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Jung’s Definitions of Rational and Irrational

Webster defines rational as: “having or exercising the ability to reason.” Reason is defined as: “An underlying fact or motive that provides logical sense for a premise or occurrence.” Logical is: “reasonable on the basis of previous events or statements.” Webster defines irrational as contrary to reason. Moving from definition to concept, Jung wrote in Psychological Types:  

“I conceive reason as an attitude whose principle it is to conform thought, feeling, and action to objective values. Objective values are established by the everyday experience of external facts on the one hand, and of inner, psychological facts on the other. Such experiences, however, could not represent objective “values” if they were valued as such by the subject, for that would already amount to an act of reason. The rational attitude which permits us to declare objective values as valid at all is not the work of the individual subject, but the product of human history.”

He went on to explain that reason is “…nothing other than the expression of man’s adaptability to average occurrences, which have gradually become deposited in firmly established complexes of ideas that constitute our objective values. Thus the laws of reason are the laws that designate and govern the average…

Jung defined irrational “not as denoting something contrary to reason, but something beyond reason, something therefore, not grounded on reason. Elementary facts come into this category; the fact, for example that the earth has a moon, that chlorine is an element, that water reaches its greatest density at four degrees centigrade, etc… The irrational is an existential factor which, though it may be pushed further and further out of sight by an increasingly elaborate rational explanation, finally makes the explanation so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension…

“A completely rational explanation of an object that actually exists (not one that is merely posited) is a Utopian ideal. Only an object that is posited can be completely explained on rational grounds, since it does not contain anything beyond what has been posited by rational thinking. Empirical science, too, posits objects that are confined within rational bounds, because by deliberately excluding the accidental it does not consider the actual object as a whole, but only that part of it which has been singled out for rational observation.”

So far, the range of experience falling under the category of irrational and accidental includes all elementary facts of existence, known or not: given properties of the world and how we perceive them. It also includes all objects to the extent they’re unique and individual, as well as all chance events occurring in the relations between individual “objects.” It includes the unconscious psyche, which by definition is unknown and so unlimited. Aspects of these irrational factors have been “singled out for rational observation” as Jung noted; yet they remain, in fact and basis, irrational.

Whatever is “singled out for rational observation” is further restricted to what is accepted as an objective value, though that knowledge is partial by definition. Outside those boundaries, life is irrational.

Jung’s description of rational is the basis for most psychologies today. Since they have no conception of the irrational beyond speculation (and projection), the unconscious psyche can’t be described but in physical terms. Unable to address subjective conflicts (being irrational and accidental by definition) therapists often treat psychic problems physiologically — with drugs. The rational view has no approach to this paradox; the contradictions lie beyond the realm of medical opinion — in the unconscious psyche.

When the explanation is “so complicated that it passes our powers of comprehension” and ceases to be rational, Jung attributed the contradictions to the projections of conscious psychology. Though exceeding explanation, these “existential factors” are objective. The contradictions are subjective. They have nothing to do with accepted standards in the way we’re conditioned to think. The subjective factor dictates that they must be viewed in terms of relative values. Since these can’t be “objective”, they have validity only for the individual.

The failure of psychiatry and psychology to acknowledge materialistic projections has resulted in a paradox so pervasive that “mental illness” has actually increased since its inception. Part of it is due to diagnostic methods which can in no way be fitted to the medical model — an indication that psychology has overreached itself to an extent that, were it not for our fascination with ego and intellect, it would surely be seen through by a serious thinker…

And so it was — Jung’s model was comprehensive enough to conceive such projections. Rational thinkers have taken little notice. This is one of the crucial reasons why psychology has no means of evaluating religious ideas, though their profound effects have been proven to be most important for psychic health. One of the goals of religion is to move ego into a subordinate position, to recognize a thing greater than itself. This has been a fundamental tenet of objective values for over five thousand years…


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