Lecture III 3rd November, 1933
The sequence of the development of psychology which we have been following took us to the British Isles last time, today we will turn to France where the first psychologists appear in the early days of French enlightenment, at the beginning of the XVIIIth century.
This was the time when the “encyclopedistes” were at work, knowledge was being heaped up and the ideas of philosophers, such as Voltaire and Diderot, were being spread abroad.
France was then a very Catholic country and in her new thirst for knowledge it was natural that she should swing from one extreme to the other and become very fundamentally enlightened.
Julien de la Mettrie (1709-1751 ) is the first French psychologist.
He was a doctor and an outstanding man of his time.
In 1748 Frederick the Great called him to Berlin, where he lived till his death three years later.
La Mettrie is a real materialist and empiricist.
His fundamental conception is that all life springs from dead matter; he considers the psyche to a certain extent as an appendage of
organic life, as depending on the brain.
So the discovery of the relation of the psyche to the brain bears fruit here.
La Mettrie says: “The brain has thinking muscles as the leg has walking muscles”.
He looks upon the living being as a machine that consists of springs like the works of a watch.
His book “L’homme Machine” (1748) is based on the standpoint that the psyche is nothing more than a sensitive material part of the brain.
This point of view remained valid almost to the present day.
Etienne Bonnot de Condillac. (1715-1780) is La Mettrie’s contemporary.
Condillac draws his conclusion, that all life proceeds from sensation, from his experience in a love affair.
He defends this materialistic point of view in his principle scientific work “Traite des Sensations” which first appeared in 1754
and was reprinted only in 1885.
It is significant that it should not have been translated into German till 1 870, when materialism was in full bloom.
Contrary to the general belief at that time that certain ideas are a priori innate in man, Condillac asserts that the whole of the psyche is empty.
In working out their theories, philosophers have often sought a “point de repere”, an idea, a metaphor or even a material object on which to develop them.
Kant, while lecturing, found such a focusing point in the top button of a student’s waistcoat, and on one occasion, when the young man did not appear, the great philosopher found himself unable to proceed with his lecture!
Condillac relies in much the same way up on the image of a man, who is no real human being, but a statue that is nevertheless endowed with sense capacities.
Gradually all its senses awake, the first being that of smell.
From this statue and its sensations, he constructs the whole human psyche.
This approach is characteristic of the psychological method of the investigator who is impelled to kill the living, illusive, iridescent quality of the human psyche and to change it into cold stone.
Reason kills the psychological material in order to be able to dissect it.
This is the expression of a definite mental attitude which lasted till the end of the XIXth century.
Condillac considers everything which is psyche as a “sensation transformee”, for him, the psyche is a perceiving, immaterial substance, a perception devoid of subject that wanders through the universe.
We find similar ideas in Rudolf Steiner’s “ethereal worlds” and in Chr. Morgenstern’s poem “Das Knie” (The Knee).
The absolute character of French psychology is founded on Latin tradition.
Its prototype is the Latin Father of the Church, Arnobius Africanus, who lived about 300 A. D.
His teaching was that the human soul is empty and of a material nature and that everything which enters it depends up on the experience of the senses.
His belief, which is shared by Christianity in general, is that the soul either does not exist before baptism, or if it does, it is necessarily in a very deplorable condition, that of original sin, which calls for enlightenment.
The human soul does indeed require enlightenment, but it is perhaps not quite so empty!
Condillac is a true follower of Arnobius when he says that the psyche requires to be filled from outside.
This belief is very popular today, people are still persuaded of their own complete harmlessness and it is a most comforting thought that all evil must necessarily have dropped into our empty and innocent souls from outside!
We can then make our parents and schoolmasters answerable for all that we do not care to be responsible for.
But the truth is that the soul is no “tabula rasa”, it is already filled with good and evil when we come into the world, though we may remain unconscious of it.
How else can we account for the fact that the child’s mind is full of mythological ideas?
The idea that the soul comes to man only through baptism is a Christian interpretation woven into the roots of the baptismal rite.
Anatole France’s book “L’lle des Pingouins” is written round this belief: When the misty-eyed old St. Mael, in his enthusiasm, had baptised a school of penguins, a dispute arose in heavenly circles as to whether it was not a blasphemous act, for only human beings have immortal souls.
A council was held in Heaven, but feeling ran high and no decision was reached.
When St. Catherine was called in, woman’ s wisdom solved the question.
