Critique of Neo-Hegelianism

Abstract: The article discusses the hollow myth of modernity and the misguided movement in the present time that puts great faith in a technological future. Critique is directed against subjectivistic philosophy in the guise of Kantianism, Hegelianism, and their continuation in postmodern philosophy. The thought of Neo-Hegelian psychologist/philosopher Wolfgang Giegerich is refuted.

Keywords: Hegel, Romanticism, subjectivism, technology, puer aeternus, individual, collectivism, meaning, World Soul, individuation, Self, Goedel, Kant, Giegerich.

Hegel’s destructive influence

Historically, Hegelianism has had an enormous impact, not the least through its Marxist offshoot. Clothed in a remarkably abstruse language, Friedrich Hegel’s is a surprisingly superficial and unscientific philosophy. Schopenhauer called him “a commonplace, inane, loathsome, repulsive, and ignorant charlatan, who with unparalleled effrontery compiled a system of crazy nonsense that […] resulted in the mental ruin of a whole generation of scholars” (Schopenhauer, 2000, p.96). Schopenhauer didn’t know how right he was. Marxism, which is a variant of Hegelianism, was bound to ruin many generations to come. Hegel is very materialistic, although people tend to have an overly mystified view of his thought. Marina F. Bykova says:

This clarifies the meaning of Hegel’s often-mystified concept of self-development of spirit, which in fact consists in the concrete historical processes in which we human beings participate. For this reason the full self-realization of spirit is reached only when a certain level of social and political development of humanity is achieved […] Hegel’s “spirit” is not something that descends upon the world from without; it is something which develops within the world, and only through our own efforts, even if we do not realize this. Consequently, Hegel’s “spirit” is not a substance or a substrate underlying the concrete individual subject; it is a pure infinite activity of the conscious human individual which gives purpose to itself and to the world. (Westphal, 2009, pp.273-74)

Hegel’s view of individuation involves the shedding of the individual personality and the appropriation of a collective personality, as it comes to expression in the culture of collective consciousness. Hegel’s ideal of a “collective identity” had a defining impact on the collectivistic ideologies of the 20th century, and remains central in postmodern ideology. It is a perfectly anti-psychological view of individuation. Hegel has a phenomenology of subjective mind (‘shapes of consciousness’), which through mutual recognition between subjects gives rise to ‘objective spirit’. The way in which subjects pick up on distinct patterns of ‘mutual recognition’ leads to ‘shapes of consciousness’ being replaced by shapes of ‘objective spirit’ itself. Personal shape is ousted by the collective pattern. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says:

It is thus that Hegel has effected the transition from a phenomenology of “subjective mind,” as it were, to one of “objective spirit,” thought of as culturally distinct patterns of social interaction analysed in terms of the patterns of reciprocal recognition they embody. (“Geist” can be translated as either “mind” or “spirit,” but the latter, allowing a more cultural sense, as in the phrase “spirit of the age” (“Zeitgeist”), seems a more suitable rendering for the title.) (Redding, 2014)

Hegel not only downplays the role of the individual — he also repudiates the role of symbolic awareness and everything that transcends logical consciousness. He says that whatever is must by definition be knowable: “The real is rational, and the rational is real”. He asserts that what becomes the real is Geist. Evidently, the Geist contains what is known, which is what’s truly real. The conscious dialectical process is always producing Geist, which harbours the cultural products of mind as the only real things. The result is mental and a development of Geist. Thus the collective Geist undergoes an evolution to higher and higher levels (cf. Philosophy Basics: ‘Hegel’, here).

This is the essence of Hegelian philosophy, namely the development of objective spirit, which is Geist. Collective identification is the ideal for the individual, who must realize that his own existence and personal ideas are of little value compared to the Geist. Nor is the Hegelian dialectic a great intellectual revelation. The fact that conflicts can lead to a resolution, in which both standpoints are incorporated in new form, has been known since time immemorial. If water threatens to inundate and despoil the land, one can build irrigation channels. Thus, the new synthesis of water and soil will make the latter fruitful. Frederick Engels, who applied the dialectical method on nature, conceded that it was a well-known and customary mode of thought:

Probably the same gentlemen who up to now have decried the transformation of quantity into quality as mysticism and incomprehensible transcendentalism will now declare that it is indeed something quite self-evident, trivial, and commonplace, which they have long employed, and so they have been taught nothing new.
   But to have formulated for the first time in its universally valid form a general law of development of Nature, society, and thought, will always remain an act of historic importance. (Engels, 1946/1883, ch.II)

Although often attributed to Hegel, the well-known triad of dialectics (thesis, anti-thesis, synthesis) was never used by Hegel himself. These terms derive from Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), father of German Idealism. What has been portrayed here is essentially what Hegel’s philosophy is all about. It is characteristically superficial, materialistic and collectivistic. It lacks grounding in science.

Philosophical subjectivism

Philosophical subjectivism has, via Hegel and the Romantic movement, propagated into the modern era. It continues in various forms of postmodernist ideology and post-structuralism. Cartesius (1596-1650) argued that it is the mind that we know, but not the external world (“Cogito ergo sum”). So what truly exists is me and my thoughts. This is the Cartesian heritage that has caused the derailment of Western philosophy into subjectivism. The old subjectivistic philosophers — Descartes, Hume, and Kant — erred in postulating that only the perceptible has empirical validity. Accordingly, the hidden natures of objects, i.e. their unknown capacity to produce sensible effect, must be perceptible in themselves, otherwise they don’t belong to the empirical world. Richard H. Schlagel says:

