The Personal System


The Ego and Will, the Persona, and the Personal and Collective Unconscious

The move from consciousness to the personal system follows the move from the lifeworld (first-person) to the systems (third-person) perspective.  Conscious manifestations of the various attitudes and functions—introversion, extraversion, thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition—are akin to the lifeworld in that they can be addressed largely through the use of narrative.  Acknowledging unconscious manifestations is related to the system perspective in that it requires one to take a third-person perspective on conscious processes, by placing them within the context of a general psychic system.

Jung differentiated four layers of the psyche: the (1) ego, (2) persona, (3) personal unconscious, and (4) collective unconscious.  The ego involves the whole complex of consciousness, as manifested through the four functions—thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition—as well as the general attitudes—introversion and extraversion.  The persona is the set of roles or self-as-presented through which one relates to others. The personal unconscious involves the habitual beliefs and values of the individual, derived from past experience and socialization.  The collective unconscious is perhaps the most widely misunderstood of Jung’s ideas.  It is also, ironically, perhaps one of Jung’s most promising contributions in light of contemporary evolutionary psychology.  The collective unconscious, properly understood, is the inherited or phylogenetic structure of the psyche.

Each layer of the psyche corresponds to an aspect of the general system of action.  The ego corresponds to the personal dimension and involves the dynamic of choice.  Instrumental motivation has been historically privileged by the ego because it involves a relationship between a solitary active subject and an inert object over which it dominates.  The part of the psyche that corresponds to the societal dimension is the persona.  Value-rational motivation is privileged by the persona because roles are associated with certain expectations and duties.  The personal unconscious corresponds to the cultural dimension, and involves the dynamic of habits and institutions.  Traditional motivation is privileged by the personal unconscious.  The collective unconscious corresponds to the instinctual dimension of the general system of action and involves needs or drives.  Affectual motivation is privileged by the collective unconscious.  Drives arise out of the collective unconscious and are typically associated with archetypal images.  For example, hunger elicits the archetype of the ideal food, such as mana or ambrosia.  Although archetypes are always experienced within a cultural context, cultural archetypes operating via various manifestations of the personal unconscious are distinct from phylogenetic archetypes which emerge from the collective unconscious.


The Life Cycle and the Family

In different stages of the human life cycle, different imperatives predominate, and therefore different projects need to be fulfilled.  Consequently, knowledge of the stages of life is crucial to an understanding of what it means to bring about one’s individuation. Understanding of the stages of life stems from a theoretical analysis of those psychobiological imperatives which typically emerge within the span of a human lifetime. Accordingly, as we will elaborate below, the principle of collective individuation applies directly to persons who have reached a particular stage of the life cycle.  Following the work of David L. Norton (1976, 158-215), one can distinguish four stages of life: (1) childhood, (2) adolescence, (3) maturation, and (4) old age. The respective functions behind each of these stages can be roughly yet briefly designated as (a) socialization, (b) exploration, (c) actualization, and (d) renunciation. Because Norton has already written an excellent outline of these stages, we will here simply recontextualize and rephrase some themes which he has introduced.

From the theoretical perspective, there may have been an earlier stage in the phylogenesis of the human species where the personal unconscious had not yet come into being, yet this is evidently no longer the case. When one brings about a new life into the world, this life will emerge amidst a pre-existing culture or tradition—an elaborate network of habitual preferences and judgments, as institutionalized in personal and course-of-action types.  Each child has a biological imperative to “absorb” or “take on” beliefs (knowledge) and values (preferences) that are predominant within his-her family and proximate society (Stevens 1983, 220); thereby, she will gradually yet increasingly be able to understand and present her Self within a wider socio-historical situation through primary (a) socialization [Berger and Luckmann 1967, 129-147]. A child does not have the degree of ego-strength whereby the moral principle of collective individuation directly applies until she grows into a young adult; in other words, the moral principle of collective individuation does not directly apply to a child until she has developed into a young adult, because only then does her active psyche become sufficiently independent of her personal and collective unconscious so as to bear a fuller responsibility for her preferences and judgments.

Nevertheless, the principle of collective individuation applies directly to a child’s parents, who have a moral obligation to fulfill their imperative as parents. Hence, where given adults are free from intervention and the threat of intervention with their body, property, and authority by another person against their own consent, and where these adults have acted with the foreseeable consequence of bringing about a new life into the world, these adults should provide at least the minimal requirements for allowing this new life to develop and emerge into young adulthood (via childhood and adolescence [see below]) in a manner that does not entail intervention in the body, property, and authority of another person against this other person’s consent; and these adults should provide at least the minimal requirements for allowing this new life to eventually enter the Community of Adults.  This does not go against the well-known adage that “it takes a village to raise a child”; it merely exposes the lack of social awareness in those persons who bring about a new life into the world and then impose responsibility for this new life onto others without these others’ explicit or implicit consent. The stage of (1) childhood entails a moral obligation of parents, and any moral requirements of children arise only indirectly, out of the properly exercised authority of parents or their consensually appointed guardians.

