Jung, the father of analytical psychology, proposed a model of the human psyche that is constituted by a number of collective, universal, and impersonal structures.  The system of structures, dubbed the collective unconscious, is inherited by all of mankind and contains a number of a priori forms or archetypes which are give shape to psychic contents or primordial images that are perceived. Archetypes are thus the psychic counterpart to animal instinct but which cannot be perceived per-se but can be actualized through the encounter with the outer-world; the production of images, symbols, and cultures are the expression of archetype by individuals.  Another perspective is to liken archetypes to attractors in a dynamical system where mental states evolve in typical fashions; mental states initially representing sense data are transformed, according to their position in phase space, into factors along a common basis. For example, the archetypal mother may configure the early experiences of breast-feeding and physical contact into a representation of a nurturing individual which is then projected onto agents who behave similarly (e.g. the biological mother, nanny, social worker).  Furthering the analogy, a set of images may be clustered around a common set of themes (i.e. complex) much like how basins of attractions have stable orbits about a number of centers; the existence of such centers are only known via the arrangement of images or by the orbiting trajectories. Thus, Jung sought evidence of the archetypes through the exploration of common primordial images, close to their archetypal centers, that have independently emerged in individuals, historical text, and primitive cultures.


Positing the existence of archetypes-as-such, Jung divides the unconscious into the aforementioned collective unconscious and the personal unconscious that extends Freud’s concept of the unconscious and complexes. Recall that Freud developed his theory of the Oedepus complex, which is a person’s psycho-sexual development that is responsible for adult defense mechanisms, integration into society, and the formation of culture. Jung generalizes the complex into any pattern of affect-ladden emotions, memories, perceptions, and wishes centered around a common theme, namely an archetype. Moreover, complexes are energetic or semi-autonomous enough to interfere with the ego-complex, the center of ordinary everyday consciousness. This departs from Freud’s fixation on the Oedipus complex by attributing neurosis or psychological disturbances to a multiplicity of complexes beyond childhood sexual factors. Another consequence is the lack of unity in consciousness by the ego as the will or human agency may be usurped by a multitude of complexes vieing for actualization. Although such loss of agency is commonly viewed as a negative in the modern West where the ego is encouraged to differentiate, one must recognize that the ego differentiates in its reconciliation of tensions created by the competing impulses of complexes and their interplay between archetypes and the outer-world. Thus, it is worthwhile to elaborate on several major archetypes, how they activate as complexes, and their light/dark sides in relation to the ego (acceptable vs unacceptable by ego).

  • Shadow:  The not-I qualities of the ego that are unknown, repressed, suppressed, or disowned. The light-side are a person’s hidden or untapped positive qualities which have not yet been realized. The dark-side are the destructive aspects  which the ego cannot accept about the self. In dreams, they appear as dark figures that actively undermine our values. Individuation or the integration of disowned parts of the self begins with the shadow and never ends over the course of life.
  • Persona: The social mask crafted to leave a particular impression on others whilst concealing the ego from others. The light-side is social flexibility or the first-steps that the ego needs to engage in different outer-spheres of life. The dark-side is ego-identification which creates a conformist attitude to the social role and the loss of individuality (other aspects of self).
  • Anima/Animus: Contra-sexual personifications, infatuation/possessiveness of other sex. Anima qualities include the need for emotion and relatedness to others but may devolve into irrational moods. Animus qualities include a need for logic, leadership and independence but may devolve into argumentativeness/irrational opinions. In dreams, they serve as guides and communicators to other primordial images.
  • Great mother: Nurturing/suffocating, devotion/abandoning, unconditional love/dependence. The light-side is the life-giver who provides sustenance for the young to thrive. The dark-side is the devourer who creates relationships of co-dependency.
  • Trickster: Creative destruction (capacity to both create and destroy), rule-maker/breaker, the wise-fool. The light-side is the reformer who supplies new conventions. The dark-side is the sociopath who disregards conventions.
  • Eternal child:  Potential for growth. The light-side is the divine child who symbolizes novelty, new possibilities, growth. The dark-side is the child-man who refuses to tackle life’s challenges by seeking short-cuts.
  • Senex/Chrone: Guardian of culture. The light-side is the wizard/chrone who mentors the young and imparts life-lessons. The dark-side is the devouring father/fool filled with bitterness and stagnation.
  • Self: Unity of ego conscious and the unconscious, the pull towards individuation or the integration of personalities into one totality or the self via the transcendent function. The transcendent function is the mechanism responsible for a Hegelian synthesis between the ego and contents of the unconscious. The emergent “third” is a new perspective which the ego is able to absorb.


