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Introduction: Particular psychopathologies – lessons from Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology for the new philosophy of psychiatry 

Introduction: Particular psychopathologies – lessons from Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology for the new philosophy of psychiatry
Author(s):

K.W.M. (Bill) Fulford

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date: 14 December 2018

2013 is the centenary of Karl Jaspers’ foundation of psychopathology as a science in its own right. In 1913 Jaspers published his psychiatric opus magnum – the General Psychopathology. The idea inspiring his book was very simple: to bring order into the chaos of abnormal psychic phenomena by rigorous description, definition and classification, and to empower psychiatry with a valid and reliable method to assess and make sense of abnormal human subjectivity. The resulting descriptive phenomenology has served as the basis for psychopathology until today. Jaspers was working at a time like our own of rapid expansion in the neurosciences. His foundation of psychopathology rested not least on the rejection of scientific reductionism which attempted to attribute the phenomena of mental illness to putative substrates in the brain. This reductionism placed the question “why?” before the question “what?”, thus omitting the careful description and understanding of the pathological alterations of mental life. Psychopathology as a science, however, should be based on the assumption that mental life even in its pathologies always displays a meaningful, holistic and gestalt-like character.

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