Gambling with Kant: Faustian Wagers


Instead of a contract (as in traditional versions of the legend), Goethe’s Faust makes a bet with the devil. This is only one of several aspects of the play that point to the central role in it of gambling. Goethe is responding to the epistemological crisis his generation faced after publication of Kant’s first critique. Goethe uses gambling as a means to structure his own intervention in debates of the time about the possibility—or impossibility—of having certain knowledge of the world outside our minds. From God’s wager with Mephistopheles in the Prologue, to the introduction of paper currency in Part II, the drama is structured around the consequences of having to make judgments in a world from which the god of certainty has fled.