Concept of Humanity
What is Carl Jung's concept of humanity? The intention of this article is to understand how Jung viewed humanity as whole, and how this view of humanity helped shape his theories. In a way, this is an exercise in reverse engineering—starting with theory in order to work backward to find the concept of humanity.
This concept of humanity is something that every psychologist has. More accurately, every person has one. It is important for psychologist to be aware of their own concept of humanity because it influences greatly how the mental health professional approaches providing therapy to their patients. A sharp difference between the patient's and psychologist's concepts of humanity could lead to an ethical dilemma. In cases where such a difference does exist, psychologists will refer patients to other mental health professionals.
The concept of humanity is generally described along five spectra of influence:
- conscious vs. unconscious
- determinism vs. free will
- causality vs. teleology
- biological vs. social
- optimistic vs. pessimistic
The Balance of Jung
Analytical psychology crawls into the dark and dusty recesses of the human mind—past the lair of our personal unconscious and down into the depths of an unconscious mind, which is composed of all the collected experiences of our ancient ancestors. Carl Jung is the man who rappelled into the depths of the cavern of the collective unconscious to explore the nature of human personality. Like every theorist, his perspective was shaped by his own views on the nature of humanity.
Leaving Freud and the Psycoanalytic
Jung was associated with Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. Freud was Jung's friend and mentor during the early stages of his career, and Jung modeled some of his own beliefs about personality after Freud's work (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009; Viney & King, 2003). The friendship and working relationship between the two men, however, was not a lasting one, and the two men parted ways both socially and professionally (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009; Viney & King, 2003). For Jung, this split was both tragic and profoundly beneficial (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung's model of personality evolved after his split with Freud and became uniquely his own (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). The result of Jung's personal exploration into the concept of personality was the theory of analytical psychology (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung's search to understand the concept of personality began first with his desire to understand himself (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). This desire to understand himself is one that Jung had felt his whole life, although it was not until after he parted ways with Freud that he truly began to explore the issue (Burger, 2008).
An Ancient Shared Past and the Collective Unconscious
Jung's journey into personality began with a journey into the inner workings of his own mind (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung did not look just within himself for answers—he also looked outward to the rest of the world. Jung was fascinated with ancient mythology, legends, and religious practices across different cultures (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung found certain themes were repeated across the mythology and religious practices of different cultures (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). Burger (2008) states, “if we were to examine history, talk with people from other societies, and thumb through legends and myths of the past, we would find these same themes and experiences throughout various cultures, past and present” (The Collective Unconscious, para. 1). Jung believed that the commonality of these themes was the result of an ancient and shared past (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung suggested that the memories and past experience of a man's ancestors were buried deep inside his psyche (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). Jung called these hand-me-down memories of our ancestors the "collective unconscious," which he believed was the reason for the universality of themes throughout world religions, mythologies, legends, and other stories. (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). The universality of themes also suggest that Jung was more interested in how people were similar to each other than what made people individually different from one another.
Concious vs. Unconcious
Looking at Jung's concept of humanity, the first and most obvious question to answer is whether Jung believed in a conscious or an unconscious view of personality. With the concept of the collective unconscious as the cornerstone of Jung's theory on personality, it seems obvious that he leaned toward holding an unconscious view of human behavior and personality. Jung however, did not lean too far. Throughout analytical psychology, Jung continuously emphasizes a strong conviction in the belief that people are balanced and complex individuals, with both conscious and unconscious motivations (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009).
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Determinism vs. Free Will
In order to discern whether Jung believed in determinism or free will, we have to examine the way in which he viewed the relationship between the conscious mind, the personal unconscious mind, and the collective unconscious. He did not view either the personal unconscious mind or the collective unconscious as all-powerful (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). He emphasized his belief that there should be a balance between each of the three portions of an individual's mind in order for the individual to live a healthy life (Feist & Feist, 2009). This emphasis on balance suggests that Jung believed in neither determinism nor free will exclusively. Each person is partially influenced by both his personal unconscious and his collective unconscious but is completely controlled by neither of them (Feist & Feist, 2009). Everyone is capable of making conscious decisions, but in Jung's perspective these decisions are not made in a vacuum without some influence from both the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious (Feist & Feist, 2009).
