Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Karl Jaspers: About the conditions and possibilities of New Humanism

Karl Jaspers (1951) Über die Bedingungen und Möglichkeiten eines neuen Humanismus. München

The English version of Karl Jaspers own lecture "about the conditions and possibilities of a new form of humanism" was made possible by a translation of Hatto Fischer in May/June 1992


As this was a part of a course program taught at LaVerne, Athens under the title “Search for Values” (1992-94), it served as a reminder that Humanism was debated in varous forms after Second World War. This included the very personal letters between Hannah Arendt and Heidegger who after 1945 try to take position on the question of Humanism. Naturally more significant than anything else is Albert Camus writing to his German friends prior to entering the Resistance. After the war, Heidegger tried to defend and to clarify his position in a letter about Humanism. But equally should not be left out Karl Jaspars and what Adorno thought about his attempt to salvage something of Metaphysics or of philosophy orientated towards transcendence.

German philosophy has always been involved in numerous questions, but the outcome of which was never really clear. Popper would point out many in Germany were thrown into endless doubt once it became clear neither Induction or Deduction would suffice to bring about a truth which cannot be refuted. Instead of accepting that truth as not being attainable by logical means, Hegel invented 'the absolute spirit' as a coercive force of a logic which would uphold the claim that the 'whole is the truth'! It led to the famous attempts to subsume reality under theory, and thereby to a negation of the ordinary human being. It had a most tragic outcome in the Holocaust.

In post war Germany, Jürgen Habermas takes up this theme and makes the diagnosis that this uncertainty on how to attain the truth does explain the political ineffectiveness of philosophy. And yet it can be shown that philosophy reflects a deeper seated mentality which is quite capable of influencing politics, even to the extent of transforming it into a perversion of human values or else in constituting something without regard for human values.

Especially the claim of being a philosophy of deep thoughts on the one hand, while wishing to pursue actions as a way to escape endless theoretical talks, leads to actions without goals and therefore to violent creations, that is to destructions and hence hopeless revolts against an unknown fear. Herrman Broch described that as the 'ennui' which comes up from inside the human being and this without knowing to what this fear can be attributed to. It would be too simple to explain it by a fear of death.

It is also not simple to explain the reasons why people go to war. Even Freud, when asked by Einstein, answered that he could not really explain despite of his psychoanalytical approach why such an aggression can exist which leads many astray, and straight into war. It is, therefore, of interest that those who are not really familiar with psycho-analysis and Freud's modest thinking, would try to explain war in psychoanalytical terms. Yet the loss of human values has to be explained quite differently. It is, therefore, of interest to follow some further developments in philosophy with regards to this question about values in relation to Humanism.

The lecture Karl Jaspers which he gave, it can serves as an example. He used to teach in Heidelberg, and even more strangely in the room next to Heidegger. The two philosophers did not like each other. Constantly a dispute raged between the two until war broke out. Karl Jaspers had to flee into exile since his wife was Jewish. They settled down in Basel, Switzerland.

What fate to have these two side by side for a crucial period of time. This is all the more so significant for once Heidegger had published his book 'Sein und Zeit' (Time and Being) in 1929, Gadamer stated that immediately thereafter all other philosophical discussions went silent. This impact must be known for it indicates how structured thoughts can influence tremendously a society going through formative and decisive years. For the dominating discourse becomes an argumentative strategy which helped him to beat his father, so Gadamer. Once these 'victories' amount to being the right kind of arguments, everything is shaped akin to those forces which seek to seize power and authority in society. It accompanied and helped National Socialism creep first into power and then seize it after 1933.

The reasons for other voices having fallen silent, or why humane thoughts could not develop another argumentative strategy, they are more hidden and not at all self-evident. Their failure to avoid Hitler's rise to power makes them appear to be irrelevant or negligent when compared to what counts in reality, and in the reconstruction of history, even though Habermas would claim this is impossible. Nevertheless Jaspers' lecture does highlight some aspects of this 'failure' by illuminating upon some hidden dimensions in face of these historical experiences made in-between 1933 and 1945.


About the conditions and possibilities of a new Humanism

Karl Jaspers

What is called Humanities has a far extended meaning. First of all, meant is an educational ideal: learning from the writings of Ancient Greece, of the Roman period and of Hellenism. In Ancient Greece, this educational thought was the basis of the Scipion circle, and was illuminated upon in the writings by Cicero. Since the fourteenth century in Italy, Humanism was renewed. Latin and Ancient Greek leads to the classical world which stands in front of our eyes in the form of art works, architectural edifices, documents and landscapes all of which were created by the Humanists and their followers. This education is a matter for the friends of aristocracy, and was the historical reality since Petrarca until Erasmus and Thomas Morus, and then again completely different in the Goethe period standing for German Neo-Humanism. Classical philology has become since the fourteenth century the educational tradition. However, to what extent the Humanities continues to live on with its representatives, this one great Humanity, a humanly orientated attitude including a sure look as to what is valuable, if only in favour of the sciences, this is a question since Nietzsche. Perhaps there continues to exist nowadays merely a powerless, ineffective educational circle for the Humanities.

Present Humanities implies without explicit recourse upon the historical humanities, that the resurrection of the human being is derived out of his eternal origin. Not as decisive is the idea of education in terms of linguistics and literary instructions, as is the idea about the human being itself. Although this has played already a restricted role in Humanities, historically speaking, it had been a matter of Humanities, that its reality was found in recognizing 'human dignity' belonging to each being, and this non-literary speaking on the basis of biblical beliefs.

The question posed by Rencontres Internationales with regards to the new Humanities does not mean fore mostly historical knowledge about Humanism within Western Civilization (and analogically speaking Chinese Humanism), but rathre as something to be expected in future. Subsequently it demands at the same time to find an answer to the question of priorities set by us: what counts more within Humanities: the linkage to an idea which can be transcribed or rather an untried, new, contemporary idea?

Does it aim for a single, indeed great exception and a small educated circle or is it an attempt and effort to realise something as a liveable form within the entire population?

