Abstract: The article investigates the Neoplatonic Self notion. In the historical record the ideal of personality and the psychological notion of Self have taken many forms. Also the modern ideals of Self are discussed and criticized, such as the 'puer aeternus' (eternal youth) and the 'primal' or 'uroboric' Self. The author argues that Carl Jung's Self archetype is one-sidedly immanent--there is also a transcendental aspect of Self. In the heated debate between Porphyry and Iamblichus, both were right in their own way.

Keywords: Plotinus, Neoplatonism, primary narcissism, grandiose self, ego-Self axis, Erich Neumann, Michael Fordham, psychoanalysis, puer aeternus, Romantic era.

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Mats Winther

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I feel like I just got run over by a mack truck. An excellent and thought provoking essay, as was your essay on hillman. I am unfamiliar with the writings of Porphyry and Iamblichus, et al so it will take a bit of time to digest the material presented. As I was reading your work I was intuiting  the self as the central and evolving hub of an encoded switching station containing what we need to complete the human life cycle within the material world/nature. It would contain what our species requires to complete its journey through existence. Therefore it would be capable of constellating a variable essence in the various forms that would be required to complete the particular life cycle task at hand. Ego consciousness in its most general definition would then be an evolutionary addition to our psyche that enhances our ability to survive. Of course there must be some connective interaction between the self and our ego consciousness written into the picture. Well that is about it for now. Hopefully you won't use Porphyry or Iamblichus et al to obliterate my  off the cuff conceptive reaction to a very learned and complex essay mats.

Your thoughts on Neuman were intriguing. I haven't read him for almost 40 years basically because I was disgusted with his Dr. Spockian technique for raising kids. I wonder if there are any essays/analysis of his work out there. I will look around. 

Finally I am surprised some publisher hasn't compiled the best of your essays into a book by now. further commentary on your essay later cause I feel like eating pancakes for some reason right about now...

Hi Klemens,

Thanks! I like Iamblichus's notion of the "helmsman". The Self is the power, or the god of one's life, responsible for the general course of the ship. The ego, on the other hand, is prone to loose itself in whatever meaningless activities. So the Self would represent the meaningful life's journey.

Concerning Erich Neumann,  the "Jung-Neumann Letters", edited by Martin Liebscher, is due to be published by Princeton University Press spring 2015. There will be an international conference, as well. But Neumann is a theorist of primary narcissism, which is theoretically obsolete.


As I was reading your work I was intuiting  the self as the central and evolving hub of an encoded switching station containing what we need to complete the human life cycle within the material world/nature. It would contain what our species requires to complete its journey through existence. Therefore it would be capable of constellating a variable essence in the various forms that would be required to complete the particular life cycle tasks at hand. 

I would disagree with the Neoplatonist concept of individuation being a fall or descent of the soul.

I would argue the advent of Ego consciousness in its most general definition would  be an evolutionary addition to our psyche that enhances our ability to navigate through our human life cycle within the material realm of existence. Maybe the advent of ego consciousness is not a fall but an evolutionary advance that will ultimately allow the self aka the central switching station to be more efficient. Also one can have an ego consciousness and not be individuated at all.I suspect Remes accounted for this possibility in the second paragraph.

If the birth of ego consciousness is an evolutionary advance as opposed to a fall then I suspect ego consciousness and individuation [in a more jungian sense] might play a bigger role in the end game of existence. If the ego is going to merge into the one at death then the ego must work extraordinarily hard to make it happen. Individuality must complete its developmental destiny so to consider.

that leads us to the problem of how the evolutionary emergence of ego consciousness that separated itself from the self gets connected to the soul. Well women evolved as well and it makes sense that they would embody and carry a projection of the soul... But is the neoplatonists  soul psyche or anima? ... I'm guessing the neoplatonists used psyche. That is the only way i can understand them  connecting the soul with the emergence of the ego from the self. I definitely am out of my depth in regard to the neoplatonists....

For the rest I agree with the most part of your argument in the first section of the essay. Porphyry and Iamblichus present are two complementary approaches to the end game of existence and our reunion with the one. But there is  one other player in the game and that is the self that is prime orchestrater of the final phase of our life cycle.

