Archetypes as symbolic forms

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Abstract

In Jung's psychology, archetypes are biologically inherited supra-individual predispositions of the collective unconscious, and in this paper this controversial theory of archetypes is evaluated in the context of Ernst Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms. The main thesis of the author is that with the help of the Cassirerian approach, archetypes can be understood as culturally determined functionary forms organizing and structuring certain aspects of man's cultural activity, namely those predominantly non-cognitive (for example, emotional, numinous, pathological) mental aspects of human life, which remain more or less unarticulated due to their non-discursive nature. The revision the author is proposing revolves around the notion that the archetypal theory can be removed from the rather unfruitful discourse on the genetic inheritance of archetypes. When archetypes are seen as symbolic forms, Jung's theory is in a position to make a potentially valuable contribution to hermeneutical and cultural studies, as archetypes function in this new context as active constituents of human experiences, which give these experiences a non-discursive, symbolic form. Thereby, archetypes can become accessible to historical and cultural analyses, and hermeneutical inquiry into the manifold symbolism of mental (including unconscious) phenomena can be enriched.

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