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Translation of Karl Jaspers’ ‘Preface’ and ‘Introduction’ to his book “Die grossen Philosophen” (1957)/“The Great Philosophers” (1965), edited by Hannah Arendt

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Abstract

Karl Jaspers explores the criteria for recognizing human greatness in general and in philosophers in particular. He comments on the historical process related to the selection and grouping of great philosophers. Jaspers acknowledges the questionable aspect of greatness, yet he affirms that such distinction is indispensable. The 1957 English translation by Ralph Mannheim and Hannah Arendt of Jaspers' "Die Grossen Philosophen" and all its subsequent editions did not include this Introduction. The translation offered here redresses this omission and is the first ever published English translation of Jaspers' extended Introduction. The translations are published in the 10-year anniversary edition of the Jaspers Journal “Existenz” www.existenz.us, https://existenz.us/volumes/Vol.12-1Jaspers%20Introduction.pdf, https://existenz.us/volumes/Vol.12-1Jaspers%20Preface.pdf
Karl Jaspers, "Foreword to The Great Philosophers," Existenz 12/1 (2017), 9-12 First posted 2-21-2018
Volume 12, No 1, Spring 2017 ISSN 1932-1066
Preface to The Great Philosophers
Karl Jaspers
Basel, 1956
Abstract: Karl Jaspers introduces the idea of a timeless realm of the great philosophers and provides a brief rationale
why a mere history of philosophy cannot do justice to the greatness of these pivotal philosophers. Jaspers explains that
an objectifying historical account of philosophy will not transmit the depth and wisdom of the great philosophers, since
philosophizing requires subjective involvement with the goal of challenging oneself for the purpose of becoming a
fellow human being who strives to attain philosophical knowledge and to live by it.
Keywords: Philosophers; history of philosophy; philosophizing; greatness; existence; liberty; love; language;
communication; subjectivity; objectivity.
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of historical substance breaking through encrusted
philosophical conventions. It appears to me that with
this book I participate in such process of transformation.
The world history of philosophy started consciously
with Hegel, but it is today an element of contemporary
philosophy in quite a different way than before.
On the one hand philosophy needs its history. Contemporary
thought nds itself in its past. Its own characteristic reveals
its relationship to the past. It can act like a mere echo and then
becomes vacuous. It forms the history of thinking in images,
constructs, and logical orders. It is ultimately an appropriation
of truth in exposing history as eternally present and thereby
fullling its purpose.
Since half a century the neglect of philosophy seems to
coincide with its liberation from academic bonds.1 We
seize a chance in the struggle to nd our own, present-
day substance within a random storm of anarchic
arbitrariness in thought, as we can hear the language
1 Karl Jaspers, "Vorwort," in Die Grossen Philosophen,
Erster Band, Die maßgebenden Menschen: Sokrates,
Buddha, Konfuzius, Jesus. Die fortzeugenden Gründer
des Philosophierens: Plato, Augustin, Kant. Aus dem
Ursprung denkende Metaphysiker: Anaximander, Heraklit,
Parmenides, Plotin, Anselm, Spinoza, Laotse, Nagarjuna,
München: R. Piper & Co. Verlag 1957, pp. 7- 14, transl.
Ruth Burch, Florian Hild, and Helmut Wautischer.
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