Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Coincidence of Opposites in Jung's Psychological Types

In my previous post I discussed the notion of the coincidence of opposites as it appears in Jung’s Red Book. In this post, I propose to briefly examine this idea as it is treated Psychological Types, which is from the same period as The Red Book.

Psychological Types is an extremely wide ranging work that is loosely structured around Jung’s examination of the “type problem” in philosophy, literature, biography and psychology. By "type" Jung refers specifically to personality types that are characterized by the polarities of thinking/feeling and introversion/extraversion. Jung holds that a complete psychological understanding of the psyche can occur neither through thinking (science) nor feeling alone, but only via a higher third principle which unites them, creative fantasy (PT par. 86-6). Indeed. Jungian psychology cannot be fully grounded in either thought nor feeling; if grounded in the latter it loses its order and claim to validity, if in the latter it loses its connection with life.

Jung extends the notion of complementarity to his critique of Freudian and Adlerian psychology, each of which neglects the opposition proffered by the other (instinct by Freud and the aims of the ego by Adler). Each of these psychologies is complete on its own terms, but found to be incomplete when examined in light of the principle that grounds the other. Interpretations can always be made that accord with Freud’s “infantile wishes” and Adler’s aims of “security and differentiation of the ego” (PT par. 89), but these offer only partial truths that cannot claim total validity. While these two perspectives might complement one another, they are each incomplete because they reject the reconciling principle of the imagination (PT par. 93). Later in Psychological Types, Jung tells us that it is only the imagination, through its production of symbols, and in particular religious and spiritual symbols (see PT par. 824-5), that we are able to transcend and in effect reconcile the demands of instinct with the aims of the ego. Jung allows that the opposites can in certain respects be reconciled through art, but he is critical of Nietzsche and others who remain on the level of the aesthetic and fail to recognized the overaching importance of spiritual and religious symbols. He is certainly critical of any effort at an intellectual resolution to the problem. While he initiatlly suggests that “It remains an open question whether the opposition between the two standpoints can ever be satisfactorily resolved in intellectual terms” (PT par. 84), he is later quite emphatic: "opposites are not to be united rationally…that is precisely why they are called opposites” (PT par. 169). For Jung, “opposites can be united only in the form of a compromise, or irrationally…only…through living” (PT par. 169). The idea here is familiar to psychotherapists: a patient who finds himself on the horns of a conflict between his homosexuality and the demands of the Catholic church, for example, does not and cannot resolve this conflict in intellectual terms, but can come to lead a life in which the conflict is transcended.

Jung considers Friedrich Schiller’s idea that one can have a complete intuition of his humanity by “at once being conscious of his freedom…and sensible of existence as matter” (PT par. 169—quotations are from Jung’s quotation of Schiller). The idea here is that perhaps one could simultaneously experience both polarities of a Kantian antinomy—thinking of oneself as both a free willing subject and as a causally determined material entity. Jung sees this as a case of “thinking by sensing and sensing by thinking.” According to Jung such a reconciliation can only occur on the irrational level of the imagination, through the production of living symbols. However. neitherreason nor feeling can produce symbols (PT par. 179), which must arise unconsciously and spontaneously through the vehicle of the imagination, which “alone has the power to supply the will with a content of such a nature that it can unite the opposites” (PT par. 185). Jung terms the process by which the opposites are mediated through imagination and life. the transcendent function (PT par. 184, cf. par 828).

While Jung says that he rejects the idea of a rational reconciliation of the opposites, several of his remarks (including but by no means limited to those regarding Jung and Adler) suggest the need for a theoretical synthesis. For example he proposes that we “have the right on purely empirical grounds to treat the contents of the unconscious as just as real at the things of the outside world” (PT par. 279), and this proposal comes very close to the theoretical solution offered by Husserlian phenomenology. Jung’s remark that “theosophy and spiritualism are just as violent in their encroachments on other spheres as materialism” (PT par. 280) seems to invite a theoretical perspective that might be inclusive of each. In his discussion of William James Jung considers the conflict between intellectual and intuitive truths and accepts James’ pragmatic eclecticism as a necessary part of the solution to the problem of conflicting foundations in philosophy and psychology. However, Jung ultimately concludes that both conceptualism and pragmatism are inadequate to the task of integrating “logically irreconcilable” views as they inevitably lead to a loss of creativity. Only a “positive act of creation” can “assimilate[] the opposites as necessary points of co-ordination” (PT par. 341). With respect to the fragmentation in philosophy and psychology and the reconciliation of the two types of truth, one wonders if Jung’s “creative fantasy” promises more than it delivers. :Perhaps a "positive act of creation" can produce a reconcilliation that is acceptable on both a theoretical and inruitive (experiential) level.

Jung makes parenthetic reference to Hegel’s efforts to reconcile the opposites, suggesting that although ”intuitive ideas” underlie Hegel’s system, they remained subordinated to intellect (PT par. 340).

Jung suggests that when one travels far down the path of a given perspective, its opposite emerges, stating, however, that only a few “reach the rim of the world, where its mirror-image begins” (PT par. 281).

Jung holds that various religions and thinkers have evoked different notions as their principles for uniting the opposites, for the Christians it is the worship of God, for the Buddhists the realization and development of the Self, and for Goethe it is “the worship of the soul, symbolized by the worship of women.” Jung takes a special interest in the Christian mystic and philosopher, Meister Eckhardt who sees a coincidence of opposites between God and man, and who seeks to unite the opposites by discovering God within his own soul, a task, by the way, which occupies Jung throughout much of the Red Book, and which I have explored in my post on the Tales of Izdubar, and will examine further in a later posting.

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