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Psychopathology. 2007;40(2):75-82. Epub 2007 Jan 11.

Existence and pluralism: the rediscovery of Karl Jaspers.

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Department of Psychiatry, Emory University, Atlanta, Ga, USA.


Karl Jaspers has been recognized in psychiatry mostly for his influence on phenomenology and on certain aspects of psychopathology, such as our understanding of delusions. In this paper, I will highlight the need to rediscover Jaspers' work in terms of other important ideas that he can contribute to psychiatry, in particular the concepts of limit situations, transcendence and pluralism. Limit situations refer to the fact that human life is characterized by existential situations, or crises, which become opportunities for authentic existence. Transcendence refers to the notion that freedom is an important aspect of human existence and cannot be explained by purely scientific understanding or encompassed by any purely rationalistic system of thought. Pluralism is perhaps Jaspers' most original perspective, which has still failed to be adequately appreciated by the psychiatric profession. The idea here is that science means understanding the methods by which we obtain knowledge, along with the presuppositions and limits of those methods. Contemporary psychiatry has only a limited appreciation of Jaspers' work. In this paper, I attempt to describe these important concepts that can help us understand what we do in psychiatry, what we should be doing and why.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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