Louise Harrison on the Metaphysics of the Unconscious

Some Personal History

My name is Louise Harrison and I am a 48-year-old native of Belfast in Northern Ireland. I am a divorced mother of three, two of whom are grown and in their twenties, living their own lives now (but still a part of mine!). My third child is my almost-seven-year-old son with whom I live. I was a mature student, returning to study in my thirties, acquiring a degree in Scholastic Philosophy here at Queen's University, whereupon an introduction to St. Thomas's works entirely changed my academic direction (I'd gone to Queen's to read English) and became part of the fabric of my life from then on. I have to say - in the words of Yeats! - that everything was utterly changed.

I was then given a scholarship for a PhD but, some time into it (during which I had the opportunity to study abroad at L'Institut Superieur de Philosophie at Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium), I made a decision to postpone my studies in order to be at home with my then infant son - I happen to be one of that band of lone or single parents we hear so much about today. I only returned two years ago, picking up and continuing with my research, for which I was awarded an MPhil in December past. (I graduate in July later this year.) I'm not sure in what direction my life will go now but I would dearly love to pursue an academic career, initially in further comparative researches with Aquinas's soul/body union and the Jungian notion of the spiritual unconscious and its collective ancestral and archetypal nature; this could be tackled from more than a few perspectives.

Although as an adolescent I had been formally educated by Dominican sisters I'm afraid that the impress left on me was less than ideal. These years later, during an interim through which my mind, body and soul suffered and then gradually opened to Catholic principles, when I began to read Thomas's works I felt I'd arrived home and that my cup was truly running over. I was so excited and felt the deepest levels of my being had been touched. It seemed as if those facets of my life - the spiritual and psychological - were being provided for in the further study of his ideas. I was especially enthralled by both the writings of Maritain and Gilson, and found my own reading of Aquinas to be in line with both the essential core of these two not so divergent perspectives.

So the academic and personal realms are very connected in my life - engaging in the work of my (limited) research labours has meant engaging simultaneously in an extremely demanding part of my own individuation process, bringing about painful psychic growth. I came to St. Thomas with an already acquired and (growing) respect and understanding of Carl Jung's works and ideas. It was my experience - whilst still an undergraduate student - to intuitively see a connection between the Jungian individuation process and the Thomistic composition of essence and existence; more, what this distinction when applied to the union of body and soul meant in relation to Jung's ideas of the unconscious.

Although I have never personally undergone Jungian analysis (yet!), I have adhered to Jung's ideas for many years now - and increasingly so. For eighteen years or so, my own personal life has become more and more a journey towards deeper selfhood - for instance, my dreamlife plays a highly significant role in not only my understanding of what is psychically happening within me but in releasing psychic energy long bound up within me. This is bound up within my growing acceptance and love of Catholic principles.

My Work

My research itself, well, this focused on a basic philosophical principle brought to light by St. Thomas Aquinas and I further examined it in the light of the widely-accepted interpretations stemming from both the Jacques Maritain/Etienne Gilson traditions; this was then applied and used as the metaphysical foundation of the individuation process as perceived by Carl Jung.

I proposed that Aquinas's doctrine of the soul/body union - when fully understood in relation to the well-known distinction he made between existence and essence - very naturally and fittingly explains what is occurring on the metaphysical level during the transition of the material of unconscious processes into the continuously new (but changing) conscious constellations. The Thomistic esse/essence distinction itself imparts metaphysical credence to the process of being and becoming which underpins Jung's journey into true Selfhood.

Athough St. Thomas Aquinas himself did not think in terms of the modern phenomenon of the unconscious, I attempt to show that it is not inconsistent with his thought - more than this, that it actually is grounded within, and very naturally follows from, the metaphysical constitution of the human being as conceived by him. His conception of the esse/essence relation leads directly, I propose, to the notion of a spiritual unconscious as a transcendent dimension of the human person. This unconscious dimension of the human psyche, to do with the passage of "becoming in time," springs directly from the real distinction between esse and essence.

In terms of the ontological change involved in the passage from the state of bare essence to the state of (human) subsistence, as interpreted by Jacques Maritain, I hope to show just how this passage demands explanation by reference to a type of spiritual, unconscious dimension within the metaphysical and psychical constitution of the human supposit - the person. Furthermore, this can be viewed as explicable in the terms presented by Carl Jung. His formulation of a theory of individuation, which was guided by an unconscious soul language, in the form of priorly unconscious symbols, attaining conscious representation by means of archetypes (and of particular interest in this context, the 'self' archetype) has, it is proposed, its metaphysical ground in Aquinas's essence/esse distinction regarding the human essence. This then leads into the distinction, originating in Aquinas, and as interpreted by Maritain, between the states of essence and subsistence - or form and subject. The unconscious, it is proposed, is a much vaster and more potent force in the individuation process than is presently acknowledged. As a spiritual entity (which is no less than Jung saw it), it finds expression notionally in St. Thomas's conception of the soul as containing the body.

As for the Jungian archetypal material issuing from the unconscious "realm," well, it is seen to belong to that dimension of (the Thomistic) soul which surpasses bodily containment - it is the manifestations of this spirit-guided dimension of soul which Dr. Jung, working with the material presented to him in both his personal life and clinical practice, catalogued and comparatively analysed in relation to the archetypal imagery supplied by the medieval alchemists. It is also this dimension of soul which, for Aquinas, is common to all man, is specifically the same in each of us. Although the notion of an unconscious did not occur to his thirteenth-century mind, and although Aquinas never really explained how the natural and supra-natural are unified in one essence (the human one), I propose that this is where the collective archetypal nature of soul as perceived by Jung lies precisely in Aquinas's formulation of the soul/body union.

My thesis examines all of this up to a point. There is so much more to be done. The great Jungian analyst and scholar Marie Louise von Franz, when researching the Aurora Consurgens, expressed her amazement at the lack of comparative research on Thomas Aquinas's views regarding Sapientia Dei with the Jungian collective archetypes. My work - as it stands - merely opens up a small pathway into this whole arena. It has provoked much new thought within me regarding the metaphysical underpinnings and also concerning the concomitant and variant applications within Jungian psychology.

This latter area interests me more than ever now - in particular, the concept of transference and its implications (in what could be called the I/Thou relation), and what it ultimately means regarding interpersonal relations and psychological healing seen in the light of Sapientia Dei. What occurs on the interpersonal psychological level between human beings is also explicable metaphysically. Although his writings reveal what I would call a grudging fascination with metaphysics proper, Carl Jung never did deal with this, instead confining his interest and speculative bent to the empirical realm alone.

This too leads into the relationship between theology and analytical psychology, potentially creating a domain out of which a new growth in understanding and acceptance can be fostered within the two disciplines. Dr. Jung shied away from metaphysical theories, preferring to deal with the realm of the empirical and psychological, with what he saw as real. There are those who would argue that metaphysical reality is no less real. In fact, any psychology which takes account of a supra-natural element - as Jung's did - has to be explicable beyond its merely empirical and epistemological foundations. It is not without some ground that Jung has been accused of a psychologism.

There is further room, too, for research into the theory of evolution in relation to the Jungian notion of the collective unconscious and how this latter undergoes change as a single entity within a race, nation and world. I propose (and here I align myself with the views of Norris Clarke SJ) that this should be linked with Aquinas's view of active potencies within each specific nature, moreover, when this is united with Jung's perspective, it leaves very little unanswered - or at least unanswerable - in this area.

E-Mail Address: l.harris10@ntlworld.com