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The Collective Unconscious

By C. G. Jung

Probably none of my empirical concepts has met with so much misunderstanding as the idea of the collective unconscious. In what follows I shall try to give (1) a definition of the concept, (2) a description of what it means for psychology, (3) an explanation of the method of proof, and (4) an example.

1. Definition

The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.

The concept of the archetype, which is an indispensable correlate of the idea of the collective unconscious, indicates the existence of definite forms in the psyche which seem to be present always and everywhere. Mythological research calls them “motifs”; in the psychology of primitives they correspond to Levy-Bruh’s concept of “representations collectives,” and in the field of comparative religion they have been defined by Hubert and Mauss as “categories of the imagination.” Adolf Bastian long ago called them “elementary” or primordial thoughts.” From these references it should be clear enough that my idea of the archetype – literally a pre-existent form – does not stand alone but is something that is recognized and named in other fields of knowledge.

My thesis, then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.

Jung cautions that, “One must, for the sake of accuracy, distinguish between ‘archetype’ and ‘archetypal ideas.’ The archetype as such is a hypothetical and irrepresentable model, something like the pattern of behavior in biology.” (“On the Nature of the Psyche”)

(Excerpted from The Archetypes And The Collective Unconscious by C. G. Jung.)