Karl Jaspers

Karl Theodor Jaspers . German psychiatrist and philosopher; relevant figure of existentialism , professor at the University of Basel. He initially devoted himself to psychiatry and this has determined in no small measure his way of conceiving philosophical problems; it had a strong influence on theology , psychiatry and modern philosophy .


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  • 1 Biographical synthesis
    • 1 First studies
    • 2 Career path
    • 3 Death
  • 2 Contributions to Psychiatry
    • 1 Methods of patient studies
    • 2 Publications about psychiatry
    • 3 Considerations about diagnosing delusions
      • 3.1 Primary and secondary delusions
    • 3 Most important works
    • 4 Sources

Biographical synthesis

He was born in Oldenburg , Germany, on February 23 , 1883 . Of a legal father and mother belonging to a local agricultural community.

Early studies

He showed an early interest in Philosophy , but his father’s experience in the legal system undoubtedly influenced his decision to study law at the University . It did not take long before he realized that he did not enjoy studying law, and so in 1902 he decided to study medicine . He graduated from medical school in 1909 , and began working at the psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg where Emil Kraepelin had worked years before.

Career path

He was dissatisfied with the way in which the medical community of the time approached the subject of the study of mental illnesses, and set the goal of improving this aspect. In 1913 he held a temporary position as professor of psychology at the University of Heidelberg. The position later became permanent, and he never returned to clinical practice.

At the age of 40, he turned from Psychology to Philosophy, expanding on topics that he had developed in his psychiatric work. He became a renowned philosopher, both in Germany and in the rest of Europe . In 1948 he moved to the University of Basel in Switzerland , where he held his position of prominence in Philosophy.


Die in Basel, Switzerland one 26 as February as 1969 .

Contributions to Psychiatry

His dissatisfaction with the popular understanding of mental illness led him to question both the diagnostic criteria and the clinical methods of psychiatry. He published a revolutionary treatise in 1910 , which dealt with whether paranoia was a facet of personality or the result of biological changes . Although not many new ideas were provided, it did introduce a new study method.

Patient Study Methods

He studied several patients in detail, recording biographical information about them and notes on how the patients themselves felt about their symptoms. This came to be known as the biographical method, and today it is part of the practice of modern psychiatry.

Publications about psychiatry

Jaspers wrote his perspectives on mental illness in a book called “General Psychopathology . ” The two volumes that make up this work have become classics of psychiatric literature , and many modern diagnostic criteria are born from ideas contained in its pages.

Considerations about diagnosing delusions

Jaspers felt that Psychiatry should diagnose delusions (or delusions) in the same way. He argued that clinicians should not consider a delusional belief based on the content of the belief, but only based on how the patient defends that belief.

Primary and secondary delusions

Jaspers further distinguished between primary and secondary delusions. He defined the primaries as autochthonous, that is, they appear without an apparent cause, being incomprehensible in terms of a normal mental process (this is a different use that is given to the autochthonous concept in Medicine and in Sociology , which refers to indigenous populations .

Secondary delusions, on the other hand, are classified as influenced by the person’s background, current situation, or mental state. He considered the primary delusions as unintelligible , since he believed that there was no coherent reasoning behind their formation. This appreciation has caused quite a bit of controversy, and has been criticized by RD Laing and Richard Bentall , emphasizing that by taking that position therapists can be made to fall into the assumption that since they will not be able to understand the patient, the patient is delusional and any further research done will have no effect.

More important works

Jaspers’ most important works, extensive and detailed, can be daunting in their complexity. His great and last attempt at a systematic philosophy by Existez, called “Von der Wahrheit” (Of Truth ( 1947 )), has not been translated into other languages, such as English. However, he also wrote shorter, more accessible and entertaining works, such as the remarkable “Philosophy is for Anyone” ( 1964 ).

Another important work appeared in “Philosophy and Existence” ( 1938 ), “Philosophy and the World” ( 1958 ). For Jaspers, the term “existence” (Existez) called the indefinable experience of freedom and possibility; an experience that constitutes the authentic being of individuals who are aware of “extreme situations” when confronting suffering, conflict, guilt, chance and death. Commentators frequently compare Jaspers’ Philosophy with that of his contemporary Martin Heidegger . In fact, both sought to explore the meaning of being and existence.


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