Necessity of Metaphysicis

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The Necessity of Metaphysics for Ordinal Psychoanalysis

Robert S. Corrington, PhD


What is metaphysics, that most contentious of words?  In an average bookstore the metaphy sics section covers esoteric literature, for example, the study of astrology, flying saucers, and Tarot cards.  For the sophisticate, the term can have a variety of technical meanings not all compatible with each other.  In any event, since Aristotle metaphysics has been called “first philosophy” in that it deals with the broadest subject matter in the broadest possible way.  For some the prefix “meta” has the meaning of that which is beyond the physical, forgetting that the concept of the “physical” is one of the most vexing and elusive in the history of philosophy.  Nor does it help to substitute the word “matter,” especially in the way that Santayana does in his monumental 1942 Realms of Being.  So-called “matter” is no more metaphysically useful as a term of broadest designation than is the term “physical.”

For Heidegger, especially in his 1935 Introduction to Metaphysics,  metaphysics asks the primal question: Why are there beings at all and not rather nothing?  He insists that the question of ‘the’ nothing is as fundamental as the question of Being (die Seinsfrage).  It is from the nothing that Being arises and stands forth and measures the sway of beings.  Yet there is ambiguity, for Heidegger, in the concept of metaphysics in the West.  On the one hand it has degenerated from its primal meaning in the ancient Greek world of Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Sophocles, where the originary meaning of Being was at least partly understood, while on the other hand, especially in the subsequent Latin language tradition, metaphysics has concerned itself with the beingness of beings rather than their sheer Being.  Post-Greek metaphysics gives an answer to the question: Why are there beings at all and not rather nothing?  For Heidegger there is only the firestorm of the questioning without a definite answer.  But subsequent metaphysics posits a creator being as the highest being that/who creates all being things by intellect or will.  For Leibniz and Schopenhauer, still partially in the shadow of the Latin tradition, the principle of sufficient reason is the key concept in metaphysics that explains the beingness (whatness) and Being of beings.   While Schopenhauer has a vastly superior metaphysics to Leibniz, whose reflections remain in the domain of science fiction, much like Whitehead, he remains ensnared in a Kantian epistemology that ironically limits the force of his metaphysics of the Will.

We are on more fruitful ground when we examine the classical pragmatic and naturalist traditions of Euro-American philosophy.  In his epoch making Experience and Nature of 1925, John Dewey talks of metaphysics as the systematic study of the “generic traits of existence” as they are encountered in the organism/environment transaction best rendered in human aesthetic experience.  The links among metaphysics, experience, and aesthetics are key to understanding both pragmatism and naturalism.  C.S. Peirce also makes this link but in a vastly more technical way in his phenomenology (phaneroscopy).  For Peirce, the aesthetic realm is the summum bonum that crowns all of metaphysics and phaneroscopy, transcending the logical and the ethical.  Kant’s concept of the “sublime” in his Third Critique is perhaps what Peirce, as a partial Kantian, may have had in mind.

More important, for our discussion, is the naturalist tradition within Euro-American philosophy.  A naturalist may or may not be a pragmatist, while a pragmatist will usually be a naturalist.  Naturalism as a metaphysical perspective argues that nature is all that there is and that there is nothing beyond nature, especially not an extra-natural or supernatural creator.  The so-called “supernatural” is always an event within and as the one nature that there is.  It may be vagrant or elusive but it is natural in all respects.  There is a kind of piety to naturalism that pays homage to nature as the only reality that there is.  Within Euro-American naturalism there are distinctive types that I cannot elucidate here.  Elsewhere I have designated them as the descriptive forms (Dewey, Santayana, James and Buchler), the honorific forms (Emerson and Thoreau), the process forms (Whitehead, Hartshorne, and partially Peirce), and the ecstatic form (Corrington).  Each of the four forms rarely appears without some admixture of the others.

There are several striking metaphysical claims coming out of Euro-American naturalism, although not all the listed thinkers agree on all points.  My emphasis will be on what my ecstatic form takes from the other forms and radicalizes into what I have called “ecstatic naturalism” for some decades now.  I simply list the points: 1) nature is not an order of orders nor does it have a contour, 2) there is no system of internal relations linking all that is in nature (contra Whitehead, Hegel, and Bradley, for example), 3) there is no one trait found in each order of nature, only traits in a blinding variety of prospects, 4) radical pluralism is thus the proper metaphysics of nature, 5) nature is not an organism or a whole, only orders (a reiteration of point 1), 6) there are no ultimate simples in nature, and 7) the fundamental divide within the one nature that there is is that of nature naturing and nature natured—the former term referring to the unconscious of nature and its innumerable potencies (Schelling), the latter term denoting the innumerable orders of the World, what Christians call “creation.”  While this pair of terms has a Medieval provenance it is, of course, most noted in Spinoza’s 1677 Ethics.

