Letter from Carl Jung on the choice of the word “archetype”
To Bernhard Milt
Dear Colleague, 13 April 1946
Very tardily I am at last getting down to answering your kind letter of 28 November 45 •
By way of excuse I can only plead that I have not yet regained my former working capacity.
I beg you, therefore, to pardon my negligence.
You raise in your letter the question of the archetype of the self.
As you rightly suppose, this archetype is not so much a working hypothesis as something that is found.
There are, as I have shown for instance in Psychology and Alchemy with the help of empirical material, typical symbols in dreams which, faute de mieux, I have called symbols of wholeness or of the self.
I have also gone into the reasons for this nomenclature.
I have often asked myself whether the term “archetype” (primordial image) is a happy one.
In general I find it most disadvantageous to let neologisms run riot in any science.
The science then becomes too specialized in an unjustifiable way and loses contact with the world.
I therefore prefer to use terms that are also current in other fields, at the risk of provoking occasional misunderstandings.
For instance, Jakob Burckhardt applied the term “primordial image” to Faust and with every conceivable psychological justification.
Equally, I believe, the word “archetype” is thoroughly characteristic of the structural forms that underlie consciousness as the crystal lattice underlies the crystallization process.
I must leave it to the philosopher to hypostatize the archetype as the Platonic eidos.
He wouldn’t be so far from the truth anyway.
The expression is much older than Augustine.
It is found with a philosophical stamp as far back as the Corpus Hermeticum, where God is called the “archetypal light.”
In Augustine, who was still a Platonist, the archetype has absolutely the connotation of a primordial image, and so far as it is meant Platonically it does not agree at all badly with the psychological version.
The old Platonic term differs from the psychological one only in that it was hypostatized, whereas our “hypostatization” is simply an empirical statement of fact without any metaphysical colouring.
Frischknecht is wrangling with me badly.
I get a letter from him from time to time. Recently I had to spell it out to him that the theologian looks at the world through the good Lord’s eyes, but the scientist only through human eyes.
In his essay on Brother Klaus he has not even noticed that he has tacitly imputed to me Freud’s personalistic standpoint, without remarking that this is just what I have been criticizing Freud for these last 30 years.
Basically I have every sympathy with the difficulties of the theologian.
It is no small matter to have to admit that in the end all dogmatic assertions are human statements-with, as I always emphasize, quite definite psychic experiences underlying them .
Considering the extraordinary difficulty of epistemological self-limitation it is really not surprising that any number of misunderstandings come about.
I am quite sure that if I had chosen any other term for the archetype, misunderstandings of another colour would have cropped up, but they would have cropped up anyhow.
With collegial regards,
Carl Jung, Letters Volume 1
Image: Cave of Crystals, Mexico