Karl Jaspers was a German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a great impact on the sciences of the mind and had a great importance during the German reconstruction. He is considered one of the pioneers of existentialist philosophy. He is also known for creating the biographical method, which is applied in psychiatry.
Jaspers was born in Oldenburg (Germany) in 1883. He studied medicine at the University of his hometown and obtained his doctorate in 1909. He immediately began his psychiatric practice at the Heildelberg University Hospital. . Soon, he was filled with great concern about how mental illness was being addressed at the time.
"Philosophizing is and only learning to die."
From 1921, Karl Jaspers is Professor of Psychology at the University of Heildelberg in the Faculty of Philosophy. Little by little, teaching took care of all his interests and he retired from clinical practice, which made him uncomfortable.
Nazism, a break in the life of Karl Jaspers
Karl Jaspers was German, but his wife, Gertrud Mayer, was of Jewish ancestry. That is why, with the rise of Nazism, he was relieved of his position as a professor at the university. The Second World War was a difficult ordeal for him and his family. He did not return to his teaching post until 1946, after the end of the war.
Since then, Karl Jaspers has become an important figure in German reconstruction. In particular, he was one of those responsible for restoring the normal development of education. Its main goal was to eradicate all Nazis from German schools.
He quickly became disillusioned with politics in general. Thus he decided to go to work at the University of Basel in 1948. Constant disappointments and the war itself have definitely marked his existentialist perspective.
The biographical method of Karl Jaspers
One of Karl Jaspers' main contributions to psychiatry is his biographical method. It's basically asking the patient to write how he sees his symptoms. In other words, record his vision of reality. This allowed him to better understand what was going on in his mind.
Its importance lies in the fact that it values the word of the patient in psychiatry, which is not often the case in modern psychiatry. In more biological approaches, the patient's words are considered the product of brain dysfunction. The biographical method, on the other hand, gives value to these "absurdities" and understands them as a means of understanding the alterations of the patient's perception.
Karl Jaspers also kept a complete written record of the biographies of his patients. In particular, he described his symptoms as precisely as possible. He sought in the life of the sick the elements that would enable them to understand the disorder they presented.
Other contributions of Karl Jaspers
Karl Jaspers also postulated the existence of two types of delusions: primary and secondary. Primary delirium is a delusion that occurs for no apparent reason and is autonomous and psychologically incomprehensible. Secondary delirium, on the other hand, appears as an attempt to explain abnormal experiences and is psychologically understandable. Hence the importance of the biographical method to elucidate the nature of delirium involved in the disease.
The conclusions of his research and reflections were published in a book titled General psychopathology. It has become a classic in psychiatry and laid the foundation for the development of this science.
Jaspers has also ventured into philosophy and theology with great success. Works like Philosophy and existence or Philosophy and the world gave him a great reputation. Unfortunately, Karl Jaspers' work is difficult to access. He is an hermetic writer who can only be understood after having read it much.
The last years of Jaspers
Politics, religion and philosophy have always been in the field of Karl Jaspers' interests. He has written several essays on these topics. One of his most interesting lyrics was The atomic bomb and the future of man.
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Much of Jaspers' work shows absolute disappointment for his country. It was precisely this disappointment that led him to renounce German nationality in 1967. Since then, he became a citizen of the Helvetic Confederation.
Throughout his life he has received numerous awards. The most important are the Goethe Prize in 1947 and the Erasmus Prize in 1961.He has also received honorary doctorates in various universities. He died as a Swiss citizen in Basel in 1969.