Michael Goist is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. While at the time of this writing, Beethoven is not yet added to the site, Goist here states his case for why Beethoven is INFP (in contradistinction to Lawrence Bevir’s more conceptual allusion to Beethoven as a possible INTJ here). This article does not reflect the views of the site admins, but Goist‘s own insights and assessments, which are not necessarily the same as those of the site.
By Michael Goist
Classical composers are rarely discussed in depth by typologists. A general lack of interest in classical music is one obvious reason. The difficulty and often piecemeal nature of the historical sources is another. However, at the time of this writing (2016), a general (if ill-researched) consensus of Bach (ISJ), Mozart (SFP), and Beethoven (INTJ) nevertheless appears to have formed.
The popular assessment of Beethoven as INTJ is intuitively understandable. As far as stereotypes go, INTJ is of course the perfunctory assessment of any genius of robust character that succeeded in leaving their mark upon the world. Moreover, Beethoven is documented to have had many temperamental dispositions associated with INTJs, such as a forbidding and arrogant introverted demeanor, a burning passion for the social liberty of the individualistic loner, and a disdain for authority and the aristocratic elite.
Today we remember Beethoven as a diehard revolutionary who, whether by genius or pure force of will, single-handedly changed the face of music over a span of 25 years. Casting a cursory glance at the general pattern of Jungian typology available to us, we could be forgiven for thinking that he would fit the same mold as Rand, Nietzsche, Hitchens, Tesla, et al. However, what distinguishes a true analysis of someone’s type from a mere game of stereotypes is, in part, a prolonged engagement with the sources available to us – those prolonged testimonies of cognitive activity that allow us to go beyond the emergent figure that has etched itself into our collective perception as part of popular culture.
For this reason, Beethoven’s letters and the written testimonials penned by the people who knew him will be of far more value to us than a post hoc analysis of how Beethoven supposedly changed the face of music. Onward, then, to the sources.
The first thing one might notice when reading Beethoven’s letters is the substantial presence of Introverted Feeling, permeating the whole of his temperament. From the get-go, Beethoven reveals a sensitive inner temperament, informed by personal emotions and sentiments of all kinds, and accompanied by stark, directly articulated values and opinions. Let me furnish three examples to this end:
Beethoven: “Only with the deepest regret am I forced to perceive that the purest, most innocent feelings can often be misconstrued.”
Beethoven: “I possess the power of concealing and suppressing my sensitiveness with regard to a number of things; but if I am once roused at a time when I am susceptible to anger, then I speak straight out, more so than any other person.”
Beethoven: “True art is imperishable, and the true artist feels inward pleasure in the production of great works.”
Conversely, Beethoven’s letters do not reveal much of a disposition for fellow-feeling or mutualistic social graces. The testimony of the Extroverted Feeling-dominant Johann Wolfgang von Goethe comes in handy here:
Goethe: “He is … not at all in the wrong, if he finds the world detestable, but he thereby does not make it more enjoyable either for himself or others.”
The implications of Goethe’s characterization are clear enough: As an Extroverted Feeler cognizant of consequences and inclined to stir the dispositions of others to work with each other (rather than against each other), Goethe is eminently aware of the difficulties created by Beethoven’s predisposition for pursuing his own sentiments to their furthest possible extent before stopping to take stock of the reactions of others.
Since at the time of this writing, no one seems to seriously entertain the possibility that Beethoven was an Fe/Ti type, I will not dwell too long on this point. However, should one wish to do so, one could easily multiply these examples with testimonies bearing witness to Beethoven’s predilection for inner sincerity and own-feeling over courtesy, propriety, and fellow-feeling.
The Classical INTJ Brusqueness?
Might we then, from this general assessment, conclude that since Beethoven was often at odds with his associates and with the general customs of his time, we are dealing with the infamous INTJ brusqueness, roughness (when viewed through the lens of Fe), and perhaps even arrogance? It is not out of the question. So let’s examine further.
If Beethoven were INTJ, Introverted Intuition would have held the primary sway over his psyche. As Ryan Smith and Eva Gregersen have pointed out in their work, “Ni submerges previously assimilated insights from consciousness only to suddenly have them resurface as ingenious, creative new syntheses” and “goes from the many to the one.” Introverted Intuition is represented structurally as convergent motion, in which several fragments are absorbed unconsciously and developed over time, to finally converge on a holistic unified vision of great explanatory power. This cognitive process does fit Beethoven (superficially, at least) in a number of cases. For example, we learn from music historians that Beethoven’s initial compositional style was a synthesis of various fragmented styles that he had assimilated during the early years of his career. We also see that from the early 1800s and onwards, Beethoven’s self-labeled “neuer Weg” (new path) leads him forward into new creative territory – his so-called Heroic period, in which he comes into his own as a composer and writes a large number of his most famous works.
