Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Scheitern, part 2

Thornhill shows the congruity of Jaspers' conception of foundering communicative reason as a decisive ‘hermeneutic of possible transcendence’, with the Weimar socialist theologian Paul Tillich’s theorization of revelation. For Tillich as for Jaspers, revelation involves ‘the shattering of reason’ (in Thornhill’s words); precisely as such however, revelation ‘is not the negation of reason’, because it is ‘the moment where reason experiences its highest degree of transcendent and unconditioned truthfulness’. Both Jaspers and Tillich conceive of revelation as being ‘not solely a fact of faith, but also a philosophical possibility of human reason’, which presents itself wherever reason founders, or ‘encounters the limits of its formal processes’. Thornhill also explains how Jaspers’ theory of the limit, or of a decisive hermeneutic operating in existential limit-situations, parallels Tillich’s conceptualization of kairos, and how both thinkers thus theorize a ‘decisive moment of responsible transcendence’.

Tillich used the concept of kairos to capture what he called ‘fulfilled time’; the moments in human life ‘in which eternity breaks in’ on the usual conditions of human history. In Thornhill’s words, kairos is thus ‘a moment of historical time in which human life reflects upon its possibilities at the limits of its historicality’; in a way recalling Jaspers’ theory of the limit, Thornhill notes, Tillich could therefore assert kairos as a ‘historical consciousness […] whose ethos is unconditioned responsibility for the present moment in time’. Thornhill stresses that – and whilst Heidegger simply ‘interprets the moment of human decision as the awareness of the immutability of the historical forms in which human life is placed’ – Tillich and Jaspers alike understand ‘true kairological decisiveness’ to be an ‘ethical position’. This is because they both sense that genuine ‘transcendent(al) self-knowledge’ articulates itself in ‘acts of active self-choice, self-disclosure and, in the strict sense, historical responsibility towards others’. Both Tillich and Jaspers assert, Thornhill clarifies, that ‘kairos provides the grounds for an innerworldly ‘metaphysic of responsibility’. Quoting Tillich, Thornhill emphasizes this point:      
‘It is only in the kairological specificity of historical responsibility, not in the compliance with “universal law”, that human life explains and enacts the possibilities of its transcendence. The decisive moment of responsible transcendence (kairos for Tillich; Grenze [limit] for Jaspers) does not effect here (as for Barth) an absolute crisis of the human realm. Rather, in quasi-Kantian, or even quasi-Weberian manner, both Tillich and Jaspers see the kairos of responsibility as an ethical intrusion into the existing conditions of human life, and as an unconditioned position of accountability towards these conditions.’

It is important to note, finally, that when (what Thornhill calls) Jaspers’ ‘ethical kairology’ enables him to posit an innerworldly metaphysic of responsibility, he is thereby nonetheless thinking towards a true non-secularity; for Jaspers, as Thornhill writes, ‘the truth of history, although interpreted in history, cannot be reconciled with the present conditions of historical life’. Thornhill underlines this point by explicating the shared foundations of Jaspers’ and Karl Barth’s ‘eschatological hermeneutic as the guarantor of the historicality of history’.

