The Doctors of Soul: Sigmund Freud

Freud, circa 1900

What can we say about the great Sigmund Freud that hasn’t already been said? Even though I disagree with him on many points, there is no doubt the man was one of history’s great minds. Without his paving the way for those who followed him, especially C.G. Jung, would we even be discussing depth psychology as we do today?

Instead of rehashing Freud’s biography, I will merely quote two pertinent paragraphs from the Wikipedia article about him:

Freud was born to Jewish Galician parents in the Moravian town of Příbor (German: Freiberg in Mähren), part of the Czech Republic, the first of their eight children. His father, Jacob Freud (1815–1896), a wool merchant, had two sons, Emanuel (1833–1914) and Philipp (1836–1911), from his first marriage. Jacob’s family were Hasidic Jews, and though Jacob himself had moved away from the tradition, he came to be known for his Torah study. He and Freud’s mother, Amalia (née Nathansohn), 20 years her husband’s junior and his third wife, were married by Rabbi Isaac Noah Mannheimer on 29 July 1855. They were struggling financially and living in a rented room, in a locksmith’s house at Schlossergasse 117 when their son Sigmund was born. He was born with a caul, which his mother saw as a positive omen for the boy’s future.

Freud entered the University of Vienna at age 17. He had planned to study law, but joined the medical faculty at the university, where his studies included philosophy under Franz Brentano, physiology under Ernst Brücke, and zoology under Darwinist professor Carl Claus. In 1876 Freud spent four weeks at Claus’s zoological research station in Trieste, dissecting hundreds of eels in an inconclusive search for their male reproductive organs. He graduated with an MD in 1881. 

I don’t wish to waste time going over what we already know Freud accomplished. I am most interested in learning how he influenced people like Jung, Hillman, and many others on the subjects of dreams and the unconscious. We know that Freud wrote a very famous book called Die Traumdeutung, The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). It was this book that revolutionized psychological thinking. In it, Freud introduced his theory of the activities of the unconscious mind. Freud said that dream interpretation is the via regia, or “royal road” to the unconscious. Up until that time, there were three predominant dream theories being bandied about Europe: somaticist, romantic, and rationalist. In formulating his theory, Freud borrowed from all three. From the somaticist theory, he believed that dreams are indicative of physiological processes; Freud himself would concentrate almost exclusively on sexuality. From the Romantics, he borrowed the idea that dreams originate in a place separate from our everyday world, i.e. the nightworld, a mythological world. From the rationalist viewpoint, Freud took the idea that the dreamworld is to be equated with temporary psychosis, “a turning away from the real external world” (qtd. in Hillman 8). He believed the dayworld is a sane place, but not the nightworld. He also accepted the idea of the rationalists that events from the previous day initiate the dream. In essence, the dream is caused by external phenomena and not anything within the dreamer herself. Freud referred to these as Tagesreste, residues of the day. So, empirical experiences of the dayworld are the material causes of the dream. He does leave the door open for mythology, somewhat, even though it is in service to the physiological process of sleep, by saying “the formal, efficient, and final causes are the wishes of Eros working upon the psyche in the night to keep it sleeping” (qtd. in Hillman 10).

Freud’s “translation [of the dream] into the language of waking life” (ibid.), attempts to pull the dream from its home in the nightworld up into the light of reason and rationality.Yet, Freud can still assert that the final cause  “has nothing to do with the dayworld…it would be misleading to say that dreams are concerned with the tasks of life before us or seek to find a solution for the problems of our daily work” (ibid.). Freud believes the dream is the watchman over sleep. He views the nightworld as stricly psychopathological.

Freud has led himself into quite an imbroglio. He wants to say that the dream is at home with sleep, watching over it as a guardian. Conversely, he wants to interpret the dream and drag it screaming up into the daylight, to rescue it from the crazy, lunatic underworld. I always thought the via regia led one down to the unconscious so that one could become better acquainted with it. But I suppose I had it backwards. For Freud, “the aim of the therapeutic interpretation has been to take the via regia out of the nightworld” (Hillman 11). This methodology leads to all kinds of insane interpretations, kind of like the thousands of different interpretations of the Bible since the Reformation. One can really get in a pickle doing this. Freud did by searching for sexual reasons in his patients’ disturbances.  

