KARL JASPERS ON “SUICIDE” AND CREATION OF THOUGHTFUL NEW TERMINOLOGY—COUNTERING “POPE FRANCIS” RE: BRITTANY MAYNARD (12-13-14)
Forewarning: Self-dying can be difficult, and if unsuccessful there are risks for self and others. It’s not easy for a mother to die of a broken heart over the shattering experience of an offspring’s prolonged suffering--and that shows dying is not easy and the decision involves others. Even those with an aversion to religious language might find Jaspers’ choice of a historic concrete example worthwhile. That example shows that suffering and dying to make a point now is ineffective in any religiously exemplary sense. So it could be beneficial for some to first scroll down to Tweaking “suicide” by concrete example.
Fine-tuning words--True to form, Jaspers refuses to “adjust at a low level.” (GP, .2cd Edition, p.x) And with that aim he uses therapeutic terminology that can teach religious primates how to think, talk, and keep quiet. (“Primate” is a proper term used in the history of Latin Christianity.) The need for it has been made plain by Jorge Mario Bergoglio (aka “pope francis”) and (“vatican” ethicist) Ignacio Carrasco de Paula’s recent undeniably clear denunciation of the person of Brittany Maynard.
Jaspers transcends the popular use of the word “suicide”. He does it in the framework of linguistic context, and by meaningful open-ended phrases. It will be shown that he’s qualified personally and clinically for mercifully approaching and struggling with ultimate situations like dying decisions involving excruciating pain.
Freethinking phrases--Designed for thinking out of freedom, the phrases are “the law of the day” and “the passion for the night”. “Free death” is also used but can participate both in “the law of the day” and “the passion for the night” and go either way—soar or shipwreck.
The “passion for the night” might include an incomprehensible urge to “self-murder”—though the latter is simply a transliteration of the German word for “suicide”, i.e.,“Selbstmord” (Cassell’s New German Dictionary, Karl Breul, Funk and Wagnalls Company,NY, 1939;--and Jaspers refers heavily to H.W. Gruhle’s work, “Selbstmord”, [Jaspers: “excellent informative review” and “See my Philosophie. 1932, vol 2, pp. 300-314, for a philosophical discussion.”])
Those horizon-expanding phrases release some empathy that is meaninglessly held captive in the common use of the word “suicide”--and includes the small percent of suffering mentally ill patients that make brutal attempts. (p.279, GP “The Individual’s Personal World”.)
In Jaspers’ section entitled “The Human Being as a Whole” (GP), both--the law of the day and the passion for the night--are used as…one set…of the antithetical absolutes having existential meaning (known, unknown, matrix delimitations, immortality and mortality, relativities and invariables that encompass absolutes). Their meanings are clarified by listing them also with three other of life’s antitheses: faith and disbelief, surrender and defiance, and the will to live and the urge to die. Jaspers, for greater clarity, in a footnote refers the reader to a “Fuller discussion in my Philosophy, vol. 3” (GP, p. 762).
There is always more to say about an individual human spirit than what can be said in three volumes, and more than what secular or religious conventions can solve by consensus and by manifold conjured laws. The wholly human Existenz (his choice of word for humane-kind existence) approaches the manifold with defiance—ultimately. (Library of Living Philosophers, Jaspers’ rejoinder to Paul Ricoeur’s critique of Jaspers’ use of the law of the Day, p. 781 and 635).
The fuller discussion he refers to in volume 2 of Philosophie is, of course, an earlier work; so, in the textbook (General Psychopathology) Jaspers says, “In any decisive choice there is always the absolute opposite of good and evil, true and false.” He succinctly clarifies in one long unbroken thoughtful sentence that reaches and feels beyond categories like good and evil, etc.:
Avoiding over-killing victims and mourners--The long sentence is introduced by an individual’s encompassing world of antinomies, i.e., pros and cons. The long sentence starts with a cosmic swirl of variable forces requiring decisions to avoid, grasp, or ignore. These forces are the sunshine laws of the day including forces hidden in shaded areas and blocked by the glare of pretentious forces—like the surviving forces of an empire’s state church.
