Jaspers, Karl

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Jaspers, Karl

Karl Jaspers (kärl yäs´pərs), 1883–1969, German philosopher and psychopathologist, b. Oldenburg. After receiving his medical degree (1909) he became (1914) lecturer in psychology and in 1922 professor of philosophy at the Univ. of Heidelberg. One of the leading figures in contemporary philosophy, he is generally placed within the orbit of existentialism. Jaspers, however, rejected this classification, as it tends to place him within a school. Nevertheless his basic philosophic concern was with the concrete individual, and he believed that genuine philosophy must spring from one's individual existence and address itself to other individuals to help them gain a true understanding of their existence. The basic concept of his philosophy is the "encompassing," an essentially religious concept, intended to suggest the all-embracing transcendent reality within which human existence is enclosed. Although this idea is not in the realm of scientific thought, it is not an irrational concept, since Jaspers believed that the study of science is a necessary preparatory stage to grasping the "encompassing." Thus, while maintaining the value of science, Jaspers was profoundly aware of its limitations and believed that abstract sociological and psychological theories cause the individual to lose sight of his freedom and concrete situation. His works include Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (1919), Die geistige Situation der Zeit (1931; tr. Man in the Modern Age, 1933), Reason and Existenz (1935, tr. 1956), Existenzphilosophie (1938), The Question of German Guilt (tr. 1947), and Philosophie und Welt (1958).

See C. F. Wallraff, Karl Jaspers: An Introduction to His Philosophy (1970); O. O. Schrag, Existence, Existenz, and Transcendence: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Karl Jaspers (1971); L. H. Ehrlich, Karl Jaspers: Philosophy as Faith (1975); E. Young-Bruehl, Freedom and Karl Jaspers' Philosophy (1981); L. Kohler and H. Saner, ed., Hannah Arendt—Karl Jaspers: Correspondence, 1926–1969 (tr. by Robert and Rita Kimber, 1992).

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