Nathanial's Reviews > Way to Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy

Way to Wisdom by Karl Jaspers
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Jun 29, 07

bookshelves: theory
Recommended for: disgruntled feminists
Read in May, 2007

Jaspers has this idea, and that idea is that ideas do matter, but they're not everything. He's not interested in debates about how we can know what's 'really' true or if there actually is a 'real' world out there; he's more interested in how we come to decide what to do here and now. Since the early 1950s, his work has provided a reference point both for cultural relativists and oppositional scholars, but his ideal audience seems to be concerned individuals who are dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and who want to understand how we got to this point, what it can mean to be human now, and who want to have faith in each other and our actions.

His emphasis on Christian theology may be off-putting to some; at the same time, Jaspers is perhaps most well-known for developing the concept of the Axial Age of philosophic inquiry, when cultures around the world independently and simultaneously began to question tradition and talk about people as if we can do wonderful, terrible, and amazing things in the world - whether we place ourselves in the lineage of Greek heroes, Confucian scholars, or Persian mystics.

Jaspers' successors have done much to challenge and expand on these categories, of course; as his student Hannah Arendt said, "The time may have arrived to replace the Philosophy of Man with the philosophy of men." Books like "Feminism is for Everyone" and "Democracy and Humanistic Criticism" don't necessarily owe a debt to Jaspers, but they do elucidate some of the ideas that Jaspers had dislodged from the sacred shrine of "I think, therefore I am." Perhaps in indirect response to the work Jaspers does to make philosophy both more accessible to wider audiences and to change the basis of philosophical discourse itself, writers such as Edward Said and bell hooks have stepped out of the ivory tower to address the ideas that isolate us and contribute to histories that make it easier for us loners and dreamers to communicate.
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