Ontogenetically, (2) adolescence is marked by an increased manifestation of the active psyche; yet, it is not yet a manifestation that entails full responsibility.  Because of the increased role of the active psyche, the stage of adolescence requires a special emphasis in the moral obligation of parents: to teach their adolescent to differentiate his-her active psyche, personal, and collective unconscious, and to teach their adolescent how to make manifest those projects in relative agreement with his-her biological imperatives in a manner consistent with the principle of collective individuation; in other words, to teach their adolescent how to uphold the principle of collective individuation, so that he-she may eventually participate within the Community of Adults. Naturally, this process of differentiation may call into question the adolescent’s received, habitual preferences and judgments, which he-she typically associates with parental authority. But this is simply an aspect of his-her wider (b) exploration and discovery of which preferences are habituated or institutionalized and thereby only relatively involuntary as well as which are inherited and thereby absolutely involuntary.  Whereas childhood is dominated by inherited, affectual and received, habitual preferences and judgments, so that the child is primarily a problem for others, adolescence involves an increased role for the active psyche, so that the adolescent becomes a problem for his-her self (Norton 1976, 180). The adolescent must learn to differentiate between his-her active, habitual, and phylogenetic motivations from the standpoint of the principle of collective individuation as a precondition for learning to actively bring about those projects which are in relative agreement with his-her phylogenetic motivations in a manner consistent with the principle of collective individuation.

At the advent of the third stage of life, the active psyche emerges ontogenetically to such an extent that active preference and judgment become fully possible and necessary; in other words, one has become a young adult. For this reason, one must confront the anxiety of preference and judgment in their fullest sense, a sense not encountered in the earlier stages of life. The stage of (3) maturation has therefore already been addressed, to a certain extent, on other pages.  What differentiates the stage of maturation from the earlier stages of life is that within it the principle of collective individuation is directly binding; and where one upholds the principle of collective individuation and so attempts to fulfill the tasks of maturation (and, as I shall elaborate in the next paragraph, of old age), one avoids the failure to fulfill the tasks of maturation (and of old age); the apprehension of this possible failure (and, hence, of an untimely death), alongside the awareness of possible success (and, hence, of a timely death [see below]), gives rise to a fundamental anxiety. Insofar as the tasks of life are social, the fundamental anxiety manifests itself socially as well, such as in the anxiety of a dancer before his-her audience, or the compassionate anxiety of his-her lover during the performance. With the fundamental respect, therefore, comes a fundamental anxiety, grounded in the possibility of either fulfillment or frustration. Maturation requires a fiducially committed (c) actualization of those projects in relative agreement with one’s deepest affectual motivations over and against those projects in relative disagreement with one’s affectual motivations in a manner consistent with the principle of collective individuation.

The task of (4) old age is fairly unique to contemporary times in that life expectancy at birth has hovered, for most of the existence of humankind, at around 30 years.  Although the task of old age also follows from the principle of collective individuation, the last stage of life is distinguished by the radical character of its affectual motivations.  It is marked by the revelation that one, as an aged person, will simply no longer have a future (Norton 1976, 202); and it is a revelation brought forth by a biological imperative of natural disability and eventual death.  “The conclusion to be drawn is that the fourth stage of life begins in death, and reveals to us death that is not the mere negation of life but is instead death that is to be lived” (Norton 1976, 204-205). Perhaps a more precise restatement would be that old age reveals to one a dying that is to be lived. Successful renunciation can only derive its meaning through the fullest possible affirmation of the life-process, which suggests that the successfully dying person must understand, embrace, and fulfill the life-process in a consummate sense—with a necessary insight that reaches deep into the past, and that can potentially provide scope and perspective for all humankind. This is not an understanding of the past of a particular individual, but an understanding of archetypal being. “Old age is the stage of Gelassenheit, or universal ‘letting be’” (Norton 1976, 209). Hence, the dying that is lived is the ultimate affirmation of the life-process.

Stage Function
Childhood Socialization
Adolescence Exploration
Maturation Actualization
Old Age Renunciation

[References forthcoming.]

Instrumental Consciousness

Two part introduction to the Personal System via the work of Carl Jung . . .


Three part introduction to the Personal System via the work of Carl Jung . . .