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International Phenomenological Society

Jaspers in English: A Failure Not of Communication but Rather of Interpretation

Author(s): A. Lichtigfeld
Source: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 41, No. 1/2 (Sep. - Dec., 1980), pp.
Published by: International Phenomenological Society
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Professor C. F. Wallraff is seemingly disturbed by "the contrast

between the abundance of Jaspers literature in English, on the one
hand, and the limited range of Jaspers' influence in Anglo-American
countries, on the other," concluding, "Jaspers ... is, from our stand-
point, virtually incommunicando" (Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research, 1977, pp. 537ff.). After having freely
distributed praise and some blame, too, he raises - despite his own
admission "that Jaspers has been extremely fortunate in his
translators" - the question, "Can it be that these diverge so widely
from the German text that they do not enable even the most
knowledgeable and discerning readers to come to grips with Jaspers'
He finally suggests that "some thoroughly trained bilingual stu-
dent of German philosophy will soon take it upon himself to
retranslate both Philosophie and Philosophischer Glaube for
academic philosophers!" Thus, on the hypothesis "until that occurs,
or a really first-rate translation of Von der Wahrheit appears, Jaspers
as viewed from the English-speaking countries, will remain largely in-
communicando" (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, p.
So for Professor Wallraff. However, the surprising fact remains
that American philosophers did write about Jaspers and brought
Jaspers' message home to not only philosophically interested readers.
Here I would like to refer to some insightful essays on Jaspers in
various international philosophical journals,1 and, in particular, to

1 Apart from those mentioned by Professor Wallraff, I might refer to P

Coffin, H. A. Durfee, R. J. Gerber, R. D. Knudsen, H.,Kornmueller, N. J. Rig
and 0. Schrag. Incidentally, Parvis Emad, too, criticized L. Ashton's translatio
Jaspers' Philosophie (in Philosophischer Literaturanzeiger, S. 238, Bd. 24, 19
and S. 43, Bd. 25, 1972); E. Th. Long'sJaspers and Bultmann, Duke Univ. Pre
Durham, 1968. A most competent study on thle subject would be further proo
our contention.

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the latest publications on Heidegger and Jaspers on Nietzsche (M. Ni-

jhoff, The Hague, 1973) by Professor R. L. Howey, of Wyoming
University, incidentally a brilliantly written, critical evaluation of
Jaspers' views on the subject, and Professor L. Ehrlich's grand and in-
dispensable work, Karl Jaspers: Philosophy as Faith (Univ. of
Massachusetts Press, 1975), and Professor R. F. Grabau's first-rate
translation of Jaspers' Philosophy of Existence,2 containing a well-
written Introduction corresponding to Jaspers' intentions (which
could also be said of J. T. Wilde, W. Kluback, W. Kimmel's In-
troduction to Truth and Symbol,3 or W. Earle's Introduction to
Reason and Existenz.4 Besides, the flaws in various translations refer-
red to in Professor Wallraff's essay, though competently pointed out,
do not in the least affect the heart of Jaspers' exposition.5 Further-
more, I would challenge anyone to find fault with J. Hoening and
Marion W. Hamilton's superb translation of Jaspers' General
Psychopathology,6 a work which contains very substantial parts of
Jaspers' philosophy and can be read independently of the purely
medico-psychopathological exposition. On the whole, so I gather,
one might compare the work of the translators with the efforts of
builders putting up a structure. Of course, some critics could then
find some flaws in the facade, but, and this is the central issue, the
structure is there and, in this case, for all to admire. In other words,
the central question, then, is as to whether there is not an alternative
explanation. If my, contention is right in the sense that the material
on which to assess Jaspers is there in the available translations, then
the problem is not one of translation but rather one of assessment of
the value of Jaspers' philosophy itself.
Professor Wallraff refers to Jaspers as 'the remarkable man.'

2 B. Blackwell, Oxford, 1971.

3 Vision Press, London, 1959.

4 Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1956.

I may refer also to my jaspers' Metaphysics, Colibri Press, London, 1954.
Jaspers stated in the Foreword to that work: "The author's presentation should
become a welcome guide even to those who themselves study my works"; and to my
Aspects of jaspers' Philosophy, sec. enl. ed., Communications of the University of
South Africa, Pretoria, C 39, 1971.

