Hegel's famous words in the foreword to his Rechtsphilosophie are not inappropriate to Karl Jaspers' way of thinking:
Das was ist zu begreifen, ist die Aufgabe der Philosophie, den das was ist, ist die Vernunft. Was das Individuum betrifft, so ist ohnehin jedes ein Sohn seiner Zeit; so ist auch die Philosophie eher Zeit in Gedanken erfaßt.
The relentless attempt of Karl Jaspers "to comprehend his own time in thought," to make rational sense out the world as he found it, is what initially attracted me to his philosophizing. Little did I realize the extent to which his oeuvre would sustain me throughout much of my academic career, including an opportunity to reflect on the North American reception of Jaspers at this remarkable celebration of Oldenburg's favorite philosophical son. I sincerely thank you, and especially Professors Kurt Salamun and Reinhard Schulz, for inviting me to be a part of Jaspersjahr.
In what follows I examine some of the cultural, religious and political factors having a bearing on the Jaspers reception in North America. Obviously this examination is guided by my personal reception of Jaspers, a reception that moves from theology in divinity school to existentialism, phenomenology and German Idealism in graduate school and subsequent research and publication. I hope that the lens of own experience will not distort what I say in ways that are inaccurate or unrepresentative of the overall reception of Karl Jaspers in North America. A comprehensive evaluation of the continental reception of a prominent thinker is a daunting task and far beyond the scope of a single essay. Such a task also requires a perspective far greater than my own. I will conclude my comments with some reflections on what I see as being on the future of Jaspers studies in North America.
The Historical Factor
Being "a child of his time" (ein Sohn seiner Zeit) meant that Karl Theodore Jaspers (1883-1969) was part of the truly remarkable generation of German speaking "Continental"(2) philosophers and theologians: Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945), Martin Heidegger 1889-1976), Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), Karl Barth (1886-1968), Friedrich Gogarten (1887-1968), Paul Natorp (1884-1974), Nicholai Hartmann (1882-1950), Emil Brunner (1889-1966), and Paul Tillich (1884-1965). All of these distinguished scholars and thinkers were born in the 1880s. If we extend the list back a year to 1879, we can add the illustrious name of Albert Einstein.
It was a generation, as Friedrick Gogarten put it famously, Zwischen den Zeiten, Zwischen Gott und Welt, Transzendenz und Immanenz, like no other, perhaps, in the modern history of philosophy and theology. The thinkers of this generation were in their thirties during WWI and in their fifties during WWII; in other words, they were at the peak of intellectual maturity during these world-defining conflicts.
Not surprisingly, those of us born far away in North America during the early decades of the twentieth century turned to Continental scholars for insight regarding the meaning of the dramatic events of the first half of the twentieth century, both its achievements or its horrors. No one in academia had been more directly affected by the catastrophic events of two world wars than those born in the 1880s–especially those who had spoken out, who resisted, or who were forced to emigrate, whether that emigration was "outer," as in the case of Cassirer and Tillich, or "inner, " as in the case of Jaspers.(3)
Karl Jaspers died in 1969, the year I commenced my doctoral studies at Boston University, and this foreclosed any opportunity to meet and hear him in person. Thus I became what Kierkegaard calls a "disciple at second-hand" since my knowledge and familiarity came by way of the translators and mediators of Jaspers' published works—people for whom Jaspers had been a Doktorvater, whether directly or indirectly, and who were dedicated to making him known in the English speaking world.
The task of introducing Jaspers to the English speaking world was admirably undertaken by another generation of remarkable scholars born during the first two decades of the twentieth century: Hannah Arendt, Ralph Manheim, E. B. Ashton, Charles Wallraff, William Earl, Richard Howey, James Collins, Walter Kaufmann, Eugene Long, Oswald Schrag, and Richard Grabau, among others. Leonard and Edith Ehrlich(4) belong to this distinguished group, and the Ehrlichs, more than any others, continue to be responsible for the transmission of the philosophy of Karl Jaspers to Americans, whether through translation or commentary and interpretation. It was the Ehrlichs, together with George Pepper, who founded the Karl Jaspers Society of North America at the Boston meeting of the American Philosophical Association in 1980, and who developed a fine introductory reader to his philosophical works.(5)
In the case of my own contemporaries, born in the 1930s and 1940s, the philosophy of Karl Jaspers was transmitted not only by translators and disciples, but also by way of a host of distinguished teachers and colleagues greatly influenced by Jaspers. For me this included teachers and mentors such as Harold Oliver and Erazim Kohak (who were my dissertation readers) and other eminent scholars such as Fritz Buri, Eric Voegelin, John N. Findlay, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Paul Ricoeur, who respected Jaspers in deeply admiring ways.