She praised both sides, saying that penguins, being birds, cannot have immortal souls; yet it was als o true that through baptism immortality is attained.
Therefore she asked God to grant them “une iime immortelle, mais petite “!
I am personally of the opinion that not only people, but even animals have souls.
I am also deeply convinced of the truth of all creeds.
No logical standard of comparison exists, they all contain genuine and real psychological experience and it is merely stupid to criticize them with the aim of establishing one truth.
After la Mettrie and his machine man a reaction set in against this absolute empirical psychology; Jean-Jacques Rousseau was one of the first to react in this way.
Charles Bonnet (1720-1793) , who was born in Geneva of French parents, introduces the psycho-physical standpoint in his principle work “Essai analytique sur les facultes de l ‘ iime”, where he maintains that the nature of the psyche is neither purely spiritual nor purely corporeal.
To characterise this middle position he uses the ether as an illustration, matter which is not matter and yet fills space; the psyche has an ethereal body in which such things as memories are stored.
This idea of the ethereal body appears in Indian philosophy, yet this is not where Bonnet found it, for it was only later that Anquetil Duperron brought the first translations of the Upanishads to Europe, thus opening a new world to the West.
Bonnet’s idea springs from mediaeval conceptions and the idea of the “subtle body”, smoke resembling, air resembling, the breath of life that lives in us.
We find a parallel to this in the Indian custom of the son breathing in the dying father’s last breath of life and also in cannibalism which is not practised for the sake of food, but for magical purposes, in order to assimilate the enemy’s life energies or virtues.
The autonomous reappearance of the Indian world of ideas in Bonnet is an example of palingenesis.
Another instance of this phenomenon is Bergson’s idea of the “duree creatrice”, a reanimation of Proclus’ statement: “Always where
there is creation there is also time”.
In contrast to palingenesis (the autonomous revival of an idea in another epoch) we have the phenomenon of cryptomnesia, the reappearance of something that was once known and then totally forgotten.
I can give you an instance of cryptomnesia which I discovered in Nietzsche’s writings:
In the 40th chapter of “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, “Great Events”, the following passage occurs:
“Now about the time that Zarathustra sojourned on the Happy Isles, it happened that a ship anchored at the Isle on which standeth the smoking mountain, and the crew went ashore to shoot rabbits. After the noontide hour, however, when the captain and his men were together again, they suddenly saw a man coming towards them through the air and a voice said distinctly: ‘It is time, it is highest time ! ‘ But when the figure was nearest to them (it flew past quickly , however, like a shadow, in the direction of the volcano), then did they recognise with the greatest surprise that it was Zarathustra; for they had all seen him before except the captain himself, and they loved him as the people love: in such wise that love and awe were combined in equal degree. ‘Behold! ‘ said the helmsman, ‘there goes Zarathustra to hell’ ” .
In reading this passage the rabbit shooting struck me as peculiarly out of place in the context and it seemed to hit a forgotten chord in me.
The years at Basel university slowly came back to me and with them the memory of a small green book: Kerner’s “Blatter a us Prevorst”.
I read it again and came upon a very similar incident:
“An extract of awe-inspiring import from the log of the ship ‘Sphinx’ in the year 1680, in the Mediterranean.”
“The four captains and a merchant, Mr. Bell, went ashore on the island of Stromboli to shoot rabbits. At three o’clock they called the crew together to go aboard, when, to their inexpressible astonishment, they saw two men flying rapidly over them through the air. One was dressed in black, the other in grey. They approached, them very closely in the greatest haste; to their greatest dismay they descended amid the burning flames into the crater of the terrible volcano, Mount Stromboli. They recognised the pair as acquaintances from London.”
I wrote to Nietzsche’s sister and asked her if he had read “Blatter a us Prevorst”.
She replied that, after thinking the matter over for a long time, she remembered distinctly that he had done so as a boy of eleven when nosing about his grandfather’s library.
What could rabbits have to do with Zarathustra?
This parallel alone seems to explain them.
The memory must have secretly crept up and reproduced itself.
After Bonnet, the line of philosophers in France is broken by the French Revolution.
This great event was no sudden external outburst, it had long been prepared by philosophers and psychologists, for ideas always come first and actions follow, even when it takes twenty years for an idea to push its way through to the masses.
We cannot afford therefore to be indifferent to the thoughts which a teacher expresses, for they may materialize in history.
The French Revolution is a striking example of this. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lecture III, Pages 17-19.