Existenz Menu
An International Journal in Philosophy, Religion, Politics, and the Arts
ISSN 1932-1066

Volume 1, Nos 1-2, Fall 2006

Philosophy, Religion, and Politics

Karl Jaspers' Conceptions of the Meaning of Life
Kurt Salamun | University of Graz, Austria

The thesis is explicated, that we can finally distinguish three conceptions of the meaning of life in Jaspers' philosophy. This thesis is grounded on the distinction of two different periods of Jaspers' philosophizing: an early period of his existential philosophy, and a later period, when Jaspers rejected the terms "Existentialism" or "existential philosophy" for his philosophizing and preferred to call it a "philosophy of reason." In the early period, Jaspers holds the following two positions: (1) The idea of realising the meaning of life by overcoming boundary situations in the right way, and (2) the idea of realising the meaning of life by interpersonal existential communication. In the later period he holds (3) the position of realising the meaning of life by a life governed by reason.

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Reading Ciphers with Jaspers and Ricoeur
Charles Courtney | Drew University

This essay revisits and prolongs the debate on religion between Karl Jaspers and Paul Ricoeur. I seek to show that they agree on many basic points and that their differences are best characterized as non-oppositional. Both thinkers reject authoritarian religion and the claim to exclusivity and universality that often accompanies it. In a 1957 critique of Jaspers, Ricoeur defines their positions as salvation versus speculation. In response, I cite texts showing (1) that Jaspers makes room for the kind of religious specificity that Ricoeur affirms and (2) that for Jaspers philosophy's role is to prepare the way for the ultimate experience. Whereas Ricoeur holds that Jaspers both traps himself in negativity and floats in vain poetizing, I contend that a careful reading of Jaspers reveals a movement from fear to leap to serenity. As for Ricoeur, I suggest that his hermeneutics of the originary language of religion, developed over the past four decades, can plausibly be seen as a Jaspersian reading of ciphers.

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Beyond Liberal and Conservative: Freedom, Transcendence, and the Human Condition in Arendt, Jaspers, and Niebuhr
Craig M. Nichols | University of Rhode Island

In this essay, I explore the possibility and desirability of finding a middle ground between the ideologies of liberalism and conservatism as brought to light in the intersection of political theory, philosophical reflection, and Christian theology within the thought of Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers, and Reinhold Niebuhr. I argue that only in the opening of such a mediate space of freedom, defined in the relation of human nature to Transcendence via the revelatory power of ciphers of being, can human beings discover their own individual and collective meaningfulness and summon the wherewithal to transform the world through communicative action. Within this context, I also reflect on the role of education as a vehicle for actualizing authentic or inauthentic modes of being.


The Philosophy of History in Hegel, Heidegger, and Jaspers
Stephen A. Erickson | Pomona College

In this reflection I consider History as understood through Hegel, Heidegger, and Jaspers. Reviewing Hegel's claims that philosophy is both the child of its time and its time comprehended in thought, I note the French Revolution as decisive for Hegel's account of History. Reviewing Hegel's claim that History is now "over," I consider Hegel's view that History has been progressive and that the decisive historical period is the present. I turn to Heidegger's "decline" theory of the unfolding of philosophical ideas, reviewing the similarity between Hegel and Heidegger in viewing the history of philosophical ideas as the driving force of History. Noting the close connection Heidegger had to Nietzsche's understanding of the Greeks, I reflect on Heidegger's attitude toward the axial mind. Having considered Heidegger's notion that we must somehow get back into an authentic History, I end with a reflection on the virtues of Jaspers humane blend of Enlightenment ideals with a contextualized historical sensitivity.

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The Looming Clouds of a Stateless Totalitarianism of the Spirit
Malek K. Khazaee | California State University at Long Beach