Does Humanism mean a definite reality of people who are knowledgeable through history or something over and beyond that, in essence the indeterminate chance which can never be completed by a human creature, but to which to strive for every human being is called upon to do so.

If we search for the Humanism of the future, we orientate ourselves accordingly along such differences and rank orders.

Out of anxiety about ourselves, we search for the Humanism of the future. We are anxious about the contemporary human being, for descriptions of the modern human being during the first half of the twentieth century let us see horrible things:

Man burns down bridges connecting him to the past. In mere passing events, he gives himself up completely to the situation and to the coincidence. He still lives amidst attrapes that arise out of the past. However, they no longer determine the scene of real life, but rather look like a pile of rubbish. Man realises it is nothing but a fiction.

Man appears to go into nothingness. Out of despair, he grasps for nothingness or else in moments of triumph. Since Nietzsche, this has become more and more audible. God is dead.

Human existence is becoming mass existence. The individual loses him- or herself in 'types' which impose themselves due to modern literature, cinema, newspapers and this mainly due to all things becoming flat in daily life (man's habitus). In his desolation, he moves towards a self-reappraisal connected with a 'we' by participating in a presumably powerful force of the mass, a mass:

However, there are others who do believe in a God as a continuity in their historical lives. They feel secure in the community of truth as it has been revealed, may that now be believed in as an original grasp of things or else as a bourgeoisie convention. Or it can be an enforced make-belief, as a protest against nothingness.

And there are the big makers thinking only in terms of world history. Thus out of sheer preoccupation, they ten to overlook reality or with factual despotic power mean to take it totally in their hands, believing to be at the central switches of power and therefore where human beings are formed for the future.

And there exist the obedient ones ready to sacrifice their existence with an unexplainable fanaticsm of belief in a leader or a party, all in order to serve. They manage to survive in an atmosphere of untruth, ready to do upon a command even things which are criminal and nevertheless not in the least willing to confess to past crimes.

Today one can come to the conviction to see in the human being chaos. Basic drives erupt without any constraint. The only apparently tamed rips off the roof which was brought about in history by civilization. Modern psychology comprehends this hell of extermination, insofar as it reveals it. Irrespective of the assumption to recognize things as they are, it fulfils justification thereof.

Despite of these waves of humiliations, however the human being becomes conscious of something which can never be destroyed entirely: humanness – something urging to go beyond that which finds peace only in something, that it searches for, but does not as of yet exist, for which existence it strives for, but never really possesses it.

Yet out of this going beyond by the human being, there can develop nowadays a deep peacefulness. It can become outrage, disappear into despising of everything, can be tortured by boredom or be driven away by fear, and be despair. However, it does disappear only superficially once a thoughtless forgetfulness becomes a just vitally drifting along.

There are those who are silent, but are real people, out of time, about whom one hears only if one meets them personally.

No matter how one describes today's living human beings, they remain to be ambiguous. Great masses are still as if asleep and who will not even wake up, when enormous events are making world history – the question as to our path through this chaos towards future humanism can be answered in a three folded manner:

Firstly, we ask what is the human being above everything else?

Secondly, what are presently the factual conditions of humanity?

Thirdly, we ask about the path of Humanism, even though we know quite well it is not the only one.


First question: what is the human being above everything else?

The question is not what kind of picture of the human being we have, but rather how we become conscious of his widest possibilities, and this free from pictures? One the width of the scope leaves all possible fulfilments open. Every picture of the human being limits him already.

a) first the question: whether the human being can be basically explained by the already known or else if he is freedom, something evading concrete knowledge ability?

The human being becomes an object of research as a body in physiology, as a soul in psychology, as a social being in sociology. We know about him as nature and as history.

However, the human being can become conscious about himself before anything else in nature as to the origin of his beginnings, diametrically opposed to history in eternity – and he becomes thenc ertain, not to be explainable completely as a product of nature and history. The human being is more than what he can know about himself.

Out of this reason we distinguish between the knowledge of human beings as an object which can be researched indefinitely as an object of becoming, and the inner realization of human beings as something inconceivable, as something which we are and can be as the indefinite path of our freedom.

Only if we keep this difference in mind, there shall remain for our humanity space, for our freedom the breath, for our consciousness the width. The meaning of statements about the human being is, therefore, basically twofold.

In one case I say things about the human being as if an object, what he is and what is happening to him. In another case I speak about him as a non-object and hence does not reveal necessarily recognizable events. But about this non-objectable freedom of human beings I can speak when I formulate clearly applicable norms for this condition, insofar as I remember, draw attention to.

What the human being is, that cannot be diverted upon something already known, but has to be rather something attained through knowledge itself, if only in terms of origin as something to be experienced as a non-objectable part.

If I include the human being in my already known, then I have at my disposal a plan for him by which I assume to know about him, hence rape him in an unknown manner. If I let him, however, open to all possibilities according to origin, then I have no power over him at my disposal.

If I regard the human creature as something recognizable as a concrete object of nature, then I give up the notion of humanism in favour of Hominism (Windelband). I see him only as a part of the natural human genre. All individuals are countless many of this indifferent example of one kind. If I see him, however, in his freedom, then I see him in terms of his pride. Each individual and myself included, are irreplaceable, while facing high demands, community orientated speaking.


b) Then there is the other question: if the human being brings himself forth, out of the place of origin, that is through his freedom of being self-creative out of nothingness, or else whether this sense of origin is given to him by means of transcendence in order to let him know what he can be.


It is non-reputable:

Firstly, we did not create ourselves, but are in the world as something, that we are not. That we become conscious of that through the simple thought, that it is conceivable that we would not exist.

Secondly, we are not free enough ourselves, but basically through the freedom which has been given to us. We experience that when we stay outside of ourselves and cannot be free alone through the wish to do so. At the height of freedom there is this consciousness of something being given to u like a gift and out of which we live, but which we cannot bring about by means of coercion.