To this impressive list I would also add John R. Silber, the philosopher-president of Boston University, under whose watchful eye I worked for over thirty years. As it turned out serendipitously, John Silber was the friend and classmate of Richard Grabau at Yale University. Richard Grabau, in 1953, wrote one of the first American doctoral dissertations on Jaspers, viz., "Existence and Truth in the Philosophy of Karl Jaspers," and went on to translate Jaspers' famous 1937 lectures on Existenzphilosophie.(6) Richard Grabau's exposition of the philosophy of Karl Jaspers remains one of the most illuminating in the English language. John Silber's approval of my own work was due, at least in part, to his admiration of Jaspers by way of Richard Grabau and to his own philosophical identity as a Kantian.(7) Had I specialized in Heidegger, I do not think that I would have been so fortunate.
This brings me to the first of several religious and cultural factors affecting the North American reception of Jaspers—factors that can be amplified by some reflections on the rather complicated Jaspers-Heidegger relationship and the Heidegger reception in America as contrast to the reception of Jaspers.
The Heidegger Factor
Martin Heidegger enjoyed a much larger following in the United States than Jaspers following WWII, and his popularity continues to the present time. The numbers are significant and, for Jaspers scholars, somewhat discouraging.(8)
There have been about 40 theses and dissertations devoted to Karl Jaspers in North America since 1950, most being written during the 1960s and 1970s. During the past 10 years, however, there have been only 6 theses and dissertations on Jaspers, of which 4 have been in political science and history.
Heidegger, in contrast to Jaspers, has been the subject of over 600 theses and dissertations since 1960, and these numbers show no sign of abating.(9) Thus the perplexing question: How could a thinker with the extraordinary range of Jaspers, who wrote on every aspect of the philosophical sciences, including psychiatry, be seemingly eclipsed by Heidegger? How could an avowed Nazi sympathizer, like Heidegger, enjoy a far greater reception amongst Americans than Karl Jaspers, a philosopher who did not have "dirty hands" (to use the phrase of Michael Walzer) and was handpicked by the American occupation forces in 1946 to play a leading role in the project of De-Nazification? Indeed, how was it possible for Heidegger to become more influential in America, perhaps, than any other twentieth century European "continental" thinker, given the events of the 1930s and the 1940s?
The reasons are manifold, but I think that the Jaspers and Heidegger receptions are capable of being elucidated by reflections on some of the unique and understated peculiarities of American culture, especially American religious and political culture. Indeed, Paul Tillich was one of the first to do this, and in what follows I rely a great deal on his analysis.
An immigrant to America in 1933 and, like many others, a refugee of the so-called Rote Universität in Frankfurt am Main, Tillich had an interesting and I think accurate perspective on some of the cultural and religious factors affecting the Jaspers and Heidegger receptions. Tillich accomplished this in ways unavailable to other American scholars, including Reinhold Niebuhr, his American friend and sponsor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, precisely because he was an outsider, so to speak, and able to assess American culture in ways that escaped the notice of insiders. Paul Tillich's notoriety in America during the 1950s and 1960s (including a Time Magazine cover(10) also provided him with a privileged platform to reflect on this phenomenon and he did so in an essay on "Heidegger and Jaspers" which we were fortunate to publish in a collection by the same title in 1994.(11)
Originally presented at the Cooper Union Forum in New York City, March 25, 1954, Tillich's lecture was designed to introduce Americans to existentialism—the new, "hot" intellectual movement of the day. Tillich did so by contrasting Jaspers and Heidegger in a way that gets to the heart of the matter regarding their basic difference: "Heidegger," Tillich asserts, "represents fundamental ontology" whereas "Jaspers represents classical German humanism and ethics." In other words, and as Tillich put it, "Heidegger wants to know what it means to be" whereas "Jaspers wants to know what it means to be a person."(12)
To this characterization I would add that Jaspers, like Kant, not only wanted to know what it means "to be a person" but what it means "to be a moral person." This difference is mirrored in their basic methodologies, the difference, as Fritz Buri once put it, between the "hermeneutics of Being" (through Daseinsanalyse, in the case of Heidegger) and the "hermeneutics of meaning" (and Existenzerhellung, in the case of Jaspers).(13)
Tillich was himself a kind of theological combination of Jaspers and Heidegger, but he owed much more to Heidegger. Indeed, it was the incorporation of Heidegger's ontological inquiries into philosophical theology that made Tillich particularly attractive to the students of my generation, and it also made him controversial—especially in the conservative, highly dogmatic, Lutheran circles to which I belonged.
