Friday, January 23, 2015

John White: Toward a Phenomenology of Participation Mystique

Chapter excerpt from John White (2014). Toward a Phenomenology of Participation Mystique and a Reformulation of Jungian Philosophical Anthroplogy, Chapter 10 in Mark Winborn (Ed.). Shared Realities: Participation Mystique and Beyond. Fisher King Press, 2014.


Throughout his professional life, Carl Jung insisted that his theories were scientifically and empirically founded, based more or less exclusively on clinical observation and experience. While this claim rings largely true, we should not think of Jung as solely an inductive scientist of the psyche. For Jung offers many statements not only about what the psyche does – i.e. clinical observations – but also about what the psyche is, claims which therefore amount to speculative philosophical claims rather than empirical, scientific claims. That Jung made such claims is consistent with his research program, which included his efforts to establish analytical psychology’s superior understanding of the psyche over the views of Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. But it is also this element of Jung’s thought which invites philosophical reflection on his theories and opens many of his claims to philosophical scrutiny and critique.

In the following chapter, I seek to outline Jung’s notion of participation mystique and consider it from a philosophical standpoint. My goal will be to articulate Jung’s idea of participation mystique in a way that I think better captures it philosophically than Jung is able to develop. I will begin with some discussion of problems associated with translating Jung, which in turn raise some central issues of a philosophy of human nature or “philosophical anthropology”. I will then outline features of Jung’s notion of participation mystique, including elements of his descriptions which might suggest other interpretations of the data than he assumes. Finally, I will offer a phenomenology of participation mystique, based on the philosophical anthropology that I have outlined. In the end, I hope not only to have clarified the notion of participation mystique philosophically, beyond what Jung was able to do, but also to offer a sounder understanding of human nature and human functioning than is generally available in Jung’s sometimes sketchy writings on these issues....

....The philosophical anthropology I have borrowed from Scheler suggests that the advantage of the spiritual approach to reality is that it allows differentiation and distinction, it gains objective knowledge about the constitution of the world, and it links experience to understanding, reason, and categorical types of thinking. But the psychic approach has its own strengths: imagination, energy, affective power, a sense for totalities, a synthesizing tendency, a richness of experience and life. Spiritual acts, no matter what their value, tend to literalize life and being, which is the cost of achieving its aims; psychic reality in contrast tends to images and values, to multiplicity and play. Psyche moves toward wonder rather than conceptual analysis and color rather than literalness. But psychic reality can also run amok without the cognitive understanding and volitional cultivation of its instinctive movements.


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Full sample chapter available at the Fisher King Press link.

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