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

Volume 10, No.1, Spring 2015

Philosophy, Psychopathology, and Neuroscience


Index and Editors' Introduction

Experiencing Subjects and the Limits of Objectivity: Erklären and Verstehen in Light of Contemporary Psychiatry and Philosophy of Mind
Luca Lavagnino | University of Texas
Nils-Frederic Wagner | University of Ottawa, Canada

Psychiatry as a discipline oscillates between the language of emotions and that of biology; ranging from the immersion into the subjective experience of another person to the objective approach of biomedical science. The tension between these different approaches may seem irreconcilable and confusing to some. This was not the case for Karl Jaspers who pioneered a systematic reflection on the concepts underlying psychiatric theory and practice. In this essay, we engage with Jaspers' thinking and create a dialogue with contemporary psychiatric research and philosophy of mind. Jaspers' conception of erklären and verstehen and his position on research in the neuroscience of mental disorders is brought together with the thought of Thomas Nagel and John Searle. We argue for the compatibility of Jaspers' ideas with Nagel's and Searle's views on the mind/body problem. Furthermore, we look at current trends in biological research in psychiatry through the lens of Jaspers' General Psychopathology, from there we derive suggestions and insights for psychiatric theory and practice.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; General Psychopathology; erklären and verstehen; explaining and understanding; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM); research domain criteria (RDoC); empathy; neuroscience; biological psychiatry; mind/body problem; philosophy of mind; biological naturalism; subjectivity; objectivity; Searle, John; Nagel, Thomas.


Emotion Understanding in Developmental Disorders: What Can Neuroscience Teach Us?
Kalina J. Michalska | National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD

Empathy is thought to play a key role in motivating helping behavior and providing the affective basis for moral development. Neuroimaging studies clearly document that watching someone in pain elicits a negative arousal response in the observer  to a stronger degree in children than in young adults. Findings indicate that although children and adults have similar patterns of brain response to perceiving other people in pain, there are important changes in the functional organization in the neural structures implicated in empathy and sympathy that occur over an extended period from childhood through adulthood.

Keywords: Emotion sharing; moral development; empathy; disorder, developmental; distress; neuroatanomy, fuctional; neuroimaging..


The Concept of Understanding in Jaspers and Contemporary Epistemology
M. Ashraf Adeel | Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

In the General Psychopathology Jaspers famously draws a distinction between the understandable and explainable. Meaningful connections between psychic events, he argues, can only be understood empathetically and cannot be explained causally. The idea behind this distinction, according to some interpreters at least, seems to be that psychic events do not fall under any general causal rules whereas ordinary events do fall under such rules. Also Jaspers distinguishes empathetic understanding of the connection between two psychic events from a mere interpretation of it, which may turn out to be false. Hence, understanding seems to be able to give us the truth about the connection and is factive as well as self-evident in nature. Contemporary epistemologists, such as Linda Zagzebsky, Duncan Pritchard, and Jonathan Kvanvig, for example, distinguish three varieties: propositional, objectual or holistic, and atomistic understanding. They do not agree on factivity and transparency of understanding. What then is the difference between their views and that of Jaspers? This essay compares recent epistemological views of understanding with those of Jaspers and critiques his claims about empathetic understanding as being both factive and self-evident or transparent; to show that empathetic understanding of connections between psychic events needs a public criterion for its individuation.


Jaspers' Treatment of the Human Being as a Whole: Relevance to Kahneman's Experiential Self and to the Hard Problem in Consciousness Studies
Andrew L. Gluck | Gardiner, NY

The concept of the experiencing self as described by Daniel Kahneman and his contrasting of it with the remembering or narrating self is relevant to the hard problem of consciousness as enunciated by David Chalmers. Happiness or experienced well-being is obviously a type of consciousness. Both Kahneman and Chalmers work off of a naturalistic ontology, broadly speaking. Both of their work reveals deep paradoxes as regards human consciousness. Karl Jaspers' final section in the General Psychopathology that deals with the human being as a whole may help us to expand our ontology and answer some of the problems associated with human consciousness and well-being. Although Jaspers hardly deals with the question of happiness, his expanded treatment of consciousness may help us to place human well-being in the context of Dasein, Existenz, Mind, Consciousness, etc. It may even render the subject of less import. Also relevant to this subject is Jaspers' expanded treatment of the human drives in an earlier section of the General Psychopathology.

Keywords: Kahneman, Daniel; Jaspers, Karl; General Psychopathology; happiness; consciousness; well-being; eudaimonia; hedonic; mind; experience; vital drives; spiritual drives.


