Existenz Menu
An International Journal in Philosophy, Religion, Politics, and the Arts
ISSN 1932-1066

Volume 14, No.1, Spring 2019


On Being with Others: Jaspers and Ortega
Oliver W. Holmes | Wesleyan University

Karl Jaspers and José Ortega y Gasset are frequently associated with phenomenology and existential philosophy. Where such an interpretation of their philosophical status raises questions for some scholars, this essay takes the position that certain features of existentialism were common to both. One of the defining characteristics of human existence, for Jaspers and Ortega, concerns the finitude in which the individual experiences limits in the world. The essay examines their respective concepts of selfhood and historicity, and the broader implications of these concepts in existential phenomenology. An analysis of the boundary situations of the individual and his or her circumstances, through inter-subjective human reality, by both thinkers, will provide the existential formulation of self-disclosure and the apparent paradox between finite existence and the open possibilities of the future.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Ortega y Gasset, José; Husserl, Edmund; Heidegger, Martin; Kant, Immanuel; Existenz; existentialism; "I myself"; the other; boundary situation; circumstances; social world; inter-subjectivity; historicity.

Ortega and the Dynamics of Vital-Historical Reason
Pierre Keller | University of California, Riverside

In the wake of the Kantianism of Wilhelm Dilthey and of Jakob von Uexküll and of his philosophical training in the Marburg School and engagement with Edmund Husserl's and later with Martin Heidegger's thought, and his early interest in Henri Bergson, José Ortega y Gasset developed what he regarded as a novel and much needed conception of vital-historical reason. Vital historical reason brought even logic together with a dynamic process-oriented conception of the world grounded in human life as part of the process of nature. Ortega's vital-historical conception of reason was intended as an alternative to the irrationalism that he associated with Miguel Unamuno and certain other strains of post-Nietzschean thought (including Heidegger's thought in the late twenties and early thirties, especially in Heidegger's confrontation with Ernst Cassirer at Davos). Jaspers too sought to meld together reason and the process of human life and history without succumbing to Heidegger's irrationalism in the thirties. Vital historical reason was also to be an alternative to a scholastic, rationalist Kantianism that Ortega sometimes identified (falsely I think, as least for its later and more mature phase) with the Marburg School. I argue that Ortega's conception of an inherently systematic vital historical reason is less far away from that of Cassirer than Cassirer takes it to be. Cassirer, like Karl Jaspers, emphasizes a conception of Kant's Copernican turn that is fundamentally cosmopolitan, historical and even biological-functional and that is the "Kant of the future" that Ortega seeks in the place of what he calls "the Kant of the Vikings."

Against contemporary, fundamentally object- and set-theory-oriented conceptions of logic and reason, especially in analytic philosophy, I connect the notion of vital historical reason to a truly dynamical structural account of reason that I argue underlies the Copernican revolution in Johannes Kepler, Immanuel Kant, and Thomas Kuhn. I argue that only this vital historical conception of reason can do justice to the dynamics of reason required not only by human agency, but also by scientific explanation and description. Thus where Michael Friedman has argued that one must pursue the way of Carnap and analytic philosophy or fall into the irrationalism of Heidegger and continental philosophy in the late twenties and afterwards, I argue that this is a false alternative from the vantage point of post-Kantian Continental philosophy. The alternative is not either a reductive (or eliminative) reason and logic divorced from time and process or an embrace of irrationalism. Vital historical reason embraces science and logic, but not a logic that is stripped of its connection to time and to the physical, biological, historical, and cultural dynamics of the process through which we as human beings reason things through in our cultures. Through the influence especially of Alexander Koyré, such a neo-Hegelian dynamical conception of vital-historical reason has entered into contemporary discussion in the work of Thomas Kuhn, but it has often been misunderstood as a form of irrationalism. I close with a discussion of why the dynamics of historical and scientific explanation in Kuhn do not need to be and cannot be anchored in an a-historical logic and reason and do not need to be saved from irrationalism.

Keywords: Ortega y Gasset, José; history as a system; dynamics of reason; vital reason; biosemantics; Umwelttheorie.

Two Philosophers Born in 1883: Jaspers and Ortega on the Historicity of Being Human
Marnie Binder | California State University, Sacramento

Spanish Philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and German Philosopher Karl Jaspers were both born in 1883, and they both maintained the position that humans are principally historical beings. Therefore, as attested by this notion, there are points in which their philosophy coincides. Ortega argued that human beings have no nature, only history. The argument here is that this is because our history is our nature; what is most natural about our being human is being historical and always having historicity. Jaspers agrees that in contemplating our historicity, our focus should not be on our nature, especially in the commonly held hereditary sense. However, he diverges some from Ortega in a complex emphasis on spirituality; on how our historicity is defined as spiritual beings embedded in a historical time because it is our traditions, not genetic makeup, that most make us human. There is an important dialogue and analysis to consider here to add to the thoughtful scholarship on history, historiography, and the philosophy of history.