Hume’s fundamental mistake was in assuming that because our inductive generalizations are initially based on an object’s appearance, the evidence for its inner nature and causal powers must be displayed in the object’s sensory qualities. Not finding the evidence there, Hume dismissed their connection altogether. But later developments in science showed that probing nature experimentally can disclose properties of the insensible particles, such as their mass, charge, spin, and so forth, that comprise the object’s inner nature despite the connection with its sensory qualities being unknown, thus indicating that knowing that connection was not what is essential […] It has been difficult to overcome the age-old assumption that direct observation is the only means for believing in the reality of something, but the success of modern physicists in experimentally discovering deeper levels of physical reality inaccessible to direct observation has convinced physicists “that it was unnecessary for the internal world to be directly accessible to the experimenter”. (Schlagel, 2003)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), in the following of Hume, starts out from certain foundational premises that are invalid. As a consequence his life’s work is mostly nonsense, because it is a card tower. Contrary to his argument, science has proved that what we perceive has objective grounds. The conclusion is that there is no radical alterity of inner and outer worlds — they are not disparate realities. But since Kant believed that all knowledge is limited to appearances, he made the conclusion that the true properties of objects are, per definition, unknowable. He concluded that perceived regularities of nature must have a subjective origin:

Natural science will never reveal to us the internal constitution of things, which though not appearance, yet can serve as the ultimate ground of explaining appearance. (Kant, 1912, para.57)

Science has refuted this belief. Through experiment, we may acquire knowledge that transcends experience. Although we cannot perceive the molecules or atoms that vibrate in a heated object, we may prove their existence experimentally and theoretically. Thus, science has established the causal ground for the perception of heat. Scientific developments, since Kant, has been overwhelming. We have acquired vast knowledge of matter, which transcends our everyday senses. So we know today that perceived regularities of nature have an objective origin, which necessitates some form of realist epistemology.

So Kant was wrong in concluding that science depends on categories of experience. Much of the things central to science cannot be experienced as such, e.g., quantum phenomena, warped space, molecular motion, etc. The hidden natures of objects, that is, their unknown capacity to produce sensible effect, needn’t be perceptible in themselves. Instead, such factors are understood mathematically. Thus, scientists may find out the laws of matter and verify these laws. Today, we know the principles of the invisible quantum world much better than we understand our everyday world, and decidedly better than we understand ourselves.

Scientists have accurate knowledge about hidden imperceptible nature to the extent that they can make marvelous and perfect predictions about the outcome of experiments. Evidently, we have precise knowledge about the “black box”. It never occurred to Kant that physical things conform to laws of their own. The reason is that he had postulated that any knowledge transcending experience was unthinkable, and thus we cannot know anything about the black box. Accordingly, he concludes that causal effect follows not from the inner nature of things but from the nature of mind:

[If] the sun shines long enough upon a body, it grows warm. Here there is indeed as yet no necessity of connection, or concept of cause […] [The] concept of cause denotes a condition not at all belonging to things, but to experience. It is nothing in fact but an objectively valid cognition of appearances and of their succession […] Hence if the pure concepts of the understanding do not refer to objects of experience but to things in themselves (noumena), they have no signification whatever. They serve, as it were, only to decipher appearances, that we may be able to read them as experience […] [They] are arbitrary combinations, without objective reality, and we can neither know their possibility a priori, nor verify their reference to objects, let alone make it intelligible by any example; because examples can only be borrowed from some possible experience, consequently the objects of these concepts can be found nowhere but in a possible experience. (Kant, 1912, pars.29-30)

Today we know that the cause of heat really belongs to the stone, because electromagnetic radiation gives rise to atomic kinetic motion. Kant, however, since he thinks it is a black box whose content cannot be known, calls it the noumenon or thing-in-itself. Thus, he argues that the concepts of understanding have no signification and concludes that reality boils down to the experiencing subject — it is all in the mind’s eye. In fact, science has made intelligible the hotness of the stone. We understand it better than we understand a little ant in an anthill. So Kant’s philosophical card tower builds on unfounded premises; postulates which have been refuted. Upon such faulty premises has he constructed his theory. But if the premises are false, the whole edifice is faulty and therefore quite useless. Says Schlagel:

The gulf between philosophy and science grew even greater among the post-Kantian idealists, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, whose philosophies were as remote from science as Eastern mysticism is today, despite ill-conceived claims of a rapprochement with quantum mechanics. Though Kant had declared the world of things in themselves or noumena unknowable, he believed they were necessary to activate our minds to produce the world of appearances. Given the predominant role of the mind and unknowable nature of the noumenal world of things in themselves in Kant’s transcendental idealism, it was natural that the post-Kantian idealists would reject his things in themselves for an Absolute Spirit, Mind, or Will as the ultimate ground of all existence. So despite some progress in the early nineteenth century in understanding electricity, the wave propagation of light, the discovery of new elements, and the molecular structure of substances, absolute idealists claimed that the attestations of a divine agency in history, religion, and artistic creativity outweighed any scientific discoveries or considerations in forming a cosmology. (Schlagel, 2003)

It remains to explain why such inferior thought, which has been refuted, can remain so attractive in the modern world. Hegelianism and its offshoot Marxism, as well as variants of postmodern philosophy, are the favourite ideologies of the pueri aeterni (eternal youths; cf. Winther, 2015, here). They are intoxicated with the conceited notion that rational consciousness is itself able to determine reality. The omnipotence of mind is a heritage of the Romantic movement (cf. Winther, 2015b, part II: Modern concepts of Self, here). Their subjectivity and superficiality is what makes these theories popular, because it perfectly fits the puer aeternus. The individual is not required to strike down roots in the earth of the unconscious. Nor is there a demand of true personal creativity and improvement. Rather, citizens are expected to follow along with the one-dimensional ideas of the collective spirit (Hegel’s Geist) and remain politically correct, sailing through life like levitating balloons.