6 See F. J. Lichtigfeld's review of this work in Tqdschrift voor Filosofie, 1

pp. 645-6, and his essay, "The Role of the Boundary Situation as an Illuminating
Factor for Jaspers' Writings on Psycho-pathology," Tqdschrift voor Filosofie, 1972,
pp. 99-106.

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This in itself could not justify other philosophers to go out of their

way and specially try "to come to grips with Jaspers' thought." In the
circumstances, one cannot avoid the primary question as to the im-
portance of Jaspers' contributions to the world's wisdom. I am aware
of the fact that J. 0. Leighton, W. Stegmueller,7 and more recently
L. Ehrlich,8 in a rather more argumentative manner, have un-
doubtedly affirmed this, and I may add with good reason.
Assuming this to be correct,, we should take Professor Wallraff as
intending primarily to establish as to why "this remarkable man lies
beyond our horizon." Still, we have the assurance, evidenced by all
writers on Jaspers that they were able to understand him by means of
the available translations. That this position might even be improved
by "a really firstrate translation of Von der Wahrheit" is not in
doubt, but even then, I dare say, not to the extent Professor Wallraff
is expecting it to do. For one should not forget that Jaspers himself
was of the opinion that his three volume work on Philosophie9 (now in
Ashton's translation which, for a long time to come, will be con-
sidered as the standard translation) "is closest to my heart."10 If, on
the other hand, Professor Wallraff is to be believed, the question,
then, presents itself as to why continental philosophers who had ac-
cess to Von der Wahrheit since 1948 did not - by and large -ap-

7 J. A. Leighton, Perspectives in Philosophy, Ohio State Univ., 1953, pp. 1ff,

and W. Stegmueller, Main Currents in Contemporary German, British and
American Philosophy, tr. A. E. Blumberg, Reidel and Co., Dordrecht, 1969, pp.
209ff. See also, in particular, J. F. von Rintelen, Beyond Existentialism, tr. by H.
Graef. G. Allen-Unwin, London, 1961, pp. 197ff; and Mario A. Presas in Akten d.
4. Intern. Kant-Kongresses. Mainz, 1974, o. c. pp. 782ff.

8 See L. H. Ehrlich, Karl Jaspers: Philosophy as Faith. University of

Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1975, pp. 209-229. To judge from this original
work, Professor Wallraff's report that Professor Ehrlich is to undertake a transla-
tion of Jaspers' Von der Wahrheit is good news for all Jaspers students For further
literature on Jaspers' importance as a philosopher, see A. Lichtigfeld, T!Ydschrift
voor Filosofie, 1972, pp. 79-98; and Kant-Studien, 1971, pp. 243ff and A kten d. 4.
Intern. Kant-Kongresses, Mainz, 6.-10. April 1974, Teil II, 2, pp. 762 ff; and final-
ly, see H. Tennen, Zeitschrift f Philos. Forschung, 1974, pp. 537ff.

9 University of Chicago Press, 1969-1971.

10 Jaspers, Philosophy. University of Chicago Press, 1969, Vol. I, p. 5.

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pear to have been influenced by it.11

Apparently, Professor Wallraff - considering the influence
other thinkers have on the contemporary scene - say e.g., Heideg-
ger, thought that there must be something wrong, but put the blame
for the neglect of Jaspers at the door of the translators. But, I for one,
would not hold that Heidegger was served in any better way in this
To put this intended comparison - as an illustration of my
thesis - into perspective, we need, I suggest, to remind ourselves of
two relevant facts: (a) of the existence of a world-wide
phenomenological movement (purposed, as M. Farber wrote (in
1943) "to make phenomenology effective for further philosophical
progress"12); (b) of the intellectual climate of our time.13 To (a):
Heidegger - whose Being and Time already in 1929 described by
Hartshorne as "the work of a genius" was in fact executing
Husserl's phenomenological program for to quote Gadamer

The renewal of the question of being, the task that Heidegger set
himself, meant that within the 'positivism' of phenomenology he
recognized the unresolved fundamental problem of metaphysics.14

Given this perspective, the fundamental thrust of Heidegger's work is

to be seen in his radical reinterpretation of phenomenological
philosophy, as exemplified in this attempts at a destruction of tradi-
tional metaphysics and the radicalness of a new beginning. And this

