On the Psychologization of the Self

By psychologization of the self we mean the misapprehension that through reflection on the stream of consciousness, and on the experiences given in it, the nature of man or the substance of the self can become known. This second misapprehension is closely related to the first one [See: On the Materialization of the External World-ed]. When man no longer experiences himself as embedded substantially in the cosmos, when the unity of creation that embraces man is torn asunder into a perceived structure of the world and a perceiving self, problems peculiar to Cartesian and post-Cartesian metaphysical speculation arise. When the experience of substantial participation of man in the world is interrupted, doubts arise about whether the reality as it appears to the perceiving subject is indeed the reality of the external world, and if the reality of an external world is assumed, intricate problems of the relation between the external world and the self impose themselves.

Historically they appear in the speculation of Malebranche and Leibniz under the title of the psychophysical problem. The self has become a consciousness that by sensations and ideas refers to an external world—though it remains enigmatic how the external world can affect consciousness in such a manner that sensations and ideas are produced. It remains equally enigmatic why the reference of these images to an external world should be considered trustworthy.

If the idea of psychologization were carried out consistently in a philosophical system, the result would be a strict solipsism of a stream of consciousness with complete annihilation of all reality outside the stream. This radical possibility, however, need not concern us here because it does not occur in any historically relevant instance. In the historical situation at the beginning of the eighteenth century all instances of psychologization compromise to some degree with reality.

The degree of the compromise is a historical problem, and correspondingly so is the degree of destruction of reality. As the minimum of compromise the situational pressure induces the acceptance of the external world, at least so far as it enters into the system of Newtonian physics. The Lockean compromise with its distinction of primary and secondary qualities is typical. Primary qualities are solidity, extension, figure, motion, number, etc.; these qualities are "really" in bodies whether our senses perceive them or not. Secondary qualities such as color, heat, light, etc., do not exist "really" but are sensations in the stream of consciousness. FN

Beyond this minimum of acceptance the field of variants opens richly. With profound disturbances of the elementary experiences of participation in the cosmos, even the reality of the realm of matter becomes doubtful. Such disturbances cause particularly deep ravages with regard to transcendental reality because the persuasive assurance lent to the reality of the realm of matter by means of the pragmatic tests of experiment and astronomical observation does not exist for transcendental reality.

With regard to the radical transcendence of the world there is only genuine participation through the trembling experience of faith as substance and proof of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). Moreover, the symbolism of the dogma has grown historically as the expression of nuances of active faith. When the light of faith is extinguished, the dogmatic symbols lose their luminosity of meaning and become a dead letter, a jungle of logical inconsistencies, and a collection of unverifiable propositions. When the symbols no longer glow with the inner light of faith, the time has come for their examination under the external light of reason.

The symbolization of transcendental reality does not stand up too well under the light of reason. But again: there is no complete annihilation but rather a gamut of compromises. Never was there a greater penumbra of thought than when men were enlightened, because reason itself, by whose light the mysteries of religion were to be examined, was a historically somewhat sputtering notion.

The reason that emerges in the philosophy of Locke and of his Deistic followers and successors is not a well-defined function of the human mind but a gradually thinning, secularist derivation of the Christian logos. The antithesis of the light of faith that fills the religious symbols with meaning from within, and of the light of reason by which they are examined from without, must be understood historically as signifying two terms of a series of notions that paper over in spurious continuity the real distance between them. The rationalism of Lockean reason develops gradually out of the suprarationalism of the Christian logos. . . .

FN. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975), bk. II, chap. 7, "Of Simple Ideas of Both Sensation and Reflection," 128 ff.

CW Vol 24 (HPI-VI)
Chapter 4, The English Quest for the Concrete
§ 2 b.The Psychologization of the Self, pp 165-167.