Gray, Frances. Cartesian Philosophy and the Flesh: Reflections on Incarnation in Analytical Psychology. Hove: Routledge, 2012. Pp. 193. Hbk. £80.00; Pbk. £25.99

Frances Gray's book is written in clear and lucid prose, engaging and directly addressing us when it serves her purposes (and ours). This is an important work for many reasons.

My first reaction to her proposition that Jung and Descartes have much in common was instinctive rejection: the French rationalist and mathematician does not seem a proper antecedent. Perhaps this reaction was intensified by my studies of the work of Giambattista Vico, a powerful critic of Descartes and a philosopher who James Hillman, for one, points out has close affinities to Jung. However, after reading Gray's work, I see that Vico's objections to Descartes are different from those of the scholars she alludes to. And, finally, Gray is persuasive in showing affinities with Jung by using considerations of phenomenology and previously disregarded aspects of Cartesian material.

Gray first establishes that contemporary Jungian scholars’ view of Descartes as committed to a separation of mind and body is outdated, particularly earlier work by Roger Brooke on phenomenology and Robert Romanyshyn's discussions. Using more recent scholarship and her own analysis based on Pierre Hadot's work, as well as careful assessments of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, she points out how Jung fits into this tradition. We soon see the importance of insistence on the Cartesian idea of the relationship of mind and body.

What is pertinent, according to Gray, is the method by which the body is bracketed and the phenomenological technique of epoche (suspension of judgement) rather than the sheer isolation of the body as a way to an epistemological position: it is here that she finds Jung and Descartes might show similarities. Descartes posits, in some ways similarly to Jung's analysis, she claims, a new psyche/body which is posited for methodological purposes—a new human being, a unique kind of other being who might engage in practical therapeutic exercise.

And it is Cartesian applications of ‘hyperbolic doubt’ that is the method of his achieving the bracketing which she sees similar to Jung's attempts. In a plausible, carefully argued discussion, she aligns Jung's work more closely to Franz Brentano's, bringing in his ideas of ‘intentional inexistence’ (concerning the status of thought in the mind), the close interweave of subject and object (to put it broadly) as she explores phenomenology.

With great precision and sense, Gray tracks the history and utility of the inner/outer trope in considering psychological discussion and phenomenological theorizing (distinguished from empirical argument); the inner/outer trope is shown to be useful in tracking interior emotion and sensibility and external phenomena. She returns repeatedly to this pivot, applying it later in the book to forms of yoga, spiritual exercise and philosophical examination. Her discussion of embodied psyche and spiritual exercises is thrilling—speaking directly to us, and at one point replicating internal rumination so perfectly I wondered how she knew what I was thinking!

Descartes’ backdrop as rationalist and mathematician instigated Vico's disgruntlement with him, primarily for pedagogical reasons and for what he thought people believed with certainty. For example, he mocked Descartes’ aspiration to achieve ‘clear and distinct’ bracketing as futile reductive thinking: an impossible and irrelevant goal. But it is in Gray's focus on the inner/outer trope that she gains ground in her argument that Descartes is pertinent.

In my own thinking, Vico and, I claim, Jung, privilege the imagination. Jung, a psychological thinker, used images of conjoined male and female bodies to expound and instantiate psychic phenomena and reverted to the originary moment to substantiate his views. How could his proper antecedent be a mathematician who adored automata, who reduced cognitive processes to positivist, materialist extensions, as I see it, and who required a biological, spatial locus, the pineal gland, to ‘explain’ emotion and passions, and was inclined to sideline memory?

First of all, I agree with Gray that we cannot expect systematic philosophy from Jung, despite claims he may make. Secondly, I recognize that Vico is tracking a different trope, thereby arriving at different conclusions, with different intent.

In contrasting Descartes’ claims to Jung's (and behind them both, their different attitudes to Plato) Gray notes that his focus is on the appearance/reality pivot or trope. As a result, the mind/body split is relegated to a matter of consideration of probabilities and certainties, i.e., where is ‘reality’ found? Broadly speaking, it is the self-deceptions and postures revealed in their writing that disclose ‘true’ orientations. In this way, the distinctions Gray makes are parallel but compatible (except in one respect mentioned below) and, finally, enriching; they simply apply to different aspects of Jung's work.

Descartes expresses dislike of rhetorical flourish as ‘ornamentation’ that clouds clear thinking—yet he is a master stylist: reality belying appearance. ‘Truth’ lies in exercising ‘hyperbolic doubt’ to bracket aspects that can be set aside to get to the bottom of things. As a mathematician, he trusts in abstracted and indubitable result; yet he engages the topos of the solitary, sleepless scholar, at night, coming across a truth—a ‘figure’ in a long literary tradition.

Rather than seeking answers in tradition, or in history, which has often been proven ‘wrong’, he would say, we stand on the shoulders of those behind us, and peer forward, having learned to discount earlier errors of ancients. History is contingent and embedded in incertitude and, probably, in myth, which is discredited in its telling.

For Jung (and Vico) certainties are not based solely on empirical fact, as it is considered ‘neutral’, or on ‘objective’ rule-based mathematical conclusions as they are for Descartes. We know that numbers can lie too, i.e., appear to point at one conclusion while in reality there is another. However, Gray adeptly persuades us that Descartes’ bracketing was not categoric but was part of a method of attempting to get closer to truths clearly and simply.

Gray has brilliantly analysed Descartes’ part in Jung's ‘past’, whether he knew it or not, as she says. And her book has made me feel more comfortable with being intrigued by Descartes’ work, particularly in relationship to Jungian studies. However, Vico's most important pedagogic critique of Descartes, apart from its patriotic impulse, rests on his belief that the methodological proposition Descartes recommends leads not only to futile questioning but to supercilious conclusion. Here, it seems to me, Jung is not aligned in an important way with Descartes, but if I have it right shouldn't it be important to Gray's argument?

Young people, Vico claimed, live in a world of imagination, and to teach them to filter out doubt (if that were possible) means they will miss out on the great lessons of the lived life, of the truths in fables. He recommended Aesop as a great teacher. Descartes looks with contempt on common sense notions arrived at by the ordinary man; and while Jung certainly felt that the educated person was most receptive to his methods, he was also eager to try his ideas on ordinary folk (he recounts his rapport with a servant woman who communicated with him in simple narratives). Further, myths, stories and images are efficacious for Jung in ways Descartes dismissed. Reliance solely on rational deduction would stunt the education of the young, Vico felt, and lead them to see value in facile pronouncements, as they articulate ‘conceits’ and flourishes rather than deep truths.

The outcome of the hyperbolic doubt leads Gray to explore yoga and its efficacies as conjoined mind/body, inner/outer solutions. As a result, she does not delve into the realms suggested in Vico's critique of Descartes but swerves in a different direction by virtue, it seems to me, of her criteria.

Apart from some recurring expressions of outrage at other scholars’ shortcomings, there is not a foot set wrong in this excellent book. Its application to contemporary and personal life is important, and it is a serious contribution to a body of philosophical thought. This combination makes it an important work in the field of Jungian studies, and elsewhere in considerations of phenomenology and spiritual exercise.