Friday, May 4, 2012

Robert Segal - Participation Mystique in the Thinking of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl and C.G. Jung

"For his knowledge of ‘primitive’ peoples, C. G. Jung relied on the work of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939), a French philosopher who in mid-career became an armchair anthropologist. In a series of books from 1910 on, Lévy-Bruhl asserted that ‘primitive’ peoples had been misunderstood by modern Westerners. Rather than thinking like moderns, just less rigorously, ‘primitives’ harbour a mentality of their own. ‘Primitive’ thinking is both ‘mystical’ and ‘prelogical’. By ‘mystical’, Lévy-Bruhl meant that ‘primitive’ peoples experience the world as identical with themselves. Their relationship to the world, including to fellow human beings, is that of participation mystique. By ‘prelogical’, Lévy-Bruhl meant that ‘primitive’ thinking is indifferent to contradictions. ‘Primitive’ peoples deem all things identical with one another yet somehow still distinct. A human is at once a tree and still a human being. Jung accepted unquestioningly Lévy-Bruhl's depiction of the ‘primitive’ mind, even when Jung, unlike Lévy-Bruhl, journeyed to the field to see ‘primitive’ peoples firsthand. But Jung altered Lévy-Bruhl's conception of 'primitive’ mentality in three key ways. First, he psychologized it. Whereas for Lévy-Bruhl ‘primitive’ thinking is to be explained sociologically, for Jung it is to be explained psychologically: ‘primitive’ peoples think as they do because they live in a state of unconsciousness. Second, Jung universalized ‘primitive’ mentality. Whereas for Lévy-Bruhl ‘primitive’ thinking is ever more being replaced by modern thinking, for Jung ‘primitive’ thinking is the initial psychological state of all human beings. Third, Jung appreciated ‘primitive’ thinking. Whereas for Lévy-Bruhl ‘primitive’ thinking is false, for Jung it is true—once it is recognized as an expression not of how the world but of how the unconscious works. I consider, along with the criticisms of Lévy-Bruhl's conception of ‘primitive’ thinking by his fellow anthropologists and philosophers, whether Jung in fact grasped all that Lévy-Bruhl meant by ‘primitive’ thinking." (p. 635)

Robert Segal (2007). Jung and Lévy-Bruhl. Journal Analytical Psychology, Vol. 52, pp. 635-658

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