Michel Foucault

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Michel Foucault
Western Philosophy
20th century philosophy
Full name Michel Foucault
Born 15 October 1926
Poitiers, France
Died 25 June 1984 (aged 57)
Paris, France
School/tradition Continental philosophy, structuralism, post-structuralism
Main interests History of ideas, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy
Notable ideas "Archaeology", "genealogy", "episteme", "dispositif", "biopower", "governmentality", "disciplinary institution", panopticism

Michel Foucault (French pronunciation: [miʃɛl fuko]), born Paul-Michel Foucault (15 October, 1926 – 25 June, 1984), was a French philosopher, sociologist and historian. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," and also taught at the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Berkeley.

Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. His work on power, and the relationships among power, knowledge, and discourse has been widely discussed. In the 1960s Foucault was associated with Structuralism, a movement from which he distanced himself. Foucault also rejected the post-structuralist and postmodernist labels to which he was often later attributed, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity rooted in Kant. Foucault is particularly influenced by the work of Nietzsche; his "genealogy of knowledge" is a direct allusion to Nietzsche's genealogy of morals. In a late interview he definitively stated: "I am a Nietzschean."[1]

In 2007 Foucault was listed as the most cited intellectual in the humanities by The Times Higher Education Guide.[2]




Early life

Foucault was born on 15 October 1926 in Poitiers as Paul-Michel Foucault to a notable provincial family. His father, Paul Foucault, was an eminent surgeon and hoped his son would join him in the profession.[3] His early education was a mix of success and mediocrity until he attended the Jesuit Collège Saint-Stanislas, where he excelled.[4][5] During this period, Poitiers was part of Vichy France and later came under German occupation. After World War II, Foucault was admitted to the prestigious École Normale Supérieure (rue d'Ulm), the traditional gateway to an academic career in the humanities in France.

The École Normale Supérieure

Foucault's personal life during the École Normale was difficult—he suffered from acute depression.[6] As a result, he was taken to see a psychiatrist. During this time, Foucault became fascinated with psychology. He earned a licence (degree equivalent to BA) in psychology, a very new qualification in France at the time, in addition to a degree in philosophy, in 1952. He was involved in the clinical arm of psychology, which exposed him to thinkers such as Ludwig Binswanger.

Foucault was a member of the French Communist Party from 1950 to 1953. He was inducted into the party by his mentor Louis Althusser, but soon became disillusioned with both the politics and the philosophy of the party.[7] Various people, such as historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, have reported that Foucault never actively participated in his cell, unlike many of his fellow party members.

Early career

Foucault failed at the agrégation in 1950 but took it again and succeeded the following year. After a brief period lecturing at the École Normale, he took up a position at the Université Lille Nord de France, where from 1953 to 1954 he taught psychology. In 1954 Foucault published his first book, Maladie mentale et personnalité, a work which he would later disavow. At this point, Foucault was not interested in a teaching career, and he undertook a lengthy exile from France. In 1954 he served France as a cultural delegate to the University of Uppsala in Sweden (a position arranged for him by Georges Dumézil, who was to become a friend and mentor). In 1958 Foucault left Uppsala and briefly held positions at Warsaw University and at the University of Hamburg.

Foucault returned to France in 1960 to complete his doctorate and take up a post in philosophy at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. There he met philosopher Daniel Defert, who would become his lover of twenty years.[8] In 1961 he earned his doctorate by submitting two theses (as is customary in France): a "major" thesis entitled Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique (Madness and Insanity: History of Madness in the Classical Age) and a "secondary" thesis which involved a translation of, and commentary on Kant's Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. Folie et déraison (Madness and Insanity — published in an abridged edition in English as Madness and Civilization and finally published unabridged as "History of Madness" by Routledge in 2006) was extremely well-received. Foucault continued a vigorous publishing schedule. In 1963 he published Naissance de la Clinique (Birth of the Clinic), Raymond Roussel, and a reissue of his 1954 volume (now entitled Maladie mentale et psychologie or, in English, "Mental Illness and Psychology") which he would again disavow.

After Defert was posted to Tunisia for his military service, Foucault moved to a position at the University of Tunis in 1965. He published Les Mots et les choses (The Order of Things) during the height of interest in structuralism in 1966, and Foucault was quickly grouped with scholars such as Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Roland Barthes as the newest, latest wave of thinkers set to topple the existentialism popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre. Foucault made a number of skeptical comments about Marxism, which outraged a number of left wing critics, but later firmly rejected the "structuralist" label.[9] He was still in Tunis during the May 1968 student riots, where he was profoundly affected by a local student revolt earlier in the same year. In the Autumn of 1968 he returned to France, where he published L'archéologie du savoir (The Archaeology of Knowledge) — a methodological response to his critics — in 1969.

Post-1968: as activist

In the aftermath of 1968, the French government created a new experimental university, Paris VIII, at Vincennes and appointed Foucault the first head of its philosophy department in December of that year.[10] Foucault appointed mostly young leftist academics (such as Judith Miller) whose radicalism provoked the Ministry of Education, who objected to the fact that many of the course titles contained the phrase "Marxist-Leninist," and who decreed that students from Vincennes would not be eligible to become secondary school teachers.[11] Foucault notoriously also joined students in occupying administration buildings and fighting with police.

Foucault's tenure at Vincennes was short-lived, as in 1970 he was elected to France's most prestigious academic body, the Collège de France, as Professor of the History of Systems of Thought. His political involvement increased, and his partner Defert joined the ultra-Maoist Gauche Proletarienne (GP). Foucault helped found the Prison Information Group (French: Groupe d'Information sur les Prisons or GIP) to provide a way for prisoners to voice their concerns. This coincided with Foucault's turn to the study of disciplinary institutions, with a book, Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish), which "narrates" the micro-power structures that developed in Western societies since the eighteenth century, with a special focus on prisons and schools.

Later life

In the late 1970s, political activism in France tailed off with the disillusionment of many left wing intellectuals.[12] A number of young Maoists abandoned their beliefs to become the so-called New Philosophers, often citing Foucault as their major influence, a status about which Foucault had mixed feelings.[13] Foucault in this period embarked on a six-volume project The History of Sexuality, which he never completed. Its first volume was published in French as La Volonté de Savoir (1976), then in English as The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (1978). The second and third volumes did not appear for another eight years, and they surprised readers by their subject matter (classical Greek and Latin texts), approach and style, particularly Foucault's focus on the human subject, a concept that some mistakenly believed he had previously neglected.

Foucault began to spend more time in the United States, at the University at Buffalo (where he had lectured on his first ever visit to the United States in 1970) and especially at UC Berkeley. In 1975 he took LSD at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, later calling it the best experience of his life.[14]

In 1979 Foucault made two tours of Iran, undertaking extensive interviews with political protagonists in support of the new interim government established soon after the Iranian Revolution. His many essays on Iran, published in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, only appeared in French in 1994 and then in English in 2005. These essays caused some controversy, with some commentators arguing that Foucault was insufficiently critical of the new regime.[15]

In the philosopher's later years, interpreters of Foucault's work attempted to engage with the problems presented by the fact that the late Foucault seemed in tension with the philosopher's earlier work. When this issue was raised in a 1982 interview, Foucault remarked "When people say, 'Well, you thought this a few years ago and now you say something else,' my answer is… [laughs] 'Well, do you think I have worked hard all those years to say the same thing and not to be changed?'"[16] He refused to identify himself as a philosopher, historian, structuralist, or Marxist, maintaining that "The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning."[16] In a similar vein, he preferred not to claim that he was presenting a coherent and timeless block of knowledge; he rather desired his books "to be a kind of tool-box which others can rummage through to find a tool which they can use however they wish in their own area… I don't write for an audience, I write for users, not readers."[17]

Foucault died of an AIDS-related illness in Paris on 25 June, 1984. He was the first high-profile French personality who was reported to have AIDS. Little was known about the disease at the time[18] and there has been some controversy since.[19] In the front-page article of Le Monde announcing his death, there was no mention of AIDS, although it was implied that he died from a massive infection. Prior to his death, Foucault had destroyed most of his manuscripts, and in his will had prohibited the publication of what he might have overlooked.[20]


Madness and Civilization

The English edition of Madness and Civilization is an abridged version of Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l'âge classique, originally published in 1961. A full English translation titled The History of Madness has since been published by Routledge in 2006.[21] "Folie et deraison" originated as Foucault's doctoral dissertation;[22] this was Foucault's first major book, mostly written while he was the Director of the Maison de France in Sweden. It examines ideas, practices, institutions, art and literature relating to madness in Western history.[23]

Foucault begins his history in the Middle Ages, noting the social and physical exclusion of lepers.[23] He argues that with the gradual disappearance of leprosy, madness came to occupy this excluded position. The ship of fools in the 15th century is a literary version of one such exclusionary practice, namely that of sending mad people away in ships. In 17th century Europe, in a movement which Foucault famously describes as the Great Confinement, "unreasonable" members of the population were locked away and institutionalised.[24] In the eighteenth century, madness came to be seen as the reverse of Reason, and, finally, in the nineteenth century as mental illness.

