The Thought of Karl Jaspers: A Perspective for Consideration in Examining the American University
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Anderson, Thomas C.
Although the philosophy of Karl Jaspers has been the subject of considerable study in this country, his thoughts on education have not received the attention they deserve, He wrote a book, The Idea of the University, in which he put forth his notion of what the university should be, His own experience of persecution within the university led him to focus upon autonomy and academic freedom in discussing the university's pursuit of truth, While it is true that the American university has never been subject to the absolute totalitarianism such as that of a Nazi government, it cannot be denied that there are many forces which influence the direction of our universities, In this sense, the issues with which Jaspers dealt in Germany are not alien to the concerns of the American university, The university, as Jaspers sees it, is the institutional expression of man's impulse to know the truth, The individual man's awareness of his limits in the search for truth makes him critical of his own perspective and ever open to communication with those who might broaden and deepen his vision. The university stands for these very qualities by way of scientific rigor and continual dialogue among its members. The university is not the only place for such activity, but it is the institution dedicated specifically to the task of truth-seeking through critical communication. At its best, it reflects man in his noblest moments. The scholar is always aware of, but not discouraged by, the limitations of man's knowledge, and pushes further into the recesses of truth, The university community acts out its rigorous search for the truth through open communication, never afraid to have propositions challenged or difficult questions posed. Each member of the university is assured the freedom to conduct his research and to express his opinions. The university as a whole maintains an autonomy that avoids undue interference with its pursuit of truth. Quite a lot of lip service is paid to the ideals proposed by Jaspers. Individual freedom is a predominant theme in today's culture, and the importance of dialogue is stressed constantly, The fact is, however, that individual freedom is often translated into disregard for the interests of others, and dialogue amounts to having one's say. Unless people assume the intellectual humility which is the premise for Jaspers' philosophy, they will never be genuinely interested in communication. Until individuals admit, and honestly believe, that their perspective is limited, they will not recognize the need they have for others. The tendency toward narrow-mindedness can be seen anywhere from a classroom to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and the implications are frightening. This impatience and intolerance is what leads to violence, even to wars, claims Jaspers, and humanity cannot afford to rely so heavily on the use of force when the potential for destruction is so catastrophic.