On Typology and Method

Since there continues to be confusion about our method and approach to typology, we’ve made this video to clarify what it is we do and why we do it and hopefully dispel any lingering misunderstandings.

The first choice of any approach to typology is to select what sources one will admit into one’s theoretical framework. Unfortunately, most typologists online never come around to making this choice and so put themselves at the mercy of a random heap of typology texts they’ve happened to come across.

In our case, the foundational texts for our approach can be imagined as a pentagon, the edges of which are: C.G. Jung, M.-L. Von Franz, J.H. van der Hoop, Isabel Briggs Myers and our own contributions and texts. (For some reason, a lot of visitors seem to think that we have never bothered to spell out our method, but in reality, we have published hundreds of articles on typology on our website and been cited by several universities, peer-reviewed journals and the Isabel Briggs Myers Memorial Library.)

This means, for example, that one of the best-selling books on typology ever, namely David Keirsey’s Please Understand Me and the theories offered there is not admitted into the framework that we use for making sense of typology.

But here is another thing that we do and which, as far as we know, we are the only ones to do: We combine the above-mentioned theoretical approach to Jungian typology with a Popperian epistemology, which, in a nutshell, means that we accept that inductive arguments cannot yield foolproof results.

Since the problem of induction has never been solved, this means that almost all knowledge is tentative. That is to say, both the theoretical framework for understanding typology and individual type assessments can never be regarded as complete, but always exist in a state of refinement and evolution.

However, most online typologists simply never accept this point. Not only do they rely on a random heap of contradictory typology knowledge; they also present their type assessments as if they possessed some final merit that could absolve them from having to observe the evolutionary approach to typology.

They also do not seem to understand that the best way to further the business of typology is to isolate and present one’s arguments as neatly and cleanly as possible, or – if one finds oneself on the other side of the fence – to present neat refutations of the arguments others have levelled as cleanly as possible. This is what Popper called the process of ‘conjectures and refutations.’ Instead, they seem to rely on exactly the method that Popper cautioned against, namely to flood their interlocutors with a “full tide of lofty images and words” as if to cover up the individual nuts and bolts of their case in an attempt to present it as an irrefutable whole that must be agreed to. Frequently, they also attack the person behind the arguments, instead of attacking the arguments.

On the other hand, while many typologists are ignorant of these epistemological issues and have no conscious or consistent methodology, academic psychologists seem to accept the Popperian epistemology, but then draw the wrong conclusion from it: They assert that since the exercise of function-based typology cannot be falsified in the same way as more empirical models of personality then one should abandon the practice of typology altogether. These academics typically hold this position in the name of not “going beyond the facts.” But ironically, in a Popperian epistemology, the facts themselves can never be made to suggest much, since what people take to be “facts” and “data” is itself determined by the state of knowledge of a given field at a given time. A good dose of deductive theory and extrapolation will always be needed to make sense of things, and this is doubly true of typology.

In other words, the weight of the evidence behind, say, a type assessment such as Plato being INFJ, can never be finally established. But the claim can become more and more. probable as the claim attracts attention and accumulates evidence in its favor as well as successfully withstanding counterarguments.

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Now, concerning our approach to typology, we want to return to the matter of one’s theoretical framework. We have previously given several overviews of our approach – our work is non-behaviorist, psycho-dynamic, and function-based and takes a minimalist view of the scope of type – but one thing we’ve never said is that ours is the only possible approach to typology. There is an almost infinite number of approaches that one could take to typology and one could still be right within one’s own framework for understanding the discipline. For example, one could look at the dichotomies and not the functions. Or even if someone said they were using a function-based approach, they could differ from us, since we, following von Franz and van der Hoop, hold that the functions pertain to consciousness, whereas most people online who say they’re going by functions tend to tie functions to behavior rather than consciousness.

In this way, one’s theoretical framework for approaching typology can be likened to the language one speaks. As anyone who speaks more than one language will know, there is not always the possibility of a perfect translation. Yet we all use the same terminology; INFJ, ESTP, Fe, Fi, and so on. What you get when you see an online free-for-all discussion about someone’s type is like 20 people, all shouting at one another because they think they understand what the other party is saying when they hear the letters “INFJ”, but in reality they are all speaking different languages. That’s why method and a processual view of knowledge is so important to typology.