Foucault also argues that madness was silenced by Reason, losing its power to signify the limits of social order and to point to the truth. He examines the rise of scientific and "humanitarian" treatments of the insane, notably at the hands of Philippe Pinel and Samuel Tuke who he suggests started the conceptualization of madness as 'mental illness'. He claims that these new treatments were in fact no less controlling than previous method. Pinel's treatment of the mad amounted to an extended aversion therapy, including such treatments as freezing showers and use of a straitjacket. In Foucault's view, this treatment amounted to repeated brutality until the pattern of judgment and punishment was internalized by the patient.

The Birth of the Clinic

Foucault's second major book, The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical) was published in 1963 in France, and translated to English in 1973. Picking up from Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic traces the development of the medical profession, and specifically the institution of the clinique (translated as "clinic", but here largely referring to teaching hospitals). Its motif is the concept of the medical regard (translated by Alan Sheridan as "medical gaze"), traditionally limited to small, specialized institutions such as hospitals and prisons, but which Foucault examines as subjecting wider social spaces, governing the population en masse.[25]

Death and The Labyrinth

Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel was published in 1963, and translated into English in 1986. It is unique, being Foucault's only work on literature. For Foucault this was "by far the book I wrote most easily and with the greatest pleasure." Here, Foucault explores theory, criticism and psychology through the texts of Raymond Roussel, one of the fathers of experimental writing, whose work has been celebrated by the likes of Cocteau, Duchamp, Breton, Robbe-Grillet, Gide and Giacometti.

The Order of Things

Foucault's Les Mots et les choses. Une archéologie des sciences humaines was published in 1966. It was translated into English and published by Pantheon Books in 1970 under the title The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Foucault had preferred L'Ordre des Choses for the original French title, but changed the title as there was already another book of this title. The work broadly aims to provide an anti-humanist excavation of the human sciences, such as sociology and psychology. The book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez's painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sight-lines, hiddenness and appearance.[26] Then it develops its central thesis: all periods of history have possessed specific underlying conditions of truth that constituted what was acceptable as, for example, scientific discourse. Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, in major and relatively sudden shifts, from one period's episteme to another.[27] Foucault's Nietzschean critique of Enlightenment values in Les mots et les choses has been very influential to cultural history,[28] It is here Foucault's infamous claims that "man is only a recent invention" and that the "end of man" is at hand.[29] The book made Foucault a prominent intellectual figure in France.[30]

The Archaeology of Knowledge

Published in 1969, this volume was Foucault's main excursion into methodology, written as an appendix of sorts to Les Mots et les choses.[31] It makes references to Anglo-American analytical philosophy, particularly speech act theory.

Foucault directs his analysis toward the "statement" (énoncé), the basic unit of discourse. "Statement" has a very special meaning in the Archaeology: it denotes that which makes propositions, utterances, or speech acts meaningful. In contrast to classic structuralists, Foucault does not believe that the meaning of semantic elements is determined prior to their articulation.[32] In this understanding, statements themselves are not propositions, utterances, or speech acts. Rather, statements constitute a network of rules establishing what is meaningful, and these rules are the preconditions for propositions, utterances, or speech acts to have meaning. However, statements are also 'events', because, like other rules, they appear at some time. Depending on whether or not it complies with these rules of meaning, a grammatically correct sentence may still lack meaning and, inversely, a grammatically incorrect sentence may still be meaningful. Statements depend on the conditions in which they emerge and exist within a field of discourse; the meaning of a statement is reliant on the succession of statements that precede and follow it.[32] Foucault aims his analysis towards a huge organised dispersion of statements, called discursive formations. Foucault reiterates that the analysis he is outlining is only one possible procedure, and that he is not seeking to displace other ways of analysing discourse or render them as invalid.

According to Dreyfus and Rabinow, Foucault not only brackets out issues of truth (cf. Husserl), he also brackets out issues of meaning.[33] Rather than looking for a deeper meaning underneath discourse or looking for the source of meaning in some transcendental subject, Foucault analyzes the discursive and practical conditions for the existence of truth and meaning. In order to show the principles of meaning and truth production in various discursive formations he details how truth claims emerge during various epochs on the basis of what was actually said and written during these periods of time. He particularly describes the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, and the 20th century. He strives to avoid all interpretation and to depart from the goals of hermeneutics. This does not mean that Foucault denounces truth and meaning, but just that truth and meaning depend on the historical discursive and practical means of truth and meaning production. For instance, although they were radically different during Enlightenment as opposed to Modernity, there were indeed meaning, truth and correct treatment of madness during both epochs (Madness and Civilization). This posture allows Foucault to denounce a priori concepts of the nature of the human subject and focus on the role of discursive practices in constituting subjectivity.

Dispensing with finding a deeper meaning behind discourse appears to lead Foucault toward structuralism. However, whereas structuralists search for homogeneity in a discursive entity, Foucault focuses on differences.[34] Instead of asking what constitutes the specificity of European thought he asks what constitutes the differences developed within it and over time. Therefore, as a historical method, he refuses to examine statements outside of their historical context: the discursive formation. The meaning of a statement depends on the general rules that characterise the discursive formation to which it belongs. A discursive formation continually generates new statements, and some of these usher in changes in the discursive formation that may or may not be adopted. Therefore, to describe a discursive formation, Foucault also focuses on expelled and forgotten discourses that never happen to change the discursive formation. Their difference to the dominant discourse also describe it. In this way one can describe specific systems that determine which types of statements emerge. In his Foucault (1986), Deleuze describes The Archaeology of Knowledge as "the most decisive step yet taken in the theory-practice of multiplicities."[35]

Discipline and Punish

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison was translated into English in 1977, from the French Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, published in 1975. The book opens with a graphic description of the brutal public execution in 1757 of Robert-François Damiens, who attempted to kill Louis XV. Against this it juxtaposes a colourless prison timetable from just over 80 years later. Foucault then inquires how such a change in French society's punishment of convicts could have developed in such a short time. These are snapshots of two contrasting types of Foucault's "Technologies of Punishment". The first type, "Monarchical Punishment", involves the repression of the populace through brutal public displays of executions and torture. The second, "Disciplinary Punishment," is what Foucault says is practiced in the modern era. Disciplinary punishment gives "professionals" (psychologists, programme facilitators, parole officers, etc.) power over the prisoner, most notably in that the prisoner's length of stay depends on the professionals' judgment.

Foucault also compares modern society with Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon" design for prisons (which was unrealized in its original form, but nonetheless influential): in the Panopticon, a single guard can watch over many prisoners while the guard remains unseen. The dark dungeon of pre-modernity has been replaced with the bright modern prison, but Foucault cautions that "visibility is a trap". It is through this visibility, Foucault writes, that modern society exercises its controlling systems of power and knowledge (terms which Foucault believed to be so fundamentally connected that he often combined them in a single hyphenated concept, "power-knowledge"). Increasing visibility leads to power located on an increasingly individualized level, shown by the possibility for institutions to track individuals throughout their lives. Foucault suggests that a "carceral continuum" runs through modern society, from the maximum security prison, through secure accommodation, probation, social workers, police, and teachers, to our everyday working and domestic lives. All are connected by the (witting or unwitting) supervision (surveillance, application of norms of acceptable behaviour) of some humans by others.

The History of Sexuality

Three volumes of The History of Sexuality were published before Foucault's death in 1984. The first and most referenced volume, The Will to Knowledge (previously known as An Introduction in English — Histoire de la sexualité, 1: la volonté de savoir in French) was published in France in 1976, and translated in 1977, focusing primarily on the last two centuries, and the functioning of sexuality as an analytics of power related to the emergence of a science of sexuality (scientia sexualis) and the emergence of biopower in the West.[36] In this volume he attacks the "repressive hypothesis," the widespread belief that we have, particularly since the nineteenth century, "repressed" our natural sexual drives.[37] He proposes that what is thought of as "repression" of sexuality actually constituted sexuality as a core feature of human identities, and produced a proliferation of discourse on the subject.

The second two volumes, The Use of Pleasure (Histoire de la sexualite, II: l'usage des plaisirs) and The Care of the Self (Histoire de la sexualité, III: le souci de soi) dealt with the role of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity. Both were published in 1984, the year of Foucault's death, with the second volume being translated in 1985, and the third in 1986. In his lecture series from 1979 to 1980 Foucault extended his analysis of government to its 'wider sense of techniques and procedures designed to direct the behaviour of men', which involved a new consideration of the 'examination of conscience' and confession in early Christian literature. These themes of early Christian literature seemed to dominate Foucault's work, alongside his study of Greek and Roman literature, until the end of his life. However, Foucault's death left the work incomplete, and the planned fourth volume of his History of Sexuality on Christianity was never published. The fourth volume was to be entitled Confessions of the Flesh (Les aveux de la chair). The volume was almost complete before Foucault's death and a copy of it is privately held in the Foucault archive. It cannot be published under the restrictions of Foucault's estate.[38]


From 1970 until his death in 1984, from January to March of each year except 1977, Foucault gave a course of public lectures and seminars weekly at the Collège de France as the condition of his tenure as professor there. All these lectures were tape-recorded, and Foucault's transcripts also survive. In 1997 these lectures began to be published in French with six volumes having appeared so far. So far, six sets of lectures have appeared in English: Psychiatric Power 1973–1974, Abnormal 1974–1975, Society Must Be Defended 1975–1976, Security, Territory, Population 1977–1978, The Hermeneutics of the Subject 1981–1982 and The Birth of Biopolitics 1978-1979. Society Must Be Defended and Security, Territory, Population pursued an analysis of the broader relationship between security and biopolitics,[39] explicitly politicizing the question of the birth of man raised in The Order of Things.[40] In Security, Territory, Population, Foucault outlines his theory of governmentality, and demonstrates the distinction between sovereignty, discipline, and governmentality as distinct modalities of state power. He argues that governmental state power can be genealogically linked to the 17th century state philosophy of raison d'etat and, ultimately, to the medieval Christian 'pastoral' concept of power.[41] Notes of some of Foucault's lectures from University of California, Berkeley in 1983 have also appeared as Fearless Speech.


