C. G. Jung on Ethics

To William Kinney, written on 26 May 1956

Dear Mr. Kinney,

In answering your letter of May 7th I must tell you that there is neither an easy answer to the problem of ethics nor are there any books that would give you satisfactory guidance as far as my knowledge goes.

Ethics depend upon the supreme decision of a Christian conscience, and conscience itself does not depend upon man alone, but as much upon the counterpart of man, namely God.

The ethical question boils down to the relationship between man and God.

Any other kind of ethical decision would be a conventional one, which means that it would depend upon a traditional and collective code of moral values.

Since such values are general and not specific, they don’t exactly apply to individual situations, as little as a schematic diagram expresses the variations of individual events.

To follow a moral code would amount to the same as an intellectual judgment about an individual, viewed from the standpoint of anthropological statistics.

Moreover, making a moral code the supreme arbiter of your ethical conduct would be a substitute for the will of a living God, since the moral code is made by man and declared to be a law given by God himself.

The great difficulty of course is the “Will of God”.

Psychologically the “Will of God” appears in your inner experience in the form of a superior deciding power, to which you may give various names like instinct, fate, unconscious, faith, etc.

The psychological criterion of the “Will of God” is forever the dynamic superiority.

It is the factor that finally decides when all is said and done.

It is essentially something you cannot know beforehand.

You only know it after the fact.

You only learn it slowly in the course of your life.

You have to live thoroughly and very consciously for many years in order to understand what your will is and what Its will is.

If you learn about yourself and if eventually you discover more or less who you are, you also learn about God, and who He is.

In applying a moral code (which in itself is a commendable thing), you can prevent even the divine decision, and then you go astray.

So try to live as consciously, as conscientiously, and as completely as possible and learn who you are and who or what it is that ultimately decides.

I have discussed certain aspects of this problem in one of my books, called Aion.


Sincerely yours,

C.G. Jung

[Source: Carl Jung, Letters Vol. II, Pages 300-301]

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