Jungian typology has become popular worldwide. Especially with the development of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). However it’s reputation among academics is not very good. One common reason for disapproval is its lack of scientific evidence. As I’ve argued in earlier blog post, the “scientific” rejection of Jungian typology I don’t find convincing. But it is a complicated topic, which will easily be misunderstood. As I’ve also argued before, I don’t approve of the MBTI either. In this post I do some further investigation of what I consider to be special about Jungian typology – trying to deal with some common presuppositions, and open up for new perspectives.
Table of contents
Is Jungian typology philosophy? And some words about philosophical approach
– – A quick philosophical background, Kant and Wittgenstein – two different views
The attitudes (introversion/extraversion) and the functions (feeling, thinking, sensation and intuition), are they legitimate?
The problem with “subjective bias”
The problem with categorizing, labeling and explanation
The idea of a non-hierarchical order
– – 1. The idea of that one function excludes its opposite
– – 2. The idea of different kinds of cognitive talent
The non-reductionism in Jungian typology and non-reductionism in philosophy
Sometimes I come across the opinion that Jungian typology is merely pseudo-science. And I’ve been told that “The Big Five” is a better theory. However, that kind of claims hardly makes sense to me, as Jungian typology and The Big Five appears to me as two entirely different things. I’d be tempted to say that Jungian typology is interesting from a philosophical point of view, while The Big Five is not, regardless of their scientific status. However I’m also inclined to say that to say such a thing is problematic. What right do I have to make such a claim?
The general view is quite contrary, Jungian typology belongs to the field of Psychology and not the field of Philosophy. I would not neccessarily dispute that classification either. I’m fine with that Jungian typology belongs to the field of psychology, but I’d say one could also add it to the field of philosophy – but then with slightly different aims and different perspectives (as argued in earlier blog post). If one reads the book Psychological Types by Jung, which is the origin of Jungian typology, one notices that a lot of the content of the book is not what usually belongs to the (academic) field of psychology – many chapters I believe could (at least) equally well be classified as for example literature theory or philosophy.
Well, if we are now into a philosophical approach on Jungian typology, what does it mean? I don’t want to give any straight answer – as any answer I’d give would be not good enough. One hint would be the concept of “a priori”. Instead of relying on facts and investigations, we rely on what is inherently known (but it’s problematic to say so, as well as the concept “a priori” is problematic). Another hint could be: we dig deeper. We don’t assume so much. We avoid over-hasted conclusions (as well as the over-hasted conclusion that we are against hasted and illogical conclusions).
A quick philosophical background, Kant and Wittgenstein – two different views
Looking at history of Western philosophy, two of the most central philosophers during last centuries are Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951). Richard Rorty wrote in later half of 20th century:
Academic philosophy in our day stands to Wittgenstein as intellectual life in Germany in the first decades of the last century stood to Kant. Kant had changed everything, but no one was sure just what Kant had said—no one was sure what in Kant to take seriously and what to put aside.
Kant and Wittgenstein are two central names, and I’m inclined to say that they represent two distinctively different approaches. Kant is a rigorous system builder, while Wittgenstein (especially the later Wittgenstein) is more of a creative improviser. Maybe these two quotes can help to illustrate this difference:
It is plainly not the effect of the levity, but of the matured judgement of the age, which refuses to be any longer entertained with illusory knowledge, It is, in fact, a call to reason, again to undertake the most laborious of all tasks—that of self-examination, and to establish a tribunal, which may secure it in its well-grounded claims, while it pronounces against all baseless assumptions and pretensions, not in an arbitrary manner, but according to its own eternal and unchangeable laws. This tribunal is nothing less than the critical investigation of pure reason.
(In this blog post the relationship between Jung’s Psychological Types and Kant’s Critique is discussed)
The more narrowly we examine language, the sharper becomes the conflict between it and our requirement. (For the crystalline purity of logic was, of course, not a result of investigation, it was a requirement.) The conflict becomes intolerable; the requirement is now in danger of becoming empty. — We have got onto slippery ice where there is no friction and so in a certain sense the conditions are ideal, but also just because of that, we are unable to walk. We want to walk, so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!
