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Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111200259-Jung.jpg Carl Jung Published by Salem Press, Inc.

The work of Carl Gustav Jung (yoong) defies exact classification. A psychologist by training and profession, Jung conceded that medicine was for him a detour from his primary preoccupations, religion and philosophy. Jung always insisted that he was an empirical scientist, dedicated to the objective study of all psychic manifestations, but his psychological theories and therapeutic methods—called analytical psychology—ultimately led him back to his first loves. Jung’s erudition encompassed an astonishingly vast collection of subjects: world mythologies, history of religion, theology, mysticism, the occult, Eastern thought, philosophy, physical science, history of science, and art. Although he claimed to be scientific, his writings overflow with speculations, supernatural accounts (often personal), and mysticism; this is especially true of his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Jung is probably best known for his theory of the collective unconscious and its contents, the archetypes. He also originated the much debated concept of synchronicity, a noncausal but meaningful connective principle that has application all the way from parapsychology to the physics of the atom. In short, Jung developed a psychology of human culture—a universal psychology.

Jung’s father, Johann Paul Achilles Jung, was a Protestant minister who had studied Oriental languages but whose intellectual development, as his son later judged, had been stunted by Christian dogma. This kind of dogmatic sterility, which no longer provides the living mythological symbols necessary to mediate the archetypes of the collective unconscious, later became Carl Jung’s chief concern. From about the age of eleven, Jung found himself drawn to philosophy, especially questions concerning metaphysics and the existence of God. Reading Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) convinced him that any pure reality that lay beyond conscious psychic categorization was in principle inaccessible to human reason (although in later life he sometimes expressed doubts about this theory). What mattered was God’s existence as psychic reality. Jung chose medicine as his occupation because it seemed to him that only scientific psychology permits meaningful and factual statements to be made on such matters.

After receiving his medical degree in 1902, Jung joined the staff at the Berghölzli psychiatric clinic at the University of Zurich. There, around 1906, he began a close professional and personal friendship with Sigmund Freud. Their partnership lasted until 1913, and during this time Jung became the most important international spokesperson for psychoanalysis, second only to Freud himself. Although Jung accepted many of Freud’s theories on the unconscious, dreams, repression, and mental illness, he found Freud’s dogmatic insistence upon the purely sexual nature of irrational unconscious forces too confining and narrow, especially in religion. This intellectual disagreement was the major cause of his break with Freud.

Around the period 1916-1918, Jung suffered a kind of mental collapse in which he was beset with dreams and visions. Although he did little writing during this time, he reached important conclusions. Within the dreams and visions of his patients, as well as his own, Jung noticed images and symbols of an extremely archaic nature—things that could not have been a part of the personal history or the result of repression.

Upon his recovery and for the rest of his long life Jung pursued his researches in mythology and religion, digging into the vast mountain of historical symbols and images from all times and places. Here was the empirical proof, Jung believed, of the existence of inherited forms of thought in a collective unconscious which manifest themselves in universal religious symbolism, dreams, theories—in short, the total psychic life of humanity. These structures are inherited thought patterns, which Jung...

(The entire section is 1,470 words.)