The concept of understanding in Jaspers and contemporary epistemology

Existenz 10 (1) (2015)
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In the General Psychopathology Jaspers famously draws a distinction between the understandable and explainable. Meaningful connections between psychic events, he argues, can only be understood empathetically and cannot be explained causally. The idea behind this distinction, according to some interpreters at least, seems to be that psychic events do not fall under any general causal rules whereas ordinary events do fall under such rules. Also Jaspers distinguishes empathetic understanding of the connection between two psychic events from a mere interpretation of it, which may turn out to be false. Hence, understanding seems to be able to give us the truth about the connection and is factive as well as self-evident in nature. Contemporary epistemologists, such as Linda Zagzebsky, Duncan Pritchard, and Jonathan Kvanvig, for example, distinguish three varieties: propositional, objectual or holistic, and atomistic understanding. They do not agree on factivity and transparency of understanding. What then is the difference between their views and that of Jaspers? This essay compares recent epistemological views of understanding with those of Jaspers and critiques his claims about empathetic understanding as being both factive and self-evident or transparent; to show that empathetic understanding of connections between psychic events needs a public criterion for its individuation.
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