November 18, 2005

Plato and Jung

Plato and Jung differ on a very important point, that is, personifying. Classical greek culture is responsible for the disembodiment of pagan divinities : what the Archaic Greeks would have called divinities, became with Plato : "ideas", "forms" and "archetypes". There, the goddess Themis became the concept of law, the god Apollo was replaced by an abstract idea of beauty, every god and goddess lost his or her body and became a concept. Plato was fitted to become the main philosopher of Christianism, followed by Aristotle, because not only did he dis-embody pagan divinities, but he also was one of the first (after Parmenide and Xenophane ) to speak of God as a unified, unique concept.
Jung's contribution goes the opposite way: he worked to re-personify, and to multiply the figures of divinities. Hillman and his collegues in archetypal psychology now give to that movement an even more radical twist. From Plato to Jung, and from Jung to Hillman, there is a reversal of perspective about personifying, which is after all the process of giving body to a concept.
That is why, when Goldenberg presents archetypal psychology as a source of comptempt for bodily life, I believe she is right if she is thinking about Plato's archetypes, but wrong if this criticism is adressed towards contemporary archetypal psychology. I think, as she does, that we loose a sense of our humanity when we are carried away by what she calls "purposeful identities outside of ourselves", meaning a belief in archetypes as if they were transcendental divinities ruling our lives from up there. But when she writes:
  • "Religion called them gods"
  • "Philosophy called them forms"
  • "Psychology (Jung) called them archetypes"

she is identifiyng Jung with Plato. Certainly Jung is partly responsible for that, because he refers to Plato himself. But by the process of re-personifying, Jung contributed to the re-embodiment of psychological concepts, and by doing so, he stressed the link between spiritual experience and bodily life.

One can "see through" Jung's psychology, the hidden christianism, especially in his notion of the self and individuation. Reading Jung is sometimes just like listening to a sermon. The junguian description of Self and Individuation certainly has a christian flavor. This is no problem if one finds, in the psychology of Jung, a new psychological dimension to one's christian religious beliefs. But those who made a move away from traditional beliefs, might feel manipulated by a certain use of the psychology of Jung. At one point, I felt, like Goldenberg, the need to stress that Freud really had a point when he wrote "The Future of an Illusion" , and exposed the alienation of religious dependency. In fact, Jung stood at the frontier between two worlds : born in the Christian faith, and an explorer of the pagan world, his psychology reflected those two influences. Ginette Paris

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