Review of ‘Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types’

James Graham Johnston
Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types

MSE Press 2011

An overlooked and unusual contribution to the study of Jungian typology was released in 2011 under the name of Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types. It was written by James Graham Johnston, who is apparently a Jungian before he is a typologist (rather than a typologist before he is a Jungian). Though Johnston rejects the Myers-Briggs model and similar standard operationalizations of Jung’s typology, Johnston nevertheless trains people to use a training tool that is a concrete instrumentalization of Jungian typology, rather than simply dealing with the terms of Jungian typology on a conceptual level, like V.W. Odajnyk does, or as Jung himself did.

“[In writing ‘Psychological Types’] classification did not interest me very much. It is a side-issue with only indirect importance. … The intellectually detached classifying point of view is just the thing to be avoided. … [Classification] does not coincide with the purpose of my book.” – C.G. Jung

jungs-compass-psychological-typesSo even though Johnston adheres to a rather orthodox reading of Jung, and rejects operationalizations of Jung’s typology, such as the Myers-Briggs, Johnston nevertheless deviates from Jung’s own stated goals, and proceeds faithfully down the path that was first laid out by Myers and Briggs. Johnston’s operationalization of Jung’s typology goes under the name of the Gifts Compass Index, and his book is intended as a training manual for those who would seek to use his Compass Index instrument.

A Unity of Opposites?

Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types was a book that was confusing for us to review: On the one hand, the book takes Jung’s ideas of individuation and of typology as the personal quest of “finding one’s way back to the center “ very seriously and states that this quest for individuation is the sole reason for delving into typology at all. So according to this manner of thinking, the idea is not so much to cast people as certain types as it is a way of mapping out where one’s own personal psychology may have deficits and excesses. Once the highs and the lows have been mapped out, one can then individuate from there in order to “become whole,” rather than going through life as merely a type.

Yet on the other hand, Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types is also a book that liberally typecasts a whole range of people, thus appearing to do exactly the thing that it warns its readers not to do. In a similar vein, the book makes a point of saying that Jung didn’t really think of the types as actual types of people, but rather as dispositions towards types of cognition. Whether Jung really thought this way or not is debatable, but at any rate, the point that interests us here is that elsewhere in the book, Johnston’s descriptions of the types are at points reified into almost Keirsey-like functional roles, such as the ones known from Please Understand Me II. So on the one hand, the book says that types don’t really exist except as dispositions towards certain types of cognition and on the other hand, the types will manifest themselves as actual and behavioral constructs.

What these examples serve to show is that the book tries to do too much: Reading it, one gets the feeling that Johnston wants to cover every possible interpretation and perspective on the field of Jungian Typology. It is not that the points that are made in the book are bad by any means, as much as they are simply confusing. Is type something very abstract (Jung) or is it something extremely concrete (Keirsey)? Is typology about individuation (Jung) or it is about typecasting (Myers, Keirsey)? In each case, the book professes to follow Jung’s point of view, but then also speaks about those same things as if it took the view of Myers/Keirsey. The overall result is dissatisfying.  Like glancing at pictures that were taken by a camera set to all levels of zoom at once.

For this reason – that the book appears to be “all over the place” at once – we can’t really go into detail with the book’s central ideas, since they seem to be so manifold that they contradict one another.

Back to School

The problematic thing about Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types is that it is by no means a bad book as much as it is merely unclear and insufficiently argued. There are points that are original here (which we will get to in a moment), but there are also points that appear to be merely Johnston’s willful interpretation of Jung’s original book on the types.

A typical argument in the book runs like this: The book quotes Psychological Types at length and then advances an interpretation of the quote as being the “correct” one. The book says in the foreword that there is still much disagreement over the correct way to read Jung (since he wrote so abstrusely), but within the book itself such considerations are left behind. As mentioned, the book advances a quote by Jung and then an interpretation of that quote as being the “right” interpretation. Arguments as to why that interpretation is the right one, or arguments refuting other obvious interpretations of the same quote, are sadly lacking, and so the reader is left with the feeling of being back in school where the teacher’s interpretation of the text is the right one simply because he is the teacher and he does the grading. Again, it is not that the interpretations are bad, as much as it is the manner in which they are presented that fails to satisfy the critical reader.

Rejecting the Standard Model

In the book, Johnston rejects the standard four-function model which is based on Jung-Heraclitus’s law of enantiodromia and says that a person’s functions alternate between E and I (e.g. Ti-Ne-Si-Fe). Johnston does accept the four-function model, but like V.W. Odajnyk, Johnston distances himself from the order of function orientations that were derived from the enantiodromia. However, while Odajnyk merely questions whether the interpretation derived from the enantiodromia holds true, Johnston positively rejects it. Johnston agrees that there is a “primary 16 types,” but to him, those types will be quite different from the ones that we know. For example, Johnston identifies his own two uppermost functions as Ni and Ti, while his two lowermost functions, by implication, are Se and Fe (not necessarily in that order). Ni dominance with Ti is found in INFJs according to the standard model, but in Johnston’s model it would not make sense to say that he was an INFJ, as his Thinking ranks higher than his Feeling, although ironically, perhaps, while reading the book we conjectured that Johnston was an INFJ, even before we had seen his self-assessment which is only included at the end of the book.

