Karl Jaspers and the language of transcendence

GettyImages-56458559webGuy Bennett-Hunter at the TLS:

Jaspers lived an extraordinary life, of which his experiences in the Third Reich were formative. He was born in 1883, with an incurable disease that was expected to kill him by the age of thirty – the same age at which he published his monumental psychiatric textbook, General Psychopathology. Remarkably, Jaspers lived until the age of eighty-six, which allowed him to pursue a second, philosophical career.

As a couple in what the Nazis called a “mixed marriage”, Karl and Gertrud became uncomfortably familiar with anti-Semitism. They bravely decided to remain together in Germany, surviving by restricting their lives and social circle. Although dismissed from his professorship at Heidelberg and banned by the Nazis from teaching and publishing his philosophy, Jaspers kept writing. As he would later reflect, “Germany under the Nazi regime was a prison”, but “the hidden life of thought” remained.

Philosophically, Jaspers can be viewed as the first of the great German existentialists, but his approach was more scholarly, responsible and historically informed than many of his colleagues’. Like all existential phenomenologists (students of the structures of lived experience), he was deeply influenced by the Kantian distinction between the world as it is in itself and the world as it appears to us.

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