As finite individuals and collectives the constancy of decisiveness in dealing with immanent infinities can be overbearing. Ultimately compliance to the swirl of laws (i.e., forces of the here and now--empowered by past and future here-and-now claims) proves to be rationally exhausting. If reason cannot rest re-creatively, and the decision-mode continues to urge, the passion for escape, the passion for the small “t” transcendent-night can become an overpowering urge. Jaspers does not prejudge by categorizing individual tolerances rigidly, though he’s committed to Transcendent faith over surrendering to immanence.
Suffering--Jaspers’ philosophical sentence might appear to exclude the enforcing and overpowering effects of excruciating pain. It is included though immersed in the section entitled “The human Being as a Whole” and as general information at the margins of psychopathology. Dying and suffering, as a natural process is not a matter of psychopathology though attitudes can be (and can be enhanced by prelates). Jaspers:
Jaspers seems agreeable with Lange’s observations, except to add that there is no more experience when “consciousness is lost” (though the cells do not immediately die). (GP, p. 478) But writing to his mother Jaspers says; “Yet all the same, we are only conscious that our being in this temporal process is not exhausted, even if we cannot see beyond the limit of our appearance.” (K p. 236) However, in rare cases where there’s an unusual absence of pain, psychopathology applies as “Abnormal Psychic Phenomena”--rarely with soldiers in battle, strong affects have been known to bring about insensitivity to pain. (GP, 61, 228) “Martyrs have painlessly endured torture and death”--but painless deaths are rare in the world of martyrdom at large (See Foxe’s Book of Martyrs).
Tweaking “Suicide” by concrete example--Although Jaspers refers the reader to volume 2 and 3 of his “Philosophy”, life’s decisive struggles at large are clearly and concisely put in his 1962 “Philosophical Faith and Revelation”. Near the conclusion of the Book about all that encompasses the law of day and the passion for night, he returns to the use of “self-murder”, i.e., suicide by law, by law-enforcement--a little like indirect-suicide…by cop. Jaspers knows that tyrannical forces capitalize on pain for control of members and enticement of new members. It’s latent and ready to emerge when a concrete case is popular enough. This tyrannical control, through fear of eternal punishment, is used to control individuals from the soul outward. Returning to the use of “suicide” (self-murder) he references Jesus who unquestionably modifies the word:
The divine uselessness imperative--And there it is folks, the exemplary transcendent fulfillment of the most enlightening peremptory and sublimated law of the day. It proclaims once and for all that each time we meet in communication, the absurdity, the utter uselessness of mortal and immortal suffering can be forgotten. It’s useless if forgotten and not longer felt, and unnecessary if remembered and understood.
More counteracting by discounting papal interference--A good example for the aversion Jaspers had with a type of “revelational faith” can be seen in the recent vatican’s audacious use of the name of Brittany Maynard and her life-changing decision.
Misuse of Thomas Aquinas’ “double effect”--The process employed by Jorge and Ignacio involves the befogging of simple facts, and finally the distraction by an apparent philological thoroughness that drowns one in quotations (See Jaspers, PFR, 42ff). Jaspers said, “Aquinas came to be a master of this method”, and now Aquinas is used in the argument by the use of a bit of irrelevancy called “double effect”—mysteriously imagined as relevant, thus adding mystique to the pain of death.
The philological thoroughness is seen in the use of the charged word “suicide”, as shown above. If a concrete example can be made to fit this category it’s leap on like high ground in the battle for souls. Before kicking that claimed-handicap away, for a short bit here we will use the word “suicide” to show why it is deployed so aggressively. Regarding the Catholic Church, (and the catholicism of exclusivity in other groups) Jaspers says,
There is the passionate condemnation of suicide, because this proves the independence of man. Eternal punishment threatens the suicide who has withdrawn from the ecclesiastic means of grace, providing a dangerous orientation for others (Ibid. 43).
