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

Volume 10, No.2, Fall 2015

Philosophy, Psychopathology, and Neuroscience


Index and Editors' Introduction

Karl Jaspers as a Critic of Psychoanalysis—A Short Sketch of a Long Story
Matthias Bormuth | Universität Oldenburg, Germany

The well-known psychiatrist and philosopher, Karl Jaspers, critiqued psychoanalysis already in the first edition of his General Psychopathology in 1913. His criticism increased in the fourth edition of 1946 where Jaspers added philosophical reasons to his previous epistemological objections. In those postwar years, Jaspers also wrote polemic essays on the theory and practice of Sigmund Freud's school which had regained intellectual and institutional acceptance, especially at his university at Heidelberg, represented by Viktor von Weizsäcker and Alexander Mitscherlich. This controversy can be analysed by taking into account Max Weber's theory of modernity as well as his postulate of leading value judgments in sciences. For Jaspers, psychoanalysis increasingly endangered his idea of an existence-philosophical life conduct.

The session is viewable at YouTube.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Freud, Sigmund; Weber, Max; psychoanalysis, critique of; life conduct; existence; brain-myth; psycho-myth.


Jaspers, Psychoanalysis, and the Contexts of Understanding
Roger Frie | Simon Fraser University, Canada

The essay contextualizes Karl Jaspers' relationship to psychoanalysis in the changing historical and political events of his lifetime. While Jaspers was initially supportive of psychoanalysis, his critique became ever more narrow with time, to the point that his later criticisms were focused on an ossified stereotype that had little bearing on actual clinical theory or practice. I submit that Jaspers' relationship to psychoanalysis mirrors the changes in his personal and professional life, which was inalterably effected by the rise of National Socialism in Germany. Jaspers is rightly known for is his principled anti-Nazi stance, particularly his role in the denazification process. At the same time, important questions can be raised about Jaspers' apparent support of the infamous Göring Institute, which excluded Jewish psychoanalysts. Jaspers' relationship to psychoanalysis appears to contain contradictions and contrasting images: a critic who is at once intellectually inclusive and reductionist, open to the breath of individual existence and increasingly narrow in his perceptions of others, and whose ideas range cross disciplines yet are dominated by the contexts of the time.

Keywords: Arendt, Hannah; Freud, Sigmund; Heidegger, Martin; Göring Institute; National Socialism; Psychoanalysis.


Karl Jaspers and Life Conduct: A Theme With Variations
Ed Mendelowitz | Saybrook University

In this briefest reverie on Matthias Bormuth's Life Conduct in Modern Times, I attempt to evoke Karl Jaspers' essential themes through a chorus of simpatico voices. I find Bormuth's book hugely satisfying in its articulation of Jaspers' philosophy—its grounding in Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jaspers' growing skepticism before Freud. I am moved by Jaspers' existence-philosophical meditations and broodings, finding there a pervasive sensibility with which I find myself in almost reflexive attunement. Jaspers on truth, vital lies, and metaphysical refuge; Jaspers on the respective places of biology and the humanities; Jaspers on hidden transcendence and the ethicization of faith; Jaspers' championing of character over and above requisite training; Jaspers on the sanctity of the private realms (the life of the home and bona fide friendship) in a world that has arguably/publically seen better days. Most especially, perhaps, Jaspers on existential self-reflection and the craft of psychotherapy—an ongoing endeavour privileging the self-revelation, self-illumination of doctor and patient alike. These thoughts (with supplemental harmonies forthcoming from a compact gathering of kindred spirits and words) coalesce into the talking points of my thumbnail critique.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Kafka, Franz; Dylan, Bob; existence-philosophy; hidden transcendence; character; ethics; psychotherapy.

Spanish |

A Tale of Missed Opportunities
John McCole | University of Oregon

My contribution to this forum seeks to enter a dialogue with Matthias Bormuth's important study of Karl Jaspers' critique of psychoanalysis. Bormuth's analysis can and should be read as a story of missed opportunities. First, there is the progressive narrowing of Jaspers' intellectual engagement with psychoanalysis from an early, firm, yet multifaceted rejection of Freud to what I suggest is polemical caricature in the postwar period. Second, fully acknowledging Bormuth's demonstration of the importance of Jaspers' reading of Weber for his critique of psychoanalysis, I see Jaspers as having failed to pursue Weber's political account of value pluralism as the basis for a vigorous public sphere. Finally, I see the third missed opportunity in Jaspers' failure to confront either the contradictions in Freud's project or the increasing panoply of post-Freudian psychoanalytic perspectives. In my conclusion, I pose the question of how we are to view these missed opportunities in light of the remarkable decay in the consensus surrounding the importance of psychoanalysis in recent decades.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Bormuth, Matthias; Weber, Max; Mitscherlich, Alexander; psychoanalysis; value pluralism.