Would this be a flash of Ni, perhaps? Perhaps. Again, one could certainly be forgiven for concluding that based on the movements of music history and Beethoven’s place in it. However, we also learn from music historians that Beethoven’s early tendency to synthesize is really nothing special, but simply how most young composers who later made a name for themselves operated – Bach, Handel, Mozart, and so on. Unless one is prepared to argue that they were all INJs, the synthesis argument really shouldn’t carry much weight.
Then there is the question of musical history. Again, when viewed from the outside, Beethoven’s place does seem to fit that of an archetypical INTJ. But again, this archetype should not carry the same weight in our analysis as the direct evidence we have concerning Beethoven’s personality.
Personally, I understand full well how some of the tidbits of arrogance and brusqueness could be marshalled to suggest Ni and INTJ as the correct type for Beethoven’s psyche. However, I believe that the counter-case of Extroverted Intuition in Beethoven’s psyche has been rather under-argued and under-researched. So let’s look at the case for Ne.
Let us, however, start with a brief definition. Extroverted Intuition does not streamline information the way Introverted Intuition does. One could say that they are mirror images of each other in this respect. Whereas Ni broods, slowly fusing the pieces into an overarching vision, Ne springs into action, seizing upon whatever novel or unexpected idea happens to catch its fancy and riding the idea in a state of intellectual exaltation until all immediate possibilities from it have been exhausted. In this way, Ne carries the individual’s psyche through a multiplicity of loosely connected states and ideas, each somehow related to the next, but never quite dives as deeply into the archetypical realm as Ni does. As the site admins have said in their work, Ne “generates a flurry of clever and loose ideas when it comes into contact with intellectual novelty [but] quickly exhausts every new idea that the novelty affords and moves on.” In other words, it goes “from the one to the many.”
Now, concerning Beethoven, our sources report that:
Johann Rochlitz: “Once [Beethoven] is in the vein, rough, striking witticisms, droll conceits, surprising and exciting paradoxes suggest themselves to him in a continuous flow.”
Lewis Lockwood: “An essential aspect of Beethoven’s development is his ability to turn back to aesthetic models, and even musical ideas, that are characteristic of Haydn and Mozart, then elaborate and transform them. In doing so he follows no single track but shows constant evidence of spreading in many directions.”
Beethoven: “From the focus of enthusiasm I must discharge melody in all directions: I pursue it, capture it again passionately; I see it flying away and disappearing in the mass of varied agitations…”
In my estimation, the sources present us with evidence of Ne, not quite as obviously as Fi, nor quite as frequently; but the evidence is certainly there, and to a far greater extent than one could marshal evidence of Ni in Beethoven’s psyche.
The sources would thus appear to suggest Fi and Ne as Beethoven’s functions, and not Ni. If correct, this would of course rule out INTJ and ENTJ as Beethoven’s type, since NTJs direct their intuition inwards, not outwards. If the primacy of Fi and Ne are agreed to, it would thus leave us with only two possible types for Beethoven: ENFP and INFP.
Was Beethoven Introverted or Extroverted?
At the time of this writing, the general consensus on Beethoven is that he was an introvert. However, many of these arguments are based on behavioral criteria for introversion, which, as the site admins have previously pointed out, are not really relevant for the Jungian criteria for introversion and extroversion.
Yes, Beethoven was shy, a loner, kept to himself, and so on. But none of this precludes being an extrovert in the Jungian sense. So how can we know if he was a true Jungian introvert (i.e. putting subjective considerations before objective ones) or whether his demeanor merely made him seem like an introvert, according to these behavioral (and thus inapplicable) criteria?
From a function-based approach to typology, this will be extremely difficult, since ENFP and INFP have all of the same functions, in almost the same order. Still, one way is to look for the degree to which Beethoven’s Fi was beholden to pure ideals vs. the degree to which it was bundled up with real-world considerations. For a full treatment of this difference, I refer to Jung’s original portrait of the Fi dominant type in Psychological Types, as well as Eva Gregersen’s elaboration of that text, Inferior Te in INFPs and ISFPs, found here on the site. Ryan Smith’s Jung in Plain Language: Fi will also be helpful here.