Certain theorists have questioned the extent to which Foucault may be regarded as an ethical 'neo-anarchist', the self-appointed architect of a "new politics of truth", or, to the contrary, a nihilistic and disobligating 'neo-functionalist'. Jean-Paul Sartre, in a review of The Order of Things, described the non-Marxist Foucault as "the last rampart of the bourgeoisie."[42]

Jürgen Habermas has described Foucault as a "crypto-normativist"; covertly reliant on the very Enlightenment principles he attempts to deconstruct. Central to this problem is the way in which Foucault seemingly attempts to remain both Kantian and Nietzschean in his approach:

Foucault discovers in Kant, as the first philosopher, an archer who aims his arrow at the heart of the most actual features of the present and so opens the discourse of modernity ... but Kant's philosophy of history, the speculation about a state of freedom, about world-citizenship and eternal peace, the interpretation of revolutionary enthusiasm as a sign of historical 'progress toward betterment' - must not each line provoke the scorn of Foucault, the theoretician of power? Has not history, under the stoic gaze of the archaeologist Foucault, frozen into an iceberg covered with the crystals of arbitrary formulations of discourse?

Habermas Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present 1984, [43]

Richard Rorty has argued that Foucault's so-called 'archaeology of knowledge' is fundamentally negative, and thus fails to adequately establish any 'new' theory of knowledge per se. Rather, Foucault simply provides a few valuable maxims regarding the reading of history:

As far as I can see, all he has to offer are brilliant redescriptions of the past, supplemented by helpful hints on how to avoid being trapped by old historiographical assumptions. These hints consist largely of saying: do not look for progress or meaning in history; do not see the history of a given activity, of any segment of culture, as the development of rationality or of freedom; do not use any philosophical vocabulary to characterize the essence of such activity or the goal it serves; do not assume that the way this activity is presently conducted gives any clue to the goals it served in the past."

Rorty Foucault and Epistemology, 1986, [44]


See also

Terror management theory

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Terror management theory (TMT) is a developing area of study within the academic study of psychology. It looks at what researchers claim to be the implicit emotional reactions of people when confronted with the psychological terror of knowing we will eventually die (some believe that awareness of mortality is a trait that is unique to humans). Empirical support for TMT has originated from more than 175 published experiments which have been conducted cross-culturally both nationally and internationally (Solomon, 2004).

The theory was first developed in the late 1980s by Skidmore College psychology professor Sheldon Solomon, University of Arizona psychology professor Jeff Greenberg, and Colorado University at Colorado Springs psychology professor Tom Pyszczynski, who were graduate students at the University of Kansas at the time. The trio were inspired by the theories of Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death, 1973), Otto Rank and Freud, on how potent reminders of one's own ultimate death often provoke a belief in some form of mystical transcendence (heaven, reincarnation, spiritualism, etc.) Terror management theory attempts to provide a rationale for the motivational catalysts of human behavior when life is threatened.

The theory builds from the assumption that the capability of self-reflection and the consciousness of one’s own mortality can be regarded as a continuous source for existential anguish. This "irresolvable paradox" is created from the desire to preserve life and the realization of that impossibility (because life is finite).

Humans are aware of the inevitability of their own death. Culture diminishes this psychological terror by providing meaning, organization and continuity to people's lives. Compliance with cultural values enhances one's feeling of security and self-esteem, provided that the individual is capable of living in accordance with whatever particular cultural standards apply to him or her. The belief in the rightness of the cultural values and standards creates the conviction necessary to live a reasonable and meaningful life. This cultural worldview provides a base of making sense of the world as stable and orderly, a place where one rests their hopes on symbolic immortality (e.g., fame, having children, legacies of wealth or fortune) or literal immortality (e.g., the promise of a life in an afterworld).

Our cultural world view is a "symbolic protector" between the reality of life and inevitability of death. Because of this men and women strive to have their cultural worldview confirmed by others, thereby receiving the community’s esteem. However, when one’s worldview is threatened by the world view of another, it often results in one’s self-respect being endangered as well. In such a situation people not only endeavour to deny or devalue the importance of others' world views, but try to controvert the ideas and opinions of others which may, as a consequence, escalate into a conflict (ie. religious holy wars). As a result, mortality salience increases stereotypic thinking and intergroup bias between groups.

Two hypotheses have emerged from TMT research; the mortality salience hypothesis and the anxiety-buffer hypothesis. The mortality salience hypothesis says that if cultural worldviews and self-esteem provide protection from the fear of death, then reminding people of the root of that fear will increase the needs of individuals to value their own cultural worldview and self-esteem. The anxiety-buffer hypothesis provides the rationale that self-esteem is a buffer which serves to insulate humans from death. By doing so our self-esteem allows us to deny the susceptibility to a short-term life. Experiments supporting the two hypotheses above have been conducted in the US, Canada, Israel, Japan and the Netherlands. (Williams, Schimel and Gillespie, 2006).

Developing from the analysis of authoritative leadership by Erich Fromm (1941) in Escape from Freedom, people in a state of emotional distress by nature are prone to the allure of charismatic leaders. Research has shown that people, when reminded of their own inevitable death, will cling more strongly to their cultural worldviews. The data appears to show that nations or persons who have experienced traumas are more attracted to strong leaders who express traditional, pro-establishment, authoritarian viewpoints. They will also be hyper-aware of the possibility of external threats, and may be more hostile to those who threaten them. Additional research indicates those who are raised by authoritarian parents tend to conform to authority more frequently than those who are not. This perpetuates the belief that culture worldviews are a product of the socialization process and those who are socialized through authority are more susceptible to conformity when their mortality is made salient.

The theory gained media attention in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, and after the re-election of President George W. Bush in the USA, Prime Minister Tony Blair in the UK, and John Howard in Australia.

Terror management researchers have shown that making mortality salient to research participants will lead to such changes in behaviors and beliefs that seemingly protect worldview and encourage self-esteem striving. This mortality-salient state is usually induced by having participants write down the emotions that come to mind when thinking about death, and expanded by having participants write about what they think will happen as they die and after they die. Following this procedure a brief delay is provided. Past research indicates mortality salience effects are more pronounced following a brief delay. Nevertheless, these researchers have not yet demonstrated that this happens for the reason they propose, namely to alleviate unconscious fears of death. Direct tests of this hypothesis are likely to soon emerge in the scholarly literature.



TMT & Emotion

Terror management theory is a master motivational theory, attempting to link human drives together under the rubric of the fear of death. According to Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski (1991), “All anxiety is derived from self-preservation instincts” (p. 102). TMT further argues that fear of death is the central force in evolution, motivating genetic self-preservation instincts in species and promoting natural selection (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, 1997). Emotion is both motivational (Lazarus, 1991) and evolutionary (Darwin, 1872). In spite of these obvious similarities, the amount of effort directed at examining affect and emotion in the process of terror management and elicited by mortality salience has been limited (Goldenberg, Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Kluck, & Cornwell, 2001). The following will examine the role that emotion plays in the terror management and the discrete emotions elicited by mortality salient primes.

Emotion in the Process of Terror Management

Obviously, terror management theory is interested in the effect of fear in producing cultural worldview defense. Fear is a basic emotion typically associated with an active fight-or-flight response to a specific set of categorically similar primes (Curtis & Biran, 2001). For terror management, distal defense is akin to the fight-type response; individuals heighten the liking of similar others and accentuate their dislike of dissimilar others. Proximal defense, on the other hand, typically results in the flight response; given the lack of self-efficacy associated with the insurmountability of death, one simply takes evasive action and drives death-related thoughts from their mind through distraction (Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 1999).

The effects of fear on attitude change have been intensely debated. The orthodox view of fear appeals states that the level of fear is crucial to attitude outcomes. Research has shown that mortality salient fear associated with highly-hedonically relevant attitudes results in message rejection (Shehryar & Hunt, 2005). Individuals who highly enjoyed drinking rejected messages that linked drunk driving to death but accepted messages that tied drunk driving to arrest or social ostracism. TMT research therefore demonstrates that qualitative inquiry into the type of fear, not simply the gross amount of fear elicited, is crucial to the outcome of fear appeals on attitude change.

Experiential processing which relies on emotional memory is a crucial prerequisite to terror management processes. Rational processing, a logical, step-by-step system of cognitive evaluation, alternately impedes the cultural worldview defense mechanism intrinsic to terror management processes. Studies that varied experimenter formality/informality and explicit processing instructions demonstrate that worldview defense only occurs under conditions of emotional processing (Simon, Greenberg, Harmon-Jones, Solomon, Pyszczynski, Arndt, & Abend, 1997). Cognitive evaluations interfere with the symbolic, often arbitrary, associations between novel cultural defenses and fear of death (Pyszczynski, et al., 1999). Emotion, then, lies at the heart of all terror management.

