November 09, 2005

Johnson, Jacobi, James, Jaspers

An American clergyman & philosopher, Samuel Johnson (1696-1772) met Berkeley in Newport, Rhode Island, and they became friends. He later became the first president of Columbia University (1754), and wrote the first philosophical text in America, Elementa Philosophica, published by Benjamin Franklin in 1752, and was dedicated to Berkeley. First and foremost a denominational polemicist, he was opposed to the Calvinistic Puritanism.
Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819): German philosopher; Among his more intimate friends were Wieland, Hamann, Herder, Lessing, and Goethe. His writings are characterized by poetic fancy and religious sentiment rather than by logical necessity. He held that the understanding can only join and disjoin given facts, without explaining them, and that knowledge deduced in this way is conditioned and relatively unimportant, being always related to a background of existence which forever remains beyond abstract thinking. All demonstrable knowledge, therefore, is relative and conditioned; it does not touch the ultimate nature of things. The faculty by which we grasp ultimate facts is not the understanding, but faith, which Jacobi identified with reason. It was Jacobi who first pointed out the fatal contradiction involved in Kant's application of the category of causality to the Ding an Sich. Jacobi's principal works are the two philosophical novels.

William James (18421910) was a pioneering psychologist and philosopher. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and the philosophy of pragmatism. He provided a wide-ranging account of The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and interpreted them according to his pragmatic leanings. Some of the important claims he makes in this regard:

  • Religious genius (experience) should be the primary topic in the study of religion, rather than religious institutions--since institutions are merely the social descendant of genius.
  • The intense, even pathological varieties of experience (religious or otherwise) should be sought by psychologists, because they represent the closest thing to a microscope of the mind--that is, they show us in drastically enlarged form the normal processes of things.
  • In order to usefully interpret the realm of common, shared experience and history, we must each make certain "over-beliefs" in things which, while they cannot be proven on the basis of experience, help us to live fuller and better lives.

The investigation of mystical experience was constant throughout the life of James. He defined truth as that which works in the way of belief. His Theory of Emotion holds that emotion is the mind's perception of physiological conditions that result from some stimulus. Of Philosophy of History he took Carlyle's side, but without Carlyle's one-sided emphasis on the political/military sphere, upon heroes as the founders or over-throwers of states and empires. Wikipedia

Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), German philosopher is one of the originators of existentialism, whose work influenced modern theology and psychiatry as well as philosophy.
  • In his first major work, General Psychopathology (1913; trans. 1963), Jaspers criticized the scientific pretensions of psychotherapy as misleading and deterministic.
  • Jaspers's major work in three volumes, Philosophy (1932), gives his view of the history of philosophy and introduces his major themes.
  • Jaspers identified philosophy with philosophical thinking itself, not with any particular set of conclusions. His philosophy is an effort to explore and describe the margins and limits of experience.
  • He used the term das Umgreifende ("the encompassing") to refer to the ultimate limits of being, the indefinite horizon in which all subjective and objective experience is possible, but which can never be rationally apprehended.
  • Another important work is Existenzphilosophie (1938; Philosophy and Existence, 1971). The term Existenz designates the indefinable experience of freedom and possibility that constitutes the authentic being of individuals who become aware of the encompassing by confronting such limit-situations as chance, suffering, conflict, guilt, and death.

Jaspers also wrote extensively on the threat to human freedom posed by modern science and modern economic and political institutions. Among his poltical works is The Question of German Guilt (1946; trans. 1947). His correspondence (1926-69), with the German-born American philosopher Hannah Arendt, was published in English in 1992." Courtesy of

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