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Jung’s metaphysic and epistemology: Platonism or Phenomenology?


Carl Jung divides reality according to Kantian terms. The phenomenal world is the experiental world whereas the noumenal world is forever in the beyond. The latter is the causal factor behind the former. However, on the subjective side there is another reality, which is the objective psyche, inhabited by archetypes. The archetypal world, too, is partitioned into phenomenal and noumenal—the archetypal image and the archetype-as-such, of which the latter transcends experience. (It is required, as one and the same archetypal seed can give rise to many different expressions in culture, myth and dream.) Hence we are surrounded on both sides by a transcendental reality that is, as such, forever beyond experience. We only have recourse to a phenomenal reality, a virtual reality similar to the simulated environment created in computer technology, allowing users to interact with 3D worlds (VR). That’s why Jung’s metaphysical credo is esse in anima. Accordingly, he says:

Far, therefore, from being a material world, this is a psychic world, which allows us to make only indirect and hypothetical inferences about the real nature of matter. The psychic alone has immediate reality, and this includes all forms of the psychic, even “unreal” ideas and thoughts which refer to nothing “external.” We may call them “imagination” or “delusion,” but that does not detract in any way from their effectiveness. (CW 8, para. 747)

The psyche creates reality every day. The only expression I can use for this activity is fantasy […] Sometimes it appears in primordial form, sometimes it is the ultimate and boldest product of all our faculties combined. Fantasy, therefore, seems to me the clearest expression of the specific activity of the psyche. (CW 6, para. 78)

For all practical matters, then, it seems that Jung belongs to an existentialist branch of phenomenological philosophy, because it is easy to forget about a noumenal reality which is forever beyond our grasp (vid. Brooke, 2015). It was for the same reason that Kant’s transcendental idealism turned into subjective idealism. Jungian psychology predictably underwent a regression in Hillman’s ‘archetypal psychology’, which may rightly be called a form of controlled madness.

This won’t do because phenomenology runs counter to science. For one thing, Kant’s postulate of a noumenal reality has been refuted. In the Prolegomena he explains that the warmth of a stone is a mere judgment of perception, subjectively constructed, and that we will never come to know the internal constitution of the stone (the thing-in-itself) which gives rise to the appearance. Today, quantum physicists can explain everything about the warmth of the stone. Quantum physics has laid bare the thing-in-itself, the inner workings of which we cannot directly perceive. Through experiment and mathematical theory we have better knowledge about this realm than anything else (cf. Winther, 2000). It appears that the world as noumenal reality is a figment of mind.

It means that we do not live in a mere phenomenal reality. Our perception of outer reality is more or less authentic. It requires some kind of realist epistemology; and thus phenomenology, and all other forms of idealism, are out of the question. Phenomenology is no way out for Jungian psychology.

Despite the advances of science during his lifetime, Jung maintained his radical noumenalism. It consorts with phenomenalism, the doctrine that human knowledge is confined to or founded on the realities or appearances presented to the senses. Thus, we cannot know anything certain about the true nature of matter, psyche, or the divine. The contributions of all brands of theorists are “anthropomorphisms”, fabricated in the intellectual ivory tower of their institutions, where they have no insight about the “epistemological barrier”. We only have recourse to the phenomenon; only experience counts. Commenting on Buber’s critique, Jung says:

But it is the theologians of every variety who buttonhole God and prescribe to him what he has to be like in their estimation. This leads to no understanding between men, of which we stand in such dire need today. My apparent scepticism is only a recognition of the epistemological barrier, of which Buber doesn’t seem to possess the ghost of an idea. When I say that God is first and foremost our conception, this is twisted into God is “nothing but our conception.” In reality there is a background of existence which we can intuit at most but cannot transpose into the sphere of our knowledge. In any case a serious science should not succumb to this arrogance. The relation with transcendence is certainly a necessity for us, but gives us no power over it. (1975, p. 368)

Jung thinks that his critics make a dogmatic claim to sole validity of their views, when they would better realize that their assertions are mere human statements. On his view, Augustine’s theory of God’s nature is no better than any other view, and the scientific theorists are groping in the dark, their models being merely provisional. In truth, their theories underlie our enormous technological development, and these developments today belong to the phenomenal world. Many things that (probably) never before existed in the universe now exist as “instantiations of theory”. Theory, including theology, can be permanently true.

