Dialogues in Philosophy
Mental and Neuro Sciences

Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences

The official journal of Crossing Dialogues
Volume 11, Issue 1 (June 2018)

The influence of Georg Simmel on Karl Jaspers’ empathic understanding (Verstehen)
Massimiliano Aragona
The Problems of the Philosophy of History, by Georg Simmel, is credited as an influential book introducing fundamental concepts re-elaborated by Karl Jaspers in his General Psychopathology.
This paper focuses on Simmel’s possible influence on Jaspers’ concept of empathic understanding (Verstehen). Both authors are philosophically indebted to post-Kantian views on the methodology of human sciences, are anti-reductionist, and believe that human beings cannot
be known as a totality but studied from several perspectives. Both focus on the concept of life and lived experience, and consider understanding as the proper method to study them.
In both, understanding is a mixture of empathic intuition and interpretation (although the emphasis on the empathic transposition of oneself into the other’s shoes is more pronounced
in Jaspers than in Simmel). Both see understanding as an evident/valid knowledge but with an ideal-typical character (in Weber’s sense). Both share with Dilthey the idea that a basic requirement for understanding is human similarity. Both view understanding as a post-hoc reconstruction that does not allow lawlike predictions. Moreover, Simmel is the first talking of understanding the genetic relationship between consecutive phenomena, and this influenced
Jaspers’ distinction between static and genetic understanding (although another relevant influence came from Moritz Geiger).
 Finally, Jaspers strictly follows Simmel in differentiating between understanding what has been said and understanding the speaker (respectively, rational and empathic understanding in Jaspers’ terms).
Keywords: phenomenology, hermeneutics, philosophy of history, philosophy of psychiatry, 
history of psychiatry, empathy, psychopathology
Dial Phil Ment Neuro Sci 2018; 11(1): 1-11
Received on October 26, 2017
Accepted on October 31, 2017
Firstly published online on January 10, 2018