Emotional elicitation has not been found to be a prerequisite for terror management processes. Many terror management studies have examined elicited affect as a covariate to mortality salience (see Goldenberg, Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Kluck, & Cornwell, 2001), and only one reviewed study has found elicited affect (fear) in the terror management process (Harmon-Jones, Simon, Greenberg, Pyszczynski, Solomon, & McGregor, 1997). Why? Terror management is a nonconscious process. The process occurs very quickly, imperceptibly, and automatically (Rosenblatt, Greenberg, Solomon, Pyszczynski, & Lyon, 1989). As Rosenblatt and colleagues put it, terror management is designed to prevent any “conscious experience of emotion” (p. 689).

Emotion Elicitation and Terror Management

Of course, the unconscious process of terror management does produce conscious emotional responses. Many discrete emotional states are at least partially explained by terror management theory. Love, for instance, has been described as a need primarily for ordered interactions, lasting feelings of self-esteem and self-worth (which TMT associated directly with a prescribed role in a cultural drama), and vicarious immortality (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon, 1986; Solomon et al., 1991).

Love and Terror Management

Research corroborates the link between love and the fear of death. Studies reveal an association between close relationship seeking and mortality salience (for overview, see Mikulincer, Florian, & Hirschberger, 2003). Moreover, further studies demonstrate that the desire for close relationships under conditions of mortality salience trumps other needs including self-esteem and maintenance (pride) or avoidance (shame/guilt) other emotions (Hirschberger, Florian, & Mikulincer, 2003). Others argue that the perceived need to link <sex> with love is primarily due to existential anxiety, reflecting a need to reject the baser, animalistic need for sex (Goldenberg, Pyszczynski, Greenberg, & Solomon, 2000). These authors argue that relationship-seeking is a largely independent defense against existential angst, functioning without the assistance of either the self-esteem or worldview defense explanations (Mikulincer, et al., 2003).

Disgust and Terror Management

Disgust is another emotion linked to terror management. While many researchers bemoan the lack of analytic clarity linking discrete disgust elicitors (Royzman & Sabini, 2001), Goldenberg et al. (2000) find the rejection of animality or creatureliness to function as the central tendency driving disgust. Terror management’s distal processes ought to naturally attempt to distinguish humans from our basic, animal nature; these base processes that link humans and animals are the same processes that make death inexorable. Studies demonstrate that mortality salience is associated with the rejection of animal traits (Goldenberg, Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Kluck, & Cornwell, 2001). Even moral disgust, the most difficult type of disgust to categorically link with core disgust elicited, say, by feces, maintains the linkage to culturally relevant defenses against death-related anxiety.

Other Discrete Emotions and Terror Management

Other discrete emotions have been conceptually linked to terror management, but have yet to be studied directly. Jealousy, often linked to romantic love, ought to be heightened under conditions of mortality salience (Greenberg et al., 1986; Solomon et al., 1991). Shame, guilt, and humiliation are all associated with threats to self-esteem, a core terror management defense mechanism (Goldenberg et al., 2000; Greenberg et al., 1986; Solomon et al., 1991). Thus, mortality salience ought to paradoxically reduce the capacity for each by prompting independent self-esteem defense mechanisms. Anger and contempt have been neither directly examined nor hypothesized as outcomes of terror management theory, but both are likely accentuated by the outsider rejection mechanisms triggered by distal defense. Goldenberg et al. (2000) argue that pride, especially that related to body image, is explained by existential anxiety, but no studies yet conducted have examined pride as an outcome of mortality salience. Future research ought to examine these and other discrete emotions in the context of terror management theory.


Some evolutionary psychologists have diverged with the Terror Management Theory.[1] A research paper written by members of the UCLA Department of Psychology in cooperation with the UCLA Department of Anthropology stated:

"It would be quite astonishing were natural selection to produce a psychology in which, instead of orienting the organism to pressing adaptive challenges and motivating behavior that addressed them, anxiety regularly produced a paralytic state that could only be relieved through time-and attention-consuming mental gymnastics"[2]

These authors instead explain the so-called "death anxiety" as anxiety produced by natural selection because it spurs organisms to avoid situations likely to lead to death; the mortality salience effects are instead adaptive responses to specific threats.

The theoretical framework of TMT contains other problems when examined in light of evolutionary theory. For example, instead of creating a terror-management mechanism to manage a self-generated crippling emotion, it is much more likely that natural selection would have simply selected for those organisms which did not display the crippling emotion in the first place.

See also

Raymond Roussel

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Raymond Roussel (Paris, January 20, 1877 - Palermo, July 14, 1933) was a French poet, novelist, playwright, musician, and chess enthusiast. Through his novels, poems, and plays he exerted a profound influence on certain groups within 20th century French literature, including the Surrealists, Oulipo, and the authors of the nouveau roman.




Roussel was the third and last child in his family, with a brother Georges and sister Germaine. In 1893, at age 15, he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire for piano. A year later, he inherited a substantial fortune from his deceased father and began to write poetry to accompany his musical compositions. At age 17, he wrote Mon Âme, a long poem published three years later in Le Gaulois. By 1896, he had commenced editing his long poem La Doublure when he suffered a mental crisis. After the poem was published on June 10, 1897 and was completely unsuccessful, Roussel began to see the psychiatrist Pierre Janet. In subsequent years, his inherited fortune allowed him to publish his own works and mount luxurious productions of his plays. He wrote and published some of his most important work between 1900 and 1914, and then from 1920 to 1921 traveled around the world. He continued to write for the next decade, but when his fortune finally gave out, he made his way to a hotel in Palermo, where he died of a barbiturate overdose in 1933. He is buried in Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Roussel's most famous works are Impressions of Africa and Locus Solus, both written according to formal constraints based on homonymic puns. Roussel kept this compositional method a secret until the publication of his posthumous text, How I Wrote Certain of My Books, where he describes it as follows: "I chose two similar words. For example billiards and pilliards (looter). Then I added to it words similar but taken in two different directions, and I obtained two almost identical sentences thus. The two sentences found, it was a question of writing a tale which can start with the first and finish by the second. Amplifying the process then, I sought new words reporting itself to the word billiards, always to take them in a different direction than that which was presented first of all, and that provided me each time a creation moreover. The process evolved/moved and I was led to take an unspecified sentence, of which I drew from the images by dislocating it, a little as if it had been a question of extracting some from the drawings of rebus." For example, Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux billard/The white letters on the cushions of the old billiard table… must somehow reach the phrase, …les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux pillard/letters [written by] a white man about the hordes of the old plunderer.

John Ashbery summarizes Locus Solus thus in his introduction to Michel Foucault's Death and the Labyrinth: "A prominent scientist and inventor, Martial Canterel, has invited a group of colleagues to visit the park of his country estate, Locus Solus. As the group tours the estate, Canterel shows them inventions of ever-increasing complexity and strangeness. Again, exposition is invariably followed by explanation, the cold hysteria of the former giving way to the innumerable ramifications of the latter. After an aerial pile driver which is constructing a mosaic of teeth and a huge glass diamond filled with water in which float a dancing girl, a hairless cat, and the preserved head of Danton, we come to the central and longest passage: a description of eight curious tableaux vivants taking place inside an enormous glass cage. We learn that the actors are actually dead people whom Canterel has revived with 'resurrectine,' a fluid of his invention which if injected into a fresh corpse causes it continually to act out the most important incident of its life."

New Impressions of Africa is a 1,274-line poem, consisting of four long cantos in rhymed alexandrines, each a single sentence with parenthetical asides that run up to five levels deep. From time to time, a footnote refers to a further poem containing its own depths of brackets.

Criticism and legacy

Perhaps not surprisingly, Roussel was unpopular during his lifetime and critical reception of his works was almost unanimously negative. Nevertheless, he was admired by the Surrealist group and other avant-garde writers, particularly Michel Leiris and Marcel Duchamp. He began to be rediscovered in the late 1950s, by the Oulipo and Alain Robbe-Grillet. His most direct influence in the English speaking world was on the New York School of poets; John Ashbery, Harry Mathews, James Schuyler, and Kenneth Koch briefly edited a magazine called Locus Solus after his novel. French theorist Michel Foucault's only book-length work of literary criticism is on Roussel.

The Order of Things

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The Order of Things  
Author Michel Foucault
Original title Les Mots et les choses
Country France
Language French
Subject(s) Philosophy
Publisher Éditions Gallimard
Publication date 1966
Published in
Media type Paperback
Pages 404
ISBN 2070224848
OCLC Number 256703056

The Order of Things (original title: Les Mots et les choses, French for Words and Things) is a book written by Michel Foucault and was published in 1966.

The full title of the book is: Les Mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines. It was translated into English and published by Pantheon Books in 1970 under the full title The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Foucault had preferred L'Ordre des Choses for the original French title, but changed the title because it had been used by two structuralist works published immediately prior to Foucault's). Foucault endeavours to excavate the origins of the human sciences, particularly but not exclusively psychology and sociology.

The book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez's painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sight-lines, hiddenness and appearance. Then it develops its central claim: that all periods of history have possessed certain underlying conditions of truth that constituted what was acceptable as, for example, scientific discourse. Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, from one period's episteme to another. (Aside: Jean Piaget, in "Structuralism" (1968/1970, p. 132), compares Foucault's épistème to Thomas Kuhn's notion of a paradigm.)

Foucault's critique in Les mots et les choses has been very influential to cultural history.[citation needed] The various consciousness shifts that he points out in the first chapters of the book have led several scholars to scrutinize the bases for knowledge in our present day as well as critiquing the projection of modern categories of knowledge onto subjects that remain intrinsically unintelligible, in spite of historical knowledge.