Although science has long ago shattered the main pillars of subjectivistic philosophy its influence continues in the modern time. It’s because modern philosophers tend to remain enclosed in their cocoon of theory. According to the premises of philosophical subjectivism, we needn’t bother about banal “reality”, since mind is capable of creating its own reality. Thus, philosophers will go on philosophizing forever while ignoring that their premises are invalid. This was Ludwig Wittgenstein’s main objection against modern philosophy: philosophers start out with certain premises, which they simply take to be true, and then they build a house of cards upon this foundation of unproven postulates. It’s an activity doomed to failure. So this is the backside of our modern capability of one-sidedness.

Gödel’s Theorems

The following investigation of a contemporary thinker illustrates the chocking degeneration that modern thought has undergone under the guiding star of postmodernism. Neo-Hegelian philosopher and Jungian analyst Wolfgang Giegerich (Wiki here) follows in the footsteps of Hegel. He aims at formulating a rational dialectical system capable of containing all that is meaningful. Mark Saban has characterized Giegerich’s psychology as a “hermetically closed system” (cf. Saban, 2015b). Giegerich thus continues in the subjectivistic tradition and proclaims the omnipotence of the rational mind. Saban also contends that he confuses the literal-historical with the mythical-archetypal, which is the same critique as Giegerich himself formulated against psychologist and philosopher Erich Neumann (cf. Saban, 2012). If correct, he surreptitiously depends on archetypal truths that force themselves upon consciousness in a religious way. Indeed, it is merely rationalistic and egocentric consciousness dressed up in new mythological clothes, following “The Oldest System Programme of German Idealism”:

We must have a new mythology, but this mythology must be in service of the ideas; it must be a mythology of reason. Before we make ideas aesthetic, i.e. mythological, they will have no interest for the people. (Beiser, 1995, p.5)

Interestingly, Emanuel Swedenborg regarded such a seductive narrative as sinful, so when his “De Cultu et Amore Dei” was lauded as both fascinating and aesthetically delightful, he changed to a very plain style. Roger Brooke characterizes Giegerich’s thought:

[Giegerich’s thinking] is no longer fixed in the logic of epistemology at all, but lifted into a consistently circular, hermeneutic sensibility. In Giegerich’s hands, theory is no longer representational but radically and self-referentially engaged in whatever it speaks about, so that theory and psychic stuff are mutually constituted […]
   Giegerich focuses on sublated reality, on the interior logic and movements of psyche, which I am wanting to interpret as existence sublated into thought […] For Giegerich, sublation is thus a movement of pure interiority, founded only within its own inner logic and emergent only as thought […] for all images are dissolved in dialectical negation and sublated into ‘thought’. Not only is Giegerich’s notion of interiority explicitly ‘baseless’, (…) — in the creative sense of being psychology’s discipline, without external hermeneutic foundation — it is also absolute and referentless in any sense at all outside of the dialectics of ‘thought’. Giegerich does not seem merely to draw from Hegel; his approach sometimes reads like Hegelian philosophy in action. Is he still talking about the soul, or psyche, in any sense we can recognize? […]
   If Giegerich’s view is only sublating and ‘negating’, it seems to become weightless and emptied of meaning. Well, yes, because Giegerich intends an interiority that is pure syntax, without semantic reference […] Sometimes, when Giegerich argues for a psychological interiority that has no references at all, not even to an embedded existence, he seems like an historian arguing the case for a discipline of history without events. (Brooke, 2013)

It should be possible to criticize Giegerich’s ideal of an hegemonic and hermetically closed system of consciousness from the point of view of Gödel’s theorems. In the field of mathematical logic, Kurt Gödel (1906-1978, Wiki here) has proved that such a thing isn’t possible, but that truth and meaning must in the end be derived from outside, in the form of ad hoc Truths. Gödel believed that (1) materialism is false and (2) concepts have an objective existence. He aimed to formulate a proof of his views but was hampered by his devotion to rationalism. Reconciling rationalism and realism (in the Platonic sense) presents a conundrum (cf. Kennedy, 2014). Comparatively, the Neoplatonists said that the ‘Nous’, the divine Intellect, transcends discursive reason. Thus, the anamnesis of the Forms involved an intuitive and immediate insight, a kind of ‘gnosis’ that transcends the profane intellect. Since they did not embrace rationalism they needn’t wrestle with the same difficulties as Gödel, who eventually fell into the theoretical cesspool of Husserlian phenomenology — a monumental blunder!

According to Gödel’s Second Incompleteness Theorem the consistency of arithmetic cannot be proved in arithmetic itself. It means that mathematics cannot be formally reconstructed strictly on the basis of our profane and rational intuition of symbols. (The term ‘symbol’ is here used in the mathematical sense of ‘sign’.) Consistency will never be intrinsic to the system but must always be imported “from the outside” (cf. Kennedy, 2014). It negates the view that the signifiers of consciousness is a mere man-made syntax consisting merely of semantical conventions. The question is to what extent this insight can be extended beyond the world of mathematical logic. John Lucas makes this conclusion:

It follows that given any machine which is consistent and capable of doing simple arithmetic, there is a formula which it is incapable of producing as being true — i.e., the formula is unprovable in-the-system — but which we can see to be true. It follows that no machine can be a complete or adequate model of the mind, that minds are essentially different from machines. (Lucas, 1961)

Gödel himself was of the view that philosophers should have the audacity to “generalize things without any inhibition” (Kennedy, 2014). At least, John Searle, Roger Penrose and Crispin Wright have taken the view that “Gödel’s theorems imply that the human mind infinitely surpasses the power of any finite machine or formal system” (Raatikainen, 2015). On this view, the Incompleteness Theorem would prove that ‘meaning’ cannot be fully contained by a conscious agent that has recourse only to the abstract and discursive intellect. In the end, what we regard as ‘true’ will always transcend the understanding of the discursive intellect.

