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

Volume 3, No. 1, Spring 2008

Philosophy, Psychology, and Psychopathology

Jaspers' Methodology of Verstehen: Its Basis for History, Psychology, Translation
Leonard H. Ehrlich | University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Verstehen is here referred to as 'understanding.' The essay presents the main general aspects of the phenomenon of understanding in part as developed by Jaspers. In preliminary considerations, understanding is distinguished from causal explanation and formal reasoning, and methodologically clarified understanding is distinguished from naive understanding.—Understanding involves understandable (inner) factualities and the relation of factualities. Understandable factualities are distinguished from objective (outer) facts and data. The reception of understandable factualities is a matter of (subjective) interpretation; in this way it is distinct from natural science where the explanation of data is confirmed by testing, compelling intersubjective assent (objective validity). The general kinds of factuality are behavioral expressions, actions, and products of actions, such as works, documents, testimonies, memoirs.—In its proper sense, understanding is bringing factualities into meaning-relations. Some principles of interpretive understanding concern the immediacy of understanding; the question of fiction vs. actuality; the circumstance that opposites are equally understandable; and the hermeneutic circle, especially contextual circles of meaning-interpretation. In the case of interpreting documents, one can distinguish between documentary contexts; contexts of proximate circumstances; wider circumstantial contexts; and personal contexts.—Finally, valuation invariably accompanies understanding. Understanding cannot attain the certainty of natural science, only a degree of plausibility. An aid thereto is the methodological suspension of valuation.—The question of the intrusion of valuation in natural science is taken up with reference to Max Weber's dictum that science is free of value (not devoid of value).—The practice of understanding is exemplified by reference to methodological observations about translation.

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Metaphysical Guilt
Alan M. Olson | Boston University

In this essay I argue that Jaspers' notion of "metaphysical guilt," a posteriori in the order of time, is a priori in the order of logic. As such, metaphysical guilt is a unique form of moral essentialism based upon the idea of humanity, such as one finds in Kant's conception of the moral law. As Kant famously stated, "while our knowledge begins with experience, it does not necessarily arise out of experience." Therefore, being a priori in logic entails that metaphysical guilt is in some sense ontologically prior to other forms of guilt, i.e., that metaphysical guilt originates in a transcendental source (reason alone), in Transcendence-Itself (God), or both. While guilt may be viewed behaviorally from a developmental point of view as originating in the feelings (Schuldgefühl), especially feelings of empathy with other sentient beings, what Jaspers describes as metaphysical guilt ultimately has the status of what Kant identifies as a "transcendental ideal," that is, as a regulative idea (CPR, B596-630). This is both the strength and the weakness of the notion of metaphysical guilt.

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Jaspers'Schuldfrage and Hiroshima
Tomoko Iwasawa | Reitaku University, Tokyo, Japan

Confronting the radical evil committed by humans in WWII, Jaspers' Die Schuldfrage discusses the notion of metaphysical guilt as the "lack of absolute solidarity with the human being as such." In it Jaspers emphasizes that only through the boundary situation of metaphysical guilt can one engage in the genuine pursuit of solidarity, which ultimately leads to the existential transformation of one's consciousness. This essay will inquire into this Jaspersian notion of metaphysical guilt from a Japanese perspective, by asking whether Japanese survivors of Hiroshima experienced metaphysical guilt in the Jaspersian sense. This question arises from the realization that there is originally no Japanese word for guilt, while there are the Japanese words for defilement and sin that, according to Paul Ricoeur, are the two experientially primary phenomena of evil, from which the consciousness of guilt can emerge. To discuss how the Japanese have developed their moral foundation without the notion of guilt, I will first examine the Japanese concepts for defilement and sin, as revealed in the narratives of Japanese myths. Based on this analysis, the essay will further show that the Japanese moral foundation has been developed out of the notion of Mono-no-aware: the experience of being moved by the Existenz of other beings - an encounter that makes one transcend one's ego, dissolves the distinction between one's consciousness and others', and leads to the realization that "one is lived by other beings," i.e., the realization of human solidarity and co-responsibility with the collective. Finally, the essay demonstrates that Japanese religious consciousness also pursues what Jaspers calls the "solidarity with the human being as such," but its pursuit is fulfilled, not by way of metaphysical guilt, but by way of Mono-no-aware.


Suicide Bombers: Martyrdom vs. the Death-Drive
Lydia Voronina | Independent Scholar

We all easily recognize names which sounded exotic only a short while ago: Hezbollah, HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Tamil Tigers, Gama'a al-Islamia, PKK, al-Qaeda. They are the most notorious among other 17 organizations in the world that use suicide bombing as the prime tactical weapon in pursuing their political goals. Since 1983 when the first suicide attack took place until today the number of suicide attacks has been increasing annually. The Tamil Tigers, a Sri Lanka separatist group that takes a lead in lethality, is responsible for more than half of all suicide attacks in the world. A percent of these attacks of all terrorist acts is low, but they account for a very high percent of total deaths due to terrorism. Many analysts believe that death of those who commit the suicide bombing acts and following reprisals do not stop them and "more people are willing to become suicide bombers now than in the past."

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The Case of Nietzsche's Madness
Malek K. Khazaee | California State University, Long Beach

It is essential to know how many of Nietzsche's books, if any, were written under the spell of madness. This matter becomes even more significant when one realizes that in the year leading to his street collapse in Torino Nietzsche wrote six of his most fascinating works. This essay's route of reaching its goal has a direction opposite to Nietzsche's own advice. Instead of learning a text by knowing the biography and personality of the author, this essay tries to evaluate the author's mental state by detecting signs of madness in his writing, especially some letters hitherto untranslated. The reason for this method of approach is the lack of psychiatric records in his medical files - a major difficulty, as researched and stated by Jaspers. While Nietzsche's fuse burned out on 3 January 1889, it is unclear when the fuse was lit. We understand that Nietzsche was always eccentric, always a little odd and crazy. We also understand that, as Nietzsche himself insisted, a spice of madness is necessary for creativity. He was undoubtedly very creative. But how mad was he, and when did he really go mad?


Ciphers of Transcendence and Utopian Potentials: Initiating a Conversation between Jaspers and Bloch
Mario Wenning | University of Puerto Rico

Jaspers and Bloch, who were acquaintances in Heidelberg, both elaborate a future-oriented philosophy. By establishing a dialogue between Jaspers's philosophy of transcendence and Bloch's philosophy of utopia it is possible to better understand the relationship between existentialism and Western Marxism. After reconstructing the notion of "limit situations" in Psychology of World Views, the focus is on Bloch's critique of, and alternative to, Jaspers' idea of transcendence. Finally, a comparative analysis that preserves the respective strengths and insights of existentialism and utopian Marxism is called for.


Judgment: Imagination, Creativity, and Delusion
Hugh F. Kelly | New York University

In his General Psychopathology, Jaspers maintains that delusion is incorrigible false judgment. Delusion, which has been deemed the basic characteristic of madness, is rooted in the imagination. The imagination is pre-judgmental, though, and the very same intellectual power that gives rise to delusion is also the source of creativity. The narrow divide between creativity and madness has often been noted. This essay explores the branching of imagination on these two paths. Imagination is characterized as intentional and heuristic, as well as pre-judgmental. Creativity has newness, communication, and fecundity as its hallmarks. Delusion not only fails to meet the standards of creativity, but is in fact a diseased mental state altering the sufferer's engagement with the world. Jaspers has proposed, "I become the way I judge." I propose that the judgment of free, non-deluded Existenz may be viewed as displaying open-mindedness, humility, and discernment.


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