Kell, K: Carrying Cats by the Tails and Other Epistemological Concerns: Using Pragmatism to Bridge Epistemology and Ontology in the Work of C.G. Jung


Kevin Kell


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The work of C. G. Jung has been criticized by certain positivist scientific positions. Theories related to the collective unconscious, synchronicity, and the Self have been dismissed by some who cite a lack of falsifiability or a lack of replicable results. Jung himself asserted that he made no metaphysical claims, but instead responded to the immanent experiences of the psyche to generate his theories. This apparent discrepancy between Jung’s epistemological and ontological positions, as well as the above positivist critiques, can be satisfactorily reconciled by drawing on the implications of William James’s philosophical pragmatism. William James asserted that a philosophical question or position could be evaluated based on whether it had any practical implications for one’s life. Similarly, I propose that a clinical pragmatism offers a means of evaluating the validity of an individual’s ontological or paradigmatic position. By the phrase “clinical pragmatism” I am suggesting a general principle based on the fact that an individual’s mental health is largely related to his or her beliefs, attitudes, theories, and general paradigm. In consideration of this fact, an individual’s mental health thus offers observable data from which to assess the validity of his or her philosophical positions. Clinical pragmatism thus offers a theoretical foundation on which to base clinical research and other empirical verifications of C. G. Jung’s more metaphysically intangible concepts. In particular, I reference the clinical application of synchronicity as an example illustrating this principle. In practice, identifying synchronistic phenomena in the psychic lives of clients produces beneficial results, which lends observable, empirical validation for the further consideration of the theory. Just as Mark Twain asserts that “a man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way,” mental health observations allow a unique litmus test for metaphysical assertions.

Presenter Bio:

Kevin Kell, MSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice through The Center for Change & Healing in Burr Ridge, IL. He received a Bachelors of Arts from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Or with a major in Psychology. He then completed his masters degree study in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago. Currently, Kevin is pursuing degrees in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Jungian and Archetypal Studies hybrid masters/ doctoral program. In addition to his full-time private practice, Kevin owns and operates a professional leather working and drum making business. Kevin is also a classically trained, operatic bass singer and performs regularly in the Chicago land area. Kevin brings his love of art, music, and healing into his studies, workshops, and retreats. Kevin has found that the work of C. G. Jung offers a paradigm and theory to unify his many artistic and scholarly pursuits.

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

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