The ego complex, where the seat of consciousness rests, is the self’s first point of reference and where the archetypal drives are regularized. One can liken the ego to the executive function of the psyche, capable of directing all cognitive processes. Prior to his works on archetypes, Jung devised a system of psychological types (typology) that characterize a hierarchy of cognitive processes or functions in the individual. A cognitive function is a directed process (by the ego-will) which are categorized by several dichotomies.

  • Attitudes-Rational (Judging)/Irrational (Perceiving): Rational attitudes are objective reasons and values established over the course of human history in the normative sense of intelligibility. Irrational attitudes are the existential facts that are phenomenologically fulfilled and thus grounded in experience rather than reflection.
  • Orientations-Extraversion/Introversion: The movement of libido or psycic energy can either move towards objects in the outer world (extraversion) or be withdrawn and redirected towards other objects within the subject (introversion). Extraversion is extensive in the sense that libido is directed towards multitudes of objects in the outer-world. Conversely, introversion is intensive in the sense that processes are withdrawing libido from only a few objects.
  • Thinking: A rational function by which relations between objects that exclude the subject are established according to reason. Thinking represses feeling as it mustn’t exclude possible relations that do not accord with their agreeableness or value to the subject.
  • Feeling: A rational function by which relations of worth between subject and object are established according to values. Feeling represses thinking as relations between objects may be given undue attention according to values of worth rather than through reason.
  • Sensation: An irrational function by which a thing is made conscious via sense-organs (i.e. realization/facts, physical stimuli, the part). Sensing represses intuition as attention directed towards the realizations (attachment to things that exist or have existed) would categorically exclude things that have not come to pass.
  • Intuition: An irrational function by which a thing is made conscious via its spatio-temporal negation (i.e. possibilities, forecasting, gestalt). Intuition represses sensing as attention must keep moving as to apprehend the much larger space of negation; it must not be remain fixated on the realizations.

The differentiation of any one function entails the exclusion of elements from other functions (attitude-differentiation) as well as a decided direction in the flow of libido (orientation-differentiation). Eight differentiated functions are possible in this schema (Ti, Fi, Si, Ni, Te, Fe, Se, Ne, where T/F/S/N and i/e are short-hand for thinking, feeling, sensation, intuition and introversion, extraversion respectively) . However the proficiency gained from differentiating any one function is at the expense (active-repression) of its cognitive opposite which must be compensated in the unconscious by becoming an emotionally charged complex.  Differentiating all 8 functions to a high degree is systemically improbable as it require both a world context that did not favor the rewards of one-sidedness as well as an ego willing to detach from its archetypal pre-dispositions.  What emerges from this dynamical system in the normative sense is a typology system consisting of a single dominant (most-differentiated) cognitive function, a repressed but emotionally charged inferior function that is halfway in the unconscious (cognitive opposite of dominant function, i.e. Ti-Fe, Fi-Te, Si-Ne, Ni-Se), and two auxiliary functions (functions of different attitude than the dom-inf pair, opposite orientation, less differentiated). The remaining four functions are thought to reside in the individual’s shadow although later followers (Beebe) of Jung have sought to attribute complexes to the expression of cognitive functions along the positional stack. In the spirit of Jung’s complexes, the first four functions of consciousness are thought to be expressions of the hero, good parent, child, and anima/animus archetypes. They are mirrored by functions of their opposite orientation in the unconscious which are expressions of the shadow, senex/crone, trickster, and daemon archetypes. Thus, individuation  from the perspective of normative typology and the complex model, can be viewed as the assimilation of the parts of the unconscious by the differentiation of cognitive functions over different stages in life, and through interior work such as active-imagination and dream analysis to give expression to the lesser archetypes.