(This last point is merely of minor importance. We could just as easily be biased in our way of thinking as we are habituated to work with the standard model. So Johnston may be right and we may be wrong. But we did find it funny nevertheless.)

The overall point is this: The book posits an alternative model, but doesn’t really argue that the standard model is mistaken. One could argue that that is not really the responsibility of the author, but since the standard model is not some accidental construct, but one that has actually been continuously refined since the 1950s, one may perhaps raise an eyebrow when somebody advances a contesting interpretation without so much as giving his reasons for why we should abandon the standard model.

Johnston does have original points to make. For example, he says that in the Se types the ego is conflated with the environment. He also points out how Ne types hate conformity because they hate their own inferior Si. Another example of Johnston’s contributions to the field is when he says that Fe types tend to lose their authentic selves in a stream of external situations, as each situation is perceived as “requiring” their empathic participation. However, these contributions drown in the sea of striving to be everything at once.

The Path of Individuation

There is a matter in which the book is undoubtedly right with regards to honoring Jung’s intentions behind crafting his system of psychological types, though, and that is where Johnston lays out the purpose for studying type at all. To him (as to Jung) the purpose is one of individuation: To lay bare how one’s personality has differentiated itself away from wholeness (for example, if you are a T dominant, you need to work on integrating your F into the whole personality). As the Jung quote at the start of this article shows, this was undeniably also Jung’s cardinal purpose for dabbling in typology himself.

So Johnston honors and agrees with Jung when he says that the purpose of typology is individuation, but Johnston overplays his hand when he says that typology cannot be understood apart from individuation. Again, in Jung’s own view, this is correct, but to understand why this is nevertheless wrong, one must recall David Hume’s split between the descriptive and the normative: Is does not imply ought. Being a ‘type’ (is), does not imply that one ought to find back to the center. And that is why practitioners and personal friends of Jung, such as van der Hoop and von Franz, could dabble in typology (indeed, write books about it) without mentioning individuation in the least. To Jung, “the intellectually detached classifying point of view is just the thing to be avoided.” To others, the intellectually detached classifying point of view was their whole reason for being attracted to typology in the first place.

The Middle is not the Middle

A perpetual theme of the book, as stemming from the goal of individuation, is the notion of “finding one’s way back to the center.” To this purpose, the book invokes Jung, Aristotle, Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Confucius and others, positing that they all subscribed to some form of the notion of “finding one’s way back to the center.” However, we think that it is a mistake to say that the firmly dualistic Aristotle, who would scold whatever did not live up to the law of contradiction, was in agreement with Lao Tzu, who positively reveled in contradiction. Likewise, Jung disliked Aristotle, calling his work a “lifeless desert,” and so on. It is possible that all of these thinkers voiced thought that contains themes of unity and return, but to say that what all of them were trying to get at was essentially just individuation, in the Jungian sense, is to miss the grist of these thinkers’ thoughts.

This approach of wanting to see essentially the same thought in all of these various thinkers makes Johnston essentially a pan-logicist. But there is nothing odd about this, since Johnston stays close to Jung, and Jung is also (most of the time) a pan-logicist. To give an example, see Jung’s interpretation of the Buddha’s enlightenment in Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido: Here, Jung says that the reason that the Buddha was enlightened under a tree was that the tree was a symbol of the Mother and that the Buddha’s enlightenment was an introversion of libido as the return to Mother’s uterus!

But pan-logicism is quite the opposite of what either the Buddha or Lao Tzu taught! With pan-logicism, one can lean back and use one’s analytical faculties to find one’s way back to the center: One can find out where the middle is, and then start walking in that direction. What could be easier? However, to the Buddha , for example, these things look quite different: Rather than identify where the middle is, one needs to look beneath the immediate fabric of reality, to see the harmony in the midst of the tension. According to this way of thinking, even the most differentiated T dominant (with no integration of his F function) is as genuine and harmonious an expression of reality as the T dominant who has attained a full integration of his F function. That is why the Buddha said: “I gained nothing at all from Supreme Enlightenment, and for that very reason it is called Supreme Enlightenment.”

So according to the Buddha, the “middle” is actually no middle at all. We cannot analytically determine a point which is the “middle” and then start walking towards that. That is why Heraclitus said that: “The road up and the road down is still the same road.”