Yet, Wolfgang Giegerich has argued just this, that the rational intellect of modern man is capable of harbouring all the ‘meaning’ that was before only pointed to as mythological symbols, existing outside the discursive intellect. So we find ourselves in the paradoxical situation that a post-Jungian author divests of unconscious and transcendental meaning, whereas physicists and mathematicians have adopted this traditional tenet. Thought lacks meaningful referents if it lacks connection to the unconscious symbolic content that reside outside discursive thought. Giegerich, on the other hand, thinks that the thought-process is ‘meaning’ unto itself:

For the “symbol” that we are talking about now is meaning as such, Meaning with a capital M; it is myth, the symbolic life, the imaginal, religion, the grand narratives — not this myth or religion or grand narrative nor this meaning, but myth or religion pure and simple, Meaning altogether. And the “meaning” (lowercase) that has been born out of this “symbol” (i.e., out of Meaning capitalized) is Man himself or consciousness as such, human existence at large. Because consciousness has been born out of them, myth as such, religion altogether, higher meaning at large now possess only historical significance; they still exist, but in the plural, and shrunk into the reduced status of commodities —dead meanings […]
   Myth, religion, the grand narratives as a constituting form of consciousness have to be dead: the birth of their “meaning,” Man, out of them is tantamount to the fact that man’s interpretation of this “meaning,” that is, his interpretation of himself, has now become esoteric in Jung’s sense. (Giegerich, 2004)

To Giegerich, the gods are dead, which means that thinking can only feed on itself. Since his philosophical meanderings are short-circuited, they are nonsensical, just like Kant’s. Kurt Gödel has proved that discursive thought is unable to construct a self-contained logical system that avoids running up against self-contradictions. The consistency of the axioms cannot be proven within the system. It simply proves that abstract thought is insufficient in itself, because it cannot function as a closed system. Yet Giegerich says that it is the highest phase, independent of the archetypal unconscious.

According to Giegerich, who follows Hegel, abstract thought is the highest level in the linear development of consciousness, which has succeeded the mythological level. This central Hegelian premise has been refuted by animal research. Ravens, parrots and apes are capable of logical reasoning to a degree. They can solve logical problems, practice causal reasoning, and can think in advance (cf. Rolfe, 2013). Animals also perform dances and sing, etc., so there is also symbolic activity. But, since they lack language they have not recourse to mythological narratives.

To all evidence, logical reason is a basic brain function, which emerged at an early stage in human development. Myths and symbols, and feelings of deeper meaning, are much more advanced phenomena. Narratives about gods is more avant-garde than abstract reasoning. Earlier it was believed that it would be fairly easy to teach a computer human language, whereas it would be difficult to teach it chess. It turned out to be the other way round. Today computers can beat any human at chess, but they cannot attain the language skills of a five-year-old. This is because chess is all about abstract logics, whereas language exists in the realm of symbols. As a consequence, Artificial Intelligence has disappeared from the curricula of many universities.

To write even the simplest fairytale is vastly more advanced than to beat the world champion at chess, because it requires a much more advanced brain functioning. The narrative function employs the greater part of the brain, because it is such a complicated and multi-faceted task. (Keep in mind that the human brain, as far as we know, is the most complex phenomenon in the universe). Chess players, however, “are seldom intelligent”, said former world champion Tigran Petrosian.

Humanity has not emerged out of a mythological awareness to a stage of abstract thought. In that case, we would have gone from advanced brain function to simple. In fact, modern people have increased their consumption and production of symbolic narratives to the utmost. We watch film, read and write, create art, listen to music, and partake of much more narratives than primitive mankind ever did. However, I am not so certain that logical and abstract thought has experienced such a remarkable increase in the general population. So this means that Giegerich’s theory collapses, because its main premise has been refuted by science. What Giegerich does, in his dialectical method, is fairly simple stuff. Immanuel Kant’s “deduction of the transcendental categories” isn’t difficult either. It only requires a lot of energy and concentrative effort. It’s like playing chess or programming a computer.

In fact, it is this very capability which has surfaced in modern man: the ability to focus our ego-powers during a lengthy time. As a consequence, many of us are able to spend all day programming a computer, which is a simple task for the brain. This has made our society a thousand times more effective. But we are also able to sit all day and write a novel, for months on end. The capability of one-sidedness (that is, our ego-power) is the big win of modern man — not the capability of logical thought. How would Homo erectus have fared without it?

The Happy Neurotic Island of Modernity and Technology

Giegerich is an advocate of the nineteenth century Hegelian notion of the developing World Soul, which is nothing mysterious but merely signifies mankind’s evolving consciousness in togetherness. He says:

The soul may show itself in, and play through the lives of, individuals and collectives, but it is not itself something pertaining to the one or the other. With the opposition of ‘individual’ and ‘collective’, psychology still remains subject to the anthropological fallacy, i.e., to the assumption that the psyche is a part of humans, a kind of ‘attribute’ of the ‘substance’ called people… (ibid.)

Allegedly, the modern notion of the ‘individual’ is already become obsolete. It creates an image of residents as passive chessmen being shuffled around by the supervising World Soul. But if there is such a thing as an ‘evolving Zeitgeist’ we know that it emerges out of the individual person who is capable of creating genuinely new thought. In primitive society there is only one true “individual”, namely the shaman, capable of entering a trance state during which he travels in the spiritual realm. Thanks to the encounter with the spirit, he can bring new ideas into existence. It is evident from the historical record that vital development of the collective spirit derives from individuals who withdrew into the desert, such as St Paul, Jesus, Buddha, etc. Before they are capable of making a contribution to culture and society they must needs withdraw into solitude. Their own individuative effort has changed history. Albert Einstein locked himself into his study for years. When he came out his hair had whitened, but he had solved the mysteries of the Relativity Theory, proving that there are enigmatic absolutes in the universe, not unlike Platonic absolutes.

