Skip navigation

Category Archives: On Questioning

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

– Voltaire


The problem of evil confronts modern man in both a collective and an individual form.  During the last hundred and fifty years of the history of Western man, it has broken through on the widest possible front. It has undermined and destroyed the old cultural categories, but its course can also be followed in detail in the psychological history of the individual.

The study in depth of the psychological development of the individual in whom the problem of evil becomes manifest is in a much better position than any research into collective events to detect those first attempts at a synthesis which are the basic elements of a new ethic. This is due to the fact that external collective developments are decades behind the development of the individual, which is like a kind of avant-garde of the collective and is concerned at a far earlier stage with the problems which subsequently catch the attention of the collective as a whole.

It is not difficult to understand why positive attempts at a solution appear earlier and are more easily recognizable in the development of the individual than in that of the collective. The individual who is brought up against the overwhelming problem of evil and is shaken by it, and often driven by it right up to the brink of the abyss, naturally defends himself against destruction. In order to survive at all, he needs, as matter not of arbitrary choice but of urgent necessity, the aid of the forces of the deep unconscious; in them and in himself he may be able to find new ways, new forms of life, new values and new guiding symbols.

But this reality of evil by which the individual is possessed is not derived simply from his personal reality; it is also, at the same time, the individual expression of a collective situation. Similarly, the creative energies of his unconscious, with their hints at new possibilities, are not simply his own energies but also the individual form taken by the creative side of the collective–that is universal human–unconsciousness.

– Erich Neumann (Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, p. 29)

However men may differ in disposition and in education, the foundations of human nature are the same in everyone. And every human being can draw in the course of his education from the inexhaustible wellspring of the divine in man’s nature. But here likewise two dangers threaten: a man may fail in his education to penetrate to the real roots of humanity and remain fixed in convention–a partial education of this sort is as bad as none–or he may suddenly collapse and neglect his self-development.

– I Ching (Hexagram/Gua 48)

What is convention? A rule, method, practice or custom.

Do you do what everyone else does because everyone else does it? Or have you plunged into the deep and understanding the roots gained the ability to switch things up?

In short do you think for yourself or are you too afraid to be different or unique? Are you scared of what others think and that your uniqueness has created a difference that will cause others to pull back or disregard you? Is the change you made at all necessary or did you do it on a whim and should be disregarded?



The form of representation peculiar to the unconscious is not that of the conscious mind. It neither attempts nor is able to seize hold of and define its object in a series of discursive explanations, and reduce them to clarity by logical analysis. The way of  the unconscious is different. Symbols gather round the thing to be explained, understood, interpreted. The act of becoming conscious consists in the concentric grouping of symbols around the object, all circumscribing and describing the unknown from many sides. Each symbol lays bare another essential side of the object to be grasped, points to another facet of meaning. Only the canon of these symbols congregating about the center in question, the coherent symbol group, can lead to an understanding of what the symbols point to and of what they are trying to express.

-Erich Neumann


And here we see the potency and importance of patience, for the child and learner does not know; is not conscious enough to grasp the whole. He may see many parts or sides but he does not see the whole as of yet. The symbols are only beginning to rise up into consciousness and with them the possibility of seeing and grasping the whole of what they are merely a part. And for this reason the true teacher does not tell or merely show those under his care what he knows or thinks he knows but involves them in this process of bringing the unknown through unconscious means to consciousness patiently. He allows those under his care to learn. That is his art and purpose. He is to increase the possibility of seeing and questioning by not getting in the way through abuse of power and position. He does not tell but merely opens up, lays bare and allows the object in question to show itself, to hold sway over their minds. He allows those under his care to question and if need be guides them back if they stray by posing questions himself. He also leaves behind tests and exams as these only deal with memory and not with actual sight and understanding. If there are to be tests at all they come from the questions he poses. Through the child’s responses he can come to see where they are and involve them even further into seeing for themselves where they are. In this way he need not become a disciplinarian for the child corrects himself; he sees for himself where and how he strayed.



Being able to question means being able to wait, even for a life time. But an age for which the actual is only whatever goes fast and can be grasped with both hands takes questioning as “a stranger to reality,” as something that does not count as profitable. But what is essential is not counting but the right time–that is, the right moment and the right endurance.

For the mindful god
does detest
untimely growth.
-Holderlin, fragment from the period of “The Titans”
– Heidegger, Intro to Metaphysics, chap.4, p.221, The Restriction of Being