On the Loss and Recovery of the Person
and the Soul in Psychology

Maria Malcolm
Department of Psychology
Simon Fraser University


"It was universally believed in the Middle Ages as well as in the Graeco-Roman world that the soul is a substance. Indeed, mankind as a whole has held this belief from its earliest beginnings..." (Jung, 1933, p. 173). Finding universal meanings for soul and self has plagued mankind for thousands of years. The Euro-American interest to resolve these questions came primarily from religious and philosophical perspectives, until the late nineteenth century brought about the "birth" of psychology. Psychology's increasingly important role in the study and care of the human psyche, gave up on the soul, as Hillman laments also happened in theology. "The soul is a non-place, for neither theology nor dynamic psychotherapy regards it as its main concern. The one studies God and His intentions, the other studies man and his motivations, while the place in between is too often left unoccupied" (Hillman, 1979, p. 40). From its inception, modern empirical psychology separated itself sharply from religion. " 'Psychology without a soul' became its badge of distinction and of pride" (Allport, 1951, p. v). Allport's statement shows Euro-American psychology's choice to ignore the possibility of an intuitive, nonrational and perhaps spiritual or transcendent aspect in the study of the self and personality. This paper will trace the path taken by this "soulless" and sometimes even "personless" (Paranjpe, 1993) psychology and will show that these have occurred more as a function of the evolution of a global perspective, or intellectual tradition, of naturwissenschaft (natural science) than from any clear evidence of their unimportance or their non-existence. In addition, it will be shown that "...the times, they are a changing...", as evidenced by the current growing interest in the self as well as in the growing consideration of the possibilities of the integration of spirituality and psychology, even within paradigms that traditionally have not considered such a combination a viable option. Thus, this paper suggests that the statement, "if soul is not implied from the beginning it will not appear at the end"(Hillman, 1979, p. 45), may not be an accurate assessment of the "final" relationship between soul and psychology. For in their dance of intimacy, both the dance, being the global perspective of the time (zeitgeist) and the dancers, soul and psychology, in this case, must be known.

The Loss of the Soul

It is not difficult to pinpoint some of the underlying reasons for psychology's initial desire to be without soul. Although, the combination of psychology's "new kid on the block" need to be taken seriously and the scientific zeitgeist or spirit of the times appear to be the primary motivators, the social ground had to be fertile for these seeds to take root. "Consciousness ceased to grow upward, and grew instead in breadth of view, as well as in knowledge of the terrestrial globe. This was the period of the...widening of man's ideas of the world by empirical discoveries" (Jung, 1933, p. 174). Thus, four hundred years of growing empirical exploration and conceptualization by thinkers like Newton, Descartes, Locke and Hume fostered the growth of a philosophical materialism. This Western orientation towards the natural sciences, a naturwissenschaft perspective, holds knowledge as being universal, objective, value-free and analytical and has a depersonalized, disengaged observer orientation towards the self (Tonks, 1994). As a consequence of this growing natural sciences perspective, the long-held unquestioned belief that the source of all existence is God, who is spirit, slowly evolved into the unquestioned belief that the source of all existence is matter (Jung, 1933).

It is this naturwissenschaft cradle that psychology was born into in the mid-nineteenth century. This was a time of shifting on all fronts: from an agrarian/village orientation to an industrial/urban one; from transcendentalism to Dewey's instrumentalism; and from idealism to realism (Bjork, 1983). This shift toward modernity was a time of high cultural anxiety and naturally, this anxiety was reflected by psychology (Coon, 1992; Bjork, 1983). Psychologist's anxiety was amplified as it strived to overcome the assumption that it could never be a science, as its mandate and purpose were criticized as being unquantifiable and bordering on the transcendental. "Many psychologists gave voice to that anxiety by articulating their scientific worldview as they attempted to establish experimental psychology as a legitimate science...and set themselves up as arbiters of what would be considered 'scientific'..." (Coon, 1992, p. 143). This leaning towards professional scientism accelerated with the 1859 publication of Darwin's The Origin of the Species. As Darwin's theory de-emphasized the likelihood of the existence of soul (Paranjpe, 1993), his ideas further reduced the possibility of a respectful and successful integration of or even cooperation between philosophy, religion and psychology (Bjork, 1979). Science was becoming scientism and, as Huston Smith stated, "Whereas science is positive, contenting itself with reporting what it discovers, scientism...goes beyond the actual findings of science to deny that other approaches to knowledge are valid and other truths true" (Wilber, 1983, p. 21).