One thing that Freud definitely accomplished, however. He got us talking about the unconscious. That is what revolutionized the twentieth century. Think of the way Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, used his uncle’s theories to brainwash American consumers into buying all sort of junk they didn’t need. They’re still doing it! But the fact that we now vaguely know general things about how the unconscious works can be attributed to Freud. For that, we must thank him.

Hillman’s take on dream interpretation is noteworthy, in light of Freud’s insistence that dreams be translated into ego-language. In examining dreams, “we must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn” (Hillman 13).

When researching Die Traumdeutung, Freud takes a cue from Gustav Fechner, who himself should be included in the annals of the Doctors of Souls. Even though Freud wants to claim the dream as being caused by dayworld experiences, he still believes that its home is in the nightworld. The following statement from Fechner brings him to the realization that the unconscious is topograhical:

If the scene of action of psychophysical activity were the same in sleeping and waking, dreams could, in my view, only be a prolongation at a lower degree of intensity of waking ideational life, and, moreover, would necessarily be of the same material and form. But the facts are quite otherwise (qtd. in Hillman 16).

This statement inspires Freud to say, “What is presented to us in these words is the idea of psychical locality” (Freud 969). This is a very important turn in the history of psychology, a watershed event. Freud begins his nekyia, his descent into the Underworld. Hillman writes,

This bold, this heroic move of Freud into unknown lands was made without cognizance of its consequences for psychology. While it opened new ground for psychological thinking, giving it the new dimension of depth, this depth was fixed into a fantasy of structural levels (Hillman 16).

Concerning these structural levels, Hillman is referring to how Freud subdivided the unconscious into Id, Ego, and Superego, providing it with a topography. He writes about it as a mythological land, influenced here by the Romantics.

In his own life, while working on Die Traumdeutung, Freud underwent a breakdown, which began his descent to the lower regions. As in all great accomplishments, especially those that change history, one is accompanied by pathologization. This is the way of the soul. C’est la vie. Freud gleaned truths from his own personal suffering. His insights came from phenomenologically examining his own dreams. This is akin to Jung’s breakdown, the account of which we now have in The Red Book. As Freud later, wrote, “Insight such as this falls to one’s lot but once in a lifetime” (qtd. in Hillman 21).

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. Complete Works. Ed. Ivan Smith. 2000. ,>

Hillman, James. The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper, 1979.

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The Doctors of Soul: Wilhelm Dilthey

Wilhelm Dilthey, circa 1855
Wilhelm Dilthey has earned a place among the Doctors of Soul, primarily, for his work in hermeneutics, and the humanities. Dilthey was a German philosopher, historian, and psychologist. In 1833, two years after the death of Hegel, Dilthey was born in Biebrich, Hesse, which is a borough of Weisbaden. His father was a Reformed Church theologian, his mother the daughter of an orchestral conductor. Dilthey studied theology in Heidelberg and Berlin, but then transferred his attention to philosophy, taking his doctorate from Berlin in 1864. He taught at Basel, Kiel, and Breslau from 1866-1882. With the passing of R.H. Lotze In 1882, he would be elevated to the Chair of Philosophy at Berlin, once held by Hegel. Dilthey would hold it until his death in 1911.

Dilthey’s entire career was based on a belief that self-knowledge is paramount in human endeavor. His interests encompassed all facets of human learning and experience. He sought to facilitate the discipline of self-knowledge so that humanity could derive the maximum benefit from it. Dilthey’s concentration was in the fields of philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history, especially the history of ideas. Dilthey’s work influenced most of the important thinkers of the twentieth century, such as Freud, Jung, Heidegger, Habermas, and many others. Still, Dilthey is relatively unknown and underestimated in America.

Spanish philosopher, Ortega y Gasset, called Dilthey “the most important thinker of the second half of the nineteenth century” (qtd. in Rickman 1). Gasset must have had a very good reason to say this, what with the level of thinkers to emerge from that fertile period. What we are looking into, however, is what Dilthey contributed to the resurrection of the idea of soul in Western thinking, and to how he influenced the soon-to-come depth psychology of Freud, Jung, and Hillman.