As an addendum, Jung’s later works further extended the role of the collective unconscious into a metaphysical conception of a single world order (unus mundus, monopsychism) where mental and physical phenomenon are united (final causes are inherent rather than unknowable) via the mediation of archetypes. In studies of a primitive’s  world-view, the less differentiated ego does not make a clear separation between itself and the object. Other complexes are able to more freely project their contents of the conscious onto objects from which the weak ego enters into a so-called participation mystique. Often, the contents are collective in the sense of having been derived from the culture of the tribe; there is less of an individual than the expression of the a culture/world view through its members.  The tight coupling between mental phenomenon and outer events would always appear to be meaningfully related but not necessarily causal (synchronicity). If archetypes have been hypothesized to have a dual nature in both mental and physical realities, then all phenomena would be synchronistic and inter-related. However, it is an unfortunate consequence that ego-differentiation conditions the mind to anticipate a world-view that conceals both the expression and apprehension of such archetypes. Perhaps it is our goal in modern times to find new ways of engaging in such a poetic relationship with the world.



Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, is known for pioneering a wide range of theories for furthering our understanding of the human mind. During his career, he established the groundwork for the structure of the mind, the unconscious, dreams, child development, and defense mechanisms. His major works could be viewed as a synthesis of several ideas across different fields  (the psychic economy as a Helmholtz energy system, drive theory rooted in  Schopenhauer/Nietzsche’s blind impulse/will to power, pleasure principle/sex motivated by Darwinian evolution) but his primary contributions was their systematization in a clinical setting for treating patients. Regardless, Freud’s contributions to psychology had broad impact on ideas of sociology (critical theory, alienation, the Other, power-structures, libidinal economy), philosophy (subjecthood, Marxism), biology (neural science), and economics (public relations/marketing). Let us investigate each of his theories.

Freud map

Freud viewed the mind as a mechanized tripartite system that operated according to energy conservation laws. Conscious behavior are actually determined or could be explained by latent mental within the unconscious. This deterministic account of action renders free-will illusory as one’s choices are derived from hidden mental processes. Conscious and unconscious states are phenomena produced by a tripartite arrangement of the mind known by the id-ego-superego. The id consists of the primitive and instinctual (innate) components of humanity that can be categorized into Eros (sex, reproductive drive), Thanatos (aggressive, destructive drive) instincts. It is autonomous and operates under the so-called pleasure principle which that demands that impulses be satisfies both instantly and unconditionally. The ego is the conscious mediator between the impulses of the id and the practical means of achieving the id’s demands. It conditions the id’s instincts according to the reality principle by delaying gratification and compromising the demands according to socially responsible and normative methods in the external world.  The super-ego consists ideals from society that are internalized as to pressure the ego into both acting and assigning worth (value) according to parental influences during upbringing and by implication society; it punishes the ego with feelings of guilt for not living up to its standards.  One’s sense of agency, which derives from the conscious deliberation of action, is thus produced in the ego, driven to satisfy the id, and regularized by the superego. Such dynamics are governed by the flow of so-called libido or energy in the psyche which are conserved between the id-ego-superego; impulses have different magnitudes of excitation which are transformed into different degrees of emotional investment into mental objects (cathexis) by the ego but when blocked or withdrawn (anti-cathexis) from the object by superego ideals will cause the ego to find alternative ways to release the energy or else experience neurotic symptoms.