The Order of Things brought Foucault to prominence as an intellectual figure in France. A review by Jean-Paul Sartre attacked Foucault as 'the last barricade of the bourgeoisie'. Foucault responded, "Poor bourgeoisie; If they needed me as a 'barricade', then they had already lost power!" [1]

Varian Fry

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Varian Fry and Miriam Davenport, c.1940

Varian Mackey Fry (October 15, 1907 – September 13, 1967) was an American Journalist educated at Hotchkiss and Taft School and Harvard University. Fry ran a rescue network in Vichy France that helped approximately 2,000 to 4,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.



Early life

Varian Fry founded Hound & Horn, an influential literary quarterly, in 1927 with Lincoln Kirstein while an undergraduate at Harvard. He married Kirstein's sister, Eileen.

While working as a foreign correspondent for the American journal The Living Age, Fry visited Berlin in 1935 and personally witnessed Nazi savagery against Jews on more than one occasion.

Greatly disturbed by what he saw, he helped raise money to support European anti-Nazi movements. Following the occupation of France in August 1940 he went to Marseille as an agent of the newly formed Emergency Rescue Committee in an effort to help persons wishing to flee the Nazis.[1][2] Fry had $3,000 and a short list of refugees under imminent threat of arrest by agents of the Gestapo. Clamoring at his door came anti-Nazi writers, avant-garde artists, musicians and hundreds of others desperately seeking any chance to escape France.[3]

Emergency Rescue Committee

Beginning in 1940, in Marseille, despite the watchful eye of the collaborationist Vichy regime, he and a small group of volunteers hid people at the Villa Air-Bel until they could be smuggled out. More than 2,200 people were taken across the border to the safety of neutral Portugal from which they made their way to the United States.

Others he helped escape on ships leaving Marseille for the French colony of Martinique, from which they too could go to the United States. Among Fry's closest associates were Americans Miriam Davenport, a former art student at the Sorbonne, and the heiress Mary Jayne Gold, a lover of the arts and the "good life" who had come to Paris in the early 1930s.

When the Nazis seized France in 1940, Gold went to Marseille, where she worked with Fry and helped finance his operation. Also working with Fry was a young academic named Albert O. Hirschman, who eventually went on to a distinguished career in America.

Especially instrumental in getting Fry the visas he needed for the artists, intellectuals and political dissidents on his list was Hiram Bingham IV, an American Vice Consul in Marseille who fought against State Department anti-Semitism and was personally responsible for issuing thousands of visas, both legal and illegal.

Among those Fry aided were the following:

Back home in the United States, Fry published his book in 1945 about his time in France under the title, Surrender on Demand. In 1968, the US publisher Scholastic (which, as implied by its name, markets mainly to children and adolescents) published a paperback edition under the title Assignment: Rescue, and subsequent reprints have appeared under both of the above titles.

He wrote and spoke critically against U.S. immigration policies particularly relating to the issue of the fate of Jews in Europe. In a December 1942 issue of The New Republic, he wrote a scathing article titled: "The Massacre of Jews in Europe".


In 1967, the government of France recognized his heroic contribution to freedom with the Legion of Honor. Mary Jayne Gold's 1980 book titled Crossroads Marseilles 1940 sparked an interest in Fry and his heroic efforts.

Known as The American Schindler, in 1995 Varian Fry became the first United States citizen to be listed in the Righteous Among the Nations at Israel's national Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem (in 2006, fellow Americans Waitstill Sharp and Martha Sharp were added to the list). He was awarded the additional honor of "Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel" on 1 January 1998.

On the initiative of Samuel V. Brock, the U.S. Consul General in Marseille from 1999 to 2002, the square in front of the Consulate was renamed Place Varian Fry. A street in the newly reconstructed East/West Berlin Wall area in the Berlin borough of Mitte at Potsdamer Platz was named Varian-Fry-Straße in recognition of his work in the Nazi period. In 2005, a street in his home town of Ridgewood, New Jersey was renamed Varian Fry Way [4]

In 1997 Irish film director David Kerr, made a documentary entitled Varian Fry: The America's Schindler, that was narrated by actor Sean Barrett. Varian Fry's story was also told in dramatic form on film in 2001 when Barbra Streisand co-produced the made-for-television motion picture, Varian's War, written and directed by Lionel Chetwynd and starring William Hurt and Julia Ormond.

See also



  1. ^ The Genesis of the Emergency Rescue Committee, Terence Renaud, Boston University, 2005
  2. ^ Karl B. Frank and the Politics of the Emergency Rescue Committee, Terence Renaud, 2008
  3. ^ retrieved online February 15, 2008
  4. ^ Jewish Standard VARIAN FRY: the artists’ Schindler

Jacques Lacan

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Jacques Lacan
Western Philosophy
20th-century philosophy
Full name Jacques-Marie-Émile Lacan
Born April 13, 1901
Died September 9, 1981
School/tradition Psychoanalysis, Structuralism
Main interests Psychoanalysis
Notable ideas Mirror Stage,
The Real,
The Symbolic,
The Imaginary

Jacques-Marie-Émile Lacan (French pronunciation: [ʒak lakɑ̃]) (April 13, 1901 – September 9, 1981) was a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist who made prominent contributions to psychoanalysis, philosophy, and literary theory. He gave yearly seminars, in Paris, from 1953 to 1981, mostly influencing France's intellectuals in the 1960s and the 1970s, especially the post-structuralist philosophers. His interdisciplinary work is Freudian, featuring the unconscious, the castration complex, the ego; identification; and language as subjective perception, and thus he figures in critical theory, literary studies, twentieth-century French philosophy, and clinical psychoanalysis.




Early life

Lacan was born in Paris, the eldest of Emilie and Alfred Lacan's three children. His father was a successful soap and oils salesman. His mother was ardently Catholic, the younger brother went to a monastery in 1929; Lacan attended the Jesuit Collège Stanislas. During the early 1920s, Lacan attended right-wing Action Française political meetings and met the founder, Charles Maurras. By the mid-1920s, Lacan had become dissatisfied with religion and quarrelled with his family over it.[1][2]

In 1920, on being rejected as too thin for military service, he then directly entered medical school, and, in 1926, specialised in psychiatry at the Sainte-Anne Hospital in Paris. Academically, he was especially interested in the philosophies of Karl Jaspers and Martin Heidegger; and attended the seminars about Hegel given by Alexandre Kojève. Sometime in that decade, and until 1938, Lacan sought psychoanalysis by Rudolph Loewenstein.


In 1931, Lacan was a licensed forensic psychiatrist; in 1932 he was awarded the Doctorat d'état for the thesis: De la Psychose paranoiaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité (On paranoiac psychosis in its relations to the (paranoiac) personality). Although it was acclaimed beyond psychoanalytic circles, especially by surrealist artists, psychoanalysts mostly ignored it. Despite that, in 1934 he was a candidate to the Société Psychoanalytique de Paris. In January of that year, he married Marie-Louise Blondin and they had their first child, daughter Caroline; their second child, a son named Thibaut, was born in August 1939.

In 1936, Lacan presented his first analytic report, about the "Mirror Phase" at the Congress of the International Psychoanalytical Association, in Marienbad. The congress chairman, Ernest Jones, interrupted and ended Lacan's reporting, unwilling to extend his slated presentation time. Insulted, Dr Lacan left the congress, to witness the Berlin Olympic Games. Unfortunately, no copy of the original lecture remains.[3]

Lacan was an active intellectual of the inter-war period; he associated with André Breton and Georges Bataille, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. He attended the mouvement Psyché founded by Maryse Choisy. He published in the Surrealist journal Minotaure and attended the first, public reading of Ulysses. His interest in surrealism predated his interest in psychoanalysis. Perhaps Lacan never really abandoned his early surrealist sympathies, its neo-Romantic view of madness as ‘convulsive beauty’, its celebration of irrationality, and its hostility to the scientist who murders nature by dissecting it".[4]


The Société Psychoanalytique de Paris (SPP) was disbanded due to Nazi Germany's occupation of France in 1940 and Lacan was subsequently called up to serve in the French army at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris, where he spent the duration of the war. His third child, Sibylle, was born in 1940.

The following year, Lacan fathered a child, Judith (who kept the name Bataille) with Sylvia Bataille (née Maklès), estranged wife of his friend Georges. There are contradictory stories about his romantic life with Sylvia Bataille in southern France during World War II. The official record shows only that Marie-Louise requested divorce after Judith's birth, and Lacan married Sylvia in 1953.

Following the war, the SPP recommenced their meetings, and Lacan visited England for a five-week study trip, meeting English analysts Wilfred Bion and John Rickman. He was influenced by Bion’s analytic work with groups and this contributed to his own later emphasis on study groups as a structure with which to advance theoretical work in psychoanalysis. In 1949, Lacan presented a new paper on the mirror stage to the sixteenth IPA congress in Zurich.


In 1951 Lacan started to hold a private weekly seminar in Paris, urging what he described as "a return to Freud" concentrating upon the linguistic nature of psychological symptomatology. Becoming public in 1953, Lacan's twenty-seven year long seminar was very influential in Parisian cultural life as well as in psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice.

