Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961)

Amid all the talk about the "Collective Unconscious" and other sexy issues, most readers are likely to miss the fact that C.G. Jung was a good Kantian. His famous theory of Synchronicity, "an acausal connecting principle," is based on Kant's distinction between phenomena and things-in-themselves and on Kant's theory that causality will not operate among thing-in-themselves the way it does in phenomena. Thus, Kant could allow for free will (unconditioned causes) among things-in-themselves, as Jung allows for synchronicity ("meaningful coincidences"). Next to Kant, Jung is close to Schopenhauer, praising him as the first philosopher he had read, "who had the courage to see that all was not for the best in the fundaments of the universe" [Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 69]. Jung was probably unaware of the Friesian background of Otto's term "numinosity" when he began to use it for his Archetypes, but it is unlikely that he would object to the way in which Otto's theory, through Fries, fits into Kantian epistemology and metaphysics.

Jung's place in the Kant-Friesian tradition is on a side that would have been distasteful to Kant, Fries, and Nelson, whose systems were basically rationalistic. Thus Kant saw religion as properly a rational expression of morality, and Fries and Nelson, although allowing an aesthetic content to religion different from morality, nevertheless did not expect religion to embody much more than good morality and good art. Schopenhauer, Otto, and Jung all represent an awareness that more exists to religion and to human psychological life than this. The terrifying, uncanny, and fascinating elements of religion and ordinary life are beneath the notice of Kant, Fries, and Nelson, while they are indisputable and irreducible elements of life, for which there must be an account, with Schopenhauer, Otto, and Jung. As Jung again said of Schopenhauer: "He was the first to speak of the suffering of the world, which visibly and glaringly surrounds us, and of confusion, passion, evil -- all those things which the others hardly seemed to notice and always tried to resolve into all-embracing harmony and comprehensibility" [ibid. p. 69]. It is an awareness of this aspect of the world that renders the religious ideas of "salvation" meaningful; yet "salvation" as such is always missing from moralistic or aesthetic renderings of religion. Only Jung could have written his Answer to Job.

Jung's great Answer to Job, indeed, represents an approach to religion that is all but unique. Placing God in the Unconscious might strike most people as reducing him to a mere psychological object; but that is to overlook Jung's Kantianism. The Unconscious, and especially the Collective Unconscious, belongs to Kantian things-in-themselves, or to the transcendent Will of Schopenhauer. Jung was often at pains not to complicate his theory of the Archetypes by committing himself to a metaphysical theory -- he wanted the theory to work whether he was talking about the brain or about the Transcendent -- but that was merely a concession to the materialistic bias of contemporary science. He had no materialistic commitment himself and, when it came down to it, was not going to accept such naive reductionism. Instead, he was willing to rethink how the Transcendent might operate. Thus, he says about Schopenhauer:

I felt sure that by "Will" he really meant God, the Creator, and that he was saying that God was blind. Since I knew from experience that God was not offended by any blasphemy, that on the contrary He could even encourage it because He wished to evoke not only man's bright and positive side but also his darkness and ungodliness, Schopenhauer's view did not distress me. [ibid. pp. 69-70]

The Problem of Evil, which for so many people simply denuminizes religion, and which Schopenhauer used to reject the value of the world, became a challenge for Jung in the psychoanalysis of God. The God of the Bible is indeed a personality, and seemingly not always the same one. God as a morally evolving personality is the extraordinary conception of Answer to Job. What Otto saw as the evolution of human moral consciousness, Jung turns right around on the basis of the principle that the human unconscious, expressed spontaneously in religious practice and literature, transcends mere human subjectivity. But the transcendent reality in the unconscious is different in kind from consciousness. As Jung said in Memories, Dreams, Reflections again:

If the Creator were conscious of Himself, He would not need conscious creatures; nor is it probable that the extremely indirect methods of creation, which squander millions of years upon the development of countless species and creatures, are the outcome of purposeful intention. Natural history tells us of a haphazard and casual transformation of species over hundreds of millions of years of devouring and being devoured. The biological and political history of man is an elaborate repetition of the same thing. But the history of the mind offers a different picture. Here the miracle of reflecting consciousness intervenes -- the second cosmogony [ed. note: what Teilhard de Chardin called the origin of the "noosphere," the layer of "mind"]. The importance of consciousness is so great that one cannot help suspecting the element of meaning to be concealed somewhere within all the monstrous, apparently senseless biological turmoil, and that the road to its manifestation was ultimately found on the level of warm-blooded vertebrates possessed of a differentiated brain -- found as if by chance, unintended and unforeseen, and yet somehow sensed, felt and groped for out of some dark urge. [p. 339]

In other words, a "meaningful coincidence." Jung also says,

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious. [p. 326]

However, Jung has missed something there. If consciousness is "the light in the darkness of mere being," consciousness alone cannot be the "sole purpose of human existence," since consciousness as such could appear as just a place of "mere being" and so would easily become an empty, absurd, and meaningless Existentialist existence. Instead, consciousness allows for the meaningful instantiation of existence, both through Jung's process of Individuation, by which the Archetypes are given unique expression in a specific human life, and from the historic process that Jung examines in Answer to Job, by which interaction with the unconscious alters in turn the Archetypes that come to be instantiated. While Otto could understand Job's reaction to God, as the incomprehensible Numen, Jung thinks of God's reaction to Job, as an innocent and righteous man jerked around by God's unconsciousness. Jung's idea that the Incarnation then is the means by which God redeems Himself from His morally false position in Job is an extraordinary reversal (I hesitate to say "deconstruction") of the consciously expressed dogma that the Incarnation is to redeem humanity.

It is not too difficult to see this turn in other religions. The compassion of the Buddhas in Mahâyâna Buddhism, especially when the Buddha Shakyamuni comes to be seen as the expression of a cosmic and eternal Dharma Body, is a hand of salvation stretched out from the Transcendent, without, however, the complication that the Buddha is ever thought responsible for the nature of the world and its evils as their Creator. That complication, however, does occur with Hindu views of the divine Incarnations of Vishnu. Closer to a Jungian synthesis, on the other hand, is the Bahá'í theory that divine contact is though "Manifestations," which are neither wholly human nor wholly divine: merely human in relation to God, but entirely divine in relation to other humans. Such a theory must appear Christianizing in comparison to Islam, but it avoids the uniqueness of Christ as the only Incarnation in Christianity itself. This is conformable to the Jungian proposition that the unconscious is both a side of the human mind and a door into the Transcendent. When that door opens, the expression of the Transcendent is then conditioned by the person through which it is expressed, possessing that person, but it is also genuinely Transcendent and reflecting the ongoing interaction that the person historically embodies. The possible "mere being" even of consciousness then becomes the place of meaning and value.

Whether "psychoanalysis" as practiced by Freud or Jung is to be taken seriously anymore is a good question; but both men will survive as philosophers long after their claims to science or medicine may be discounted. Jung's Kantianism enables him to avoid the materialism and reductionism of Freud ("all of civilization is a substitute for incest") and, with a great breadth of learning, employs principles from Kant, Schopenhauer, and Otto that are easily conformable to the Kant-Friesian tradition. The Answer to Job, indeed, represents a considerable advance beyond Otto, into the real paradoxes that are the only way we can conceive transcendent reality.

Karen A. Smyers, Ph.D., Jungian Analysis

Jung and the Nazis

Psychological Types

Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes

Philosophical Vienna

Virtual Religion and Imaginary Gods

History of Philosophy


Jung on Home Page

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 2002, 2009, 2020 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved