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Karl Jaspers — began his academic career working as a psychiatrist and, after a period of transition, he converted to philosophy in the early s. Throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century he exercised considerable influence on a number of areas of philosophical inquiry: especially on epistemology, the philosophy of religion, and political theory.
Usually this evaluation is based on his reliance on the subjective-experiential transformation of Kantian philosophy, which reconstructs Kantian transcendentalism as a doctrine of particular experience and spontaneous freedom, and emphasizes the constitutive importance of lived existence for authentic knowledge. However, current commentators of his philosophy have started questioning this view.
Jaspers obtained his widest influence, not through his philosophy, but through his writings on governmental conditions in Germany, and after the collapse of National Socialist regime he emerged as a powerful spokesperson for moral-democratic education and reorientation in the Federal Republic of Germany. Despite his importance in the evolution of both philosophy and political theory in twentieth-century Germany, today Jaspers is to a large extent a neglected thinker.
The explanations that are given for this are various. In the first place, it is argued that he did not found a particular philosophical school. For him, philosophy is a way of thought, which uses expert knowledge while going beyond it. He believed that by means of devoting oneself to philosophy, individuals do not cognize objects but explicate and actualize their being as thinkers and thus become themselves. Consequently, he did not attract a cohort of apostles, and, outside Germany at least, his works are not often the subject of high philosophical discussion.
Adorno, wrote disparagingly about Jaspers, and they were often unwilling to take his work entirely seriously. To be sure, he was extremely fortunate with his many translators, the most prominent of whom are Ralph Manheim and E.
But the translations often use misleading expression, choose different words to express the very same word in the original German, and thus confuse the readers. Also, unindicated omissions and other problems that result from favouring aesthetic considerations over accuracy all contribute to falsifying the original.
It has been argued that Jaspers could not appeal to the English-speaking philosophical mind due to being too speculative and metaphysical or simply beyond the reach of the Anglo-American cultural horizons. Karl Theodor Jaspers was born on 23 rd February in the North German town of Oldenburg near the North Sea, where his ancestors had lived for generations. He was the son of a banker and a representative of the parliament Landtagesabgeordneten , Carl Wilhelm Jaspers — and Henriette Tantzen — , who also came from a family that was involved in local parliament.
Moreover, although he claimed not to have been influenced by any specifically ecclesiastical faith, his thought was also formed by the spirit of North German Protestantism, and his philosophical outlook can in many respects be placed in the religiously inflected tradition of Kant and Kierkegaard. Jaspers was a pupil at the Altes Gymnasium in Oldenburg. Since his early childhood, Jaspers suffered from chronic bronchiectasis that impaired his physical capabilities and awareness of his physical disabilities shaped his routine throughout his adult life and formed his sensitivity to psychological issues, including human suffering.
Jaspers attributed his ability to conduct a normative routine and to devote his life to his creative work to his strict discipline regarding his health. In he married Gertrud Mayer — , who came from a pious German-Jewish merchant family.
At the time, she was working as an assistant in the sanatorium of the neurologist and psychiatrist Oskar Kohnstamms — and was the sister of his close friends Gustav Mayer and the philosopher Ernest Mayer. Only thanks to her marriage to the already known philosopher Karl Jaspers was Gertrud Mayer able to stay in Germany during the Nazi period. Jaspers received an extremely diverse and broad-ranging education.
He initially enrolled as a student of law at the University of Heidelberg for three semesters. Despite his already vivid interest in philosophy, his decision for medicine was based on his belief that it best illuminated life itself and the challenges of human existence.
Jaspers then became a student of medicine at Heidelberg from — He graduated M. He was a research assistant in the psychiatric clinic of the university of Heidelberg from —, where he worked with some of the most famous psychiatrists in Germany, including Nissl, Wilmanned, Gruhle, and Mayer-Gross. Due to his illness with bronchiectasis, he was incapable of carrying out heavy duties in the clinic.
The director of the psychiatric clinic of the university of Heidelberg, Franz Nissl, permitted him to spend the majority of his time at the library rather than in the clinic and the laboratory. Indeed, his extraordinary skills of critical thinking and abstract observation on human situations were evident already then. From onward, Jaspers read philosophy systematically. In he published his Allgemeine Psychopathologie General Psychopathology which already made apparent the viewpoints and methods that belong to the world of the humanities and social studies that were regarded by him as converging into psychopathology.
In the same year, he obtained his second doctorate Habilitation in psychology from the Philosophy Faculty at the University of Heidelberg, supervised by Wilhelm Windelband. He was a lecturer and later an Associate Professor of Psychology Privatdozent from to During this period, in , he published his Psychologie der Weltanschauungen Psychology of World Views.
This work is considered as a transitional work, in which his psychological method was clearly shaped by philosophical influences and objectives, and was already evolving into a consistent philosophical doctrine and acquiring some of the main issues that were to be explored later within his philosophy of existence.