Yes – to understand how the “middle” is actually no middle at all, one should read Heraclitus (with whom Jung was fascinated his whole life) or read Nagarjuna (who, as far as we know, was not an object of study for Jung).

No Book on Type without a Bias

Finally, it seems that most books on type must have some bias. In Keirsey, there was a bias in favor of the NT types, and in Myers, there was a bias against S types, and so on. In this book, we do not get a bias against S types, which is refreshing, but we do get a bias in favor of introverts. For example, in the chapter introducing introverts to the reader, we are treated to two examples of what an introvert is like: One is Albert Einstein, who didn’t want to talk to anybody for weeks on end, but only wanted to play the piano and study silently in his room. The other is J.S. Bach who reportedly didn’t “make an effort” to write his melodies, but simply snatched them out of the depths of his consciousness.

Now it is possible that some introverts will read these descriptions and think that these manners of conduct resonate with them. But these descriptions do in no way apply to your typical introvert. By selecting two extreme cases of genius to introduce the notion of an introvert to the reader, the book makes it sounds as if all introverts are either able to pull immortal masterpieces out of their cognition without having to put work into it, or that all introverts want to study alone for weeks on end and never get lonely or need to interact with other people.

On the conceptual level, the bias in favor of introverts is again in keeping with Jung, who was known to give extroverts a hard time in private and to generally favor introverts over extroverts, as indicated by the following quotes:

“Jung has [given many] reasons why the introvert is held back. It is true that he has mentioned many reasons; in fact, I can think of no possibility that he has omitted.” – Henry A. Murray

“Neither extraverted analysts nor extraverted patients have ever felt very much at home in Jungian circles.” – Marilyn Nagy

But ask yourself: Would Psychological Types have been a good book if Jung had bashed the extroverts and elevated the introverts in accordance with his personal biases? Is Psychological Types not a good book exactly because Jung defies his own biases in order to see the blessings and faults of both introverts and extroverts?

In fairness, we must repeat that there is nothing unusual about a book on Jungian typology having a bias for or against some types. If Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types had re-perpetuated the perennial bias against S types as found in the literature, we hardly would have raised an eyebrow. Not because such a bias is fair to the S types, but simply because it is so commonplace (and regrettably so).

An Encumbrance of Superego

In closing, Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types is certainly an original book. While it covers almost all of the same extrapolations of Jung’s theory that have previously been proposed (Myers, Keirsey, etc.), it manages to do so in its own way. However, one wonders why the book does not credit or mention other theorists when it repeats their innovations while merely adding its own flavor to them.

Johnston does know a thing or two about Jung, and unlike, certain other authors in the field, Johnston has studied and read Psychological Types. By the intention of a close adherence to Jung, as well as the sheer amount of perspectives that are touched upon in this book, everyone can expect to find something in here which they will agree with (and by implication, everyone will also find something in here which they will disagree with). We will certainly quote the parts that we agree with approval in our own book.

However, the overall structure of the book is flawed. It tries to do too many things at once and to be the “be all, end all” of books on type. The building blocks of an original book on the types are here, but in its present form, Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types cannot be said to live up to a Gifts Differing, a Character and the Unconscious, a  Lectures on Jung’s Typology, or even a Please Understand Me II, as all of these titles at least present a coherent take on how Jung’s typology should be understood, rather than trying to cover every possible interpretation at once.

A final observation: As Jung’s contemporary van der Hoop once said, Freudian psychology can sometimes yield some perspectives that Jungian psychology will miss and vice versa. In reading this book, a Freudian might have said that such an attempt to cover every possible interpretation of the subject material ultimately stems from a desire to appease the superego and that the author should work towards easing the encumbrance that he feels from the superego.

In its present form, we cannot recommend Jung’s Compass of Psychological Types. But if Johnston re-wrote the book with the aim of laying out what he wants to say (rather than trying to say everything), then his book could become a new Gifts Differing (and one that stays closer to the original Jung to boot). It could become a book that was more focused, more original, and where Johnston was singing in his own voice.


  1. An extremely competent review. You guys should write your own book to set things straight.

  2. I am planning on reading the book. I think though your approach to reading the book should not be “does this make sense?” as much as it should be “is this humanely experiencable”? Meaning — what kind of experiences led to the writing of the book rather than is this book “true” or “false”… as you say yourself to a critical reader the book is not satisfying, but to a curious reader the book should be “interesting!”. I enjoyed reading the review though and will read it again after reading the actual book. My main concern is, however, how sustainable is the state in which the reader was in while writing the book, and whether it is possible that he changed his mind about it soon after writing the book. We’ll see!

  3. After reading the book your review makes much more sense. It is as if the author planned to communicate something profound but did little effort or had little luck doing so.

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