Development of the tripartite structure occurs in phases during the early years of a child’s life in so-called psychosexual stages where the libidinal flow is fixated. In the first year of life, the infant is in the oral stage where the first source of gratification as well as frustration is experienced in terms of sucking/breast-feeding from the mother; frustration follows from the separation of the breast where libido is blocked and reconstitutes itself in the basic ego as a separate structure from the id-nature.  Between years 1-3, the libido is fixated on the anus during potty-training where the pleasures of defecating must be delayed according the authority of the parents. The greater external demands and authority of the parents further clashes with ego, produced from the rising tension with the id. The phallic stage between ages 3-6 fixates the libido on the genitals and the child’s anatomical differences between mother and father. Erotic attraction with the opposite sex parent give rise to the so-called “Oedipus/Electra Complexes”. Boys seek to possess the mother but fears the father out of castration anxiety; the complex is resolved via identification with the father via his values/attitudes/behaviors which are adjusted according to male gender roles of the culture. Girls learn to repress their desire for father and their hatred of mother by identifying with female gender roles and the wish for a baby. For both genders, internalizing these values give rise to superego. From ages 6-puberty, the child enters into the latency stage where the libido is no longer fixated and can flow into play, developing new skills, and learning. From puberty to adulthood is the genital stage where libido is reconstituted in the pursuit of sexual intercourse with others.


The conflicting demands of both the id and super-ego on the ego produce tensions that cannot always be harmonized. Failure to harmonize would result in neurosis or experiencing different forms of mental anxiety. Thus, the ego unconsciously employs a variety of defense mechanisms that reroutes/transforms  the energetic potential of the different demands. Such mechanisms are developed during the psycho sexual fixation periods to different degrees and exhibit recurring patterns in adulthood. Defenses can thus be classified on a continuum from primary to mature:

  1. Withdrawal:  Avoiding situation by re-investing energy into fantasy.
  2. Denial: Refusing to accept or acknowledge an unpleasant reality.
  3. Disassociation: Disconnect from present experience by escaping into another representation.
  4. Splitting: Separate inter-objects into either all good/all bad without ambivalence.
  5. Projection: Misinterpret impulse from within as coming from the outside in distorted form.
  6. Regression:  Goes back to infantile behaviors for coping with stress.
  7. Reaction Formation: Adopting the opposite position of the impulse.
  8. Undoing: Taking back an unconscious behavior after the fact by doing the opposite.
  9. Repression: Blocking unacceptable impulse before it reaches consciousness.
  10. Displacement: Redirecting impulse onto another object.
  11. Intellectualization: Use thinking to create a distance from unpleasant emotions.
  12. Sublimation: Redirect impulse into socially acceptable objects for productive use.

freud-defense mechanisms


The therapeutic applications of Freud’s theories culminated in the practice of psychoanalysis to which many practical methods such as free-association and dream analysis are developed. A common thread amongst these methods is to recover energetic content that have been reconstituted in the unconscious, which is a repository of  forgotten memories and implicit knowledge. Recall that in the energy conserving id-ego-superego structure, energetic contents that have not found a release will flow back into the person and presumably remain in the unconscious. The contents retain their energetic potential and may be organized into a common themes such as complexes that exhibit a determining  factor in conscious life when the ego is weakened. Thus, psychoanalysis aims to depotentiate these contents through the recovery and reintegration of the contents into the ego. This can be done via free-association where patients effectively speak their mind without inhibition; the method tends to reveal unsaid assumptions about the patient such as transference (feelings towards one person are directed onto another), projection (feelings about self directed to another), and resistance (a mental block or gap in events that fails to be recalled).  Delving into more repressed contents required greater lessening of the ego during dreaming. Freud developed a theory of dream analysis as way to interpret manifest (dream material reported from experience) and latent contents (hidden meanings that have been transformed to protect the semi-lucid ego during dreaming).