What we cannot win out of ourselves – neither as part of a 'promoetheic sulking' nor out of disassociation of the personal 'I' towards the middle of being, nor in lifting oneself out of the morass by grabbing at one's own hair like Münchhausen – why should we get this kind of support, from where the help?

We did not notice it as a process of the world. It does not come from outside. For it is ourselves, that we sense the most basic reason, when we come upon ourselves. Transcendence never speaks anywhere directly, it is only present, not conceivable. God speaks only to us through our freedom.

Here we have the basic decision in the manner of how we become conscious or ourselves as human beings. As human beings we are never satisfied with ourselves, we are not for ourselves the only goal. For we are related to transcendence. Through it we are enhanced and at the same time become transparent in our consciousness of being mere matter.


Freedom an transcendence bring about basic consciousness: Kant expressed it in the following form. I would have to count upon an inconceivable a s s i s t a n c e for the transformation of the radical bad into a good will, insofar I do everything, what I c a n d o. The human being deserves the credit where he is natural due to a tendency since birth. But also there, where he being everything bus his master by birth, takes the right path of freedom and stays nevertheless that, what he has made out of himself, for in the entirety it is again not just only in the power of the human being himself.

Is everyone just that, what he or she has become once and for all?

No, freedom allows at every moment the turning around towards the good will. It is never too late. And vice versa, he who finds himself on the righteous path, he is exposed at every moment to the danger of falling and he can destroy everything just when he feels himself most secure.

But against such thoughts we hear the refutation: is this whole thinking about freedom not but a mere attempt to legitimize attributes given by birth and favourable sociological situations, so that human beings take besides gifts all the credit?

We seem to face an alternative: is the human being throughout the world nothing but the world, is he so, as he has been born and determined by the environment, and is he as such ruled by a psychological necessity according to nature, that is, such a desirable or wish for illusion such as freedom, or is that all? - or is he by origin different, stands thus vis-a-vis the world and is not through the latter comprehensible?


Indeed, the human being is both, the one according to his concrete knowledge about himself, the other as to the self-consciousness gained through philosophizing. And since he is both, it is possible, that he misconstrues philosophical thoughts away from what they intended to mean originally, by making himself illusions about happiness or else himself into a fíction about not having gotten a chance and hence the deplorable shape, philosophically split and distorted into a philosophy without luck and fate. But despite of this reversing together with psychological-sociological processes, the original truth does not cease to exist.


As researchable existence and as freedom, in both cases the human being is finite. But freeom and transcendence makes the finiteness of the human being by comparison to all other finite things in the world into something unique:

the human being finds himself determined by his concrete environment, by his people, by humanity, by life on earth, by the universe. While becoming conscious of his finite character, he gains in this finiteness a part of the infinite (eternal). He is the only creature that is directed towards everything in an encompassing manner and that in his rapidly disappearing minuteness he brings everything in some manner to his present. Thus, he is in his finiteness at the same time everything. He can transgress his finiteness insofar as he manages to fill it with new contents towards the infinite.

The human being can never seriously reject the fact that it depends upon him alone that he decides with his decisions over himself, over this self, which is not accessible to any research.

Out of this follows what it means the future of the human being.


No one overlooks the possibility of being human, but there is always still more and other things possible for the human being to do rather than what somebody could have expected. The human being is incomplete and never fully completable and always open for the future. There exists no total human being and he will never come about.

Thus, there are two ways of thinking about the future of humanity. Either I regard it as a process, like that of a natural object and I conceive probabilities. I expect some determining necessity, that I could have known basically, even when I don't know. I take on that, what does not lie within my power.

Or I can conceive situations which will come about, without knowing how the human being will respond to them, on how he will in such situations through his spontaneity come to himself. Future does not come about out of necessity, causality-like speaking, that is, as a process of being, but rather through that, what is done out of and to live for due to freedom. The meaning of the countless small actions, of every free decision and of every realization by every single human being is unforeseeable. I ask about the origin of human freedom. I appeal to our wanting.

We are going into an unknowledgable, as a never entirely to be decided upon future. What we conceive of it, is corrected continuously through experience. A knowing of the being as a whole is for us out of reach. Our consciousness finds itself always in the way. Against the consciousness from taking itself to be the final stand as to the reality of being, is something which shows itself ceaselessly in always newly emerging appearances and which forces our consciousness into transformations.

What will become out of the human being, this in order to predict truthfully, implies that this he or she will realize. Predicting means hers bringing forth.

If we manage to ascertain ouor humanness within the encompassing frame of possibilities, then we need finally not to despair with the human being. In the symbol: the human being has been created by God according to his picture – that can disappear by all lostness.

Second question: Under what fatal conditions does the human being stand nowadays?


The question, by which factually given conditions is presently the human being determined, this contains the following answer: by technology, by politics, by the collapse of the connecting occidental spirit.

a) the technological age and its consequences as to work form, work organisation and social order is becoming more and more clearer in its detail; as to the sense for the whole, it has become, however, an ever increasing so puzzle. Technology does make possible the enormous increases in human masses, and for whom living conditions, including reading and writing, learning and ability could become general possession and at the same time part of the condition for the continual existence of the technological world.

But with this technology there is connected an unnatural work style, as compared with handicraft-workmanship and farming and the old professions permeated by humanism. Only if one becomes a specialist, can one achieve something properly; this includes also the modern sciences. The automation of this identical and repetitive work up to the point where the human being becomes a function of the machine, that is replaceable like a part of the machine, this is a basic feature of this era. This conveys itself upon everything, from any kind of occupation to various sorts of amusements. A self-forgetfulness of the human being seems possible: to loose oneself and be satisfied in the impersonal. We are on the road towards functionalization of everyone within the apparatus.

Technology cannot be circumvented. Prior to it the world was still asleep and out of which the masses were awoken in a gruesome manner. In future its failure would cause tremendous damage, in its subsequence primarily masses of death, the break down of the planetary transportation unit, the devastation of the planet, then a new distribution of human beings who would still survive and find finally again some roots as those few who would live with almost all of their consciousness robbed of content due to the after-effects of the technical era, but equally without the ancient belief which had been delivered historically speaking by pre-rational transcriptions.

