Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2011, 56, 492–513

Un-thought out metaphysics in analytical psychology: a critique of Jung’s epistemological basis for psychic reality

Robin McCoy Brooks, Seattle, Washington, USA

Abstract: The author investigates the relation of Kant, Schopenhauer and Heidegger to Jung’s attempts to formulate theory regarding the epistemological conundrum of what can and what cannot be known and what must remain uncertain. Jung’s ambivalent use and misuse of Kant’s division of the world into phenomenal and noumenal realms is highlighted in discussion of concepts such as the psychoid archetype which he called ‘esse in anima’ and his use of Schopenhauer’s concept of ‘will’ to justify a transcendence of the psyche/soma divide in a postulation of a ‘psychoid’ realm. Finally, the author describes Jung’s reaction to Heidegger’s theories via his assertion that Heidegger’s ‘pre-given world design’ was an alternate formulation of his concept of the archetypes. An underlying theme of the paper is a critique of Jung’s foundationalism which perpetuates the myth of an isolated mind. This model of understanding subjectivity is briefly contrasted with Heidegger’s ‘fundamental ontology’ which focuses on a non-Cartesian ‘understanding’ of the ‘presencing of being’ in everyday social and historical contexts.

Keywords: epistemology, Heidegger, Kant, psychoid archetype, Schopenhauer


Jung’s epistemology regarding the ‘psyche’ was comprised of a me ́lange of ideas that included misappropriated or misconstrued assimilations of Kant’s philosophical corpus (de Voogd 1984; Shamdasani 2003, pp. 235–37; Bishop 2000; Huskinson 2003). This paper attempts to establish his actual reliance on neo-Kantian philosophical ideas (a foundational ontology) and contrasts them to the hermeneutic/phenomenological stance (a ‘fundamental’ or non- foundational ontology) developed by Heidegger.1 Jung initially disdained Heidegger’s approach but later claimed some prior theoretical connection to it through his concept of the archetype.

1Heidegger used the term ‘fundamental ontology’ to describe the aim of his investigation into the ‘question of the meaning of being’ (1962/1927, H 1, 131). A ‘foundational ontology’ (such as Jung, Kant and Schopenhauer embraced) is one that holds that there is a basis for knowledge and that this basis is derived from a priori postulates. I critique the basic ideas of foundationalism throughout this paper.

This essay will discuss some aspects of Jung’s borrowing of Kantian and neo-Kantian ideas. This will facilitate taking a preliminary step in examining Jung’s partially thought-out metaphysical assertions that focus on what is given, and what can and cannot be known concerning human beings. Secondly, as a natural outcome of the former effort, Jung’s foundationalist approach will, I hope, become more transparent to the reader not familiar with philosophical concepts.

Jung often denied being philosophical. However, in a personal letter written in 1933, he called attention to the ‘epistemological’ basis for his psychological position on esse in anima (soul) in his opening chapter of CW 6; ‘The Problem of Types in the History of Classical and Medieval Thought’ (Letters I, p. 123; 1921/1971a). If epistemology can be loosely described as how we philosophically know what we know, then this paper can be said to investigate key metaphysical aspects of how Jung claimed to know what he knew in his theoretical rendering of the psyche. This involves a close reading of the above- mentioned text as well as two other of his published works to include, ‘On the nature of the psyche’ (1947/1954), and two successive letters Jung wrote in correspondence with Medard Boss (Letters II, pp. xl–xlv, 27 June 1947 & 5 August 1947). These specific works amplified Jung’s use of Kant, Schopenhauer and Heidegger in their formulations of what was essential to human existence, and Jung’s specific use of some of their ideas to bolster his epistemological foundation of the psyche, particularly esse in anima, and the psychoid archetype.

While there are some overlapping epistemological assumptions inherent in Kantian and neo-Kantian (e.g., Schopenhauer) formulations of subjectivity (both grounded in foundationalist ideology), this essay highlights some of the ir- reconcilable conceptual distinctions between the Kantian and Schopenhauerian edifice that Jung exploited. Jung frequently and explicitly referenced Kant, but his references lacked sufficient conceptual fidelity to Kant’s intent, often resulting in misleading or fallacious arguments. His actual theoretical kinship was more closely aligned to and influenced by other threads of thinking derived from Kant’s transcendentalism, generally associated with the philosophical movement known as German Idealism. The central tenets of that perspective included the idea that distinct and oppositional concepts could be mediated and unified into a universalizing totality, that the inaccessible (noumenon, ‘thing in itself’, Unheimlich, unconscious) was indeed a priori, yet apprehendable to human beings through intellectual intuition, and as a consequence, that foundational reality was organically unified and teleologically conceived (Schna ̈delbach 1984; Askay & Farquhar 2006; Bishop 2000). Whereas Kant located the noumenal realm ‘out there’ as the inaccessible and unknowable ‘thing-in-itself’, German Idealists relocated the gap between the absolute (noumenal realm) and relative (phenomenal realm) within the absolute itself (Gabriel & Zˇ izˇek 2009). In other words, the absolute became accessible via the texture of everyday, phenomenal reality. It was to neo-Kantian thought (and particularly to Schopenhauer) that Jung turned to clarify his own position that also located the gap between the phenomenal and noumenal realms within the psyche via esse in anima and the ‘psychoid’ archetype (1921/1971a, 1947/1954).