So there can be no evolution of the collective spirit without the true individual, who in his “inspired madness” gives voice to a new paradigmatic idea. There has always been this relation between individual and society. The collective which doesn’t allow room for true personhood is doomed. As the collective spirit undergoes routinization it will turn to evil ways, and the archetype of Thanatos (destruction) will come to power (cf. Winther, 2012, here). Unfortunately, in the following of subjectivistic philosophy theorists cultivate quaint thoughts to further a collectivistic development. Notions of such nature are expressed in ‘Today’s Magnum Opus of the Soul’ (Brien, 1999, here). The gist is that Carl Jung overvalues the past of mankind at the expense of undervaluing the future. What sense can we make of such notions as “individuation” and “the Self”, then, questions Brien, and suggests that since these notions refer to the inborn past of mankind they are becoming irrelevant to our technological age. Wolfgang Giegerich uses a similar argument and says:

[The] idea of the process of individuation, if critically examined, proves to belong just as much to a historical psychology as does the psychology of the anima mundi. Today, the real life of the psyche is not in the individuation process… [The] individuation process as a whole belongs to historical, archaeological psychology […] The true opus magnum of today takes place in an entirely different arena, not in us as individuals, but in the arena of world affairs, of global competition, [the] overwhelming pull towards maximizing profit. (Giegerich, 1996, here)

In fact, Giegerich merely furnishes yet another myth for the collective. It is the fake solution of the historical Romantic movement, whose modern followers wish to remain on their Happy Technological Island, independent of reality, isolated from the age-old spirit of humanity. The myth of technology and profit-making cannot heal the alienation in society. Author Stephen Talbott puts it aptly in this interview:

[In] many regards the technological society is a kind of paradise for human beings who wish to act on the level of automatons […] We choose to sleepwalk through our lives […] Certainly, as you point out, our technologies are working powerfully to entrain us in their automatisms. (Brien, 2000, here)

So it is an attempt at an artificial means of life, supplanting an ardent and truthful life’s course according to our hereditary nature. Collectivistic ideology is a neurotic compensation for the astray spirit of mankind. Michael Vannoy Adams explains:

Rather than a psychology of the image based on myth, Giegerich advocates a psychology of the soul based on “logic” (in the distinctively Hegelian philosophical sense of the word). He asserts that the world of modern electronic and information technology — with the computer, internet, and cyberspace — is radically different from the world of ancient mythology. “In order to do justice to our modern world,” Giegerich (1999, p.175) contends, “we cannot fall back on any ancient mythological figures or patterns.” He maintains that a psychology based on mythology is obsolete. Giegerich says that “the very point of ‘the modern ego’ (as well as of science) is to have fundamentally broken with myth as such, that is, with the entire level of consciousness on which truly mythic experience was feasible” (Giegerich, 1999, p.219). (Young-Eisendrath, 2008, pp.118-19)

In fact, it is a rationally constructed myth according to the The Oldest System Programme of German Idealism. It represents an attempt at building a provisional life where there is no need of individuation; where we are comfortably cut off from our historical roots, taking pleasure in global competition of maximizing profits. So it is like leading life in an amusement park, enjoying the ever new technological roller coaster rides. This is the solution of the puer aeternus — the eternal youth. Giegerich’s thought developed out of James Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology, which upraises puer psychology (cf. Winther, 2015). Characteristic of the puer aeternus is that he wishes to escape the necessities of life, personified by the ever-present Earth Mother, whose roots are deep into the historical earth.

To abolish individuation as inner personal improvement means the beginning of the provisional life when natural progression is arrested. Personality arrives at a stand-still. Contrary to what these authors claim we cannot deny our psychic past; nor our physical past. If our “historical, archaeological psychology” cannot find its place in the technological age then it’s the latter which is inadequate, but not the psychic nature of mankind. By example, our Stone Age psychology demands, among other things, a fatherly figure (regardless of gender) as teacher at school, not a computer with an automatized learning program. C.G. Jung argues in ‘Child Development and Education’ that the psychological role of the teacher is even more important than the information he teaches (cf. Jung, 1928, para.107a).

The overestimation of modernity has only deleterious consequences. The import of our Stone Age nature is evident in case of our bodily nourishment. If we cannot stop eating junk food it will have devastating consequences as many illnesses will increase uncontrollably, of which the increasing diabetes plague is only one example. The argument is relevant for our psychic sustenance, as well. There is no way that we can evade our inborn “historical, archaeological psychology”, but we can do something about the cultural misdirection of our time.

Self-sufficient consciousness

Giegerich claims that meaning, in the traditional spiritual sense, no longer exists. What was once experienced as meaningful has now taken shape as our conscious capability of thought. (It is a misrepresentation, which I have already shown.) So myth, alchemy and fairytale contain only “dead meanings” (cf. Giegerich, 2004). Consequently, he announces the end of myth and the death of God. His standpoint is radically atheistic and irreligious. Allegedly, the activity of thought lacks meaningful referents outside abstract consciousness. Thus, the only goal is to “maximize profit”, preferably by producing lofty intellectual words, empty of meaning. Giegerich’s anemic intellectualism depends on the fact that he has dismissed the role of the feeling function in the dialectical process. Yet research in cognitive psychology has shown that conscious thought isn’t even possible without feeling (cf. Lehrer, 2007).

