Thursday, September 13, 2012

Exceptions to the Rule

Scott Bradley

There is and can be no self-knowledge based on theoretical assumptions, for the object of self-knowledge is an individual — a relative and irregular phenomenon. Hence it is not the universal and the regular that characterize the individual, but rather the unique. He is not to be understood as a recurrent unit but as something unique and singular which in the last analysis can neither be known nor compared with anything else.
(The Undiscovered Self; Carl Jung)
In support of his thesis that every individual is an exception to the rule, and cannot be known within the confines of "knowledge", Jung offers the simple example of the difference between the average and the specific. Though we might find the average weight of a pebble in a pile of pebbles to be 145 grams, we would be hard pressed to find a pebble that actually weighed 145 grams. Every pebble is likely to be an exception to the rule.

Universal generalizations are a necessary component of knowledge, and thus knowledge cannot lead us to true self-knowledge. Jung thus contrasts knowledge with understanding:
I can only approach the task of understanding with a free and open mind, whereas knowledge of man, or insight into human character, presupposes all sorts of knowledge about mankind in general.
Any quest for self-knowledge is thus only hampered by presupposed answers or goals. One can only know oneself through oneself. To begin with a heap of theoretical baggage about what it is to be human is to impose the unreal theoretical on the real and actual. The Socratic "Know thyself" begins and ends with oneself. "A free and open mind" is one which puts the entire onus of responsibility for self-knowledge on the individual. It is easy to understand, therefore, how every religious philosophy, with its pre-packaged definitions and goals, might hinder the realization of the very understanding of oneself to which it directs us.

It is equally clear, if we accept Jung's thesis, that it is absolutely impossible to truly know another person, each individual being unique and all knowledge about oneself being self-contained.

Experiencing as I am a bit of that "spiritual nausea" of which I have spoken in a previous post, that is, a feeling of unease in excessive distinction making, I am reluctant to join all Jung's dots. Nevertheless, I will attempt one broad-brush swipe at them and say that, looked at from his perspective, no religion or philosophy can lead us to self-knowledge as long as it supplies us with definitions and goals before we begin the journey. The spiritual journey is empirical, not idealistic.

"Find your own way" is probably the most challenging of all imperatives, for it puts the entire onus of responsibility for self-awareness on one's own shoulders. And yet, if "a free and open mind" is in itself a positive experience, then the journey becomes the goal.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. in 'a' Taoist sense a person is a flowing and changing with no fixed form and so then unknowable. the knowing is flowing, that being known is flowing and so no method aside from identifying with the flow can do.

    which sort of agrees I think?


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