Jaspers and Barth, Thornhill sees, ‘share the conviction that revelation cannot be objectified in a particular set of worldly imperatives, and that revelation cannot be cemented in any system of legal or political obligation’. Both assert that, as Thornhill puts it, ‘No order within history itself, […] can arrogate the authority of transcendence to itself. Any attempt of this kind is merely an example of bad secularity, or bad metaphysics.’ Hence both thinkers claim that ‘the disclosure of transcendence occurs at all times at the limit of history, and that it cannot be incorporated into the fixed orders of everyday history’. Moreover both Barth and Jaspers indicate that ‘human life can only interpret itself adequately insofar as it interprets itself and its products under the index of their limits and their possible otherness’. Barth and Jaspers’ shared argument that ‘humanity interprets its own transcendence only as it brings into suspension the forms in which it exists, only as it knows itself external to the forms of its worldliness’, Thornhill stresses, is precisely why Barth (from a christological viewpoint) and Jaspers (from a hermeneutical viewpoint), ‘retain a far stronger attachment to the eschatological basis of Christianity than their opponents amongst liberal and conservative theologians’. Jaspers’ identification of a truthful hermeneutic of transcendence with a self-hermeneutic of individual crisis or failure, means that for him – as for Barth – transcendence is, in Thornhill’s words, ‘merely a decisive possibility at the limit of the temporal’; for both thinkers ‘true interpretation must take place at the limit of objective self-awareness’, and ‘all attempts interpretively to integrate transcendence into a historical synthesis inevitably fall into the trap of false objectification’. Jaspers and Barth’s shared conviction that, as Thornhill writes, ‘the interpretation of revelation is never final’ is therefore what brings both Jaspers and Barth to suggest ‘an either explicitly or implicitly eschatological hermeneutic as the guarantor of the historicality of history’: both thinkers hold ‘the essentially eschatological belief that human history in its present condition cannot provide for final truthfulness, and that the truth of history, although interpreted in history, cannot be reconciled with the present conditions of historical life’.      

Thornhill thus pays considerable attention to the way in which Jaspers, like Barth, argues that ‘the interpretation of transcendence cannot be historically fixed as a reflex within any continuum of culture, politics or doctrine’. Yet, crucially, Thornhill also suggests that the type of non-secularity established within Barth’s thinking, is distinct from the true non-secularity established within Jaspers’. The truth of the non-secularity thought by Jaspers, Thornhill’s argument hints, hinges on his proposal of a self-hermeneutic of individual failure. Jaspers, Thornhill sees, charges Barth and the dialectical theologians with interpreting revelation as ‘the unique source of authority against human history’; precisely in their opposition to secular legitimacy, they ‘succeed only in recreating revelation at the limit of human history as a new source of objective authority’. Thornhill writes that when Barth in this way insisted on the objective authority of revelation, and so ultimately aligned himself with the Lutheran theologian Emanuel Hirsch and Barth’s other reactionary adversaries, he became ‘complicit in the process which secularizes and materializes religious contents’.

Crucially, Thornhill stresses that, viewed from Jaspers’ perspective, Barth’s thinking of radical anti-secularity necessarily creates an ‘objectivizing system of belief’, precisely because it fails to recognize ‘the human relativity of all truly transcendental interpretation’. Thornhill maintains that when the Lutherans, viewed from Jaspers’ position, ‘crudely press revelation into service for the authority of the nation state’, and Barth poses revelation at the limit of history as a new source of objective authority, this is because – so Jaspers’ thinking intimates – they all obscure ‘the absolute relativity of revelation’. ‘In this respect, both eliminate the genuine transcendence of revelation, which is its uncertainty, and both falsely concretize transcendence as authority – as law.’ Thornhill’s work suggests that, in opposition to this juridical tendency of Weimar theology, Jaspers’ identification of a truthful interpretation of transcendence with a self-hermeneutic of individual crisis or failure, recreates the relativity of truly transcendental hermeneutics, and so establishes a true non-secularity – one which ‘relies on an interpretive component of humanity, secularity and liberality ’.  

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


In the last of this series of posts drawing heavily on Chris Thornhill's work on Karl Jaspers, I want to present a summary of Thornhill’s account of a central concept within Jaspers’ thought: that of foundering or failing (Scheitern). Probably the most fundamental context within which Thornhill addresses Jaspers’ concept of failure, is that of what Thornhill calls Jaspers’ and Kierkegaard’s ‘respective fusions of negative-anthropological and negative-metaphysical positions’. Influenced by Jaspers’ student Jeanne Hersch’s work on metaphysics and ontology in Jaspers, and discarding both Leonard Ehrlich’s description of his thinking as ‘negative theology’  and Sebastian Samay’s categorization of his thought as ‘negative ontology’ – though he does not contest Samay’s characterization – Thornhill suggests that we view Jaspers’ work as collapsing the universal metaphysics of Kantianism into a ‘negative-anthropological metaphysic’. Thornhill sees Jaspers as making ‘a clear Kierkegaardian addition to his basic Kantian position’. Kierkegaard’s theology, Thornhill notes, correlated a ‘negative anthropology’ – ‘in which the conditions for authentic human-being recede ceaselessly into the indeterminate, suffering interior of the historical person’ – with a ‘negative metaphysic’ which views the transcendent essence of humanity as a quality which can only be addressed as a ‘manifest absence’. Thornhill identifies a similar correlation within Jaspers’ thinking, resulting in a comparable negative-anthropological metaphysic.