Reflections on Transformation
Stephen A. Erickson | Pomona College

The essay reviews how transformations differ from transitions and whether they are almost exclusively the consequence of underlying conflicts or if, even more fundamentally, they are the outcome of encounters with various voids. G. W. F. Hegel and many after him focused on conflicts. Martin Heidegger and others more recently dwelled upon voids. By exploring this latter pathway I assess if a historical era, most particularly our own, might itself be construed as needy because in some way empty, lacking in something and thereby undergoing absence. The question arises what might be lacking, especially if, as many claim, it is something neither visible nor even material? Absence implies a failed presence and bringing to life such abstract notions in concrete and specific ways remains challenging. On the supposition that ours is a needy time, it appears that individuals living in such a time are especially difficult to comprehend and even more so to diagnose and to help. What symptoms reveal their predicament and at what threshold such individuals stand is addressed by articulating the notion of "threshold" as a means of understanding ours as an early-stage transformation. I submit that we are moving toward a more communicable form of spiritual existence; this movement I call "thresholding."

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; absence; thresholding; transformation; transition; voids.


From the World to Subjectivity: Expression and World in Jaspers' General Psychopathology
Stefania Achella | University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy

The essay reviews Karl Jaspers' use of the concepts "corporeality" and "world" in his General Psychopathology, and how these concepts evolve on a philosophical and psychological level. Both concepts offer a way to solve Jaspers' theorem on the incomprehensibility of psychotic disorders. The analysis starts with objective manifestations of the psyche to address the possibility of understanding one's inner world. Jaspers links phenomenology to psychopathology and the essay will show that comprehension of inner psychotic states does not originate from empathy. Instead, Jaspers' concept of verstehen, which he ultimately considers unreliable from a psychiatric point of view, gains recognition in the field of existential knowledge by recognizing in philosophy the ability to access subjectivity; an ability that remains inaccessible to the sciences.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; General Psychopathology; world; corporeality; verstehen; form; worldview; reality.


The Meaning of Emphatic Experience: Jaspers between Psychopathology and Ethics
Anna Donise | Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Italy

Empathy is a concept with many meanings. We talk about empathic feeling or empathic understanding; but we talk also about empathic actualization (Vergegenwärtigung) of patients' mental experiences by clinical psychopathologists during the diagnostic interview. Jaspers addresses the challenge of understanding subjective symptoms which cannot be perceived by sense organs but require empathy and the ability to transferring oneself into the other individual's psyche. This is achieved through mainly indirect modes of access to patients' abnormal mental experiences by means of so-called external features without any guarantee of grasping the patient's mental state in an unprejudiced and direct way. The Jaspersian empathic understanding is mediated by two distinct processes: the first is direct and automatic, while the second is a process of feeling oneself into other's condition which has to be learned by systematic and rigorous training. The essay shows the relevance and the fruitfulness of the Jaspers' theoretical reflection on the problem of empathy and the theoretical and ethical potentials related to a proper distinction between empathetic layers.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; General Psychopathology; empathy; ethics; subjectiviity.


Meaning and Diagnosis: Are Mental Illnesses Genuinely Mental?
Daniel Adsett | Marquette University

This essay shows that the meaningful connections Karl Jaspers identifies in his General Psychopathology remain relevant to contemporary psychiatric practice. As the introduction to the DSM-V states, the development of neuroscience is deepening our understanding of psychiatric illnesses and researchers are beginning to use MRI brain scans to identify patients with mental illnesses such as, for example, bipolar disorder. Though still in its infant stage, the ability to diagnose certain mental illnesses entirely through technological means raises the question of whether clinical evaluations will remain relevant. Further, it begins to question the distinction historically made between psychic and somatic illnesses. If bipolar disorder, for example, can be identified with certain brain structures that, in turn, have been formed genetically and naturally and not intentionally, the illness seems to be less psychological than neurodevelopmental. In what follows, I claim that the attempt to think what is traditionally called mental illness or madness entirely in terms of neuro-bio-chemical arrangements requires a Husserlian division between apodictically necessary and contingent structures of experience. Further, I show that the foreseeable rise in technological approaches to the diagnoses of mental illnesses does not challenge an existential-phenomenological account of meaning.

Keywords: Husserl, Edmund; Jaspers, Karl; General Psychopathology; intentionality; phenomenology.



Founding Editors
Alan M. Olson
Helmut Wautischer

Spring / Fall

Sponsored by
Karl Jaspers Society
of North America
Boston, MA

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