Anmerkungen zu Karl Jaspers “Psychologie der Weltanschauungen”

Critical Comments on Karl Jasper's Psychology of Worldviews

Heidegger’s essay was meant to be a review of Karl Jaspers’ famous book, Psychology of Worldviews, for publication in the Göttingsche Gelehrte Anzeigen. It was first published in 1972, but in June 1919 Heidegger distributed a typescript of it to Jaspers, Edmund Husserl, and Heinrich Rickert. The review is a critique, which tries to bring into sharper focus and contour the true tendency and basic motives of Jaspers’ problematic and its method. There is at once a positive and a negative side to the critique, since it is a destructively renewing appropriation. In the course of the review, Heidegger will, time and again, amplify and supplement his radical method of critique with other aspects of the phenomenological method. The review is thus both a treatise on phenomenological methodology and a critique of Jaspers’ book. Jaspers tried to answer the basic question of psychology, what the human being is, by way of a psychology of worldviews, which seeks to describe the limits of the soul and thus provide a clear and comprehensive horizon for the psychic. Jaspers tries to illuminate the phenomenon of existence in and through boundary situations. He seeks to understand what ultimate positions the soul can assume in boundary situations and what forces move it to do so.

Heidegger’s critique of Jaspers centers on two points. Jaspers introduces the term “existence” as a Kantian idea, that is, something that counts as the whole and marks a boundary. He then traces it back to its sources in Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, for whom existence refers to the life of the present individuality. According to Heidegger, Jaspers fails to get at the problem of existence, because he uncritically borrows his concepts from the philosophical tradition. He is unaware of the historical situation of his interpretation. The second point of critique is his method and his lack of concern over this issue. Jaspers assumes he can describe existence objectively by just looking at it. He contemplatively holds the whole of life in its unity and harmony, untroubled by any self-worldly concern.

Heidegger denies that existence can be approached in this basically aesthetic experience, since existence is not an object but a particular way of being, a certain expression of the “is,” which “is” essentially the meaning of “I am.” I am in having myself. According to Heidegger, the truly actualized ground of factic life experience is that my life concerns me radically and purely. The “I am” can only be experienced in its full actuality and facticity. This having myself assumes different senses in different regards, so that this manifold of senses must be made comprehensible in specifically historical contexts. Only in the infinite process of radical questioning, which holds itself in the question, can the phenomenon of existence be approached. The genuine insights via the boundary situations into the genuine problem of existence that Jaspers has to offer in his book are thus obscured by his lack of methodological concern.


Translated in Pathmarks.


Wegmarken (GA 9)