“One world”: logical and ethical implications of holism’ (AHRC funded)

The following is the project summary:

The aim of this project is to determine the logical and ethical implications of holism. Across many areas of contemporary culture we hear the concept of holism being invoked, as in holistic science, holistic spirituality, holistic healthcare, and holistic education. While there are different varieties of holism, each case implies a perspective in which the whole of a system is considered to be more important than the sum of its parts.

This project will provide an in-depth explanation and comparison of concepts of wholeness in the work of two influential twentieth-century thinkers in this area: the Swiss depth psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) and the French post- structuralist philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995).

Advocates of holism associate it with desirable qualities such as inclusion, integration, balance, and wider vision and champion it as a remedy for the fragmentation that is considered to beset the modern world. Critics argue that holism is vague, erases differences, and, by subordinating individual elements to a superior whole, ultimately leads to totalitarianism. This project will examine why holism attracts these strong positive and negative valuations and which point of view, if either, is the better warranted.

Further, holism is usually discussed in relation to a particular system which itself can be considered to be part of a wider whole and ultimately of the widest whole: the total ‘system’ which is referred to by some holists as the ‘one world’. The project will examine the nature of such underpinning concepts of ultimate wholeness, how these concepts relate to the multiplicities of experience, and the links between a particular concept of ultimate wholeness and the positive or negative ethical valuations attaching to holistic thought.

Planned Impact

The principal non-academic beneficiaries of the research will be psychotherapists. Engagement activities will also target environmentalists, educationalists, political activists, and religious practitioners, wherever these groups hold, or have to engage with, the view that the systems with which they work are wholes and/or are parts within larger wholes.

The project team will also attend to impact on the field of psychotherapy. For example, depending on the findings of the project, psychotherapists could be given an impetus to pay either greater or lesser attention to the ‘whole person’ and to the person’s ‘total context’ in determining treatment. This is particularly relevant in the context of ongoing professional, academic, and policy debates about the effectiveness and consequent funding of psychotherapy, in which non-holistic therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are arguably privileged over longer-term therapies which, even when not specifically identified as holistic, are generally better able to attend to patients as whole persons.

The research will consider the field of psychotherapy, in the context of ongoing professional, academic, and policy debates about the effectiveness, and consequent funding, of psychotherapy in which non-holistic, more reductive therapeutic models seems to be favoured because of their greater amenability to quantitative evaluation.

Better understanding of the concepts of the whole that can underpin holism, and of the ethical implications of the concepts, will enrich debates about efficacy and funding by providing an overall more nuanced understanding of holistic approaches to therapy and what is at stake in accepting or rejecting them. Such enhanced understanding is in turn likely to lead to improvements in therapy and consequently also in patient outcomes. These and related issues will be explored in a symposium on holism in psychotherapy, which will be organised by the Co-Investigator specifically for psychotherapists.

More broadly, the project could have impact within any area of social or cultural activity in which holistic perspectives figure, inasmuch as the project will generate greater understanding of, and prompt greater reflection on, the implications of such perspectives, including ethical implications. In view of the social and cultural prevalence of holistic perspectives and the strong positive and negative valuations they receive, it is important that judgments about the weight that should be given to such perspectives in any area be based on well-informed consideration.

Academic beneficiaries:

The main academic beneficiaries of this cross-disciplinary project will be in the disciplines of depth psychology and philosophy, though the research will also be relevant to intellectual history and religious studies.

Depth psychology: the project will advance scholarship on (1) Jungian psychology, where the project will help to contextualise one of the key notions of analytical psychology (the notion of ‘the whole’) and thereby contribute to ongoing debates about Jung’s implicit metaphysics, and on (2) Deleuze’s (and Guattari’s) criticisms of psychoanalysis and development of the alternative method of ‘schizoanalysis’.