The quote by Kant indicates a foundational approach, and the quote by Wittgenstein indicates a sort of denial of the successfulness of such an attempt. Kant may encourage the one looking for rigorous systems, Wittgenstein’s quote indicates the need for a practical turn in philosophy (insights which in turn, for example, Bourdieu have picked up). Some have interpreted Wittgenstein as “anti-philosophical”, seeking to uninstall philosophy. Later on Jürgen Habermas, among others, influenced by both Kant and Wittgenstein, have aimed for a sort of compromise, where he toned down the foundational aims of philosophy, but insisting on that philosophy can work as a Stand-In and Interpreter.
Why do I bring this up in a post about Jungian typology? Well, honestly, I don’t quite know. But part of reason I want to bring a philosophical background. I believe, on the one hand we have an aim for foundations, on the other hand we don’t quite believe in the legitimacy of these foundations. On the one hand, there is a common ground of knowledge and we may well increase our knowledge (as indicated in the Kantian approach), on the other hand there are a lot of prejudices, confusions and over-hasted conclusions which we want to deal with (a Wittgensteinian approach may help us with this). It’s about finding a balance between over-hasted conclusions and over-radical denial.
Both Kant and Wittgenstein had in common that they were dealing with what Jung would call the subjective factor. In earlier post I’ve dealt with both importance of and problems with subjective validation. Dealing with the subjective factor is what Jung calls introversion. Jung called Kant’s writings an example of “introverted thinking”, and if he had known Wittgenstein I’m quite sure he had agreed on that the later writings of Wittgenstein could represent as an example of “introverted intuition” (as I argued here). Perhaps one can say that the introverted thinker is more inclined to take interest in great systems of thought (“therories”), while the intuitive is more into imaginative improvising. (However, saying this, I’m sort of assuming what I’d like to prove.)
(For the one looking for a more conventional/professional way to answer the question if and why Jungian typology is philosophy I’d recommend this article Jung and Philosophy by William R. Clough)
The attitudes (introversion/extraversion) and the functions (feeling, thinking, sensation and intuition), are they legitimate?
One question is the over-all legitimacy of the Jungian attitudes and the functions. The question may appear strange. What’s meant by “legitimacy” for example? That question is something I’d prefer to leave somewhat unanswered. (Here recalling a quote by Wittgenstein, that a good guide needs to avoid bad streets)
One approach would be to consider the reception of the Jungian concepts; what does modern science say of them, and what use do they have in our language today? Are the concepts agreed upon, are they used and considered relevant today etc. Such an approach won’t prove anything, but it is an aspect which may well we regarded among with other aspects.
So if we start with the so-called functions. Jung once described the functions in this way:
Sensation tells you there is something. Thinking, roughly speaking, tells you what it is. Feeling tells you whether it is agreeable, to be accepted or rejected. And Intuition [—] is a perception via the unconscious.
One can wonder, is it relevant to speak of perception and judgment as two central cognitive modes? Is it true that we have two ways of perception, of gathering information – sensing and intuition, and that we have two ways of dealing with information – thinking and feeling?
C.A. Meier, one of Jung’s earliest followers, wrote that:
[Jung’s] idea is to apprehend the most elementary instruments of consciousness, which cannot be further analyzed or reduced. (ref)
If that is the case, it would be quite extraordinary, wouldn’t it? But how can we then know if Jung actually succeeded in apprehending the most elementary instruments of consciousness? How do we deal with these questions? Well, there is no easy way.
Make a comparison, long time ago, early studies on human temperament considered we had four body fluids “blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile”. To us, now, that appear strange, not in line with what we would say today. Long ago they also had a conception that we have five senses “sight”, “hearing”, “taste”, “smell”, “touch”. To us, now, that doesn’t appear so strange. A modern scientist would disagree, but yet not say it is so far off.
We may ask, are the Jungian functions somewhat reasonable, like the idea of five senses, or are they an oddity, like the idea of the four body fluids? Is it all reasonable to make this sort of comparison, or is something seriously missing?
Of course something is seriously missing.
One alternative is of course to ask, what does modern science say of this? Is it true that these four Jungian functions exist, and is it true that they belong together?