              Jeanne Hersch                  
Jaspers’ reconstruction of Kant asserted, Thornhill writes, that ‘the possibility of transcendence enters human interactions as a telos, which draws life progressively out of its material orientations’. However unlike Kant, Thornhill argues, Jaspers also asserts that humanity ‘only has truthful access to the possibility of its own transcendence insofar as it reflects upon the impossibility of this possibility: in its failure (Scheitern)’. Partly determinant as it is of Jaspers’ communicative, negative hermeneutic liberated from objectivist preconditions, his negative-anthropological metaphysic maintains, as Thornhill puts it, that ‘human life only constitutes itself through processes of transcendent (self-)interpretation which cannot be accomplished in the modes of action and existence which are open to it’. Referring to Hersch’s explication, Thornhill adds that for Jaspers, ‘The metaphysical moment of transcendence […] exists only in a relation of unattainability to human reflection, and as such it describes both the unity and the absolute end of all determinations of human-being’. Thornhill also shows how Jaspers’ negative-anthropological metaphysic moves on from Kant’s philosophy of religion, and his ‘theory of religious unknowingness’. For Jaspers takes the absence of positive human knowledge about God as (in Thornhill’s words) ‘the fundamental experiential basis of human existence itself’:

‘In his response to Kant’s scepticism, Jaspers thus replaces the formal uncertainty of God, which is at the core of Kant’s critique of metaphysics, with an experiential uncertainty, which interprets transcendence as an elusive possibility of human life, and which ceaselessly refers humanity to a pained experience of its own antinomies and limits. The lack of a positive knowledge of God is for Jaspers, therefore, not an index of the formal limits of reason, but an experience of the limits of existence.’      

For Jaspers, metaphysical transcendence – Thornhill summarizes – ‘is thus never present: it is self-interpretation against the limit of this absence’. Jaspers’ subjection of ‘the tradition of occidental metaphysics to a hermeneutical (anthropological) reconstruction’ in this way, enlists the aid of his theory of ciphers of transcendence. Thornhill’s account of Jaspers’ thinking here quotes from the third volume of Jaspers’ Philosophy :

‘Human speculation, he asserts, interprets its innermost (metaphysical) essence in what he calls the ciphers of transcendence. Ciphers are “being which brings transcendence to the present”, and which permits human-being to interpret fleetingly its primary transcendent origin. “Wherever I read the cipher”, Jaspers explains, “I am responsible, because it is only through this that I read my self-being […] I attempt to tear myself out of the constant falling; I take myself in hand; I experience the decision, which emanates from me”.’

Thornhill sees Jaspers’ philosophy to be ‘a fractured, antinomical ontology’, ‘whose triadic conception of human life’ – in terms of levels such as orientation, illumination and metaphysics – is ‘rendered internally fluid by the fluidity of being itself, and of the absolute in being’. ‘“With the insight into the fragmentary nature of being”, he explains, “the demand for an ontology ceases and transforms itself into an impulse to obtain being, which I can never acquire as knowledge, through self-being”.’ In other words, as Thornhill puts it, ‘Only insofar as we experience and recognize the inevitable crisis (Scheitern) of our attempts to interpret our transcendent origin do we actually begin to approach this origin.’ Jaspers thus ‘de-objectifies the truth-claims of metaphysics’, so as to replace them with the self-interpretations undertaken by shattered humans. Thornhill continues:

‘Orientation, illumination and metaphysics are thus ways in which being is present to human consciousness. But none of these, ontologically, is being. Being, rather, is present only negatively, as a series of possible implosions in the order of human consciousness, in which consciousness is referred to its own limits.’

