Download Filiz Peach Death, 'Deathlessness' and Existenz in Karl Jaspers' Philosophy 2008 PDF

TitleFiliz Peach Death, 'Deathlessness' and Existenz in Karl Jaspers' Philosophy 2008
TagsMetaphysics Concept Continental Philosophy
File Size683.1 KB
Total Pages225
Document Text Contents
Page 1

‘Peach applies the rigour of ordinary language
analysis with Socratic questioning to Jaspers’s
metaphysics and thinking about death and the
experience of ‘deathlessness’.

Gregory J.Walters, Professor of Philosophy,
Université Saint-Paul/Saint Paul University,

Ottawa, Canada

Karl Jaspers is one of the least understood and most neglected major
philosophers of the twentieth century, and yet his ideas, particularly
those concerned with death, have immense contemporary relevance.

Filiz Peach provides a clear explanation of Jaspers’ philosophy of exis-
tence, clarifying and reassessing the concept of death that is central to
his thought. For Jaspers, a human being is not merely a physical entity
but a being with a transcendent aspect and so, in some sense ‘deathless’.
Peach explores this transcendent aspect of humanity and what it is to be
‘deathless’ in Jasperian terms.

This book is a major contribution to the scarce literature on Jaspers and
will be valuable to student and academic alike.

Filiz Peach lectures in Philosophy at the Mary Ward Centre in London.


Edinburgh University Press
22 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LF

ISBN 978 0 7486 2535 2

Cover design: RIVER DESIGN, Edinburgh

Photograph: Karl Jaspers, reproduced by permission of
Dr Hans Saner

















‘Deathlessness’ and Existenz
in Karl Jaspers’ Philosophy

Filiz Peach

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but freedom is to be understood within an existential context.
Marjorie Grene is critical of Jaspers’ notion of freedom in connection
with Transcendence in her Introduction to Existentialism:

Nor is it at all apparent in what sense the freedom of the individual
essentially involves transcendence . . . But of reasons for these neces-
sary connections one finds no mention.11

What is this existential context within which we are to understand
‘freedom’? Jaspers’ notions of freedom and Transcendence point to
one’s decisions and choices taken as Existenz in authentic existence,
and this gives a new perspective to the concept of freedom.12 Jeanne
Hersch, for example, takes the view that Existenz is ‘real in the actual
decision’ and that an existential decision is always closely related to a
concrete given situation, which is only significant in the here and now.13

In her view, freedom of the individual as Existenz is always related to
Transcendence, as neither has any meaning without the other.

For Jaspers, then, human freedom lies in the individual’s poten-
tialities, by which he means one’s possibilities to be actualised and
fulfilled in one’s lifetime through one’s unconditional choices. He
insists that existential freedom makes sense only with reference to
one’s potentialities and possibilities.14 Jaspers reiterates:

Then human freedom is at the heart of all his potentialities and
through transcendence, through the one, man is guided to his own
inner unity.15

By ‘inner unity’ Jaspers means the unity of the empirical and the tran-
scendent aspects of man. In this respect, he is also addressing the issue
of self-understanding. According to Jaspers, Existenz is a ‘process of
self-understanding’.16 In the Jaspersian context, self-understanding
should be taken to mean one’s attitude towards oneself which involves
a commitment to oneself. For Jaspers, self-understanding also means
an awareness of one’s possibilities, choices and decisions, which tie in
with his concept of existential freedom. As possible Existenz, each
individual can realise his potentialities which are closely linked with
the individual’s freedom of choice. One’s potentialities include one’s
possibility of achieving one’s true self. For Jaspers, man has the
‘freedom to seize and realize, or fail to develop’ his potentialities. Thus
there is a clear sense in which one’s potentialities make the transfor-
mation of Dasein into Existenz possible.

Jaspers puts a lot of emphasis on existential freedom. However,
one can argue that this can be an unbearable liability, a burden, for

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the individual. As Ehrlich points out, if man is expected constantly to
strive to elucidate his possibilities and potentialities, and to make
authentic choices, will this not lead to ‘excessive expectations of
man’?17 Will freedom not be an overwhelming ‘burden for a finite
being’? Ehrlich holds that ‘to call man beyond his finitude, beyond his
actuality, is an imposition’. Within this context, Latzel too thinks that
‘the goal has been placed too high ever to be attainable: man as a finite
creature can never round out the reality of his existence into an
encompassing and harmonious whole’.18 This is a realistic way of
evaluating Jaspers’ concept of existential freedom.

The second point to consider is that Existenz is a non-objective
mode of being. In other words, Existenz is not an object for itself, nor
can it become an object of human knowledge. In this context, Jaspers
uses the term ‘object’ in a narrow sense, to mean that Existenz is not
an empirical entity with definitive properties. By using the term ‘non-
objective’ Jaspers is laying emphasis on the transcendent aspect of the
self which is not cognisable, since only objects can be cognised. We
understand that man’s existence as Dasein is his empirical mode of
being in the world. Jaspers considers Dasein as Existenz’s ‘appear-
ance’. In his words:

Existenz appears to itself as existence, in the polarity of subjectivity
and objectivity; but it is not the appearance of an object given any-
where . . . It is phenomenal only for itself and for other Existenz.19

Here, Jaspers makes a clear distinction between phenomenal existence,
i.e. Dasein, and the non-phenomenal aspect of the self, i.e. Existenz.
On first reading, it is difficult to grasp Jaspers’ intended meaning when
he talks of ‘Existenz’s appearing to itself as existence’. What he means
is that as Dasein one is a phenomenal being in the world, that is, phys-
ical and visible. Dasein is phenomenal in that it actually appears in the
world, unlike Existenz which does not have phenomenal reality. Since
Dasein and Existenz are distinct modes of being, their characteristics
manifest themselves in different ways: Dasein is phenomenal whereas
Existenz is non-objective.20 In fact, in Jaspers’ view, Existenz should
be considered only as a possibility. If Existenz is considered in this way,
then its non-phenomenal feature can make sense. But Jaspers is
not consistent regarding the ‘possibility’ and ‘actuality’ of Existenz. Is
Existenz then no more than a possibility?

Let us reflect on this ambiguous state of the ‘possibility’ and ‘actu-
ality’ of Existenz.21 Jaspers sometimes asserts that Existenz remains
mostly as a possibility for human beings in mundane existence because

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