We may then conclude that it is true that “thinking, feeling, intuition and sensing” are quite normal words that belong in our vocabulary. None of these words is like “black bile” which sounds strange to us. But does these four concepts belong together? Or is it true that judgments can be divided into feeling and thinking, while perceptions can be divided into intuition and sensation?
If we then look at what modern science says, as summarized in Wikipedia-articles, we notice that is not quite the case. Looking at the articles on judgment/decision-making and perception, you notice that it is far from centered around the Jungian concepts. In fact, if you look at the article on “perception” for example, you notice that the word “intuition” is not mentioned a single time.
Does this mean that Jung’s theory of functions is altogether wrong? Is it a sign of that we are entering a realm of pseudo-science?
Well, of course not. It is difficult to compare with say for example the idea of four body fluids – as with body fluids we can now present a new list of body fluids which people would consider more accurate, but when it comes to say “cognitive functions” there is no clear consensus what it is all about.
It is quite complicated to reach any consensus in more abstract matters. Wittgenstein said, for example, that what sometimes is considered as “scientific discoveries”, can often better be described as “grammatic innovations” (such as Freud’s idea of the “unconscious”).
Nevertheless, speaking of the Jungian functions, it is true that they never had any great impact on modern science and language today. When one speaks of these functions it is usually limited to the context of Jungian typology. Conclusions to make of it? It can be interesting to note that the Jungian functions have had no major impact on modern science, but we may yet not make any conclusion that there is something wrong or bad about them because of that (as many skeptics tend to assume).
When we come to the attitudes described by Jung, introversion and extraversion, we can note that these Jungian concepts have had greater impact in society and the scientific community. In fact the terms introversion and extraversion (or extroversion) is now frequently used both in science and ordinary language, and Jung remains the main person associated to these concepts.
However, there tends to be slight agreement of the actual meaning of the concepts. I’ll deal more with that issue under the next heading…
The problem with “subjective bias”
It has gradually become clear to me what every great philosophy up till now has consisted of—namely, the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography; and moreover that the moral (or immoral) purpose in every philosophy has constituted the true vital germ out of which the entire plant has always grown. Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: “What morality do they (or does he) aim at?”
In the philosopher, […] there is absolutely nothing impersonal; and above all, his morality furnishes a decided and decisive testimony as to WHO HE IS,—that is to say, in what order the deepest impulses of his nature stand to each other. – Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886)
Why do I bring this quote by Nietzsche? Again, I don’t quite know. But part of reason is I think it can help to elucidate the difficulty of a “neutral explanation” or “neutral understanding”. And not the least this applies for this kind of typology which deals with subjective matters. Part of the reason I bring the quote may also be to remind that subjectivity is and always has to be very central.
There seems to be a great difficulty in speaking about the Jungian typology in a neutral sense. Part of the reason I say so is because everyone speaking of it tends to present it differently. Many different people may for example approve of the same typology, they use the same concepts, but they end up with very different conclusions and ways of describing and explaining. As an example, we can consider what David Keirsey (the second most known popularizer of Jungian typology (though the theory of Keirsey doesn’t have much to do with Jungian typology at all)) wrote about Myers-Briggs (the most known popularizer of Jungian typology):
Myers found these words in Jung’s Psychological Types, but in adopting them she put her own spin on them. So let us consider what Myers actually meant in using Jung’s words in The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator [MBTI]. E = Expressive or I = Reserved, S = Observant or N = Introspective, T = Tough-minded or F = Friendly, J = Scheduling or P = Probing
I think that Keirsey simplifies and underestimates way too much in his writing, which is shown here in the almost ridiculing of Myers. But the point remains that people tend to put their own “spin” to the Jungian concepts – it seems close to impossible to grasp any neutral core meaning of them.
Further on, when it comes to personality typing, there tends to be slight agreement on which person best fits what type. Just take the example Jung himself, he said he was a thinking type, with a definite problem with feeling. That hasn’t prevented a lot of the type community to insist on that he actually had a feeling preference above thinking. And as for Freud, the opinions of what type he would be, has varied from INFP -introvert, intuitive, feeling, percieving- to ESTJ -extravert, sensing, thinking, judging-, that is the opposite in every aspect.