In 1953, after a disagreement about analytic practice methods, Lacan and many of his colleagues left the Société Parisienne de Psychanalyse to form a new group the Société Française de Psychanalyse (SFP). One of the consequences of this was to deprive the new group of membership within the International Psychoanalytical Association.

Encouraged by the reception of "the return to Freud" and of his report - "The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis" (Écrits) - Lacan again returned to Freud, re-reading the canon in relation to contemporary philosophy, linguistics, ethnology, biology and topology. From 1953 to 1964 at Sainte-Anne Hospital, he held his Seminars and presented case histories of patients. During this period he wrote the texts that are found in Écrits, a selection of which was first published in 1966. In his seventh Seminar of 1959-60, 'The Ethics of Psychoanalysis', Lacan defines his ethical foundations of psychoanalysis and constructs his "ethics for our time"; according to Freud, an ethics that would prove to be equal to the tragedy of modern man and to the "discontent of civilization". At the roots of the ethics is desire: analysis' only promise is austere, it is the entrance-into-the-I (in French a play of words between 'l'entrée en je' and 'l'entrée en jeu'). 'I must come to the place where the id was', where the analysand discovers, in its absolute nakedness, the truth of his desire. The end of psychoanalysis entails 'the purification of desire'. This text functioned throughout the years as the background of Lacan's work. He defends three assertions: that psychoanalysis must have a scientific status; that Freudian ideas have radically changed the concepts of subject, of knowledge, and of desire; that the analytic field is the only place from where it is possible to question the insufficiencies of science and philosophy.


Starting in 1962 a complex negotiation took place to determine the status of the SFP within the IPA. Lacan’s practice—with his controversial indeterminate-length sessions in which he charged a full fee for truncated sessions, had his hair cut during sessions,[5] and Lacan's critical stance towards psychoanalytic orthodoxy—led, in 1963, to a condition being set by the IPA that registration of the SFP was dependent upon removing Lacan from the list of SFP training analysts. Lacan left the SFP to form his own school which became known as the École Freudienne de Paris (EFP)

With Lévi-Strauss and Althusser's support, he was appointed lecturer at the École Pratique des Hautes Etudes. He started with a seminar on The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis in January 1964 in the Dussane room at the École Normale Supérieure (in his first session he thanks the generosity of Fernand Braudel and Claude Lévi-Strauss). Lacan began to set forth his own teaching on psychoanalysis to an audience of colleagues who had joined him from the SFP. His lectures also attracted many of the École Normale’s students. He divided the École de la Cause freudienne into three sections: the section of pure psychoanalysis (training and elaboration of the theory, where members who have been analyzed but haven't become analysts can participate); the section for applied psychoanalysis (therapeutic and clinical, physicians who either have not started or have not yet completed analysis are welcome); the section for taking inventory of the Freudian field (it concerned the critique of psychoanalytic literature and the analysis of the theoretical relations with related or affiliated sciences (Proposition du 9 octobre 1967 sur le psychanalyste à l'Ecole).

By the 1960s, Lacan was associated, at least in the public mind, with the far left in France.[6] In May 1968 Lacan voiced his sympathy for the student protests and as a corollary a Department of Psychology was set up by his followers at the University of Vincennes (Paris VIII). Echoing this sentiment, "Shortly after the tumultuous events of May 1968, Lacan was accused by the authorities of being a subversive, and directly influencing the events that transpired."[7] In 1969 Lacan moved his public seminars to the Faculté de Droit (Panthéon) where he continued to deliver his expositions of analytic theory and practice till the dissolution of his School in 1980.


Throughout the final decade of his life, Lacan continued his widely followed seminars. During this period, he focuses on the development of his concepts of masculine and feminine jouissance, and puts special emphasis on his concept of "The Real" as a point of impossible contradiction in the "Symbolic Order". This late work had the greatest influence on feminist thought, as well as upon the informal movement that arose in the 1970s or 1980s called post-modernism.

Major concepts

The 'Return to Freud'

Lacan's "return to Freud" emphasizes a renewed attention to the original texts of Freud and a radical critique of Ego psychology, Melanie Klein and Object relations theory. Lacan thought that Freud's ideas of "slips of the tongue", jokes, et cetera, all emphasized the agency of language in subjective constitution. In "The Agency of the Letter in the Unconscious, or Reason Since Freud" (Écrits, pp. 161 – 197) he argued that "the unconscious is structured like a language"; it was not a primitive or archetypal part of the mind separate from the conscious, linguistic ego, but a formation as complex and structurally sophisticated as consciousness itself. If the unconscious is structured like a language, he claimed, then the self is denied any point of reference to which to be 'restored' following trauma or 'identity crisis'.

The mirror stage (le stade du miroir)

Lacan's first official contribution to psychoanalysis was the mirror stage which he described " as formative of the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience". By the early fifties, he no longer considered the mirror stage as only a moment in the life of the infant, but as the permanent structure of subjectivity. In the paradigm of The Imaginary order, the subject is permanently caught and captivated by his own image. Lacan writes, "[T]he mirror stage is a phenomenon to which I assign a twofold value. In the first place, it has historical value as it marks a decisive turning-point in the mental development of the child. In the second place, it typifies an essential libidinal relationship with the body-image".[8]

As he further develops the concept, the stress falls less on its historical value and more on its structural value.[4] In his fourth Seminar, La relation d'objet, Lacan states that "the mirror stage is far from a mere phenomenon which occurs in the development of the child. It illustrates the conflictual nature of the dual relationship".

The mirror stage describes the formation of the Ego via the process of objectification, the Ego being the result of feeling dissension between one's perceived visual appearance and one's perceived emotional reality. This identification is what Lacan called alienation. At six months the baby still lacks coordination. However, he can recognize himself in the mirror before attaining control over his bodily movements. He sees his image as a whole, and the synthesis of this image produces a sense of contrast with the uncoordination of the body, which is perceived as a fragmented body. This contrast is first felt by the infant as a rivalry with his own image, because the wholeness of the image threatens him with fragmentation, and thus the mirror stage gives rise to an aggressive tension between the subject and the image. To resolve this aggressive tension, the subject identifies with the image: this primary identification with the counterpart is what forms the Ego.[4] The moment of identification is to Lacan a moment of jubilation since it leads to an imaginary sense of mastery, yet the jubilation may also be accompanied by a depressive reaction, when the infant compares his own precarious sense of mastery with the omnipotence of the mother.[9] This identification also involves the ideal ego which functions as a promise of future wholeness sustaining the Ego in anticipation.

In the Mirror stage a misunderstanding - "méconnaissance" - constitutes the Ego—the 'moi' becomes alienated from himself through the introduction of the Imaginary order subject. It must be said that the mirror stage has also a significant symbolic dimension. The Symbolic order is present in the figure of the adult who is carrying the infant: the moment after the subject has jubilantly assumed his image as his own, he turns his head towards this adult who represents the big Other, as if to call on him to ratify this image.[10]


While Freud uses the term "other", referring to der Andere (the other person) and "das Andere" (otherness), Lacan's use is more like Hegel's, through Alexandre Kojève.

Lacan often used an algebraic symbology for his concepts:[11] the big Other is designated A (for French Autre) and the little other is designated a (italicized French autre). He asserts that an awareness of this distinction is fundamental to analytic practice: 'the analyst must be imbued with the difference between A and a,[12] so he can situate himself in the place of Other, and not the other'.[13]

  1. The little other is the other who is not really other, but a reflection and projection of the Ego. He is both the counterpart or the other people in whom the subject perceives a visual likeness (semblable), and the specular image or the reflection of one's body in the mirror. In this way the little other is entirely inscribed in The Imaginary order. See Objet Petit a.
  2. The big Other designates a radical alterity, an otherness transcending the illusory otherness of the Imaginary because it cannot be assimilated through identification. Lacan equates this radical alterity with language and the law: the big Other is inscribed in The Symbolic order, being in fact the Symbolic insofar as it is particularized for each subject. The Other is then another subject and also the Symbolic order which mediates the relationship with that other subject.

'The Other must first of all be considered a locus, the locus in which speech is constituted'.[14] We can speak of the Other as a subject in a secondary sense, only when a subject may occupy this position and thereby embody the Other for another subject.[15]

When he argues that speech originates not in the Ego nor in the subject, but in the Other, Lacan stresses that speech and language are beyond one's conscious control; they come from another place, outside consciousness, and then 'the unconscious is the discourse of the Other'.[16] When conceiving the Other as a place, Lacan refers to Freud's concept of physical locality, in which the unconscious is described as "the other scene".

"It is the mother who first occupies the position of the big Other for the child, it is she who receives the child's primitive cries and retroactively sanctions them as a particular message".[4] The castration complex is formed when the child discovers that this Other is not complete, that there is a Lack (manque) in the Other. This means that there is always a signifier missing from the trove of signifiers constituted by the Other. Lacan illustrates this incomplete Other graphically by striking a bar through the symbol A; hence another name for the castrated, incomplete Other is the 'barred Other'.[17][18]

Feminists thinkers have both criticized and utilized Lacan's concepts of castration and the (Symbolic) Phallus. Many feminists believe that Lacan's phallocentric analysis provides a useful means of understanding gender biases and imposed roles. Some feminist critics, notably Luce Irigaray,[19] accuse Lacan of maintaining the sexist tradition in psychoanalysis. For Irigaray, rather than the Phallus defining a single axis of gender by its presence/absence, gender has two positive poles. Like Irigaray, Jacques Derrida, in criticism of Lacan's concept of castration, discusses the phallus in a chiasmus with the hymen, as both one and other, as Derrida returns to Freud's case of the Wolf Man in The Dissemination.[20] Other feminists, such as Judith Butler,[21] Jane Gallop,[22] and Elizabeth Grosz,[7] have each interpreted Lacan's work as opening up new possibilities for feminist theory.

