Philosophical views on spirit

Illuminated page from the Waldenburg Prayer Book- 1486 US Public Domain via wikimedia.
Illuminated page from the Waldenburg Prayer Book- 1486 US Public Domain via wikimedia.

In the image above we see God as “Father”.

The Father God is an archetypal representation of spirit in its highest form. Carl Jung makes this clear when he says that spirit is the “immaterial substance or form of existence which on the highest and most universal level is called ‘God'” (para. 385).

On the one hand, it is said that ‘spirit’ permeates all things. Spirit is considered the “immaterial substance” and thus “the vehicle of psychic phenomena or even of life itself” (ibid).

On the other hand, it is said that spirit and nature form an antithesis. Jung says: “Here the concept of spirit is restricted to the supernatural or anti-natural, and has lost its substantial connection with psyche and life.” (ibid)

The idea of spirit as something that “transcends not only external nature but also human experience” leads to a “supernatural” view of spirit (Bradly, p. 146). Such a view in turn leads to the idea of the Father God as “an omnipotent being, terrible alike in power and in righteousness.”


  1. Carl Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – CW 9i  (1934–1954) (1981 2nd ed. Collected Works Vol.9 Part 1)
  2. Badley, John Haden Form and spirit : a study in religion. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1951.

2 thoughts on “Philosophical views on spirit

  1. I think that most of the words we translate as spirit have their roots in words for breath (latin: spiritus but also pneuma GK etc) and made their way from breath to the idea of life force and then essence. It is easy then to see how breath began to be seen somewhat in opposition to matter – for spirit as breath is separated from the body at death. When elevated to the level of the divine, the spirit of god comes in the West to be associated with the essence of the way things were intended by God to be as opposed to the way they may be now (nature). This is then darkened by ideas of the fall of nature. In that sense historically Bradly may be right but I do not think that this is intrinsically the way the spirit archetype is constellated in the human psyche and we would expect it to return to a more active dynamic with matter and nature as is being evidenced in the environmental movement and in blogs such as this. All of this is to say is that in these quotes Jung and Bradly are perhaps highlighting one pole of the tension between spirit and matter which although separated at times will just as powerfully spring back.

    1. John,

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us on the relationship between spirit and matter. Indeed, Carl Jung often begins with one perspective, then moves into another, and finally integrates with a third. With this dialectical method, he slowly lead us into a more complex understanding. Spirit is one of the most complex ideas in Jung’s writing. I hope to eventually highlight some of this complexity.


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