The mythic imagination as an ‘experiment in philosophy’: Erich Unger’s contribution to the phenomenology of thinking

Bruce Rosenstock

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Erich Unger (1887–1950) developed a theory of the mythic imagination as the source of a new form of human communal life that drew from Gustav Fechner’s psychophysics and Franz Brenanto’s phenomenology, two of the most prominent areas of experimental psychological research in the early decades of the twentieth century in Germany. Unger hoped to create an ‘experimental philosophy’ that would permit the philosopher to access the sub-conscious and supra-individual source of language creation in the human species as a whole. The chapter brings Unger’s methodological ideas into connection with the recent ‘ontological turn’ in anthropology, especially as it has been formulated in the work of the Amerindian anthropologist Eduardo Kohn. Unger, like Kohn, claims that language gives expression to a human community’s interconnection with the ‘universalities’ in its environment, that is, the virtual general forms whose transformations account for the individuated entities within the environment’s meaning-rich life processes. Unger argues that every particular language is the coming into being of a particular community’s interconnection with its environment and that therefore language begins with a primal cosmogonic myth. The task of experimental philosophy is to tap into the sub-conscious interface between the individual and the virtual universalities that underlie language in order to imagine new ways to shape the human-environment interconnection on a global scale.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThought: A Philosophical History
EditorsPanayiota Vassilopoulou, Daniel Whistler
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780429445026
ISBN (Print)9780367000103
StatePublished - May 2021

Publication series

NameRewriting the History of Philosophy


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