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Karl Jaspers is the founder of phenomenological psychopathology, liberating psychiatry from the positivistic dream of an overall solution in the realm of brain pathology and a total merging with neurology. Jaspers has thus opened a way for an anthropological approach to the study of mental disorders. In Jaspers’ thought, the subject is in the centre of every consideration, but for Jaspers (1946) when the human being appears, the “other” always seems to surface. This “other” is the continuous transcendence of human existence. Jaspers’ position in psychopathology is defined by two refusals: 1) to reject the area of the unconscious as the refusal of psychoanalysis, considered by Jaspers as indemonstrable 2) the refusal of a total knowledge of the human being in himself. Jaspers manages to avoid the ontological plane and programs to remain on the ontic plane. The works of Jaspers, apart from the enlightening data, are in essence a methodological lesson: a brilliant foundation. This is the reason for its extraordinary survival.
One hundred years after the appearance of its first edition, Jaspers’ General Psychopathology remains highly relevant to at least three areas of psychiatric inquiry: the epistemology of psychiatry, the classification of mental disorders, and the exploration of subjective experiences in people with schizophrenia. In this paper, Jaspers’ view on these issues will be critically addressed.
Starting from a semiotic-psychological perspective, the authors discuss some of the characteristics of sense-making processes of one’s own experience, achieved through narrative processes. In this contribution, an interest in the narration is articulated around its transformative potential within a clinical setting. For this purpose, a dynamic-semiotic model of the mind is introduced, different hermeneutic frames (telling stories, discourse) of understanding of narrative processes are discerned and argued, and finally the relationship between narration and reflexive processes is discussed from a relational-dialogical point of view.
Karl Jaspers is considered the founder of Psychopathology as a science, with its own object and methodology. This foundation was substantially built on his rebuttal of naturalistic reductionism, which is an attempt to limit mental phenomena and instances of mental illness to the brain’s organic substrate. Psychopathology as a science is based, by contrast, on the assumption that mental abnormalities bear a meaningful and gestalt-like character and thus cannot be exhausted by listing symptoms, which would then be understood as direct reflections of neurobiological disturbances. In Jaspers’ day and age, his critique of the “Brain Mythologies” was contrary to overhasty localization of mental functions to certain centres of the brain, as well as the absolutization of causal research. He contrasts this reductionist approach with an understanding-based approach, established through reenactment, empathy, and thereby the internal connection that the therapist feels towards his patient as a fellow human being. The relevance of the Jaspersian critique will be established in view of the current neurobiological paradigm in psychiatry. At the same time, it will be asserted that Psychopathology today has become insufficient by being restricted solely to the domain of conscious subjectivity. Psychopathology will only be able to regain its relevance when it surpasses the subjectivism of understanding and considers biological processes, and as such, to be socially and historically founded.
This paper discusses the issue of ‘understanding’ built from and as a continuation of Jaspers’ legacy. We argue that the strict dichotomy of understanding and explaining can be overcome. The abnormal experiences in clinical cases of schizophrenic derealization are taken as an example. We show that an accurate and detailed characterization of these experiences can help us understand the metamorphosis of the ontological framework within which abnormal experiences are cast. The shift of focus from the experiential (phenomenal) level to the framework of experience as a condition of possibility allows the shift from pure description to casual explanation.
This paper will closely investigate Jaspers’ work on psychotherapy and psychiatry practice and give a detailed representation of the advancement of his knowledge throughout his works. This reconstruction will allow us to maintain that Jaspers clearly demonstrates a methodologically critical approach towards medicine as a ‘factual science’ and, in fact, refrains from developing an existential psychotherapy. In spite of his attitude of restraint, some concepts drawn from Jaspers’ existential philosophy, such as Grenzsituation and Gehause, can be considered extremely fertile for psychotherapy and the psychiatric practice; these disciplines require a different approach in order to draw from these concepts. This different approach could be, to quote Jaspers, associated to that of fellow sufferers [Schicksalsgefahrten] or, to use a more modern term, Mit-Mensch.
In the chapter on Meaningful Objective Facts in General Psychopathology, Jaspers faces the problem of comprehending the very same objective facts that are, however, sensebearing. The corporeity, addressed by physiognomy, mimicry and script analysis creates a new field of analysis of the inner Being of the subject, much like the World: the epicentre of worldview-psychology. Would it be possible for psychopathology to achieve the comprehension of these facts? If so, how far can this knowledge evolve? The goal of this paper is to analyze how Jaspers elaborates these aspects and what kind of contribution they can make to comprehensive psychopathology.
This essay examines the theme of incomprehensibility on the basis of pathography conducted by Jaspers on Strindberg. Starting from a more general consideration on the Jaspersian philosophy of existence, we analyzed the relationship determined by Jaspers between the limits of understanding and the assumption concerning the differences between the psychological process and development of a personality. The impossibility, recognized by Jaspers, of a genetic understanding of the schizophrenic delusion compels us in Strindberg’s pathography to value judgments that restrict the scientific approach of the same pathography. This essay also draws a comparison between the Jaspersian attempt of a pathographic study and the phenomenological analysis of delusion performed by Binswanger, with reference to Strindberg, through to the fundamentals of the Husserlian transcendental phenomenology.
