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The ethics of incomprehensibility 

The ethics of incomprehensibility
The ethics of incomprehensibility

Giovanni Stanghellini

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date: 05 December 2020

What can psychiatrists learn today from Karl Jaspers, who at the dawn of XX Century, held that the future of medicine was in binding philosophy to science ? How can young psychiatrists, who are so hungry for handbook knowledge, structured interviews, decision-making criteria, and therapeutic protocols be so patient as to listen to such a hybrid clinician-philosopher arguing for a kind of knowledge which is stubbornly aware of its limits, and breathlessly revolting against all sorts of objectification and dogmatism? How can those who are looking for ‘expert knowledge’ be satisfied with a kind of knowledge which conceives of itself as an ‘unlimited task’ which takes place in the face-to-face, here-and-now encounter between two persons? How can they be happy with a mentor whose main teaching can be condensed into one sentence: ‘[Q]uestions are more essential than answers, and every answer becomes a new question’? To respond to these interrogations, we need to tackle another more fundamental one: On what kind of knowledge can we rely to establish the foundations of psychiatry? Jaspers’ answer can be condensed in one single word: Psychopathology.

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