The Doctors of Soul

Posted By on October 8, 2013


Many of you who have read James Hillman’s Re-Visioning Psychology know that his psychology begins with C.G. Jung, who Hillman considers “the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through Freud, Dilthey, Coleridge, Schelling, Vico, Ficino, Plotinus, and Plato to Heraclitus-and with even more branches which have yet to be traced” (Hillman xvii). I will be starting a series of articles on these illustrious Doctors of Soul. I plan on discussing the most significant accomplishments and contributions of each to the cultivation and furtherance of soul-making in Western civilization.

It is not to be assumed that I am an expert on the lives of these thinkers. This is as much for my personal study and edification as I hope it will be for my readers.  

Before I begin, however, I would like to share a few brief remarks concerning why James Hillman’s ideas have inaugurated a new era in the study of soul, why they are just as revolutionary as Jung’s (perhaps more so), and why he should be included in this group of intellectual luminaries known as the Doctors of Soul.

The mantle of Jung may have fallen on James Hillman at Jung’s passing, but Hillman is not a “Jungian.” Whereas the Gnostics and alchemists were Jung’s primary Muses, Hillman looks to the ancient Greeks, Renaissance teachers, the Romantics, and phenomenologists for the main tenets of his “archetypal psychology.” Jung borrowed from Heraclitus and Plato, as does Hillman, but Hillman also seeks the Gods themselves as personalities, not simply “projections of the psyche,” as Jung would assert. Moreover, Jung’s focus on the integration of all disparate aspects of the psyche into a central Self is not the path trodden by Hillman. The latter would insist in keeping all those personalities separate, since reality is polytheistic in nature.
The many-sidedness of human nature, the variety of viewpoints even within a single individual, requires the broadest possible spectrum of basic structures (Hillman xx).  
Jung believed that if one were to withdraw all projections, the Self would be unified and whole. This process he called individuation.

Jung believed that dreams were part of a compensatory process that furthered the psyche along its path of individuation. Hillman does not buy into this idea. Rather, he looks at dreams phenomenologically and hermeneutically, not analytically. Hillman argued against dream interpretation, as well, claiming that this was the work of the Ego, who always tries to be top dog, so to speak.

James Hillman has greatly influenced my life and my thought. I began reading him in college, nearly twenty years ago. I have continued over the years, excavating  much from the rich ore of his mind. This blog is replete with Hillman-inspired articles. Having steeped myself in things Jungian for several years, I came across Dr. Hillman while perusing the university library one day. I was immediately drawn to his thought, probably because he was a Jungian rebel. I read Re-visioning Psychology first and it blew my mind. I read it several times; I still read it, and it still is an incredible piece of work.

He, more than anyone, helped me to understand depression, suffering, and why life is as it is. He showed me why soul pathologizes; why monotheism is the root of much neurosis; why dreams prepare us for death; why everyone is born to do a certain thing in life; why everything is soul and soul is everything. Certainly, Hillman could not have showed me these things without the work of men like Freud, Jung, Adler, and many others. He, however, brought a bit more lucidity to depth psychology than his predecessors.

So, on to the series. My first installment will deal with the man who may have been the original depth psychologist, for he was the first in Western history to identify depth with soul, Heraclitus.


 Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: Harper Collins, 1975.
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About the author

Philosophy and depth psychology fanatic; writer and resident soul spelunker

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