On This Day … 23 February

People (Births)

  • 1883 – Karl Jaspers, German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher (d. 1969).

Karl Jaspers

Karl Theodor Jaspers (23 February 1883 to 26 February 1969) was a German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry, and philosophy. After being trained in and practicing psychiatry, Jaspers turned to philosophical inquiry and attempted to discover an innovative philosophical system. He was often viewed as a major exponent of existentialism in Germany, though he did not accept the label.

Jaspers earned his medical doctorate from the University of Heidelberg medical school in 1908 and began work at a psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg under Franz Nissl, successor of Emil Kraepelin and Karl Bonhoeffer, and Karl Wilmans. Jaspers became dissatisfied with the way the medical community of the time approached the study of mental illness and gave himself the task of improving the psychiatric approach. In 1913 Jaspers habilitated at the philosophical faculty of the Heidelberg University and gained there in 1914 a post as a psychology teacher. The post later became a permanent philosophical one, and Jaspers never returned to clinical practice. During this time Jaspers was a close friend of the Weber family (Max Weber also having held a professorship at Heidelberg).

In 1921, at the age of 38, Jaspers turned from psychology to philosophy, expanding on themes he had developed in his psychiatric works. He became a philosopher, in Germany and Europe.

After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Jaspers was considered to have a “Jewish taint” (jüdische Versippung, in the jargon of the time) due to his Jewish wife, and was forced to retire from teaching in 1937. In 1938 he fell under a publication ban as well. Many of his long-time friends stood by him, however, and he was able to continue his studies and research without being totally isolated. But he and his wife were under constant threat of removal to a concentration camp until 30 March 1945, when Heidelberg was liberated by American troops.

In 1948 Jaspers moved to the University of Basel in Switzerland. In 1963 he was awarded the honorary citizenship of the city of Oldenburg in recognition of his outstanding scientific achievements and services to occidental culture. He remained prominent in the philosophical community and became a naturalized citizen of Switzerland living in Basel until his death on his wife’s 90th birthday in 1969.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.