In how far note was taken of aspects of Jaspers' philosophy (including Von
der Wahrheit) can be gathered from the simply unique Bibliography contained in
the work of Silvia Marzano (Aspetti Kantiani j)?-l Oensiero. Mursia, Milan
to this may be added Paola Ricci, La Lettura Cifrata (Quaderni Dell'Istituto Di
Scienze Filosofiche. Arezzo, 1972) and La Nuova Critica, 1973, pp. 57ff; and final-
ly R. G. Leisey, The Meaning of Truth in the Philosophy of KarlJaspers. Toronto,
1974, microfilm.

12 M. Farber, The Foundation of Phenomenology. Cambridge, Harvard

University Press, 1943, p. 23.

13 See A. Stern, "Ortega y Gasset and the Modern World," The Southern
nal of Philosophy, 1975, pp. 255ff; G. Funke, "Gutes Gewissen, falsches Bewusst-
sein, richtende Vernunft," Das Gewissen in der Diskussion. Wissenschaftl.
Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 1976, pp. 259ff; J. M. Hems, Analytic Philosophy
and Phenomenology, ed. by H. A. Durfee. M. Nijhoff, The Hague, 1976, pp. 55ff,

14 Gadamer, Truth and Method. Sheed and Ward, London, 1975, pp. 228-9.

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inescapable conclusion seems to be (which brings us to our second

point) that (b) Heidegger must have had a strong, nay, an irresistible
appeal to an era intent on a revolutionary turn in all spheres of
human thought and action. Moreover, Heidegger's interrogation of
the foundation of Western tradition and his subsequently following
critique of the technocratic society would greatly assist in cultivating
a perspective that could be harvested with the growth of a radical
reconstruction of the social and political sciences.
Admittedly, the student of Jaspers' Man in the Modern World,
in particular, The Origin and Goal of History, Future of Mankind,
and his latest, Philosophy is for Everyman, is bound to emphasize that
similar problems were discussed by Jaspers - in his own inimitable
way - and that, as Gadamer makes clear,

Karl Jaspers, in his Psychology or Worldviews, was the first to give a new
accent to the concept of existence in contrast to all cultural forms of

However, it would seem that Jaspers' philosophical analyses

could not so easily be assimilated by the present generation. As
Jaspers himself asserted,

I would never take the sense of our time for the starting point of
philosophizing, let alone seek to be timely in that sense.16

It is not disparagment of Heidegger's philosophy to admit that

Heidegger - in this respect - met 'the sense of our time.' Gadamer's
comment may illustrate this fact.

In Heidelberg ... Jaspers had a growing influence on the students. But

15 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics. tr. D. E. Linge. University of

California Press, 1976, p. 137.

16 Jaspers, Philosophy, Vol. I, tr. E. B. Ashton. University of Chicago Press,

1969, p. 11. Indeed, the contrast between Jaspers' and Heidegger's influence on
their respective students is well expressed by Dolf Sternberger, Martin Heidegger im
Gespraech, her. by R. Wisser. K. Alber, Freiburg/Muenchen, 1970. ("Wiewohl ich
erfuellt war von der durch und durch ethischen Existenzphilosophie von Karl
Jaspers, nahm der bildsame jugendliche Geist doch die ganz andere Sprache und
Begrifflichkeit von Heideggers Existential-Ontologie staunend auf, bereit, sich ver-
wirren und vielleicht verfuehren zu lassen. Da gab es kein Sollen, sondern nur ein
Sein."); see A. G. Funke, Phaenomenologie-Metaphysik oder Methode, sec. enl.
ed. Couvier-Grundmann, Bonn, 1972, p. 13ff (incidentally, and English transla-
tion is to appear in 1978).