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Bizarrely, another thing that is often seen in typology is a jejune skepticism presented as a big insight. In this respect, typologists actually resemble academics in presenting themselves as uniquely critical and seasoned by refraining from entering the fray at all. For example, someone will make a long and studious argument about why person X is type Y and, without bothering to actually engage with the argument – without bothering to find fault with the argument – someone will say that it’s not possible to develop typology in that direction or to adequately conjecture the type of famous people at all. Nothing is easier than consigning oneself to such simplistic skepticism and, far from being a sign of critical thinking, it should be considered a sign of facile laziness. There are many important questions where uncertainty will blot out some of what we can know – for example, when exactly Jesus lived or what year Alexander invaded India – but that doesn’t mean that we should stop studying these questions or developing our knowledge and conjectures of them at all, of course. And nor does it mean that any conjecture on the matter is as good as any other.

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  • For a historiographical overview on the history of type assessments of Plato in the literature, see our article Why Plato Is INFJ.
  • Though we do not accept Keirsey’s general theoretical framework, we do accept his criticism of Intuition as pertaining more to introspection whereas Jung and Myers had described a mixup of introspection and introversion. We also concur with many of Keirsey Sr.’s type assessments, which he presented before we did, which is a strange thing given that we use different theoretical approaches.

18 Comments

  1. What I’d like to know is where you guys start. Say, for example, you decide that Elvis is your next typie. What is the first thing you do? Do you just type his name in a search engine? What about people like Joan of Arc who existed before print interviews?

    Also, what do you guys define as consciousness? We cannot for certain know what is going on inside a person. Do you look for traits? Do you look to see what two outer function a person exhibits (E.G., “this person shows Ne and Fe”)?

  2. Yeah, what DO you guys define as “consciousness?” That’s your biggest problem. You are essentially claiming to be mind-readers. There is literally nothing you can actually perceive about another person EXCEPT their behavior. You may claim to be able to detect the structures of someone’s consciousness THROUGH their behavior, but you still have to view them through the lens of their behavior. You have no direct line into their “consciousness” and never can.
    You also admit yourselves in various articles that different styles of thinkings can lead to similar conclusions, and similar styles of thinking wildly different conclusions. So how exactly can you say for sure that someone’s words or actions — again, the only actual things you have to go on — are the product of one particular “function” and not another? You can’t!

    Also, you say “the weight of the evidence behind, say, a type assessment such as Plato being INFJ, can never be finally established. But the claim can become more and more.”

    But HOW? You admit that typology is an inherently subjective, constantly changing field where everyone has their own highly variable ideas. So how can anyone ever find proof to establish the claim that Plato was an “INFJ” when no one can even agree to just what exactly an “INFJ” is? In your own article defending this particular typing, you basically skip over the auxiliary function “Fe” entirely and define Plato as essentially an “Ni-Ti” INFJ. At this point, the “F” is nonsensical. You conveniently have ignored the function that is ostensibly supposed to be more important to the INFJ than his thinking (and is used by yourselves to support others you have typed the same) in order to maintain the integrity of your system and force Plato into it even when he doesn’t fit. A better way of doing it would be to acknowledge that perhaps other theorists were right and it is possible to be an Ni-Ti INT type, a conclusion that simply makes more sense. After all, it has always been a hotly contentious debate as to what exactly the nature of the auxiliary and tertiary functions are, and Jung contradicted himself on this repeatedly multiple times, as I’m sure you are aware. What makes you so sure you have it all figured out now? What is your basis for stating that there are only 16 possible variations in human cognition, and that they all conform to a rigid pattern? Neither Jung nor Meyers believed this. There is no evidence of this. It is not a falsifiable claim. There are no peer reviewed studies establishing it. In short, it’s pure conjecture.

    Finally, you make this amusing claim:

    “Someone will say that it’s not possible to develop typology in that direction or to adequately conjecture the type of famous people at all. Nothing is easier than consigning oneself to such simplistic skepticism and, far from being a sign of critical thinking, it should be considered a sign of facile laziness.”

    Based on this logic, I can write a long and exhaustive argument that all rabbits are secretly telepathic geniuses, and when you refuse to write an equally long and exhaustive argument refuting it on the grounds that the claim is absurd and impossible to prove, I can accuse you of “facile laziness.” Yet it’s not that much of a stretch from what you are doing, as you are essentially claiming to be telepaths yourselves when you, say, claim Kanye West is an “ISFJ” despite the fact that this clearly makes no sense at all in terms of observable behavior and you make very poor, vague, and inconsistent arguments as to why it supposedly makes sense in your ill-defined system of analyzing only “consciousness.” You have it set up so that it is essentially impossible to argue against your conclusions, because you have defined all the rules and will shift them at will whenever they come under pressure.