Philosophy: philosophers likely to benefit from the project are those interested in the metaphysical logic underpinning concepts of the whole. For these philosophers the project will present a new perspective and set of connections as a result of its comparative exploration of the views of a depth psychologist and a post-structuralist philosopher, as well as its retrieval of pre-Enlightenment esoteric thought in relation to the topic of holism. This will result in a more grounded sense of how the whole is being conceived in a practical field (psychotherapy). The contrasting ethical inferences drawn by Jung and Deleuze will spur more urgent general reflection on the question of the ethical implications of holism.

Another main group of philosophers who could benefit from this project is those specialising in the thought of Deleuze, in particular his attempt to articulate a philosophy of pure immanence.

Intellectual history: the project will benefit intellectual historians working on (1) the history of holistic thought, where the project’s focus on post-1939 European thought will complement the foci of earlier major studies on pre-1939 Europe (Harrington 1996) and post-World War II America (Wood 2010); and (2) the history of Western esotericism, where the project will highlight, in the holistic thought of Jung and Deleuze, an important node of influence of esotericism on modern culture (Hanegraaff 1998, 2012; Ramey 2012). Historians working in both of these areas will benefit from the deeper scrutiny into the philosophical underpinnings of holistic thought that the project will promote, as well as from its elucidation of and confrontation with the polarised ethical valuations to which such holistic thought gives rise. Religious studies: holistic spirituality is one of the most salient cultural expressions of holism at the present time and has received considerable attention from scholars of religion (e.g., Hanegraaff 1998, Heelas & Woodhead 2005). With its focused examination of two major holistic thinkers working just before (in Jung’s case) and during (in Deleuze’s case) the burgeoning of holistic spirituality in the 1960s to 1980s, the present project will help to deepen reflection on the historical sources, philosophical underpinnings, and ethical implications of such spirituality.

The above academic beneficiaries will be reached through a variety of publications and presentations in relevant interdisciplinary and specialist venues, including the journals Theory, Culture, & Society, Deleuze Studies, Journal of Analytical Psychology, and International Journal of Jungian Studies; conferences such as those of the International Association of Jungian Studies, International Association of Analytical Psychology, and British Association for the Study of Religions; and an edited book published with Routledge or Palgrave.

Project Stages (references provided at the end):

Stage one (survey of holism)

This involves a survey of selected prior work on holistic thought. The purpose of this survey is to provide a preliminary clarification of the extent and character of such thought within contemporary Western culture and to highlight the principal logical and ethical debates to which it has given rise. Some of the works from which initial orientation will be taken include Denis Charles Phillips’s Holistic Thought in Social Science (1976), Anne Harrington’s Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler (1996), and Linda Sergent Wood’s A More Perfect Union: Holistic Worldviews and the Transformation of American Culture (2010).

Stage two (textual and historical reconstruction of concepts of the whole)

This involves a historical reconstruction and philosophical extraction of the concepts of wholeness underpinning Jung’s and Deleuze’s work. In practice this will require close reading of key primary texts by each thinker, as well as drawing on the burgeoning secondary literature on each in order to situate our readings.

In relation to the primary texts of Jung, there will be a particular focus on the work he co-published with Pauli, The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche (1952), as well as the Pauli/Jung correspondence (Meier 2001). However, attention will also be given to other texts from the same later period of Jung’s work: ‘On the nature of the psyche’ (1947/1954), ‘Answer to Job’ (1952), Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-56), ‘The undiscovered self (present and future)’ (1957), Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963), and miscellaneous letters (Jung 1973, 1976). Among the secondary literature considered there will be foci on Jung’s concepts of individuation, self, and synchronicity (e.g., Main 2004, Cambray 2009), his collaborative relationship with Pauli (e.g., Gieser 2005, Atmanspacher & Fuchs 2014), his relationship to Western esotericism (e.g., Hanegraaff 1998, 2012; Main 2010), and his implicit metaphysics (e.g., Huskinson 2004; Atmanspacher 2012; Main 2013, Mills 2013; McGrath 2014; McMillan 2015).