Nature is constituted by what Justus Buchler calls “natural complexes,” each of which has subaltern traits (complexes), but none of which is related to all other complexes.  In his main work Metaphysics of Natural Complexes (1966/1990) he works out the definitions of these terms with uncanny precision.  Within a natural complex there will be subaltern complexes that do not relate to all other subaltern complexes ‘within’ the larger complex.  Of course, metaphysically speaking, each complex is infinitely complex in its own way although one may have more scope and a richer integrity than another.  In this ordinal scheme god, however envisioned, encountered, or contrived, is a natural complex within the one nature that there is and hence cannot be ‘connected’ with all other natural complexes, another example of William James like radical pluralism.

The above listed seven points will show their special pertinence when I create what I call an “ordinal psychoanalysis.”  The goal of ordinal psychoanalysis is to work out of and use the scheme of ordinal metaphysics and the perspective of ecstatic naturalism to radically broaden and deepen its foundations (grounds) and to ultimately link the vast unconscious of nature (nature naturing and its potencies) to the collective and personal forms of the unconscious in the human psyche.  Aristotle, Santayana, and Jung use the concept of “psyche” in different metaphysical ways as the dimension of the human process rooted in nature from which it gets its animating principle.  Jung gives the term a more honorific meaning than either Aristotle or Santayana were inclined to do although, as Heidegger points out, for Aristotle “psyche” was in a sense “all things” and has a relation to the higher intellect and the unmoved mover—a metaphysical extravagance that Santayana would heatedly reject.  Be that as it may, the perspective of ecstatic naturalism roots the psyche in an ecstatically self-transcending nature.  Note that these moments of transcendence are immanent in nature and do not somehow lift the human process ‘outside’ of nature—an impossibility in any case.

The key term in ecstatic naturalism is nature naturing (natura naturans).  It refers, as noted, to the infinitely deep and ultimately capacious unconscious or underconscious of nature, which can neither be rendered conscious nor mapped by the finite human process.  It is limitless and filled with churning potencies that act on the human process in ways directly calling for intervention by an ordinal psychoanalysis.  Without probing into nature naturing, psychoanalysis loses much of its own potency insofar as it ignores the potencies of nature.  A “potency” is an elusive momentum that erupts from the heart of nature and impacts directly or indirectly on the domains of nature natured, the orders of the manifest psyche and the human process in general.  In itself, a potency is beyond or prior to the distinction between good and evil.  Its effects, as worked through via an ordinal psychoanalysis, can be dealt with more directly in terms of good and evil, however ambiguous these realities may be in the human orders.  Of course, psychoanalysis must directly deal with neuroses internal to the psyche and do this internal work at all times, e.g., on the unhealthy form of narcissism, anxiety disorder, schizoid splits, and phobias.

Moving to psychoanalysis itself, Greenberg and Mitchell thoroughly and cogently argue in their 1983 Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory, that the fundamental theoretical divide within psychoanalysis is that between drive/structure theory and object relations/structure theory.  For them, they are almost logically incompatible frameworks and yet many theorists struggle to bridge the gap between them by mixing the models in a variety of largely unsuccessful ways, two examples, among many, being the theories of Melanie Klein and Heinz Kohut, which struggle to correlate Freudian drives with later object relations models.

The purest examples of drive theory are Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, the radical wild child of psychoanalysis.  In the drive model, objects, internal (Klein) and external, take on a secondary place.  The emphasis is on the biologically rooted drives as they move outward and attempt to make the transit from anxiety and internal pressure to a release and reduction of energy—the classical concept of “cathexis.”  The primary drives of sexuality and aggression permeate the human process and always seek expression in some momentarily suited ‘object.’  However, this object is only a means in itself and never a true object with independent worth and equal status with the attending drive driven psyche.  In the orderly march of the unfolding erogenous zones, the objects remain within the ambit of primary narcissism and concern the nascent psyche from within, as it were.

Whether or not one accepts Freud’s post-1920 concepts of the life and death drives, aggression takes on a more dramatic role in Freud’s later work.  The aggressive drive is the motor force of the rise of civilization as a means of sublimating those highly volatile drives into a drive compromise that makes collective living even possible.

