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Dehing, J. (1993). The Transcendent Function: A Critical re-evaluation. J. Anal. Psychol., 38(3):221-235.

(1993). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 38(3):221-235

The Transcendent Function: A Critical re-evaluation

Jef Dehing, M.D.


A survey of Jung's writings reveals that his use of the expression ‘transcendent function’ is surprisingly infrequent. He coined the term in a manuscript written in 1916 (1916a); this paper was to await official publication (1957b) for more than forty years. Besides, we find the expression in seven other articles or books (1921, 1928, 1939a, 1943, 1952, 1955-56, 1958); it appears in three of the published seminars (1934-39, 1976, 1984) and in four letters (1939b, 1954a, 1954b, 1955). Curiously enough, in spite of its obvious relevance to the analytical process, no explicit mention whatsoever of the transcendent function is to be found in Jung's main writings on psychotherapeutic practice. The term does not even appear once in the corresponding volume of the Collected Works.

These publicational peculiarities raise two questions:

1.   What were the reasons that restrained Jung from publishing his main paper on the subject in 1916?

2.   Why did he dismiss the concept in his later writings on psychotherapy?

Other problems arise when we inquire into the content of his formulations. The fact is that Jung sometimes defines the transcendent function as a function (a specific action, or rather, by analogy with the mathematical term, an expression of a relationship, a dependence between elements of different sets); but more often than not it is referred to as a method, a process or the effect brought about by these dynamics. This leads us to a third question:

3.   What

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