One of the reasons we knew less of Jaspers than Heidegger was because American divinity students in those days had only a modest understanding of Kant and Hegel, and we knew even less of Goethe and classical German humanism.(14) As divinity students, of course, we knew of the origins of German humanism by way of great debate between Luther and Erasmus on the bondage of the will; and we were also taught that Luther was right and that the humanist, Erasmus, was wrong. But we did not know exactly why apart from accepting at face value Luther's interpretation of Saint Paul in Romans 1:17, "Der Gerechte wird seinen Glauben leben" as the basis for the Lutheran doctrine of Rechtfertigung, sola scriptura, sola fides, sola gratia.
In the case of Kant we learned, by way of Neo-Thomist Catholic theologians such as Étienne Gilson, that Kant was the bête noire of orthodox Christianity, not only because he had refuted the classical arguments for the existence of God but also because he had allegedly reduced theology to ethics. Kant's refutation of natural theology was not a problem for the Neo-Reformation theologians of the 1950s and 1960s, but his voluntaristic humanism and the reduction of Christianity to ethics was a significant problem since this was tantamount, for orthodox Lutheran theologians, to yet another form of Pelagianism and self-salvation (Selbst-Rechtfertigung).
A personal incident may help to clarify what I mean by this. While in Divinity School, we were required to take a course in Lutheran Symbolics—a course that consisted, in the main, of memorizing (and assenting to) the orthodox confessional doctrines of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. These doctrines were contained in a compendium developed by the Erlangen theologian, Heinrich Schmid, in 1875 and translated into English by the Philadelphia theologians, Charles Hay and Henry Jacobs in 1899 under the title, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.(15) The Schmid compendium consisted of various sixteenth century documents, including the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Large and Small Catechisms of Luther, the Formula of Concord, and various writings by Melanchthon, Gerhard, and Chemnitz, among others. It was a work, in its third edition, designed to play a critical role in the "back to Luther" movement of Neo-Reformation theology—a movement designed to combat eighteenth and nineteenth century rationalism and humanism, especially the influence of Kant, Hegel, and Schleiermacher.
When examined by my professor, a highly dignified and orthodox dogmatic theologian by the name of Herman Amberg Preus, I was shocked on receiving a low grade for having quoted Tillich's Systematic Theology rather than paying exclusive attention to Schmid's compendium as to the meaning and significance of various Lutheran doctrines. Years later I came to appreciate this mark and took the time to tell Professor Preus that I thought the grade justified. I had reached this conclusion upon discovering that Hegel, while at the Tübingen Stift in the 1790s, had a similar problem with the dogmatics interpretations of what he referred to as the "pseudo-Kantian" Professors, Storr and Flatt. Hegel greatly preferred the classic Sartorious Compendum, a work very much like Schmid's, since the Sartorious Compendium, for Hegel, was the manifestation of the Objective Spirit of Lutheran symbolics or, in Jaspers' phrase, the manifestation of ciphers of transcendence. In other words, these primary symbols were the artifacts of intentio recta apart from which an intentio obliqua would be quite meaningless. Jaspers' hermeneutical critique of Bultmann on the question of Entmythologisierung and the proper interpretation of Holy Scripture remains unintelligible, I think, apart from this distinction.(16)
I make mention of this incident to point out that Tillich's popularity in America, like Heidegger's, had much to do with his ability to convey the spirit of German Romanticism by way of the Schellingian dialectic of Being and Non-Being. While Jaspers, late in life, also came to admire Schelling, he was not a Romantic; and while he admired certain mystics, like Cusanus, Jaspers was not a mystic. He was the uncompromising rational devotee of Kant in the areas of epistemology and ethics, of Max Weber in social and political philosophy, of Hegel in the areas of the philosophies of history and religion, and of Kierkegaard as regards the meaning of subjectivity and truth.