Reich takes issue with the centrality of the aggressive drive arguing instead that it is a secondary process resulting from the repression of the core life drive that lies at the bottom of the psyche.  Like Freud he uses the tension/release model for the route of the cathexes.  He envisions an arc wherein the armoring rings around the psyche block off the natural flow of sexual energy producing the rise in internal tension.  Without sexual release these tensions turn outward into aggression.  Hence aggression is not built into the basic/normal human psyche but is a byproduct of characterological armoring, an armoring that embeds itself in the musculature of the body.  When psychoanalysis, working through the negative transference at first, removes these armoring rings, sexual release eliminates both anxiety and aggression.  Hence, aggression is not a fundamental drive as in Freud but a negative result of the blocking of the one fundamental drive, sexuality.  Thus, while Freud is a drive dualist, Reich is a drive monist.  He rejected Freud’s notion of a death drive in humans but later posited a kind of death energy in nature that worked against what he called “orgone,” i.e., the cosmic energy that swirls through the universe and all living things.

Orgonotic energy is not the same as electro-magnetic energy and has rules of its own, for example, that it swirls rather than moves in a straight line or vibratory pattern.  He argued that it can sometimes be seen as a bluish gray light that permeates the atmosphere.  Regardless of the potential dubiousness of aspects of his orgone theory, he remained convinced that the central drive of the universal energy is benevolent and life affirming.

Drive theory thus envisions biologically rooted internal drives that must move from inward narcissism to an outward expression that latches on to whatever ‘objects’ promise release and the maximization of the pleasure principle, what Reich called the “pleasure premium.”  The Oedipal struggle takes precedence over later object relations and the role of parenting, in the external sense, is downplayed.  Drives exist to express themselves no matter what and the individual psyche is hopelessly enmeshed in its own need for satisfaction, by whatever means.  The object relations model sounds a different tone.

With object relations theory the focus shifts away from the real or alleged internal drives to the objective field of relations that surround, haunt, and empower the individual.  Klein emphasizes both internal and external objects, while other theorists place their stress on external objects.  There is less concern with the erogenous zones and the Oedipal complex and more of an interest in pre-Oedipal object relations, the issue of good and bad parenting, and the future negotiation of the psyche with healthy external objects/persons.  The person is seen as constituted by and through a mobile field of objects that shape his or her identity over time.  These external objects are real in themselves and not a mere means to drive gratification.   The parents are by far the most important objects in the psyche’s development and can either reinforce or thwart a healthy non-regressive narcissism.  Winnicott’s “good enough mother” can stabilize and empower the nascent psyche as it finds its way beyond the mother/child bond to larger and more empowering object relations.

In the object relations model there is a two way trafficking between the psyche and the other object/person.  Each co-constitutes the prospects and actualities of the other and a bond of empathy emerges between psyche and object.  In the drive model there is only a one way trafficking between the drive(s) and the so-called ‘object.’   In the process of psychoanalysis, as understood by Kohut, there develops a “vicarious introspection” that opens up the inner life of the analysand to the analyst—this, of course, can work both ways through the transference if it is open to the reality principle, however difficult that might be.  Empathy replaces the “pleasure principle” as the touchstone of analysis.  Not all object relations are good of course and there is always the risk of depression or a schizoid split.  And a healthy narcissism can collapse into a primitive primary narcissism that is almost pre-object.

Hence, a person is defined by the object field, with which he or she interacts.  Perhaps the premier concept coming out of the object relations model is Kohut’s idea of the “self-object,” which has a special power to enliven and enrich the psyche.  The self-object can be a transitional object weaning the child from the mother or it can be something non-personal—an extension beyond Kohut.  For Julia Kristeva, language functions as a self-object because it pulls the nascent self away from “the good breast” and into the world of “the name of the father” where patriarchal linguistic codes intercede between the psyche and the now lost “material maternal” ground.  While language is not a traditional self-object, except perhaps for a poet or a philosopher, it functions like one insofar as its effects life and transforms the young  psyche into an entirely different field of relations.  For Kristeva the experience of jouissance can break through the paternal linguistic code and re-connect the psyche with the maternal ground.

Semiotics in general, which probes into the sign/object relation, whether iconic (likeness), indexical (causal), or symbolic (meaning and generality), can certainly function as a powerful self-object in that it connects the human process to the object fields that surround it.  For a pragmatist like C.S. Peirce, semiotics functions along Darwinian lines where there is a kind of natural selection among signs determining which ones come closer to the reality principle.  Nature is the selecting agent that props up more valid signs and deconstructs less pragmatically useful (adaptive) signs.  The psyche traffics between and among a bewildering number and variety of signs and somehow, in most cases, makes the right choices among them, thus enhancing its object relations and serving the reality principle.