The protest against the development of the technical era was expressed by the bad conscience of some researchers during the previous century, in hesitation once faced with the eerie. Goethe's defence is a testament worthy of merit.

Today it is the question: do we see in technology a fateful development, but equally a chance for human beings – do we see in the greatest danger (risk) nevertheless the possible achievement of a new height for humanity - , or do we only see in it the fatefulness due to humanity subject to perish because of it? Do we refute it therefore once and for all, completely and finally, while making ourselves at the same time to judges of history and live in smooching hopelessness since seeing for humanity of the future nothing but downfall? - A Humanism of the future cannot remain here indecisive.

It seems appropriate to the articulated human being, that what has become (come about) and the potential it contains, to adopt both of them – to see that today the fate of humanity is connected with technology, as something which can bring about both the positive and the negative and which has not as of yet been decided. Precondition of humanism in the future is the infinite attempt to adapt to technology and to control it, an unforeseeable field for human efforts.

It is a question whether the irreplaceability of the single human being manifests itrself aain and demands that the human being becomes once again him- or herself, instead of running merely along the tracks of functions.

What should not cease, are the already successful efforts connected with shaping technical work, its distribution and delimitations, the partial overcoming of such horrible principles of the Taylor-system, the Stachanov-system and similar methods used to exploit ruthlessly the human workforce with veiling justifications.

Furthermore, the inner position towards everything that is technical is of essence, in particular the expansion of the consciousness in treating nature. The task is that the technical possibilities do not dry up our life in nature, but rather enhance it.

b) Technology is nowadays the main element of the political condition. In a world in which God was considered to be dead and nihilism could succeed, thoughtless men could seize power precisely due to this factual nihilism. “Primitives with technology”. Through them countless people were brought under unchecked coercive power while the demand for violence fulfilled at the same time a puzzling will to serve. Terror, torture, deportation, extermination, indeed all that existed already since the Assyrian and Mongol s, but without any comparison to what prevails nowadays with all the present technical possibilities. The stateless, the interned, the overthrown who all have to live from one day to the next without any horizon for their life path and who are without any sense of continuity as to their contents of life, who associate themselves for one moment and then again are torn away, who are everywhere at home and nowhere, they all seem to be a symbol for a human world without any ground underneath the feet. They are exposed to the mercy of the political apparatus which look something like this: functionaries operate within a merciless bureaucratic apparatus; the human being is merely paper which gives to him in the form of identity card, legitimization, indictment, classification etc. chances, but also limits him, annihilates him; resistances against that amount themselves merely to senselessness and hence they tend to collapse all of a sudden in themselves; arbitrary interventions deregulate their existence, work and style of life as human beings. If one wants to find out who had ordered it, no one is available, to assume any position. It appears as if there is no one to assume responsibility.

There is no escape from this threat, that is to be grinded down to nothingness by this apparatus. Nowadays it is not only a moral, but also a practical fact that it has become impossible to find solitude in the forest or in the desert. One cannot immigrate to another country in order to create a better, that is new society. What the human being turns out to be, this depends upon oneself within the given reality out of which there is no escape and through which actions stabilize the political condition of the future. One can no longer be indifferent to politics. Everyone, that is those who live really consciously, has to decide in the struggle for the political reality of the future.


For freedom is never really the freedom of only individuals. Everyone is free to the extend that the others are free.


Out of this reason, humanism will find itself in union with those forces which want to further both the fate and the chances of all. Human rights is a prerequisite for human, not beastly politics. For politics is something in which action is orientated towards power and the possibility of violence. Humanness is, however, tied to the self limitation of power by law, legality and contract. Where power permits no longer any curtailment, there it has to be confronted with all possible and never ceasing to rest counter-strength. That one ought not to become like a dragon in the fight with the dragon and nevertheless does not lose one's strength, that is the question as to the fate of humanity today.

For many politics has become nowadays as something absolute. When they are swept along in the longing towards violence, then what counts only in their own eyes is the belonging to an even greater power and they respect only others accordingly to what power stands behind them. Everything else is for them useless talk. Language is known only to them essentially as a means of getting power over others or to use it, as their thinking is advocatorical, sophistic, but in itself always only a mean to fight for more power. Their life habits right down to facial expression and tone of voice is intricately connected with the consciousness of power.

Forces giving wings to this will to power within the masses are dreamers whose untruthfulness can only be resolved by a sober humanism; for example, there is one terrible illusion, for since Marx there exists in connection with early Chiliasm a belief: only when all what exists right now has been destroyed, then out of this destruction there will come about all of a sudden a new creation. This expectation reckons with magic: when only first the state of nothingness has been reached, then out of it will grow immediately all the wonders of humanity, that is true humanness – or, when only the dictatorship of the proletariat has been attained, the the classless society will bring about the new human being, the free and just condition, all in due time. This absurd belief, that is to bring about creation through destruction, out of extreme extermination the salvation, out of nothing the rebirth, is a weird factor of contemporary happenings giving on top of it all a good conscience to every kind of wildness and forcefulness, to all kinds of hate and triumphs of gruesomeness. It has as a factual result only the complete slavery in the name of an idol – that is, the always in future remaining salvation of humanity in this world - , while having to live with the perversion of the meaning of words: a perfect fraud.

The big alternative seems to lie between despotic conditions and the freedom of open chances – between seeming terroristic stability of chaotic continual overthrows along with an unchanged slavery and the path upon which one steps towards freedom as a possibility to be retained through changeable reforms – between giving up oneself to arbitrariness and the security of constitutional conditions. However, no right and final set-up in the world presents itself to our eyes, for this set-up does not exist. The pat along which freedom and order unite in every new situation of freedom can be found, in order to limit arbitrariness and anarchism.

Humanism will no longer be able to unfold itself on the side lines. It is faced with political conditions and especially with this one alternative: freedom for the spirit struggling in public or else the directed mind. Life prevails only on one side and is lost on the other.