The late nineteenth and the early twentieth century saw American psychologists' battle with spirituality in general and spiritualism and psychic research in particular. This was deemed necessary as psychology strived to establish its boundaries and fit into the scientific spirit of the times to gain the respect and recognition it so desired. Although the majority of psychologists sought to prove themselves through the rigid following of the modern scientific way, not all were convinced that the study of psychic, transcendental issues should be avoided (Coon, 1992; Bjork, 1983). Wilhelm Dilthey understood that as "religious personified imagination declined, scientific objectivity grew it its place and at its expense" (Hillman, 1983, p.15) and he attempted to explain that for the human sciences in general, and psychology in particular, the naturwissenschaft perspective should be replaced with the geisteswissenschaft perspective, or intellectual tradition, because psychology needed to be based on subjective understanding (Wilber, 1983). In other words, the very opposite of what was actually unfolding. In addition, one of the most vocal dissenters against what he called "authoritative scientism", which he felt dictated what people should believe, was William James, the most well-known and influential American psychologist of his time. James believed that because the psychological realm had not been studied scientifically for long, it was foolhardy to start ruling out certain ideas and phenomena as being impossible before having knowledge of the facts. More specifically, James was the only first-generation American psychologist to incorporate the unconscious mind into his psychology; a move which was seen by his peers as being 'compromising' to scientific psychology (Bjork, 1983). That "there is no question that psychologists viewed James as their private nemesis" (Coon, 1992, p. 147), is telling of the extent of James' increasing absorption with psychic research regardless of the disapproval and discomfort of colleagues, such as Titchener and Cattell. But James', "journey into the unconscious suggested a continuing search for the relationship between his psychology and his identity" (Bjork, 1983, p. 147). James' fascination with the mystical and the unconscious illustrates his attempt to close the ever-widening gap between science and religion, as well as being an expression of his understanding that psychology and identity or personhood are necessarily interconnected and required a more personalized perspective than afforded by the current natural sciences perspective in vogue. [Editor's note: John Conway (1992) wrote on James and the two traditions in Canadian Psychology] James' professional "swim against the current" was a sign of his frustration with the depersonalization and narrow-mindedness that was creeping into modern, scientific psychology.

James' lone voice, though popular, could not stop the rising wave of the scientific zeitgeist washing over psychology. Psychologists were increasingly reacting to the influence of the naturwissenschaft perspective and thus grew more and more preoccupied with universality, value neutrality and a preference for the analytical and the objective (Tonks, 1994). In addition, by this time, the soul had been slowly and quietly left for dead and unknown to many, the long-held ethico-legal concept of person in psychology was also in danger of drowning. Ironically, the very men who had helped clarify the concept of personhood, were indirectly contributing to its disappearance. Although the idea of person having rights and responsibilities within a social ethos, dates back to Graeco-Roman times, Kant's contributions and especially Locke's explicit articulation of the person having a trilogy of mind; affect, conation and cognition completed the concept. Yet as thinkers such as Bacon, Hobbes, Locke and Kant were also the primary promoters of the modern scientific worldview, their global perspective's embracing of the mechanistic, nomothetic, analytic and value-neutrality created an environment within which the teleological, idiographic and subjective nature of personhood could not survive (Paranjpe, 1993).

