The Use of Kant in Jung's Early Psychological Works

Article excerpt

I need only remark that it is by no means unusual, upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his subject, whether in ordinary conversation or in writing, to find that we understand him better than he has understood himself. As he has not sufficiently determined his concept, he has sometimes spoken, or even thought, in opposition to his own intention.

(Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 314)


Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) made repeated and explicit reference to Immanuel Kant throughout his extensive writings.(1) According to his autobiography, he started reading Kant in the context of his study of Schopenhauer,(2) and in a letter to the professor of psychology Joseph Rychlak of 27 April 1959, he listed Kant amongst his major philosophical influences, adding: 'In the intellectual world in which I grew up, Hegelian thought played no role at all; on the contrary, it was Kant and his epistemology on the one hand, and on the other straight materialism.'(3) A member of one of Jung's seminars recalls him as saying that the 'real basis' of his 'philosophical education' was Kant.(4)

Moreover, Jung referred to Kant nearly twenty times - more than to any other philosopher - in his correspondence (or at least in that which has been published), repeatedly trying to assimilate the fundamental notions of analytical psychology to the key concepts of the critical philosophy of Kant. For example, he wrote in a letter of 8 April 1932 to the aesthetician and philosopher August Vetter: 'In einem gewissen Sinne konnte ich vom kollektiven Unbewussten genau das gleiche sagen, was Kant vom Ding an sich sagte, namlich dass es lediglich ein negativer Grenzbegriff sei' ['In a certain sense I could say of the Collective Unconscious exactly what Kant said of the Ding an sich - that it is merely a negative borderline concept'] (B1 p.124/L1: p.91); and on 13 October 1941, he told the professor of botany at Basle, Gustav Senn: 'Der Kantsche kategorische Imperativ ist naturlich eine philosophische Uberarbeitung einer seelischen Tatsache, welche [...] eine unzweifelhafte Manifestation der Anima ist' ['Kant's categorical imperative is of course a philosophical reworking of a psychic fact which ... is unquestionably a manifestation of the Anima'] (B1: p.380/L1: p.305).

In his correspondence, Jung frequently aligned himself with Kant to defend the epistemological stance of analytical psychology: in a letter dated 8 February 1941 to the Catholic theologian Josef Goldbrunner, Jung declared himself to be, epistemologically speaking, a Kantian: 'ich [stehe] erkenntnistheoretisch auf Kantscher Grundlage [...], was besagen will, dass eine Aussage ihren Gegenstand nicht setzt' ['epistemologically I take my stand on Kant, which means that an assertion doesn't posit its object'] (B1: p.368/L1: p.294); and he repeated this claim two years later in a letter written on 4 February 1943 to the political philosopher Arnold Kunzli: 'Philosophisch bin ich altmodischerweise nicht uber Kant hinaus-gekommen, kann also mit keinen romantischen Hypostasen dienen und bin infolgedessen fur philosophische Befunde ganz und gar nicht zu Hause' ['Philosophically I am old-fashioned enough not to have got beyond Kant, so I have no use for romantic hypostases and am strictly "not at home" for philosophical opinions'] (B: p.407/L1: p.329). As in his letter to Walter Robert Corti of 2 May 1955, Jung acknowledged that the boundaries of Kantian philosophy were frequently transgressed - but only by others: 'Der himmelsturmende Anspruch des romantischen Intellektes ist mir leider ganz und gar verflogen [...] Es scheint mir, dass transzendente Urteile des Intellektes uberhaupt unmoglich und darum gegenstandslos sind. Sie kommen aber, trotz Kant und Erkenntnistheorie, immer wieder vor und konnen offenbar nicht unterdruckt werden' ['The heaven-storming pretensions of the romantic intellect, sad to relate, have flown from me utterly . …