According to James Hillman, Wilhelm Dilthey was the first to “importantly” draw a distinction between the attempt to know via understanding and to know via explanation, as the scientific tradition is wont to do (Hillman 15). He saw our culture as losing the ability of imagination that leads to true understanding. In Dilthey’s day, imagination was being replaced with scientific objectivity. Instead of attempting to really understand the world, including its inhabitants, the scientific method wanted only to offer explanations. It is a testament to the power of soul that this attitude has not fully encompassed us today. We are still talking about soul. An example of the lack of imagination today would be the attempt to explain depression (I prefer the word, “melancholia”) by pointing to certain chemical reactions in the brain. Instead of trying to really understand why a person is depressed, science offers only chemical explanations (and chemical “remedies”).

Achetypal thought stresses personifying. The idea of personifying is one of the foundational stones of archetypal psychology because it utilizes imagination in an attempt to really understand the patient. James Hillman writes,

is not a lesser, primitive mode of apprehending but a finer one. It
presents in psychological theory the attempt to integrate heart into
method and to return abstract thoughts and dead matter to their human
shapes (Hillman 15).

Dilthey was attempting to do the same. He used personifying to try and understand human psyches. The secret of the ‘person’, he wrote, attracts for its own sake ever newer and deeper efforts to understand” (qtd. in Hillman 16). Hillman says,

…Dilthey was a precursor of archetypal psychology.  He was moving in the direction of the mythopoeic, recognizing its role for psychological understanding, his basic concern. But first he had to struggle with psychology in its positivistic definition. This struggle led him to recognize that psychology, upon which he wanted to base all human studies that employ the method of understanding, stands closer to art, to poetry, biography, and narrative than it does to experimental science” (Hillman 234n).

Another area where Dilthey made significant contributions is hermeneutics. This may be his most important work. When Dilthey was  a student at the University of Berlin, he was taught by two professors who had been students of  Friedrich Schleiermacher.  He edited the letters of Schleiermacher and wrote a biography of him. Schleiermacher is famous, partly, for his work in hermeneutics. Dilthey was greatly inspired by Schleiermacher’s work. Being very influenced by German Romanticism, Dilthey placed more importance on human emotion and imagination than the explanations of reductionist scientific systems. He applied his theory of hermeneutics to human studies, or humanities. According to Wikipedia

The school of Romantic hermeneutics stressed that historically embedded interpreters — a “living” rather than a Cartesian dualism or “theoretical” subject — use ‘understanding’ and ‘interpretation’ (verstehen),
which combine individual-psychological and social-historical
description and analysis, to gain a greater knowledge of texts and
authors in their contexts.

Dilthey saw that the method of hermeneutics used by Schleiermacher and others was perfect for human studies, or Geisteswissenschaften.

Henry Corbin credits both Dilthey and  Schleiermacher with being instrumental in inspiring Martin Heidegger’s hermeneutic work. From Heidegger, Corbin gained much inspiration for his melding of Western mysticism and Islamic theology. Tom Cheetham writes,

The significance of Heidegger’s monumental Being and Time for Corbin is not so much that it caused a revolution in his outlook, but rather that it provided a crystallization of themes and issues which were already gathering in his thinking through his study of both Western philosophy and Islamic thought. Like Corbin, Heidegger had been deeply engaged in the study of medieval philosophy and theology and wrote his first major academic treatise on Duns Scotus. As Corbin points out, this provides a significant link between Heidegger’s intellectual background and his own, in particular since the Medieval concept of grammatica speculativa which is fundamental to Luther’s thought had a profound impact on Corbin…But without question Heidegger’s work was, in Corbin’s own words, of “decisive” importance (Cheetham 2).

So, we see that Wilhelm Dilthey was very important in his contributions to depth psychology, particularly Hillman’s archetypal psychology, and Corbin’s unique spirituality and philosophy. 

Works Cited

Cheetham, Tom. The World Turned Inside Out. Woodstock: Spring, 2003.

Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper, 1975

Rickman, H.P. Wilhelm Dilthey: Pioneer of the Human Studies. Los Angeles: University of California, 1979.