No doubt, there seems to be a dilemma, that people who write about Jungian typology tends to create a bias – for whatever function or attitude that stands closest to themselves (most likely subconsciously, but nevertheless). For example, when reading Myers-Briggs Gifts Differing, it is not hard to notice a bias for feeling and intuition, and very well, the authors also admit themselves to have a preference for feeling and intuition.
Jung also notices the problem of subjective bias in Psychological Types:
I am [—] convinced that, had I myself chanced to possess a different individual psychology, I should have described the rational types in the reversed way, from the standpoint of the unconscious-as irrational, therefore. This circumstance aggravates the difficulty of a lucid presentation of psychological matters to a degree not to be underestimated, and immeasurably increases the possibility of misunderstandings. The discussions which develop from these misunderstandings are, as a rule, quite hopeless, since the real issue is never joined, each side speaking, as it were, in a different tongue. (ref)
The difficulty with explanation and understanding can be used both in defense of and to show downsides with the Jungian typology, I believe. As for the defense, empirical investigations which shows there is no validity in for example MBTI-theory, can be rejected because these investigations have no reliable foundation. Often MBTI is criticized for the fact that there is no bimodal distribution, and there is no “test re-test”-reliability, but if there is no way to quantitatively measure the distribution in a reliable fashion, then you cannot claim that there is no bimodal distribution, and if there is no way to make a reliable test in the first place, then the re-test can nor prove anything (as I’ve argued in earlier blog post). On the downside is of course that since you cannot rely on the validity of the test, it is hard to claim the usefulness of it.
What I’d like to point out is that there are many aspects in the Jungian typology which are difficult and uncertain, and to me that makes it interesting to dig deeper and explore further, rather than simple rejection or approval.
One of the most common complaints about Jungian typology is that it is used to label people. Jung has often stressed that it was not in line with his intentions. For example, in a preface to later edition of Psychological Types, he wrote:
The opinion has gotten about that my method … consists in fitting [people] into this system and giving them corresponding ‘advice.’ This regrettable misunderstanding completely ignores the fact that this kind of classification is nothing but a childish parlour game … My topology is far rather a critical apparatus serving to sort out and organize the welter of empirical material, but not in any sense to stick labels on people at first sight.
But as I’ve pointed out in earlier blog post, it can be somewhat hard to understand what Jung meant by this. No doubt Jung also used the typology to describe characteristics of people, for example Goethe closer to feeling, Nietzsche closer to intuition, Kant closer to thinking. One can wonder, what differ Jung from other people who are more into typing? Can one say that it is a proper way to use this typing, and another improper way to use this typing?
I’m inclined to think that there is no fundamental difference, with say for example Jung’s typings, and the typings of the lot of the type community. The essential difference is rather that Jung tended to know better what he was talking about, and he was generally more careful when it comes to describe types and functions of people. As James Arraj pointed out:
[O]ver the years when Jung received letters about the question of types, he would insist, almost perversely at times, on their complexity. And this tendency came, I think, from his own keen understanding of how complex the whole matter is and how superficial some of our uses of typology have been. (ref)
Arraj also tries to explain some why typing is so difficult:
Typology [—] is a guide or compass in making sense of the individual impressions I receive. I don’t impose it on the material, but I use it to organize the material that is already present. This is what Jung was insisting upon in’ his various Forwards to Psychological Types. And much too often we underestimate the complexity of this material. I see your functions and attitudes and their state of development, but also the influence of your parents, education, the society you live in, the kind of work you do, the degree of your overall psychic integration, and the winds of your creativity in this moment, and habitually, which allow you, or even compel you, to show different sides of your personality.
But even this is a simplification, for I am only considering you and not myself. It would be more accurate to say the level of complexity must be doubled. Each impression I receive from you can be directed to various aspects of my own personality and provoke responses that condition my reception depending on my own type and its development, as well as its proclivities for projection, etc. (ref)
One issue which he is touching here, which I believe is important, is the multiplicity of possible explanations and categorizations. There are simply many ways to categorize people, and the realization of this can help to understand the somewhat arbitrariness of each categorization. For example, people can be typed in to men and women, young and old, upper-class and lower-class, city dwellers and country people, different religious groups, different ethnicities etc. And the behavior of people can also be explained according to each of these categorizations. Say for example, I don’t start conversations with strangers on the bus. One could then explain, “well that’s because you’re an introvert, and introverts usually don’t start conversations with strangers on the bus”, or one could explain “well that’s because you’re a Swede, and Swedes usually don’t start conversations with strangers on the bus”. There are an endless layer of possible explanations, and if you stick to just one type of explanations, you are not likely to get a good picture of reality.
