Archetype and Eternal Object

Jung, Whitehead, and the Return of Formal Causation

Grant Maxwell
From Archai Issue 3, 2011

At first glance, C. G. Jung and Alfred North Whitehead might seem to have little in common. On the one hand, Jung spent the formative years of his early career working as a psychiatrist in a mental institution, during which time he began his eight-year association with Freud, which resulted in Jung playing a large, and often unacknowledged, role in the early promulgation of psychoanalysis. Over the half-century following his break with Freud, Jung built his own approach to depth psychology that engaged primarily with the psychological reality of fantasy images, myths, and dreams. On the other hand, Whitehead had a full career as an influential mathematician, writing the seminal book on modern mathematics, Principia Mathematica, near the beginning of the twentieth century with his student Bertrand Russell. In his sixties, Whitehead made the shift to philosophy, specifically metaphysical cosmology, though he always retained the rigorous and abstract approach characteristic of mathematics, a level of precision that philosophers have often sought to emulate. Thus, on the surface, it would seem that Jung’s engagement with psyche and Whitehead’s engagement with cosmos have virtually nothing in common. However, as this implicit reference to Richard Tarnas’s Cosmos and Psyche indicates, the deepest intimations of their psychology and cosmology, respectively, seem to suggest a convergence of these two thinkers’ projects. Indeed, as I have read their work over the years, I have increasingly come to see profound connections between their ideas, particularly between Jung’s concept of archetypes, Whitehead’s concept of eternal objects, and what I perceive as their mutual association with formal causation.

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