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The Doctors of Soul: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In his own words, Coleridge only ever ‘seem’d’ a poet (PW I 2 1145); what he was was a sort of Sandman, a weaver of elusive ‘Day-Dreams’, ‘Sorts of  Dreams’, ‘Reveries’, ‘Visions in Dream’, and ‘Fragments from the life of Dreams’ (Toor 1).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge is considered one of the greatest of the English Romantic poets. He was born in 1772 in Devonshire, England to his father, the Vicar of Ottery, the Reverend John Coleridge, and his mother, Anne Bowden Coleridge. We know him best for his epic poems, Kubla Khan, and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

He attended Jesus College, Cambridge, where he had a most tumultuous time. It ended in his leaving College in 1795 and taking up public lecturing in Bristol with his friend, Robert Southey. Undoubtedly, his daimon deemed it necessary for him to have different experiences at that point in his life. These would usher forth the beauties that lay within him. Even though his stint at Cambridge was over, the fecundity of his imagination would grace mankind with beauty beyond belief.

Coleridge was not simply a poet. His interests were diverse. He was a pamphleteer and public lecturer during the early days of the French Revolution. His message promoted a communistic, anti-violent form of society that he and Southey wished to create in America. Coleridge was also a philosopher, folklorist, psychologist, playwright, travel writer, and amateur naturalist. He also was quite the literary critic, penning excellent works on Shakespeare.

As a psychologist, Coleridge was very interested in the imagination and dreams. His ideas on the imagination are alchemical and magical. The imaginative poet is one who

brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which I would exclusively appropriate the name of Imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, control, laxis effertur habenis, reveals “itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite or discordant” qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general with the concrete; the idea with the image; the individual with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion with more than usual order; judgment ever awake and steady self-possession with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry (BL II 16).

The imagination is a transformative power within humans that possesses the potential to change anything and everything. Coleridge uses alchemical language to describe the power of the imagination. The reconciliation of opposites is a basic alchemical principle in which the fusion and union of the disparate elements result in the lapis philosophorum, the philosopher’s stone (in this case, the completed poem). Coleridge even goes so far as to cite the Ouroboros as symbolizing this process:

The common end of all narrative, nay, of all Poems is to convert a series into a Whole: to make those events, which in real or imagined History move on in a strait Line, assume to our Understandings, a circular motion—the snake with its Tail in its Mouth (CL IV 545).

As with C.G. Jung, this process for Coleridge is the fusing of conscious and unconscious contents within the psyche. Upon reading about Coleridge’s theory of poetry, I was astounded that he had used the same term for the process of integration that Jung had used, except that Coleridge equated the very essence of life itself with individuation.

I define life as the principle of individuation, or the power which unites a given all into a whole that is presupposed by all its parts (BL II 62).

Another aspect of Coleridge’s work that makes him important to modern depth psychology is his dream experiences and subsequent encounters with the archetypes. For example, while working on his poem, Christabel, Coleridge meets with a “deep, unutterable Disgust,” a very dark and terrible disposition that hinders him from completing the poem (CL I 643). This is an example of an encounter with the Shadow. Coleridge notices there are two personalities within, just as Jung had done so years later. Coleridge calls his day-ego, ego-diurnus, while the nighttime-ego is ego nocturnus (CN III 4409). These are the polar powers of the psyche. Coleridge called a poem a “rationalized dream,” where unconscious contents merge with consciousness in giving birth to the poem. To me, this sounds as if the poem is the soul in the process, since it is to be found in the middle region between conscious and unconsciousness.

Finally, in an amazing statement concerning alchemy, Coleridge peers down the pathways of Time and seems to see what Jung saw less than one hundred years later:

I am persuaded that the chymical technology, as far as it was borrowed from Life & Intelligence, half-metaphorically, half mystically, may be brought back again… to the use of psychology in many instances—&  above all, in the philosophy of Language—which ought to be experimentative & analytic of the elements of meaning, their single, double, triple & quadruple combinations,—of simple aggregation, or of  composition by balance of opposition. Thus innocence is distinguished from Virtue & vice versa—In both  there is a positive, but in each opposite. A Decomposition must take place in the first instance, & then a new Composition, in order for Innocence to become Virtue. It loses a positive—& then the base attracts another different positive, by the higher affinity of the [same] Base under a different Temperature for the Latter  (CN III 3312, qtd. in Toor 89-90).