So it was Jung himself whose dogmatic adherence to noumenalism made communications with other disciplines (especially theology) impossible. Among Jungians today many hold with epistemic phenomenalism, and the consequences are deleterious, contributing to the isolation of Jungian psychology. They write books neglecting scholarly knowledge in the field, safe in the conviction that experts only rely on “anthropomorphisms”. Especially the views of theologians, biblical exegetes and historians, can be safely neglected. After all, Jung made an example to follow, in writing Answer to Job.

It has been argued that Jung misused the Kantian terms. I’m not so sure of that; he simply expanded their usage. According to Kant, the thing-in-itself is ordered by the categories into a phenomenon. If an archetypal image is a Kantian phenomenon, it requires that the archetype-as-such is spatiotemporally present. It isn’t, of course (cf. de Voogd 1984). Nevertheless, consider that the archetypes order the mental experience, both from themselves and of themselves. In such a way they correspond to the Kantian categories, the difference being that the archetypes are more numerous and beyond the grasp of the intellect. (Jung opines that “Kant reduced the archetypes to a limited number of categories of understanding” (CW 8, para. 276).) Roger Brooke says:

The archetypes become both ‘categories’ and noumenata (unknowable things-in-themselves); and if archetypal images are phenomenal, they are no longer grounded in the given world but in the psyche. Instead of the structural relation between person and world, or ‘category’ and phenomenon, there are the intra-psychic relations between consciousness (archetypally structured, perhaps) and archetypal images. Even the postulated noumenon is no longer ‘out there’ but is equally the unknowable intra-psychic source of archetypal images. Otherness evaporates and relationships collapse into identities. Just as the religious person ‘relates’ to God by ‘projecting’ the ‘corresponding’ psychic God-image, so the child relates to his mother by projecting an internal image of mother on to her, the father relates to his children by projecting an internal image of the child on to them, the woman relates to her lover by projecting her animus on to him, and the parishioner relates to her priest through the projected image of the priest. This theoretical mishmash has the practical effect of collapsing personal boundaries, rendering relationships narcissistic, and dulling our empathic sensibilities. At its conceptual core is Jung’s misuse of Kant. (Brooke, 2015, pp. 80-81)

In this understanding, an archetype is its own noumenon and phenomenon. Despite the fact that the archetypes are intellectually irrepresentable, they themselves order the mind’s experience of themselves; the very same archetypes. Those entities which are not graspable are employed by the mind to make experiental the very same noumenal entities. It defies logic. If it’s going to work, it is necessary to postulate Kantian categories of understanding apart from noumenal archetypes. Then it seems that Brooke’s argument loses its power. Jung’s point is that the noumenal archetype is equally much “outside” mind as the noumenal object. It does indeed belong to the “given world”.

The view that Jung’s model “renders relationships narcissistic” is implausible. If a person “only relates to her projections”, she will soon experience a collision with harsh reality. The consequence is that projections are withdrawn and the unconscious factor is integrated. This is the whole point of Jungian individuation. The argument is valid only if we can only “have a reality” through archetypal projections. I don’t think this is what Jung means. In Kantian epistemology, we can only “have a reality” through the ordering capacity of the categories. In Kant’s system the wholly rational and deducible categories shape something else, which is imperceptible as such. So if the noumenal archetypes are defined as something else than the mind’s categories, then it works. It’s just that Jung expands the Kantian horizon to incorporate the objective psyche. The categories order inner reality as well as outer reality. It is questionable if Jung really mishandles the Kantian terms.

As we are “surrounded on both sides” by noumenal reality, Jung takes the step to unite this reality and characterizes it as psychoid. It means that matter and psyche have the same archetypal foundation; inner and outer have the same ground. The foundational archetypes of the unus mundus are the qualities of number (vid. von Franz, 1974). However, per definition, what’s qualitative belongs to the phenomenal realm. We experience qualities of number (‘oneness’, ‘twoness’…); so it does not belong to the noumenal.