But many, if not most, American philosophy and theology students in the 1950s and 1960s were yearning for a romanticism and mysticism of the deeper, darker type, represented by Heidegger and Tillich. We wanted to "escape from Pietism," so to speak, and the doctrine of special revelation that dominated mainstream Protestant biblical theology. Paul Tillich understood this very clearly; that is, he understood that pietism of a rather unique type had defined religious education and practice in America during the first half of the twentieth century. And Paul Tillich's awareness of this phenomenon was a primary reason for his success, not only amongst philosophers and theologians, but also the many art historians, literary critics and psychologists who had been raised in the same religious and cultural milieu.
The essence of Tillich's insight rested on his recognition that a unique feature of nineteenth century American intellectual life had precisely to do with the absence of Romanticism as it had been known and experienced in Europe and especially in Germany. More precisely, Tillich believed that Americans experienced only what he called the "light" or "soft" side and not the "dark" side of Romanticism. By this he meant that American Romanticism was a sort of bland combination of the naturalism of Thoreau and the transcendentalism of Emerson coupled with a fervent preoccupation with religious experience in the language of biblical personalism and Wiedergeburt; a preoccupation that initially commenced with the First and Second Great Awakenings, Jonathan Edwards, and with what John Wesley famously referred to as "the heart strangely warmed." In other words, American Romanticism had nothing whatever to do with what Schelling had described as the dialectic of Being and Non-Being in his Freiheits-Philosophie—which, for Tillich, was the foundation text of modern existentialism and emblematic of the "dark side" of Romanticism and the breakdown of the universal synthesis of philosophy and religion in Hegel and Schleiermacher.(17)
The so-called "light" side of Romanticism also had political implications militating against an appreciation of what Kurt Salamun refers to as "the spirit of liberality" in the philosophy of Karl Jaspers.(18) In other words, while some mainstream American Protestants influenced by Pietism developed a liberal ethos similar to that of Social Democrats in Germany and Scandinavia, many others did not. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and the counter-culture radicalism of the 1960s engendered the powerful Neo-Pentecostal religious and Neo-Conservative political reaction that followed in the 1970s.(19) Therefore while many children of the 1960s became Left-leaning Liberals (like Bill and Hillary Clinton), others in the so-called "Bible Belt," and under the influence of Billy Graham and Oral Roberts, were baptized into the Neo-Fundamentalist Religious Right. Guided by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and the "Tele-Evangelism" of the 1980s and 1990s and into the new Millennium, these movements are synonymous with what today is referred to as the "right-wing religious conservative base" of the Republican Party in America. The influence of the "light side" of Romanticism, in the form of emotivist conversions and being "born again," continues to this day. Indeed, the political influence of this major bloc of voters, and their suspicion of the liberal intellectual elite establishment, is directly responsible for eight years of George W. Bush.(20)
A major public manifestation of late-twentieth century pietistic "Light" Romanticism took place during the 2000 presidential campaign during one of the so-called presidential debates. It was December 15, 1999, and the moderator, John Bachman, asked the five Republican candidates to name their favorite political thinker. The first two provided predictable answers, referring to Madison and Lincoln, but when it came to G. W. Bush he blurted out "Jesus Christ!"
Now this was a potentially interesting response had the moderator been up to developing its implications in some depth. But when Bachmann asked "Why Jesus?" Bush simply replied, "Because he changed my life!" Bachman and the other candidates (including John McCain) were so taken-aback by Bush's "born again" response that they proceeded to turn what had been a philosophical question into personal confessions of religious faith, each trying to outdo the other with respect to shoring up their Christian identity and loyalty. Thus, the moderator simply let the matter drop and the discussion went on to the conventionally vapid topics that usually typify presidential debates.(21)
Had Tillich been present to observe this event, he would have understood it as clear confirmation of the political influence of the "light side" of Romanticism in American life; that is, confirmation of the bible-based pietism, nature mysticism, transcendentalism, and the personalistic rhetoric of individual self-fulfillment as dominant forces in the horizon of the American consciousness. The debate had nothing whatever to do with encountering the "dark side" of Romanticism, namely, Nothingness and dread of Non-Being, but rather with a nationalistic loyalty test regarding those who considered Jesus to be one's "personal savior."