Gordon Allport and the Loss of Personhood in Psychology

The detrimental influence of this naturwissenschaft perspective on personhood can best be understood by the puzzling definition of personhood presented in the 1937 publication of Gordon W. Allport's book, Personality: A psychological interpretation. Allport was well-known for his belief that the admission of rational, teleological, qualitative, synoptic and idiographic approaches into psychology and the study of personality did not have to mean a deviation from the scientific credo. Yet in his definition of personality, it has been said that: "although Allport mentions ethico-legal definitions in his survey, he disregarded them. Instead he focused on uniqueness which implies individuality, and adjustment to environment, which is in keeping with the functional/biological perspective prevalent in his time" (Paranjpe, 1993, p. 10). As well, in accordance with the belief in the necessity of value neutrality, he wrote, "Character is personality evaluated, and personality is character devalued (Paranjpe, 1993, p. 23, italics added). One cannot help but assume that the divergence between Allport's naturwissenschaft treatment of the person in personality and his personal predilection for the geisteswissenschaften was a function of his feeling the pressures exerted by the scientific zeitgeist. This can be shown through a further examination of Allport's writings. In the conclusion of his book, The Individual and his Religion, Allport states that, "A man's religion...is his ultimate attempt to enlarge and to complete his own personality..." (Allport, 1951, p.142). In a later writing in 1960, he states that, "all sensing, acting and willing are, at bottom, owned and that selfhood is the central presupposition we must hold in examining the psychological states of human beings" (Monte, 1991, p.633). Both statements are indicative of Allport's anti-naturwissenschaft sentiments and through this later expression of them, he breathes the person and soul back into the study of personality that he sidestepped in the context of a more powerful natural sciences worldview.


Unfortunately, it is only in retrospect that Allport's definition of personality has been recognized as having "style without substance" and many of the personality theories that have since unfolded accepted Allport's definition without realizing and or caring that they were subscribing to a "personless" definition of personality (Paranjpe, 1993) and giving even less thought to its "soul-lessness." Paranjpe's observation that "psychology in the twentieth century was poised for a completely mechanistic approach to human behaviour" (1993, p. 10) was evidenced by the rising interest in radical behaviorism, introduced by John B. Watson and continued on by B.F. Skinner. Thus, the early to mid-twentieth century saw a psychology that believed in neither person nor soul and attempted to redefine itself as a "science of observable behaviour." That the naturwissenschaft perspective was thriving in psychology at this time can be seen by the assumption underlying radical behaviourism: evolutionary continuity, reductionism, determinism and empiricism. In fact, Skinner's behaviourism not only externalized human agency but wasn't even interested in the concept of personality (Monte, 1991). It seems impossible to conceive that although psychology was classified as a human science, the discipline had evolved to this state, void of soul, person and personality

The Recovery of the Soul and the Person

C. G. Jung

As Watson and Skinner were happily throwing personhood out of personality theory, a depth psychologist by the name of C.G. Jung was busy picking it up, as well as dusting off the four-letter word called soul. Jung reaffirmed the presence of person within personality and saw personality as "being manifested by definiteness, wholeness and ripeness" (Storr, 1983, p. 18). He saw personality as an achievement, an adult journey that he called 'the process of individuation'. For Jung, this journey toward wholeness or individuation was the process of becoming a personality and was in essence a spiritual undertaking. This could only be achieved by the individual's acceptance of and attention to an inner, unconscious voice which would enable the individual to achieve a balance between conscious and unconscious as well as a realization as to the meaning of life. The following quote shows the intensity of his beliefs about the existence and importance of soul; an intensity that psychology had not heard or felt for a long time, if ever, "but were it not a fact of experience that supreme value resides in the soul, psychology would not interest me in the least..." (Storr, 1983, p. 262). Yet for all his fervor about soul and God, Jung was first and foremost a psychologist who strived to operate within the boundaries of natural science, although he recognized that "analytical psychology...is subject far more than any other science to the personal bias of the observer" (Storr, 1983, p. 250). Thus, Jung was very much trying to bridge the gap between science and religion, as well as attempting to create some balance between the naturwissenschaft and geisteswissenschaft perspectives. His own belief as to the measure of his success and one not necessarily shared by others, can best be seen in a statement made in one of his correspondences, "I have failed to open people's eyes that man has a soul - a buried treasure in the field" (PBS video: Jung's Wisdom of the Dream).

The Third Force

Jung's voice in the wilderness of behaviorism was heard but could not stop the momentum of scientism. It was not until the 1960's that the protest against behaviourist's denial of the validity of human experience, values, intentions and meanings, as well as growing dissatisfaction with traditional psychoanalysis, resulted in the creation of what was called the "Third Force" in psychology - humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology focused on the human experience and was based on the belief that goodness, creativity and freedom are innate to human existence. The founders of humanistic psychology, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow and Rollo May, saw "the human being as a spiritual and rational, purposeful and autonomous creature" (Monte, 1991, p. 691) and having a higher nature that was seen as "its essence". Humanistic psychology was not antiscientific but rather sought to correct the imbalance created by decades of behaviourism and psychoanalysis. That this was able to occur was largely due to the corresponding "emergence of the counterculture...which had a number of features that established resonance with humanistic psychology" (Encyclopedia of Psychology, 1984, v.2, p. 157) another clear example of psychology's mirroring the spirit of its times as well as showing public consciousness of the void that had been created by psychology's tunnel-visioned following of the naturwissenschaften.

