Conversations With Famous Persons III: Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell is of course one of the most prominent students of the great Carl Jung. He wrote a book on the archetype of the hero, a book that did quite well. Once, my philosophy teacher asked me, “what is a hero?” I am still working on that question to this day, so I will soon be spending more time with Mr. Campbell.

One night, Mr. Campbell gave a wonder-filled lecture at the Fountain Street Church in downtown Grand Rapids, near to my home there on Oak street, nestled between the bells of three churches. I had been reading quite a bit of Jung, even while discovering Socrates and philosophy. We had taken up the question of natural right, or what is just by nature, as distinct from what is legal. There are of course, unjust laws, and the just by nature is our way of saying what it is that guides the legislators when they are making laws, trying to avoid making unjust laws, or laws with implications that result in injustice. The question is of course very difficult. But it is simply self contradictory to say that right and wrong are only matters of opinion with no truth behind. Everyone believes that some are unjust, so that to be human is to have opinions about justice and injustice that one believes are true. Again, at its root, all modern thought is self contradictory. It is especially so when these imply that it is unjust to believe in justice.

Back to Joseph Campbell. After the lecture, when all the questions were asked, and everyone had gone home, I was honored to be taken by Mr. Campbell into the room behind the altar, as he packed up his papers, preparing to leave. I had of course been wondering how my new discovery of natural right would interface with the thought of Jung.

There are in Jung two different thoughts on the fundamental philosophic things, and I wonder if he ever thought it out. On one hand, his thought and all of analytic psychology are based on the assumption that wholeness is good. To integrate the archetypes is good for us, or healthy for the soul, while if we ignore these things and the things of self knowledge, ignore the unconscious, never throw a penny in the fountain, this is not healthy for the soul. First, to integrate the shadow, we cease faction with the shadows outside and admit to ourselves the parts of our nature and character that we do not admire. In Christianity, this is penance, and is guided by the law. It is the seeing of the splinter in one’s own eye.

The integration of the shadow opens the way to romantic love, and the drama of the hero begins. Jung calls this enterprise the integration of the anima or soul, as in “Your my soul, and my inspiration,” from the popular song. The anima turns out to be a mediator toward the archetypes and the highest enterprise of their integration, the things concerning what Jung calls the archetype of the “self,” meaning our true selves. This is the child and the wise old man.

In the room behind the altar, Mr. Campbell, after quite some argument, finally assented to the idea that if wholeness is the human good or the good for man, there must be an objective basis to ethics. Jung calls himself a “subjectivist,” following Kant, as though the archetypes are categories that account for the similarity and meaning of the many myths. I suppose I had confused the ego as subject with the self as subject, in trying to understand German subjectivism.

Another part of the thought of Jung is that wholeness, and even God, is a coincidence of opposites, both good and evil, so that again, natural right will slip away. The just and unjust, the argument suggests, will be united in a whole that is “beyond good and evil.” This is not to be taken lightly, even by us ethical objectivists. An impenetrable mystery of the Bible will always be that God made that rebellious angel, allows all this unbelievable stuff to occur, and even “gave into the hearts” of those ten kings, “to do his mind and to do one mind and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the sayings of God are made complete” (Revelation 17:17).

The hero participates in all things human, and in order to overcome the villain, must conquer this within himself. It may be a lesser achievement if he conquers this outside himself, and like Arthur, is extinguished with his opposite Mordred.

In our psychology, the new Socratic psychology, we hold that justice and virtue are the health of the soul, while injustice and faction are the illness and disease of the soul, at least at this level. The Socratic discussion of faction in the first book of Plato’s Republic comes to mind.

In addition, there is a hierarchy of the parts of the soul and the priorities, a hierarchy that is by nature or natural. When we subject what is higher, like wisdom, to what is lower, like bodily pleasure or money, we disrupt the parts of our own soul, leaving a discord rather than a harmony. Injustice, like stealing, is usually a result of inflamed desire, so that the desire for money is held by us in action to be more important than our concern for others, or to love God and our neighbor. To steal from me is then basically to say that your having that 20$ for dope is more important to you than my friendship, or my right to property, etc. There are not, in this philosophy, universal laws that are always literally true: One might steal medicine from a stingy doctor to save a dying child. It is not that the Mosaic prohibition is wrong, but it is a matter of priorities. All ethics, in choice, is a matter of priorities, and these priorities have a basis in an objective natural hierarchy. One should, if there is time, find another way, but if it comes down to it, one must choose the life of the child over the universal law, and hope he grows up to become a good kid who helps others, rather than a bad kid who hurts others.