I make mention of these political developments simply to point out that the time was ripe for Tillich, and also Heidegger, in the 1950s and 1960s. But it was not ripe for Jaspers, whose influence was no greater, and, perhaps less, than that of Gabriel Marcel, Jacques Maritain and Martin Buber—the other so-called "existentialist" thinkers with whom he was frequently compared. The younger generations of scholars were ready for the dark side of Romanticism and fundamental ontology but not for rigorous inquiries into moral theory. Nurtured by a very conservative form of pietism, we were ready to "move on," so we thought, to what was considered as being far more profound issues in philosophy and theology. Indeed, the burning issue for divinity students in those days had to do with whether it possible to be religious apart from a sacrificium intellectus. Heidegger and Tillich, we surmised, provided ways of doing this since pondering the darker issues of Being and Non-Being did not require intellectual sacrifice and became pseudo-standards of profundity lasting well into the present century. Indeed, the new discipleship entailed a speculative commitment to the new forms of natural theology and speculative ontology that transmogrified into deconstruction and post-modernism in the late twentieth century. We simply were not satisfied with revealed biblical theology as understood within the context of Neo-Reformation theology. In sum, few of us were ready, at the time, for the demanding moral and ethical theory and complex speculative metaphysics of Karl Jaspers that required, as Adolf Lichtigfeld observed, a thorough "assimilation" of his complex category theory.(22) Thus when certain Catholic philosophers and theologians heavily influenced by Heidegger, like Karl Rahner, observed that Luther's doctrine of "justification by faith alone" really implied "ontological transformation," we were eager to listen.(23)
Ethnographic and Linguistic Factors
The tremendous popularity of Heidegger, as contrast to the modest reception of Jaspers, can further be amplified, I think, by a few demographic and ethnographic reflections on the religious and cultural topography of the United States in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as contrast to that of Germany.
As Tillich reminds us, Karl Jaspers was the bourgeois product of a rather sophisticated Liberal, Northwest German Protestantism; whereas Heidegger was the rustic product of Conservative (and even reactionary) Romantic, Southwest German Catholicism.(24)
Most German and Scandinavian Americans, in the 1950s and 1960s, were much closer to the "rustic" Swabian background of Heidegger than to the bourgeois background of Jaspers. Practically all of us, Lutherans and Catholics alike, came from late-nineteenth century peasant and working class backgrounds. Our exposure was to the folk and not the humanistic traditions of the old country. What our parents and grandparents admired and looked up to, striving to attain, was the success and status of the urban Yankee-Anglo entrepreneurial class. And even though there were significant tensions between Catholics and Lutherans (especially on the issue of inter-marriage), what we most shared in common was a non-English, that is, a "continental" cultural and linguistic background and identity.(25)
Indeed, Lutherans, in the 1950s and early 1960s, thought of themselves as being somewhere between Catholicism and Protestantism. In Minnesota, where I was raised, most Germans were Catholics, and the Scandinavians were Lutheran. Scandinavians tended to be Republicans and the Catholics, almost without exception, were Democrats. As the two largest ethnic and religious groups in the industrial and agricultural Upper-Midwest, Lutherans and especially Catholics had difficulty with what was typically considered to be a true American identity. Indeed, I recall a New Testament professor at Luther Theological Seminary lamenting that "Lutherans don't really belong in America!"(26) What he meant was that Lutherans had little political power and much less in common with revivalistic Protestants than with Catholics. The truth of this observation became fully evident in 1963 after the assassination of JFK, the commencement of Vatican II, the English Mass and the ecumenical movement, during and following which Lutherans and Catholics "re-connected," so to speak, with respect to their common roots.(27)