Transpersonal Psychology

The reaffirmation by humanistic psychology of a transcendent personality aspect was a homecoming of sorts for the soul. Although, as according to one definition of psychology, "originally, psychology meant the study of the soul...gradually, the term came to mean the study of the mind and more recently, the scientific study of experience or of behaviour" (Lawry, 1981, p. 73), and therefore, recognition of its existence by one perspective within psychology, a discipline that also hosts a multitude of perspectives that do not, certainly cannot be viewed as the soul's triumphant return.

In fact, the late 1960's birth of a branch of humanistic psychology called transpersonal psychology, was very much the function of the perception that psychology had still not dealt adequately with or taken soul or transcendence of the self seriously enough. Interestingly enough, although its concern was "specifically with the empirical, scientific study of, and responsible implementation of the findings relevant to, becoming, individual and species-wide meta-needs, mystical experiences, self-actualization, transcendence of the self, spirit...." (Tart, 1975, intro) and stressed the need to integrate twentieth century science with its perspective, it was seen to be "presenting itself as a religion and losing touch with the science of psychology" (Tart, 1975, p. 157).

Whether the critics of transpersonal theory are correct and it is merely preaching from a different pulpit or a case of the difficulty of communicating a geisteswissenschaft perspective to a naturwissenschaften based psychology, for whatever reasons, transpersonal theory has not achieved academic prominence.

What Does the Future Hold?

So after a century or so of evolution within psychology, what places do soul, self and personhood occupy within psychology? Exalted, abandoned or somewhere in between? And more importantly, does psychology still follow the "yellow brick naturwissenschaft road", in the attempt to live up to its "ideal scientific self?"

Tonks (1994) notes that if the social science data bases are any indication of interest in the self, there are thousands of referring citations, from a wide variety of perspectives. Personhood hasn't been lucky enough to experience the momentum of interest currently enjoyed by self and thus, regardless of the quality of thinkers who have expressed their ideas(e.g., Karl Popper, 1966; Joseph Rychlak, 1977; & Rom Harre, 1983), interest in the concept has been infrequent and sporadic. As Paranjpe (1993) notes, although the psychological winds appear to be changing, from realism to constructionism, and there appears to be increasing acceptance of interpretation and hermeneutics in psychology, one must also note the corresponding growth of interest in evolutionary psychology, cognitive science and others. Thus, for the moment, the concept of personhood in psychology could be classified as being on "standby".

As far as soul is concerned, psychologists seem to be expressing interest in the possibility of a transcendent self or self aspect, although as to be expected, in a tentative and hesitant manner. This interest and "one step at a time" attitude can best be seen by the fact that perspectives or authors, who have traditionally not felt the need to comment on the combination of spirituality and psychology, are choosing to do so. One can almost feel their anxiety over stepping into unfamiliar territory and their courage should be recognized.

The journal Psychotherapy published an article in 1990 that expresses "that the fragmentation of the self, in its various forms, requires an in-depth process of restoration, which can be attained only when considering the role that the experience of transcendence brings to the life of an individual" (Nino, 1990, p. 8, italics added). A 1992 article (Chandler, Holden and Kolander) in the Journal of Counseling and Development speaks of a three-fold purpose: to offer a clear conceptual definition of spiritual wellness, as based on psychological theory; to both describe methods for its enhancement, and to provide methods for spiritual growth. The journal Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health ran a special issue in the Fall of 1993 on whether the evidence exists for spiritual healing, with the main article presenting the idea that "spirituality is a viable idea and definitely an issue worthy of study" and commenting on the fact that we have lost our spiritual understanding of healing (Aldridge, 1993). Interestingly enough, Advances invited Joseph Rychlak to comment on the above topic, which Rychlak accepted and published an article (1994) that basically agreed with Aldridge's conclusions.

