes the 'maxims' collected here -- 221 in these two notebooks -- to simplify matters:
Remark: It is the benefit of a maxim that it makes a great number of individual decisions superfluous. Individual decisions are logical questions (derivations from the maxims) for a person who has chosen sufficiently many maxims.
       He repeatedly presses himself to rely on them -- suggesting in one Addendum (there are fifteen addenda, loose pages inserted into the notebooks):
Maxims into the wallet, look up frequently, read Max Notebooks more often and think about time management.
       (It's not clear whether or not he actually kept a list of favorite maxims in his wallet, but he mentions the idea more than once.)
       Elsewhere, he admonishes himself: "Write down the most important maxims ! Arrange systematically." (In the German, he writes: 'Wichtigste Maximen herausschreiben' -- suggesting copying out the maxims (which are, after all, already written down, in these notebooks.) And in an Addendum he pushes himself to: "Sort maxims (alphabetically and by content)" -- judging also, in a marginal note, that: "Maxims always improve (rapidly) towards the end of the notebook".
       Gödel values systematic planning and organization -- so one maxim is that:
Hence, whenever I read, hear, see, or think of something that is at all important, ask for which activity it is relevant and enter it into the corresponding notebook.
       The imperative of an awareness of what he is spending his time doing leads to the maxim:
Consider as often as possible during the day: "What should I do, and what am I doing, and why am I doing this ?". Maybe take notes on this with time specification.
       There are even points in the notebooks when he tallies up how he has spent his time, including a 28-day period in the summer of 1937 dominated by his looking for a place to live ("12 days occupied with apartment-hunting", he notes, leaving him much less time for his actual work). One can sense his frustration in that case, but he draws lessons even out of this, concluding with the remark:
Temporary interruption is fruitful for every activity, including apartment-hunting.
       Indeed, he frequently notes the necessity of taking a break from work and study, striving for a balance in life. Clearly, he doesn't find it easy: he makes a list considering: "Which activities are permissible as forms of 'recovery' ?" (the German 'Erholung' -- while literally 'recovery' -- also suggests recreational-activity) -- and also which are, emphatically, "Not permissible". Sleep (albeit with a question mark), the reverie of "reflecting on one's own life, past (single events)", reading fiction, and doing: "very easy mathematical problems (middle school, brain twister, waiting games)" seem to him permissible; answering letters, reading the Bible, and: "reflection on the organization of my future of my life" were not ..... ['Waiting games' is a semi-literal but not good translation for 'Geduldspiele'; 'puzzles' would already be more appropriate.]
       A full-fledged maxim then further supports the imperative of recreational activity ('Zeit der Erholung' -- here: 'time for recovery') and a work/life balance:
The time for recovery is to be adhered to, no matter what the success of the working time (even when something that should have been finished at a certain time is not finished). It is only required that the time management be adhered to.
     [After work, one is entitled to relax.]
       So also, he repeatedly takes note of the physical -- eating, sleeping ("Good sleep is the most important thing in life"), even sex ("Be there at night 1-2 times per week and force yourself to engage in the desired coitus"). (That sex wasn't entirely a hardship, albeit put in perspective along with a good shave, at least comes across from one (rare, dated) remark: "10./V.1938 in the morning pleasant feeling (after coitus (passive)), good razor blade") Beyond that, there's the suggestion -- again, a 'remark', rather than an actual 'maxim' -- that: "One should protect physical health on a daily basis by imagining an illness" -- something he infamously might have wound up taking way too seriously.
       Gödel shows self-awareness of how he thinks and works (down to the: "microstructure of my mental state", as he puts it at one point) and the difficulties he has because of it, notably his tendency towards distraction, noting for example:
My unrest is due to the fact that I am not determined to do something specific, but still dither between different possibilities while I act.
       He tries to guide himself with reminders such as: "When a new idea concerning an entirely different topic appears during work, do not immediately follow it, but make a note of it", yet another of the many little rules and suggestions he sets for himself in his management (time and otherwise) of his work (and, indeed, life).
       At times, one suspects he is too extreme in how he sees his work(ing method), but presumably he found it helpful to claim so starkly, as he does in one maxim, that, for example:
It is very important to finally get rid of my habit of always taking the wrong way first on purpose.