I mention these demographic and ethnographic factors in order to recall the intense Anglo-inspired intimidation of non-English speaking Americans during the early part of the 20th century, especially during the First World War. My parents frequently mentioned political "loyalty tests" regarding one's patriotism in those days, such as being forced to "kiss the flag" if one happened to be of German ancestry, and of the tremendous pressures to affirm the pseudo-values embedded in the "war fever" propaganda leading up to the entry of the United States into WWI.(28) Because of this intimidation and the suspicion of being "Un-American," Scandinavian and German speaking Lutheran Churches rushed to become the first "English Speaking" Lutheran parishes in America to demonstrate patriotic loyalty. This transition was all but complete by 1918—the upshot being that by the beginning of WWII, most of the children of German and Scandinavian immigrants could no longer speak, and much less write, the mother tongue.(29)
The Factor of Ressentiment
I make this brief excursus into ethnography in order to address the subtle issue of ressentiment as regards the devotees and practitioners of "continental philosophy" vis-à-vis the devotees and practitioners of "analytical philosophy." Cultural ressentiment, I believe, plays a significant role in the triumph of Anglo-American Analytical philosophy and its dominance of professional philosophy in North America during the latter part of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. It also explains, at least in part, the popularity of Continental philosophy in the last half of the twentieth century and its denouement in the twenty-first. Analytic philosophy, one must remember, is very largely Anglophone philosophy, and after two world wars it was also the "philosophy of the victors." As such, many post-war American philosophers were loath to think that one might look to the continent, to the vanquished, and least of all to Germany, for insight regarding the direction of contemporary philosophy. Why indeed would one do so, unless it was for personal, that is, cultural, and not scientific reasons? Thus Karl Jaspers and other so-called "Continental" philosophers were swimming against the tide of Anglo-American analytical philosophy throughout the last half of the twentieth century. Indeed, analytic philosophers perceived, perhaps correctly, that the pursuit of continental philosophy probably had more to do with cultural retrieval and preservation than with basic issues in logic and science.(30)
Why, then, the rather exceptional case of Heidegger? It is here, I think, where the factor of cultural ressentiment may play an important, albeit, a very subtle role in his popularity.
The so-called "Pluralist" coalition that challenged the leadership of the American Philosophical Association in the 1980s (a leadership which was then and remains today overwhelmingly "analytic") was made up almost entirely of scholars who identified with continental philosophy one way or another, that is, with phenomenology and existentialism.(31) This was especially true in the case of those engaged in Heidegger studies; and while the brilliant creativity of Heidegger was itself sufficient to attract a large following, the fact that he was a German Catholic on the "wrong side" of history and "politically incorrect," so to speak, may also have played an important role in his popularity. While I've not undertaken an empirical survey of the matter, I would venture to estimate that Heidegger scholars continue to be overwhelmingly Roman Catholic in matters cultural and religious. Indeed, "continental philosophy" and Heidegger studies in America today have their major strength at Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Boston College, Georgetown, Marquette, Fordham, DePaul, Loyola, Duquesne and Villanova. Secular and state universities, by contrast, and with few exceptions, remain overwhelmingly analytic in philosophical orientation even though they may provide some passing attention to "continental philosophy."(32)
In contrast to Heidegger, Jaspers scholarship has been and continues to be far more diverse; that is, those who have written on various aspects of Jaspers' philosophy cannot easily be identified with any particular ethnic or religious group. In the main, Jaspers scholars in America come from liberal, non-dogmatic Protestant, Catholic (both Roman and Orthodox), Jewish and even Muslim backgrounds. These scholars tend to have great respect for religious tradition, but are not necessarily religious. On the other hand, there are those who are, in fact, quite religious in their personal life and who view the philosophy of Jaspers as a complement to their own spirituality and morality.
