Karl Jaspers

Karl Jaspers Picture

Karl Jaspers was a German intellectual, who began his career from psychiatry, which he later changed into psychology, before finally succumbing to philosophy and theology, in the beginning of the 1920s.

For him, the path which led to philosophy passed through the logical realm of science; his works cannot be fully understood without first recognizing him as a renowned psychiatrist and psychologist.

Jaspers’ philosophy dealt with the concepts of existentialism, a theory according to which all philosophical ideas begin by a human individual, his actions, feelings and attitudes. Jaspers’ ideas of existentialism were heavily influenced by those of Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard. Jaspers’ works also hint of influence from both Kant and Weber, the latter being a close family friend of Jaspers’. He applied his psychiatric approach to Nietzsche’s philosophical notions, and presented his theories as direct expressions of his outlook on life, rather than fixed postulates.

The philosophy of Karl Jaspers is based on the idea that a human is not merely existentially present, but he also desires to be more like himself. His three-volume Philosophy (1923) specifically contains these notions. He attempts to explain and explore the height of human experiences. He created the German term “Umgreifende” which literally translates to ‘the encompassing’; the term was meant to encapsulate the depth and limits of all possible human experiences, both subjective and objective. These would include all those experiences which can never be logically interpreted but are felt by man at a deeper, instinctive level.

Initiating his intellectual journey from science and the observation-based empiricism, Jaspers reaches at another concept of philosophy in his book Existenzphilosophie (1938). He debated with the empiricists of his time and said that whenever a person questions his perceived reality, he/she comes across boundaries which are above our empirical senses and logic. This makes way for the person to choose between despair, depression and a feeling of giving up, or he could make a go at a profound belief which he called ‘Existen’ which contains in itself a myriad of possibilities and limitless freedom, which forms an integral part of the personality of any individual who faces limiting situations like death, chance, guilt et cetera.

In the domain of theology, Jaspers strictly opposed religious doctrines and the concept of a personal God. His notions of limited experiences created an impact on modern theology. His religious interests varied. He was largely influenced by the  religious teachings of Buddha, from which he gave his theory of Axial Age.

In his political views, an ideal government would be the one which guarantees maximum personal freedom while holding a strong authority where necessary, run by a few intellectuals of choice. Jaspers considered humanism as the best way forward in politics, and advised time and again about the cons of technocracy, an establishment which considers humans as puppets in the hands of the government, who takes wrong advantage of their capabilities.

Karl Japsers taught at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he simultaneously worked on his philosophical ideas. He maintained his status as a prominent thinker and philosopher in the German intellectual circles, until he passed away in 1969.

Today, Jasper remains largely neglected worldwide, considering the amount of his effort for the evolution of both political philosophy and epistemology. The philosophical circles of Germany attempted at labeling him as an advocate of Existentialism, which he refused to acknowledge.

Buy books by Karl Jaspers


Write about Karl Jaspers