Here, Coleridge is referring to applying alchemical processes to psychology and literature, which is exactly what we’ve been doing since Jung rediscovered the effectiveness of alchemy in his psychoanalytic work.

From Coleridge, today we enjoy the valuable gifts of soul that he has bequeathed upon us. Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan are, of course, the most popular. I see these as powerful examples of soul, the soul of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and products of the Anima Mundi, since they emerged autochthonously from nature. Coleridge was a Master of Imagination, and an illustrious Doctor of Soul.

Works Cited

Coleridge references use standard abbreviations. See The Oxford Handbook of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Toor, Kiran. Dream Weaver: Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the prefiguring of Jungian Dream Theory.

The Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 24 (NS) Winter 2004.
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The Doctors of Soul: Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling

Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling was born in 1775 to Joseph Friedrich Schelling, a chaplain and professor of Oriental languages, and Gottliebin Marie, in the town of Leonberg in Württemberg (now Baden-Württemberg). He was good friends with Hegel and the poet, Holderlin. The three were roommates for awhile at Tübinger Stift, a seminary of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg. Here, Schelling studied the Church Fathers and the ancient Greeks.

We are now getting very close in our series to the beginning of modern depth psychology. By the time Schelling publishes his first philosophical work in 1795, we will be a mere one hundred years or so away from Freudian psychoanalysis. We will see that Schelling has contributions to make to the already constellating forces that will bring forth the idea of the unconscious from the whirling maelstrom of European thought, and then sweep the knowledge of depth psychology around the globe, making Sigmund Freud one of the most famous men in the world.

When I was a philosophy undergraduate in the mid-nineties, my professors totally ignored Schelling. I suppose it was because his teachings did not tow the Hegelian party line. Hegelianism was very powerful in Schelling’s day. It was the philosophical orthodoxy at that period in European history. Besides this, there was the rampant Cartesianism, which had led to a scientism that refused to accept a Schellingian philosophy of mythology or philosophy of nature. Bertrand Russell, the famous British philosopher that one of my old professors fondly referred to as “Bertie Russell,” dismissed Schelling’s importance in three lines:

Schelling was more amiable [than Fichte] but not less subjective. He was closely associated with the German romantics; philosophically, though famous in his day, he is not important (Russell 575).

Schelling was part of a movement that was extremely popular in Germany in the nineteenth century called Idealism. German Idealism reacted against Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, where he had asserted a distinction between phenomenon and noumenon, the external thing and the thing-in-itself. Kant had said that we could have absolutely no knowledge of the noumena. Johann Fichte contended that there was no distinction between phenomenon and noumenon, and that the ego was the source of all external things. Fichte’s philosophy was similar to Kant’s, except that the knowing subject, the ego, was at the center of everything.

Schelling, influenced by Fichte, attempted to develop this further by claiming that Fichte’s “I” requires the “Not-I” in the experiencing of the external world. The subjective requires the objective in order for experience to occur. In fact, in Schelling, the subjective and objective are one and the the same.

Schelling made very important contributions to the emergence of the idea of the unconscious in the nineteenth century. Borrowing somewhat from Jacob Boehme’s idea of Ungrund, Schelling first used the term, unconscious (das Unbewusste), in the year 1800, “in the context of his analysis of the unconscious conditions of self-consciousness and the sources of art” (Ffytche 13). In arriving at the idea of the unconscious, Schelling ran into the difficult problem of developing “certainty through a metaphysics of the Absolute; the desire to outline a history of nature; and the concern to articulate a principle of individuality and of individual freedom” (Ffytche 102). Schelling found himself in the unenviable position of trying to integrate three ideas: the individual and the Absolute; the emergent nature of life itself; and necessity and freedom. He needed to forge these together into one unitive ontology. It was at this juncture that he employed the idea of the unconscious as a jumping-off point.

In order to resolve these ontological contradictions between individuality and the absolute (whether this latter is conceived as reason, God, nature or the I) Schelling will come to rely on a third, mediating space — beyond the cogito and the framing powers of reason, but within the ontological space of the individual. A psyche that emerges besides the ‘I’, as an alternative, more radical site of connection between the self and its metaphysical foundations, is not just the sign of a counter-Enlightenment return to the structures of religion — the transcendent language of soul — but an attempt to naturalise within the framework of psychology a site for thinking self-identity, for positing an identity with oneself (Ffytche 105).

