Karl Jaspers' Philosophical Faith in the Face of the Problem of Nihilism
Once the boundaries between immanent existence and transcendence have been drawn, a typically modern undertaking, all we are left with is the sensible, whereas the supersensible becomes synonymous with the illusionary. This predicament does not have to be inherently problematic, at least from a religious point of view. For philosophy, however, it has often been understood in terms of a disaster, addressed with the ambiguous notion of nihilism. This is particularly true of post-Nietzschean philosophy, in which a holistic understanding of the notion of nihilism is often adopted to argue for the impossibility of both philosophy and transcendence. In this master’s thesis I investigate the relationship between nihilism, philosophy and transcendence as it came about in the philosophy of Karl Jaspers (1883–1969). This 20th century German thinker took great interest in the concern of the captivity of the immanence of thought and formulated creative answers to the question of transcendence after the alleged death of God. For Jaspers, the problem of nihilism was perennial to philosophy, and in the course of his life he devoted many pages to an attempt of overcoming it.
First, this thesis analyses the problem of nihilism on its own, in its pre-Nietzschean and Nietzschean manifestations, to come to terms with its alleged threat to philosophy. With regard to the vastness and richness of the notion, some topics are inevitably left out, such as the religious nihilism of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem, or the extensive elaborations on nihilism in contemporary continental philosophy, for example on the divergence between the interpretations of Martin Heidegger and Emanuele Severino. Second, we turn to Jaspers’ own understanding of nihilism. Jaspers defined the nature and value of philosophy through its confrontation with nihilism, which, for him, represented a kind of anti-philosophy. Philosophy had to go through nihilism to become true philosophizing. Jaspers proposed an ingenious argument that separates nihilism from philosophy, existence from immanence and truth from knowledge. To make this case, we primarily turn to Jaspers’ Von der Wahrheit, Der philosophische Glaube and his books on Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy. In Nietzsche und das Christentum, for example, Jaspers argued that Nietzsche at times separated the figure of Jesus from Christianity. In this separation, Jaspers argued, a possible way of overcoming Nietzsche’s nihilism in a philosophy that originates in love was already made possible by the fundamental distinctions of Nietzsche’s own critique of Christianity, for example his dismissal of all contradictions.