In objet relations theory there is a strong emphasis on the maternal and less of a concern with the super-ego, which internalizes patriarchal codes of conduct and ideation.  In a relational matrix the entire object field shapes the values and self-restrictions of the psyche, shifting the burden away from the unconscious super-ego to more open and positive relationships within conscious life.  While the unconscious still exists in object relations theory, it takes on slightly less destructive or even demonic features—that is, it is no longer at war with the ego and the expanding and contracting light of consciousness.

It is now time to shift to another model of the psyche that transcends and transfigures both the drive and object relations theories.  Such a psychoanalysis is here called “ordinal” because it deals with the innumerable orders of the human process within nature and its innumerable orders.  Everything whatsoever, “what ever is in whatever way” (Buchler) is an order (natural complex) and has innumerable ordinal locations.  Ordinal psychoanalysis, unlike other forms, roots the psyche in nature’s unconscious (nature naturing) and its potencies and does so through an affirmation of the above seven listed principles of ecstatic naturalism.  In creating ordinal psychoanalysis I hope to show the necessity of the right kind of metaphysics for psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice.  The psyche is a natural complex among other natural complexes and receives and creates its contour through these assimilations and manipulations of other complexes.

Among the seven points of ecstatic naturalism, the seventh one assumes priority; namely, that between nature naturing and nature natured, together representing a fissure within the one nature that there is rather than constituting two separate natures.   This fissuring is on going and permeates nature and especially the human process.  As noted, nature naturing is the unconscious of nature that churns in its uncanny depths generating innumerable potencies that become manifest within the innumerable orders of nature natured.  I define nature naturing as: “Nature perennially creating itself out of itself alone.”  There are direct, if elusive, links among the unconscious of nature, the human/animal collective unconscious, and the human personal unconscious.  Any treatment of the personal unconscious must work through the two other dimensions of the unconscious that live ‘below’ it.

The most important link between nature naturing and nature natured is that of the archetype, what C.S. Peirce calls “developmental thirdness” or ultimate generality.  The archetypes lie in nature itself, not just the collective unconscious of the human and animal processes.  It straddles the fissure between nature naturing and nature natured, bringing both dimensions into more intimate contact with each other.  The archetype is a special potency that contains both power and meaning.  For Peirce, meaning evolves over time in a universe that is constantly, if slowly, developing new laws—his notion of “developmental teleology.”  It is a vexing and fascinating question as to whether archetypes can evolve and feel adaptive pressures.  For Plato such cannot be the case.  While for Peirce this is not only possible but is happening through his concepts of tychism (chance), synechism (law-like gathering), and agapism (evolutionary love).

Thus the archetypes are rooted in nature, as argued by C.G. Jung, especially in his later works.  Treatment and aesthetic creativity both involve wrestling with the archetypes on all three levels: 1) natural, 2) collective, and 3) personal.  They must be brought to a stand within the fragile structures of consciousness, which must struggle with their power as it also tries to extract meaning.  The risk of psychic inflation is always there and the travails of individuation are life-long.  But this Homeric contest (Nietzsche) must be undertaking if the host psyche is to maximize its prospects and its quest for the central meaning of the Self archetype.

The psyche, in ordinal psychoanalysis, which is also an archetypal psychoanalysis, manifests the other six points of ecstatic naturalism: 1) the psyche does not have an ultimate order of orders nor does it have a fixed contour through time, 2) there is no system of internal relations linking all aspects of the psyche—there are breaks in continua and no psychic continuum of all subaltern continua, 3) the psyche manifests a variety of traits and no one, such as sexuality, is prevalent in all respects, 4) ordinal psychoanalysis posits a radical pluralism within the psyche and its contacts with the world, 5) the psyche is never a whole or totality, and 6) there are no ultimate rock bottom simples in the psyche.  These ordinal concepts make possible a different kind of psychoanalysis that is consistent with the principles of ecstatic naturalism.  To work with and on the psyche is to recognize its innumerable ordinal locations and many traits, manifest and non-manifest.

As in Peirce, Dewey, and Santayana, the aesthetic sphere takes priority as it is the fullest expression of the potencies and their special intensification in the archetypes.  It must be noted, however, that, especially for Peirce, the aesthetic sphere of the summum bonum has direct effects on the ethical sphere and helps it attain what he calls “self-control.”  Aesthetics, ethics, and logic are intertwined in their effects on each other and the logical person is also the most communal and ethical person as logic rules out selfishness as simply illogical.  In a special sense, logic is also the servant of self-control.

