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Karl Jaspers (1883–1969)

Author of Way to Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy

180+ Works 3,941 Members 41 Reviews 7 Favorited

About the Author

Karl Jaspers was one of the originators of German existentialism. He began his career as a psychiatrist but was increasingly concerned about philosophical and moral issues. His was "a lucid and flexible intelligence in the service of a genuine and passionate concern for mankind." Removed from his show more professorship at the University of Heidelberg by the Nazis in 1937, he was reinstated in 1945 on the approval of the American occupation forces. In 1949 he went to the University of Basel. The New York Times wrote of him in his lifetime: "Jaspers shows himself . . . to be one of the most diligent and sensitive students of contemporary history. He has a good eye for the present because he knows what to fear in it---particularly the loss of individual freedom." Jaspers was deeply concerned about the human condition, and in his book The Future of Mankind (1957), entitled in its updated edition The Atom Bomb and the Future of Man (1961), he attempted to arouse conscience in the face of the deadly danger of atomic warfare "at the same time . . . attempt[ing] to apply the principles of his philosophy to a new field, and to lay the foundations of a political philosophy" (Times Literary Supplement). After the German publication of this book, Jaspers was awarded the German Peace Prize at the 1958 Frankfurt Book Fair. Hannah Arendt, who had been his student and a translator of some of his works, made the presentation. Jaspers's multivolume work, The Great Philosophers---edited by Hannah Arendt, translated by Ralph Manheim, and published in English from 1962 to 1966---was hailed by the Library Journal as "a major work, a brilliant book . . . Jaspers defends the unity of philosophy and his aim is to make philosophy available to all, to provide the serous reader with a guide "to the thinking of the great philosophers and to a personal encounter with them." The obituary of Jaspers in the New York Times said in assessing him: "With Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Jaspers was one of the makers and shapers of existentialist philosophy. For almost 50 years, in books, essays and lectures, he strove to give a personalist answer to modern man's questions about his own nature and the nature of existence." (Bowker Author Biography) show less


Works by Karl Jaspers

Way to Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (1938) 489 copies, 6 reviews
Man in the Modern Age (1931) 202 copies, 2 reviews
Reason and Existenz; five lectures (1935) 179 copies, 2 reviews
The Origin and Goal of History (1949) 154 copies, 2 reviews
Kant (1962) 121 copies
The future of mankind (1958) 93 copies, 1 review
Nietzsche and Christianity (1952) 56 copies, 2 reviews
General Psychopathology (1946) 55 copies, 1 review
The great philosophers (1995) 47 copies
Genio e follia: Strindberg e Van Gogh (1970) 46 copies, 2 reviews
Philosophy - Volume 2 (1969) 34 copies
Anselm and Nicholas of Cusa (1974) 31 copies
Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time (1950) 29 copies, 1 review
Die grossen Philosophen (1957) 28 copies
The great philosophers (1964) 28 copies
Karl Jasper - Philosophy, Volume 3 (1971) 27 copies, 2 reviews
Truth and Symbol (1641) 27 copies, 1 review
Tragedy is Not Enough (1952) 27 copies
The Idea of the University (1946) 27 copies
Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (1922) 25 copies, 1 review
Philosophie (1777) 23 copies, 1 review
Briefwechsel 1920 - 1963. (1990) — Author — 23 copies
The future of Germany (1966) 22 copies
Chiffren der Transzendenz (1970) 21 copies
Von der Wahrheit (1983) 17 copies
Was ist Philosophie? Ein Lesebuch. (1976) 16 copies, 1 review
Karl Jaspers on Max Weber (1989) 12 copies
Autobiographie philosophique (1977) 11 copies, 1 review
Philosophy: Volume 1 (1922) 9 copies
Max Weber (1988) 6 copies
Nikolaus Cusanus (1968) 6 copies
Leonardo filosofo (1953) 6 copies
Vernunft und Freiheit (1960) 6 copies
Essais philosophiques (1970) 5 copies
Philosophische Aufsätze (1967) 5 copies
Denkwege. Ein Lesebuch (1983) 4 copies
Les grands philosophes 4 (1972) 4 copies
Felsefe Nedir? (2003) 3 copies
Filozofija 2 copies
Mezní situace (2016) 2 copies
Axial Age 1 copy
Duchovní situace doby (2008) 1 copy
Sucluluk Sorunu (2015) 1 copy
Jaspers 1 copy
Plótinos (2020) 1 copy
Bevezet a filozia (1987) 1 copy