The American Jewish reception of Jaspers is particularly interesting but also more difficult to assess. On the one hand, Jewish scholars, such as Leonard and Edith Ehrlich and William Kluback, were the early champions of Karl Jaspers in America following WWII. Indeed, it is difficult to surmise what the Jaspers reception in America would have been apart from his influential Jewish following. They were scholars and translators with continental, Germanic, backgrounds, and direct connections, for example, with Ernst Cassirer, Karl Löwith, and Hermann Cohen of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism. Indeed, a love and respect for Kant is a common denominator in the American Jewish reception of Jaspers—as is respect for Jaspers' personal history, his Jewish wife, Gertrud Mayer, and association with the Max Weber circle.(33)
More recently, however, there have been doubts on the part of some Jewish intellectuals regarding Jaspers, especially following the publication of Hannah Arendt's Eichman in Jerusalem (1963) and his rigorous defense of his most famous student against her Jewish critics.(34) The Six Day War in 1967 and geo-political changes of the 1970s, following the Munich Olympics in 1972, the Yum Kippur War in 1973, and the intensification of American Jewish nationalism as regards the survival of the state of Israel, has also influenced the Jewish reception of Jaspers and other German thinkers during the troubled time of WWII and its aftermath. To be sure, many distinguished Jewish scholars have participated in the research programs of the Karl Jaspers Society of North America during the past two-and-a-half decades—but perhaps with increasing reticence in the wake of nearly fifty years of Holocaust studies which has contributed to a suspicion regarding all things Germanic.(35)
In sum, and as the bibliographic record indicates, American philosophers have been drawn to Jaspers because of his social and political philosophy, to his ethics and moral philosophy, to his foundational work in psychopathology and speculative metaphysics, and to his pioneering work in the cross-cultural philosophy of communication and comparative studies in the philosophy of religion. Paul Tillich was correct: Karl Jaspers was then and remains today not only a primary representative of "Classical German Humanism" but "World Humanism" by way of the philosophy of freedom and the history of ideas, his devotion to Kant and Hegel by way of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and, as Elizabeth Young-Bruehl said of Hannah Arendt, because of his boundless "love of the world."(36)
Present and Future Prospects
What then of Jaspers studies today? Can the philosophy of Karl Jaspers "stand on its own," so to speak, apart from reasons of cultural kinship? This question has been raised many times at numerous Jaspers conferences, both national and international. The very raising of such questions, however, betrays certain doubts regarding the strength of Jaspers' legacy in the twenty-first century, at least in North America. Of course, Karl Jaspers is not alone in this regard. Very few thinkers in the history of philosophy are able to make it over the temporal aporia of a new century as regards continuing major recognition. Will Jaspers be able to transcend this temporal barrier?
As one looks over Jaspers publications during the past thirty years, especially the contents of the published proceedings of Jaspers Internationals(37) held in conjunction with the last five World Congresses of Philosophy, there are some encouraging signs. What is especially encouraging is the interest the philosophy of Karl Jaspers continues to generate in places beyond Western Europe and North America, especially in the countries of the former Soviet Union(38) and in East and South Asia. Moreover, this interest is developing in disciplines other than philosophy, such religious and historical studies, political science, and psychiatry. Thus, the breadth and depth of Jaspers' oeuvre seems to guarantee the continuing relevance of his philosophy for years to come.
One of the areas where Jaspers' work is particularly encouraging, at least to me, is the philosophy of history and what he famously identified as Weltphilosophie. It is unfortunate, as mentioned above, that it is not in philosophy proper that this prospect exists, but in religious and historical studies. A reason this is the case, at least in America, is that the history of philosophy and, indeed, the philosophy of history, occupies a place of less importance in philosophical studies than it once did.
It was in response to this state of affairs that I raised this question "Does the Philosophy of History have a Future?" in a paper presented at the 20th World Congress of Philosophy in Boston (1998); a paper greatly inspired by the following statement of Jaspers on "The Meaning of History":
History is the great question for philosophy and the question which remains unresolved and can never be resolved by thought alone but only by reality; the question whether the movement of history is a mere interlude between non-historical conditions, or whether history is the breakthrough into the depths. If it is the latter, then history in its entirety will lead, even in the face of boundless disaster and the accompaniment of danger and ever-renewed failure, to Being become manifest through man and to man himself, through an upward sweep whose limits we cannot foresee, laying hold of potentialities of which we can have no foreknowledge.(39)
This statement is taken from what clearly has to be one of Jaspers' most enduring works, namely, Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (1949), the work in which he advances his Achsenzeit hypothesis. The British scholar and former nun, Karen Armstrong, picked up on this notion and generated a popular discussion of Jaspers' philosophy of history in religious studies by way of her best-selling work, The Great Transformation: The Beginnings of our Religious Traditions (New York: Knopf, 2006). Prior to this, Armstrong enjoyed considerable notice with her book with the rather pretentious title, A History of God (1994), and went on to write several popular biographies of Buddha, Muhammad, and other religious figures, thus paralleling the historical, biographical and intellectual examination of the "greats" made famous by Karl Jaspers in his Die Großen Philosophen (1957).