As I said, this difference can sometimes be paper-thin. However, the principle is as follows:
- In their cognitive life, IFPs are, all else being equal, more prone to fashion parallelisms of a purely artistic nature, where their values can be expressed in a parallel reality (e.g. through art and fiction) without being tainted or deluded by outside influences. As the CelebrityTypes writer Boye Akinwande has also pointed out, the intensification and purity of these values is the end goal itself for IFP types.
- With EFPs, however, the individual immediate perceptual engagement with the outside world is much stronger and bundled up with current events and agendas. Through their Fi, EFPs can typically put a uniquely personal spin on the issues of the day, which already preoccupy and hold sway over so many minds. But (again all else being equal), EFPs are more inclined to let their cognitive life gravitate toward the present-day affairs that they see the people of their day engage with.
In Beethoven’s case, my reading of the sources suggests that he was more preoccupied with pure value abstractions (as Jung says of the Fi dominant type) than with the real-world affairs and considerations of his times. While Beethoven did in fact voice a number of political remarks during his lifetime, Beethoven biographers like Lewis Lockwood have nonetheless reached the same conclusion, stating that Beethoven was not preoccupied with applying these ideals to the real world. Indeed, he appears to have been fascinated with the ideals of the radical Enlightenment and the anti-monarchist tendencies contained therein, but by and large (and unlike Wagner, for example) never appeared to have much of a drive to realize these ideals. As Beethoven’s own remarks make clear, he first and foremost thought of himself as inhabiting a world that was clearly a utopian realm, separate from earthly reality and its nature.
On the other hand, one could here object that Beethoven was well read on current events, and his statements in relation to them were frequently ambivalent and confusing, as if entertaining multiple perspectives rather than channeling a few crystallized personal values. His somewhat obsessive relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte offers a fascinating example:
Baron Louis-Philippe de Tremont: “[Beethoven’s] mind was much occupied with the greatness of Napoleon. … Through all his resentment I could see that he admired [Napoleon’s] rise from such obscure beginnings…”
Maynard Solomon: “Beethoven regarded Bonaparte as an embodiment of Enlightened leadership, but, simultaneously, he felt betrayed by Bonaparte’s Caesarist deeds.”
In his Beethoven biography, Maynard Solomon walks us through Beethoven’s conflicting perspectives on Napoleon. If one merely read Beethoven’s remarks on Napoleon at face value, one might easily be forgiven for thinking that Beethoven’s cognition was greatly beholden to immediate, real-world events as they unfolded around him. However, what such a perspective would miss is the fact that Beethoven had already formed a consummate subjective ideal of what the ideal ruler should be like prior to having heard of Napoleon. In Beethoven’s mind, the ideal ruler did not want power for power’s sake, but for the sake of bringing change and social harmony to the people through the promotion of the ideals of the Enlightenment.
The “all-or-nothing” type of commitment of inferior Extroverted Thinking to real-world tradeoffs can, in my opinion, be seen in Beethoven’s extreme black-and-white judgments of Napoleon. When Beethoven heard that Napoleon had seized power for himself (yet prior to Napoleon’s most autocratic deeds), Beethoven readily denounced him in the following manner: “Then he, too, is nothing but an ordinary mortal! Now he also will tread all human rights underfoot, will gratify only his own ambition, will raise himself up above all others and become a tyrant!”
It seems to me that Beethoven did not engage with the political realities that Napoleon faced and judge him on that basis. Rather, it seems that Napoleon was parallelistically identified as the carrier of Beethoven’s subjective sentiments and values, with Beethoven not taking much of an interest in Napoleon the Man but merely relying on him as an outer device onto which these inner ideals could be projected. This assertion can be backed up by Solomon. On the topic of the Eroica Symphony, which reflects Beethoven’s initial adulation for Napoleon, Solomon says: “[In this symphony, Beethoven] was able to evoke a dream heroism that neither he nor his native Germany nor his adopted Vienna could express in reality.”
The Tertiary Function: Sensation or Thinking?
Another way to distinguish between INFP and ENFP types is that INFPs have tertiary Sensation while ENFPs have tertiary Thinking. With their tertiary Extroverted Thinking, ENFPs can often be surprisingly entrepreneurial with regards to motivating real-world movements and pushing for specific values and outcomes to be applied to the sphere of real-world affairs. INFPs, on the other hand, have inferior Extroverted Thinking, which, as both Eva Gregersen and Boye Akinwande have previously pointed out, typically makes them shy away from engaging with the “lesser of two evils” type of thinking that governs the majority of real-world tradeoffs. Of these two dispositions, I would argue that Beethoven is a better fit for the latter. According to both himself and the people who have studied him, Beethoven was uncomfortable and inept when it came to real-world appraisal, evaluation, assessments, and so on:
Beethoven: “Who troubles about … critics when one sees how the most wretched scribblers are praised up by such critics, and how they speak in the harshest way of works of art, and are indeed forced to do so, because they have not – as the cobbler has his last – the proper standard.”