I suspect Porphyry and Iamablichus theories are going to be butressed by better support somewhere down the road. One of the first candidates up for consideration might just well be the Odysseus myth. The ultimate destination of his journey was death after all. I appreciate the challenge mats. 



Sometimes I can intuit about ideas better when I am half asleep. One could visualize Porphyry as a theoretician aka egghead laying out the theory in broad philosophical strokes. Here is your orientation this is the path...which would be reintegration with the One. This is what you have to do theoretically to get to your destination. I see no problem with having a general theory of the return the self or the end game of existence.There is nothing more reassuring than having a big picture in regard to what is going on. 

Iamblichus is more the engineer who says hey wait a minute. This is all theory. When you actually get out there it isn't as easy as your theories suggest. In fact I ran into all these problems.... attempting to complete the work in practical setting. 

One needs theoretical orientation. Iamblichus accepted the goal of the reintegration into the one...he just pointed out there was another reality out there when he attempted to implement the theory into practice. I think this amplifies your thesis mats. The goal is the same but the roads taken are different. I can see why the western thinkers adopted the more beautiful theoretical vision of this problem... Thank you for getting me to thinking. 

Some people really don't like pagans: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/поган

Well a Dostoevskyan psychologist of our christian civilization might trace the negative attitude to paganism back to the origins and struggle for christianity to take its place in the world. Christ the savior emerged in response to the end of the known civilized world. The greco roman civilization was collapsing from within and being obliterated by the advance of the barbarians without. The barbarians being pagans were absorbing and swallowing up christians too...but through the grace of christ the light of civilization would not die even within total darkness.

here is a simplified retelling of history. The Byzantines miraculously survived and their first call for some in their midst was to restore the pagan greco roman civilization of before. But the dominant element in the surviving christian community viciously destroyed the effort to reconnect with our pagan past.To bad ..as we would be living in a totally different world today. But in essence and in this theoretical conceptualization of this incident in our christian cultural history. The Christians all but rejected the previously prevailing greco roman world as paganism. Until the renaissance of course when the greco roman heritage began to be seriously integrated back into christianity... 

so what point am i getting at. Christianity went out and spread the gospel amongst the barbarian tribes to the north. In order to do so they had to deal with and destroy/repress the pagan gods of the converted. When christianity went to the new world it did the same. This gave the christian culture a very anti pagan bias.

But as Jung said the myths of the Gods are psychic projections emanating from within the Unconscious. And this is why i fundamentally disagreed with debra in regard to Hillmans depotentiation of the archetypes. Hillman was depotentiating the Unconscious and substituting a primitive romantic but ultimately lifeless interpretation upon the archetypes. 

so paradoxically speaking we have this great christian will to power crushing the pagan projections emanating from within  while at the same time the religion of christ declares the kingdom of heaven is within us.... This ultimately led to the birth of the tabula rasa tribe within our cvilization.... The mind is blank. i think therefore i am is the first principle upon which the new philosophy is based. Well this philosophy and the christian errata which it was born from has a fatal flaw as it disenchanted the world split the soul off from the psyche . has deified a sterile logic that has turned modern philosophy into little more than a logical masturbatory mechanistic clusterpluck...   that will never allow the world to be reenchanted. they will never allow the archetype to be superordinate to the ego. well if you aren't prepared to stir up a little trouble then you how can you have a good time huh?

so it is the christian move to suppress the pagan/archetypal  imperative which lies in the unconscious that has turned the modern day logicians into caricatures of intellectuallity... christian thinkers who deny god ...go figure

The link to a similar discussion taaking place at the same time as this one: http://www.depthpsychologyalliance.com/forum/topics/hillman-jungian...

This is an interesting topic. Depth psychology is sometimes used to include both Freud's and Jung's approach, and sometimes only Jung's. If Jung's interpretation was really just a branch of Neoplatonism, then it would be more sideways than depth psychology. Of course there should be similarities between different approaches to consciousness if they dig deep enough. For instance, those claiming that artificial intelligence and consciousness are just around the corner will sooner or later, one by one, acknowledge the importance of stories and myths (in the loosest sense) for consciousness and self-awareness.

(Neo)Platonism claims, as I understand it, that reality is inherently good. Since you are a human being reading this sentence (and me writing it) instead of stones and dirt, there might be something good about it. On the other hand, maybe such a thing as absolute good actually doesn't exist. We don't know how the last human being will live and die and when it will happen. Will the best intents destroy us in the end or not? Jung allows the dark side, uncertainty, and confusion (and insanity) to "pollute" his ideas.

