Rationality Concept In – Jung’s Definitions


Jung calls active thinking a rational function, because it arranges the contents of ideation under concepts, in accordance with a rational norm of which we are conscious. Passive or intuitive thinking is beyond rationality because it arranges and judges the contents of ideation by norms of which we are not conscious, and therefore cannot recognise as being in accord with reason. Only subsequently, we may be able to recognize that the intuitive act of judgment accorded with reason, although it came about in a way that appears irrational.

However, there are numerous norms of rationality, many of which we are not conscious, and we can thus not avoid the question; what is the ontological foundation for our normative theories of rationality? Jung does not address this issue properly and we may arrest him on this pivotal point because we have discovered fairly strong arguments, indicating that intuition does assist in the building of such a foundation. Moreover, his conception of intuition seems to stop short at the second level of intuition. The promise of the third level is consciousness of the unconscious. It may thus reveal what norm of rationality the individual ego is evolving by.

Jung maintains that thinking and feeling are rational functions in so far they are decisively influenced by reflection. They function most perfectly when they are in the fullest possible accord with the laws of reason. The irrational functions, sensation and intuition, are those whose aim is pure perception. Intuition functions most perfectly when it is in the fullest possible accord with the archetypes “which represent the laws governing the course of all things we can experience. The puzzling point then, is that it is defined as irrational.

Tentatively, we may indicate that this is because he emphasizes the more common first level of intuition. In philosophical epistemology, intuition is seen as pure perception as well.

However, contrary to Jung, it is also seen as main distributor of the intelligible world of pure reason. Thus, it is defined as rational. This may be due to emphasis on the second and third level of intuition. The immediate and direct nature of intuition is seen as closer to the Ideas, Forms and Archetypes than the indirect or reflected nature of analytic, discursive thinking, which is relative to an ego. This is plausible. The fully developed, mature intuition is so to speak integral to these more permanent laws of the psyche. Jung then, breaks the long

tradition of conceiving intuition as rational. We must therefore take further note of his definition of rationality.

Interestingly he defines it as an attitude whose principle is to conform thought, feeling and action to objective values.257 Objective values are established by the everyday experience of external facts on the one hand, and of inner, psychological facts on the other. Such experiences, however, could not represent objective values if they were valued as such by the subject, for that would already amount to an act of reason, Jung argues. “The rational attitude which permits us to declare objective values as valid at all is not the work of the individual

subject, but the product of human history. Jung’s view then, is that objective values, and reason itself, are firmly established complexes of ideas handed down through the ages. “Countless generations have labored at their organization with the same necessity with which the living organism reacts to the average, constantly recurring environmental conditions, confronting them with corresponding functional complexes. In this line of argument, individual, subjective rationality is not given much guidance. Moreover, this definition of

rationality is more or less identical to the one of archetypes. Archetypes are perceived by intuition. In a strict sense then, it is not logical of Jung to define intuition as irrational. This account is contrasted by his definition of irrationality, which is not something contrary to reason, but something beyond. “The irrational is an existential factor which, though it may be pushed further and further out of sight by an increasingly elaborate rational explanation, finally makes the explanation so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension. The limits of rational thought being reached long before the whole of the world could be encompassed by the laws of reason. A completely rational explanation of an object that actually exists is thus a Utopian ideal according to Jung. Only an object that is posited or postulated can be completely explained on rational grounds, since it does not contain anything beyond what has been posited by rational thinking. This is the case with empirical science,

because by deliberately excluding the accidental it does not consider the actual object as a whole, but only that part of it which has been singled out for rational observation. Such an object is usually devoid of its full context. It therefore tells us only half the story, according to Jung. This view on rationality is thus consonant with Kant’s notion of the analytic a priori, and with reasoning system which will be elaborated later on. It also reflects the view of Bergson, who limits the use of the word intellect to discursive thinking, while intuition is defined as supra-intellectual. It is on this background then we must understand Jung, when he defines thinking and feeling as directed, rational functions. “When these functions are concerned not with a rational choice of objects, or with the qualities and interrelations of objects, but with the perception of accidentals which the actual object never lacks, they at once lose the attribute of directedness and, with it, something of their rational character. The kind of thinking or feeling that is

directed to the perception of accidentals, is irrational, and is either intuitive or sensational.

They find fulfillment in the absolute perception of the flux of events Jung writes, as if echoing Heraclitus and Bergson. “Hence, by their very nature, they will react to every possible occurrence and be attuned to the absolutely contingent, and must therefore lack all direction.

For this reason, I call them irrational functions. Again, Jung is opposing himself. He defines intuition as the ability to perceive, and even foresee processes and possibilities, thus it must possess an innate direction. We will return to these issues in the succeeding chapter on intuition and rationality.

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