The notion of an Achsenzeit, which Jaspers developed in Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (1949), is both powerful and appealing. But the critical question has to do with "why" it is appealing and for whom? Obviously, it is a notion highly dependent on the "great man" theory of history, in particular, on Hegel's notion of the "world-historical individual." And while Jaspers modifies Hegel's developmental conception of the Weltgeist in history, aesthetics, and religion, by suggesting that these transformational developments take place simultaneously in the Orient and the Occident and not in a strictly linear manner (which sometimes appears to be the case in Hegel), it remains nevertheless a theory suggesting some kind of telos or design in the development of consciousness. In other words, the Achsenzeit hypothesis can also be taken as an oblique cultural endorsement of design arguments for the existence of God, not in terms of cosmology (as would be the case in Catholic natural theology and currently in the intelligent design discussion) but rather more like Hegel, and especially J. C. K. von Hoffman, in terms of historiography and therefore consistent with the nineteenth and early-twentieth century Protestant notion of Heilsgeschichte. Thus the critical question has to do with whether the Achsenzeit hypothesis can "stand on its own," as it were, disconnected from Eurocentric and neo-colonial assumptions regarding the meaning of history?
I have yet to resolve the multiple issues connected with this fascinating topic. But since Weltphilosophie is the primary focus of the Karl Jaspers Society of North America during the meetings of the American Philosophical Association in 2008-2009, it will be interesting to see what develops.
Appendix: Major North American Studies of Karl Jaspers
Carr, Godfrey Robert, Karl Jaspers as an Intellectual Critic: The Political Dimension of His Thought (Frankfurt, Bern, New York: Peter Lang, 1983).
Ehrlich, Leonard H., Karl Jaspers: Philosophy as Faith (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1975).
Ehrlich, Leonard H. and Richard Wisser (eds), Karl Jaspers Today: Philosophy at the Threshold of the Future (Washington DC: University Press of America, 1988); Karl Jaspers: Philosopher Among Philosophers (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1993); Philosophie auf dem Weg zur "Weltphilosophie" (Würzburg: Königshausen und Neumann; Amsterdam: Rodopi-USA/Canada, 1998).
Erickson, Stephen A., The (Coming) Age of Thresholding (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1999).
Howey, Richard Lowell, Heidegger and Jaspers on Nietzsche (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973).
Kotersky, Joseph, and Raymond Langley, Karl Jaspers on the Philosophy of History and the History of Philosophy (New York: Humanity Books, 2003).
Kane, John F., Pluralism and Truth in Religion: Karl Jaspers on Existential Truth (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1981).
O'Connor, Bernard F., A Dialogue Between Philosophy and Religion: The Perspective of Karl Jaspers (Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1988).
Olson, Alan M., Transcendence and Hermeneutics: An Interpretation of the Philosophy of Karl Jaspers (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1979).
Olson, Alan M. (ed.), Heidegger & Jaspers (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994).
Salamun, Kurt, and Gregory Walters (eds), Karl Jasper's Philosophy: Expositions and Interpretations (New York: Humanity Press, 2006).
Samay, Sebastian, Reason Revisited: The Philosophy of Karl Jaspers (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1971).
Schilpp, Paul Arthur (ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Jaspers, augmented 2nd edition (LaSalle: Open Court, 1981). [Contains Jaspers' "Philosophical Autobiography" (including chapter: "Heidegger"), critical contributions by 24 authors, and Jaspers' "Reply to His Critics").
Schrag, Oswald O., Existence, Existenz, and Transcendence (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1971).
Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth, Freedom and Karl Jaspers's Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).
Wallraff, Charles F., Karl Jaspers: An Introduction to His Philosophy (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1970).
Walters, Gregory J., Karl Jaspers and the Role of 'Conversion' in the Nuclear Age (Lanham, New York, London: University Press of America, 1988).
Walters, Gregory J. (ed.), The Tasks of Truth: Essays on Karl Jaspers's Idea of the University (Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, New York, Paris, Wien: Peter Lang GmbH, 1996).
For scholarly papers and essays presented at the annual meetings of the Karl Jaspers Society of North America, see: www.bu.edu/paideia/kjsna/conferences.html.
For scholarly papers and essays published on Jaspers and related topics in the on-line journal, Existenz, see: www.bu.edu/paideia/existenz/index.html.