    On a final note, this is a fallacious analogy:

    “for example, when exactly Jesus lived or what year Alexander invaded India ”

    These questions are at least those which it is theoretically POSSIBLE to resolve some day. Yours are… not. We can all agree on a coherent way to define and pinpoint dates and locations. Not so much on your ill-thought ideas of “consciousness” that collide with mainstream psychological consensus, the ideas of your contemporaries and forebears, basic common sense, and oftentimes yourselves.

  3. Haha PM has some strong Introverted Thinking :)

    I’m interested to see how the admins respond to that person, but also adding to my first post I’d like to point out what I consider some contradictions in the quotes you use (also, why and how do you determine what quotes you use to show how a person exhibits certain traits/behavior/cognition):

    You use the quotes “I was a dreamy child” and “Reality doesn’t interest me” to show Leni Riefenstahl as an ISFP, but to show Jarvis Cocker as INFP you use the quote “[I’ve] always been a bit out of touch with reality.” I’m not arguing for or against one type. Maybe Leni is ISFP and Jarvis is INFP, but why those quotes? What makes them different? Speaking of the ISFP page, how does Elton John calling Michael Jackson nice prove Michael was an ISFP? I do believe he was ISFP, but being nice is a behavior. There are many nice thinking, extroverted, and intuitive types.

    As I browsed the INFP page I noticed Shakespeare as an INFP because of “To thine own self be true.” Fair enough you can’t type the man through any other means except his work, but then why make the exception when you don’t do the same for authors, songwriters, and other creators? Why not use song lyrics and passages from other authors as quotes? And how do those three quotes under Shakespeare prove his is more INFP than ENFP, or ISFP, or ESFP? Because he is a writer? You have Fi there, but where is the proof for intuition over sensing or introversion over extroversion?

    These are just a few examples.

    For Ne quotes, the word “eccentric”and “spontaneous” are often used — and then there are playful quotes such as “Whatever – the soup is getting cold”. For Si quotes, “Tradition” and “responsibility”.

    None of this seems to have anything to do with cognition. If an INTJ was raised to believe in traditional values, and grew up without anything contradicting the idea that traditional values are the way to go — but still have the Ni-Te cognition– wouldn’t they come off as an Si type. But you guys say Si is about comparing present situation through a filter of past experiences. What does that have to do with tradition?

    If someone who in their childhood was a loud, bossy type, in their teenage years was worrisome, quiet, and sensitive, but grew up to be carefree and harsh, what would you say they are?

  4. Lively discussion. I’m just here to ask why you omit Keirsey’s contribution? I neither am attached to Keirsey nor averse to him, personally. Just curious.

  5. Nevermind. I see the addendum (?) to the original article post. But if you have more to add, I’m all ears/eyes.

  6. @PM As a contributor to the site, I can offer my perspective on the question of consciousness. Now, one of the admins will have to voice their opinion either way, as I cannot speak on their behalf, but I hope I may be able to shed some light on the matter…

