Evidence For Archetypes

EVIDENCE FOR ARCHETYPES can be divided into several different categories: (1) ‘associative evidence’, similar or associative theory which overtly supports archetypes or bears a resemblance to archetypal theory; (2) ‘scientific evidence’, where it is argued Jung’s method which is descriptive and phenomenological is not unscientific, and ‘archetypes’ are given theoretical support from the theory of other scientists; (3) ‘evidence from quantum physics, which is support from the theory of quantum physicists.

Complicating the issue of evidence for archetypes is that acceptable evidence is dependent on how archetypes are defined. Different theorists have defined archetypes in different ways. For example, while the leading Romanian and latterly American academic historian and philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) and James Hillman define archetypes in similar ways to Jung, there are also differences. Jung, a self-described empiricist, wanted a naturalistic theory of archetypes which had scientific credibility. Hillman would abandon the scientific approach to archetypes altogether and advocate instead that we see science from the viewpoint of archetypes. For Hillman, science itself is a sort of myth and fantasy of the soul.

Even within the archetypal theory of one thinker, most notably Jung, there can be many strains of thought which can appear contradictory. Jung, however, is acknowledged as the pre-eminent thinker on archetypes in the twentieth century – and it is precisely because his theory encompasses both modernist scientific perspectives and evidence from quantum science and postmodern and mystical perspectives that his thought is so compelling, evocative and complex.

Walter A. Shelburne philosophy professor and founding member of the Applied Philosophy Institute, California, has studied and examined the scientific and logical evidential parameters of Jung’s theory of archetypes in depth. He concludes:

“even though there are these many strains of Jung’s thought – a philosophical emphasis, a mythos emphasis, as well as a scientific emphasis – this is not to say that everything Jung said has to be evaluated from the critical standpoint of any one particular point of view. For…in spite of the confusion that Jung creates by working over his material from these methodologically divergent perspectives, a legitimately scientific perspective can nonetheless be reconstructed from his thought.”[i]

[i] Walter A. Shelburne, Mythos and Logos in the Thought of Carl Jung – The Theory of the Collective Unconscious in Scientific Perspective (State University of New York Press, 1988), 10.