The Three Orders

The Imaginary

Lacan thought the relationship between the Ego and the reflected image means that the Ego and the Imaginary order itself are places of radical alienation: "alienation is constitutive of the Imaginary order".[14] This relationship is also narcissistic. So the Imaginary is the field of images and imagination, and deception: the main illusions of this order are synthesis, autonomy, duality, similarity.

The Imaginary is structured by the Symbolic order: in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis Lacan argues how the visual field is structured by symbolic laws. Thus the Imaginary involves a linguistic dimension. If the signifier is the foundation of the Symbolic, the signified and signification are part of the Imaginary order. Language has Symbolic and Imaginary connotations; in its Imaginary aspect, language is the "wall of language" which inverts and distorts the discourse of the Other. On the other hand, the Imaginary is rooted in the subject's relationship with its own body (the image of the body). In Fetishism: the Symbolic, the Imaginary and the Real Lacan argues that in the sexual plane the Imaginary appears as sexual display and courtship love.

Lacan accused major psychoanalytic schools of reducing the practice of psychoanalysis to the Imaginary order by making identification with the analyst the objective of analysis (see Écrits, "The Directions of the Treatment"). He proposes the use of the Symbolic as the way to dislodge the disabling fixations of the Imaginary: the analyst transforms the images into words. "The use of the Symbolic is the only way for the analytic process to cross the plane of identification."[23]

The Symbolic

In his Seminar IV "La relation d'objet" Lacan asserts that the concepts of Law and Structure are unthinkable without language: thus the Symbolic is a linguistic dimension. Yet, he does not simply equate this order with language since language involves the Imaginary and the Real as well. The dimension proper of language in the Symbolic is that of the signifier, that is a dimension in which elements have no positive existence but which are constituted by virtue of their mutual differences.

The Symbolic is also the field of radical alterity, that is the Other: the unconscious is the discourse of this Other. Besides it is the realm of the Law which regulates desire in the Oedipus complex. We may add that the Symbolic is the domain of culture as opposed to the Imaginary order of nature. As important elements in the Symbolic, the concepts of death and lack (manque) connive to make of the pleasure principle the regulator of the distance from the Thing (das ding an sich) and the death drive which goes "beyond the pleasure principle by means of repetition"—"the death drive is only a mask of the Symbolic order."[11]

It is by working in the Symbolic order that the analyst can produce changes in the subjective position of the analysand; these changes will produce imaginary effects since the Imaginary is structured by the Symbolic.[4] Thus, it is the Symbolic which is determinant of subjectivity, and the Imaginary, made of images and appearances, is the effect of the Symbolic.

The Real

Lacan's concept of the Real dates back to 1936, a term which was popular at the time, particularly with Émile Meyerson who referred to it as "an ontological absolute, a true being-in-itself".[24] Lacan picked up again on the theme of the Real in 1953 and continued to elaborate on it until his death. The Real, for Lacan, is not synonymous with reality. Not only opposed to the Imaginary, the Real is also located outside the Symbolic. Unlike the latter which is constituted in terms of oppositions, i.e. presence/absence, "there is no absence in the Real."[11] Whereas the Symbolic opposition presence/absence implies the possibility that something may be missing from the Symbolic, "the Real is always in its place."[23] If the Symbolic is a set of differentiated elements, signifiers, the Real in itself is undifferentiated, it bears no fissure. The Symbolic introduces "a cut in the real", in the process of signification: "it is the world of words that creates the world of things - things originally confused in the "here and now" of the all in the process of coming into being.[25]

Thus the Real is that which is outside language, resisting symbolization absolutely. In Seminar XI Lacan defines the Real as "the impossible" because it is impossible to imagine and impossible to integrate into the Symbolic, being impossibly attainable. It is this resistance to symbolization that lends the Real its traumatic quality. In his Seminar "La relation d'objet", Lacan reads Freud's case on "Little Hans." He distinguishes two real elements which intrude and disrupt the child's imaginary pre-oedipical harmony: the real penis which is felt in infantile masturbation and the newly born sister.

Finally, the Real is the object of anxiety in that it lacks any possible mediation, and is "the essential object which is not an object any longer, but this something faced with which all words cease and all categories fail, the object of anxiety par excellence."[11]


Lacan's désir follows Freud's concept of Wunsch and it is central to Lacanian theories. For the aim of the talking cure - psychoanalysis - is precisely to lead the analysand to uncover the truth about their desire, but this is only possible if that desire is articulated, or spoken.[26] Lacan said that "it is only once it is formulated, named in the presence of the other, that desire appears in the full sense of the term."[27] "That the subject should come to recognize and to name his/her desire, that is the efficacious action of analysis. But it is not a question of recognizing something which would be entirely given. In naming it, the subject creates, brings forth, a new presence in the world."[11] "[W]hat is important is to teach the subject to name, to articulate, to bring desire into existence." Now, although the truth about desire is somehow present in discourse, discourse can never articulate the whole truth about desire: whenever discourse attempts to articulate desire, there is always a leftover, a surplus.[26]

In The Signification of the Phallus Lacan distinguishes desire from need and demand. Need is a biological instinct that is articulated in demand, yet demand has a double function, on one hand it articulates need and on the other acts as a demand for love. So, even after the need articulated in demand is satisfied, the demand for love remains unsatisfied and this leftover is desire.[28] For Lacan "desire is neither the appetite for satisfaction nor the demand for love, but the difference that results from the subtraction of the first from the second" (article cited). Desire then is the surplus produced by the articulation of need in demand. Lacan adds that "desire begins to take shape in the margin in which demand becomes separated from need." Hence desire can never be satisfied, or as Slavoj Žižek puts it "desire's raison d'être is not to realize its goal, to find full satisfaction, but to reproduce itself as desire."

It is also important to distinguish between desire and the drives. If they belong to the field of the Other (as opposed to love), desire is one, whereas the drives are many. The drives are the partial manifestations of a single force called desire (see "The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis"). If one can surmise that objet petit a is the object of desire, it is not the object towards which desire tends, but the cause of desire. For desire is not a relation to an object but a relation to a lack (manque). Then desire appears as a social construct since it is always constituted in a dialectical relationship.


Lacan maintains Freud's distinction between Trieb (drive) and Instinkt (instinct) in that drives differ from biological needs because they can never be satisfied and do not aim at an object but rather circle perpetually round it, so the real source of jouissance is to repeat the movement of this closed circuit. In the same Seminar Lacan posits the drives as both cultural and symbolic (discourse) constructs, to him "the drive is not a given, something archaic, primordial". Yet he incorporates the four elements of the drives as defined by Freud (the pressure, the end, the object and the source) to his theory of the drive's circuit: the drive originates in the erogenous zone, circles round the object, and then returns to the erogenous zone. The circuit is structured by the three grammatical voices:

  1. the active voice (to see)
  2. the reflexive voice (to see oneself)
  3. the passive voice (to be seen)

The active and reflexive voices are autoerotic, they lack a subject. It is only when the drive completes its circuit with the passive voice that a new subject appears. So although it is the "passive" voice, the drive is essentially active, "to make oneself be seen" instead of "to be seen." The circuit of the drive is the only way for the subject to transgress the pleasure principle.

Lacan identifies four partial drives: the oral drive (the erogenous zones are the lips, the partial object the breast), the anal drive (the anus and the faeces), the scopic drive (the eyes and the gaze) and the invocatory drive (the ears and the voice). The first two relate to demand and the last two to desire. If the drives are closely related to desire, they are the partial aspects in which desire is realized: again, desire is one and undivided whereas the drives are partial manifestations of desire.

Other concepts

Writings and writing style

Jacques-Alain Miller is the sole editor of Lacan's seminars, which contain the majority of his life's work. Although Lacan is a major figure in the history of psychoanalysis, some of these seminars still remain unpublished. Since 1984, Miller has been regularly conducting a series of lectures, "L'orientation lacanienne." Miller's teachings have been published in the US by the journal Lacanian Ink.

Lacan claimed that his Écrits were not to be understood, but would produce a meaning effect in the reader similar to some mystical texts.[29] Lacan's writing is notoriously difficult due to the repeated Hegelian/Kojèvean allusions, wide theoretical divergences from other psychoanalytic and philosophical thinking, as well as his obscure prose style.

