Studi Jaspersiani, Volume X (2022), Grenzsituation as a key-Conception in Karl Jaspers’ Philosophy: Re-Readings, Interpretations, and Transfers

edited by: Elena Alessiato and Michael Quante

With the term Grenzsituation Karl Jaspers shaped one of the most famous concepts of his philosophy. At the same time, he delivered to the 20. century Existentialism a fascinating category, whose evocative power is far away from being exhausted.

Beginning by Jaspers’ thematization but without being limited to it, these issue of the Journal “Studi Jaspersiani” is dedicated to exploring whether and in which extent the meaning of such a category is still conceptually productive and valuable, inside and outside Jaspers’ thought and in and out of the philosophical field.

The aims of the issue are twofold: on one hand, there is the interest at relaunching the philosophical investigation on a category which is an essential joint in Jaspers’ philosophy for his comprehension of the human condition; on the other hand, the proposal of moving the category outside the philosophical perimeter of Jaspers’ thought expresses the interest in trying to make it fruitful both for the contemporary philosophy and for other disciplines.

In this frame, the idea of Grenzsituation has been confronted with the challenges and questions brought about by the contemporary world: from the literary to the psychological research, from the frontiers of justice to those of technology, from the historical interrogation to the environmental and social emergences.

NOTE: Abstracts are available here following. Forewords, abbreviations, notes and reviews can be freely read. Articles can be singularly purchased in pdf digital format. The paper volume can be bought here.

Elena Alessiato (University Suor Orsola Benincasa, Napoli, Italy)

Moving from the difference between «ground-situation» and «boundary-situation» the article tries to sketch out some basic features of them, among others: their permeability to the human action; the connection between pain and transcendence; the insufficiency of the intellectual awareness, and the role of free choice. From this background, the question about the historical guilt of the Germans after the IIWW is confronted with the hypothesis to consider it – or, at least, the way by which Jaspers thematizes it – as an analogy (but not as a full equivalent) to the correspondent boundary-situation. What one more time emerges is the fascinating complexity of both the notions of Grenzsituation and guilt also in the light of Jaspers’ personal life throughout the 20. century.

Read more

Boško Pešić (Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek, Croatia)

Pavao Žitko (Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek, Croatia)

This contribution analyzes the notion of guilt in the theoretical framework of the philosophy of existence as a limit situation of human experience in the world of life. In addition to the canonical division of guilt into four types with the consequent contexts and systems of their evaluation, metaphysical guilt is specified here as the most philosophically relevant and capable of having political, moral and legal declinations without being translated into the other three types of guilt outlined by Jaspers. Furthermore, the limit situation of the philosophical orientation of oneself in the world in a metaphysical guise is highlighted as that which, as its prerequisite and consequence, has the profound introspection of existence within its ontologically constitutive speculative structures.

Read more

Fabiola Falappa (University of Macerata, Italy)

The present research shows that Jaspers’ philosophy is constantly engaged, both on the metaphysical and the historical side, to recall the responsibility to read the common life of human beings and to act in order to transform world society into an authentic community. This opening, more urgent today than ever, is realized if the person has the courage to face first of all the negative, the finitude, the limit. It is the existence as such that carries within itself the Grenzsituationen. In this perspective, it emerges that the shipwreck, which is the preferred metaphor by Jaspers to mean the failure of every navigation project in life, can turn from a limit into the decisive threshold for the whole sense of existence, carrying within itself a kind of mysterious but liberating gift. The turning point is that the shipwrecked man is now available to the truth of transcendence. In metaphysical knowledge we experience a limitation that is also structural for our journey of knowledge of the truth: it is a matter of facing the scandal of nothingness. It is right before him that the recognition of an essential truth can be opened: being already understood in the relationship with the original being and with the eternal. Through the Durchbruch of the limit intended as a boundary, we reach the Umgreifende, the transcendence that allows the person, even in finitude and time, to welcome the transcendence itself. The way of being transcendent is the communion generated by love, which bases the transition from ontology to periecontology, that is the transition from a metaphysics of the neutral being to a metaphysics of the love-being.

Read more

Jean-Claude Gens (University of Burgundy, France)

The aim of this paper is to sketch a dialog between Karl Jaspers and Albert Schweitzer at the time of our ecology crisis. Our relation to the other living beings is fundamental in Schweitzer’s ethic of reverence for life; in Jaspers’ philosophy it is in a few pages of his Philosophy and more widely in a typescript entitled “Nature and Ethics” that we encounter this question of our relation to nature. The context in which both of them think about the question of this relation is a cultural criticism and a call to a spiritual conversion. Schweitzer emphasizes the fact that we are indebted to the other living beings and even guilty because we have no reverence for them, whereas Jaspers’ idea of guilt as a limit situation concerns only our relation to other humans; his concept of guilt remains in this sense anthropocentric, but the accuracy of Jaspers’ analysis allows a deepening of this experience of debt and guilt. But in Schweitzer’s ethic this feeling is also counterbalanced by the idea that we have to feel gratitude and compassion toward living beings. Another difference between the two philosophers can be found in their descriptions of the two abyss we have to avoid; for Jaspers, the belief that nature is the only real being or the belief that nature is reducible to the resources that can be exploited; for Schweitzer, the necessity to devote oneself to the other living beings and the necessity to accomplish oneself.