Keywords: tba.

José Ortega y Gasset and Karl Jaspers: Some Intriguing Parallels
Oswald Sobrino | University of Florida

In this essay seven parallel themes in the thought of José Ortega y Gasset and Karl Jaspers are being identified and discussed. The first parallel is the horizon of knowledge as a common commitment to perspectivism. The second is the shipwrecked human who will benefit from philosophical orientation; while their respective philosophizing in and by itself is shown as the third parallel. The fourth parallel is heroic individual philosophizing and the primordial reality that the philosopher faces (for Jaspers, Being; for Ortega, life); here, Jaspers' Encompassing is being compared with Ortega's vitalism, and is being examined with regard to how Jaspers' treatment of anthropology relates to Ortega's fundamental statement: "I am I and my circumstance." The fifth parallel is man as decision-maker: man as possible Existenz in Jaspers compared to man as futurity in Ortega. The sixth parallel offers a closer correlation between the two uses of I (yo) identified by Ortega and the way Jaspers speaks of man when facing the Other and also the way he speaks of man as possible Existenz. The seventh parallel compares Ortega's historical reason and Jaspers' historicity in their respective attempts to describe the actualization of man's freedom.

Keywords: Ortega y Gasset, José; Jaspers, Karl; perspectivism; philosophizing; Being; life; Existenz; futurity; historical reason; historicity.

The Concept of History
Dmitri Nikulin | The New School

Reflecting on my motives for writing the Concept of History, I present three negative concerns that the book was directed against: the notions that history is teleological, that it is universal, and that a history so construed takes on a problematic role in political decision-making. The book thus looks for an alternative to the dominant mode of historical understanding in the modern west, and finds several such alternatives by looking at the earliest Greek historians and the ancient tradition of catalogue that predates them. By attending to these examples, I show that history is always multiple and intersecting, and that it is constituted by two elements: a fabula that briefly emplots (originally orally) the names and events, and the historical, which preserves (originally in written lists) the detailed names and events.

Keywords: tba.

Can There Be History Without Representation?
Jeffrey A. Bernstein | College of the Holy Cross

Dmitri Nikulin argues that history is a discursive activity making use of names and images for the preservation of historical events. Names form an essential component of the historical account while images supplement and substantialize names. In this essay, I raise the question of whether or not, on Nikulin's account, there can be history without names and images—that is, without representation. I juxtapose Nikulin's account with Jean-Luc Nancy's essay "Finite History" in order to see whether or not the latter exceeds the purview of Nikulin's conception of history. Without providing an answer to that question, I hold that Nancy's text (when read alongside Nikulin's) helps one to perceive the complexity of this topic with more clarity.

Keywords: Nancy, Jean-Luc; Nikulin, Dmitri; history; image; name; representation; philosophy of history; fabula.

History between Names and Images
Alfredo Ferrarin | University of Pisa, Italy


Keywords: tba.

Creativity and Historical Non-Being in Nikulin's Concept of History
John V. Garner | University of West Georgia

Dmitri Nikulin's The Concept of History raises important questions about the ways historical beings like humans can be said to face non-being (for example, the non-being of death; or of past events or persons; or of future novelties). Here, I discuss three main topics relevant to the book's framework. First, I ask whether the content of and motivation for historical writing must be of exclusively mortal origin. Beyond Nikulin's theory of ahistorical invariant structures, I consider the possibility of ahistorical sources of content or motivation. Second, I engage with the book's concept of beneficial forgetting and express caution regarding the terminology of "mechanisms" or "arts" of forgetting. Third, I engage with the book's conception of productive imagination and suggest that a radical conception of historical novelty may be integrated into Nikulin's theory. Following Nikulin's lead, I emphasize throughout the essay the way that thinking about history demands attentiveness to the ahistorical.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; ahistorical; correlationism; creation; forgetting; imagination, historical novelty; past; theodicy.

Hermeneutics, Historicism, and The Concept of History
Adam J. Graves | Metropolitan State University of Denver

This essay offers a critical assessment of Dmitri Nikulin's effort to advance a theory of history that avoids pitfalls of universalism, on the one hand, and historicism, on the other. I focus my attention upon the relationship between three key concepts in Nikulin's study; namely, the fabula, the historical, and logos. On my reading, Nikulin implicitly adopts an epistemological orientation, inherited from late nineteenth-century neo-Kantian philosophers who envisioned history as an object that must be thematized in order to be studied scientifically. As a result, Nikulin comes to characterize history in terms of an untenable schema/content dualism that almost entirely extricates the historical past (or, data) from the contemporary effort to understand (or, interpret) it. By contrasting Nikulin's view with those of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, I show that a hermeneutic conception of history offers a more convincing account of the dynamic relationship between the past and the act of historical understanding. In the end, I argue that the double-edged problem of universalism versus historicism only arises when one fails to appreciate the role of historically effected consciousness within historical understanding, and so the problem is best avoided by adopting a hermeneutical, rather than an epistemological, orientation.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; Gadamer, Hans-Georg; Dilthey, Wilhelm; Heidegger, Martin; Anscombe, Gertrude E. M.; philosophical hermeneutics; history; historicism; historical relativism; universalism; neo-Kantianism; Wirkungsgeschichte.

