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Carl Jung on Freud’s Super-Ego
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Letters Volume II

To Wilhelm Bitter

Dear Colleague 12 July 1958

The concept of Freud’s super-ego is complicated by the fact that no proper distinction is made between conscious ethical decision and the customary virtually unconscious reaction on the part of our conscience.

What Freud calls the super-ego is the operation of a complex which from ancient times has found expression in the moral code, and therefore surely appertains to the general and traditional

When he seeks the origins of the moral reaction in man’s hereditary disposition, this contradicts his assumptio!

That such reactions stem from the experiences of the primal horde, When the primal father created the Oedipus situation through his own willfulness.

Either it was the tyranny of the primal father which created morality, or, if it was already implanted in human nature, it was also present in the primal father, who by his very constitution bore the moral law within him.

The question cannot be resolved empirically because it is in the highest degree improbable that a primal father ever existed and, furthermore, we ourselves were not around when the first moral reactions took place.

“Age-old phylogenetic experience” -this is approximately what I have termed the collective unconscious.

Freud, as you know, rejected my view, and this complicates the situation still further.

For him conscience is a human acquisition. I, on the contrary, maintain that even animals have a conscience-dogs, for instance-and empirically there is much to be said for this, since instinctual conflicts are not altogether unknown on the animal level.

The inheritance of instincts is a known fact, whereas the inheritance of acquired characteristics is controversial.

Freud’s view that conscious experiences are inherited flies in the face of common knowledge and also contradicts his own hypothesis that conscience is made up of ancestral experiences.

Of course you can maintain that morality, as the word “mores” shows, derives from conscious memories handed down by tradition.

But then it cannot at the same time be an inherited instinct.

If it is an inherited instinct, then the experiences in question do not represent a beginning but are the outcome of that instinct.

I seem to remember that I mentioned the example from Zschokke’s Selbstschau because it demonstrates the infectiousness of guilt feelings.

I do not know whether it evoked a feeling of guilt in Zschokke himself.

Some psychological truths can be established by scientific methods, others not.

Although the assertion of immortality is in itself a fact, it is no more proof of immortality than are any other mythological statements.

The only sure thing is that man does make such statements.

This is the only validity they possess and the only possibility we have of approaching them scientifically.

We can only establish that the animal Man makes them and that they have considerable psychological value.

These statements are anthropomorphic, and it cannot be established whether they give grounds for a possible metaphysical reality.

We shall never be able to jump over the epistemological barrier.

I hope we shall meet again at the coming Congress.

With collegial greetings,

Very sincerely yours,

C.G. Jung ~Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 457-458