Husserl, known as the father of the Phenomenology movement, sought to describe human experiences and Kantian “things in themselves” without making metaphysical assumptions. That is, he attempts to describe phenomenon in terms of how they appear in his own consciousness without conflating with the naturalistic and other scientific attitudes of his times. In contrast with scientific naturalism that use induction and general theories to organize large collections of data, phenomenology investigates particular examples of one’s own consciousness to discern what is essential to such experiences.  i.e. to construct a theory of science that would ground all other sciences (much like psychology).

Husserl (Phenomenology)

To systematize human experience into a theory of science, Husserl begins with language (propositional systems) as units of consciousness; the consciousness that gives voice to language are so-called “intentional acts” or “intentional experiences” that representing something as something. Such acts may be about non-existing (imagined, phantasy content) objects which includes forms of mental imagery (pictoral and kinesthetic representations). These acts differ from non-intentional units such as affects, moods, senses (pain) that are non-representational (not about anything).

The structure of consciousness could be partitioned into the act of consciousness and the phenomenon that it is being directed at. To arrive at knowledge of essences or “objects in themselves that appear in consciousness”  he introduces a method called “bracketing” (Epoche) which culls away assumptions of how we normally think of objects as separate, external things. What we are left with are the invariant features that are perceived which constitute our understanding of the object. For example, my understanding of a rectangle can be bracketed to yield a four-sided shape with four right-angles. Abstract species such as rectangles of same area can be eidetically reduced to shapes of rectangles whose product of lengths and widths are the same. Such common features are said to have consistent meanings that are fulfilled by a “unified intuition” which can be read-off.


For indexical or context-sensitive experiences, Husserl characterizes them by their “singularity”, i.e. the object or set of intentional objects that are relevant in all possible worlds. The indexical experience is thought of as one of many worlds on a manifold that pertain to future courses of experiences with the indexical case as its root. These potential experiences constitute the “intentional horizon” conditioned on the indexical event. e.g. the anticipation of a moving car. Experiences on such a horizon share a common identity labeled as “determinable” X which is a higher-order (moment) belief/judgment.

For inter-subjectivity, we undergo acts of empathic experience where conscious acts are attributed to other subjects. The existence of other subjects follows from an egocentric view that others who act in ways similar to my own will perceive things in ways similar to my own; one puts himself in the other’s shoes. Such a belief allows one to ascribe intentional acts to others without inference (self-evident) and is a part of the intentional background or “lifeworld” or foundation of sense-making that is built into language and culture a priori. Lifeworld is thus a “world-horizon” of all potential experiences. e.g. prescientific qualities such as spatial shape, motion, body, and spatiotemporality. These qualities ground the more objective sciences when they employ any propositional content or appeal to intuitive acceptance (self-evident truths).



Heidegger sought to peer behind Western metaphysics by engaging in the pre-theoretical conditions necessary for intentionality (representations of things) in human thought. That is, what does “to exist” or “to be” mean with regards to entities (beings); Heidegger refers to what makes beings intelligible (able to be represented) as the meaning of Being (not in the set of being). This ontological difference between being and Being (as not a super-being) is conflated in the story of Western philosophy since the time of Plato which equated the meaning of Being to a series of beings (namely idea, substance, monad, subjectivity, and will-to-power). Such a distinction is relevant as all categories of thought that do not clarify the ontological difference are subject to the limits of their mode of Being. Thus, the investigation of the a priori transcendental conditions for modes of Being is Heidegger’s preoccupation.


