The Apophatic Philosophy of Karl Jaspers

  • Darius Samadian

Student thesis: Phd


The philosophy of Karl Jaspers has been severely overlooked in the Anglo-American world, where he has been eclipsed by Heidegger. It is my hope that this thesis will go some way to rectifying this state of affairs and to recovering Jaspers' reputation as a major philosopher in his own right. A further contribution this thesis makes is to foreground the apophatic character of Jaspers' thought by demonstrating parallels with the apophatic theologies of Meister Eckhart and Nicolaus Cusanus. While the link between Jaspers' philosophy and apophatic theology has been made before, there has not been an in-depth study concerning their relationship. This thesis thus provides a much-needed contribution to scholarship on Jaspers. This project analyses Jaspers' philosophical development of the notion of Transcendence as a means of addressing the loss of God in the secularised West, and examines how Jaspers' approach to the notion of Transcendence (which he refers to as the Encompassing) rejects the dominant strain of onto-theological thinking in Western metaphysics. Jaspers rejects the onto-theological strain of metaphysics in order to reclaim the ineffability of Transcendence, and also as an attempt to retrieve the possibility of an authentic relation to Transcendence. He places this authentic possibility at the heart of his philosophy, and this thesis examines how, through his notion of Existenz, Jaspers presents this possibility of an authentic relationship to Transcendence. This thesis focus upon three key issues within Jaspers' thought, each of which will be examined through the lens of apophatic theology: The Issue of Transcendence - In examining Jaspers' notion of the Encompassing, this thesis shows Jaspers' rejection of the traditional and dominant onto-theological strain of Western metaphysics, and how Jaspers attempts to reclaim an ineffable notion of Transcendence. The thesis highlights how Jaspers' notion of the Encompassing can be seen as a modern day apophatic approach to Transcendence. The Inadequacy of Language - In highlighting the ineffability of Jaspers' approach to Transcendence, this thesis examines Jaspers' emphasis on the inadequacy of language to grasp it. This thesis analyses Jaspers' notion of Periechontology through which he argues that we come to speak and think non-objectively about Transcendence. Through his notion of Periechontology, which echoes the apophatic approach to language, we find a way of speaking and thinking about Transcendence outside of the traditional theological framework. Anthropology - In exploring Jaspers' idea of selfhood and his analysis of what it means to be human, we find that Jaspers' notion of Existenz is a philosophical approach to the possibility of mystical union that we find in apophatic theology. The conclusion of the thesis is that Jaspers' approach to Transcendence can be located within the tradition of apophaticism. We may see it as a philosophical apophaticism. Jaspers' rejection of onto-theology and his reclamation of the ineffability of Transcendence can be read as attempts to provide an apophatic approach to Transcendence outside of the traditional Christian framework of apophaticism, and thereby to recover the possibility of an authentic relationship to Transcendence within secularised Western society.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Law (Supervisor) & Michael Hoelzl (Supervisor)


  • Cusanus
  • Onto-theology
  • Apophatic Theology
  • Negative Theology
  • Ontology
  • Jaspers
  • Transcendence
  • Religious Experience
  • Theology
  • Mysticism
  • Christianity
  • Existentialism
  • Eckhart

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