Feeling as a Rational Function

By Jesse Gerroir

Within the field of Jungian typology, Feeling and emotion are often thought to be same thing. While the best literature is careful not to confuse the two, I find that a lot of beginners, and even those more read, tend to be confused about what exactly is meant by Feeling within the field of Jungian typology.

feeling-thinkingMost notably, people often mix up the nature of the Feeling function with the general meaning of feeling and emotion in everyday language. However, while the two are related to some extent, the relationship between them is by no means straightforward, and in this article I will try to give a greater understanding of the difference between the two.

The foremost misconception about Feeling is that Feeling is somehow irrational. Indeed, when Jung wrote Psychological Types he broke with a tradition stretching back at least 250 years that tended to regard feelings as irrational impulses stemming from the heart (and this tradition is still very much alive today). For better or worse, Jung went against the grain of this tradition when he set out to craft his typology and insisted that Feeling was a rational function.

As mentioned, the view that feelings are merely irrational impulses is still very much alive today. And because a lot of beginners don’t really study Jungian typology, a lot of people end up believing that F types will act with little reason or thought, being merely bounced about by an array of irrational feelings. This is precisely the cardinal error that one falls into when one mixes Feeling (in the Jungian sense of the word) with feeling (in the everyday sense of the word).

In this article I will explore the relationship between “Jungian Feeling” and “everyday feeling.” I will also attempt to demonstrate how Feeling can be just as rational as Thinking. However, it should be said that Jung was not particularly clear on this point and that there are no generally accepted answers to these questions.

Feeling as a Rational Function

Within the field of Jungian typology, Feeling is a rational function alongside Thinking, indeed it is just as rational as Thinking. Thinking and Feeling, be they extroverted or introverted, are rational functions because they judge and review information and come to a decision on how to make sense of the information.

However, the way Thinking and Feeling make decisions based upon the information is different. Thinking tends to make decisions or render judgment based on the impersonal, factual, and logical aspects of the information. Feeling tends to make decisions and render judgment based upon the personal, agreeable, and ideal aspects of the information, as well as the needs of the people who are involved in the situation.

Both functions are rational in the sense that they prioritize the information picked up by the Sensation and Intuitive functions and they structure that information into a judgment. While today we are very much accustomed to breaking things down into arguments and counterarguments, a substantial part of our cognition as human beings is nevertheless susceptible to appeals that come via our sympathies, or that come from someone who cuts an agreeable figure in our eyes. An appeal that engages our emotional side allows us not merely to identify the speaker’s point of view and weigh it according to his arguments, but to identify with the speaker’s point of view and to become him for a minute or two.

In this state we will feel what the other party feels. Once we are sympathetic to the other party, we are no longer dealing with the abstractions of logic where we might as well break one egg as we may break another. The internal world of the other party is now palpable and present. The values, beliefs, and understandings of the other, once we have felt them as our own, will allow us to judge and review that information, just like we could with Thinking. But by judging it with Feeling, we will evaluate the message differently than if we had merely seen his situation in terms of arguments and counterarguments. And by judging it with Feeling we will be prompted to make a different decision than we would if we had reviewed the same information with Thinking.

In this way, Jung follows in the footsteps of Aristotle. To Aristotle, both Thinking and Feeling appeals have reasoning behind them, but one type of appeal will often have a greater effect on an individual than the other. Jung essentially followed Aristotle in his exploration of the difference between Thinking and Feeling. Jung also arrived at the conclusion that both sides have valid underpinnings to their conclusions, just different considerations, and that people are naturally disposed to consider one side to carry more weight than the other.

Jungian Feeling vs. Everyday Feeling

The example I just gave about judging with Feeling was about Jungian Feeling. And while the everyday use of the word “feeling” may have some similarities with that, there are also some significant differences.

For example, in the everyday parlance we tend to understand feeling in the same way that we would understand emotion. The phrases “she is being really emotional”, “he is having an emotional outburst”, and “she has emotional problems,” are commonly thought of as having to do with feelings, but they need not have anything to do with Feeling as defined in the Jungian sense.

With everyday feeling, we often talk about being overcome with base, instinctual, and primitive reactions. Whereas Feeling in a Jungian sense is more concerned with a higher level refined judgment.

