The Goethean Influence: Tracing the Roots of Carl Jung’s Depth Psychology

An Imagined Meeting of Jung and Goethe

The world of psychology is a vast and complex field, with numerous theories and methodologies that seek to understand the human mind and behaviour. One of the most influential figures in this field is Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. His work has had a profound impact on various fields, including art, literature, and philosophy. However, one of the lesser-known influences on Jung’s work is the German writer and polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This article explores the Goethean influence on Jung’s depth psychology and its subsequent impact on various fields.


Goethe’s theory of plant morphology, as outlined in his work “Metamorphosis of Plants,” revolves around the concept of homology in plant organs. He discovered the serially homologous nature of leaf organs in plants, from cotyledons, to photosynthetic leaves, to the petals of a flower. This means that these different parts of the plant, though they serve different functions, are fundamentally similar in structure and origin. Goethe’s approach to understanding plant morphology was not merely observational but also involved a degree of intuitive perception. This approach led to the concept of the Urpflanze or “archetypal plant,” a theoretical model that could generate existing plant morphologies and explore new ones according to nature’s logic.


Jung was significantly influenced by Goethe in his development of depth psychology, particularly in the formulation of his concept of the archetype. Jung saw Goethe’s work, particularly his play “Faust,” as embodying the archetypal struggle of opposites, a central theme in Jung’s own psychological model. Jung believed that Goethe’s characters represented different aspects of the psyche, and that their interactions mirrored the inner dynamics of the human mind.


Moreover, Goethe’s holistic view of nature and his idea of “morphology,” the study of forms and their transformation, resonated with Jung’s understanding of the psyche’s transformative processes. Goethe’s idea of the “Urpflanze,” or archetypal plant, which contains within it the potential for all plant forms, is similar to Jung’s concept of the archetype as a primordial image or pattern that can manifest in various forms.


Goethe’s methodology, often referred to as Goethean science, has been incorporated into various fields, notably in the arts and sciences. Here are some of the most well-known proponents:


  • Rudolf Steiner: Known for founding Anthroposophy, Steiner applied Goethe’s methodology to the performing and fine arts. Steiner’s work has influenced education, particularly through the Waldorf schools, which incorporate a holistic approach to learning.
  • Rupert Sheldrake: A biologist and researcher known for his concept of “morphogenetic fields”, Sheldrake was inspired by Goethe’s holistic science. He applied Goethe’s approach to his studies of biology, challenging traditional mechanistic views of nature.
  • Brian Goodwin: A biologist known for his work on the evolution of complexity, Goodwin claimed that organisms as dynamic systems are the primary agents of creative evolutionary adaptation. He stated that his ideas were very much in the Goethean spirit.
  • Arthur Schopenhauer: The renowned philosopher expanded on Goethe’s research in optics using a different methodology in his work “On Vision and Colours”.
  • Ludwig Wittgenstein: The influential philosopher discussed Goethe’s Theory of Colours in his work “Remarks on Colour”.


The incorporation of Goethe’s methodology into these fields has allowed for a more holistic, dynamic understanding of phenomena, challenging traditional mechanistic views. It has encouraged a more intuitive, experiential approach to observation and understanding, promoting the idea that the observer and the observed are not separate, but interact dynamically. This has led to innovative theories and practices, such as Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields and Steiner’s educational methods.


The Goethean influence on Carl Jung’s depth psychology and its subsequent impact on various fields is a testament to the enduring relevance of Goethe’s holistic approach to understanding nature and the human mind. It underscores the importance of interdisciplinary dialogue in fostering innovative theories and practices that challenge traditional paradigms and open up new avenues for exploration and understanding. As we continue to delve into the complexities of the human mind and the world around us, the Goethean spirit of holistic understanding and intuitive perception remains a guiding light.

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