Associated Works

Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre (1956) — Contributor — 2,111 copies, 19 reviews
The Captive Mind (1953) — Foreword, some editions — 1,267 copies, 15 reviews
The Philosophy of History in Our Time (1959) — Contributor — 220 copies, 1 review
Wijsgerige teksten over de wereld (1964) — Contributor — 2 copies


Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Jaspers, Karl
Legal name
Jaspers, Karl Theodor
Other names
JASPERS, Karl Theodor
Date of death
Burial location
Friedhof am Hörnli, Riehen, Basel-Stadt, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland
Germany (birth)
Switzerland (naturalized)
Oldenburg, German Empire
Place of death
Basel, Switzerland
Places of residence
Oldenburg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany
Basel, Switzerland
University of Heidelberg (MD|1908|hab. 1913)
Arendt, Hannah (student)
University of Basel
University of Heidelberg
Awards and honors
Goethepreis der Stadt Frankfurt (1947)
Erasmusprijs (1959)
Short biography
Karl Theodor Jaspers was a German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy. After being trained in and practicing psychiatry, Jaspers turned to philosophical inquiry and attempted to discover an innovative philosophical system. He was often viewed as a major exponent of existentialism in Germany, though he did not accept this label.



luvucenanzo06 | 1 other review | Sep 9, 2023 |
100 JAS 2
luvucenanzo06 | 5 other reviews | Sep 8, 2023 |
possibility of religion w/out myth
SrMaryLea | 2 other reviews | Aug 22, 2023 |
When the investigation muddies the subject.

The pressing question, "What is to be done with the Germans," is a rephrasing of that other notorious German Question. Note that in 1945 history has not yet settled out so smoothly. The German Solution is still on the table, and it is with a sense of this adrenaline-dread moment that Jaspers' work on Guilt should be understood. That is, if we are to come into an understanding of its primary function as an exculpatory project.

The four categories put forth by Jaspers are particularly muddled. In contrast with what appears to be the impression of many readers, they are not a very useful scaffold for the discussion of guilt. If we are more attentive, we find that in Jaspers' work there are, in fact, only two categories: the Guilty and the Not-Guilty, and Jaspers is interested in delimiting these categories as strongly as possible.

On the Guilty Category (Criminal Guilt)
If we acknowledge that the Reich's apparatus made such acts non-criminal and instead judge on the basis of, "natural law and international law, if not the positive law in force at the time in one’s own country," then we can easily condemn those who operated the killing fields and everyone up the chain. Though Jaspers appears to be begging the question with his assumption that criminal acts can be straightforwardly delimited and tried, such that he has already separated the guilty from the not-guilty before the discussion has begun. ("What about the auxiliary units without which the function of the death squads would not have been possible, and those who made denouncements with knowledge of what would happen, and those who appropriated property and still possess it..." "What about those Einsatzgruppen members and camp guards who only carried out orders due to compulsion on penalty of death and those officers who did the same, and those commanders who did the same...") (Within a year of the publication of this text, the Nuremburg trials will already have shown Jaspers' approach to be outdated.) The omission of so-called "marginal cases" would be striking if we did not understand that the objective is the delimitation of the Einsatzgruppen from the German. Jaspers is also aware his definition of "natural law" implicates the Allied bombing of Dresden and other acts of Total War, and we might notice that he subsequently pardons these acts with the implication that neither side is in the position to be inquiring after skeletons in closets.

