Publié le 02/12/2021

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JASPERS, KARL (1883–1969), philosopher; among the founders of existentialism.Born in Oldenburg in East Frisia, he studied law before taking a medicaldoctorate in 1909 at Heidelberg; he then worked at Heidelberg's psychiatrichospital as a research assistant. In 1913, after he published his masterful AllgemeinePsychopathologie (General psychopathology), he was appointed ausserordentlicherProfessor of psychology at Heidelberg. Just after World War Ihe wrote Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (Psychology of world views), awork heavily influenced by Wilhelm Dilthey and marking Jaspers's transitionfrom medicine through psychiatry and psychology to philosophy. By proposingthat scientific philosophy was illogical since no philosophical position could everbe universal, the book alienated Heidelberg's famous neo-Kantian, HeinrichRickert.*Over Rickert's protests, Jaspers became full professor at Heidelberg in 1922.Shunned by the so-called Rickertkreis (Rickert Circle), he found fulfillment bypolishing his ideas in lectures. After he attracted a wide student following, hisisolation ended in 1932 with publication of Philosophie, his magnum opus.Consisting of three volumes, the work helped institute Existenzphilosophie (existentialism)and established Jaspers as Heidelberg's premier logician. TheNSDAP soon barred him from administrative appointment, proscribed his teachingin 1937, and then prohibited him from publishing in 1938. Ignoring conditionsthat others found intolerable, he used his isolation to prepare the firstone-thousand-page volume of a projected three-volume exploration entitledLogik.Jaspers was prolific, if often unclear and repetitious. His ideas focused largelyon individual reasoning and action, appealing to human endeavors reflective ofan authentic self-identity. He believed that philosophy, rather than exalting anidealistic absolute, should support the individual in a unique and often-enigmaticquest. Like Kierkegaard, he distrusted the conformism associated with churchand state, while, like Nietzsche, he defied those philosophers who served onlyas apologists for the status quo. Suspicious of society's overconfidence in science,he stressed man's irrationality as an antidote to too much positivism. Glorifyingneither professionalism nor the latest fad, Jaspers extolled that whichwas great. ‘‘A single page from Plato or any great philosopher,'' he once arguedin a lecture, ‘‘is worth more than all the writings of Kuno Fischer''—Fischerbeing one of the great historians of philosophy in the nineteenth century.

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