Presupposition & Prejudice

I mentioned yesterday that my older brother Michael contributed to my observant, wait-and-see approach to my surroundings and interactions. I said that my approach allowed me to be “less prone to jump to a conclusion and more open learning to something unexpected.”

I must clarify my statement that I am less prone to jump to a conclusion. I actually jump to conclusions all the time. A better description would be, I slide to a conclusion, adjusting my first jump based on my observations. I don’t think anyone comes to a situation with a ‘blank slate’. Only a newborn “was born yesterday,” as the saying goes.

I am interested in learning more about states of mind, so Karl Jaspers’ General Psychopathology[1], was recommended to me. While I was slogging through the introduction, I came across two words that seemed particularly relevant: Prejudice and Presupposition.

Prejudices (that are false) [emphasis in original] are rigid, circumscribed presuppositions which are wrongly taken as absolutes. They are hardly realized by those who hold them; they do not reach consciousness and when clarified can be dissolved. Presuppositions (that are true) [emphasis in original] are rooted in the investigator himself and are the ground of his ability to see and understand. Once elucidated, they will be well and truly grasped.”[2]

Jaspers  goes on to say:

“It is possible to partake in the inner life of another person through a tentative exchange of roles; a certain dramatic play, as it were, which nevertheless is no play but real. There is a natural way of empathic listening to others in which we simultaneously keep touch with ourselves.”[3]

Although Jaspers’ book was meant for psychopathologists, I believe that his insights are useful for everyone.


[1] Jaspers, K. General Psychopathology (Volume 1) Johns Hopkins University Press (1997)

[2] Ibid pg 21

[3] Ibid pg 21

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