Read more

Dario Gentili (Roma Tre University, Italy)

The essay aims to consider Karl Jaspers’ conception of boundary situations on the basis of their peculiar spatiality. The very terminology that Jaspers uses allows for this kind of analysis. Indeed, to be in a situation implies for existence (Dasein) to be situated within a topographical order and it is always spatial metaphors to describe boundary situations. And it is always a spatial image that Jaspers uses to represent the space of the “leap” from existence immanent to the topographical order to a possible Existenz that crosses it: that of an “enigmatic threshold”. An attempt is then made to trace in other thinkers (Derrida, Foucault, Benjamin) a conception of the threshold as a non-topographical spatiality that would allow one to conceive, simultaneously and at the same time, here and beyond, immanence and transcendence, real and possible. It emerges that the meaning of threshold takes on different and sometimes substantial nuances depending on the language (Seuil, Schwelle).

Read more

Wener Schüßler (Faculty of Theology, Trier, Germany)

Usually it is assumed that the concept of the limit situation goes back to Karl Jaspers, as he introduced it for the first time in his writing Psychology of Worldviews of 1919. However, in a very unique way, the German-American Protestant theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich (1886-1965) has also used this term since 1928, with nothing to indicate that he adopted it from Jaspers. The first part of this article deals with fundamental similarities and differences in the thinking of Jaspers and Tillich. Then, in a second part, Jaspers’ concept of the limit situation is presented. The example of the limit situation of death is used to concretize these remarks. The third part is devoted to Tillich’s understanding of the limit situation. Here it becomes clear that the concept of the limit situation has undergone various developments in Tillich. Starting from a theological interpretation, this concept receives in the course of time an anthropological shaping and finally a more ontological shaping. It is also noticeable that Tillich – in contrast to Jaspers – does not speak of various limit situations such as death, suffering, guilt and struggle, but ultimately of only one, which is connected with the unconditional threat to human existence or with the anxiety of having to die. This anxiety expresses itself in despair and guilt because of our freedom. Finally, the decisive difference of the two conceptions is to be seen in the fact that, according to Jaspers, the limit situations throw man back upon himself, whereas Tillich understands the Christian symbols as an answer to the question raised in the human limit situation.

Read more

Czesława Piecuch (Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland)

The concept of limit situations constitutes the central issue of Karl Jaspers’ philosophy, focusing together its main notions: existence, transcendence, and freedom. The presented analysis of limit situations emphasizes the importance of Jaspers’ appeal warning man against escaping from such situations, and calling for facing them courageously, taking into account their fundamental importance for human true life. In the philosopher’s opinion, human heroism in the face of dramatic events constitutes a spiritual achievement which radically changes man, making him a new man and giving meaning to his life. This is what happens when man resists, with his spiritual strength, the threat that comes from limit situations: suffering – with courage, death – with the depth of life, guilt – with responsibility, struggle – with the pursuit of peace. In the final part of the article, it is shown that Jaspers’ idea of limit situations has found a significant resonance in psychotherapy, namely in the modern method of treating neuroses called logotherapy developed by Victor E. Frankl, and the underlying concept of man as homo patiens.

Read more

Tim Rojek (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany)

The task is to clarify and adapt Karl Jaspers concept of ‘boundary situations’, which he develops and provides in the second volume of his trilogy Philosophie. Said concept shall be explicated in such a way, that it will be possible to examine if it is useful for a mutual fruitful relationship to the project of an explication of the concept of ‘personality’. The paper unfolds in three chapters. In the first chapter (I) the concept of ‘boundary situations’ will be explicated using the concepts of a ‘participant view’ and an ‘observatory view’ and the concepts of a (first-personal) ‘performance view’ and a ‘reporting view’, to clarify Jaspers’ concept and make some problems visible. In the second part (II) some rough contours of the philosophy of person and the concept of personality are developed, so that in the third part (III), first steps for a fruitful dialogue between Jaspers concept embedded in existential philosophy and the more analytical debate revolving around the concept of person and the phenomenon of personality can be executed.

