The Successors and Critics of Karl Jaspers

  • Alan M. Olson
Part of the Studies in Philosophy and Religion book series (STPAR, volume 2)


It was Jaspers’ articulation of “the boundary situation” which, in Hans Gadamer’s view, redirected German philosophy in the 20th century more than any other single factor because it asked for a level of “existential commitment” which had at the time almost disappeared.1 Jaspers’ thought, of course, made little impression in the United States until after World War II when some of his writings began to appear in English for the first time. Even then existentialism never made the impression in the Anglo-American world that it did on the Continent. Indeed, during the postwar period when innumerable books, essays and articles were pouring off the press attempting to introduce the American audience to phenomenology and existentialism, it was commonplace to lump Jaspers, Heidegger, Buber, Tillich and Bultmann together with French philosophical and literary figures like Sartre, Camus, Marcel and others as though they were totally homogeneous one with the other. Today, of course, we realize that the differences between these so-called existentialists are frequently greater than with philosophers who are not so labeled.


Hermeneutic Circle Philosophical Anthropology Hermeneutic Philosophy KARL Jasper Humane Philosophize 
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    See “What is a Text?” in David Rasmussen, Mythic-Symbolic Language and Philosophical Anthropology (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1971), pp. 135–150, and Ricoeur’s most recent major studies including, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1976), and The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, a translation of La métaphore vive (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1975), by Robert Czerny (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977). This most recent work on metaphor may certainly be viewed as formal preparation to Ricoeur’s long awaited Poetics of the Will. It also seems to me that in this most stunning recent work the Jaspersian theories of Grenzsituationen and Chifferschrift hover in and about Ricoeur’s tensive theories of metaphor.The “semantic impertinence” and “innovation” effected by metaphorical usage, Ricoeur suggests, produce in the hearer a kind of “shock” that is concomitant with the opening of new horizons of meaning through imaginative philosophical speculation. These “shocks” or jolts, so recollective of the “recoils” in Jaspers’ “boundary situations,” are caused by what Ricoeur terms the “split reference” of metaphor and the reorientation of consciousness through linguistic disorientation. While this split reference can be viewed strictly at the formal level of semantics, this is not sufficient for Ricoeur inasmuch as it is his intention, as stated in “Freedom and Nature, to reconnect ontology with poetics while insisting on their formal separateness. In order to do this it would appear that Ricoeur must develop further his theory of symbol inasmuch as the split reference of symbol consists of a linguistic and a non-linguistic reference, and it is the latter that is decisive vis-a-vis the problem of Transcendence. In these explorations it would appear that Ricoeur will have to deal not only with Heidegger, who looms so large at the end of The Rule of Metaphor, but also Karl Jaspers’ philosophy of Transcendence.Google Scholar
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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers bv, The Hague 1979

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  • Alan M. Olson

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