For the analysis and understanding of an illness it is very important in Karl Jaspers’ Psychopathology to listen to the patient’s own state of mind and conditions of existence. This has therefore become particularly interesting in the lives and stories of those great artistic personalities whose suffering and pathologies are an integral part of the beauty of their works. Among them is the great Russian writer Fëdor Dostoevskij who describes the complexity of the human soul with great insight, especially when dealing with the constituent elements of the illness that had afflicted him: epilepsy. In Prince Myškin, he described it as a feeling of ecstasy and harmony that came a few seconds before the seizure, like a deep crisis and mental impairment which manifests its conclusion. Epilepsy is often accompanied, in fact, by the perception of pain and anguish. These elements fuel the ability of the writer to represent the infinite range of emotions and upheavals that capture the suffering of the human soul. The “lived time” , between the onset of the crisis and its conclusion is of particular interest: a disjointed time with respect for objective time. In the “lived time”, the Psychopathologist can sharpen the tools for understanding these sick and frail existences.
The first part of this study (par. 1 & 2) retraces the concept of “self-experience” or “awareness of personality” that emerges from the 1913 first edition of Psychopathology by Jaspers. In the second part (par. 3) certain elements of a phenomenological theory of identity are outlined through a formal approach posited by Jaspers and measured against other authors. Finally, this paper will stress (par. 4) the significant differences found in the IV edition of Psychopathology, thus demonstrating the theoretical advantages gained from the contemplation of identity which stem from the contrast with psychic pathology.
In the first part of this essay a precise history of the concept of jealousy is drawn from literature, arts, poetry and philosophy, outlining its relation to close terms such as envy while stating their origins, development and presence in European culture from ancient Greece to modern times. The second part analyzes its medical and psychiatric treatment from the 19th century onwards, in particular the terms which Karl Jaspers defines it in his essay Eifersuchtswahn, in which the distinction between the “development of a personality” and “process” is introduced.
This paper aims at showing the historical and methodological importance of Jaspers’ Psychopathology, as well as to underline its hidden philosophical presuppositions. From Jaspers’ perspective, the individual is a totality that cannot be embraced or described by human thought: individuum est ineffabile. Man is always more than what he knows about himself; in the Kantian sense, man is a regulative idea; hence the reason for Jaspers’ polemic against the methodological reductionism of positivism and against the psychological theories which purport to explain or understand the infinity of the individual in a comprehensive manner, as well as his defense of the so-called ‘methodological pluralism’. Every research based on a particular method is necessarily prospective by nature. This means, however, that no method alone can suffice to describe to individual as a whole. Psychic life must be considered as a whole that is not only infinite, but also radically adverse to any coherent systematization. From this standpoint the individual can never become object, but is the unattainable endpoint of each understanding. We will encounter this point of view further on in Jaspers’ critical analysis of the claim of absoluteness raised by historical religions.
Individuum est ineffabile. This is the main idea which has inspired Jaspers to write his opus magnum – Allgemeine Psychopatologie (General Psychopathology, 1913): the mentally sick individual is not an abstract and morbid concept, but an “always open whole”, an “enigma” that requires philosophical clarification. Being is more than knowledge, and this surplus has an important philosophical substratum in Jaspers psychopathological research. This connection between philo-ousia and psychopathology is the central topic in the pathographies, essays where mental illness is not regarded as being nonsensical or something irrational, but a kind of incomprehensible ‘sign’ (Chiffer); the “essential and distinctive feature” that indicates a particular way of Being. Jaspers considers pathographies as a heuristic device, a hermeneutic (non-diagnostic) instrument to better approach the alienated world; it also outlines an ethics of incomprehensibility, by virtue of which the world and, likewise, human being can obtain a new meaning and a new sense. In my article, I explore and compare these two perspectives.
‘Assumption’ and ‘prejudice’ are close, yet different, terms. An unbiased view of the object is impossible. Hence, the necessity of making assumptions arises. According to Jaspers, we can point out different types of prejudices: philosophical or deductive, theoretical, somatic, and quantitative. The catalogue is longer than this: another type of extremely pervasive and insidious prejudice is the imaginative. In philosophical and scientific thought this late prejudice takes the form of a space metaphor and its correlative concepts, such as: part of a whole, stratum, aspect, perspective and determination.
The name “Jaspers” refers here to a problem that finds a paradigmatic and historically very influential expression in Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology, but this largely transcends the figure of Jaspers and his work. This particular problem constantly re-emerges in twentieth-century human sciences, influencing their path and dynamics in a highly characteristic, even symptomatic, way. After focusing on the dimension of the comprehensible, human sciences have increasingly directed their attention to the experience of the incomprehensible; once a method of understanding had been adopted, they shifted towards a kind of paradoxical method of incomprehension. Semiotics, cultural anthropology, economics, and psychoanalysis – to name just a few – followed a similar path. I will illustrate this historical process, and I will trace its origin to a speculative model, dating back to the roots of modern philosophy, to Descartes and even as far back as Nicholas of Cusa. I will argue that the trajectory of humanism – to which the Jaspersian logic of comprehension still belongs – always implies the awareness of the need to deal with the non-human. I will also argue that human sciences, if they want to be “human” and not “natural”, must be structured as “pre-human” or “over-human” sciences, and that the only possible “nonnatural” science must have the epistemic structure of a science of the “incomprehensible”. In other words, the only possible articulation of a human science lies in its translation into the language of a science of the “spirit”, namely negative theology.