Heidegger begins with the the unique mode of Being for humans (Dasein) as “the having-to-be-open” or “Being is an issue for it”. This is to say that Dasein tends towards sense/meaning-making, to make intelligible. The phenomenological method for examining such tendencies is hermeneutic (interpretive) and historically embedded. Dasein begins with ordinary encounters with entities (equipment) through the their skillful use (readiness-to-hand). While engaged in the activity, Dasein lacks a conscious awareness of the equipment as an independent entity in the way that one would if standing back; the person is absorbed in the world with the equipment and so the person has no awareness of himself as a subject separate from a world of objects. This mode of encountering contrasts with scientific and philosophical activity where the senses are means to reflection and contemplation of context-free entities (present-at-hand). The transitory phase between these two modes of being refers to an un-readiness-to-hand where skilled activity is disturbed but remain phenomenologically near in context; a piece of broken equipment may still be adapted for use.  Dasein is in (dwells) the world of beings in the ways that equipment are involved; the network of intelligibility or relational ontology is the totality of involvements with teleological “for-the-sake-of-which” ends; involvements are choices towards that end during which entities are made intelligible.  Dasein’s place in the world of involvements is thus spatial in the sense of readiness-to-hand; entities are nearby if they are readily available for activity and far away if not irregardless of physical distance.  The who of Dasein in this world is to be-with entities that can be encountered by the Other; what Dasein do is determined by “what one does” which is historically and culturally conditioned.


Dasein’s relation with the world can also be interpreted as “care” through the dynamics of “thrownness, projection, and fallen-ness” for unpacking “having-to-be-open” and temporality. Thrownness or having been thrown into the world is Dasein’s confrontation with the set of historically conditioned possibilities for acting (past). Dasein understands each possibility by projecting itself onto each possibility (future) according to its network of totalities. The realization of understanding is through skilled read-to-hand encounters (present). Fallen-ness is the loss of Being its Self (making things intelligible) through everydayness of the they (idle talk, search for novelty, and ambiguity).  Thus, the authentic self seeks to find its own relation to other entities rather than be lost to the they. To discover such relations, Daesin can use the possibility of its own death (“possibility of the impossibility of any existence at all”) to disclose the negation of all its relation and so conversely discloses them. The authentic relation to death is one of anticipation rather than expectation where the latter is a fear (passive) that discloses only some beings in the world; the former “owns death” by using its possibility to affirm new relations and modes of Being.

Heidegger’s later works (after the turn) shifts Dasein’s mode of Being from temporality to that of dwelling; the subjectivity of Being from Dasein’s relation is abandoned in favor of the historical account of the unfolding of Being. The history of Being is now represented as transformations that have shaped Dasein’s intelligibility; human beings dwell between the earth and sky (nature) and before mortals and divinities (culture). The relationship with nature is poetic habitation rather than scientific (instrumental), culture requires an openness towards death and the possibility of paradigm shifts in intelligibility (new cultural templates). The latter is most relevant to the modern age of technological thinking where things are intelligible according to being  enframed or “challenged” in order to produce something to be held in “standing-reserve” for use. Technology’s clearing (when things are revealed as mattering in some way) turns nature into resources to be extracted, stored, and ultimately exploited as a means to an end. The issue of technological thinking is its domination and the consequent forgetfulness of Being; enframing covers up the fact that technology is only one mode of making things matter, a single clearing rather than one of many possible modes of revealing (poiesis). Ultimately, Heidegger’s solution to realizing poiesis was through artisanship, attentive listening (tuning with rhythms of nature), and adopting a non-evasive attitude towards death.






Sartre, the well known existentialist of the 20th century, radicalizes human freedom by returning to the ontology of “being”. Human existence lies within a condition of nothingness (no-thing-ness) where things are characterized by what they are not or namely their negation or nihilation (e.g. fragile things lack stable unity). Subjectivity or human experience is divided into pre-reflective and reflective consciousnesses of objects. Pre-reflective consciousness is directed towards the transcendent object without configuring a notion of the “I”; such acts are spontaneous, transparent to the self, and engaged with the phenomenon as a starting point (first-order). Reflective consciousness negates pre-reflective consciousness and so the unity of the negation contains  a duality between some regular agent “I” from memory, and the object. i.e. Consciousness becomes aware of itself. Thus, ego is borne out of reflective consciousness that is imposed upon pre-reflective consciousness. The Other is borne from ego recognizing that is an object of another being’s gaze.