Describing himself as a logical learning theorist who is committed to a human teleology, Rychlack examines the topic through the framework of the predication model of behaviour and writes about his principle of complementarity in psychological theorizing, based on four grounds (the reasons for doing things): Physikos, Bios, Socius and Logos. This principle reflects the process that occurs when there is a lack in one theoretical explanation and an additional but separate grounding is introduced to fill this hole. Logical learning theory uses Logos (predication, personal construction and proactive selfhood) to explain "for the sake of which", but Rychlak notes that "there could be a fifth ground - that of the Spiritus", which he didn't include, but shouldn't be dismissed out of hand (Rychlak, 1994, p. 64). Rychlak agrees with Aldridge's conclusions although he rephrases Aldridge's conclusions into predication model terminology to create a more comfortable fit with a topic he is not accustomed to be speculating about. He makes accommodation for spirituality, "the spiritual belief - which I now take to be a content within a predicational process" and also shares his belief that "a great loss would occur if we simply dismissed such difficult topics of the human condition out of a misguided commitment to an outdated conception of science" (Rychlak, 1994, p. 66).

In conclusion, this paper has shown that a psychological perspective does not need to be born with soul; soul can be acquired at any point along the way, but what the outcome will be, remains anybody's guess. The challenge in psychology, then and now, is the appropriate treatment of subjective, teleological, qualitative concepts such as soul within an objective, quantitative scientific framework. In addition, as illustrated, psychology must become more aware of the global perspective influencing it and reduce its blind, reactive "pied-piper" following of it. This can only occur when psychology as discipline acquires a clearer understanding of what parts human science and what parts natural science, actually make it up as a whole. Whether psychology ultimately embraces or rejects the ideas of personhood and soul is beyond the scope of this paper, but it seems illogical to continue with the scientific assumption that " we can understand the universe without understanding ourselves" (Tart, 1975, p. 69), and the logical place to begin this "self-analysis" is within psychology.

Albert Einstein once observed that, "the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them" (Covey, 1989, p. 42). This paper has highlighted psychology's evolution over the decades and the very existence of this paper shows the growing discerning introspection and analysis about psychology, within and without the discipline. The question lies not in whether psychology can deal with soul and personhood, but rather whether it chooses to.


Aldridge, D. Is there evidence for spiritual healing? Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health, 9, 4, 4-20.

Allport, G.W. (1951). The individual and his religion. New York: MacMillan

Bjork, D.W. (1983). The compromised scientist: William James in the development of American Psychology. New York: Columbia University Press.

Chandler, C.K., Holden, J.M. & Kolander, C.A. (1992). Counseling for spiritual wellness:theory and practice. Journal of Counseling and Development, 71, 168-175.

Coon, D.J. (1992). Testing the limits of sense and science: American experimental psychologists combat spiritualism, 1880-1920. American Psychologist, 47, 2, 143-151.

Covey, S.R. (1989). The seven habits of highly effective people: restoring the character ethic. New York: Fireside/Simon & Schuster.

Hillman, J. (1992). Revisioning psychology. New York: Harper Perennial.

Hillman, J. (1979). In search of psychology and religion. Irving, Texas: Spring Publications Inc., University of Dallas.

Jung, C.G. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul. New York: Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Lawry, J.D. (1981). Guide to the history of psychology. New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams

Monte, C.F. (1991). Beneath the mask: an introduction to theories of personality New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers

Nino, A.G. (1990). Restoration of the self: A therapeutic paradigm from Augustine's Confessions. Psychotherapy, 27, 1, 8-18.

Paranjpe, A.C. (1993). Style over substance: The loss of personhood in theories of personality. Paper presented at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Western Society for Theoretical Psychology, Banff, Alberta, October, 1993.

Rychlak, J.F. (1994). Struggling to understand spiritual healing: comments from the perspective of a logical learning theorist. Advances: The Journal of Mind-Body Health 10, 1, 63-67.

Storr, A. The essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press

Tart, C.T. (1975). Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper & Row

Tonks, R.G. (1994). Perspectives on the self and culture: A cultural psychological account of the self. Unpublished manuscript. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, B.C.

Wilber, K. (1983). Eye to eye: the quest for the new paradigm. New York: Anchor Press/ Doubleday.