In the case of Deleuze, the primary texts focused on will include Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), Difference and Repetition (1968a), Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (1968b), Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1970), and Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life (2001), and (with Félix Guattari) Anti-Oedipus (1972), A Thousand Plateaus (1980), and What is Philosophy? (1991). Among the secondary literature considered there will be emphases on studies that highlight the largely concealed influence of Jung on Deleuze (e.g., Kerslake 2007, McMillan 2015); Deleuze’s interest in Western esoteric holistic thinkers (e.g., Kerslake 2007, Ramey 2012); affinities of Deleuze’s thought with that of Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead (e.g., Robinson 2009), both of whom have also been connected with Jung (e.g., Gunter 1982, Griffin 1990) and whose vitalism and process philosophy respectively have been associated with both holism and panentheism (e.g., Harrington 1996, Cooper 2006, Wood 2010); and debates about the extent to which Deleuze succeeds in his quest for a philosophy of pure immanence (e.g., Badiou 1999, Ansell-Pearson 2002).

Stage three (comparison of concepts of the whole)

This involves a further elucidation of the logic operating within each thinker’s concept of wholeness, with a particular eye to identifying and evaluating arguments that might be made for drawing ethical implications from each concept. A major tool in this evaluation will be a rigorous critique of each thinker’s concept vis-à-vis that of the other thinker, undertaken by means of a commentarial dialogue primarily between the Principal Investigator and Research Assistant but also involving the Co- Investigator. The dialogue will consist of a series of statements, responses, and replies on each thinker’s concept, in order to throw into relief its respective distinctiveness as well as its strengths and limitations. This stage of the project extends prior conceptual and comparative work by all three investigators (e.g., Main 2008, 2013, 2014b; Henderson 2014, pp. 104-135; McMillan 2012, 2015).

Stage four (symposium and workshop-conference)

A symposium and workshop will be used as methods for bringing the interim findings of the project into wider dialogue with current academic and professional communities:

(1) A one-day symposium on holism in psychotherapy will be held in month 9 (subject to revision). This event, to which two members from each of the most relevant London psychotherapy training organisations will be invited (up to a total of 50 participants),will both allow dissemination of the interim findings of the project and generate insights for the project’s later stages. (2) A two-day workshop for invited specialists to be followed by a conference will be held in month 14 (subject to revision). The interim findings will determine who exactly is invited but it is envisaged that there will be a maximum of nine participants which will include the project team and a combination of six academic and non-academic specialists in holistic thought, Jungian studies, and Deleuzian studies.


Ansell-Pearson, K. (2002). Philosophy and the Adventure of the Virtual: Bergson and the Time of Life. London: Routledge.

Atmanspacher, H. (2012). ‘Dual-aspect monism à la Pauli and Jung’. Journal of Consciousness Studies 19: 96-120.

Atmanspacher, A. & Fuchs, C. (Eds.) (2014) The Pauli-Jung Conjecture and its Impact Today. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic.

Badiou, A. (1999). Deleuze: The Clamour of Being. Tr. L. Burchill. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Bailis, S. (1984). ‘Against and for holism: a reply and a rejoinder to D. C. Phillips.’ Issues in Integrative Studies 3: 17-41.

Cambray, J. (2009). Synchronicity: Nature and Psyche in an Interconnected Universe. College Station, TX: Texas A & M University Press.

Cooper, J. (2006). Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers. Nottingham: Apollos.

Deleuze, G. (1962). Nietzsche and Philosophy. Tr. H. Tomlinson. London: Athlone, 1983.

Deleuze, G. (1968a). Difference and Repetition. Tr. P. Paton. London: Athlone, 1994.

Deleuze, G. (1968b). Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Tr. M. Joughin. New York: Zone Books, 1992.

Deleuze, G. (1970). Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Tr. R. Hurley. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 1988.

Deleuze, G. (2001). Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Tr. A. Boyman. New York: Zone Books.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1972). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Tr. R. Hurley, M. Seem, & H. Lane. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1980). A Thousand Plateaus. Tr. B. Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1991). What is Philosophy? Tr. H. Tomlinson & G. Burchill. London: Verso, 1994.

Gieser, S. (2005). The Innermost Kernel: Depth Psychology and Quantum Physics – Wolfgang Pauli’s Dialogue with C. G. Jung. Berlin: Springer.