For Kant and Schopenhauer the distinction between beauty and the sublime assumes a central role in ordinal psychoanalysis.  For both thinkers, the beautiful is that which is bounded, harmonious, and what gives pleasure to the viewer, while the sublime is unruly, boundless, and can produce fear and anxiety in the participant.  Schopenhauer lists a violent storm at sea as an example of the sublime that de-stabilizes the psyche and cracks it open to the demonic and creative depths of what I call nature naturing.  Hence the sublime is the ultimate category in aesthetics and aesthetic experience—it is the inner telos of all art, both in art works themselves and the art work of creating the fully actualizing adult psyche.  The experience of and encounter with the sublime gives the psyche its deepest and most profound awareness of the sheer prevalence of the World.

Within psychoanalysis the work of Otto Rank takes priority as coming closest to the principles of ecstatic naturalism and the sense of the sublime.  His 1930 work, Art and Artist: Creativity and Personality Development, remains one of the few genuine masterpieces in psychoanalytic literature.  And for me, but not for all, his 1924 work, The Trauma of Birth, represents a milestone in our thinking about the potencies of nature and their impact on the human psyche.  Let me quote a passage from the latter book:

We have thus surveyed the whole circle of human creation, from the nocturnal wish-dream to the adjustment to reality, as an attempt to materialize the primal situation—i.e., to undo the primal trauma.  From this survey the so-called advance in the development of civilization has proved to be a continually repeated attempt to adjust to the enforced removal from the mother and the instinctive tendency to return to her.  Following along the path of the development of culture, we will now trace the unmistakable approach to the primal trauma in the expression “Back to Nature!” (p. 103)


The trauma of birth is the first of the fissures that permeate the human psyche and drive it to various forms of creativity in order to symbolically and artistically return to the primal situation in the womb, not only of the biological mother but also of nature itself.  The birth trauma is the manifestation of a potency that speaks right out of the heart of nature naturing itself.  The manifest psyche, within the innumerable orders of nature natured, struggles to return to the womb through the creation of civilization.  Rank’s view here has a deep echo in the above mentioned work of Julia Kristeva and her reflections on the primacy of the material maternal and the chora (receptacle) over the ubiquitous “name of the father;” namely the patriarchal structure of contrived civilization.

In the process of healing a route must be found that reconstitutes the womb of nature but not through a regressive narcissism.   For Rank, among all human types the artist has the will to create not only works of art but to become him or herself a work of art per se.  Rank’s concept of the “will” has family resemblances to that of Schopenhauer’s who sees the will as operating underneath and through all of nature—a kind of nature naturing, but not exactly a Kantian thing-in-itself.   For both, the will is a fundamental drive of the psyche and of nature and can shape itself via aesthetic means, bringing us full circle.

The artist type thus replaces the more classical hero type as the new creator of a world of power and meaning via the archetypes and an ongoing encounter with the potencies of nature naturing.  Let me quote a passage from his Art and Artist:

The new type of humanity will only become possible when we have passed beyond this psycho-therapeutic transitional stage, and must grow out of those artists themselves who have achieved a renunciant attitude towards artistic production.  A man with creative power who can give up artistic expression in favour of the formation of personality—since he can no longer use art as an expression of an already developed personality—will remould the self-creative type and will be able to put his creative impulse directly in the service of his own personality. . . . And the creative type who can renounce this protection by art and can devote his whole creative force to life and the formation of life will be the first representative of the new human type, and in return for this renunciation will enjoy, in personality-creation and expression, a greater happiness.  (pp. 430 & 431)


In Rank we get potencies, the chief of which is the birth trauma, archetypes, if not always named as such, and the ordinal principles.  The artist creates a new psyche that is never a completed totality or a tight system of in-place internal relations.  The notion of psychic simples gives way to the complexity and unendingness of the artistic process that transits between the beautiful and the sublime.  Above all, the psyche is rooted in nature naturing, what he calls the will, and encounters the potencies that are the hallmark of the depth dimensions of nature.

Rank thus stands as the premier psychoanalyst of ecstatic naturalism and ordinal psychoanalysis.  He transcends the split between the drive and object relations models by stressing the formation of a new type of psyche that has itself as the premier self-object, but not in Kohut’s more limited sense.  The psyche-to-be is that of the genuine artist who is neither merely gratifying drives nor remaining only controlled within a field of external object relations.  The artist, as the paradigmatic human, creates beyond the self and its relations to form a new self-in-process that opens out what Peirce calls “genuine novelty,” the outcome of which, of course, cannot be predicted in advance or brought under the explanatory control of previous psychoanalytic rules and so-called laws.  His ecstatic naturalism stands as a model of the way forward in psychoanalytic theory and practice.








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