Read more

Barbara Henry (Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy)

The new fields of possibility opened up by the developments of the life sciences and bionic medicine of high technological impact are now a part of day-to-day experience of thousands of ‘common’ people. But, which is the set of interpretative tools necessary to tackle this kind of experience? Is there not perhaps a symbolic space of elaboration and motivated social criticism of neuroscientists’ research and bio-robotic medical practices, which is different from religion and ethics, that is pop culture? In this contribution the aim is to show the symbolic and anthropological line that crosses the mythic plot of the artificial, hybrid humanoid, starting from the Golem of Talmudic and Kabbalistic tradition to end with the modern cyborg. Both belong to the broader family of the “not natural born of woman”. On the one hand, the golemic class includes a range of intermediate beings: spirits, angels and demons, imaginary creatures made up of intelligent matter or material capable of self-organization in pursuing specific objectives. On the other hand, the class of cyborgs comprises human or humanoid subjects – partly organic, partly inorganic – whose hybrid conformation is functionally cohesive. Since cyborgs reflect the kind of anthropoids that are neither totally organic nor totally mechanical, their manifold configurations are located along a frantic, painful line of related liminal situations (Grenzsituationen). The category ‘Grenzsituation’ here acquires a new meaning, which is slightly beyond to Jaspers’ acceptance, and more in the broader sense of liminality; it resonates with a wider echo in the symbolic dimension, which is, or at least surely has been for centuries, the frame for a fundamental human urgency to overcome the iatus between immanence and transcendence, by the intertwining dimensions of cognition, sciences, and sapiential apprehension of the world.

Read more

Stefania Achella (University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy)

Vulnerability and limit situations both express the fragility of the human and other living beings. Although these two concepts have been a subject of dialogue in the psychopathological tradition, the same has not yet happened in that of the philosophical. The ethics of vulnerability seem to entirely disregard Karl Jaspers’ reflections on limit situations, which have much in common with the structural vulnerability of the human. Commencing with this lack in perspective, this essay attempts to build a bridge between these conceptions by utilising the psychiatric paradigmatic approach to the relationship between vulnerability and limit situations, with the aim of extending this relationship within the broader project of an existential anthropology of vulnerability.

Read more

Michael Quante (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany)

The following paper analyses Karl Jaspers’ conception of the Lebensform of human persons. Thereby, the dialectical constellation of “Grenzsituation” and “Transzendenz” is examined. The analysis is guided by the question in which way the finiteness of human beings can be transcended in facing the death of another human being or in being confronted with our own death. The tensions in Jaspers’ overall conception are interpreted as a dialectical constellation in Walter Benjamin’s sense. The main impact of Jaspers’ conception, so it is argued, can be seen in his suggestion that transcendence is not a matter of beliefs but a change in practical attitudes. Therefore, Karl Jaspers’ conception of “existentielles Selbstverhältnis” is still of systematic relevance for a philosophical explication of human personhood.

Read more

Adrian Morreale (University of Münster, Germany)

What connects utopia and the Jaspers’ boundary situations? Through a semantic analysis of the term utopia and by comparing the contributions of Lalande and Bloch, namely the heuristic utopia and the utopia of hope, this paper attempts to answer this question by starting from Jaspers’ critique of common-sense utopia. An attempt will be made to show that the vital process of the situation, in which Being exists, is explicable as a utopian process, that is, as a crisis and the necessity of its overcoming. It is intended to show in what sense the utopian process manifests the boundary of the situation of Being and the existential necessity of its going beyond. In this sense utopia will be manifested as the attempt to narrate this process.

Read more

Simon Calenge (University of Burgundy, France)

At the end of the 20th century, the political debate changed. Politics was no more a discussion about redistribution, but an ethic fight for recognition. This new fight shows the real nature of political debate. Shedding light in the structures of this fight can allow to give a new understanding to the limit-situation of fight by Karl Jaspers. The political fight for recognition, with its potentially violent effects, seems to be an unavoidable necessity. It is nevertheless unsatisfactory (Ungenugend). This fight opens the way to the possibility of existential communication, where authentical recognition happens between the individuals.

Read more

Marica Magnano San Lio (University of Catania, Italy)

The aim of this paper is to underline the philosophical declination of Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology. Jaspers, aware of the substantial irreducibility of the individual to any form of rigorous objectification, argues for a methodological pluralism, capable of combining the empirical-descriptive method relative to the Naturwissenschaften and the phenomenological-empathetic method relative to the Geisteswissenschaften. This awareness has its roots in the earliest psychopathological writings, but is developed above all by the fourth edition of General Psychopathology, in which the philosophical attitude takes on a central role. Only a productive interaction between philosophy and sciences makes it possible to grasp the irreducible complexity of the “whole man”, of which psychic life is also a manifestation.

Read more

  • P. Ricoeur, Gabriel Marcel e Karl Jaspers. Filosofia del mistero e filosofia del paradosso (Claudio Amicantonio, University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy)
  • Karl Jaspers – Leben als Grenzsituation. Eine Biographie in Briefen (Marica Magnano San Lio, University of Catania, Italy)
  • Karl Jaspers, Gesammelte Schriften zur Psychopathologie (Luca Scafoglio, University of Salerno, Italy)

Read more