According to the English Cambridge dictionary, an archetype is “a typical example of something, or the original model of something from which others are copied”. The concept of an archetype appears in areas relating to behavior, historical psychological theory, and literary analysis. An archetype can be:
1) a statement, pattern of behavior, or prototype (model) which other statements, patterns of behavior, and objects copy or emulate.
2) a Platonic philosophical idea referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing in Platonism
3) a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., that is universally present, in individual psyches, as in Jungian psychology
4) a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, or mythology (this usage of the term draws from both comparative anthropology and from Jungian archetypal theory). In various seemingly unrelated cases in classic storytelling, media, etc., characters or ideas sharing similar traits recur.
Archetypes are fascinating because they are very close analogies to instincts in the sense that it is impersonal and inherited traits that present and motivate human behavior long before any consciousness develops. They also continue to influence feelings and behavior even after some degree of consciousness developed later on. Therefore, all our thinking pattern, feelings and relationships are highly influenced by archetypes. In other words, to understand someone is to understand one’s archetypes. But before we dig in this, I will start this first post with the philosophical archetypes.
The origins of the archetypal hypothesis date as far back as Plato. Plato’s ideas or the so-called Platonic Eidos were pure mental forms that were imprinted in the soul before it was born into the world. Some philosophers also translate the archetype as “essence” in order to avoid confusion with respect to Plato’s conceptualization of Forms. While it is tempting to think of Forms as mental entities (ideas) that exist only in our mind, the philosopher insisted that they are independent of any minds, so they are real. Eidos were collective in the sense that they embodied the fundamental characteristics of a thing rather than its specific peculiarities. Plato’s Cave allegory is one of his writings that explains the relationship to Eidos or to ideal archetypes (and I have written about it in a previous post: Plato’s allegory of the cave or why stupid people took over the world)
And this is the visual explanation of the Cave allegory:
Plato’s main idea is to live according to these ideal archetypes or Eidos in order to achieve a moral life. What is quite different in Plato’s theory from the common understanding of the concept of archetypes as an analogy to instinct, is in his qualifications of archetypes as rational. One can reach them through a purification of the mind in a rational exercice (as you can see above) because they are rational Logos and not instinctive nor passionate pathos, the latter is the characteristic of the Sensible World full of images Eikones, beliefs and imagination, and opinion Doxa. It’s not strange then that Eikones or Icons a religious image in Christianism, God is more of an Eidos. This is one of the influence of Plato’s philosophy in Christianism. Understanding those archetypes and living accordingly have a big impact on our life and on our relationships. Morality and The Ultimate Good (that later on in history started to have their source in God), are real patterns that shape our mind and soul. For instance, a liar or a criminal lives by different archetypes.
One question remains: are these archetypes different from the Jungian archetypes and from the Vedic and yogic ones? See you in the next post!