    When I go about typing someone, especially philosophers, I think in terms of patterns, or more accurately philosophical archetypes. Now, admittedly, these archetypes are entirely based upon the typings available on this site. So, take Plato for example. While I cannot grant with any real certainty that Plato is an INFJ, I can say with confidence that, whatever his type may be, he is the same type as Schopenhauer, Spinoza, and Tolstoy, for example. Now on what grounds do I say this? In reading these four thinkers, I detect certain common threads. Now these aren’t strictly the same ideas, but they seem to rely on the same fundamental assumptions. For example, they are all ethical monists – that is, they all fundamentally agree that there is an underlying unity in all things, and that this unity is just – and not only that it’s just, but that any particular mode of being, insofar as it obscures this underlying unity, is a crime against Being itself. Now remember, these thinkers all differ vastly in how they express this underlying ontological assumption, but I firmly believe that the assumption is shared. Now, you may rightly accuse me of making an abstract idea from resemblances. I cannot defend myself from this claim, because the implied nominalism is psychologically alien to me. And this, as I understand it, is what the admins mean by “consciousness.” Now, I’m certainly not saying that nominalism is entirely incompatible with my type – whatever that type may be – but I do believe that a person’s philosophical assumptions are first and foremost psychological. You may disagree with me. I am a voluntarist. You may be an intellectualist. Dun Scotus was a realist voluntarist. Ockham was a nominalist voluntarist. Of course, we can’t induce type from a person’s philosophy. I could just as well be a nominalist, if I could square nominalism with the underlying assumptions that lead me to realism. Maybe none of this makes any sense. I’m sorry if that’s the case. But I’d like to return to Plato and ethical monism for a second. Now I mentioned that I firmly believe that Spinoza and Plato share a type. Does that mean that Hegel also shares their type? After all, he was certainly a Spinozist. But again, I ask you, is Hegel a Spinozist for the same reason that Schelling is a Spinozist? I really do not mean to speak so vaguely, but these are intrinsically vague notions. Or take Augustine, for example. He was certainly a neoplatonist. But for one, did he remain a neoplatonist, in the same way that Spinoza, for example, did? Or did he develop his own system which really has nothing to do with the underlying assumptions of a Plato, or a Spinoza? And let’s use Augustine, for example. Augustine formulated the argument from desire, or the notion that we can prove the existence of God from our insatiable desires. In a secular context, don’t we recognize something of the same idea in the romantics, especially in Chateaubriand and Byron, and much later, in Lacan’s theory of Lack. Now do we find anything of the sort in Plato? Can you seriously see Schopenhauer using his personal desire for the opposite sex to prove something so important to his system as God is to Augustine?

    Now, Jung would say that people are drawn to the same ideas, because they are the same sorts of people, and that these ideas are readily available to whoever feels so inclined toward them because they are archetypes available to us all, a priori. But it really doesn’t matter if Byron actually interacted with an inner archetype, or if he just read Augustine. And let’s say he did just take the idea from Augustine. Is it really any less of an argument in favor of a consciousness-based theory of the functions, if Byron did happen to read Augustine, and just happened to be stricken with that idea? We’ve all read a great deal in our lives, and yet we seem drawn to certain ideas. Jung would say that what fundamentally drives us toward certain ideas is type. But again, maybe you don’t see any similarities between the ideas I’ve mentioned. But what does it mean if I can find you people who will agree with you according to the same line of reasoning?

    Jung has an excellent quote about there being one consciousness that is poured into individual molds. According to this metaphor, type determines the same of that mold.

    You rightly say that we cannot get into other people’s heads, but we can look at ourselves. Play the assumption game, and see what you find. You might say that any rational person will arrive at the same premises. But does reason suggest axioms of itself? And even if it did, do you really think that everyone, in their core, cares about being reasonable? I hope I do not come across as rude, much to your point, it’s difficult to read intention into text. I really do applaud your taking us to task for this though. I think the article on ontological assumptions is the best article on the site precisely because it touches on what’s meant by a consciousness-based approach to the functions. But is it really consciousness-based? Isn’t it really just intellectual behaviorism? Is there a difference between the two? I look forward to your response

  7. @MarkLone

    re: INTJ w/ traditional values. I’m not sure if you’re a member or not. But if you are, head on over to the membership section of the INTJ page. There are a couple traditionalist INTJs, but I think you’d agree that their traditionalism has a different “flavor” than that of a traditionalist Si-type – which need not be traditional. Really, the actual, empirical content of a person’s psyche, or the actual ideas a person has, has nothing to do with type. If anything, it’s just a sort of statistics game. Speaking of INTJs, look at Marx and Rand. You can’t get any different there, eh? Now, how does Rand differ from Ron Paul, or Rothbard. I think this is where the real meat of typology begins.

    Another weird little observation, if you read Camus’s interviews, he says he could never get into Kafka because he really wasn’t into the fantastical component. But isn’t fantasy a cornerstone of INFP fiction, going all the way back to Homer? Read the dreamlike character of the Stranger, or the Epic of the Plague. While neither is especially fantastic, I think they’re style more or less springs from the same point. Camus didn’t write about supernatural transformations, but he was much closer to Kafka than he was the realism of a Dostoevsky, or a Balzac

  8. No no. Do more artists. Francis Bacon and Picasso. Matisse and Monet. Rembrandt and Beksiński. Down with Game of Thrones! All hail the painters!

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