I was pleased to lead a Not School discussion on Karl Jaspers's Truth and Symbol (1947). Our recent episode left us a little in the dark on what Jaspers was really proposing re religion and the mystical. Well, Truth & Symbol still left a lot of questions unanswered, but gave us a lot to chew on.
A lot of the book (which is actually an excerpt from a longer, untranslated work) had to do with outlining Jaspers's version of the existential balancing act: For Camus, the tricky part was truly acknowledging the absurd. For Sartre, it was embracing your freedom. For Jaspers, the matter is more ineliminably technical: it has to do with maintaining a proper balance in your philosophical outlook between subject and object. Jaspers, inspired by the many phases of consciousness in Hegel's Phenomenology, thinks that it's possible to live as if, for instance, the subject (the self) is really nothing, to just emphasize the objective world (e.g. the world of science). Or one could act like Descartes, as if the sphere of the subjective is all we can know with certainty, is all we experience directly, or maybe that it's all there is. For Jaspers, we need to acknowledge that both subject and object are part of the Encompassing (what Heidegger calls "Being"), that neither of these entities is transparent to us, and that while they are not fundamentally different, they act as different poles of our experience that we need to preserve when we think about what kind of reality is ultimate for us. So we retain the object as object, but through it we see the Encompassing: in this way the object is transparent, is a symbol (or cypher).
I was joined by Michael Burgess, Marilynn L., Nick Halme, and Heath Adams, and everyone had comparisons to make to try to figure this out. Marilynn saw this as neo-Platonism, Michael brought up Berkeley (by the end Jaspers is actually calling the Encompassing "God"), Heath brought up Pirsig (though I think that the mystical experience of Quality that Pirsig is pushing for in part of ZAMM is Eastern, i.e. the self merges with the world in one way or the other, while the insistence on maintaining duality looks more like Judeo-Christian mysticism to me). We tried to make sense of what "symbol" means to Jaspers, when these symbols are fundamentally not referring to something outside of themselves (the word "horse" or a picture of a horse refers to an animal, while Being is supposed to be within and around (Encompassing) and exemplified by individual beings (taken as symbols or not). Why did he shift to using the word "God" with all that entails at the end?
I haven't done one of these in a while, but am very glad I did, and think you'll enjoy the conversation as much as any of our podcast episodes, as we had a great group of participants and a really interesting book.
Go download the discussion. Click on "Not School & Aftershow Discussions" and check out the new little HTML5 audio player I configured to play the file (or you can still download as usual). If people it this cool, we'll move the whole Free Stuff page gradually to use this.
Not a Citizen yet? Go sign up!