Karl Jaspers (1883-1969)
On My Philosophy (1941)
(Excerpts on science)
It shook my faith in the representatives of science, though not in science itself, to discover that famous scientists propounded many things in their textbooks which they passed off as the results of scientific investigation although they were by no means proven. I perceived the endless babble, the supposed “knowledge”. In school already I was astonished, rightly or wrongly, when the teachers’ answers to objections remained unsatisfactory… I observed the pathos of historians when they conclude a series of explications with the words “Now things necessarily had to happen in this way”, while actually this statement was merely suggestive ex post facto, but not at all convincing in itself: alternatives seemed equally possible, and there was always the element of chance… As a physician and psychiatrist I saw the precarious foundation of so many statements and actions -[ed.:see my comment below] – and realised with horror how, in our expert opinions, we based ourselves on positions which were far from certain, because we had always to come to a conclusion even when we did not know, in order that science might provide a cover, however unproved, for decisions the state found necessary.
Man is reduced to a condition of perplexity by confusing the knowledge that he can prove with the convictions by which he lives.
If science, with its limitation to cogent and universally valid knowledge, can do so little, failing as it does in the essentials, in the eternal problems: why then science at all?
Firstly, there is an irrepressible urge to know the knowable, to view the facts as they are, to learn about the events that happen to us: for example, mental illnesses how they manifest themselves in association with those that harbour them, or how mental illness might be connected with mental creativity. The force of the original quest for knowledge disappears in the grand anticipatory gestures of seeming total knowledge and increases in mastering what is concretely knowable.
Secondly, science has had tremendously far-reaching effects. The state of our whole world, especially for the last one hundred years, is conditioned by science and its technical consequences: the inner attitude of all humanity is determined by the way and content of its knowledge. I can grasp the fate of the world only if I can grasp science. There is a fundamental question: why, although there is rationalism and intellectualisation wherever there are humans, has science emerged only in the Occident, taking former worlds off their hinges in its consequences and forcing humanity to obey it or perish? Only through science and face-to-face with science can 1 acquire an intensified consciousness of the historical situation, can I truly live in the spiritual situation of my time.
Thirdly, I have to turn to science in order to learn what it is, in all science, that impels and guides, without itself being cogent knowledge. The ideas that master infinity, the selection of what is essential, the comprehension of knowledge in the totality of the sciences; all this is not scientific insight, but reaches clear consciousness only through the pursuit of the sciences. Only by way of the sciences can I free myself from the bondage of a limited, dogmatic view of the world in order to arrive at the totality of the world and its reality.
The experience of the indispensability and compelling power of science caused me to regard throughout my life the following demands as valid for all philosophising: there must be freedom for all sciences, so that there may be freedom from scientific superstition, i.e. from false absolutes and pseudoknowledge. By freely espousing the sciences I become receptive to that which is beyond science but which can only become clear by way of it. Although I should pursue one science thoroughly, I should nevertheless turn to all the others as well, not in order to amass encyclopedic knowledge, but rather in order to become familiar with the fundamental possibilities, principles of knowledge, and the multiplicity of methods. The ultimate objective is to work out a methodology, which arises from the ground of a universal consciousness of Being and points up and illuminates Being.