The psyche is this mediative point of departure for Schelling. In the
psyche, one finds a mediatrix between one’s individual self and the

Like Giordano Bruno before him, Schelling borrowed from Aristotle’s doctrine of form and matter. After applying this to his project, two ideas emerged. First, matter somehow identifies with the Absolute because it is “pure possibility in relation to the actual” (Ffytche 109). Secondly, matter is identified with the source, the origin. Schelling said,

rough matter strives, as it were blindly, after regular shape, and unconsciously assumes pure stereometric forms (Plastic Arts 7).

The fact that we are required to “strive after regular shape” assumes there is a lack of consciousness. In fact, Schelling once said, “In the concept of every beginning lies the concept of a lack” (qtd. in Ffytche 111). In this lack, this nothingness, lies unconsciousness. The connection of nothingness and non-being with individuality makes Schelling a direct predecessor to existentialist philosophers like Sartre, who make nothingness central to their thinking. More importantly, for our study, Schelling’s idea of unconsciousness initiates a discussion in psychology that will eventually lead to Freud’s use of the idea, and then Jung and modern depth psychology.

Schelling also contributed to psychology in his ideas of mythology and the imagination. Now, that I am slightly more familiar with him, I will delve further into those topics for future articles.

One other thing, notice, in the image above, if you will, Schelling’s eyes. His eyes are very distinctive, very deep, and very indicative of a man consumed with the soul. The eyes always give it away.

Works Cited

Ffytche, Matt. The Foundation of the Unconscious. Cambridge: Cambridge, 2012.

Russell, Bertrand. History of Western Philosophy. London: Routledge, 2009.

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The Doctors of Soul: Giambattista Vico

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Marie-Lan Nguyen

Giambattista Vico was born in Naples, Italy in 1668 to a poor book seller and a carriage maker’s daughter. Due to much illness, he was mostly self-educated. He was considered a fine political philosopher, Italian jurist, rhetorician, and historian. He was vehemently anti-Cartesian and anti-reductionist. According to Wikipedia,

Vico is a precursor of systemic and complexity thinking, as opposed to Cartesian analysis and other kinds of reductionism. He is also well known for noting that verum esse ipsum factum (“true itself is fact” or “the true itself is made”), a proposition that has been read as an early instance of constructivist epistemology.

He is credited with originating the philosophy of history. His major work was the Scienza Nuova, The New Science. He died in Naples in 1744.

Vico was one of the great scholars who owed much to Ficino’s translations of Plato and Plotinus. Vico had originally studied the Scholastics, but around 1690, he abandoned that project and began to focus on Plato, Virgil, Dante, and Petrarch. This was the turning point for him, one that made him an illustrious Doctor of the Soul.

Vico’s contribution to depth psychology and the study of soul is considerable. Apparently, he learned the ways of soul from reading the ancient writers, such as Plato and Plotinus, as well as Renaissance scholars like Ficino and Petrarch. Vico put imagination at the center of all that he taught. According to Hillman,

He deserves the attention of those concerned with Jung mainly because of his elaboration of metaphorical thinking. For him, such thinking was primary, just as with Jung fantasy-thinking is primary (Hillman 158).

Vico was very close to Jungian thought with his notion that various cultural ideas and myths are autochthonous, i.e., they arise from a single source. In The New Science, he writes, “Uniform ideas originating among entire peoples unknown to each other must have a common ground of truth” (Vico 144). This common ground that connected all peoples he called “imaginative universals.” These are very much like Jung’s archetypes.

There must in the nature of human things be a mental language common to all nations, which uniformly grasps the substance of things feasible in human social life, and expresses it with as many diverse modifications as these same things may have diverse aspects. A proof of this is afforded by proverbs or maxims of vulgar wisdom, in which substantially the same meanings find as many diverse expressions as there are nations ancient and modern (Vico 60).

Vico is most assuredly “an ancestor of the Jungian approach” (Hillman 157). Vico’s imaginative universals sound strikingly similar to Jung’s idea of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Through his teaching of what he called “poetic characters,” Vico further developed the Ficinian insistence on the importance of fantasy.