Thornhill distinguishes between such implosions in ‘objective logic’ – limit-situations such as ‘death, guilt, suffering and anxiety’ – and implosions in ‘subjective logic’. Crucially, in subjective logic, these implosions are ‘decisions’, through which ‘human life decides interpretively to reflect upon its own possibilities (ideas), acts in a manner which accords with these, and thus places itself upon a more unified level of reflection above its habitual practical and cognitive orientations’. In other words, as Thornhill summarizes, ‘Transcendence is accessible only to a decisive hermeneutic, which stands in the absolute limit-situation of human existence, interpreting transcendence through its own crisis.’ For Jaspers the ‘truthful hermeneutic of transcendence’, in Thornhill’s words, is ‘also a self-hermeneutic of individual crisis’. Thornhill quotes once more from the third volume of Jaspers’ Philosophy : ‘“Failing [Scheitern]”, Jaspers argues, “is the encompassing ground of all cipher-being. Seeing the cipher of the reality of being arises from the experience of failing”.’ Jaspers’ argument is grounded in his sense that, as Thornhill puts it, ‘Transcendence discloses itself as a response to the existential questions which I ask about myself, but for which – ultimately – no answer can be found in the world.’

‘My knowledge of my own absolute crisis releases me from any conviction that I can obtain cognitive or objective certainty about the conditions of my life. For this reason, however, it also prepares me for the evanescent interpretation of my transcendence in ciphers. The meaningful interpretation of the cipher, therefore, is possible only for being, which is “shattered as existence” and which “finds its ground in the being of transcendence”.’

We have already explored – in earlier posts – Jaspers’ understanding of foundering in terms of the imperfect communication which can begin to explain transcendence to humanity. Whilst Kierkegaard saw ‘the temporal presence of God’s absence only in closed interiority’, Thornhill notes, Jaspers sees ‘the presence of God’s absence as disclosed in the absolute, and yet absolutely believing, relativity of interpersonal communication’. You could say that speech, for Jaspers, is at once necessarily decisive and necessarily dysfluent; just as, whilst for him philosophical belief (as Thornhill writes) ‘has its only hold in the ciphers of transcendence’, the interpretation of these ciphers is ‘only existentially binding because they do not stabilize transcendence as certainty, but merely refer humanity to its own possibilities’. Necessarily dysfluent communication exemplarily enacts and enables recognition of our existential and cognitive uncertainty: the ‘imperfectibility of all communication’, Jaspers asserts in Reason and Existenz, reflects the ultimate inadequacy of ‘every shape of truth in the world’. But whilst human communication for Jaspers is a reflection of the impossibility of truth, enacting our existential uncertainty, the committed quality of existential communication also implies the possible resolution of that uncertainty: Reason and Existenz states how, ‘The imperfection of communication and the weight of its failing become the openness of a profundity, which nothing can fulfil but transcendence’. Necessarily failing, existential communication thus nonetheless forms what Thornhill calls ‘an ongoing attempt to articulate truthfulness: it is the only practically possible expression of transcendence’.  

To be continued.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Existential Communication, part 3