Despite the fact that Giegerich has repudiated objective ‘meaning’ he has himself produced a Hegelian edifice that shall serve as substitute for lost meaning, which is paradoxical. It amounts to saying that only he himself is capable of creating meaning. As Harvey L. Shepherd says: “Some will dismiss Giegerich as preposterously hyper-intellectual and self-referential” (Shepherd, 2006). Shepherd also says that his “stress on logic is overwhelming”. Giegerich is indeed a lofty Hegelian:

Giegerich regards Hegel’s as the most advanced, comprehensive and differentiated thinking, which supersedes everything that came afterwards. In Hegel, he believes, an intellectual level has been reached and a standard been set to fall short of which our thought cannot afford […] Giegerich can go on for pages analyzing […] until at least part of me wonders if he is in danger of vanishing up his own dialectical navel. (ibid.)

However, when the thinking function is overvalued it coils up around itself and its products become empty of true meaning. Accordingly, Sanford L. Drob says that “The Soul’s Logical Life, is not immediately digestible and comprehensible” (Drob, 2005). In fact, true thinking is dependent on unconscious symbolic values that may reach consciousness via the feeling function, especially. If the thinking function stays unconnected to the symbolic and emotional earth, it is only feeding on itself. It is like a snake biting its own tail, which explains the characteristic dryness of the intellectual products and why they lack relevance to the life of the soul.

As I have argued above, Giegerich peddles the ideology of the puerile Self. Whereas James Hillman holds that one must lead a life devoted to fantasy (cf. Winther, 2015), Giegerich says that our technological future is this fantasy. It is a philosophy of psychological uprootedness, where the ideal of Self becomes identified with the collective and its obsession with creating a technological and futuristic paradise. This thinking, like Nazi ideology, has its roots in the Romantic era, in which Hegel became central. The Self as identical with the collective is encapsulated in this phrase of Rudolf Hess, spoken at the Nuremberg rally 1934: “Die Partei ist Hitler, Hitler aber ist Deutschland wie Deutschland Hitler ist”.

The intellectual uprootedness, advocated by Giegerich, is yet another instigation of the puer aeternus. The goal is to create for the pueri aeterni a Happy Neurotic Island (term coined by Jung; cf. Jung, 1984 & von Franz, 2000). Yet Giegerich’s thinking defeats itself. Should consciousness adopt the view that “meaning is simply no topic anymore” and that God is dead, then the unconscious will spontaneously produce compensating symbols imbued with a deep sense of meaning. The defensive standpoint, when the inner world of archetypal reality must be defended against, is a typical feature of the grandiose, power-oriented personality. The rejection of unconscious ‘meaning’, by a short-circuit of the intellect, has neurotic consequences.

The “Infancy Gospel of Thomas” provides an amusing illustration of this quandary. The child Jesus is portrayed as a menace. When the teacher tries to teach him the alphabet he says:

I know the letters which you are teaching more accurately and far better than you. To me these things are like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal which do not represent the sound nor the glory nor the power of understanding […] Not knowing the alpha according to its nature, how can you teach another the beta? Hypocrite! If you know, first teach me the alpha and then I will trust you to speak of the beta. (“Infancy Gospel of Thomas”: 8-9, transl. Burke, 2009)

And then he goes on to lecture the teacher about the symbolic qualities of the letters. In essence, Jesus conveys the message that only fools can think that letters and numbers denote merely profane things. In those times, the letters were also used as numbers. To the Neoplatonists, the profane notion of number as mere quantitative signifier was only a dim reflection of their true numerical Form, residing in the divine Intellect.

Giegerich’s collectivistic worship of the Internet, profit-making and technology, has a curious correspondence in The Book of Revelation. It speaks about the beast who will appear at the end of time and whose number is 666. There is a popular albeit controversial interpretation of this number. It so happens that the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is “wav”, equivalent to the English w. The ancient Hebrews, lacking digit signs, used the letters as digits where the value of the digit corresponds to the letter’s place in the alphabet. Consequently, when John speaks of the beast named 666 he speaks of the beast named www. John explains that “no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name”. People shall be forced to worship this beast, says John. It seems that he hit the nail on the head. Today, most companies find it necessary to put the obligatory “www” before their names on façades and signboards.

Spiritual meaning

It is not correct that “meaning is dead”, since it is produced autonomously, independent of the conscious mind. It is easy to show that the unconscious can bring forth compensating symbols imbued with a deep sense of meaning. I once dreamt that I woke up by an “earthquake” in the flower pot where my dragon tree stands (which reaches to the ceiling). The tree keeled over and out came a big turtle that had lied buried a long time in suspended animation. I realized that it was hungry and it followed me to the kitchen. I considered which food is suitable and thought about giving it oat milk (a vegan alternative to dairy milks). Both Chinese and North American myth speak of the primordial turtle as responsible for earthquakes. The turtle is an “earth spirit” — a god. It requires an earthy variant of the living water, which has grown out of the earth itself in the form of oats. So how can this dream not be expressive of ‘meaning’? And what does it mean to say that “today’s soul cannot possibly have real access to the Gods any more”? (Giegerich, 1999, p.176).

Oat milk is the sacramental wine of the earth god. There is also a sacramental wine of the sun god, as evinced by the following experience of mine. When attending senior high school, on several occasions I woke up in the dead of night with an immense thirst. I went to the kitchen and drank water, but it did not quench my thirst, which was of a spiritual kind. This curious nightly experience occurred a few times, until I managed to cope with it. During breaks at school I seated myself on the grass in the sunshine. I drank refreshing juice which was of a brand Soljuice (‘Sun Juice’). On the juice box, there was an orange sun on a black background. Soljuice is pronounced similar to “solljus”, which means sunlight. (So it is a pun.)