These primates spoke out because fear drives people into their institution. They had to extend an eternal-comforting hand to the sinners outside while maintaining control over the independent protesting spirits inside. Jaspers:
Personalizing the law of the day--Karl and Gertrude kept poison ready to take as an alternative to what would amount to the Nazi extermination processes. The decision shows the unsought final freedom of thinking and the ethics of conditional thinking when communicative hope fails due to the day’s law--being that day’s criminal-state’s law enforcement. It is comparable to drinking the hemlock poison to avoid being burned at the stake during the Inquisition; or like the non-choking painless compression of the arteries to the brain to the point of unconsciousness prior to burning (a protesting sort of merciful choking assistance—for the painless few seconds prior to unconsciousness would lesson the impact of the fear hoped for by the law of the criminal empire). The Jaspers’s dying-decision was less complicated then if they had born children. It was a planned and informed decision for Karl’s illness was terminally fragile anyway, and Gertrude’s probable fate was sealed by her lineage.
No freethinking humane-person would object. However freethinking can cease being humane by the easy intervention of “just in case primates are ordained by God” I’ll not interfere with an institution’s enhancement of suffering (but moreover, to interfere would condemn one to the same excruciating death). One cannot say that their last vestige of freedom sets a poor example and orientates others toward a passion for the night, i.e., “suicide”. But there will be endless discussions about it as though it can be authoritatively termed and therefore “true”.
Jaspers’ Brother--Passion for the night seems to apply hypothetically to the “suicide” of Jaspers’ brother, Enno. He took poison in 1931—too early to have been influenced by Karl and Gertrude’s example (Enno’s possible passion for the night process was early enough to have precipitated addressing the Passion for the Night in Jaspers’ 1932 Metaphysics in the third volume on his Philosophy, and his analysis of “suicide” under Existential Elucidation [existenzerhellung] Vol II, p.262, Trans. E. B. Ashton, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1969-71).
If Enno’s final decision was too late for the Book, during the winter-semester of 1931-32 it was fresh enough in Jaspers’ experience for it to show up in his development of the concept of the Encompassing which would have to include the Transcendency of God’s illumination as well as the possibility of submitting to the dark and incomprehensible side of the passion for the night, i.e., that yielding to negativity, to immanance, that transcends reason via an exhausting rationalism.
Lest we forget the uselessness of suffering--Ignacio, head of the “Pontifical Academy for Life” ethical issues in the Catholic Church condemns “with prejudice” Brittany Maynard’s life-changing decision. Jorge (the pope) reinforces the condemnation for the sake of “solidarity”. A parallel can be made regarding the interference with the dying process by objecting to the merciful “strangling” before burning. It involves cutting off blood supply to the brain for a few seconds causing unconsciousness, and brain death eventually, but we don’t know the limits to the increasing height levels of consciousness in the dying process.
Added information--Jaspers’ considers some reported statistics on suicides in his GP. In Prussia, between 1849 and 1907 the suicide rate for Catholics doubled, more than doubled for Protestants, and more than tripled for Jews. His considerations include genetic preconstitional and predispositional tendencies that might unfold during stress, but moreover the problem with interpreting the reasons due to the lack of holistic information. Unendurable situations can contribute to increased rates. But Jaspers notes that where “East-European Jews remain in their homeland and among West-European Jews before the emancipation” suicide is a “somewhat rare phenomenon” (GP, The Abnormal Psyche in Society and History).
A nuanced bit of information--As regards stress, and the shuddering caused by the Vatican’s forceful interferences, (and contributions toward suicide-prone situations) Jaspers says, “The Vatican enters into concordats with Hitler and with Franco and thereby lifts them into the saddle of international recognition, thus enabling them to conclude treaties.” (756 Reply to my Critics.)
Familial or domestic trends--Jaspers is replying to Golo Mann--who he directed in writing a thesis relative to Hegel—and seems to be creating a personalized distance. There must have been something nuanced not unrelated to a history of suicide for Jaspers to emphasize that for Golo to consider Jaspers’ philosophy a gateway to ecclesiastical religion is to not understand him (839). He points out that Golo would prefer that Jaspers’ works did not prohibit “romantic theses of penetrating effect” (834). Jaspers is reacting to Golo turning his critique of Jaspers into personal advantage.
Postscript: Seriously, I think my computer is dying. It’s nearly a decade old. Not sure how old that would be in human terms. So…I am getting this routed to my daughter Michele for posting. The dying computer is my excuse for uncorrected mistakes. She is my unpaid Website manager. I’ve asked her to include two of her paintings and one of my daughter Melody as a pictorial introduction to this paper.