Properly Achieving Full Being: A Critique of Psychoanalysis

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By John Mancini, University of Rhode Island

The following was a college essay written by John Mancini. It has been edited and approved by Mary Boneno. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

There remains much about reality that humans do not understand: Why is the universe expanding? What is dark matter? How did we come into existence? Notably, these are all science-based questions to be answered as we come to better understand the universe. There remains, however, one question regarding reality that scientists cannot answer but is nevertheless still prevalent: “What is the meaning of life?” When one ponders this overarching philosophical question, he tends to find difficulty in answering it. I suppose this is rightfully so, as many approach this question with the wrong philosophical mindset. However, when we do answer this question, therein lies its true difficulty — dare I say, its true struggle. The meaning of life is for humans to achieve their full being, their full potential. Now we see how in answering the philosophical question, we have merely allowed for more questions. Firstly, what does “being” mean? Is “the quality or state of having existence” a worthy definition (Dictionary by Merriam Webster)? How do we achieve our full being? To answer these questions, I am going to illustrate two different approaches to fulfilling the meaning to life, one from Carl Jung and another from Josef Pieper, and demonstrate why Pieper presents a more complete, comprehensible, and accessible process than Jung.

To begin, allow me to address those first couple of questions I posed. If we are looking at being from a purely rationalistic, i.e. scientific, approach, then Webster’s definition would certainly prove adequate. For the metaphysician and people like Jung and Pieper, however, this definition would never suffice. This is because metaphysics looks beyond science to find its answers. Now, it is worth mentioning that there is no consistent definition for philosophical terms, like being, upon which all philosophers can agree. There is, however, overlap among all philosophies of being, which the Dictionary of Philosophy by Dagobert Runes explains. Being, from its earliest conception, refers to something “all-inclusive and eternal” (Dagobert). As you will see, Jung and Pieper will take this to mean that there is a deeper level of humanity beyond our earthly selves. After all, to what could “all-inclusive” refer if not to the existence of a deeper level of humanity? Hence, in the context of this paper, being will refer to some deeper, generally-unrecognized level of humanity.

With that said, let us first take a look at Jung’s approach to achieving being through a process he calls “individuation.” Like the official philosophical definition, this process claims that being is more than mere existence; it revolves around the growth of our “psyche” — which can be equated to our being — leading to a state of complete awareness regarding our conscious and unconscious life. This no doubt raises the question: “To what does ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ refer?” For Jung, the conscious life is everything in our life of which we are aware, i.e. our jobs, money, education, and the like. In his writings, Jung often refers to one’s conscious life as his “ego.” The unconscious, however, is “the gathering of forgotten and repressed contents” (Jung, 3). Within the category of “unconscious,” there is one of personal nature and one of collective nature. The personal unconscious is regarded as subjective and varies from person to person, while the collective unconscious consists of shared experiences and contents among humans. Within the unconscious live what Jung calls the “archetypes.” The archetypes are the beings responsible for everything that occurs in our lives and craft the contents of the unconscious. The personal unconscious consists of the persona, the shadow, and the Self. The persona can also be referred to as the “mask,” or the image we portray to others, whether we mean to or not. The shadow differs from the persona in that it holds all of our repressed, shamed qualities of which we may or may not be aware. One could draw the conclusion that the shadow is our true self that we wish to hide from others, while the persona is the self we wish to be and convince others that we are. The final archetype in the personal unconscious, the Self, can be argued as the most important archetype of the personal unconscious, as it is responsible for regulating our conscious and unconscious life, pushing us towards individuation; the Self’s sole purpose is to help people achieve individuation. Alternatively, the collective unconscious hosts a multitude of archetypes. For the purposes of this paper, I shall only mention the main archetypes relating to individuation and wholeness, those being the anima, animus, and the child. The anima is a feminine archetype found in men that drives them primarily through sexual desire; it is the side of a man revealing his feminine longings. In women, the animus accomplishes a similar task, by driving them in their masculine desires. By recognizing one’s sexual desires, he can find himself a proper mate that will complete him, which is the role of the anima and animus. The child archetype, on the other hand, has nothing to do with sexual desires. This archetype contains our roots, as Jung says, hosting our original, childhood personalities and beliefs about the world. Most repress their child archetypes, however, dismissing their childhood and roots. To Jung, this causes one to deny who he is as a person by disregarding his origins responsible for crafting his present experience of life; it equates to negating a part of one’s true self. Recognizing the child archetype, however, will lead one to unify his personality; he will not be seen as a different person from his past, as he will have found his true self and rightfully identified with it (Jung, 165). With this foundation, the individual can grow without becoming someone he is not. This is the next step in individuation: synthesizing the archetypes. At this point, we have fully acknowledged the existence of the unconscious — the first step in individuation — and now must integrate the archetypes into our lives, using this knowledge to better ourselves, i.e. understanding who our partner in life should be and understanding who we are as people. With that, individuation has been completed; our being has made its full potential.

