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Jaspers, phenomenology, and the ‘ontological difference’ 

Jaspers, phenomenology, and the ‘ontological difference’
Jaspers, phenomenology, and the ‘ontological difference’

Louis A. Sass

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date: 21 January 2021

This paper considers Karl Jaspers’ general position regarding human experience and the study thereof—as expressed in “The Phenomenological Approach in Psychopathology” (1912) and General Psychopathology (first published 1913). After describing Jaspers’ rejection of epistemological objectivism and physicalism, I consider later developments in hermeneutic phenomenology that are absent from his discussion. These include criticism of the “prejudice against prejudices” and also of what Heidegger termed the “forgetting of the ontological difference” (namely, neglect of general qualities of the experiential world and its presencing, in favour of focusing on entity-like phenomena that occur ‘within’ the horizons of this awareness). Jaspers presents phenomenology as a form of pure description, devoid of explanatory relevance, that offers “unprejudiced direct grasp of [experiential] events as they really are.” From a contemporary, hermeneutic standpoint, Jaspers’ vision seems overly modest regarding what phenomenology can offer to psychopathology, yet overly confident about the precision and certitude of the accounts it might provide.

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