We can now begin to see more clearly why Thornhill summarizes Jaspers’ philosophy of communication as a ‘doctrine of committed existential relativity, which charges all absolutizing or totalizing world-views with a primary falsehood’, and which tries to give an account of human freedom which ‘resists’ both Kantian ‘formal-idealist’ and Heideggerian ‘objectivist’ preconditions. Thornhill emphasizes that the precondition of truthful existence is for Jaspers ‘a recognition of uncertainty, and this uncertainty is given exemplary form in speech’. Speech for Jaspers, as Thornhill writes, is ‘an activity in which consciousness is liberated from its prior (juridical) reification in idealism, but in which it also maintains a distinction against the objectively instituted orders of freedom posited by more avowedly anti-idealist thinkers’, such as Heidegger. Referring to the second volume of Philosophy, Thornhill cites Jaspers’ argument that the ‘necessity of existential communication’ is always an expression of freedom, and it is therefore always ‘objectively incomprehensible’. As we have seen, Jaspers suggests, as Thornhill puts it, that ‘The more I decide  to act in accordance with the unconditioned logic of my existence (ideas)’, ‘the more I disengage myself from any objective a priori certainty about what it means to exist, or about the final truth of my existence’.  Jaspers argues, moreover, that because speech is (in Thornhill’s words) ‘by character relative, uncertain and interpretively open’, it constitutes ‘the only medium in which human existence can describe or enact its own relative, uncertain and interpretively open relation to its ideas’. This is why, to summarize, ‘whilst Kant reflects both the foreclosure and the possibility of metaphysical truths by outlining a doctrine of equal, universal, and anti-authoritarian law as the foundation for free, truthful humanity’, Jaspers, ‘for very similar reasons, outlines a doctrine of tolerant communication’.

In order to understand more fully how such a theory of tolerant communication underpins Jaspers’ conception of worldly human freedom and liberalism, we can return to his thinking on revelation, and the relation of his thought as a whole to contemporaneous political theology. Jaspers’ ‘most central interest’ in theology, Thornhill notes, is revelation; revelation is ‘at the heart of all his debates with his theological contemporaries’. Jaspers viewed revelation as it is generally conceived by religious thinkers, Thornhill writes, as ‘the key example of a hypostatic belief-system, which confers falsely absolute objectivity on its contents, and which is absolutely at odds with his own existential theory of transcendent(al) uncertainty’. Jaspers therefore sought to reconceive of revelation as - in Thornhill's words - 'an ongoing and uncertain aspect of human existence, which must forever be relatively, spontaneously and communicative(ly) redisclosed'. Such a relative and spontaneous interpretation of revelation is for Jaspers the basis of true belief; of 'philosophical belief'. Thornhill identifies Jaspers as outlining here a 'tantalizingly unexplored position in the broad tradition of theological/anthropological inquiry', because he is seeking to supplant the typical model of submission to concretized 'revelation as law, or as the ground of law', with his own model of an ongoing, uncertain hermeneutic realization of the originary truth which revelation constitutes. 'The reinterpretation of this truth is not a mere re-declaring of primary truths, but a course of reflexive and communicative human fulfilment.' Jaspers' assertion that the originary truth which revelation constitutes is, as Thornhill puts it, 'a truth which is internal to the experiences, thoughts and words of people', along with his sense that 'the realization of the primary truths of revelation still awaits completion', hence introduces a liberal anthropology of tolerant communication, or the possibility of free human praxis to the religious concept of revelation. Jaspers' opposition in this way to acceptance of concretized revelation as law, Thornhill notes, was 'directed very generally against Catholic theologians, and very specifically against the conservative Protestant theologians of inter-war Germany'. It also offers 'a striking counterpoint to certain more conservative perspectives in Jewish political theology': Thornhill references Leo Strauss.      

We can now see more clearly how what I am calling Jaspers' liberal anthropology of tolerant communication, enabled him to reconceive historical freedom and responsibility. Thornhill helpfully distinguishes Weber's concept of historical responsibility (as 'a means of securing worldly authority'), from Jaspers' conception of historical responsibility as 'an essentially communicative attitude and mode of praxis'. For Jaspers, Thornhill explains, a human's 'unique historicality [...] only legitimizes itself insofar as it reflects forms of commonality and experience, the disclosure of which requires truthful communication'. In its emphasis on 'the transcendentally communicative essence of historical uniqueness', Jaspers' thinking is indebted to Dilthey's transcendental historicism. Here we could also remember how Jaspers' concept of (philosophical) belief, as Thornhill writes, 'always contains an interpersonal communicative dimension'. 'The disclosure of human transcendence in revelation only truly becomes revelation as it is spoken by people amongst themselves.' This is because of the tolerant quality of communicative humanity; because 'only in an uncertain, relative and communicative disposition towards others can I begin to explain my own unstable experience of myself as possible transcendence'. One freedom enabled within Jaspers' liberal anthropology of tolerant communication is thus the freedom to communicate interpretively on human transcendent possibilities; yet for Jaspers such tolerant hermeneutic communication also enables us to think possibilities of historical freedom and responsibility. Indeed it enacts historical freedom and responsibility: in Jaspers' view, (philosophical belief entails that) particular historical moments of transcendentally interpretive conversation clear space for histories of openness and equality. Jaspers, Thornhill notes, 'bases his hermeneutic on the conviction that God - as a quality of human transcendence - is hidden, and that all qualities of God can only be suggested as non-formal, non-material ways of being between people'; moreover, the 'hiddenness of the interpreted truth founds a way of being towards others in liberality, tolerance, freedom and historicality'.   