Then, in , he took over the full professorial chair of philosophy in the University of Heidelberg after Heinrich Maier , a position from which he was dismissed in by the Nazis. To a large extent, the two first major publications were works of psychology that contain many elements, albeit in inchoate form, of his later philosophy. His intellectual formation was marked in a number of ways by this intellectual milieu. This period witnessed the dethroning of neo-Kantianism as the philosophical orthodoxy in the German academic establishment, and it was marked by a proliferation of philosophical models which rejected Kantian formalism and sought to integrate experiential, historical and even sociological elements into philosophical discourse.
His early career as professor of philosophy was also deeply and adversely affected by neo-Kantian hostility to his work. Indeed, both neo-Kantians and phenomenological philosophers subjected his work to trenchant criticism in the early stages of his philosophical trajectory, and members of both these camps, especially Rickert and Edmund Husserl, accused him of importing anthropological and experiential questions into philosophy and thus of contaminating philosophical analysis with contents properly pertaining to other disciplines.
If Weber was the first decisive personal influence and Kant was the first decisive philosophical influence on Jaspers, in the early s he encountered a further figure who assumed a decisive role in his formation: that is, Martin Heidegger. Throughout their theoretical trajectories, the differences between Heidegger and Jaspers were in many ways greater than the similarities.
In , Jaspers himself was briefly tempted into making certain incautiously optimistic statements about the Hitler regime. Indeed, these were remarks were not entirely out of keeping with his other publications of the early s.
In the last years of the Weimar Republic he published a controversial political work, Die geistige Situation der Zeit The Spiritual Condition of the Age , , which—to his later acute embarrassment—contained a carefully worded critique of parliamentary democracy. Throughout this period, he also stressed the relevance of Weberian ideas of strong leadership for the preservation of political order in Germany.
The souring of his relations with Heidegger, however, seems to have hardened his mind into a strict and sustained opposition to National Socialism, and, unlike Heidegger, his works of the s avoided political themes and were largely concentrated on elaborating the interior or religious aspects of his philosophy.
In , he published his trilogy Philosophie , consisting of three separate volumes, each based on its own object of transcending: Weltorientierung Orientation of the World , Existenzerhellung Illumination of Existence and Metaphysik Metaphysics.
This book is generally considered as his magnum opus and he testified in retrospect that is was the closest work to his heart. Despite the at times envenomed relations between them, however, Heidegger and Jaspers are usually associated with each other as the two founding fathers of existential philosophy in Germany.
This interpretation of their philosophical status and relationship is at least questionable. Heidegger resented being described as an existentialist, and Jaspers, at least after , resented being identified with Heidegger. Nonetheless, there remains a residue of validity in the common association of Heidegger and Jaspers, and, although it requires qualification, this association is not in every respect misleading.
Existentialism was, and remains, a highly diffuse theoretical movement, and it cannot be expected that two philosophers connected with this movement should hold similar views in all respects. However, existentialism had certain unifying features, and many of these were common to both Jaspers and Heidegger.
If this definition of existentialism is accepted, then the suggestion of a family connection between Jaspers and Heidegger cannot be entirely repudiated, for both contributed to the reorganization of philosophical questioning in the s in a manner which conforms to this definition.
During the Nazi period from onwards, Jaspers was excluded from any co-operation in the administration of the university until he was dismissed from his chair as a professor in and was subject to a publication ban Publikationsverbot. During the war, he and his wife were in no physical danger. Yet he felt himself a marked man until the end of World War II.
Jaspers once heard indirectly that there was a plan to deport him and his wife to a concentration camp in the middle of April Fortunately, the American troops arrived in Heidelberg two weeks earlier, on April 1 st However, after , his fortunes changed dramatically, and he figured prominently on the White List of the US-American occupying forces: that is, on the list of politicians and intellectuals who were deemed untarnished by any association with the NSDAP, and who were allowed to play a public role in the process of German political re-foundation.
From this time on Jaspers defined himself primarily as a popular philosopher and educator. In the first role, he contributed extensive edifying commentaries on questions of political orientation and civic morality—first, in the interim state of —, and then, after , in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany. In the second role, as one of the professors responsible for reopening the University of Heidelberg, to which he was appointed by the American Army of Occupation as a contemporary rector, he wrote at length on the necessity of university reforms, he emphasized the role of liberal humanistic education as a means of disseminating democratic ideas throughout Germany, and he took a firm line against the rehabilitation of professors with a history of Nazi affiliation.
In , The Idea of the University was published in an essentially different form from the book with the same title from The later work presents the university as a free community of scholars and students engaged in the task of seeking truth. As such, the university and the scholars that populate it can and should play a decisive role in rehabilitation of Europe based on the noblest ideas of the enlightenment.
At that time and still, Jaspers is one of few who can justly speak for value and the need for such a stance against the threats upon freedom and humanity. His contribution to the promotion of a democratic civic culture in West Germany at this time was of great importance, and his writings and radio broadcasts shaped, in part, the gradually evolving democratic consensus of the early Federal Republic.