The ends of wealth, honor and wisdom correspond to the three parts of the soul, and these to the three parts of the polity: the money-makers, the noble, and the wise. The benefit of Socratic psychology is that the archetype at the root of politics is the nature of the soul. It is in order to see justice in the soul that Socrates, in Plato’s Republic, undertakes the attempt to found a city in speech.

Aristotle describes three right regimes and three perversions of these. In the right regimes, the part that is the ruling element aims at the common good, while in the bad forms, the ruling element aims at its own apparent self interest, at the expense of the other classes, and of the whole city. So tyranny is the worst, while genuine Kingship, which is very rare, and genuine aristocracy, which is also rare though not unknown in history (as in the Knights of the Round table) are the best forms of constitution. It is not impossible, too, for the few rich to rule, as they are the able administrators, especially if these are educated by the wise and honor those truly noble. We have what Aristotle, in his politics, calls polity or politea, a constitution which, devised wisely, throws the few rich and the many poor who vote into a legislature, where powers are balanced, to hash out the common good in each instance, so that neither class is fleeced.

To conclude, then, when Joseph Campbell admitted that the thought of Jung- and indeed the entire aim of psychology at the knowledge and cultivation of the health of the soul- implies an objective ethics and natural right, modern psychology finally escaped the subjectivism of German philosophy and the ethical relativism that once seemed to be the only conclusion to be drawn from the many cultures and the undesirableness of the absolutist claims of opinions that had pretended to be objective knowledge. Rather than imply that there is no truth, the falsity of the absolutism of medieval tradition requires that there be a truth, and that opinion can be improved by the pursuit of knowledge. The possibility of mistakes implies that there is truth. The unhealthiness of faction and the possibility of the health of the soul implies that there is ethical truth, and these are the philosophical bases of psychology.

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14 thoughts on “Conversations With Famous Persons III: Joseph Campbell

  1. I have begun my reading of the Campbell book on the hero, in which there are many marvels. But, having read past the early account of virtue, his teaching is similar to one spoke by an old professor, Thomas G. West, when he presented intellectual virtue an ethically neutral, while virtue and vice are matters of moral or ethical virtue, pertaining only to the passions and not to truth and the intellect. There goes the thought that the health of the soul is good, and one can see why we must rather uphold the thought that the health or wholeness of the soul is good, and psychology based on an objective ethics.

    In class it was said that Plato upheld such a view of the ethical neutrality of the things of the intellect- the triangle for example, is neither good nor evil, at least in the most obvious sense. It seems that I then involuntarily swore, saying something like “shit,” which is not something one ought do in academia while persuing intellectual virtue. I was thinking especially of how ethical virtue and the noble are in Plato a “copy and a shadow” of the higher things of the intellect. Each hero will get a villain his own size.

  2. I enjoyed this although I don’t have the background to understand the details and much else, but I do feel that I got some sense of the main issues.

    My one comment is on, “All ethics, in choice, is a matter of priorities, and these priorities have a basis in an objective natural hierarchy. One should, if there is time, find another way, but if it comes down to it, one must choose the life of the child over the universal law…”

    I don’t know where this places me, but for me, “If there IS time and one CAN’T find another way, choosing the life of the child IS the universal law.”

    • Yes, because not stealing, while very important, is less important than not not saving the life. So, “Thou shalt not steal” is not a universal law the way we think of it, because too the Torah (law) is one. But usually, one can find a way to obey each law. This is hard stuff. Jesus discussed it, “Moses said…but I say,” there at the Sermon on the Mount, about Matthew 5-7. Yet “not a jot (iota) from the law will be removed.”

