Back to Beyond: Hillman and Whitehead, Part 1

Back to Beyond: Hillman and Whitehead, Part 1

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup (public domain) of the original painting La Gare De Perpignan by Salvador Dali.

In 1983, a conference was organized by the Center for Process Studies, and held at Claremont University Center and Graduate School with the theme of a dialogue between process theologians and the thought of James Hillman and Carl Jung. A book of essays based on this dialogue was a result and was published as Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman. In this article, I would like to examine some of the thinking of James Hillman’s essay, Back to Beyond: On Cosmology.

One of the early paragraphs deals with ideas that Hillman has concentrated on, sometimes even in opposition to Jung. Hillman writes about his work:

The insistence has been on the vale of soul-making, staying in the valley of the shadow, turning even at times against the initiator of my own tradition. Jung, for his ascensionist prospects, his pronouncements from the mountain tops about the meaning of life, the worldviews, the generalized theories of typology, the Self and mandalas. I have tried to follow Jung the psychologist of the soul but not Jung the metaphysician of the spirit. And, for all its puer impetus and anima aroma, my work has been stringently dedicated to lowland tactics, to the discipline of image, of phenomena, of pathologizings, in the mode of critical skepticism.

Something further is needed, and I have known this for some time.1.

The “something further” Hillman refers to is a foundational metaphysics on which to further build archetypal psychology. Hillman recognizes that Freud and Jung had constructed their psychologies on the sinking sand of metaphysics inherited from Kant, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, these being their primary influences. The metaphysics of which I refer to is that postulated by Descartes and accepted by every important philosopher afterwards until Whitehead.

While in Cordoba, Spain in 1979, Hillman encountered physicist, David Bohm, who had also spent time developing a theory of metaphysics ( I discuss this in Animatter and Projection). Hillman writes:

Bohm admitted frankly and sadly that physics had released the world into its perishing, and that physicists had neither learning nor ability to think the world out of its peril – and that this job was not the job of the physicist anyway – we saw that our plight was way beyond the discipline of the men who had advanced this plight. I saw the terrible need for metaphysics. The physical threat of the end of the world results from a metaphysical catastrophe 2.

Hillman admits consciously avoiding Jung’s metaphysics, even though many of Jung’s followers turned to their master for a metaphysical underpinning. He wasn’t able to provide it because his had crumbled. Hillman wanted to retain Jung’s psychology, and annul his metaphysics, but he realized that psychology was not enough. His psychology needed a firm foundation, as well. The truth is, “the internal needs of the soul require that its psychology meet the soul’s concerns about the nature of the cosmos in which it finds itself.”3 One of its internal needs is to have satisfactory answers to its ultimate questions of meaning. This is something that pre-Whiteheadian metaphysics could not provide. And it is one of the main reasons why we have seen so many thinkers have to deal with feelings of meaninglessness and existential despair. And many of them took their own lives, as they continue to do to this day.

Hillman says, “It struck me in Cordoba that what I had been doing was merely another strand of Western skepticism and nihilism.”4 He equates his methodology in arriving at his ideas to those of “bare existentialism, linguistic philosophy, operationalism, and deconstruction theory.”5 The one commonality between them was the “failure to grapple constructively, positively, with metaphysics.”6

To have a thinker as brilliant as Hillman admit his methodology is flawed is monumental. Metaphysics has obviously “failed the psyche.”7 It continues to fail it, as long as those who espouse the Jungian-Hillmanian psychological framework of the soul do not rethink their psychology with the new metaphysics in mind. Hillman says the old metaphysics

. . . usually allows soul a place no bigger than a pineal gland, reducing soul to subjectivism and feelings, to an epiphenomenon of material nature, an invisible form of a living body, keeping it only human, or according it permanent value only by positing a home for it in the afterworld.8

One wonders if modern political theories, like our own democratic republic, will eventually fail because they were constructed upon an inadequate metaphysics. Is this why “freedom” seems to be slipping away, and perhaps never existed in the first place? Freedom is an innate quality of soul; to have it denied is a failure of political psychology.

Hillman mentions he is interested in a “metaphysical praxis.”9 I am quite interested in discovering this, myself. I would like to know how to live life more fully, more soulfully through a practical method of synthesizing immediacy perception and meaning perception (terms used by Colin Wilson) into what Whitehead called “symbolic reference.” This, according to Whitehead, is where we can touch meaning in life. That is what we all strive for, unless one is a serious nihilist. But this is not Hillman’s concern at this point. He desires to investigate how a “psychological metaphysics will continue to be tied to its twin, practical therapeia.”10 Of course, he desires to help his patients more than simply learn about a new metaphysics, even if it is vastly superior to the old. Hillman says depth psychology practices “an alchemical metaphysics: ‘account for the unknown in terms of the more unknown.'” The unconscious, of course, must be included in this new metaphysical praxis. Its irrationalities, and the “pathological and poetic”11 must have a place, even though these always distance themselves from science and logic. Hillman writes:

The method of analysis in therapy drops the bottom out of any positive statement, so our practice turns ever on its own metaphysics with its own deconstructionist tropic shiftings; our method is a uroboros, eating itself up with its own mouth, the talking-cure of its own talk.”12

Yet, Hillman insists there is affinity between psychological praxis and Whitehead’s metaphysics. “As Freud said, in the unconscious there is no negation,”13 so there are, indeed, “positive characteristics: self-enjoyment, creativity or novelty, and aim.”14. These are consistent with Whitehead. Hillman uses Whitehead’s actual words from Process and Reality. Hillman cautions, however, that “any positive answer will itself be subject to seeing through, to twisting into fantasy.”15 This is the way of the soul. He says we are not talking about “old conundrums left over from Zeno. . . . Not Zeno, Zen.”16 Ultimately, the realm of the soul is beyond metaphysics. But we need a foundation on which to stand upon until we reach the beyond.

I will continue with a second post on this next time in which I will discuss Hillman’s section of the essay on “psychological cosmology.”




Griffin, David Ray, Ed. Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman. Northwestern UP: Evanston, 1989.

  1. Archetypal Process, 214
  2. Archetypal Process, 215
  3.  Archetypal Process, 216
  4. ibid.
  5. ibid.
  6. ibid.
  7. Archetypal Process, 217
  8. ibid.
  9. Archetypal Process, 218
  10. ibid.
  11.  Archetypal Process, 219
  12. ibid.
  13. ibid.
  14. ibid
  15. ibid.
  16. ibid

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