In the s, he supported the main policies of the liberal-conservative governments led by Konrad Adenauer — , and he particularly endorsed the formation of the Western Alliance, which he saw as a means of protecting the cultural resources of Western European culture from their colonization by the Soviet Union. His views on German re-unification were also particularly influential; he opposed the dominant outlooks of the time by claiming that the demand for re-unification meant that German politics remained infected with the damaging traces of old geo-political ideas and ambitions, and it prevented the fundamental redirection of German political life.
Finally, then, in symbolic demonstration of disgust at the persistence of pernicious political attitudes in Germany he relinquished his German citizenship, and, having earlier moved across the border to University of Basel in , he became a Swiss national. In his last works, he placed himself closer to the political left, and he even argued that only a legal revolution could ensure that the German state was organized on the basis of a morally decisive constitution.
He died of a stroke in Basel, Switzerland on February 26 at the age of His wife, Gertrud Jaspers, who served as his amanuensis throughout his entire life as a scholar, died in Basel on May 25 at the age of As a young man, he authored a number of scientific articles on homesickness and crime, on intelligence tests, on hallucinations — all illustrated with detailed case histories.
Also, Jaspers published reports of the mental pathology of Van Gogh and Stirnberg. The aims of this book were to provide the framework of the scientific field of psychopathology and its related facts and approaches, not only for practitioners in this filed but also for interested intellectuals. This framework covers the problems and methods that capture the body of knowledge of the field rather than empirical evidence or a system based on a theory.
Instead of deciding between the different existing approaches of his time, he stressed their peculiarity that entails the inherent justifications and the way they might complement each other and together portray the many sides of the psychopathological science. Just two years later, Jaspers moved away forever from psychiatric practice and medicine in general, first towards psychology and then philosophy.
Interestingly, though, Jaspers saw fit to revise and expand the text in a few of its several editions. The first edition is the shortest. In the second and third editions, there were minor changes.
The most considerably revised and expanded edition is the fourth, which appeared in To a large extent, the integration of many ideas from his then already mature existential philosophy from the thirties onwards, which more than doubled the scope of the text, in fact amount to a new version of the book. Now, the subtitle that appeared in the earlier versions was removed and in the preface Jaspers indicates its high aim of satisfying the demand for knowledge, not only for physicians but for all who make mankind their theme.
In this enlarged version of the book, the imprint of Husserl's descriptive psychology is apparent in the attempt to address the inner mental experiences of mentally ill people mainly schizophrenic patients and regard them as indicative of the general phenomena of human consciousness, i. Notwithstanding this, Jaspers opposed the attempts to address existentialist ideas for the sake of understanding mental illness. For him it is not possible that a human being as a whole falls ill or alternatively that illness of any kind can cover one's entire being, rather there are always parts that remain uninfected with illness or healthy.
It is worth noting that the appearance of the fourth edition of General Psychopathology was enabled despite the publication ban to which Jaspers was subject since for his outspoken and uncompromising resistance to the Nazis regime and his persistent loyalty to his Jewish wife. Probably the same title from and the scientific character, which covered the fact of incorporation of the of considerable sections which where imprinted with his philosophical thinking, were helpful in this regard.
Karl Jaspers — began his academic career working as a psychiatrist and, after a period of transition, he converted to philosophy in the early s. Throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century he exercised considerable influence on a number of areas of philosophical inquiry: especially on epistemology, the philosophy of religion, and political theory. Usually this evaluation is based on his reliance on the subjective-experiential transformation of Kantian philosophy, which reconstructs Kantian transcendentalism as a doctrine of particular experience and spontaneous freedom, and emphasizes the constitutive importance of lived existence for authentic knowledge. However, current commentators of his philosophy have started questioning this view. Jaspers obtained his widest influence, not through his philosophy, but through his writings on governmental conditions in Germany, and after the collapse of National Socialist regime he emerged as a powerful spokesperson for moral-democratic education and reorientation in the Federal Republic of Germany.
After being trained in and practicing psychiatry, Jaspers turned to philosophical inquiry and attempted to discover an innovative philosophical system. He was often viewed as a major exponent of existentialism in Germany, though he did not accept the label. Jaspers was born in Oldenburg in to a mother from a local farming community, and a jurist father. He showed an early interest in philosophy, but his father's experience with the legal system undoubtedly influenced his decision to study law at University of Heidelberg. It soon became clear that Jaspers did not particularly enjoy law, and he switched to studying medicine in with a thesis about criminology. Jaspers earned his medical doctorate from University of Heidelberg medical school in and began work at a psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg under Franz Nissl , successor of Emil Kraepelin and Karl Bonhoeffer , and Karl Wilmans.
Wednesday, May 2, Karl Jaspers gave five lectures at the University of Groningen in They are collected in the book "Reason and Existenz". The first two lectures are included in Walter Kaufman's collection "Existentialism," which are what I'd like to discuss today.