M.G. Piety

Kierkegaard’s Psychology

In Publishing News, Resources for Kierkegaard Scholarship on April 6, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Forgive me for taking so long to put up this post. I was doing two posts a week during the winter because I don’t teach in the winter. Drexel is on quarters, and because my husband, the legal scholar Brian J. Foley, teaches in Florida and we have a house there, Drexel very kindly allows me to teach the spring-summer-fall terms rather than the standard fall-winter-spring.

Well, I’m teaching again, and that has slowed down my blogging activity considerably. I’m not stopping though, just slowing down. I anticipate being able to do one post every two weeks, and possibly even more frequently, until the summer. The summer should be a little better because that tends to be a light term and I am teaching only one small seminar class this summer.

But enough about my schedule. I wanted to pass on to you a bit of information I came across recently that I thought was very interesting. Years ago, when I was a graduate student at Bryn Mawr, George Kline, one of my professors there, told me that the former Kierkegaard scholar Josiah Thompson, had left his post at Haverford College to become a private detective. I remember at the time thinking that that was one of the strangest things I’d ever heard. What possible relation, I thought, could there be between philosophy and detective work?

OK, I was naïve. For those few readers, however, who do not immediately understand the connection, I have a little story for you. The title of this post promises to tell you something about Kierkegaard’s psychology. This is really only a teaser though. The real substantive entries on Kierkegaard’s psychology will come later. Still, I ran across a book that I didn’t know existed and which I thought people interested in Kierkegaard ought to know about. It is a book by the German artist-physician-philosopher Carl Gustav Carus. Never heard of him? Read on.

“I am happy,” writes Kierkegaard in his journals,

“to acknowledge that Carus’ book (Psyche) is excellent, and if he will give the qualitative its due, then I will gratefully take a few of his good psychological observations. At all decisive points he makes unqualified room for the miracle, for the creative power of God, for the absolute expression of worship, and says: This no one can grasp, no science, neither now nor ever. Then he communicates the interesting things he knows.” (JP, 3:2818.)

I read this entry years ago and was intrigued by it. Who was this Carus? What were the interesting things he knew? How could I get my hands on a copy of this book? I searched antiquarian bookshops in Denmark and in Germany without any luck. I looked both in person and on line. Once I found a copy in German on Abebooks and tried to buy it only to be informed, after having added it to my basket, that it had already been sold.

Last year, finally, I found the book, in an English translation, in an esoteric bookstore in Cambridge, MA. It was in the section on Jungian psychology. It was $25 because, the owner of the shop informed me sheepishly, it was out of print. It’s a short book, under one hundred pages, but it is indeed very interesting. I cannot tell who was responsible for the translation, but there is an introductory note by the famous Jungian analyst James Hillman. Apparently, Jungians are interested in Carus because Jung himself was influenced by Carus.

My friend, and publisher, Eric von der Luft, informs me that Carus was strongly influenced by Schelling. Interestingly, Kierkegaard appears to have had a higher opinion of Carus than of Schelling. I found out something else though that I thought would be of interest to readers. Carus’s view of the relation between the mind and the body is strikingly similar to the “physicalism” of John Searle’s The Rediscovery of the Mind. This “physicalism,” though in a perhaps less well-defined form, appears to have come from Schelling, Schelling influenced Heidegger and Heidegger influenced Hubert Dreyfus. Dreyfus is a friend of John Searle…

Maybe we should all try our hands at private detective work if this philosophy thing dries up!

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  1. Another example of someone who switched careers, albeit only for several years, to become a private detective, is Errol Morris, the well-known documentary filmmaker. At one point, broke and in debt, he decided to take up detective work, because he decided that the core aspect of being a detective – which is asking people questions – wasn’t really all that different from what he’d been doing as a documentary filmmaker. He was quite good at it, and could have continued doing it, but after awhile he went back to making documentary films again (luckily for us).

    So you took a class under George Kline? I’m jealous. I don’t know him at all, except through his writing. In fact, I blogged about him last year:

    http://extravagantcreation.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/george-l-kline/

  2. Nice post, Marilyn. Comments: (1) I am a philosopher, and my favorite leisure-time reading = detective/murder novels, both British (e.g., Sayers, Crispin) and American (e.g., Chandler, Stout). (2) There are substantive similarities between detective work and scientific investigation, which means (for me) links between epistemology and the philosophy of science, on the one hand, and detective/murder novels, on the other. See Josephine Tey, “The Daughter of Time.”

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