Lacan incorporates terms from mathematical fields such as topology. However, some scientists outside the fields of psychoanalysis claim Lacan misunderstands or misuses mathematical terms.[30][31]

Other critics have dismissed Lacan and his work wholesale. François Roustang called Lacan's output an "incoherent system of pseudo-scientific gibberish."[32] In Fashionable Nonsense, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont accuse Lacan of "superficial erudition" and of abusing scientific concepts he does not understand.[31] Dylan Evans has criticized Lacan's followers of treating his writings as "holy writ"[33] and Richard Webster has written on "The Cult of Lacan".[34]

Defenders of Lacanian thinking suggest that critics misunderstand, or often simply have not read, Lacan's admittedly difficult texts.[35][36]


Karl Jaspers

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Karl Jaspers
Western Philosophy
20th-century philosophy

Karl Jaspers
Full name Karl Theodor Jaspers
Born February 23, 1883
Oldenburg, Germany
Died February 26, 1969
Basel, Switzerland
School/tradition Existentialism, Neo-Kantianism
Main interests Psychiatry, Theology, Philosophy of History
Notable ideas Axial Age, coined the term Existenzphilosophie, Dasein and Existenz

Karl Theodor Jaspers (February 23, 1883February 26, 1969) was a German psychiatrist and philosopher who had a strong influence on modern theology, psychiatry and philosophy. After being trained in and practicing psychiatry, Jaspers turned to philosophical inquiry and attempted to discover an innovative philosophical system. He was often viewed as a major exponent of existentialism in Germany, though he did not accept this label.




Jaspers was born in Oldenburg in 1883 to a mother from a local farming community, and a jurist father. He showed an early interest in philosophy, but his father's experience with the legal system undoubtedly influenced his decision to study law at university. It soon became clear that Jaspers did not particularly enjoy law, and he switched to studying medicine in 1902 with a thesis about criminology.

Jaspers graduated from medical school in 1909 and began work at a psychiatric hospital in Heidelberg where Emil Kraepelin had worked some years earlier. Jaspers became dissatisfied with the way the medical community of the time approached the study of mental illness and set himself the task of improving the psychiatric approach. In 1913 Jaspers gained a temporary post as a psychology teacher at Heidelberg University. The post later became permanent, and Jaspers never returned to clinical practice.

At the age of 40 Jaspers turned from psychology to philosophy, expanding on themes he had developed in his psychiatric works. He became a renowned philosopher, well respected in Germany and Europe.

After the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Jaspers was considered to have a "Jewish taint" (jüdische Versippung, in the jargon of the time) due to his Jewish wife, and was forced to retire from teaching in 1937. In 1938 he fell under a publication ban as well. Many of his long-time friends stood by him, however, and he was able to continue his studies and research without being totally isolated. But he and his wife were under constant threat of removal to a concentration camp until March 30, 1945, when Heidelberg was liberated by American troops.

In 1948 Jaspers moved to the University of Basel in Switzerland. He remained prominent in the philosophical community until his death in Basel in 1969.

Contributions to Psychiatry

Jaspers' dissatisfaction with the popular understanding of mental illness led him to question both the diagnostic criteria and the methods of clinical psychiatry. He published a revolutionary paper in 1910 in which he addressed the problem of whether paranoia was an aspect of personality or the result of biological changes. Whilst not broaching new ideas, this article introduced a new method of study. Jaspers studied several patients in detail, giving biographical information on the people concerned as well as providing notes on how the patients themselves felt about their symptoms. This has become known as the biographical method and now forms the mainstay of modern psychiatric practice.

Karl Jaspers: Allgemeine Psychopathologie, first print 1913.

Jaspers set about writing his views on mental illness in a book which he published in 1913 as General Psychopathology [1]. The two volumes which make up this work have become a classic in the psychiatric literature and many modern diagnostic criteria stem from ideas contained within them. Of particular importance, Jaspers believed that psychiatrists should diagnose symptoms (particularly of psychosis) by their form rather than by their content. For example, in diagnosing a hallucination, the fact that a person experiences visual phenomena when no sensory stimuli account for it (form) assumes more importance than what the patient sees (content).

Jaspers felt that psychiatrists could also diagnose delusions in the same way. He argued that clinicians should not consider a belief delusional based on the content of the belief, but only based on the way in which a patient holds such a belief (see delusion for further discussion). Jaspers also distinguished between primary and secondary delusions. He defined primary delusions as autochthonous meaning arising without apparent cause, appearing incomprehensible in terms of normal mental processes. (This is a slightly different use of the term autochthonous than its usual medical or sociological meaning of indigenous.) Secondary delusions, on the other hand, he classified as influenced by the person's background, current situation or mental state.

Jaspers considered primary delusions as ultimately 'un-understandable,' as he believed no coherent reasoning process existed behind their formation. This view has caused some controversy, and the likes of R. D. Laing and Richard Bentall (1999, p. 133-135) have criticised it, stressing that taking this stance can lead therapists into the complacency of assuming that because they do not understand a patient, the patient is deluded and further investigation on the part of the therapist will have no effect. Huub Engels (2009) argues that schizophrenic speech disorder may be understandable as Emil Kraepelin's dream speech is understandable.

Contributions to Philosophy and Theology

Most commentators associate Jaspers with the philosophy of existentialism, in part because he draws largely upon the existentialist roots of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, and in part because the theme of individual freedom permeates his work.[citation needed]

In Philosophy (3 vols, 1932), Jaspers gave his view of the history of philosophy and introduced his major themes. Beginning with modern science and empiricism, Jaspers points out that as we question reality, we confront borders that an empirical (or scientific) method simply cannot transcend. At this point, the individual faces a choice: sink into despair and resignation, or take a leap of faith toward what Jaspers calls Transcendence. In making this leap, individuals confront their own limitless freedom, which Jaspers calls Existenz, and can finally experience authentic existence.

Transcendence (paired with the term The Encompassing in later works) is, for Jaspers, that which exists beyond the world of time and space. Jaspers' formulation of Transcendence as ultimate non-objectivity (or no-thing-ness) has led many philosophers to argue that ultimately, Jaspers became a monist, though Jaspers himself continually stressed the necessity of recognizing the validity of the concepts both of subjectivity and of objectivity.

Although he rejected explicit religious doctrines, including the notion of a personal God, Jaspers influenced contemporary theology through his philosophy of transcendence and the limits of human experience. Mystic Christian traditions influenced Jaspers himself tremendously, particularly those of Meister Eckhart and of Nicholas of Cusa. He also took an active interest in Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhism, and developed the theory of an Axial Age, a period of substantial philosophical and religious development. Jaspers also entered public debates with Rudolf Bultmann, wherein Jaspers roundly criticized Bultmann's "demythologizing" of Christianity.

Jaspers also wrote extensively on the threat to human freedom posed by modern science and modern economic and political institutions. During World War II, he had to abandon his teaching post because his wife was Jewish. After the war he resumed his teaching position, and in his work The Question of German Guilt he unabashedly examined the culpability of Germany as a whole in the atrocities of Hitler's Third Reich.

Jaspers's major works, lengthy and detailed, can seem daunting in their complexity. His last great attempt at a systematic philosophy of Existenz — Von Der Wahrheit (On Truth) — has not yet appeared in English. However, he also wrote accessible and entertaining shorter works, most notably Philosophy is for Everyman.

Commentators often compare Jaspers' philosophy to that of his contemporary, Martin Heidegger. Indeed, both sought to explore the meaning of being (Sein) and existence. While the two did maintain a brief friendship, their relationship deteriorated - due in part to Heidegger's affiliation with the Nazi party, but also due to the (probably over-emphasized) philosophical differences between the two.

The two major proponents of phenomenological hermeneutics, Paul Ricoeur (a student of Jaspers) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (Jaspers's successor at Heidelberg) both display Jaspers's influence in their works.

Other important work appeared in Philosophy and Existence (1938). For Jaspers, the term "existence" (Existenz) designates the indefinable experience of freedom and possibility; an experience which constitutes the authentic being of individuals who become aware of "the encompassing" by confronting suffering, conflict, guilt, chance, and death.

Political views

Jaspers valued humanism and the continuity of integral cultural tradition in political spheres. He strongly opposed totalitarian despotism and warned about the increasing tendency towards technocracy, or a regime that regarded humans as mere instruments of science or ideological goals. He was also skeptical of majoritarian democracy. Thus, he supported a form of governance that guaranteed individual freedom and limited government yet was rooted in authentic tradition and guided by an intellectual elite.[1]

Jaspers' influences

Jaspers held Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to be two of the most important figures in post-Kantian philosophy. In his compilation, The Great Philosophers, he wrote:

I approach the presentation of Kierkegaard with some trepidation. Next to Nietzsche, or rather, prior to Nietzsche, I consider him to be the most important thinker of our post-Kantian age. With Goethe and Hegel, an epoch had reached its conclusion, and our prevalent way of thinking - that is, the positivistic, natural-scientific one - cannot really be considered as philosophy.

Jaspers also questions whether the two philosophers could be taught. For Kierkegaard, at least, Jaspers felt that Kierkegaard's whole method of indirect communication precludes any attempts to properly expound his thought into any sort of systematic teaching.

Though Jaspers was certainly indebted to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, he also owes much to more traditional philosophers, especially Kant and Plato. Walter Kaufmann argues in "From Shakespeare to Existentialism" that, though Jaspers was certainly indebted to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, he was closest to Kant's philosophy.

Jaspers is too often seen as the heir of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard to whom he is in many ways less close than to Kant...the Kantian antinomies and Kant's concern with the realm of decision, freedom, and faith have become exemplary for Jaspers. And even as Kant "had to do away with knowledge to make room for faith," Jaspers values Nietzsche in large measure because he thinks that Nietzsche did away with knowledge, thus making room for Jaspers' philosophic faith"...

This is supported by Jaspers' essay "On My Philosophy" (link below),

"While I was still at school Spinoza was the first. Kant then became the philosopher for me and has remained so...Nietzsche gained importance for me only late as the magnificent revelation of nihilism and the task of overcoming it."

Persons influenced by Jaspers