Among the several areas found in Jaspers’ philosophy, a remarkable interest is shown towards the relationship between genius and madness. This topic is the focus of his “pathographies”. This essay analyzes the roles of pathographies along the intellectual journey of Jaspers, starting from their origins along the interstice between psychopathology and its phenomenological orientation. After reviewing and studying the pathographies of Van Gogh, Hölderlin and Nietzsche, I will try to follow the connection between authenticity and madness: can a mental disease access the world of real authenticity? This essay will later focus on the relationship between Jaspers and avant-garde art. His criticism towards early twentieth Century art culture is based on several thorough philosophical positions, focusing on the very concept of authenticity, which this essay sets out to expound upon and highlight.
The young Jaspers was deeply impressed by Weber’s methodological reflection upon the subject of the Verstehen. This helped him to distinguish, in the field of the psychopathological theory, a kind of knowledge that aims at that which is understandable from a different kind of knowledge that pivots only on the explanation of non-understandable causal relations. However, as Ernst M. Manasse pointed out in a 1957 essay, «Weber himself welcomed Jaspers’ continuation of his own analyses and in turn referred to Jaspers when he later characterized his own approach as “verstehende sociology”», along the lines of Jaspers’ «verstehende psychology». This article aims at developing this train of thought and at highlighting the reasons why Weber admires Jaspers’ approach to the subject of understanding, which is at the centre of the Allgemeine Psychopathologie (1913).
There are two important processes that characterize the thought of Karl Jaspers: the importance of psychic life reality detached from the process of psychological therapies and focused solely on explanation (Erklaren), and the simultaneous enhancement of understanding (Verstehen) as a method of studying a particular trait of a specific psychological process. Jaspers’ need to integrate the methods of Verstehen and the objective approach of Erklaren, besides, for example, refuting the claims of the psychoanalytic perspective, aims at radically rethinking the methodological assumptions of psychiatric science. This profound analysis carried out on epistemological issues leads the philosopher to restore dignity to philosophizing, which he posits as being a “critical philosophy” while rethinking the problem. Subsequently, this becomes the centerpiece of the existential process of self-clarification: the realization of oneself by acting inwardly; to attain freedom. In this context, the investigation of the potential of Jaspers’ thought, with reference to its practical application, is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the method and problems of philosophical counseling.
Jaspers’s sharp perception of the interweaving between a work of art and illness in van Gogh is still valid today. The focus is not so much on the study of the influence of psychosis in art, but rather in the vision of a dynamic unity between painting and personal experience that mental illness seems to foster rather than weaken. This contribution’s goal is to go beyond Jaspers’ analysis, following his pathographic insights but focusing on “form”, on the expressive modes of van Gogh’s brushstroke and intensity of colours, more than on the “contents” of his art and on their link to his mental state. By developing this assumption, this contribution will show that van Gogh succeeded in holding true to his artistic mission until his colours enabled him to see the external world and hear its terrible yet exalting sounds. Ultimately, something gave way: a breach not only between the inner and outer world, as one may think. Deep down his world something was torn apart when his perceptive experience, marked by his anchorage to colours, was separated from his psychic and spiritual experience, leaving his only option: psychological breakdown.
This contribution is about the aesthetical, psychological and philosophical term „Einfühlung”, or “empathy“, within the psychopathological works of Karl Jaspers. Jaspers uses it referring to both the understanding of psychical phenomena by psychiatrists and psychopathologists and its damaged or sane capability revealed by patients. The historical reconstruction of the origins of the term within German philosophical and scientific literature shows how it has been utilized from romantic aesthetics and philosophy of nature onwards, in order to describe the obscure areas of aesthetic phenomena of perception and understanding, where human scientific knowledge cannot successfully go, such as symbolism, spatial perceptions etc. The history of empathy during the 19th Century can be described as a process of “psychologization” of these aesthetical problems and ways of inquiry.
Stefania Achella, Rimanere in cammino. Karl Jaspers e la crisi della filosofia (Paola Ricci Sindoni)
Giandomenico Bonanni, Con gli occhi di uno straniero. Saggi su Jaspers e altri scritti, con tre inediti di Karl Jaspers (Dario Cecchi)
Elena Alessiato, Karl Jaspers e la politica. Dalle origini alla questione della colpa (Roberto Celada Ballanti)
Roberto Celada Ballanti, Filosofia e religione. Studi su Karl Jaspers (Elena Alessiato)
La Psychopathologie générale de Karl Jaspers 1913-2013, a cura di Philippe Cabestan e Jean-Claude Gens (Giuseppe Maccauro)
Nota di Anton Hügli, Edizione commentata dell’opera completa di Karl Jaspers (autunno 2014)