‘Running through his entire debate with theology is a simultaneous attempt both to salvage the historical presence of transcendence in his theory of ciphers (influenced by Hamann’s linguistic theology), and yet also to understand this presence as a mere index of a possible non-realized unity of thought (influenced by Kant’s idealism). […] Hamann’s hermeneutics (for Jaspers) can indicate the transcending limit of human-being in a manner which is simply not possible for Kant’s formal epistemology. Despite this, however, Hamann cannot truly interpret this transcending limit as a limit, for his religious hermeneutics has no critical means for reflecting on where the ends of human reason are located.’
Thornhill also describes Jaspers' implicit fusion of Hamannian hermeneutics and Kantian epistemology by referring once more to Jaspers’ view of revelation or transcendence as mere ‘appearance’:
Ciphers, for example, though also decisive ‘moments of experience, embedded and disclosed in human historical life’, are for Jaspers (as Thornhill puts it) ‘only the fleeting appearance of guiding ideas – akin to Kant’s transcendental ideas – which give shape to, but do not encompass, the ultimate underlying unity of human life and knowledge’. For Jaspers a truthful hermeneutic of ciphers ‘always also requires a critical-epistemological approach’ – Thornhill emphasizes – which with Kant and against Hamann, posits God as ‘an “idea”, which illuminates the limits of human consciousness, but which is never the realized experience of human transcendence’. Thornhill sees that for Jaspers, it is indeed ‘only because the idea of God is not the experience [but the] appearance of transcendence that it is interpretable as transcendence’. You could say that mere appearance lends the quality of definition (or decision) to Jaspers’ visionary hermeneutics – in Thornhill’s words, ‘it is the (epistemological) recognition of the limits of human knowledge which makes the (hermeneutical) disclosure of transcendence, in ciphers, so radical and truthful’.
Thornhill usefully redescribes Hamann’s opposition of experiential revelation to transcendental subjectivity, as an opposition of ‘theological hermeneutics to transcendental epistemology’ which represented ‘the key theological debate at the heart of the German Enlightenment’, and which ‘is also at the heart of Jaspers’ work’. Thornhill thus identifies Jaspers sustaining a ‘balance’ between Hamann and Kant, and occupying ‘an unresolved and uncertain dialectic’ between the two ‘conceptions of human being-in-the-world’:
‘The hermeneutical approach has no truth without epistemology, and epistemology has no truth without hermeneutics. Both epistemology and hermeneutics forfeit their truth, however, when they consider themselves in possession of it: either as the disclosed law of revelation or the formal law of cognition.’
Thornhill thus sees more to Jaspers than a relativization of the truths of hermeneutics and epistemology. For, Thornhill argues, in that he can be seen to ‘turn simultaneously against both Hamann and Kant’, Jaspers shows that both earlier thinkers ultimately falsify metaphysics – and in doing so falsify humanity.