It’s evident that the concept of the noumenal (absolute transcendence) is an encumberment. It has been refuted by science; nor can Jung make heads or tails of it. Yet it’s practical, because it allows Jung to put the questions of the nature of the archetype, the structure of matter and the theology of God, in a box and close the lid. It let him focus entirely on the empirical psyche. Plato didn’t make it so easy for himself. Platonism is an old venerable school of philosophy that harmonizes with science and Christianity and lacks that strange Kantian concept of absolute transcendence. Plato’s mind-body philosophy has very little in common with modern Cartesianism.

The Platonic Form is reminiscent of the Jungian archetype, the difference being that Forms are divine and intelligible. A popular view is that they are perfect particulars (transcendent, pure Forms). However, this is not the only version that Plato gives. Forms are epistemologically and ontologically independent of spatiotemporality. As objects of thought they are non-identical with the common qualities of things. Ostenfeld says that “we are entitled to distinguish three kinds of ontological entities: Forms, Form-instances or common qualities, and particulars” (1982, p. 25). Platonic epistemology classifies sense-perception under universals, and thus latent knowledge of the Forms serves to categorize experience. However, the thing observed also has its essential nature from the Forms. (The exemplar is always a more or less deficient instantiation of the Forms.) So both inner and outer reality are structured by the same Forms, just as in Jung’s system. (Unus mundus corresponds to the Platonic Beyond.) The mind, through recollection, has access to the pure Forms, and may thus recognize the imprecise embodiments in the outer world.

Notably, Plato’s philosophy is called Platonic realism because universals exist objectively and outside of human minds. Because it is a realist epistemology, this is why it works. Has philosophy made any progress after Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine and Aquinas? Richard H. Schlagel (2003) evaluates the modern philosophical project as a deplorable failure. Thus, it might be a good idea for Jungian psychology to strike down roots in good old respectable philosophy.

Conclusion

I have argued that the Jungian regression into phenomenology and the concomitant ideal of “living in fantasy” depend on the predication of a noumenal reality. If this out-of-date postulate is discarded, what’s left is similar to the Platonic metaphysic and epistemology. It also means that Jungian psychology can no longer regard theology and the science of matter as irrelevant, simply by arguing that these merely represent theory whereas psychic experience is the only reality that matters. Theoretical understanding of the world and God has an immense psychological effect, and correct theory that remains truthful is possible. Theory is real. In fact, in quantum physics, mathematical statistical functions take on a reality of their own. A wave function is a potential reality that collapses at the moment of measurement. As long as no measurement occurs, there is only a potential reality, as described by a mathematical function.


OWL



© Mats Winther, 2020.



References

Brooke, R. (2015). Jung and Phenomenology. Routledge.

Franz, M-L von (1974). Number and Time. Rider & Company.

Jung, C. G. (1975). Adler, G. (ed.). Letters, Vol. 2: 1951-1961. Princeton University Press.

  ---------    (1977). Psychological Types. Bollingen Series. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 6)

  ---------    (1978). The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Princeton/Bollingen. (CW 8)

Kant, I. (1912). Carus, P. (ed.). Kant’s Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics. Project Gutenberg. (here)

Ostenfeld, E. N. (1982). Forms, Matter and Mind: Three Strands in Plato’s Metaphysics. Martinus Nuhoff Publishers.

Schlagel, R. H. (2003). ‘The Waning of the Light: The Eclipse of Philosophy’. The Review of Metaphysics 57, Sept 2003, 105-133.

Silverman, A. (2014). ‘Plato’s Middle Period Metaphysics and Epistemology’. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.). (here)

Voogd, S. de (1984). ‘Fantasy versus Fiction: Jung’s Kantianism Appraised’ in Papadopoulos, R. K. and Saayman, G. S. (eds.) Jung in Modern Perspective. Wildwood House, 1984, ch. 13.

Winther, M. (2000). ‘Critique of Neo-Hegelianism’. (here)

See also:

Winther, M. (2019). ‘The psychologization of God’. (here) (This is a review of The divine mind: exploring the psychological history of God’s inner journey, 2018, by Jungian author Michael Gellert. It exemplifies the Jungian phenomenological method.)





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