Limit situation

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A limit situation (German: Grenzsituation) is any of certain situations in which a human being is said to have differing experiences from those arising from ordinary situations.[1]

The concept was developed by Karl Jaspers, who considered fright, guilt, finality and suffering as some of the key limit situations arising in everyday life.[2]


Encounters with limit situations unsettle us, break us out of our inauthentic identifications, remove us from the social bond, and force us to come alive and find new ways of communicating.[3] They can be compared to the similarly generative experience of the sense of bewilderment in Zen.[4] Hans-Georg Gadamer considered the limit situation to provide a revelatory encounter with the other;[5] while facing the anxiety arising from the foreknowledge of death can equally prove a growth opportunity arising from a limit situation.[6]

Psychoanalytic frame

Psychoanalysis can be seen as a structured limit situation,[7] the psychoanalytic framework in particular providing an experience of finality and limits that can empower growth.[8]

Third world politics

Paulo Freire adapted the existential notion of limit situation to the Third World, seeing the constraints of underdevelopment as a limit situation on humanity,[9] but also as a possible frontier point for increasing (in overcoming) one's human stature.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Richardson and Bowden (1993), p334
  2. ^ T, Fuchs ed, Karl Jasper's Philosophy and Psychopathology (2013) p.. 48
  3. ^ J. Hart, Who One Is (2009) p. 11-3 and p. 309
  4. ^ P. Wolfe, Laden Choirs (2015) p. 11
  5. ^ M. Portocarrera et al eds., Hermeneutic Rationality (2012) p. 147
  6. ^ I. Tammmelo, Justice and Doubt (2013) p. 386
  7. ^ G. Gutting ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (CUP 2007) p. 325
  8. ^ D. Smith, Hidden Conversations (1991) p. 189
  9. ^ R. Rivera, A Study of Liberation Discourse (2004) p. 32
  10. ^ J. Irwin, Paulo Freire's Philosophy of Education (2012)


  • Richardson A. & Bowden J. (1993) The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology London; Westminster John Knox Press

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