Power and violence were throughout the times cruesome realities, but today they are released in all their nakedness. In this political situation only those people living in humanism have in future a chance of humanness, provided they are prepared to fight and to die for it.


c) Technology and politics have erased the over thousand of years prevailing spiritual conditions. The world of the Occident does no longer exist, there is no longer any common God believed in by all, hence no valid human picture and no longer in the figfht for life and death bringing about solidarity. The most common consciousness of the person can be characterized as follows: the loss of historical memory, the lack of a ruling basic knowledge, the helplessness with regards to an uncertain future.

The loss of historical memory is the consequence of tendencies within modern technology and politics going against history. There are remains of fragments of historical accounts, mainly due to language. But in giving up the historical continuity the consciousness of the Occident, and this goes parallel to giving up native homeland, origin, family, indifference prevails even in friendships and reliability is transformed into letting one another live senselessly, for one's own life is being lived without memory. Due to having no longer historical accounts, created through education being reduced to the only necessary and by the receptivity scheme formed by propaganda, it appears as if history has stopped altogether.

But can the human being break away from history, cut off his roots? Can he realize some humanness out of historical nothingness, out of his solely biologically speaking through birth determined nature unfold him- or herself, in particular a humanness that demands being secure, for this so being, this moment and that what sees nothing else, wants to have an imaginary future as salvation?

No, the human being must recognize him- or herself in that, what he or she were, in order to come to oneself in the present. What he or she had been historically, that is an unavoidable and founding factor for what he or she shall be.

Human will means having the decision. It horrifies us: the possibility that dangerous despots want to erase history as an non-wished for source of human independence, something they want to replace wit a dogmatic scheme which being untruthful and sacrosanct at one and the same time is impregnated into everyone, and which is being assisted by the inclination of masses towards legends.

To the condition of being human belongs the figure of a communal basic knowledge as an ordered totality of concepts and symbols. The greatest example of a worked through, of the most sublime richness right up to simple forms of an unified spirit is that of Catholicism, this over thousand of years grown synthesis of historical living forces since primitive times, one capable even of unifying contradictory forces. Those within its protection are carried by this. While the human being appers to have become completely neglected, it is never really let down. This spirit or belief remains to be a harbour for the failed and discouraged. It remains as a reappearing rock after the floods of creative life have ebbed off again. But this condition of humanness stands itself under the condition of a reliable that is the functioning authority of the church, its ruler-ship over the spirits. This world satisfies nowadays only a part of those people born into the world. For the majority of the people it is no longer acceptable. The church retains no longer its authority over the masses, so that it has no longer in serious situations the decisive power.

Today there does not exist anything equivalent and replaceable. Consciousness has been fragmented and crumbled into pieces, changed kaleidoscope-like and yet stay the same as a manifoldness without order. Within this fragmentation there are possible powerful forms of a simplified consciousness which can gain for a moment political power, especially when connected with a political force, but this is incapable of impregnating the human spirit.

A new dominating basic knowledge will not come about very quickly. It has to grow out of looking, thinking, talking with contemporaries. Today the exciting is that although no one can put it in its place, it can be nevertheless felt as pushing itself towards the centre despite of all of the fragmentation. The humanity of the future will be determined by this figure of basic knowledge, something to be gained out of loneliness within the free forms of public thinking when communicating with one another.

Although the consciousness appears to have fallen apart, it appears still today to be chaotic, as something pulverising itself into even emptier atoms of individuals which as masses are indeed functions of power, but not incarnations of a spirit.

The demand of the masses will count more in future than today. No spiritual reality remains other than the one carried by the masses. The realization of something great will always be a matter for individuals, a few, and to elites educating themselves on this matter. Nevertheless, the humanism of the future will have to find the simplest forms while trying for the highest peak, for these forms have to be accessible and convincing for everyone. An effective humanism would be basically a humanism for everyone.

But the realization of that would be all the more truthful, the higher the individuals climb, for their faces, thoughts, symbols bring about measurements. And within the masses this humanism does turn once more towards the individual, to all individuals, because everyone has a soul and is not solely an atom, and only as such can he or she be him- or herself an effective human part of the community.


The helplessness with regards to the future arises out of the consciousness of being totally threatened. It is, as if we settle ourselves in vain over and again on a volcano, whose explosions are certain, only when and how and where is uncertain.


Cultures have sunken. Today the new is, however, that humanity in its entirety is threatened, that this threat is more acute and at the same time more conscious than ever before, for it includes not only violence against property and life, but also against humanness. To whom is apparent in his eyes the short-term of every endeavour, every future appears to be senseless in terms of what he does now.

One conceives it to be possible that the human being has been lost or becomes so different as a living creature, so that thre prevails no longer any bridge to what we are, what we want to be, love and have brought forth.

The hopelessness of the poverty of millions, our thinking about the probable according according to our measurements, this has created in atmosphere in which we see only devastation and the end. Poetry of despair has the greatest resonance.


Yet one has to say decisively against that: there does not exist any information about the future as a whole. Against this paralysing threat of our presuming knowledge we can put up two insights:

  1. the given conditions of humanness – today technology, politics and the falling apart of the community spirit – imply indeed limitations, but equally chances. They have not only coercive consequences, but bring about at the same time spontaneity. The possibility of future humanness is not to be derived today from conditions under which it prevails nowadays, even tough it will never be deducible completely without these conditions and are only realizable when intended for adaptation.

  2. Today there exists not only the gruesome, but also great realities of humanness, most of it in secure shelter: forces of love, heroism, depth of belief. When anticipation of the coming is already perception of the present, then this can only encourage us.

Never is knowledge certain of its ruin. To pick oneself up out of a horrible probability, in order to try for the improbable, that becomes a characteristic move of human creativeness.


Third question: which path of our humanism do we consider to be possible?