As Buber is mentioned in that Mats' text and this topic is about the Self discussed online, I'll add here these two links: http://consc.net/papers/extended.html - The Extended Mind by Andy Clark & David Chalmers

http://www.razonypalabra.org.mx/N/N80/V80/00A_Strate_V80.pdf - The Medium and McLuhan's Message by Lance Strate

Perhaps someone might find them interesting. I do.

I'm now on the 4th go through of this thought provoking essay by Mats Winther. As you will see I have decided to assemble my thoughts a section at a time. Typing them up is a self actualizing exercise 

The puer aeternus

Modern psychology has formulated concepts of Self building on observations of the neurotic personality. These have been appropriated as models for the sound personality; the difference being that the healthy mind lives them out to the full in a self-aware and informed way. text

freud hillman winnicot edinger and neuman built concepts of the self based on the observation and encounter with their own internal psychological dynamic… Their formulations were different than the psychological dynamics of the self jung experienced observed and documented…. Different but not necessarily neurotic. Some of them then proceeded to project their own concepts of the self onto neurotics and on the rest of humanity for that matter. i.e. the oedipus complex. That the matriarchal society was organized in good part around the mother son incest taboo did not deter Freud from universalizing his theory. I absolutely agree with you that Jung was on the right
trajectory… commentary

James Hillman (“Archetypal Psychology”) has adopted the ‘puer aeternus’ as ideal for personality. It is the eternal youth of fairy tale who lives in an eternal dream-state, resistant to growing up. Whereas Marie-Louise von Franz regards identification with the ‘puer aeternus’ as a neurosis belonging to the narcissistic spectrum, Hillman has argued that the puer is not under the sway of a mother complex but that it represents a sound way of adaptation to life. M-L von Franz uses the notion ‘puer aeternus’ to denote individuals that suffer from a puerile neurosis, in the same way as Freudian psychologists connect the Oedipal complex with the “Oedipal personality”. text

Hillman was an egotistical nut. He adopted the puer aeternus complex to distinguish himself from both jung and freud. I’m into the Greek myths so the equivalent of the puer aeternus would be Melicertes/Palaemon. He would be the divine child of Ino/leukotheia. The divine child is an archetype which embodies the idea of a divine relationship between the mother and her son. It is not a neurosis. It is not normal either. A puer aeternus would describe a man who has not separated himself from the maternal bond. Ergo he lives his life out in a dream state/bond with the mother. Hillman had to eliminate the puers attachment to the mother in order to give his facetious psychological construction credibility. Normal people have cut the umbilical cord. Because hillman abused and reconstructed the
puer aeternus myth does not mean the divine mother and child archetype does not have important content. von franz was wrong in regard to turning it into a neurosis. She is too extreme. Every man retains maternal bonds even after the umbilical cord is cut… commentary

Von Franz explains that the puer aeternus wants to hover above the earth, to get away from reality and from ordinary life. In general, the man who is identified with the archetypal adolescent remains too long in adolescent psychology. text

Exactly. Von franz is well aware of the character of the puer. I think i have her book on the puer on my bookshelf. I actually do. I will scan it later. commentary

This is also how Hillman portrays the puerile ideal in his books:
The calling from the eternal world demands that this world here be turned upside down, to restore its nearness to the moon; lunacy, love, poetics [...] A puer-inspired theory will also limp among the facts, even collapse when met with the questioning inquiries of so-called reality [...] an archetypal psychology is obliged to show its own mythical premises... (Hillman, 1996, pp.282-83) text

From reading your text even hillman knew his puer conceptualization was a contrived fantasy. Well he was true to the character of the puer in that regard. That his puer confabulation is superseded by the senex should be noted. commentary

Hillman repudiates the Jungian notion of Self, claiming that it is an offshoot of Christian theology, an expression of Jung’s monotheistic “theological temperament”. Allegedly, the Jungian definition of Self “only reinforces individualism”. It makes you “stay indoors, off the streets, out of the party” (cf. Hillman, 1992, p.180). Instead, Hillman redefines the Self as “the interiorization of community” (ibid. p.40). The ideal is to become one with the collective. It follows from the puerile and unrealistic image of life as a grand “party”. Hillman’s notion of the Self as the introjected image of the collective is antithetical to a notion of Self—it’s an anti-Self that promotes collectivism. text

