Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jung's Red Book: The Critique of Reason

In the Red Book Jung is not content to turn his critical gaze only upon science, but is also highly critical of reason and morality. In this post, I will briefly examine his critique of reason. According to Jung:

“The ancients called the saving word the Logos, an expression of divine reason. So much unreason was in man that he needed reason to be saved. [but] in the end [the Logos] poisons us all…We spread poison and paralysis around us in that we want to educate all the world around us into reason” (280).

For Jung, reason is not only present in thinking, but in feeling as well (we are probably all familiar with relations or acquaintances whose emotions are always “reasonable” and “appropriate”). However, both those who are always intellectually and emotionally rational are, according to Jung secretly “worshippers of the servant,” as for Jung reason should always simply be a servant to other ends.

Jung is skeptical even regarding reason’s ability to provide a basis for knowledge:

“Whenever I want to learn and understand something I leave my so-called reason at home and give whatever it is that I am trying to understand the benefit of the doubt. I have learned this gradually, because nowadays the world of science is full of scary examples of the opposite” (313).

Jung observes “that the world comprises reason and unreason,” adding, “and we also understood that our way needs not only reason but unreason.

In Psychological Types (p. 454, par. 773) Jung clarifies that he uses the term “irrational” “not to denote something contrary to reason, but something beyond reason, something, therefore, not grounded on reason.” This, he informs us, includes “elementary facts,” for example, “That the earth has a moon, that chlorine is an element, that water reaches its greatest density at forty degrees centigrade.” Chance, and the accidental features of objects and events also included under the heading of the “irrational.” Yet in the Red Book, he acknowledges that certain things that are beyond reason today may not be so tomorrow: “One can be certain that the greater part of the world eludes our understanding…a part of the incomprehensible, however, is only presently incomprehensible and might already concur with reason tomorrow.” This, however, may not be possible, for example, for the objects of religious experience. Jung tells us that it “quite easy for our reason to deny the God and speak only of sickness,” yet “the fiery brilliance of the God [is] a higher and fuller life than the ashes of rationality” (339).

Jung’s difficulty with reason is in part rotted with his view that it is associated with only two of what he considered to be the four psychic functions. As we have seen according to Jung reason is associated with thinking and feeling, which are regarded to be the rational functions. Sensing and intuition, in Jung’s typology are the “irrational” functions, largely because unlike thinking and feeling they are grounded in perception rather than judgment. Jung held the symbol in such high regard because he saw it as a product of all four psychic functions. In Psychological Types he says of the symbol:

“It certainly has a side that accords with reason, but it has another side that does not; for it is composed not only of rational but also irrational data supplied by pure inner and outer perception” (Psych. Types, par. 822).

One might readily suppose that for Jung (and indeed as we have seen his says this himself), the irrationality of the symbol, and the irrational in general is not a function that runs contrary to reason or science (after all sensation and intuition are all part of the rational scientific process), but there are places where Jung suggests that the irrational is pre-rational, illogical and associated with madness. In Psychological Types he says that a symbol must both be born of “man’s highest spiritual aspirations,” and “spring from the deepest roots of his being,” and it therefore “must derive equally from the lowest and most primitive levels of the psyche” (ibid.). In the Red Book, Jung extols the value of madness, which he says is a “special form of the spirit and clings to all teachings and philosophies, but even more to daily life, since life itself is full of craziness and at bottom utterly illogical” (298). One who refuses to enter into the irrational, illogical world of madness has, for Jung, failed to comprehend the full nature of the psyche and moreover has remained outside of life itself.

There is, from Jung’s perspective, yet another problem with reason. According to Jung, “the laws of reason are the laws that designate and govern the average, “correct,” adapted attitude…Everything is “rational” that accords with these laws, everything that contravenes them is “irrational.” Since, as we have seen, Jung regards “creative fantasy” to be the road to the soul, it follows that reason can never bring us to the soul, because reason, by itself, can never contravene what later thinkers came to refer to as the “ruling discourse.” (Interestingly, Jung’s “irrational” plays a similar role in his thinking that the “real” would later play in the thought of Lacan, and the “monstrous” in Derrida.)

Jung’s celebration of the irrational appears to have figured into his early enthusiasm for the National Socialism. At the Tavistock Clinic in London in 1935 Jung described how Naziism not only had a hypnotic effect upon the German people, but even, when he was in Germany, upon Jung himself:

“Would you have believed that a whole nation of highly intelligent and cultivated people could be seized by the fascinating power of an archetype? I saw it coming, and I can understand it because I know the power of the collective unconscious. But on the surface it looks simply incredible. Even my personal friends are under that fascination, and when I am in Germany, I believe it myself, I understand it all, I know it has to be as it is. One cannot resist it. It gets you below the belt and not in your mind, your brain just counts for nothing, your sympathetic system is gripped. It is a power that fascinates people from within, it is the collective unconscious which is activated…We cannot be children about it, having intellectual and reasonable ideas and saying: this should not be…An incomprehensible fate has seized them, and you cannot say it is right, or it is wrong. It has nothing to do with rational judgment, it is just history.” (C. G. Jung. The Tavistock lectures: on the theory and practice of analytical psychology. Lecture V. In: Jung, C., Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 18. Princeton University Press, 1976. (p. 135-182), p. 164.)

Jung, as it turned out, for a time expressed optimism regarding the Nazi state even when he was not in Germany, though after the war he would say that he could not bring himself to believe that a civilized European state could act so irrationally:

“When Hitler seized power it became quite evident to me that a mass psychosis was boiling up in Germany. But I could not help telling myself that this was after all Germany, a civilized European nation with a sense of morality and discipline” (“Epilogue to ‘Essays on Contemporary Events,’” CW 10, p. 236).

As I argue in my book, Kabbalistic Metaphors: C. G. Jung and Jewish Mysticism, Jung’s optimism regarding the Nazis and Hitler raises serious questions about any psychology, philosophy or theology that fails to place reason above the other psychic functions. While in the Red Book Jung is adamant that reason cannot dominate the psyche or our understanding of it, later, in reflecting upon the irrational psychic forces that on his view produced the events that occurred in Nazi Germany he came close to abandoning this view:

“As a psychiatrist, accustomed to dealing with patients who are in danger of being overwhelmed by unconscious contents, I knew that it is of utmost importance, from the therapeutic point of view, to strengthen as far as possible their conscious position and powers of understanding so that there is something there to intercept and integrate the contents that are breaking through to consciousness.” (“Epilogue to ‘Essays on Contemporary Events,’” CW 10, p. 236).

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