Former Laureates

Karl Jaspers

Karl Jaspers


Professor Karl Jaspers and the French politician Robert Schuman shared the Erasmus Prize in 1959 in the field of Philosophy and Politics.

Professor Karl Jaspers was born in 1883 and studied law and medicine at Heidelberg, Berlin and Göttingen. In 1916 he became Professor of Psychiatry at Heidelberg, where he published his Psychologie der Weltanschauungen (1919) which marks his transition from psychology to philosophy. In 1921 he accepted a chair of Philosophy at Heidelberg. After being removed from his post there in the years 1937-1945 he worked in Basel from 1948 until his death in 1969.

Wisdom, honesty and responsibility are constant factors in the work of Professor Jaspers. His basic premise, to which his many writings bear witness, is the free expression of the individual. The essence of his philosophy is best summed up in his own words, spoken when he received the Peace Prize in 1958: “In the present situation we owe it to our humanity to seek the truth with wisdom, honesty and courage, so that our existence may thereby be closely examined, and so that we can live in harmony with our being. This also applies to the existence of Europe.” In his last years, Jaspers was deeply involved in politics. He opposed nuclear weapons and argued fervently for the maintenance of open communication.

Professor Jaspers was awarded the Erasmus Prize because he had dedicated his life to one of the best traditions of European culture: the free and undaunted consideration of the essential problems of human existence.

Karl Jaspers and Robert Schuman allocated their Erasmus Prize together to a Seminarium Erasmianum. This was held at Noordwijk in 1962, in collaboration with the Europe Institute of the University of Leiden. The aim of the seminar was a searching discussion, between two generations of scholars, of Europe’s contribution to a developing world. Several dozen participants from Europe and beyond came together to discuss European culture.