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even before Jaspers' philosophy appeared in print, Martin Heidegger

changed the philosophical consciousness of the time with one stroke. He
unleashed a critique of cultural idealism that reached a wide public - a
destruction of the dominant philosophical tradition.17

The fact that - as Gadamer asserts - "Heidegger was a pupil of

Edmund Husserl and the heir of his master's great phenomenological
art"18 would seem to support our argumentation, too.
Furthermore, and to my mind, most importantly, Heidegger
never - not even in his latest utterances - did lay down criteria19 for
any distinction between good and evil within the Truth of Being,
when stating his ultimate insight regarding 'Let Being be.' This, too,
was in accord with the spirit of the time. As against this, we have
Jaspers asserting,

I consider the person engaged in philosophizing inseparable from his

philosophical thought. The philosophizing person, his basic experience,
his actions, his world, ... the forces which speak through him, cannot be
disregarded when one accompanies him in his thoughts.20

This point is forcefully brought home to us in Jaspers' exposition

of his relationship to Heidegger, when stating,

17 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, o.c.p.138; for further comment,

see H. G. Gadamer, W. Marx, C. F. v. Weizsaecker, Heidegger. Freiburger Univer-
sitaetsvortraege zu seinem Gedenken. Alber, Freiburg/Muenchen, 1977; pp. 17ff,
W. Marx; pp. 43ff, 61, H. G. Gadamer; pp. 69ff, C. F. von Weizsaecher. See 0.
Poeggeler, Der Denkweg Martin Heideggers. G. Neske, Pfullingen, 1963, pp.
18 Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics, o.c.p. 138.

19 W. Marx, Heidegger and the Tradition. Northwestern University Pres

Evanston, 1971. tr. Th. Kisiel, M. Green, p. 249: "Heidegger forgoes 'the setting up
of rules,' since it is more essential 'for man to find his sojourn in the truth of Being
... does away with the entire realm of problems which the tradition since Socrates
... had grappled with"; whereas G. Prauss in Erkennen und Handeln in Heidegger's
'Sein und Zeit,' K. Alber, Freiburg/Muenchen, 1977, p. 110 refers to Heidegger's
'Bruch mit Kant' (break with Kant); the consequences of such 'a break' are well
depicted by G. Funke, Die Welt des Menschen, Die Welt des Menchen, Die Welt
der Philosophy. Festschrift fuerJan Patocka, her. von. W. Biemel, M. Nijhoff, Den
Hagg, 1976, pp. 64ff; see H. Wagner, "Immanuel Kants kulturkritische Bedeutung
heute," Kultur unid Politik irn Spannungsfeld der Geschichte. her. E. u. W. Giese
ing. Bielefeld, 1975, pp. 42ff.

20 Jaspers in the Jaspers-Schilpp Volumze. Library of Living Philosoph

Open Court Pub. Co., LaSalle, p. 39.

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What occured to you when thinking about this book; (meant was Being
and Time) What Response did you expect from the reader of your

As Jaspers reports, Heidegger made no attempt to reply. As I see

it, then, we have to adopt the second alternative in the sense that
Jaspers' categories have not yet been assimilated by the present
generation for the simple reason that the real dimension of the Jasper-
sian inquiry as to "what is timeless throughout time"22 has not yet
been researched in its ultimate consequences regarding the future of
It would thus remain true that we have before us not a case of a
failure of communication but rather of interpretation.

21 Jaspers, KarlJaspers: Philosophische Auto biographie. erw

Piper, Muenchen, 1977, p. 99; we cannot be completely clear about the
significance of these questions without taking account of Jaspers' view that "the
source of philosophical communication is human thought as inner action" (K.
Jaspers, Philosophy, o.c.p. 28). These questions put to Heidegger were meant to
find out as to whether or not Heidegger's work implied (to borrow a phrase from
Jaspers, Philosophy, o.c.p. 27) "the unconditionality of a communicating Ex-
istenz"; see on this point, too, Jaspers, General Psychopathology. tr. J. Hoenig and
M. W. Hamilton. Manchester University Press, 1962, pp. 776-7; J. H. Lotz, Martin
Heidegger und Thomas von Aquin. G. Neske, Pfullingen, 1975, pp. 82ff clearly
seems to indicate that the ethics of Being, as Heidegger interprets it, appears to
replace the traditional ethics of the 'ought.' See in particular: KarlJaspers, Notizen
zu Martin Heidegger, her. von Hans Saner, Piper and Co., Muenchen-Zuerich,
1978, pp. 86, 101, 156, 195, 255; and Hans Saner, KarlJaspers, 3rd ed., Rowohlt,
1974, pp. 145ff.

22 Jaspers, Philosophy, o.c.p. 11.

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