       Gödel seems to be a firm believer that one should: "not force anything. Desire is a rational criterion" ('Das Lusthaben ist ein Kriterium der Vernünftigkeit'). He is also cautious about ambition, noting also that effort should not lead to expectations of success; it's fine -- even necessary -- to accept one's limitations -- a reminder he perhaps needed, given his repeated ambitious 'programs' of what he hopes to learn and understand (including a long list of 'Goals to understand', which extends to a bibliography of works to read -- which concludes, logically enough, with Vilhelm Grundtvig's Bibliographie der Bibliographie ('Bibliography of Bibliography')). He seems to be trying to push himself to remember: "You should direct your further education toward areas in which you are most interested and that suit your talents best" -- even as his ambitious programs and reading lists are a reminder of how broad his interests were, extending beyond philosophy and mathematics also to psychology, languages, theology and beyond.
       An interesting thought-experiment he presents is: "How would I manage my time if I were suddenly to win 1 million schillings ?" Significantly, he imagines: "I would do everything more calmly (take my time)"; he also sees himself spending more time enjoying 'entertainment' (including -- though with a question mark -- "Maybe women ?"). Interestingly, he sees himself devoting much less time to his: "own papers and preparing lectures".
       Gödel also notes a variety of simpler practical advice, such as: "Always have several rubbers and pencils ready to hand" [again, maybe not an ideal translation for 'Gummis'; 'eraser' might be better here ... ?], or maxims such as:
Whenever one writes something, one should, if possible, leave some space between the lines so that one can add something.
       And interesting to see that he suggests it is: "Better to read many books roughly than few books carefully".
       Given the period when these notebooks were kept -- the summer of 1937 to the summer of 1940 (with some later loose-leaf addenda) -- Gödel evinces here (surprisingly ?) little concern about the general circumstances around him, especially the political situation, despite also his traveling to the United States twice during this span (the second time to settle there). The question whether or not to wear a swastika does come up -- but only in a train of thought that includes other decisions he faces surrounding his coming emigration to the United States (including whether or not he should still go to vote). (He does get a maxim out of it: "In objectively indifferent cases (which should be decided by lot), compromise is best (small swastikas).") In a revealing bit from a 1941 addendum he does consider instances: "When did I have a bad conscience, and why did I fail to do the right thing in this case" -- with the examples he lists ranging from masturbation, "reading forbidden books", and putting on a swastika to "choice of doctors when Adele was ill, marrying Adele".
       The programs -- of what, and what works, he wanted to study, an exercise already very familiar from PN I -- are again fascinating. Reading remains a focus for him throughout -- his interest, at least in the first instance, being decidedly to read as widely and much as possibly, and only then more deeply. The focus is on philosophy (but also, for example, the Bible), but Addendum IX is a list of: 'What did I read ?' -- twenty-three works of literature and popular fiction that ranges, much like Wittgenstein's casual reading, from Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain to works by Edgar Wallace (and also: one unidentified: "Bittersweet love story" -- oh, to know what that might have been ...).
       This formulating and cataloguing of maxims seems to work for Gödel, as he observes at one point:
Reading my previous notes (in particular maxims) is apparently one of the most fruitful occupations.
       PN II proves very revealing, both about the man and the workings of his mind, and it is quite fascinating to see how he tries to shape a methodology to his work- and living habits. There's a rigidity to all his detailed planning, and his hopes of adhering to his carefully scheduled time management -- and yet also a great looseness (which the form here -- notes, rather than a more systematic organization -- accentuates). Gödel's maxims may guide him, but seem to provide mostly a rough guide (and often more wishful than realizable thinking).
       It makes for a fascinating -- and surprisingly readable -- volume -- obviously of most interest to those who want to learn more about Gödel but also appealing more generally. While the remaining notebooks have yet to be published, it seems fairly safe to say that this is the one that likely should have the broadest appeal; this volume may not supplant those of Seneca and the like, but it's a fascinating work-in-progress of self-actualization that even a general reader can appreciate.

       Note that although the quotes provided here are from the English version, this review is based on the German original; I do note that the translation is not always as clear in meaning as one might wish (and would strongly recommend at least consulting the German original even if relying on the translation). Given the extensive footnoting -- there are 1029 notes in the English version -- additional footnotes at least noting some of the linguistic ambiguities in translation would have been helpful.

- M.A.Orthofer, 15 January 2021

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Philosophische Notizbücher: Band 2 / Philosophical Notebooks: Volume 2: Kurt Gödel: Other books by Kurt Gödel under review: Books about Kurt Gödel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel lived 1906 to 1978.

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