JUNG WAS AN ATHEIST (3): « I know » and absolute knowledge as self-failure

On the question of Jung’s belief or non-belief in God, believers like to quote ecstatically or triumphantly his famous statement in his 1959 interview for the BBC: « I don’t believe I know »

However Jung does not continue the sentence any further, he does not say what he « knows ». He cannot mean that he « knows » ontologically that God exists as he spent his whole life saying that he accepts the Kantian critique of reason and thus that we cannot « know » a metaphysical entity.

If Jung were an agnostic he would have said « I don’t know », i.e. I don’t know metaphysically, I suspend my judgment. What he in fact said was « I know », i.e. I know psychologically (and the whole question of metaphysical existence drops out).

It seems more in line with the whole system of his thought to say that Jung was an atheist, but not in the naive sense of Freud (and Richard Dawkins) but in the dialectically sophisticated sense of Slavoj Zizek.

For a more general principle in Zizek’s thought we may cite his Hegelian concept of « Absolute Knowledge » as acknowledging the failure of ontology and of ontological knowledge. For Zizek absolute knowledge coincides with its acceptance of its own failure to know metaphysically.

Discussing his early fascination with Schopenhauer’s metaphysical concept of the Will, Jung tells us:

« I was puzzled that Schopenhauer should ever have been satisfied with such an inadequate answer. Because of this I was impelled to study him more thoroughly, and I became increasingly impressed by his relation to Kant. I therefore began reading the works of this philosopher, above all his Critique of Pure Reason., which put me to some hard thinking. My efforts were rewarded, for I discovered the fundamental flaw, so I thought, in Schopenhauer’s system. He had committed the deadly sin of hypostatizing a metaphysical assertion, and of endowing a mere noumenon, a Ding an sich, with special qualities. I got this from Kant’s theory of knowledge, and it afforded me an even greater illumination, if that were possible » (MEMORIES, DREAMS, AND REFLECTIONS, 70).

All through his life Jung rejects « hypostatizing a metaphysical assertion ». So his « I know » does not mean what people usually take it to mean.

Note: in these posts I am always talking about the noetic Jung immanent to his books, and to his system, not the empirical Jung. The noetic Jung is the Jung that we extrapolate from the conceptual and imagistic structure of his books. The empirical Jung is the one people met and talked to. We know far more about the noetic Jung as we have his many writings to consult.

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5 commentaires pour JUNG WAS AN ATHEIST (3): « I know » and absolute knowledge as self-failure

  1. I do know from his autobiography that he thought alcoholism indicated the alcohol addict was searching for God and this impressed Bill of AA very much when he was young and influenced him in starting AA as treatment, Later in life he wrote Jung jtelling him this,


  2. landzek dit :

    I am not believing that I know. I think that’s a good rendition of his statement. This is to say, the power of my belief has nothing to do with the knowledge that I come upon. I think this is in line with what you’re saying.

    Interestingly enough, Some of the people that actually did encounter him as his person, and as well got into his writings, are known to say that the empirical Young, your definition, saw the world as a more mysterious place then subsequent Jungians would make up through interpretations of his noetic version, through his writings.

    He definitely did not adhere to the system that appears to come across through his books. Many Jungian analysts enjoy getting into the minutia of his writings to thereby help people along their psychological journey through pinpointing where they are at in the psychological system of individuation.

    It’s almost laughable and it’s kind of offensive. 😄

    But I think you’re saying something similar to this.


    • landzek dit :

      I mean. You are taking him for his philosophical worth, which is fine, but I also believe that you were saying some thing, perhaps vicariously or inadvertently, about his analysis of the psyche.

      The point of young in writings is that this indeed was part of his individuation, but that no one else’s psyche necessarily adheres to the system.

      I think that’s the irony that falls between the empirical and the noetic versions of himself and his analysis.


  3. landzek dit :

    By the way, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of her, but I think you might be very interested in the author, critical theoryis, philosopher, feminist, new material list, Karen Barad


  4. Ping : JUNG WAS AN ATHEIST (4): oeuvre vs cult | AGENT SWARM

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