Pieper’s approach to achieving full being remains quite different than Jung’s in most areas. Firstly, what is our being according to Pieper? I believe I can better answer this question only after explaining part of Pieper’s process. In Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Pieper explains that many people are preoccupied with the workaday world. In fact, Pieper goes as far to say that a major problem with modern society lies in how people allow their work to dictate and become their lives: “[W]ork in its modern form . . . [includes] the whole of human activity and . . . human life” (Pieper, 22). In other words, work is used to define oneself — which Jung also concludes in another of his analyses — leading to the improper use of the term “leisure.” Contrary to popular belief, Pieper says leisure cannot be mistaken for idleness or a mere break from work. Although still following work, leisure is “a mental or spiritual attitude,” while idleness is a mere state of laziness and relaxation (Pieper, 46). In idleness, there can be no mental or spiritual work being done, as such work requires effort to produce the transpiring attitude. It is in forming this mental or spiritual attitude, however, that we begin to achieve our full being. Like Jung’s process of individuation, leisure revolves around wholeness, not simply viewing the world at its face value. When one practices leisure, he reflects on his place in the universe, as a whole, through celebration. To be more specific, man reflects on how his work has affected his entire life, i.e. his working and spiritual life, and those around him, which he then celebrates through divine worship. Pieper stresses the necessity of divine worship as a part of leisure because it remains the only method of transcending the body and truly recognizing one’s place in the universe; it allows one to partake in something bigger than his mere self. That said, we can conclude Pieper’s definition of being equates to that of the “soul,” something that transcends the body and provides more meaning to our lives. Thus, developing the soul will achieve one’s full being, and we do that through divine celebration. Now, it is worth mentioning that this celebration does not celebrate the completion of work. Pieper explains that this celebration is similar to how God rested on the seventh day of creation after recognizing that His work was good. He says that just as God reflected on His work,  “man too celebrates the end of his work by allowing his inner eye to dwell for a while upon the reality of Creation” (Pieper, 49). Hence, this is a celebration of the good we have done on Earth and the good that will come of it. In summary, Leisure: The Basis of Culture tells us that we must practice leisure correctly to partake in something greater than we to fulfill our being. The Philosophical Act, however, more thoroughly explains how to perform these actions to reach our goal.

As previously explained, Pieper states that partaking in divine worship and celebration leads us to reflect on our work and find the good of it. This, however, leads us to question our place in the universe; we question why we are here and why our work matters. In questioning this, we seek what Pieper calls the “highest cause,” or origin of everything (Pieper, 124); in order to properly pinpoint something’s place in the universe, we must know why and how it is here. Only by gaining this knowledge can we more perfectly understand our purpose on earth. One can make the assumption, then, that obtaining this knowledge fulfills our being. Pieper, however, disagrees. This is because the highest cause is only known by God and unattainable to humans. So, what is the philosophical act that helps us achieve our being? The answer lies in the name. The philosophical act to achieve our full being is philosophizing; it is pursuing this unattainable knowledge in celebration, allowing us to transcend our human nature. As for the context in which to philosophize, Pieper argues that we must practice Christian philosophy in order to properly perform the philosophical act for one key reason: Christianity is the only religion to recognize the “mysterious character of the world” (Pieper, 137). The ultimate fate of the philosophical act is to recognize that we cannot know the answer to our existence; it is a mystery. In order to come to terms with this end, we must work it into our daily lives. The only way to do this is through the Christian tradition, allowing us to enjoy the mystery. Hence, to achieve our full being, in Pieper’s eyes, we must practice leisure in a Christian philosophical context to transcend the body, in an attempt to recognize our purpose.

