“Karl Jaspers’ Conceptions of the Meaning of Life” – Kurt SALAMUN

EXISTENZ – An International Journal in Philosophy, Religion, Politics, and the Arts, vol. 1, nr. 1-2, Fall 2006

Abstract: The thesis is explicated, that we can finally distinguish three conceptions of the meaning of life in Jaspers’ philosophy. This thesis is grounded on the distinction of two different periods of Jaspers’ philosophizing: an early period of his existential philosophy, and a later period, when Jaspers rejected the terms “Existentialism” or “existential philosophy” for his philosophizing and preferred to call it a “philosophy of reason.” In the early period, Jaspers holds the following two positions: (1) The idea of realising the meaning of life by overcoming boundary situations in the right way, and (2) the idea of realising the meaning of life by interpersonal existential communication. In the later period, he holds (3) the position of realising the meaning of life by a life governed by reason.

A closer examination of Jaspers’ earlier books leads to the conclusion that the concept of reason has neither a dominant position in his Psychology of World-Views (1918), nor in his main work in Existentialism or existential philosophy, the three volumes of the book Philosophy published in 1932. The concept of reason became relevant for Jaspers in his Existence and Reason (1936). Then this concept got a basic priority in the large book Von der Wahrheit (1948), and also in Jaspers’ main work in political philosophy, The Atom Bomb and the Future of Man (1958). An explicit demand to call his later philosophizing a “philosophy of reason” we can find in the book Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time, written in 1950… [PDF]