Jaspers on philosophy and science

From Philosophy, “Epilogue 1955”:

This came to be the great philosophical challenge: to hold on to science, to keep testing by its standards of compelling certainty, and yet to do our ascertaining in the realm of our lives. The point is to make our philosophizing a function of our reality itself, to have the thought figures spring from personal life and address themselves to the individual. The only proof of an impersonal, objectified philosophical construction lies in personal Existenz. It makes no sense as a knowledge of formulae, theses, and words, nor as a contemplation of soul-stirrmg figures; it does make sense in the inner action which it stirs or recognizably reflects.

This philosophizing is thinking. That is what sets it apart from the tendencies of emotional self-satisfaction, from thoughtless romanticism, and from the self-destruction of reason in so-called irrationalism. The joy of a thinking life, whether in sorrow or in rapturous love, is that philosophical thinking will not only make each experience, each action, each choice more clearly conscious but more deeply based and more intense.

To study such thinking means to deal with oneself. It commits not only in the manner of surface laws, to which I might conform in calculable fashion. This commitment goes farther; it is an existential responsibility which my thoughts make clear and certain.

Philosophical thinking occurs in movements that accomplish and confirm an ethos so that the effects of the philosophical thought extend into our private and political lives, thus showing what it is. The thought proves true if it encompasses our everyday actions as well as those of the exalted moments of its birth.

The sciences can neither vindicate philosophy nor produce it as their result. Philosophy antedates them all, and in the grandiose figures of Antiquity it managed to exist without them. Still since their development they have constituted the inevitable field of orientation for any philosophy that cares about truthful thinking. To philosophize today, a man must know the profound satisfaction of scientific insight. At the same time he must know the consciousness of method without which he cannot be sure of his insights; he must know what it means to be aware of the limits of science. He must experience the immense difficulty of communicating with the unscientific, about concrete everyday questions in particular, whether the unscientific approach appears in the guise of pseudoscience or as “philosophy.” The scientific approach is the premise of all rationality. We sense its germs in the earliest philosophies, in Anaximander, in Mei-Ti, in the Sankhya system. It is not the basis of philosophical truth, but today it is a condition of truthfulness in philosophizing. The scientific approach has become unavoidable in the conceiving, the weighing, the judging we do every day.

The belief that a science, religion or political vision can be an adequate substitute for philosophy is an artifact of an inadequate popular philosophy. Generally, such popular philosophies lurk inside common-sensical attitudes toward truth without ever articulating themselves as philosophies, while presenting “philosophy” as a useless, abstract, speculative activity that has been supplanted by more practical and rigorous disciplines.

My concern is that the majority of educated Westerners have been indoctrinated in this anti-philosophical philosophy through the content of their educations, through consumption of what passes today for public intellectual product, and, increasingly, enacted in the routine social just-so stories the casually woke perform for one another to signal their fealty to a class identity none will admit is an identity, which uses its full hegemonic power to suppress talk of its own existence.

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