In every explanation until now we have heard such a demand being formulated, namely how to relate subsequently to the humanism of the future: the viewpoint with regards to the widest scope of human possibilities, the penetration of the technical world, the political decision for the public freedom of the spirit, the will to hold onto transcriptions, the work on the basis of common knowledge, the fulfilment of the demands by the masses, the maintaining of a position despite of all uncertainty.

Now we try to keep our eyes focused on two paths which seem inseparable: life as appropriation of occidental human as irreplaceable result, and the struggle for the independence of the human beings as prerequisite of all future possibilities.

a) Actual humanness is at any time original, but becomes so much deeper, the more decisive the appropriation, the clearer from where it comes. Our Humanism is the occidental humanism. It contains two aspects: the relation to the ancient Greek-Roman period and the will to the actual humanness, and that as one through the other.

Humanism is being transcribed through valuable writings. Without them are inconceivable Dante, Michelangelo, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche -, without it there would not be possible at a spiritual level even its radical enemies, such as Karl Marx. Why should we deny this name of humanism? Close to the occidental humanism, looking up to him, we can search for our own path. To no better enlightened group of spirits we could be associated with.

Let us not be intimated through overzealous assertions, for that period of humanism has been left behind. It belongs to the remainders of a decadent bourgeoisie. Such fake knowledge gains only then recognition when despotic forces get rid of that, what they don't like by going against the real intellectual demands of the human being.

Humanism is in essence a question of education. It gives to the youth the deepest human contents in the purest form and in the simplest shape. It is not anachronistic to care about humanistic high schools and to let gifted children receive the best by letting them learn old languages, in order to take with them on their path what can be given to them. All children of the Occident should aside from the Bible get to know and become familiar with writings of the historical past and of Ancient Greece through translation as well as with the arts of those times.

But the propaganda for humanism is today sometimes misleading. If the Roman humanism, this appropriation of ancient Greece along with the energy of the Roman ethos, would become the leading model, then this would be much too restrive. The first Humanism is not the Roman, but the Greek P a i d e i a itself.

If the knowledge about Ancient Greece, the familiarity with its languages and the mastering of the philological methods counts already as humanism, then this will become conceited and inhuman, valuable only merely according to its philological achievements.

If a cultural Conservative humanism wants to see the spirutal life with the transcribed T o p o i, so it can serve as justification for some mean action by taking examples out of humanistic transcriptions. This then is the Humanism of the literary people, who live without making decisions, all for the sake of the richness of Kaleidoscopic like games for the mind rather than for the seriousness, wheter they take on the role as a professor, journalist, converted, nihilist, philosopher, or some other role, behind which they can hide confusion due to non-orderly humanness. They are the new figures of the always present Sophistic, this significant factor of spiritual life which one has to bemoan and yet do not want to miss.

The literary movement without ground, due to demanding that the human being is lead only by the spirit (mind), wants to see in humanism the fulfilment. But there was forgotten: the spirit (mind) is tied to the material necessities, in order to be real, and the spirit must be carried by the existence of human beings in relation to God, in order to become actually real. Humanism is only a means, ut not the completion of humanness. The moment it becomes a final goal, it develops a tendency to cre only about the past within a being that is both unreal and has no existence.

Against those kinds of deduction go not only all force of philosophy, in order to preserve true humanism – but also the anti-humanistic forces, in order to destroy it once and for all.

In the case that this demands a “real Humanism” (Marx) as unhistorical presence of mankind and its realization by a so-called freedom, justice and happiness in community with all, the name counts equally for the very opposite to humanism, that is for the denouncing of all transcriptions and of the Greek origin. That would no longer be any humanism, but rather the extermination of the occidental people. Aside from that is this real humanism a fiction, one which turned from an earlier entusiam into a deception by means of political propaganda. A new humanism is impossible once based on an empty idea of the human being and as such without historicity.

However, it is conceivable that the humanism of the future will include Chinese and Indian components of humanness to be integrated into the occidental humanism and from there into a global humanism for all inhabitants of this earth. Its communal aspect will be the manifoldedness of all historical appearances which will become better than themselves due to knowing more about one another.


b) But now the decisive. Humanism is not a final goal. It creates merely the spiritual space in which everyone has to struggle and to attain his or her independence.

Inner independence of human beings came about as long as we have history, against being helpless as to the whole. Especially then, when the whole turned out to be fragile, the human being did not want to become a victim of that. Then the basic question of being human became whether in fact one could stand on one's own feet alone.

But as a single person the human being comes only to himself through an immediate relation to Goddess. From Jesaias to Jeremias, from Socrates, Jesus, the Stoics along with Giordano Bruno, Spinoza, Kant there walk through history the great independent figures who hold out without being supported by any society and are able to become themselves the core of new societies for independent people, in awe of God as they have revealed themselves to him.

After the newer centuries whose freedom was founded by independent people, but so, that as a consequence of the apparent possession of independence such as Liberalism, it became more and more untruthful. As a result millions of people have given up this achieved freedom without realizing what they were doing.

Where the external freedom appears to be safeguarded by the political condition, thus this kind can be only maintained when its meaning is filled with the inner freedom which everyone must acquire over and again through inner actions.

And where the external freedom has been lost, there is political coercion and the functionalisation by the apparatus which makes the struggle for inner independence even more difficult than ever before, but equally more honest, clearer, viable.

We can be brought by the authority of violence to the point that nonsense is taken as truth, the irreal as facts. The will to be submissive, a deceiving consciousness, for to be in the hands of either a demonic or else a godly power transforms the human being.

“I don't believe it,but one has to believe it,” a statement to be heard from many people having started to undergo this transformation. The remorsefulness in show trials, the admittance to actions not even committed, but perhaps contemplated upon in the inner part in a playful manner, these are the signs of final losses of an inner independence.

The task of the human being is struggle for independence does not cease. The struggle remains under all conditions possible, even in complete hiding. The wide spiritual nature of humanism does indeed help in this struggle for independence, but does not bring it about. Humanism lives on only on the basis of human independence.

Independence is not so easily grasped nor self understood. It is full of danger. Often it misunderstands itself. It is never complete.


