25 Dec / Is Complex Psychology an Empirical Science?
The abovementioned passages are but a small sampling of the dozens of statements Jung made about empiricism. Thus, it is quite clear that Jung considered himself an empirical scientist who felt that we should view psychic experiences as no less important than physical or sensory ones. So we return to the central question, in spite of Jung’s adamant claims can we still consider complex psychology an empirical science?
In his essay “Explanation and Interpretation,” scholar Robert A. Segal (2014) argued that Jungian analysis is not scientific, suggesting that Jungian concepts are rarely tested, a central pillar to the scientific method. Segal further suggested that Jung’s complex psychology is not predictive and Jungian analysis tends to be ex post facto. Segal also distinguished between an explanation and an interpretation, adding that an interpretation must be supported by an explanation” (p. 83). For instance, if one interprets a myth a certain way, one needs to provide an explanatory support to that interpretation: “an interpretation of a myth answers the question what is the meaning of the myth. An explanation answers the questions why was the myth created and why did it last” (p. 83). Of course, to be clear Segal is referring to “Jungian analysis,” which is a form of psychotherapy. Analysis is only one part of complex psychology. In fact, Shamdasani (2003) suggested that Jung intentionally used analytical psychology to describe the analytic aspect of his psychology and complex psychology as its theoretical part psychology (p. 14).Jung, at least on the surface, seemed to subscribe to empiricism as a scientific method. However, Jung’s brand of empiricism was less rigid than the contemporary application of the term. The American psychologist Williams James (Figure 2) seemed to play a formative role at shaping Jung’s early ideas and scientific approaches. In 1910, Jung met James who took an immediate liking to Jung, who was 33 years his junior. Of James, Jung wrote “aside from Theodore Flournoy, he was the only outstanding mind with whom I could conduct an uncomplicated conversation. I therefore honor his memory and have always remembered the example he set for me” (Jung as cited in Shamdasani, 2003, p. 58).
James proposed what he called Radical Empiricism, which suggests that the only proper subject matter of philosophy is that which a person may define in terms of experience and that relations are a part of experience (Radical Empiricism). James (1909/1974) articulated his radical postulate as follows: “The only things that shall be debatable among philosophers shall be things definable in terms drawn from experience” (p. xii). James added “the statement of fact is that the relations between things, conjunctive as well as disjunctive, are just as much matters of direct particular experience, neither more so nor less so, than the things themselves” (p. xii). James’ description considers not only the object of experience but the dynamic relationship between experiencing subject and experienced object that makes knowledge possible in the first place. James concluded his statement by writing that
Compare this passage to Jung’s (1921/1971) own from Psychological Types:
Merleau-Ponty went on write:
Thus, consciousness is what results from this interaction, which again parallels complex psychology in that consciousness suggests a synthesis of a variety of unconscious psychic processes.
Shamdasani has observed that “radical empiricism was intended to pave the way for the development of psychology,” (p. 59) which did not take place largely due to the emerging dominance of behaviorism and psychoanalysis as the most widely accepted models. With radical empiricism, one could say that James extended the meaning of empiricism to encompass experience as a whole which was not limited to “sensory” experience. Radical empiricism is hardly radical in itself but more practical, as evidenced by James’ following passage:
With radical empiricism James was proposing a phenomenological approach to the experience and he seems to have influenced Jung’s thinking on this point. It is known that, as indicated above, that Jung not only admired James but was intellectually influenced by him, especially in light of the number of times Jung mentions him in his early work his theory of psychological types.
Jung was familiar with the meaning of empiricism and tried to apply it to psychic phenomena. One could say that Jung’s psychology was really a hybrid between empiricism and phenomenology, which is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. One should note the similarities between this definition and that of radical empiricism. Similarly, complex psychology was not comprised of intellectual formulations, but rather, as Jung (1954/1968) wrote, “names for certain areas of experience” (CW9i, para. 485). This feature of Jung’s psychology highlights the extent by which phenomenology played a role. Jung’s (1939/1969) reliance on the phenomenological approach is further substantiated by this passage
For his efforts, people often accused Jung of psychologism, the misattribution of a psychological explanation to a phenomenon that could be explained otherwise.
In Psychological Types, Jung presented his psychology as a mediatory science and wrote:
Jung set off on the task of creating a mediatory science in his psychology that could unite the exact and social sciences through interdisciplinary dialogue. As Shamdasani (2003) noted, “For Jung, psychology was the discipline to unite the circle of sciences” (p. 18). In the same text, Jung introduced esse in anima, a psychological postulate based on psychic realism (i.e., the reality of the psyche). Jung (1921/1971) further expounded on the same postulate in Psychological Types: “Living reality is the product neither of the actual, objective behavior of things nor of the formulated idea exclusively, but rather of the combination of both in the psychological process, through esse in anima” (CW6, para. 77). Jung’s psychic realism is based on the idea that the psyche is indispensable to experience: “The psyche creates reality every day” (para. 78). Jung (1989/2012) subsequently provided further explanation of his psychological postulate in a 1925 lecture series:
Per Jung (1926/1969), the psychological standpoint reconciles the realistic and idealistic positions (CW8, para. 624), and is predicated on an intermediate world of images (i.e., psyche) as a tertium between idea and thing. The psychological postulate, esse in anima, would subsequently become the bedrock of Jung’s (1989/2012) psychology:
Although Jung (1937/1969) does not name James as an influence, the idea seems to have gained some inspiration, directly or indirectly from James, as this passage suggests:
Moreover, it is important to point out that Jung mentions James several times in Psychological Types, the book wherein he introduced esse in anima. One can glean some parallels between James’ ideas in The Meaning of Truth and Jung’s in Psychological Types:
James’ description above seems to parallel Jung’s early thinking of psychic reality as formulated in esse in anima.
In conclusion, the evidence suggests very strongly that complex psychology is a form of empirical science, however, it follows a more radical trajectory in the tradition of James’ conception of radical empiricism. Jung is looking at the psyche as a mode of experiencing the world through images or representations, which as a matter of psychic fact, are just as real as the physical objects they hang from. In this regard, empiricism in Jung’s broad usage contrasts sharply from materialism, but constitutes a means of gaining knowledge through experience. The psyche, Jung would argue, enables knowledge as a result of its ability to form images. Jung (1914/1960) wrote:
At the same time, Jung emphasized that we can only make approximate descriptions of what the psyche is and does, but can hardly ascribe a comprehensive explanation for what it is. “We know as little about what underlies it [libido] as we know about what the psyche is per se” (Jung, 1912/1967, CW5, para. 195). In this vein, Jung acknowledges the limitations of science and tried to leverage complex psychology to provide a counterweight to scientism—”an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation” (Scientism). Jung was working well within the scope of empiricism, but outside the definition of scientism. Thus, certain aspects of complex psychology are empirical and scientific. They just do not fit the mold of what the contemporary paradigm of scientism would consider as empiricism. The twenty-first century has charged us with advancing complex psychology into the future. We should seriously consider the epistemological value of Jung’s theories beyond the narrow confines of the reigning scientific paradigm.