Thornhill shows how Jaspers’ concern with the freedom to communicate interpretively on human transcendent possibilities, or with the freedom of human thought to access what Thornhill calls ‘the uncertain historical conditions of its transcendence’, underpins the theory of democratic republicanism expounded by Jaspers in later works such as his 1961 book The Atom Bomb and the Future of Man. Jaspers, Thornhill notes, asserted that ‘democracy has its legitimacy over other forms of government because it provides a situation in which human thinking is able to develop its own resources of tolerance, culture and responsibility’. Democratic order ‘at least offers the chance that human thinking might communicatively open itself towards others in committed historicality and responsibility’. The sort of responsible truthfulness embodied and enacted by hermeneutic communication is not possible in non-democratic orders (such as have come to determine the education system now); democracy alone ‘is able to sanction a sphere of free communication which is not directly regulated by the technical, political or ideological imperatives of state and economy’. Whilst Jaspers thought that in non-democratic orders, as Thornhill writes, ‘the access of human thought to the uncertain historical conditions of its transcendence is invariably obstructed by the imposition of technical and ideological commands on the processes of human thinking’, like Arendt, Jaspers in Of Truth indicated that ‘human thought and action, if unregulated by technical strategy, create a world of spontaneous but utterly committed historicality and responsibility’.

Thornhill goes on to expound the relation of Jaspers’ theory of communicative transcendence to his democratic humanism. Thornhill argues that in their conceptions of the human, Heidegger and Lukács take up positions which are ‘closely united against Jaspers’. For Jaspers, Thornhill maintains, both Lukácsian totality and Heideggerian Dasein see human truthfulness as ‘an objective unity of knowledge’, in which ‘the elusive diremption of ideas and objective life, which (for himself) always defines true humanity, is superseded by a unifying practical, and thus anti-humanist, authoritarian ontology’. For Jaspers any attempt – such as Heidegger’s or Lukács’ – ‘to postulate a mediated (ontological) totality in historical knowledge’, is ultimately to resort to what Thornhill calls ‘a falsely mystical notion of uniform truth, in which knowledge is fixed in inner-worldly practical objectivity and endless time’. Lukács, Heidegger and Jaspers, Thornhill notes, all conceive of ‘the totality or unity of knowledge, in which reflection is perfectly united with its phenomena, as the ultimate ground and motive of human thinking and of humanity’. Yet for Jaspers objective totality ‘is always false totality’, and the riven, failing, non-objectified process of communicative transcendence which works towards unified knowledge never achieves such totality. ‘Any attempt to collapse the primary antinomy of human being into the processes of a unitary worldliness, he thus implies, destroys the truth of humanity itself.’ Thornhill adds: 

‘[Jaspers] always indicates that these unities of knowledge and reason can never be finally realized, and that meaningful humanism is always the consequence of the exteriority of unified knowledge to objective human praxis. Because the unity of knowledge cannot be reached, he implies, humans must define themselves communicatively in the uncertain historicality of relativity and tolerance, which reflect (but do not fulfil) a striving for totality or unity.’ 