Being can be posited in two way: Things may be in-itself or existing without justification in relation to other things (it is fully determinate). Examples include inert things such as rocks, air,  and bottle. This differs from human beings whose identity is not in relation to things within but always to something else; being for-itself negates being in-itself and can be imagined as a lack of a being. For-itself, through nothingness, is thus able to form attitudes to other beings by seeing what it is not. This desire or project for being gives for-itself a radical freedom to make itself from nothingness. However, the tendency of for-itself to run away from its freedom, to become an in-itself or an absolute (God) is a common way people fall into “bad faith”. This can be applied to the many social roles (waiter, father, lover) that people adopt in their every-day lives; when such roles are no longer functional personas but have been adopted as essences of being (using such roles as excuses for example), than the person is rejecting the task of determining what these roles are not.

sartre im

The rejection of human nature (existence precedes essence, no essences and priors w.r.t. existence) places agency/freedom is a difficult claim to follow. In Sartre’s day, he rejected the Freudian notions of the unconscious and psychological repression as having an influence on behavior. A priori models such as Jungian archetypes were obviously ignored. Modern advances in genetics and evolutionary biology (our behavior similarities with primates and other hierarchy building animals) would have supplied evidence in the other direction. Here, Sartre’s hedges a bit with his concepts of facticity and transcendence. Facticity is a set of facts viewed from a third person or objectifying stance (e.g. my skin color). Being can be aware of its own facticity but to adopt these facts as determining what I am would once again be in bad faith. The solution is to transcend these facts into what the space of possibilities conditioning upon these facts (e.g. the fact that one is short can be transcended by the behaviors and attitudes on has in light of being short such as humor).



Kierkegaard, the father of existentialism, equates the human responsibility of achieving self-hood (subjectivity) with truth. Kierkegaard’s notion of self is the union of acts that relate between dualities such as finite/infinite, necessity/possibility, and temporal/timeless. This is a negative space of the Hegelian synthesis of duals that moves from descriptive to prescriptive ethics. Truth or the realization of the self is known through the active choice of relating between duals without identifying too closely with either poles (failure results in forms of despair). An important case concerns the religious duality between sin/faith which is powered by the tension between Christianity’s paradox to reason and the necessity of a leap to faith. Although Kierkegaard’s process of individuation (achieving selfhood) occurred predominantly along religious lines, he introduced a number of general concepts that speaks to the human condition.


The responsibility of achieving selfhood compels one to make conscious choices at every moment. Each moment entails a great number of choices, and their multiplicity of consequences to consider lead the subject to experience a “dizziness of freedom” or angst/dread. This paralysis by analysis, or the anticipation of consequences render one immobile and unable to make a choice for fear of sin. Conversely, it is the experience of anxiety that allows one to move away from unconscious ignorance and into one’s potential for action, self-recognition, and identity.

Kierkegaard posits three existential stages of life along the way of becoming a true self:

  1. The aesthetic (the hedonist) lives for sensory experience and pleasure as a way to combat boredom; Boredom is characterized as “the root of all evil-the despairing refusal to be oneself” as it is an undifferentiated or an undirected state of consciousness. The aesthetes who avoid boredom through the pursuit of novelty also avoids commitments as it requires repetition. Common techniques to suspend boredom is through anticipation which delays gratification, and the so-called “rotation method” where one cycles between activities so that no one activity’s novelty is exhausted.  However, the mode of living is self-serving and ultimately meaningless as it ignores the dimension of other individuals or society.
  2. The ethical is the antithesis of the aesthetic where one lives a life according to well-defined rules for the good of society rather than for the self. In the process acting according to higher principles, new pleasures may be realized that could not by the aesthetic. For example, while the novelty of marriage wears off, the act of giving to your spouse and children is rewarding.
  3. The religious is the final stage of the true self which requires a commitment to the moral absolutes of God. Such absolutes are communicated not through social institutions such as the church, but through a personal relation or revelation of God. Such absolutes require a “teleological suspension of the ethical” as they may contradict that of social norms; one may have to sacrifice pleasures of both the aesthetic and the ethical to reach this. Thus, one can consider revelation (disclosure of divine moral absolutes) as the synthesis of the pursuit of novelty (now the spiritual sphere) and the repetition of commitment (now in the subjective sphere).