  3. And it just occurred to me that if there is not enough time, then as much time as there is, is all the time available, and to save the child is still the universal law

    • This is theoretical, and the practical problem is that if it taught publicly, it is misunderstood, and everyone starts stealing for their own self interest. I can still see back behind the altar at the Fountain Street Church. Mr Campbell was quite a Jungian!

    • In order to “like” your article in the Pluralist, I have to give Facebook information, which is not very smart, so have this like through wordpress. Facebook violates free speech by doing this, dang ’em! Check in, I’m feisty again today! Call your Senator and ask that Mr. Trump be indicted for election fraud. We are honored to have Ms. Lynch, the head of the FBI, here in Michigan today.

      • I appreciate your “like” wherever it is! My WordPressress posts are stated automatically on FB where I am virtually anonymous – like pretty much here on WP.

        I don’t have any expectations for any responsible action from a domestic cause. The case for the EC was excellent, i.,e., ironclad, and we saw where that went.

        My low probability bet – at least it has some, however small possibility – is on international panic precipitated by some truly “nutsadika” thing he says or does. Obviously, the China thing was hopefully, not the last opportunity of a lifetime.

    • By the way, by “extra-democratic” he means by force. This must be avoided by successful legal proceedings, as, too, it might fail and solidify Trump’s tyranny (and inaugurate a purge, cf. Tiberius.) That is the sort of politics that will emerge if he is not indicted, the sooner the better.

  4. Unfortunately, I think he thought that EC action was “extra-democratic” since he advocated it but feared its consequences.

    I reassert that if we can’t survive whatever we might have to do now – save an international crisis that forces, by concerted terrified action by R’s and a few Senate D’s that forces withdrawal – it is not a challenge to our Democracy (my meaning being that we abide by the spirit in which our nation was founded), but our failure to live by and up to that spirit. Our survival means we can take pride in our Democracy; our failure means we have betrayed it. The time is now while the answer is not yet in.

    • I will have to re-read a few times to catch up. Our president seems exhausted, and the Democrats only able to act on partisan motives. Neither R’s nor D’s seem able to comprehend that there is a little more at stake, or to fully admit it to the rest of their thought. If what General Hayden said- “the greatest covert action of all time” does not phase them, we will have to be more explicit. I told the Senator yesterday, “We do not have to sit by and watch this happen- indict! Election fraud. It only gets worse as time goes by, and the tyranny begins to solidify. No one can even use that word tyranny. They keep saying “Demagogue” and “authoritarian,” like he was yer father or something. Diane Rehm even said “demagogue,” isn’t that a strong term.” Ya, so is “apocalypse,” so is “race war,” so is “brownshirts and boxes.” Democracies do not listen to foresight, but cannot believe until the blood is actually on the pavement. I still do not believe they told the Electors not to consider, and that was fine with them, cause football was on.

      • They ought to be scared witless – oh, it just this very instant occurred to me that that just might be it, but no – and maybe they are, but at the same time that they are afraid – I soft pedal the language as they do – of Him [sic] they are incapacitated by the terror of standing alone.

        Facing Sylla they are immobilized by the spectre of Charybdis. Or whichever!

  5. Oh, and it just occurred to me that they are scared witless. Incapable of talking action now, they are hiding out – although with access to the news – in their Oystrich Holes, hoping they can some day, somehow come out. But the somhow won’t come from them.

    • And like Dorothy had only to click her heels all we all have to do is stand up! But the tentacles of the tyranny are growing through fear and mass surveillance, and suppression of the hews. NPR is using more and more languages that normalizes demagogues,” knowing that after the 20th, there will be no more NPR, or will be staffed by Trumpsters and those willing to do what they think they have to do. (It is interesting that we are in the comments to the Campbell blog!) . We could just unplug the internet, shut the whole thing off and walk away, or create a parallel internet, starting up afresh, having seen what this one generates.

  6. Shutting off NPR might wake some people up. If he’s not stupid, but Breitbart is not stupid, he’ll do it your second way.

    But NPR’s soft peddling indicates they hope to stick around. If they were sure of their fate they would not be shy. They are caught in the same quicksand as most everyone else, hoping against hope and not taking action.

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