Toward a Happy Ending: Memory, Narrative, and Comedy in History
Sonja Tanner | University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

In his search for what possibly could it mean for history to end well, Dmitri Nikulin suggests that history can be rendered as being comical. This review takes up this possibility and identifies that Nikulin refers to comedy’s narrative form and the rich conceptual prospects this offers. Drawing on ancient Greek and Roman precedents as models, this essay supports Nikulin's challenge to grand historical narratives and shows by example of comic literary narratives how a multiplicity of perspectives can become acceptable with regard to framing historical accounts.

Keywords: Nikulin, Dmitri; self-knowledge; historical narrative; comic literature; philosophy of history; story-telling; narratology; antiquity.

History without Conceptualization
Massimiliano Tomba | University of California, Santa Cruz


Keywords: tba.

The Axial Age and the Quest for a Secular Religion in Modernity
Michael Steinmann | Stevens Institute of Technology

The question whether the Axial Age can be asserted as historical reality has long been disputed. This essay supports that the Axial Age is best understood as an expression of philosophical faith. The existence of a common axis in the history of humanity can ultimately not be shown through empirical evidence. Humans rather have to have faith in sharing one common history. With regard to the Axial Age, Jaspers' understanding of faith follows Kant's conception of religion insofar as faith is sustained through a moral commitment to humanity. The essay also addresses that while Jaspers lays out the moral and faith-based dimensions of the Axial Age, he holds on to the assumption of its historical reality, which leads to tensions in his approach. Especially his Eurocentric premises make it difficult to believe in an axis that would unify all human development.

Keywords: Jaspers, Karl; Axial Age; humanity; history; religion; philosophical faith; modernity; Eurocentrism.

Breakthrough to transcendence? Three Concepts of Inter-Cultural Philosophy (Leibniz, Hegel, Jaspers)
Helmut Heit | Tongji University, Shanghai, Chinaa

After a discussion of Leibniz’ and Hegel’s attitude towards Chinese philosophy, this paper concentrates on Jasper’s idea of a breakthrough to transcendence in the Axial cultures and questions it’s contribution to historiography of philosophy. In light of the political catastrophes of the first half of the 20th century, Jaspers saw the need to reconceptualise the idea of world-history. The Western and Christian tradition could no longer serve as the central axis and should be replaced by a more global perspective. This idea was adopted by historians of philosophy, who were dissatisfied with the sole focus on a Greek-Roman-European tradition and the implicit or explicit equation of Western philosophy with philosophy as such. However, attempts towards post-Eurocentric historiography of philosophy inspired by Jaspers face some problems. Jaspers’ existentialist assumptions led him to global concepts of philosophia perennis, which again constitute a universal and unifying standard of evaluation. It is quite dubious that this standard does justice to the Western or any other philosophical tradition. Moreover, Jaspers’ pluralism or globalism is limited to the supposed high-cultures in India, China and the West, while other traditions are still excluded. And finally, the Western tradition as a continuous refinement of these Axial beginnings remains authoritative, ironically even including its late modern post-colonial subversion.

Keywords: tba.

Cultural and Anthropological Patterns in the Axial Age
Markus Wirtz | University of Cologne, Germany

The rise of civilizations which Jaspers describes in The Origin and Goal of History under the term of the "axial age" is not reducible to direct causal relations between different cultures. The papers aims to find out how the new level of self-consciousness of mankind that has been achieved during the Axial Age could best be explained. Three possible answers are discussed: The first one sees the parallel cultural developments of the Axial Age as a pure temporal coincidence. The second answer is rather metaphysical and regards the simultaneity of the axial civilizations as a sign of destiny or as the work of God himself. Finally, the third answer tries to identify concrete cultural and anthropological patterns that shaped the axial cultures. While the third answer does not exactly correspond to the original philosophical intentions of Jaspers' The Origin and Goal of History, it is probably the most defensible one.

Keywords: Axial Age; civilizations; cultural anthropology; cultures; humanity; mankind; Jaspers’ philosophy of history; origin; –(cultural and anthropological) patterns.


Sponsored by
Karl Jaspers Society
of North America
Boston, MA

Frequency: bi-annual
Spring / Fall

All materials posted
on this site are
protected under
copyright law. Unauthorized dissemination of any content posted on this site is prohibited. Please contact the editor for copyright clearance.

Karl Jaspers Stiftung | KJSNA | Karl Jaspers Gesellschaft | Polish Karl Jaspers Society | Italian Karl Jaspers Society