On the Not-Guilty Categories
The remaining categories are for those who "have already been punished enough." Political guilt: for victims of circumstance. Moral guilt: a self-condemnation which is already its own punishment. Metaphysical guilt: the only necessary deutero-category: an explicitly exculpatory category which exists to explain the suspicions of guilt which persist despite, in Jaspers' opinion, not being guilty in the strict sense. That the Holocaust requires an unprecedented framework for the judgment of those, such as Eichmann, who could not even do violence to another body, yet arranged the deaths of millions, remains an open question. In a sense, the text appears to be an artifact of pre-war ideology. Hannah Arendt would remark, in her comments on the Eichmann trial, the paradoxical fact that as responsibility for mass-killings increased, one became by degrees more abstracted from the violence of the killing fields.

(I will remark here, in passing, the framework for a slightly more robust scheme for the discussion of guilt based on Jaspers' priors. It seems he would like to categorize guilt according to two dipoles: first, that of 'accomplished' actions which have occurred versus 'speculative' actions which have not occurred but could have, and, second, that of 'definite' processes which are the (almost) certain consequences of actions versus 'aleatory' processes which are not guaranteed consequences. If we imagine a 2x2 grid, Jaspers would consider guilty all 'accomplished' and 'definite' actions, such as executing someone with a firearm and signing paperwork authorizing the execution. All 'accomplished' and 'aleatory' actions, such as cooking food for the executioner, are 'not guilty.' All 'speculative' and 'definite' actions, such as not having intervened to fire upon the executioner, are 'not guilty.' All 'speculative' and 'aleatory' actions, such as not having been more politically active against the executioner's party, are 'not guilty.' This clarifies the discussion without as many redundant categories, but also highlights the problemata involved in the judgment of marginal cases (Is the camp guard performing a 'definite' or 'aleatory' action when, although he does nothing, by his presence prevents the escape attempt of a would-be victim...).) (The concept of 'speculative'-'aleatory' action as a viable criterion for guilt is the basis of an interesting discussion to be had regarding the quality of guilt/sin as "luxury dissolved into the atmosphere," now with particular reference to the climate emergency as tragedy of the commons and the doctrine of original sin with respect to consumption and desire. Either way, it is clear those who so readily condemn 'speculative' actions for others are not quite aware of the portentous weight of opening this category up to the guilt-judgment.)

What is to be done with the German People
The text has a response for readers, both the Non-German and the German. For the Non-German, the text is meant to address the (not uncommon) sentiment that the German people, as a whole, are guilty (mostly as aggressors and initiators of the world war). Though perhaps correct that the German people are not much worse than any other, the urgency of this proof produces some contortions. The ready employment of the "master-slave dialectic" demonstrates that, in confronting and disarming the Germans, we are actually making them nobler, stronger: "The decision to stay alive in impotence and servitude is an act of life-building sincerity." The, ironic, implication being that you would really punish the Germans by allowing re-unification and re-armament, which would therefore make them worse. The consideration of the possibility that the United States could become a fascist autarchy, which some readers have remarked as prescient, is merely the logically necessary argument for German re-armament to "disrupt the emerging US-USSR dipole," which does not appear to be an uncommon sentiment, even at the time.

For the German, the message is one of upbuilding. First, by exculpating the German from the guilt of the war, Jaspers permits a recognition of the past, which the German, aware of his likely guilt, does not even begin to recognize. This is probably a good thing. For those who are able to at least get that far, Jaspers would like them to made into productive, liberal citizens, acting to better the world in cognizance of sublimation of the guilt associated with living under the Reich.

But perhaps he goes a bit too far in the practice of sage burning, because we can sense an opening of Jaspers up into a reading of Deleuze, with consequences Jaspers might shrink from. If we are not to punish the fulminant anti-Semite simply because he hasn't killed anyone, why should we proceed with the punishment of the so-called "criminally guilty" who are now disarmed and unlikely to become recidivists. If punishment does not prevent a future crime, nor act as a form of restitution, should we not also refrain here as well (especially in light of the consequences of the Nuremburg trials in which many in Jaspers' "criminally guilty" category were also found to be not-guilty), and with recognition of the carceral punishment as actually never justified, per Deleuze, "The guilty party escapes in the moment punishment is applied to the body and reifies a different person."
… (more)
Joe.Olipo | 4 other reviews | Jun 4, 2023 |



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