Jaspers, Karl

(1883-1969)
   philosopher; among the founders of existen-tialism. Born in Oldenburg in East Frisia, he studied law before taking a medical doctorate in 1909 at Heidelberg; he then worked at Heidelberg's psychiatric hospital as a research assistant. In 1913, after he published his masterful All-gemeine Psychopathologie (General psychopathology), he was appointed aus-serordentlicher Professor of psychology at Heidelberg. Just after World War I he wrote Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (Psychology of world views), a work heavily influenced by Wilhelm Dilthey and marking Jaspers's transition from medicine through psychiatry and psychology to philosophy. By proposing that scientific philosophy was illogical since no philosophical position could ever be universal, the book alienated Heidelberg's famous neo-Kantian, Heinrich Rickert.*
   Over Rickert's protests, Jaspers became full professor at Heidelberg in 1922. Shunned by the so-called Rickertkreis (Rickert Circle), he found fulfillment by polishing his ideas in lectures. After he attracted a wide student following, his isolation ended in 1932 with publication of Philosophie, his magnum opus. Consisting of three volumes, the work helped institute Existenzphilosophie (ex-istentialism) and established Jaspers as Heidelberg's premier logician. The NSDAP soon barred him from administrative appointment, proscribed his teach-ing in 1937, and then prohibited him from publishing in 1938. Ignoring con-ditions that others found intolerable, he used his isolation to prepare the first one-thousand-page volume of a projected three-volume exploration entitled Logik.
   Jaspers was prolific, if often unclear and repetitious. His ideas focused largely on individual reasoning and action, appealing to human endeavors reflective of an authentic self-identity. He believed that philosophy, rather than exalting an idealistic absolute, should support the individual in a unique and often-enigmatic quest. Like Kierkegaard, he distrusted the conformism associated with church and state, while, like Nietzsche, he defied those philosophers who served only as apologists for the status quo. Suspicious of society's overconfidence in sci-ence, he stressed man's irrationality as an antidote to too much positivism. Glo-rifying neither professionalism nor the latest fad, Jaspers extolled that which was great. "A single page from Plato or any great philosopher," he once argued in a lecture, "is worth more than all the writings of Kuno Fischer"—Fischer being one of the great historians of philosophy in the nineteenth century.
   REFERENCES:NDB, vol. 10; Wallraff, Karl Jaspers.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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