Philosophy and mythology are generally thought of as different methods of describing how the world and its nature can be disclosed by human beings. In Myth and Philosophy, Lawrence Hatab writes, “the world can be disclosed in many ways, leading to a pluralistic notion of truth(s).” Where philosophy attempts to disclose truths by following the path of rationality, mythology discloses truths through the product of the imaginal. In myth, the psyche produces images which offer additional disclosure through further expansion. Both methods describe a world; both disclose valid insights. Hatab further suggests, “The problem with philosophy is not that it moved away from mythical imagery but simply that it took itself to be nothing like myth.” The paradoxical and soulful mix of light and dark that myth contains is exactly what is rejected by philosophy. Rational disclosure tries to delineate only what is a surety, what can logically be derived.
Rational disclosure, however, implies some form of narrative, and narrative can always be tied in some way to myth. Once the rational conception we call a “word” is used for the purpose of disclosing any sort of information, it enters into a narrative. As Ernst Cassirer describes, “no matter how widely the contents of myth and language may differ, yet the same form of mental conception is operative in both. It is the form which one may denote as metaphorical thinking.” Language is both rational and metaphorical. We then communicate our insights to others through the use of metaphorical narrative. The philosopher is no different. His/her rational thoughts issue from their imaginal psyches and can be considered narratives when they disclose them through communication meant for others. When we recognize the imaginal narrative in the philosopher’s work, the relationship between myth and philosophy becomes clearer.
Jean-Paul Sartre makes a key observation in realizing that philosophy and mythology are both ways to reveal the world. He writes of “the consciousness that human reality is a ‘revealer,’ that is, it is through human reality that ‘there is’ being, or, to put it” differently, that man is the means by which things are manifested. This not only reminds one of Descartes’ pronouncement “I think, therefore I am”, but can be seen as if one were living in a story but is unaware and has not had the story yet revealed in any way. For this person, there is no way to stop living that story. When the story is revealed, life and possibility are manifested. The relationship Sartre describes as, “to our inner certainty of being ‘revealers’ is added that of being inessential in relation to the thing revealed,” is also similar to a patient/analyst relation. Though an analyst assists in revealing the patient’s narrative to them, the truth in the reveal is for the patient; that particular realization is essential only to him/her. However, the patient does not have realization without the analyst. And thus, the philosopher does not have the realization without mythology because the narrative is at its deepest levels mythic.
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