- Series: Works in Continental Philosophy
- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (January 1, 1971)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812210107
- ISBN-13: 978-0812210101
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #491,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Philosophy of Existence (Works in Continental Philosophy)
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"The best single volume to introduce existentialism as a total philosopy."—Library Journal
"The finest introduction to Jaspers's own comprehensive philosophy and to existentialism as a philosophical movement."—John R. Silber
About the Author
Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)--"founder of German Existentialism" (Martin Heidegger) and "a lucid and flexible intelligence in the service of a genuine and passionate concern for human life" (William Barrett)--is one of the great thinkers of modern times. His many books--best known among them are The Great Philosophers, The Future of Mankind, and The Question of German Guilt--have been translated into every Western language.
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I found Karl Jaspers' notion of the Encompassing to be a particularly compelling notion. Stated briefly: we are always more than we can know about ourselves, or, we are always more than what we can objectify about ourselves. And the same is true of being itself. Karl Jaspers seems to have developed the notion of the Encompassing in an effort to avoid all forms of reductionism which would reduce reality, and human existence, to what we can know about them, as well as any attempt to absolutize a relative standpoint.
I would say that the interested reader should begin by reading Richard F. Grabau's preface which provides a really excellent short overview of the entire book. I am a graduate student in philosophy and I have spent a great deal of time studying Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Hediegger, etc., but even with that background I still, sometimes, felt like I was not really grasping the significance of what Karl Jaspers was saying, particularly in relation to his discussions of the exception and authority. The book is very accessible, but there were times when I was not entirely clear how Jaspers discussion of a particular notion fit into his overall philosophy.
I thought Grabau's preface did a great job of summarizing the philosophical significance of all of the concepts that Jaspers works out in the book, as well as the overall architectonic of Jaspers' different realms of the Encompassing and truth. I think I would have enjoyed the book even more if I had read the preface before I read the book rather than after. It is always good to have the overall plan worked out before you read the details. Otherwise it can be hard to grasp the forest from the trees.
Jaspers gave the lectures upon which this book is based in 1937, shortly after he had been dismissed from his professorship at the University of Heidelberg in Germany by the Nazi regime. The lectures were given at the German Academy of Frankfurt, and represented Jaspers' last public appearance for a number of years.
He says in the Introduction, "What is called philosophy of existence is really only a form of the one, primordial philosophy. It is no accident, however, that for the moment the word `existence' became the distinguishing term. It emphasized the task of philosophy that for a time had been almost forgotten: to catch sight of reality at its origin and to grasp it through the way in which I, in thought, deal with myself---in inner action." (Pg. 3)
He says in the first lecture, "For us, being remains open. On all sides it draws us into the unlimited... we ask about being itself, which always seems to recede from us, in the very manifestation of all the appearances we encounter. This being we call the `encompassing.' ... it is the source from which all new horizons emerge, without itself ever being visible even as a horizon. The encompassing always merely announces itself... but it never becomes an OBJECT. Never appearing to us itself, it is that wherein everything else appears. It is also that due to which all things not merely are what they immediately seem to be, but remain transparent." (Pg. 17-18)
He observes, "Little can be seen of a reliable presence of truth. For example, common opinions are for the most part expressions of the need for some support: one would much rather hold to something firm in order to spare himself further thought than face the danger and trouble of incessantly thinking further." (Pg. 33-34)
He states in the third lecture, "Even before we begin to philosophize, the question of reality seems to be already answered in every moment of our life. We deal with things, and obey the modes of reality as they have been handed down to us... In this unquestioning attitude we achieve a seemingly adequate view of the presence of reality. The problem arises only as I become conscious of a lack: when I desire reality that I neither yet know nor myself am, when this reality cannot be deliberately attained by productive and venturesome action or planning in the world, only then do I begin to philosophize. I inquire about reality." (Pg. 65-66)
He summarizes, "1. The first decision of philosophical faith is whether it is possible to think of the world as complete in itself, or whether transcendence guides our thought...Immanence imposes itself as being itself, because it alone is knowable... [but] mere immanence is opaque and superficial... It remains in a hopeless and self-concealing struggle for existence, ending in nothingness... Although concealed, transcendence is present in philosophizing in reality. But what transcendence seems to say is always ambiguous. I must take my chance on the basis of a responsibility that is not annulled by any direct revelation from God. Transcendence is the power through which I am myself... 2. The second decision is whether transcendence leads me out of the world to a denial of the world, or whether it requires me to live and work only in the world. Philosophical faith is bound to the world as the condition of all being for it... If philosophy means learning how to die, it does so ... in the sense that I intensify the present by undiminishing and active fulfillment under the standard of transcendence. Hence, transcendence means nothing to us if all there is for us takes the form of existence." (Pg. 81)
He explains, "Philosophical faith is the substance of a personal life; it is the reality of man philosophizing in his own historic ground, in which he receives himself as a gift. In philosophizing I experience the reality of transcendence unmediated, as that which I myself am not... Philosophical faith is the indispensable source of all genuine philosophizing. From it comes the striving of individuals in the world to experience and investigate the appearances of reality with the aim of attaining the reality of transcendence ever more clearly... philosophical faith... is amenable to no confession of faith. For this faith, thought is the passage out of the dark origin into reality." (Pg. 88-89) Later, he adds, "philosophy presupposes that its thought, which seems to endanger religion, cannot in fact be a threat to a true religion. Whatever does not stand up to thought cannot be genuine... Degenerate religion, however, is justifiably exposed to the danger of attack." (Pg. 92)
This is an excellent overview/introduction to Jaspers' thought, that will be of great help to anyone studying him.
I found Grabau's translation much more lucid than the texts included (for instance) within Walter Kaufmann's "Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre." Since Grabau's translation of key terms is similar to E. B. Ashton's translation of Philosophie, I have had no trouble going from one to the other.
Overall, I recommend this book for those interested in delving into Jaspers' metaphysics.