It was the “sun god” which I drank, in the way of a holy communion. So it was a naive ritual, which had a therapeutic effect on me, because I drank “sunlight”, which quenched my spiritual thirst. I never had to wake up thirsty in the middle of the night again. Central to this seemingly trivial experience is the feeling of spiritual thirst, which I can still remember. I also reminisce the feeling of sacredness during the sunlight communion. So it’s evident that feeling is essential as carrier of meaning. It is also evident that if life is lacking in spiritual meaning, the unconscious is bound to produce it. It could be in the way of an “earthquake” when the old Life’s Tree is felled. Out of the earth of the vessel emerges new meaning in the form of the living alchemical ‘rotundum’. In order to slake the spiritual thirst of the turtle god, however, mass must be celebrated with oat milk.

So the unconscious is bound to spontaneously compensate a conscious attitude that repudiates meaning or due to stagnation experiences a lack of meaning. Giegerich’s edifice is merely a variant of the old Romantic programme: the conscious construct of collectivistic uprootedness shall be dressed up in mythological clothes (this time of technology and profit-making) and become the new megalomaniacal paradigm of conscious life. He holds that traditional myth is only relevant to the sociocultural and historical context where it once appeared. But this is a very far-reaching statement that lacks empirical support. By example, the Narcissus tale conveys an archetype — an eternal truth which is not married to a particular epoch. That’s why it appears in different guises in different cultures and also occurs in the dreams of modern people. It explains why it has reappeared in the story of Princess Cottongrass, for instance (cf. Winther, 2009, here). The notion of archetypal themes that transcend history, is central to Jungian psychology.

Although antique mythographers have made “improvements” according to their cultural preferences, there is an archetypal kernel in many a story that remains relevant throughout history. Modern people keep dreaming of animistic themes. In my own experience the dream function has an inordinate fondness of alchemical themes, despite the fact that my everyday life is far removed from such things. It has also produced a myth of the creation of the sun that deviates from the scientific narrative. In one dream I am a knight attacking a dragon in a cave. When my spear hits the dragon there is an explosion of light, and we are both mortally wounded. Such mythological narratives should not reappear according to Giegerich’s theory, because they do not belong in our historical and sociocultural context. Yet, many of the mythic and archetypal narratives of olden times could be as relevant as ever, despite the fact that they involve “gods”.

Collective identification

The work to accomplish a Hegelian collectivistic awareness is by Wolfgang Giegerich termed ‘the soul’s magnum opus’ whereas the “personal-subjective dimension” is termed ‘opus parvum’ (cf. Saban, 2015). In order to substantiate his Hegelian claim about the inferiority of the individual soul Giegerich asserts that it merely “speaks to itself about itself”. Thus, he maintains that the dream function is “tautological”, i.e. wholly subjective, and that support for this view can be found in Jung himself. In a critical examination, Mark Saban says:

According to Giegerich, psychic phenomena never refer to anything outside themselves and therefore should be always taken ‘purely as expressions or statements of the soul’s speaking to itself about itself’ […] A dream should therefore never be taken to be offering a comment or viewpoint on the actual life of the dreamer, or indeed upon anything else outside of the soul itself, which, in the unfolding imagery of the dream, is only ever speaking to and about itself […] It is a frequently repeated claim in Giegerich’s writings that this position derives from Jung… (Saban, 2015)

Facts are that Jungian dream interpretation has a notion of subjective and objective level of interpretation. It can sometimes be difficult to know whether a dream figure refers to the worldly object/person, or if it should be understood as a subjective content. However, it seems that the majority of dream content that appear objective, should also be interpreted on the objective level. This definition of Jungian dream interpretation can be found in introductory books on Jungian psychology, such as Jolande Jacobi’s “The Psychology of C.G. Jung”. She says in chapter “Forms of Interpretation”:

Jung distinguishes two forms or planes of interpretation: the SUBJECT LEVEL and the OBJECT LEVEL. On the subject level the figures and events of a dream are interpreted symbolically, as reflections of the dreamer’s intrapsychic factors and situations. Here the figures in the dream represent psychic tendencies or functions of the dreamer, and the dream situation reflects his attitude toward himself and his psychic reality. Thus conceived, the dream points to inner data. In interpretation on the object level, however, the dream figures are taken not symbolically but concretely. They then represent the dreamer’s attitude toward the outward facts or persons of his environment. They aim to show, in a purely objective way, how something that the dreamer in his conscious mind has seen only from one side looks from the other side, or to reveal something that he has not yet observed. (Jacobi, p.91)

Yet, Giegerich and his followers keep maintaining that support for the tautological model can be found in Jung, despite the fact that such a subjectivist model is already excluded in his definitions. One might also question the survival value of a psychic life that is one-sidedly subjective — it is not going to facilitate the confrontation with reality.

Modern worship

I take Gödel’s theorems as proof that Giegerich’s dialectical project is futile. Thinking needs recourse to true meaning outside itself, which could be denoted “gods”. Against this, Giegerich says:

Psychologically the gods are dead, while for ego-consciousness, i.e., in our intellectual and literary tradition and by way of metaphor, there has indeed been and may still be some sort of ‘survival of the pagan gods.’ It is the soul that […] has suffered the loss […] Today’s soul cannot possibly have real access to the gods any more. (Giegerich, 1999, p.176)

It is the other way round. In our modern experience the gods have moved into the unconscious psyche, which means that they are psychologically still alive. It’s another thing that people are so occupied with their conscious pursuits that they forget to listen to them. The shamanic experience was never accessible to all members of early mankind. Only the shaman could make this individual journey. Today, many more people have attained the level of individuality, which means that they transcend collective consciousness. So many more individuals have access to the shamanic journey, should they want to. They may have an encounter with the unconscious according to their own design. The conclusion is that Giegerich’s notion that man can no longer have “real access to the gods” is an unfounded premise of his thought, upon which he builds his dialectical card tower.