Since al-Qhaedeh's surreal attacks on American soil on 9/11, its rise and expansion has been the subject of much debate, at times suggesting that it is totalitarian and stateless, albeit with no theoretical support. The two presuppositions can be very disturbing, especially when combined with the introduction of contagious, incurable biological weapons. This essay throws light on the terrorist quasi-organization al-Qhaedeh by hypothesizing that its marked features are indeed totalitarian and stateless. To test the first conjecture, it refers, by comparison, to the works of Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers, who were deeply concerned with and wrote extensively on totalitarianism. To test the second conjecture, it compares al-Qhaedeh to the elements of "state" in political theory, and demonstrates some of the difficulties to defeat a stateless, invisible, deadly enemy pursuant a perpetual state of asymmetrical war. As for totalitarianism, this essay contends, by analogy, that Jihadism, like National Socialism and Bolshevism, relies on the Unity of the Goal, Oneness of the Book, Certainty of the Utopia, and necessity of Singular Leadership to structure and shepherd its cause as a united front to withstand the overwhelming pressures of international community. Other characteristics of totalitarianism are the use of brute force, militarism and paramilitarism, propaganda and indoctrination, youth schools, suicidal loyalty, purging and liquidating, and secrecy and rituals. Nonetheless, in spite of sharing all these features with National Socialism and Bolshevism, al-Qhaedeh lacks statehood: it is not planted in any specific piece of land, does not depend on any particular population, and technically has no government. Thus, it is irrelevant to any notion of sovereignty. This ghostlike, seemingly invincible condition becomes an evermore serious threat when armed with nuclear and biological weapons. Particularly with regard to "black biology," it is conceivable that a bio-suicide terrorist can self-infect with an incurable contagious "binary," or "designer," or "zoonotic," or asymptomatic "stealth" silent killer, and consequently bring the human species to extinction. Can a rift of light appear in these looming clouds of a stateless totalitarianism of the spirit?


The Relationship of Religion and Politics under Conditions of Modernity and Globality: An Hegelian Account
Andrew Buchwalter | University of North Florida

This paper explores Hegel's distinctive account of the relationship of religion and politics, focusing on the manner in which it articulates the aims and assumptions of modern political thought while supporting cross-cultural dialogue and the possibility of a differentiated global culture. The paper details first how, for Hegel, the institutions of modern political life depend for their legitimacy and stability on an enabling culture whose underlying structure is religious. Second, it explicates the manner in which Hegel, via a distinctive reception of Protestantism, fashions a specifically modern notion of the common good, one committed to diversity and to ongoing processes of collective self-reflection. Third, it argues that while Hegel accepts modern notions of the separation of church and state, he does so with recourse to a political culture that is not only defined through religion but for which the very church-state separation is understood as a social construction whose particular configuration is the result of ongoing processes of cultural self-definition. Fourth, while Hegel's idea of a civil religion is inextricably intertwined with the historical legacy of Christianity, that concept of Christianity is shown to support a form of social criticism that not only challenges Western categories but displays an openness both to other beliefs and traditions and to the idea of a global ethos supportive of and constituted by them.


Faith and Reason: Isaac and Ishmael Revisited
Alan M. Olson | Boston University

The essay begins with a retelling of the well-known Bible story of Ishmael and Isaac in order to provide a biblical context, or subtext, as the case may be, for the title of JaspersÂ’ book, Der philosophische Glaube angesichts der Offenbarung, and the basic question he raises, namely, "can the two faiths (viz., philosophy and theology) meet?" The essay concludes, with Jaspers, that constructive dialogue unlikely if not impossible because theological discourse in the monotheistic traditions of the Middle East is controlled by the genetic fallacy and the persistent confusion of truths based on alleged facts and values for which axiological arguments should be made but usually are not because of the fear of relativizing truth-claims. The essay concludes by suggesting that a move towards toleration through the acknowledgement of value-pluralism is the only way philosophy and theology can engage in constructive dialogue.

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Machedicy, Or Just War Theory in an "Age of Terror"
Bradley L. Herling | Marymount Manhattan College

This essay investigates dominant form of contemporary just war theory, which I call "machedicy." "Machedicy" (mache, "war/battle," and dike, "justice/right") evokes the traditional connection between just war theory and the theological effort to decode the problem of evil in the West, namely "theodicy." By tracing this connection, the essay leads up to a critique of contemporary just war theory, which retains theologically driven concepts of evil and justification. In Augustine and Aquinas, war is closely linked to the asymptotic abyss that is evil, and when filtered through the intervention of modern concepts (the "warre.of every man, against every man" in Hobbes and "absolute war" in von Clausewitz), terrorism becomes the greatest evil of all. This positioning of terrorism as the abyss facing the modern liberal state leads to distortions in our response to it, including the decision to revert to torture. These symptomatic distortions are present in the work of Michael Walzer and Michael Ignatieff, who trade on the traditional machedicy discussed earlier in the paper. In the end, the essay advocates a return to Kantian and Arendtian proposals, for the idea of inflicting more suffering under the guise of "necessary evils" seems to be a contradiction within the canon of reason itself.


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