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Carus, Carl Gustav (1789–1869)


Carl Gustav Carus, a German physician, biologist, and philosopher, was born in Leipzig and studied chemistry and then medicine at the University of Leipzig. In 1811 he became the first person to lecture there on comparative anatomy. Two years later he became director of the military hospital at Pfaffendorf and, in 1814, professor of medicine at the medical college of the University of Dresden, where he remained to the end of his life. He was appointed royal physician in 1827 and privy councilor in 1862.

Carus was widely known for his work in physiology, psychology, and philosophy, and was one of the first to do experimental work in comparative osteology, insect anatomy, and zootomy. He is also remembered as a landscape painter and art critic. He was influenced by Aristotle, Plato, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, about whom Carus wrote several works, the most important of which is Goethe dessen seine Bedeutung für unsere und die kommende Zeit (Vienna, 1863). Carus's philosophical writings were more or less forgotten until the German philosopher and psychologist, Ludwig Klages, resurrected them.

Carus's philosophy was essentially Aristotelian in that it followed the unfolding or elaboration of an idea in experience from an unorganized multiplicity to an organized unity. This universal, unfolding unity or developing multiplicity within unity Carus called God. God, or the Divine, is not a being analogous to human intelligence; rather, it is the ground of being revealed through becoming, through the infinitely numerous and infinitely varying beings or organisms that come into being through the Divine in space and time.

Carus called his theory of a divine or creative force "entheism." The unknown Divine is revealed in nature through organization, structure, and organic unity. As the ground of being, it is outside space and time, unchanging, and eternal. As thought or insight, it is the God-idea of religion, found everywhere in life and the cosmos. As life, it is the sphere, the basic form taken by living cells and the heavenly stars. As matter, it is the ether exfoliating in infinitely varied things.

According to Carus, the body cannot be separated from the soul. Both are soul, but we speak of "body" when some unknown part of the soul affects the known part; and we speak of "soul" when the known part affects the unknown part.

Carus's metaphysics, and his important contribution to psychology, is a theory of movement from unconsciousness to consciousness and back again. Whatever understanding we can have of life and the human spirit hinges upon observation of how universal unconsciousness, the unknown Divine, becomes conscious. Universal unconsciousness is not teleological in itself; it achieves purpose only as it becomes conscious through conscious individuals. Consciousness is not more permanent than things; it is a moment between past and future. As a moment, it can maintain itself only through sleep or a return to the unknown.

See also Aristotle; Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Klages, Ludwig; Plato; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von; Unconscious.


principal works by carus

Psyche: zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Seele. Pforzheim, 1846; 3rd ed., Stuttgart, 1860.

Physis: zur Geschichte des leiblichen Lebens. Stuttgart: Scheitlin, 1851.

Symbolik der menschlichen Gestalt. Leipzig, 1853.

Natur und Idee. Vienna: W. Braumüller, 1861.

Lebenserinnerungen und Denkwürdigkeiten, 4 vols. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 18651866.

Vergleichende Psychologie. Vienna: W. Braumüller, 1866.

works on carus

Bernouilli, Christoph. Die Psychologie von Carl Gustav Carus. Jena, Germany: E. Diederichs, 1925.

Kern, Hans. Carus: Personlichkeit und Werk. Berlin, 1942.

Rubin Gotesky (1967)

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