Ancient man had a pious relation to the gods. They dutifully went to the temple to pray and do sacrifice. During the 4th century, the burning of the pagan temples by the Christians had a devastating effect on rural life. For the pagans, the loss of the temples meant that the contact with the gods was severed. It also had economical consequences for the countryside, since the peasants lost their zest for life. In year 386, the orator Libanius made a plea to emperor Theodosius to protect the pagan shrines:

They [the monks] are spreading out like torrents across the countryside; and in ruining the temples, they are also ruining the countryside itself at one and the same time. For to snatch from a region the temple which protects it is like tearing out its eye, killing it, annihilating it. The temples are the very life of the countryside; around them are built houses and villages, in their shadow a succession of generations have been born up until the present day. It is in those temples that farmers have placed their hopes for themselves and their wives and children, for their oxen and for the ground they have sown or planted. A country region whose temple has been destroyed in this manner is lost, because the despairing villagers no longer have their will to work. It would be pointless to exert themselves, they think, because they have already been deprived of the gods who made their labors prosper. (Armstrong, 1986, p.200)

Thus, the temple was ancient man’s “access to the gods”. However, according to Giegerich, such a pious form of worship is inaccessible to modern man. Why? In a sense, I do worship to goddess Diana when visiting nature. A favourite place of mine is a meadow with high grass where I use to sit down and watch the clouds. It is a sacred place to me. Of course, I have no name for the god that dwells there, nor have I recourse to a temple proper. Yet, I put words to my experience of the spirit, and this could be seen as a ritual offering.


The erroneous argument that individuation, as the solitary process of introversion, cannot help in advancing the collective, is incessantly repeated. This builds on a misinterpretation of human nature and of its archetypal representative — the Self. In fact, as Joseph L. Henderson explains:

One cannot finally escape the true meaning of this [Anthropos] image; it tells us that man is both individual (that is, unified) and collective (that is, a multiplicity), and in his multiplicity he feels himself to be part of a cultural whole consisting of many parts, which offers the widest view of man’s social capacity for feeling. (Henderson, 1993, p.23)

Henderson argues that although a stage of individualism, even selfishness, is inevitable at the beginning of any process of self-discovery, there must come a time for a reacceptance of the social dimension of life in the process of individuation itself (cf. p.18). Furthermore, Jung says that “[the] Self could be characterized as a kind of compensation of the conflict between inside and outside” (Jung, 1972, para.404). Personality moves closer to the Self and becomes more social and more individual at the same time. It lies within the individuation process itself to find a way in the outside world. The Self attempts to heal the split between our inborn psychic nature and the outside world. When these two worlds no longer go hand in hand the wisdom of the collective unconscious, alongside conscious understanding, can give us guidance, while taking into consideration both our inner nature and contemporary culture.

Adaptation to the outer world requires personal improvement. By example, an uneducated man walking past a meadow will not see much of its species of herbs, flowers and insects. But a man who withdraws into solitude and studies these subjects, will be able to see so much more. Only knowing the names of species opens up your eyes to them. So individuation as inner improvement leads to an affection for that which is outside. Individuation, as the movement toward wholeness, compensates the split between inner and outer. This ideal of wholeness is termed the Self. It is easy to see that a realistic and good-enough adaptation to the environment results in enhanced survival value. That’s probably why mankind has a drive toward personal improvement, denoted individuation.

However, infantile complexes, such as the mother complex, can block individuation. That’s why it’s necessary to first overcome any unconscious obstacles before one can set out on the individual path. It implies that, as consciousness assumes control, the complex will lose its power over the mind. What happens if people embrace a collective complex, such as advocated by Hegel? On the surface, it seems to result in an enhancement of survival value. After all, if all the members of a group have the mother complex in common they may fraternize and give mutual support. But this is worthwhile only in the short-term perspective. The lack of coordination with reality will eventually cause the demise of the group. That’s why the collective “Wotan complex” which dominated the German people led to the demise of the Third Reich. Thus, to make an example of personal individuation will also enhance the survival value of the group.

Individuation moves toward the Self as goal. It seems that personal improvement serves the purpose of transcending the ego, occupied as it is with worldly trifles. It leads to the enhancement of well-being in a relative sense to transcend the world, and it allows the individuant to break the moorings and stop obsessing about the present situation. It promotes health and thus increases survival value. We don’t need to know that the Self exists, as such, for us to adopt this transcendent notion. Suffice it to say that mature people lead life as if they were moving toward a goal. They don’t like stagnation. Comparatively, physicists observe that matter follows energy laws as if there were such a thing as energy. Yet, not many physicists think that energy exists, as such. Closely observed, energy always reveals itself in particle form, such as electrons.

The Self could very well be seen as an hermeneutic or a transcendent notion, but we cannot discard it. Comparatively, a historian or an anthropologist cannot do without divine concepts, since they have always played a central role in human history. Should we only reason with economical factors, it is not possible to understand history. How could a historian comprehend the motives of medieval dwellers without recourse to the concept of God? In medieval England, it was of central concern whether or not a king had been ceremonially anointed and thereby ruled “by the Grace of God” (cf. Wiki, here). War could break out if an usurpator captured the throne from an incompetent ruler, because the latter had the divine right to rule, despite his failings.

Humanity has always behaved as if divine beings existed, and that’s why we cannot do without the concept of gods, whether they exist or not. Should we follow Giegerich in discarding notions of God, Self and individuation, then we have forfeited essential tools necessary for the understanding of ourselves as individuals and as society. Adaptation to reality can only be effected with the collective unconscious as foundation. We have to listen to the age-old inner man when moulding the future, and to follow a way accordant with our inner nature. Man has to become aware of the facts underlying notions of gods and spirits, thereby invoking afresh a relation with the collective unconscious. We may dress up the eternal truths in a new clothing, but we will never manage the trick of pulling ourselves up by our own hair, lifting ourselves up from our indigenous psychic nature.


© Mats Winther, 2000, 2015, 2017.


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