Hillman repudiates the concept of the self… Why? For the same reason that freud neuman edinger winnicot et al did .. When they looked into their own unconscious they found something unpalatable. i.e. in freuds case an oedipal mother complex and narcissistic relationship to the mother. In hillmans case he found a man who had not cut the umbilical cord with his mother either. Ergo their theories were meant more to repress and cover up and minimize their relationship to the unconscious. Jung is in the christian/greco roman civilizational mainstream with his healthy concept of the self. A civilizational mainstream having individuality as one of its foundation stones. You are right on with your thoughts and observation of hillmans collectivism. How can someone who has not cut the umbilical cord with the mother not be a collectivist. Individuality would force hillman out of his dream world into reality. But he doesn’t want to do that so he tries to crush the self, individuality and jung. commentary

According to M-L von Franz this is also the consequence of the puerile ideal:
The strange thing is that it is mainly the pueri aeterni who are the torturers and establish tyrannical and murderous police systems. So the puer and the police-state have a secret connection with each other; the one constellates the other. Nazism and Communism have been created by men of this type. The real tyrant and the real organizer of torture and of suppression of the individual are therefore revealed as originating in the not-worked out mother complex of such men (von Franz, 2000, p.164). text

well von franz is not totally correct here. Shifting the genesis of both the nazi and communist ascent and atrocities solely or mainly onto the puer character does not account for the fact that these atrocities were committed within a christian and individuality orientated civilization. The puer may have participated in the mayhem but the ultimate responsibility for the genesis of this evil is rooted in our culture not the puers. commentary

very interesting and informative thoughts on romanticism. I tend to suspect the romantic movement was a reflection of platonic idealism of the feeling type of individual born out of christian individuality orientated civilization. The feeling type and his aesthetically based idealism and world view were defeated by the thinking type of idealist and his subsequently more realistic approach to nature. Both are legitimate world views and both are incomplete until the opposite tendancies within these two forces are harnessed/balanced or whatever. Hillman wasn’t differentiated enough to be a romantic.. He harnessed the dreamlike and infantile fantasies of the puer aeternus to the platonic idealism of the romantic/feeling-type of fantasy… commentary

The Romantic mythopoetic worldview continued into modern times. The negation of individuation (i.e., to remain in boyhood) must needs lead to an immersion in the collective, with the consequence that the individuative demand is projected on the spirit of the collective, as in Hegel’s philosophy. text

we disagree there as I see romanticism as the idealistic/romanticized projection of the individuated feeling type of personality. commentary

That is quite a comment.

Romanticism is a legit reaction to rationalism and sterility (but maybe a phase rather than a goal), but instead of discussing about the ultimate reality and such, I'll add here two links about the dark side of romanticism: http://woodsydude-gkcrocks.blogspot.com/2012/09/dead-poets-society-...


The other example is Carlos Castaneda, fabricated conversations with a shaman (nagual), and the fate of his cult.

You are quick off the mark Alek. Without going directly to your links I will say there is also dark side to the thinking types dominance in the world today. Dostoevsky encapsulated it in Ivan Karamzov's nightmare which he entitled the legend of the grand inquisitor.  For reasons of censorship he had to place Ivan's nightmare in the distant past. He also brought christ's return directly into play. You probably know the copied and westernized version of this legend. The past has been moved to the future. The grand inquisitor now serves  the omnipotent State. The State has also become the ultimate authority in that God is dead so the state has become god. Orwell was a piker huh? He did not include the return of jesus because to the modern schismatic mind God is dead. And the omnipotent State the nightmare of the intellectual thinking type will control or else crush all. Snowdens latest revelations pretty well have given us an update on how this totalitarian nightmare is progressing....But as the State viciously tries to crush the individual and the family little does it realize that its existence is dependent on the survival of the individual and the family unit...In its madness the omnipotent state destroys the individual and familial foundation from which its existence arose. Jung said matter can be defined as chaos... this gegreichian pursuit of matter will ultimately end in the creation of chaos and the downfall of the totalitarian state... now what nightmare underlies the romantics zeitgeist


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