Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Karl Jaspers, fully Karl Theodor Jaspers

German Psychiatrist and Philosopher

"Freedom is the most-used word of our time. What it is seems obvious to all... Yet there is nothing more obscure, more ambiguous, more abused."

"There is either no freedom at all, or it is in the very asking about it."

"The will does not choose between good and evil; it is its choice, rather, that makes it good or evil. The act of choosing either liberates it, as good will, or enchains it as ill will. In neither case is there a choice between two possibilities; my will is its own original freedom or anti-freedom."

"All forms of the corporeal world are transitory, [but] for pure existence there is only a passing away of which it has no knowledge. Foundering requires knowledge, and than a reaction to it... Man alone can founder, and this capacity is to him not unequivocal: it challenges him to react to it."

"The man who attains true awareness of his freedom gains certainty of God. Freedom and God are inseparable. Why? This I know: in my freedom I am not through myself but am given to myself; for I can miss being myself and I cannot force my being free."

"Man is always something more than what he knows of himself. He is not what he is simply once for all, but is a process; he is not merely an extant life, but is, within that life, endowed with possibilities through the freedom he possesses to make of himself what he will by the activities on which he decides."

"Since there is no complete truth, our movement toward it is itself the only form in which truth can achieve completion in existence, here and now."

"Even scientific knowledge, if there is anything to it, is not a random observation of random objects; for the critical objectivity of significant knowledge is attained as a practice only philosophically in inner action."

"I discovered that the study of past philosophers is of little use unless our own reality enters into it. Our reality alone allows the thinker's questions to become comprehensible."

"Just as primitive man believed himself to stand face to face with demons and believed that could he but know their names he would become their master, so is contemporary man faced by this incomprehensible, which disorders his calculations. "If I can but grasp it, if I can but cognise it", so he thinks, "I can make it my servant.""

"What is meaningful cannot in fact be isolated…. We achieve understanding within a circular movement from particular facts to the whole that includes them and back again from the whole thus reached to the particular significant facts."

"Philosophy as practice does not mean its restriction to utility or applicability, that is, to what serves morality or produces serenity of soul."

"But each one of us is guilty insofar as he remained inactive. The guilt of passivity is different. Impotence excuses; no moral law demands a spectacular death. Plato already deemed it a matter of course to go into hiding in desperate times of calamity, and to survive. But passivity knows itself morally guilty of every failure, every neglect to act whenever possible, to shield the imperiled, to relieve wrong, to countervail. Impotent submission always left a margin of activity which, though not without risk, could still be cautiously effective. Its anxious omission weighs upon the individual as moral guilt. Blindness for the misfortune of others, lack of imagination of the heart, inner differences toward the witnessed evil--that is moral guilt."

"Man, if he is to remain man, must advance by way of consciousness. There is no road leading backward...We can no longer veil reality from ourselves by renouncing self-consciousness without simultaneously excluding ourselves from the historical course of human existence."

"In the life of the mass-order, the culture of the generality tends to conform to the demands of the average human being. Spirituality decays through being diffused among the masses when knowledge is impoverished in every possible way by rationalisation until it becomes accessible to the crude understanding of all."

"Metaphysical guilt is the lack of absolute solidarity with the human being as such--an indelible claim beyond morally meaningful duty. This solidarity is violated by my presence at a wrong or a crime. It is not enough that I cautiously risk my life to prevent it; if it happens, and I was there, and if I survive where the other is killed, I know from a voice within myself: I am guilty of being still alive."

"Man is the place at which and through which everything that is real exists for us at all."

"Today independence seems to be silently disappearing beneath the inundation of all life by the typical, the habitual, the unquestioned commonplace."

"To fail to be human would mean to slip into nothingness."

"Man strives more decisively than ever for a certainity that he lacks, for the certainty that there is that which is eternal, that there is a Being through which alone he himself is. If the Deity is, then all hope is possible."

"But time and time again it is seen: for us the Deity, if it exists, is only as it appears to us in the world, as it speaks to us in the language of man and the world. It exists for us only in the way in which it assumes concrete shape, which by human measure and thought always to serve to hide it at the same time. Only in ways that man can grasp does the Deity appear."

"What must be done in thinking of life is to be served by a philosophizing that discovers truth by retrospection and by anticipation."

"Becoming aware of man's being means becoming aware of Being in time as a whole."