kierkegaard im


Kierkegaard describes the experience along these stages of life in terms of despair that arise from an unbalanced identification with poles of duals (lack of  finitude/infinitude, necessity/possibility). Three levels are given:

  1. The lowest level is the ignorance of one being in despair or of having a self (unconscious of self). One may be unable to realize one’s potential in life as he/she is fully in pursuit of novelty or of sensuous dichotomies of agreeable/disagreeable. He/she imagines himself happy but is actually dependent on the various objects of pleasure (materialist). Conversely, the system-builder who lives inside abstractions is divorced from experience. The system is merely a scaffold over an abyss from which the self’s relation to the concrete is  hidden.
  2. The next level is conscious despair where one understands the condition of having to relate to duals but not the specific causes. One may despair against becoming oneself and run away by becoming someone else; he/she may refuse to become a self through feelings of unworthiness. The person may even be able to identify his weaknesses but become identified with the weaknesses themselves and refuse help by God.
  3. The final level is demonic despair against the eternal itself where one is hardened by suffering and so defies any help; the person identifies with despair itself as suffering lifts him/her in uniqueness above everyone else.


Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that directs thought towards the service of practical uses rather than a function representation of phenomena. That is, holding thoughts and beliefs led to actions on the sensible world that may or may not have been efficacious; the veracity of such beliefs corresponds to a “cash value” or use value in the sensible world for the believer. Two major proponents of this school of thought are William James and John Dewey who the former is more concerned with the justification of moral beliefs and the latter with the justification of scientific knowledge.


In William James’s “Will to Believe”, he defends the belief in faith (religion) without evidence on the grounds that all moral beliefs entail a degree of trust prior to sensible evidence. A situation may arise where one is unable to not make a choice (non-action is also a choice) before evidence abounds. The very consequence of holding a belief may influence the outcome as in the case of “confidence”. That is, evidence may not be realized unless a prior faith is constituted. Extending this to the religious sphere, one’s may never encounter proof of God unless one has placed in  God prior faith. Curiously enough, the scientific method is not so different in the sense that it makes hypotheses (albeit more verifiable) that begs/challenges forth an answer (evidence). This is typical of the “radical empiricism” of the modern age when neither observer nor observation can be frozen in time and separated; both facts and theories condition one another.

His ontology presupposes experience from which mater and thought enter into relations with. Pure experience is  “the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories”. That is, experience isn’t reduced to the objects of experience (Hume, Locke) which is wholly scientific but rather is imbued with both meaning and intentionality structured by human thought. Such a view also treats trans-empirical entities as superfluous as naturalistic accounts of meaning/intentions are sufficient explanations in practical terms.


John Dewey applies pragmatism to scientific inquiry where theories are judged accordingly to how well they predict phenomena in their respected domains; theories are instruments of prediction (instrumentalism) rather than laws that uncover truths about nature and thus relegated to approximations of truth. However, such a notion of truth is not absolute and appears at times appear probabilistic via statistical certainties. Instead, true/false can be viewed as a mutual adjustment between an organism (more on this side) and its environment; a satisfactory adjustment promotes a belief that has significance in the way that it induces behavior. The logic of belief follows inquiry which seeks to transform an undetermined situation into  a determined set of relations or a unified whole (Hegel’s influence). In the sphere of facts, this creates complications where the external consequences in a future are used to constitute facts; for example, one believes that they woke up this morning by virtue of not sleeping at the current moment rather than by looking at regularities of sleep cycles in the past. Such is the empowering yet dangerous element in Dewey’s philosophy where man, who has become unchained from the past, is able to make greater leaps forward in his own invention whilst being blinded by his own hubris.