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Carl Jung on Knowledge and Belief

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Letters of C. G. Jung: Volume 2, 1951-1961

To Walter Robert Corti

Dear Herr Corti, 2 May 1955

At last I have found a quiet moment in which to finish reading your Mythopoese and to append my answer.

The reading has to be fresh in my mind so that I can react properly.

As always in such cases, it does not seem to me superfluous to begin with the constantly reiterated statement that I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian and so cannot deploy any artillery in the battle of arguments.

While I was reading your book I felt myself transported back a century or more; at first, to be sure, only about 60 years, into those blossoming and spring-like student days when, in enchanted inns in Markgrafenland, amid a circle of friends (now, alas, almost extinct), one discussed the eternal verities with much earnest heating of the head, and never a thought to what Bismarck had started off in 1871 and what the fatally deluded Wilhelm II was then continuing.

We were still living in the romantic age of Hegel, Schelling, and Schopenhauer.

No wonder your words brought back the romantic mood.

“Once more you hover near me, forms and faces / Seen long ago with troubled youthful gaze,” I could say with Faust.

The heaven-storming pretensions of the romantic intellect, sad to relate, have flown from me utterly.

How can one decide the impossible?

What in the world can one assert about God?

Probably only antinomies, like Deus est immobilis and instigator of all motion, eternal source and goal, Creator uniting in himself genesis and decay, supreme light and gloomiest abyss, infinite as God, finite as personality (only this one and no other!), singular and plural, the unfolding
and union of all opposites.

There are some who, faced with these illimitabilities, can escape to the floating island of belief, take to the lifeboat of the graced, but I have never belonged to their number.

It seems to me that transcendental judgments of the intellect are absolutely impossible and therefore vacuous.

But in spite of Kant and epistemology they crop up again and again and can evidently not be suppressed.

This is probably because they represent emotional needs and, as such, are psychological facts that cannot be eliminated, which is how they appear to the empirical mind.

The assertions of the latter are not subjective confessions like your philosophical statements, but are empirical judgments which assert that a general consensus declares God to be immobilis, and that an equally general consensus says he is evolving.

No philosopher knows who is right, and we don’t know whether God himself knows.

So if you profess belief-with or without supporting arguments in an evolving God, I can assure you on the basis of my mythological knowledge that you enjoy a greater consensus than the believers in a Deus immobilis.

The biographical “metamorphosis of the gods” is decidedly more popular than their static immutability.

Even Yahweh, who lacked a personal biography, created a temporal world, allied himself to a people, begot a son and “took to form of a servant, incarnated as a man, etc. In the New Testament he even changed his character.

From an eternal he became an historical figure.

Allah acts without being acted upon-a contradiction in terms-which is as it should be in view of the fact that he cannot be discussed.

It has yet to be explained why man makes transcendental statements, indeed must make them, it would seem (you are an example, Herr Corti!)

No doubt such statements have a primarily psychological cause, the exact nature of which is still controversial because it is connected with the unconscious.

We only know that the primordial experience underlying mythological statements is highly numinous.

This is a verifiable fact, as indisputable as my finding a particular picture beautiful or loving a particular person or smacking my lips over a particular dish.

What is more, medical experience shows that it is advisable to take numinous experiences seriously, as they have a great deal to do with the fate of the individual.

It also seems that the will to be taken seriously is implicit in the experience itself, since it comes upon us with the most vehement claim to truth.

Your book bears witness to this.

I hear you are giving a lecture to theologians in Canton Bern (?). I am sure you will learn a thing or two there about the efficacy of philosophical arguments.

But that’s the way it is: belief, even philosophical belief, demands avowals in order to banish doubt.

But knowledge consists of nothing but doubts and so has nothing to avow.

It partakes of the mystery of the known.

As you will have gathered from my answer, I have read your book with so much interest and involvement that I could not refrain from burdening you with a bit of my own biography.

Yours very sincerely,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 249-251.

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