Beethoven: “[Naming prices for my works is a] troublesome business … I only wish it could be otherwise in the world. There ought to be an artistic depot where the artist need only hand in his artwork in order to receive what he asks for. As things are, one must be half a businessman, and how can one understand – good heavens! That’s what I really call troublesome.”
O.G. Sonneck: “It was one of the tragedies of [Beethoven’s] life that … circumstances compelled him to devote much attention to matters of business … for which he was by temperament unfit.”
Tertiary Si in INFPs
Conversely, we might also look at the ways in which tertiary Si tends to manifest in INFPs. Just as with INTPs, the tertiary Si in INFPs tends to lend a slowly developing, meticulous and archiving quality to the INFP’s exploration of their inner values and the parallelistic inner world that they create. A good overview of this process can be found in Jesse Gerroir’s article Another Look at INTP, found elsewhere on the site.
In Beethoven’s case, we know from Lockwood and others how he famously kept his elaborate sketchbooks so carefully over so many years that in the end they contained a complete compilation of his own artistic development. According to some of his biographers, these personal records are more illustrative of his artistic genius than the finished works he published. Indeed, while Beethoven’s finished scores could sometimes be haphazard, the notebooks, which contain a wealth of pre-compositional material, are both elaborate and intact. In his famed attachment to them, Beethoven was at any time able to look back over the details of his personal, idealistic, and artistic development, as well as the formative background against which they took place.
As the various authors of the Determining Function Axes series have pointed out, Introverted Sensation is not just its own function, but exists in a state of Heraclitean tension with its counterpart, Extroverted Intuition. In INFPs, both of these functions are in the conscious domain, allowing the INFP to compile and construct their ideal world through the complimentary dialectic of an ever-expanding sphere of interconnected loose ideas, which has its gaps filled in with factual substance and idiosyncratic specifics. This combination enables the INFP to come up with a convincing composite of facts and ideas that indirectly serves to represent their sentiments and values through some artistic or parallelistic production. In my opinion, this textbook illustration of the Ne-Si dynamic can clearly be seen in Beethoven’s psyche:
Beethoven: “I carry my thoughts about with me for a long time, sometimes a very long time, before I set them down. At the same time my memory is so faithful to me that I am sure not to forget a theme that I have once conceived, even after years have passed. I make many changes, reject and reattempt until I am satisfied. Then the working-out in breadth, length, height and depth begins in my head, and since I am conscious of what I want, the basic idea never leaves me. It rises, grows upward, and I hear and see the picture as a whole take shape, so that all that is left is the work of writing it down.”
When I started my research, I expected Beethoven to come out as INTJ. As mentioned, many of the stories and themes that surround Beethoven seem to rank up with the classical pointers for INTJ. Think, for example, of the grandeur and archetypal artistic themes channeled by many of Beethoven’s larger works – struggle, victory, and a burning passion for radical change in the service of some grand idea. Is this not evidence of Beethoven being an INTJ?
The answer is that it could be, with the right information to back it up. But in my estimation, Beethoven’s struggle as a composer was not a struggle to see his ideas manifested in reality (as is indeed, by popular consensus, the struggle of most INTJs). In Beethoven’s case, his struggle was, in my opinion, an inwardly personal one: the struggle to validate and redeem his inner sentiments in the face of an uncomprehending public, an entrenched musical establishment, and – most of all – his own sense of alienation and inability to fit in with the external world. Such a struggle for the authentication of individualized sentiments is, in my opinion, the struggle of any FP type.
- Eaglefield-Hull (ed.): Beethoven’s Letters Dover 1972
- Lockwood: Beethoven: The Music and the Life W.W. Norton & Co. 2005
- Solomon: Beethoven Schirmer 2001
- Sonneck (ed.): Beethoven: Impressions by His Contemporaries Schirmer 1926
 Beethoven: “It is a peculiar sensation to see, to hear one’s self praised, and then to be conscious of one’s weakness, as I am. I always look upon such opportunities as warnings to approach nearer, however difficult it may be, to the unattainable goal which art and nature set before us.”