Griffin, D. (1990). Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Gunter, P. (1982). ‘Bergson and Jung.’ Journal of the History of Ideas 43: 635-652.

Hanegraaff, W. (1998). New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Hanegraaff, W. (2012). Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harrington, A. (1996). Reenchanted Science: Holism in German Culture from Wilhelm II to Hitler. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Heelas, P. & Woodhead, L. (2005). The Spiritual Revolution: Why religion is giving way to spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell.

Henderson, D. (2014). Apophatic Elements in the Theory and Practice of Psychoanalysis: Pseudo- Dionysius and C. G. Jung. Hove and New York: Routledge.

Huskinson, L. (2004). Nietzsche and Jung: The Whole Self in the Union of Opposites. Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge.

James, S. (2007). ‘Against holism: rethinking Buddhist environmental ethics.’ Environmental Values 16: 447-461.

Jung, C. G. (1947/1954). ‘On the nature of the psyche.’ In Collected Works, vol. 8, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche, 2d ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

Jung, C. G. (1952). ‘Answer to Job.’ In Collected Works, vol. 11, Psychology and Religion: West and East, 2d ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969.

Jung, C. G. (1955-56). Mysterium Coniunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy. Collected Works, vol. 14. 2nd ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

Jung, C. G. (1957). ‘The undiscovered self (present and future).’ In Collected Works, vol. 10, Civilization in Transition, 2nd ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

Jung, C. G. (1973). Letters 1: 1906-1950. Eds. G. Adler and A. Jaffé, tr. R. F. C. Hull. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Jung, C. G. (1976). Letters 2: 1951-1961. Eds. G. Adler and A. Jaffé, tr. R. F. C. Hull. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Jung, C. G. & Pauli, W (1952). The Interpretation of Nature and the Psyche. Tr. R. F. C. Hull & P. Silz. New York: Pantheon, 1955.

Kerslake, C. (2007). Deleuze and the Unconscious. London: Continuum.

Main, R. (2004). The Rupture of Time: Synchronicity and Jung’s Critique of Modern Western Culture. Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Main, R. (2008). ‘Secularisation and the “holistic milieu”: social and psychological perspectives’. Religion Compass 2: 365-384.

Main, R. (2010). ‘Jung as a modern esotericist.’ In: Sacral Revolutions. Ed. G. Heuer. London and New York: Routledge.

Main, R. (2013). ‘Secular and religious: the intrinsic doubleness of analytical psychology and the hegemony of naturalism in the social sciences.’ Journal of Analytical Psychology 58: 366-86.

Main, R. (2014a). ‘The cultural significance of synchronicity for Jung and Pauli.’ Journal of Analytical Psychology 59: 174-180.

Main, R. (2014b). ‘Synchronicity and the problem of meaning in science.’ In The Pauli-Jung Conjecture and Its Impact Today. Ed. A. Atmanspacher and C. Fuchs. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic.

McGrath, S. (2014). ‘The question concerning metaphysics: a Schellingian intervention in analytical psychology.’ International Journal of Jungian Studies 6: 23-51.

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McMillan, C. (2015). ‘The “image of thought” in Jung’s Whole-Self: a critical study.’ Unpublished PhD thesis. University of Essex, UK.

Meier, C. A. (Ed.) (2001). Atom and Archetype: The Pauli/Jung letters 1932-1958. London: Routledge.

Mills, J. (2013). ‘Jung’s metaphysics.’ International Journal for Jungian Studies 5: 19-43.

Phillips, D. C. (1976). Holistic Thought in Social Science. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Ramey, J. (2012). The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

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American Culture after World War II. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Research Team

  • The Principal Investigator is Professor Roderick Main of the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies (The University of Essex).
  • The Co-Investigator is Dr David Henderson, Senior Lecturer in Psychoanalysis at the Centre for Psychoanalysis (Middlesex University) and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist in private practice.
  • The Research Assistant is Dr Christian McMillan, postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies (The University of Essex).