Balance is the key to understanding Jung's concepts. Jung believed in a balanced relationship between the conscious, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious (Feist & Feist, 2009). Feist and Feist (2009) describe the balance of Jung's theory by stating that “people are motivated partly by conscious thoughts, partly by images from their personal unconscious, and partly by latent memory traces inherited from their ancestral past” (Jung: Analytical Psychology, Concept of Humanity, para. 1). This balance between the three levels of the mind means that Jung's outlook on life was partially deterministic and partially defined by free will.
Causality vs. Teleology
Since Jung's theory contains a definite influence of the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious in motivating human behavior, he must have believed in a causative explanation to human behavior. At the same time, people do have free will under his assumptions, and they can not only make decisions freely but can also independently set goals and hold aspirations. Here is one of the many points where Jung broke away from Freud. Feist and Feist (2009) explain that “Freud relied heavily on a causal viewpoint in his explanations of adult behavior in terms of early childhood experiences” (Causality and Teleology, para. 1). It is easy to see that previous experiences, especially in childhood, can have a lasting impact on an adult life. The use of this causal viewpoint as a blanket approach to explaining behavior, though, was not enough for Jung (Feist & Feist, 2009; Viney & King, 2003). Jung challenged this idea, according to Feist and Feist (2009) and “criticized Freud for being one-sided in his emphasis on causality and insisted that a causal view could not explain all motivation” (Causality and Teleology, para. 1). Jung also did not accept the viewpoint that human behavior is motivated solely by future goals and aspirations (Feist & Feist, 2009; Viney & King, 2003). Here again, Jung believed in balance. Neither view alone was adequate as an explanation of behavior. Feist and Feist (2009) assert that he “insisted that human behavior is shaped by both causal and teleological forces and that causal explanations must be balanced with teleological ones” (Causality and Teleology, para. 1).
Biological vs. Social
When evaluating Jung in terms of whether he leaned toward a biological explanation for human behavior or a social explanation we find one of the few points where Jung does not take a balanced position. Jung's major contribution to understanding personality is the concept of the collective unconscious (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). The collective unconscious is described as something which all people inherit from their ancestors (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2009). This inheritance of a collective unconscious must be part of our biological inheritance (Feist & Feist, 2009). According to Feist and Feist (2009) “except for the therapeutic potential of the doctor-patient relationship, Jung had little to say about differential effects of specific social practices” (Jung: Analytical Psychology, Concept of Humanity, para. 6). His lack of articulation on the subject of social practices suggests that Jung found little or no significance in them on which he thought it would be important enough to comment.
Optimistic vs. Pesimistic
The last domain in the concept of humanity to be considered is whether Jung was optimistic in his views of humanity or pessimistic. Feist and Feist (2009) believed that Jung was neither optimistic nor pessimistic in his view of humanity. Since Jung was neither pessimistic nor optimistic, it could be said that here he is again balanced in his views of human nature.
In the cavernous depths of Jung's own collective unconscious, he believed that he gained insights into the inner workings of all men's personalities. Jung's concept of human nature was distinctly balanced. He found balance between the conscious, personal unconscious, and collective unconscious. He found balance between the concepts of determinism and free will. He found balance between causality and teleology. He also found balance between optimism and pessimism. In only two of the domains of the concept of humanity does Jung not hold a balanced opinion. His theory of the collective unconscious necessitates a strong inclination in the belief that human nature is biological rather than social. Focus on the collective unconscious also demands that all people be viewed according to their similarities rather than what makes each of them unique. These two domains aside, Jung's perspective on the concept of humanity is one that reflects an understanding that people are complex, and that the nature of what defines a person can often go further down into the depths of the mind than what can easily be explored.
Burger, J (2008). Theories of Personality: Understanding Persons. Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
Feist, J and Feist, G (2009). Theories of Personality (7th ed.). Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
Viney, W and King, B (2003). A History of Psychology. Ideas and Context (3rd ed.). Retrieved from the University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
© 2012 Wesley Meacham