The challenge is therefore to figure out where the notion of everyday feeling fits into Jungian typology if it can’t squarely be grouped under Feeling. In truth, while “everyday feeling” does have some overlaps with Jungian Feeling, the two are distinct, and Jungian typology doesn’t say much about the nature of everyday feeling.

This pertains to the fact that Jungian typology does not set out to describe the whole personality. The cognitive functions and their directions don’t accurately describe everyday feeling. That was always Freud’s spiel and not Jung’s. But there is another personality system which delves more into feeling as it is understood in an everyday sense, and that is the Big Five system, which we will hear more about shortly.

4 Comments

  1. Fine article as usual Jesse Gerroir,

    I’m glad to see this common misconception being addressed appropriately. As a dominant introverted feeler, I have seen far too many people jump to the erroneous conclusion that feeling types are irrational, overly emotional/sensitive, and incapable of any logical or critical thinking. This reflects not only a failure to distinguish Jungian nomenclature from more colloquial speech, but other misconceptions/biases and pitfalls beginners may fall into such as associating ability and interests with type. To give an example whenever I tell my type to fellow students in my mathematics courses there is usually a sudden shock and disbelief that I’m Fi-dominant; surely a dominant feeler type has no place in such a logical and objective discipline! Yet despite the obvious fallacy of this sentiment towards feelers it pervades amongst a large portion of psyche-type enthusiasts.

    It is my hope that as celebrity types continues releasing elucidating articles such as this one that more people will come to a clearer understanding of this science. In particular,I find that the Psychological Aesthetics of Fe and Fi would be excellent articles to establish the innate values these functions use when creating art, which could be analogous to decision-making.

  2. I’ll give my thoughts on feeling vs. emotion. I don’t know if I could say that my understanding of feeling agrees with Jung or not, but it’s a starting place. First, let me share my latest thoughts:

    One difference between emotions and feelings is that emotions are easily transferred. I’m angry at another driver because he cut me off–but he isn’t real to me, and anybody who cut me off could be the recipient of my anger. Also, I might be angry with myself, but take it out on objects, a dog or another person. The emotion I’m feeling isn’t directed at anything or anyone in particular. It just is. Feelings, on the other hand, are “attached” to somebody. Love, or appreciation, or resentment, for instance, are specific to a particular person, and they are lasting.

    My thoughts along these lines led me to consider how we say express these sentiments grammatically, and it seems to me, that how we express them also reflects the nature of the sentiment whether emotion or feeling. For instance, anger: “I’m mad at you”. Notice the reflexive nature of the expression. “I am” denotes a state of being, and then the adjective describing that state of being “mad” It is intransitive in that “I am mad” doesn’t have an object. The supposed recipient “you” is reduced to be the object of a prepositional phrase “at you”. Other expressions, “I am in love with you” also focuses on the subject, not the object.

    One other example as a segue to feeling. “I’m jealous of you”. Usually, this expression is meant to mean “I envy you”, but the expression does work for true jealousy, which is an emotion, but an emotion with a true object. A husband can be jealous over his wife, or a parent over their child, but the true object is not the spouse or child, but someone else’s attentions toward the child. This is reflected grammatically in the sentence. One can’t jealous somebody. One can be jealous over or for somebody. However, envy, on the other hand, is rooted on an object. “I envy you,” is specific. There is an object “you” of which you are envious for a specific reason, and that reason and person cannot be transferred. “I envy you” why? because they are tall? or handsome? or rich? There is a specific reason, whereas with jealousy, there is none. Jealousy is an emotion, while envy is a feeling.

    That covers, I think, the traditional understanding of feelings vs. emotions. The real question is, can this also apply to the Jungian understanding of feelings? It may be possible, because feelings, having an object, and being attached to something, requires judging. Also, I suspect that it would be possible to rationalize someone out of envy, and I’ve seen people rationalize themselves out of love (marriage relationship). But I am not sure yet… these are only recent thoughts I’ve been pondering…

  3. I think Feeling is basically rationalizing emotions without dismissing their value.F function deal with emotions like something that can be argued with, that can show insight into the value of one action or another; and not just primal impulses. Emotions as primal impulses is just that, but F is a more complex of dealing with them.

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