Once a world is lost to it, a human being can manage perhaps to continue to exist as a single person in its independence, but the question is: how can he rather than to disappear in the punctual of his ego-being, the origin of contents, how can he instead of empty space gain a new world?

In a sunken world, in the over-flooding by the self-forgetting masses, people rescue themselves very much like Arche Noah, in this independence which hopes to come in these floods upon other single independent ones, how do they find a way out of their arche to the others, where do they gain a public space, one which is not empty noise, but rather carries and furthers common goals of a common life? Now can they attain authentic grounds for human society after the sin-floods?

Furthermore, this independence can misunderstand itself as to pride in the power, the vitality of a flowering sobering as human being, one who does not feel threatened by anything or in the apparent creation of oneself out of nothing – or in looking on from an apparent Archimedes point, which is outside everything without any sense of responsibility. Always then the sense for freedom is lost, one which finds only a meaning in its being given to oneself by relating to the transcendence of matters of fulfilment in the world and hence to become really free, for otherwise all remains exposed unconsciously to the coincidence of material and psychological existence and retains nothing but the rigidness of an empty 'I'-position.

Deeper than the knowledge about such derailments penetrates, however, humanity as such. It grows at the same time that the human being is brought forth through personal work.

It is perceived mythically in the case of the fall of sin. Hegel shows the self-alienation of the human being. Kierkegaard showed the basic mistake of the human being coming to demonic closeness. Nietzsche looked through the non oversee-able variety of variety of self-deception. Illusions were taken as decisive factor in people's life. Such perceptions have become a common knowledge in sociology as theories of ideologies and as psychoanalytical theories. Sartre's existential psychoanalysis repeats the insight into the basic deceptions of human beings.

It is a matter of the phenomena of covering and uncovering, of suppressing and forgetting, of perversion and of the basic task, in order to unveil, to reveal, to uncover the truth and to re-establish reality.


Thus everything sounds like the knowledge of illness which can be cured. But the modern human being who has dared to go to the utmost limits, has in this turmoil of falseness, in this disturbing twistedness right up to the point where truth and reality disappear out of sight of the human being.


Nietzsche made the experience: “Between hundres of mirrors falsely in front of yourself ...hang in one's own ropes, self-recognition of the self, self-hangman.”


The danger of independence are enormous, so that doubts as to its possibilities prevail.


The modern independence, now coming as the liberal period to an end in the world no longer to be conquered without resistance, but giving long the way to everyone an apparent freedom, this has lead to the most deceiving thesis during the last century: freedom leads into nothingness; with it nothing goes.

Indeed, it appears as if many people cannot live in freedom nor do they want to. Due to this dissatisfaction, unfullfilment and the masses not clearly pushing has perhaps such an appeal. The inability to be free, together with scarcity, makes the present psychological reality apparently understandable: all movements that uncover, which castigate the untruthfulness of conditions which move aggressively towards the destruction of everything presumed presently valid, they have an enormous increase of supporters. Here are the tracks for wild lust to destroy, for the will for power by the powerless. At the same time, there grows out of a fanatical belief an salvation in energy, in front us as the drive towards rescue increases blind obedience.

Thus, by revealing truthfulness, there are introduced nowadays numerous new deceptions (in Marxism and Psychoanalysis) are creating new fictions through the destruction of old fictions – as in the case of a violent liberation action bringing about an even greater violation through force of all.

But all interpretations, firstly of the emptiness of the mere independence, secondly of the manifolded derailments into false independence, thirdly of the basic twistedness in being human, all of this can only ehnace the demand for authentic independence: the task of humanity being the pulling itself out of this radical untruthfulness. Yet even when out of the will to salvation there develops an enhanced disaster, and with insights the extend of the ruin appears to be even greater, how then is help possible, how to find an orientation as to the actual human being in relation to the self, to the transcendence?


There are ready to assist readings of the revelation religions and philosophy.


Naturalism or rather the kind of thought which sees in being an object an entire being, the human being as an object among others, declares the thought processes of transcendence as a wrong interpretation of something which in truth is merely the being-in-the-world. It does not recognize any origin from for freedom, nothing as to what came 'from outside of the world', 'from above', 'out of the world of light', 'from God' to us.

Revelation religion and philosophy, both oppose this kind of thinking. However, the big question is: where does God speak to us?

Religion replies: only mediated through the revelations that have been already incurred and which reaches us by means of human institutions like the church, through cults and sacraments and by sentences of human languages, that is always through realities of the world by way of authority and obedience.

Philosophy replies: transcendence speaks in an immediate manner to us as single person throug the form of truth which can be heard by means of everything being transcribed and awakened and prepare for us; it speaks as an organ in the freedom of being oneself, insofar the human being, every human being, has to be presented without exception directly before God, in order to become actually a human being.

Religion mediates certainties of beliefs ascertained by guarantees. He who talks through them to God, he can as an organ believe to speak with a visible authority of God in this world, that is throuigh a kind of mediation which has been given and sanctified by the church.

By contrast philosophy remains at the level of an immediate relationship to the transcendence of God always ambivalent, a listening at the risk not to understand him, a tension in realization, a certainty in what remains to be uncertainty. He who talks about God, does it without authority, counting alone on the power of human conviction. He who feels in need of some official task for philosophizing, he will never call upon it. Socrates dared to say it only towards the end, in front of the court of the polis and prior to his death.

Revelation religion wants to mediate transcendent reality – philosophy shows basic thought configurations which by fulfilling them makes the thinker search for this path. Philosophically speaking, we ascertain ourselvers either to God or nothingness. The alternative “either God or nothing” is translated, however, by theology into something completely different: “Christ is nothing”. In this case, one has to understand under Christ the canons of teaching or a certain church and its basic belief-statements.

Those who philosophise see themselves confronted with the most amazing attacks. It happens that one denies us God, as if we were making absurd something which belongs to the Theologians. One does not give to us a chance to live with God in an immediate sense, awoken out of the depth of the transcription of those who believed once to have heard God. One admonishes us of arrogance of that human being believing to be able to help himself, and criticizes us of factual nihilism, something in which one throws together everything which does not follow suit the obedience of the revelation religion.