The [poetic] characters of which we speak are found to have been certain imaginative genera (images for the most part of animate beings, of gods or heroes,
formed by their imagination) to which they reduced all the species or all the
particulars appertaining to each genus; exactly as the fables of human times,
such as those of late comedy, are intelligible genera reasoned out by moral
philosophy, from which the comic poets form imaginative genera (for the
perfected ideas of the various human types are nothing but that) which are the
persons of the comedies. Hence such divine or heroic characters are found to
have been true fables or stories, and their allegories are discovered to contain
meanings not analogical but univocal, not philosophical but historical, of the
peoples of Greece of those times. Furthermore, since these genera (for that is
what the fables in essence are) were formed by most vigorous imaginations,
as in men of the feeblest reasoning powers, we discover in them true poetic
sentences, which must be sentiments clothed in the greatest passions and therefore full of sublimity and arousing wonder (Vico 19).

Not only does Vico’s teaching resemble Jung’s, it also resembles Hillman’s archetypal psychology, with its insistence on a multiplicity of the “poetic characters,” or gods. There is also a kind of inkling of an archetypal therapy in Vico’s writings. The poetic characater, such as Pan, for example,

becomes the psychic structure by mean of which we place events and see how well they conform with their universal types, or archetypes, of the mundus imaginalis. The poetic character would be what we call the archetypal image with which events in your or my case history can be compared, the lacunae discovered, and a rectification takes places (Hillman 159).

Like Hillman, Vico defends the Neoplatonic principle of epistrophe, or ricorsi, as Vico calls it. This is very similar to Hillman’s method of “reversion,” described above, where fantasies are traced back to their archetypal origins in the Gods. Of this, Hillman elaborates that

Archetypal therapy of this sort proceeds by means of “likeness.” In Neoplatonic thought, especially as worked out by Proclus, events can be recognized for what they truly and essentially are, and thus “redeemed” through this recognition, by “reverting” them to their true cause in the divine ideas. These divine ideas become in Vico the universali fantastici, or poetic characters, and in Jung the archetypes (ibid.).

Vico’s ricorsi is a multifaceted idea that has been pored over and debated since Vico was rediscovered in the nineteenth century. But, according to Notre Dame philosophy professor, A. Robert Caponigri,

‘Ricorsi’ appears in Vico, in the first instance, as a methodological notion. It designates a methodological device for making effective his discovery of the primacy of poetry and, with this, of the genuine time-structure and movement of history. It consists in the employment of the categories of poetic wisdom for the interpretation of the cultural and social structures of post-poetic times. By this employment there is determined abstract contemporaneity between time-form structures (Caponigri 131).

Ricorsi, most commonly interpreted, is the recurrence theory of history, but that is not what Prof. Caponigri really thinks it is in Vico’s schema. He gives several lengthy explanations that are not in the scope of this article. For more detail, I refer you to his book, Time and Idea. Hillman claims ricorsi includes the meaning that “archetypal persons transcend historical limitations even as they manifest themselves in historical time.” Vico’s “poetic figures are the ultimate categories for understanding human existence” (ibid.). 

The mirror of the soul, peered into during the process of reversion, leads us to understand more about ourselves and our world. We examine our actions and behaviors and ask the question, What god do these behaviors conform to? What archetypal mythemes does my behavior reflect? In this way, we give place to the gods, and, thus, they do not arise within in us as diseases. Remember the words of Jung,

The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus, but the
solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s
consulting room (Jung, 37).

This is what occurs when a society disposes of the gods, as our Western obsession with Cartesianism has done.

Thus, Vico has lent much to depth psychology. Now, we see why he is considered a Doctor of Soul.


Caponigri, A. Robert. Time and Idea. Chicago: Regnery, 1953.

Hillman, James. Loose Ends. Irving: Spring, 1978.

Jung, C.G.(1929). Commentary On The Secret Of The Golden Flower. In
Alchemical Studies. In The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Vol. 13.
Princeton: Bollingen. 

Vico, Giambattista. The New Science. Trans. by Thomas Goddard Bergin and Max Harold Fisch. Ithaca: Cornell, 1948.

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