Sticking to one type of explanations, and especially when it is with negative connotations is known to have the possibility of being harmful. Say for example generalized opinions about Jews or Muslims. I’d be inclined to agree that there sure are differences between for example Jews and Muslims, but also you easily interpret too much into it, and easily misinterpret it. Especially when you’ve got an aversion towards one of the groups. The counter-reaction can then be to not admit any difference at all, but I’m not so sure if that’s so good either – mainly because it is simply not true, and so you’re presenting a false picture of reality (which is likely to hit back on you later on) when denying or neglecting differences. I believe these issues with categorizations more or less can be applied for Jungian typology.
Visakan Veerasamy writes in an article entitled “My journey into (and out of) MBTI: Sometimes you have to climb up the ladder before you can discard it.”:
[A]fter a while, a new way of seeing turns into a new set of blinders. I started to obsess about MBTI, and I started viewing everybody through these lenses. What had expanded my mind and my vision of the world was now beginning to limit it. MBTI is ambiguous enough that it allows you to cherry-pick, and this is dangerous because it isn’t real knowledge. It’s simply confirmation bias- you start to see what you want to see. (ref)
I don’t think it has to turn out so negatively as is described here. But I believe it does issue an important warning. I believe that “typing” can be real knowledge, but one has to avoid over-hasted conclusions, and be aware of how one may entirely be wrong, even at times when one feels certain. The criticism Veerasamy issues, I believe can be more or less applied for any kind of generalized explanations from classifications. My point here is not that typing is wrong, my point is rather that typing is complicated.
Among the most special things about the Jungian typology is that it presents a non-hierarchical order. Many people who speak about their enthusiasm for Jungian typology also mention this as the most central thing.
This very idea of a non-hierarchical order is also what formed an important basis for Jung’s work. Jung had studied both Freud and Adler, and he found that both of their theories were sort of valid in themselves, but yet they were incompatible with each other (correct me if you think I’m wrong). Jung came to believe that the “acrimony between the Adlerian and Freudian camps was due to this unrecognized existence of different fundamental psychological attitudes” (Adler’s theory was introverted while Freud’s theory was extraverted), and further on “this [type-antagonism] discovery brought with it the need to rise above the opposition and to create a theory which would do justice not merely to one or the other side, but to both equally.” (ref)
What Jung then presented is something what could be called anti-reductionist. I believe that this anti-reductionism makes it somewhat incompatible with what could be called “Western science”. (Jung also discusses this in Psychological Types – I think he argued (something in line with), that in order to do science you have to assume a preference for the thinking-function, but the Jungian typology also admits preference for other functions)
This idea, I believe, can have far reaching consequences. Below I list two aspects I’d like to point out about it.
1. The idea of that one function excludes its opposite
Jungian typology relies on an assumption of opposites. For example, a distinguished and conscious thinking function demands a less developed and more subconscious feeling function. This is not something that is generally considered in our society, I believe. Rarely does one speak of “intellect” as opposite of being “empathy”, for example, or that the intellectual cannot be empathetic while the empathetic cannot be an intellectual (this may not exactly be in line with what Jung meant either, for example, I don’t think he equated empathy with feeling function).
2. The idea of different kinds of cognitive talent
If we consider Jungian typology there is indication of that different people would be good at different subjects. For example, we have the extraverted intellectual who is mainly interested in facts and acquired opinions, the introverted intellectual who is more analytically oriented, and values original thinking, and the intuitive who is more interested in creativity and imagination. These three aspects, and others, could well fit in to the concept of “intelligence”, but are also clearly distinguished from each other.
Usually, it seems to me, when we speak of “intelligence” we speak of it as a unified factor, and tend to not make distinctions between different kinds of intelligence. I believe part of our somewhat one-sided view on “intelligence” may have to do with the school system. We tend to get a kind of unipolar order in school, where some are considered more good while other are less good, instead of the multipolar order where different pupils are good at different subjects. The ones who are considered intelligent tend to have high grades in more or less all subjects in school, while others tend to have lower grades in more or less all subjects. Yet the subjects in school varies between social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, maths, aesthetics and more. That may leave the impression that some are good at everything, and that has to be the real intelligent ones, while others are less good at everything and that is the less intelligent.