Attacked by this is not only the great philosophy which is older than Christianity and which is not limited solely to the Occident, but finds also its depth in China and India.

Attacked is equally the chance of contemporary humanity to find its path by means of the humanities towards the truth of a metaphysically founded ethos. The non-belief of countless millions is a fact.

The spread of Enlightenment makes it almost impossible for the to return to the beliefs of revelation. When they want to take the absurd – as Kierkegaard called it – upon themselves, it is to them more tolerable the absurdities of world-immanent beliefs of salvation. He who wants to throw back the human being as he has become nowadays, that is into the slavery of obedience in order to restore the essence, and may that be the religious obedience, he gives in most cases mankind price to totalitarianism rather than to a confessionally orientated Christianity. One retains questionable expectations in using such Christianity politically speaking to order the spirit.

The independently thinking person wants to pull himself out of untruthfulness so as to be actually a human being.

He searches in the force of love, in the openness of reason and in willingness to read the writings of transcendence. This continual process throughout life requires not for all the help of transcendence. Once I am again given to myself due to a relentless effort, something that by itself would not bring about the essential, then I do experience this help without being able to objectivize it as a fact and prove it.


What is philosophy able to do? The main task of unfolding philosophical knowledge may be stated in three sentences:

  1. Philosophy cannot provide truth, but it can illuminate upon it like fixing a star, in order to draw attention to it. Seeing and understanding that everyone must do it by himself.

  2. It can make conscious the kind of thinking, that is through lessons as to the categories, methods and sciences which make us become master of our thoughts rather than dangle unconsciously in merely accustomed thought forms.

  3. Philosophy leads to basic operations of thought by which we emancipate ourselves from the object of an apparently human absolute, to the basic operations in which forms of understanding our thinking becomes at the same time a completion of our essence and like the prayer of believers in revelation transforms and lifts us into the upsurge.

But once we philosophize in this sense – and keep away from the deadly philosophical dogmaticsm -, so we come to the following situation: since we cannot know the whole, our life can be only an attempt.

To wish to know first the whole, the would lame our actions. One has to get involved, to risk it, this experience of oneself and to make things in pursuit of one's love for maximum knowledge, in deciding even when not knowing, with hesitation indeed, but over and beyond that with fulfilling decisiveness. To go into the future, this means not to let things happen passively, but to bring about things through the clarity of our decisions, not through a sign or something else, but only according to something else from which we can deduce with calculation what has to be done.


When Nietzsche called life as “an experiment in making recognition”, it appeared as if life would dissolve itself in the attempt. But the truthful attempt is itself the seriousness of reality, uncertain in itself as to its objectivity. That is modern courage: to proceed in life as an attempt when there exists no certainty – not to demand the result to risk failure – to complete the yes to life, as if help would appear in depth, as something which on all accounts can imply that the intended good is nothing but what flows in the end into the being.

Thus, the actual independence is not a firm point of being free, but a gaining of oneself, but which never reaches its goal.


Our explanation as to the struggle for inner independence had finally in mind the human being only as a singular. Does that not sound as if the single person is everything? The contrary is true: the single person is in the process of things the disappearing individual, and the single person is him- or herself only to the extent, as he is in communication with him- or herself and at the same time within the world.

But at the same time, it is true, that everything does depend upon this disappearing 'I'. For only on the basis of a personal reality can I co-experience the otherwise remaining imaginary whole, that is society and in a narrower sense, state and humanity. For the spirit is based upon the truth of a single person, upon the unconditional historical decisions made by countless individuals in the realization of daily life.

The individual appears to have no influence. But as in elections everyone can say that, if he does not vote, this would not change the election results, he votes nevertheless, knowing, that all individuals together can bring about the result – so it is the moral force of the apparently disappearing individual as the only substance and real factor for what can become of the human being – the substance does not rest within an objective healing process or in a metaphysical total happening of the being or in demonic forces or in a dialectical-necessary advancement of history, nor in the fiction of being oneself helpless and in giving up human beings running away.


He who looks perhaps with greater pessimism at what the human being can become, nevertheless he has the leverage to improve it, especially himself once he says to himself: what I am myself and do with regards to transcendence, this should show me what the human being can be, and it may let me see clear, in order to perceive that, what is. The future lies with every individual being present.


Karl Jaspars (1951) Über die Bedingungen und Möglichkeiten eines neuen Humanismus. München


Translated by Hatto Fischer

May/June 1992


The students of that course at LaVerne received for their final exam following note:

Questions pertain to the lecture given by Karl Jaspars on the subject "About the conditions and possibilities of a New Humanism?"

Note: read all these questions carefully. Some aim directly at what Jaspars says, hence in your answer you must show how he argues and whether or not you agree. There are only a few questions which allow you to make your own comments, but even then, these questions require of you not just a simple statement of opinion as to whether or not you fin this good or bad, or else yes, you like that or you do not like that position..., rather you must show your critical judgement and give reasons, in order to be able to show how you come to some evaluation and conclusion.

Answer three questions out of then:

  1. Why is the struggle for inner independence so important to Jaspars? What are ther risks and problems facing 'independence'?
  2. What reasons does Jaspars give in rejecting the Marxist version of Humanism?
  3. Interpret and comment briefly the sentence: "And there are those silent people whom one only knows about them once one has met them personally"?
  4. In what context does Jaspars talk about "common knowledge", an how would you relate this concept to the current crisis?
  5. How can philosophy contribute to overcome the current crisis?
  6. How does Jaspars views the impact of technology upon life?
  7. Why should everyone become 'political', and what does that mean in terms of humanness?
  8. What is the concept of 'future Humanism'?
  9. If you would hold a talk about Jaspars in class, what would you emphasize as being of importance so that the class could understand Jaspars?
  10. If man has not created himself, and if he is only something through freedom, what is this something in relation to transcendence?

Good luck!



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