Thornhill explores how Jaspers’ view of communication as ‘a gradual event of interpretation in which consciousness experiences, interprets and begins to articulate its own possible founding totality’ (in Thornhill’s words), points towards Habermas’ ‘development of communication as a means of salvaging reason from its idealist reification’. The critique of neo-Kantianism underlying Jaspers’ theory of communication has ‘exemplary character for subsequent communication-theoretical innovations’, because whilst, for Jaspers, communication becomes ‘the medium in which the ideal/metaphysical components of human-being can be disclosed’, it remains ‘of fundamental importance’ for him that ‘these elements are never pre-stabilized as a prior unity of being’. Jaspers’ existential-hermeneutical approach, Thornhill sees, anticipates Habermas’ communication theory’s critique of the idealist process of reification, when Jaspers implies that speech is ‘a mode of agency in which human reflection places itself in relation to underlying ideas, but does not formalize these as unitary components of its own original structure’. Whilst never categorically abandoning ‘the idealist precondition that human consciousness has an ideal structure against being itself’, and thus holding to Kant’s recognition that ‘the true is not real, and that human praxis is not true praxis unless it is motivated from sources which are outside itself (by ideas)’, Jaspers resists the reificatory result of Kantian idealism ‘merely to trace the ideal limits of human consciousness against the sources of its truth’ (in Thornhill’s words). Kant’s formal-rational attempt to define the relation of consciousness towards truth does not, for Jaspers (Thornhill writes), ‘give a sufficiently full account of the diverse ways in which human-being can experience and articulate its origin, unity and ideality’.

This is why, Thornhill sees, speech emerges within Jaspers’ thinking as an ‘eternally unfinished event (not a prior or ideal unity) in which humans relate most truthfully to their own practical and epistemological determinants (ideas)’; humans ‘become truthful through the spoken disclosure of a relation to their ideas, not through the prior formalization of this relation’. For Jaspers, speech ‘transposes the foundation of idealism into an ongoing experienced process: in speech, the human relation to truth (ideas) is not realized before, but through experience’. This process – that of reflexivity, as it is redefined within Jaspers’ ‘communicative-hermeneutical reconstruction of Kantian notions of reason’ – is ‘not a solitary cognitive agency, but a practically self-clarifying, and essentially other-including way of disposing oneself towards the truths of experience’:

‘Existentially committed speech, he claims therefore, is a mode of interaction in which human experiences can disclose and interpret their transcendent(al) components. [...] Speech is […] therefore conceived by Jaspers as a medium of ideal praxis, in which practical reflection and ideal self-illumination originate from each other, and in which the ideas of human knowledge clarify themselves through the praxis of human experience.’

Crucially however, Thornhill maintains that though this quality of existential communication as ideal praxis ‘generally opens the ground for a communicative critique of formal reason’ such as Habermas’, it does not enable his existential philosophy to ‘move seamlessly into the positive hermeneutics of speech later associated with Habermas’. Jaspers’ reconstruction of Kant’s epistemology ‘only as a negative hermeneutic of possible unity’ means, Thornhill argues, that Jaspers does not – unlike Heidegger, Arendt and Habermas – ‘see spoken reason as the foundation for positive agreement, or for the positive disclosure of the world. Rather, he sees truthful speech as the elucidation of the inner transcendent(al) possibilities of consciousness.’ Such an elucidation is a negative one. Thornhill suggests that Jaspers ‘actually moves close to a negative-hermeneutical counterpart to Adorno’s negative dialectics’, in that Jaspers’ negative hermeneutics can be seen as ‘a way of imagining the metaphysical unity and totality of consciousness as a condition which (against Kant) cannot be formally excluded from reason, but which (against Hegel) cannot be stabilized as an objective order of knowledge’. ‘Such unity, thus, can only be negatively interpreted, as truthful absence’. Because Jaspers’ communicative existentialism holds that – perhaps rather as for dysfluent speakers – ‘at no time […] can speech place consciousness in a unitary relation to truth’ (as Thornhill puts it), Jaspers, like Adorno, can be seen developing a philosophical position ‘subverting both Kantian epistemology and Hegelian phenomenology, which does not incorporate consciousness in positive or juridical form, and which sees the truth of consciousness only in the self-interpretation of fleeting appearances’.