Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Calcagno, Antonio


King's University College

2nd Supervisor

Mary Helen McMurran


This research attempts to formulate a critique of the Jungian self from the Daoist, Lao-Zhuang notion of non-self. In post-modern societies an ontological critique of the self is also ideological, for the self is an indispensable device of neoliberal government. Because for Jung the self is an essential and autonomous reality, he advances a dualism that not only legitimizes the current economic and political order, but—focal to this analysis—also complicates the ‘realization’ of the ultimate spiritual ‘goal,’ and his own purpose of treating psychological suffering. Thus, the critical power and political potential of the Daoist non-self serves to demystify analytical theory, evidence the fundamental emptiness of the self, and present the ensuing paradox of the ‘spiritual process’ as consisting of a getting rid of something—i.e. the self—that is, ultimately, not there. Consequently, guidance of ‘spiritual processes’ is encouraged where the non-self remains a valid possibility.

Summary for Lay Audience

The idea that we have of ourselves is historic and cultural. It plays a crucial role in the ordering of current societies, since we arethe entities where government is transformable into action and conduct. Psychology has had a significant participation in the production of the idea of ourselves. Along this line, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung established ‘the self’ as the central concept in his therapeutic theory. In his opinion, the self is the deepest reality of who we are. Yet, although particular elements of the self can be known, he says it is impossible to know it in its entirety. So, while in his eyes we can never relate to the nucleus of who “we are” completely or directly, the concept remains useful to govern and control our self-conception and our conducts.

This research attempts to question and undermine Jung’s idea of the self through the Daoist notion of non-self. It is concerned with the non-self’s viability of—contrary to the Jungian self—allowing us to “know” and live the reality of who “we are.” The non-self can be thought of as the expression of the ultimate spiritual ‘realization,’ and a condition of understanding that frees us from suffering. Hence, because the non-self is, in practice, impossible for Jung, it serves to present his theory as incapable of guiding people out of suffering and in the final step of the spiritual ‘realization.’ For this reason, this examination encourages the guidance of ‘spiritual processes’ in non-psychological contexts, where the non-self remains a valid possibility.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License