Now that we have a fuller understanding of Pieper’s and Jung’s approaches to achieving being, we need to consider which approach remains more correct and which one can better help us achieve our full being. As I stated prior, I feel Pieper’s approach bests Jung’s in a couple of key areas. Perhaps the most prominent reason I prefer Pieper’s method as opposed to Jung’s has to do with Pieper’s use of religion and metaphysics. If we study Jung, we read his claim that he is an empiricist practicing psychology more times than we can count. This means that Jung’s logic should be regarded as science, if we are to agree that he is performing psychology. If this is true, however, then we should also classify astrology as science. The reason we cannot is due to astrology’s absence of an important aspect of science, called “falsification.” In “Science: Conjectures and Refutations,” Carl Popper writes, “A theory which is not refutable by any conceivable event is non-scientific” (Popper qtd in Zucker, 154). If a scientific hypothesis does not have a margin of error or a scenario where the hypothesis can be proven wrong, it cannot be regarded as science. This is because an event that refutes a hypothesis allows us to more fully understand the theory. If we can say that astrology cannot predict a person’s future because the X criterion was not met for a proper prediction, then we would understand what is needed for astrological prophecies. We, however, cannot identify any person for which an astrologer cannot make a prediction — just as we cannot identify a scenario that Jungian psychology cannot explain. In essence, Jung’s psychoanalysis does not provide us with any criteria for it to take effect. This criteria, however, is necessary to achieve a fuller understanding in all of science, as it then provides us with researchable evidence designating it a scientific theory. Thus, to prevent such “sciences” as astrology from being readmitted as such, we must regard Jungian psychoanalysis as metaphysics rather than science, as this title assumes specific scientific evidence may not exist to prove it.

Even if we regard Jungian psychology as metaphysical, however, I still have one more issue with Jung. Jung argues that the psyche is, essentially, our being that we wish to develop, containing our conscious and unconscious minds. What he fails to explain, however, is the true nature of the unconscious, regarding exactly where it exists and what happens to it after death. My initial thought was that part of the psyche could reside in another dimension and continues to do so after death, similar to the idea of our souls going to Heaven after death in the Christian faith. This makes sense to a degree, as Jung explained in an interview from 1934 that the psyche exists outside of space and time (Jung). Here, then, is my question: If the psyche exists outside of space and time, then is the unconscious really a part of us? In Christianity, the soul is a part of all humans that later separates from the body at death; it is us and is our being we seek to develop. In Jungian psychology, however, the psyche is not a part of the body at all. Jung does not say the psyche separates from the body in any regard. So, where is it? More specifically, where is the part of the psyche governing our physical actions, i.e. the unconscious? Furthermore, how can the psyche be the being we are to develop through such actions, while simultaneously not having anything to do with our bodies at all? Do our actions really matter? In essence, my main contention with Jung is that he never answers how the psyche is a part of our humanity and from where it governs our actions. Pieper runs into no such problems with his philosophy. Pieper’s approach requires and celebrates the idea that we do not know all of the answers regarding our existence, unlike Jung’s which claims to have all the answers we seek but simply cannot provide them, due to its incomplete nature.

To conclude, Josef Pieper offers a much clearer and more accessible method for humans to achieve their full being through properly philosophizing about their existence and how their actions fit into the world. While Carl Jung’s approach does not act as a detriment to anyone who practices it, it is accompanied by incomplete beliefs about the world and could lead one astray in life, trying to figure out where one half of his life exists. Furthermore, Jung would argue that his individuation process is scientific rather than metaphysical, which it most certainly is not, as illustrated by Carl Popper, because we cannot identify a proper margin of error. Pieper, on the other hand, admits to his method being religious and even includes that there is much about the world we cannot understand. It all comes down to which ideology is more thought out and leaves the fewest unanswered questions. After carefully studying both procedures to achieve being, Pieper clearly proves himself victorious. I will part on this last note, as I believe this question may reside in people who read this: Perhaps, there exist multiple ways to achieve being. Perhaps, we can use both Jung and Pieper to create a method of achieving being for those who are not Christian. Then again, maybe we cannot. All we can do is philosophize about how to best achieve our full potential.

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