Retrieving Existential Aspects of Jaspers' Psychopathology in View of Contemporary Neuroscience
Alina N. Feld | Hofstra University

The essay investigates the contemporary relevance of Jaspers' phenomenological psychopathology and two alternative modes of phenomenology in relation to the mind-body relation. This entails a brief overview of the destiny of Jaspers' descriptive phenomenology, Ludwig Binswanger's transcendental phenomenology, and Michel Henry's phenomenology of the "subjective body." Contemporary positions in psychiatry and neuroscience will be considered as a counterpart. Thus, I will particularly consider Karl Jaspers' transition from a descriptive phenomenology of pathetic mental conditions to philosophical thinking in parallel with contemporary advances in technological assessments of the brain, especially brain imaging, whose velocity imposes a fast-paced readjustment, both therapeutic and epistemic self-understanding. A complex treatment, comprising multiple methods, from genetic analysis and intervention, brain imaging, pharmacology, to psychotherapy, provides the conditions for the possibility of understanding and living through and with the maladies of the psyche. Even with all technological advances, personality and philosophy remain important for effective therapeutics.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Binswanger, Ludwig; Henry, Michel; Mundt, Christoph; Fuchs, Thomas; Stranghellini, Giovanni; Kandel, Eric; psychopathology; neuroscience; descriptive phenomenology; reductionism; brain mythology; somatic prejudice; empathetic understanding; causal explanation; the non-understandable; transcendental phenomenology; subjective body.


Mental Disorder: Brain? Mind? Person!—Existential Phenomenology in the Age of Neuroscience
Elena Bezzubova | University of California, Irvine

The essay considers the current conceptualization of mental disorder focusing on the disparity between the burgeoning of neuroscientific data and the epistemological and methodological insufficiency to interpret these data. The twenty-first century brain-centered optimism in the sciences repeats verbatim slogans of infamous mechanistic materialism and phrenology of the eighteenth century. The essay examines the epistemic trap of the brain versus mind discussion and the bio-psycho-social approaches. Mental disorder is not a disorder of the brain, it is also not a disorder of the mind but of a human being's being, which is existence. Likewise, mental disorder is neither a biological, nor a psychological or social phenomenon, it is a clinical phenomenon. Existential phenomenology opens up the way to move from reducing human experiences to explanatory constructs toward understanding these experiences in their true dynamical presence and authenticity.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Heidegger, Martin; mental disorder; DSM; neuroscience; existentialism; phenomenology; brain-mind; bio-psycho-social; clinical phenomenon.


The Dynamics of the Self in Phenomenology as Related to the Self-no-Self Debates in Neuroscience Today
Lydia Voronina | Boston, MA

Contemporary neuroscience studies brain activity corresponding to various sensual, emotional, and cognitive mental acts. Researchers more or less agree about the content of these acts, but they profoundly disagree about more basic mental phenomena implied in these acts such as awareness, self-awareness, consciousness, self-consciousness, and Self. A conceptual multiplicity and confusion about Self, its profiles, and its functioning in human mentality is remarkable and needs to be addressed. The author tries to avoid two traditional approaches in analysis of consciousness: scientific reductionism which plays consciousness down and treats it as something traceable with detectors; and metaphysical reductionism which plays consciousness up and treats it as a unique conscious substance or entity. Phenomenology is advocated as a promising approach to consciousness because (1) it does not reduce consciousness to something which it is not: mental states, linguistic structures, cultural archetypical mentality, religious entities, statistical experimental data, or MRI measurements of human brain activity; (2) it allows to address consciousness as phenomenon, disclosing itself in itself, by itself, and for itself without building an external level of observation, i.e. articulating it in a non-objectified manner; and (3) it can access consciousness as intrinsically intimating, self-revealing, and auto-referential. The Self is necessarily presented in any mental act though it is explicated as experiential, non-substantial, or object-like and displays certain characteristics: (i) direct intuition as in "I am I," (ii) seen via a set of attributes recognized as the same in various experiences during a person's life, (iii) intimated as the subject-pole of any mental act, and (iv) represented in reflection as the result of ideation while diachronically identified and perceived as same in various mental acts. Complete or partial disregard of the Self in neuroscience is implied due to its scientific methodology; it is of a different nature than a Buddhist disregard of Self as ultimately empty of intrinsic nature, or the dissolution of Self on a certain level of phenomenological analysis when empty intentions are constituted.

Keywords: Neuroscience; phenomenology; Buddhist concept of Self; consciousness; self-consciousness; awareness; Self; no-Self; time-consciousness; flow of consciousness.


Remarks on Jaspers for Philosophy, Psychopathology, and Neuroscience
Tom Rockmore | Peking University, China

I have been asked to provide a response to a series of four papers presented at a session on philosophy, psychopathology, and neuroscience by Elena Bezzubova, Alina Feld, Andrew Gluck, and Lydia Voronina, all observers more qualified than I to discuss the relation of philosophy and psychiatry in Jaspers' psychopathology as well as salient alternatives. Jaspers, who was friendly with Martin Heidegger, was later overshadowed by the latter, whose reception led to a gigantic and still rapidly growing debate. Yet what if Jaspers were in some ways more important than Heidegger, especially with respect to so-called existential analysis?

Keywords: Heidegger, Martin; Husserl, Edmund; Jaspers, Karl; General Psychopathology; Cartesianism; holistic; phenomenology.



Founding Editors
Alan M. Olson
Helmut Wautischer

Spring / Fall

Sponsored by
Karl Jaspers Society
of North America
Boston, MA

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