One could argue that what the Jungian typology suggests is not in line with common sense. There are many hierarchical orders, where some are better and more successful, while others simply are worse. For example, Jungian typology would suggest we are talented in different subjects, but when looking at school, the results tend to be contrary – some are good at everything while others don’t get top grades in any subject.
As I see, there are several ways to deal with such claims. One way would be to tone down the claims of the Jungian typology. When you read Jung, you likely will notice he rarely makes any strong claims about his typology. He often admits its arbitrariness, that it is very complicated to make conclusions about it, and he says that every person is an exception against the rule etc. Another way would be to tone down how different the common opinion is. Even though one isn’t in to Jungian typology, of course one can speak of different talents, in different people. It is quite common to speak of practical minded people as opposed to theoretical minded people and distinction between feeling types and thinking types, is quite known. It is also well known there is a connection between creative genius and madness (which in Jungian terms could be described as differentiated intuition in combination with undeveloped sensation). (ref)
Part of the reason why Jungian typology could be considered philosophically interesting, I believe, is its non-reductionism. As described above, Jung wanted to overcome acrimony between Adler and Freud by taking it one level higher, which is a kind of non-reductionist meta-perspective. In philosophy there is similar aim to avoid reductionism, it seems to me, and “meta-perspectives” is of very central importance.
If we consider academical philosophy we will also notice several acrimonies. Most known acrimony would probably be between “analytical philosophy” and “continental philosophy”. I’m not going to do any deeper analysis now, but I’m inclined to think that the analytical philosophy can be considered to be closer relied on the Jungian “thinking function”, while continental philosophy is generally closer to the “intuition function”. Richard Rorty divided philosophers in to two groups; “ironists” and “metaphysiscians”, and I’ve been arguing in earlier blog posts that it is similar to Jungian distinction between intuitives and thinkers (here). Also I’ve argued the Wittgensteinian view on philosophy is closely connected to introverted intuition (here & here). Those who encounter philosophy as a teaching and body-of-knowledge, are more likely extraverted, while those who view philosophy as merely a method and aren’t so interested in facts and opinions of others, are more likely introverted.
One could argue for the need of a philosophy which could accept all these different attitudes as legitimate.
Writing this kind of text sort of pains me. I know already before I’m not going to be able to achieve what I’m aiming at. My hope is that readers will somehow understand that they do not understand, and that it will awaken further interest. (But experience tells me that is rarely the case)
Quite recently I took time to actually read all of the book Psychological Types by C.G. Jung. My first intention when I started to write, was also to write about that book and its reception. Here recalling the fact that Jung wasn’t pleased with the fact that it was “Chapter X”, where he describes his typology, which got most attention of the book. However, after a while I started to read more about other typologies and other writings on personality, such as astrology, humorism, socionomics and the Big Five, and then I thought it would be interesting to compare the Jungian typology with these other theories, noticing similarities and differences. And so I started to write some about that. But as I go on writing, there is always something else that catches my attention. I forget what I’m up to, can’t keep track of my thinking etc. After a while I noticed I’m more up to what I’ve written about in earlier blog posts, such as the relationship between Jungian typology and philosophy, and difference between Jungians, Scientists and MBTI:ers.
What I’ve been trying to point out is that Jungian typology is complicated. Visakan Veerasamy wrote that “MBTI is ambiguous enough that it allows you to cherry-pick, and this is dangerous because it isn’t real knowledge.” I’m insisting on that Jungian typology can indeed be real knowledge. But just as there can be good use of the typology it can also be bad use of the typology. For example, the fact that there tends to be little agreement on what function would be the most dominant in what person, doesn’t mean that it there is none or that it cannot be known. It may simply have to do with that some know what they’re talking about, while others don’t.
(See list of links in MBTI:ers, Jungians and Scientists)
Jung and Philosophy by William R. Clough (This article is mainly relied on Jung’s book “Psychological Types”)