In the same decade (1920s) that Jung was aligning his psychological justification for the concept of esse in anima with Kant’s logical arguments for the idea of God, a different corpus of philosophical thought was being developed in Heidegger’s work beginning with Being and Time (1962/1927). That philosophy represented a radical departure from Cartesian presuppositions, including those dualisms tacitly adopted in Jung’s foundationalist epistemology (mind/matter, noumena/phenomena, conscious/unconscious, subject/object, in- stinct/psychoid, etc.). Heidegger did not disclaim the existence of such dualities, but contended they reflected abstract theoretical biases that were remote from concrete lived existence. Because of that bias, he intended to set aside a merely theoretical view of reality and instead focus on how things showed up in the everyday stream of life. For Heidegger, we already existed in a world in a pre-cognitive way, or put another way, ontology (being-ness) preceded epistemology (knowing-ness). There was no viable distinction between the existence of conceptual reality (noumenal realm) and how we live our lives in the everyday world (phenomenal realm). Heidegger’s fundamental ontology can be summarized in the phrase ‘phenomenological/hermeneutic ontology’ because his revisioning of phenomenology included recounting how being revealed itself in the phenomena of everyday social contexts and understanding such experience hermeneutically (via description) as ‘text to be interpreted’ (Askay & Farquhar 2006, fn. 18, p. 414).

Fundamental questions about Jung’s analysis of human-ness (and psyche) emerge owing to Jung’s failure to grasp Heidegger’s epistemological position, leaving him struggling with Cartesian and Kantian assumptions that constrained his thinking. Contemporary Jungian theorists have begun to critically challenge these basic theoretical assumptions in Jung’s work. These presuppositions include the validity of a set of a priori cognitions that guide understanding of the phenomenal world, subjectivity viewed through the lens of the myth of the isolated mind with its innate structures, conventions of interpretation that privilege the illusion of the analyst’s epistemological authority, and the universality and essentialism fundamental to Jung’s rendering of the self.

A recent re-examination of some of Jung’s assumptions in this Journal was stimulated by a 1991 (2008) article by Louis Zinkin, ‘Your Self: did you find it or did you make it?’ This paper, posthumously republished, redirected our attention to the limitations of Jung’s notion of a solitary subject, and instead postulated a subject which emerges within social contexts. Is the self ‘found’ (a priori given, transcendent, absolute) or ‘made’ (socially constructed, tempo- rally bound, immanent, relative) with respect to reality (Zˇ izˇek 2006; Zinkin 2008/91)? Roger Brooke utilizes Heidegger’s view of experience as situated in and as a world to indicate a subjectivity that values interiority without dualistically interpreting or limiting the self to matters of mind alone (Brooke 2009b). Warren Colman (2006, 2008) views the self as an ongoing relation of ‘being’ and ‘knowing’ which discovers it (self) within a context that is both cultural (collective) and biological (individual) ‘through a process of its own creation’ (Colman 2006, p. 169). Sue Austin offers another post-Jungian reading of the Jungian subject, which is influenced by thinkers such as Jean Laplanche, Judith Butler and Jung’s earlier dissociationist heritage (Austin 2009). She explores both the idea of a socially constructed self and one that is a product of unconscious processes. Michael Horne posits the emergence of a human being through the amplifications of discontinuous, discrete and discursive ‘self states’ within the multiple discourses that make up our worlds (Horne 2008, 2009). Ladson Hinton (2011) offers a subversive view, which radically disrupts the homogeneity of a totalizing classical Jungian edifice. He challenges Jung’s fundamental yet reifying concept of unus mundus that, to his mind, reduces the universe to a kind of ultimate unity ‘by way of panoramic overviews and dialectical syntheses’ (ibid.). Because of this relative spate of critical academic inquiry into Jung’s epistemological assumptions, the entangled relationship between philosophy and analytical psychology is becoming more transparent (Bishop 1999, 2000, 2008; Brooke 1991; Huskinson 2003; Shamdasani 2003; Donati 2004; Gullatz 2010).

Jung and Kant

Kant’s transcendental philosophy was contained within a foundationalist ‘problematic’2 . Fundamental to foundationalism is the basic belief that there was a basis for knowledge and that this basis was derived from a priori postulates. Hence, a priori meaning was indubitable, infallible, and universally known without reference to historical or contemporary contexts (Horne 2008). Such knowledge tends to provide a kind of tacit certainty and permanence that at the same time overshadows particular, impermanent and provisional realities.

2Michael Horne uses this term to depict the ‘ideological presuppositions in which a particular problem is formulated and discussed’ (Horne 2008, p. 669).

It was to Kant’s doctrine of the phenomenal (known) and noumenal (unknown) realms that Jung turned to ground his theorizing about the psyche. The noumenon, according to Kant, was a name given to a thing viewed as a ‘transcendent’ object (‘thing in itself’ and not a representation of an object), and one that could never be sensually experienced or known (Kant 2007/1781, B 295–315).3 Phenomena, in contrast, were a posteriori objects of knowledge experienced through the senses and manifested not, as the ‘thing in itself’ but as a representation of it (ibid). Our knowledge or understanding of the objects we experienced was nevertheless a priori (pre-existing knowledge independent of experience) because it was cognized through the universal ‘categories’, an idea Kant borrowed from Aristotle (ibid., B 105). Kant’s categories were general, formal or structural concepts (such as substance, time, space, necessity and causality) which applied to the things we intuited because ‘only through

[them was] it possible to know anything as an object’ (Kant 2007/1781, B 125).4 These features were not a condition of making judgements about the objects but of having knowledge of them.

3This and further citations from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason are of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, edited and translated by Paul Guyer and Allen Wood (2007). This text contains two editions, the first published in 1781 with pagination noted as ‘A’ and the second edition published in 1789, with pagination denoted as ‘B’.
4Bishop (2000 pp. 190–200) makes the point that for Kant, intellectual intuition (as opposed to empirical intuition) was a form of knowledge that could only be obtained by God and