Heraclitean Metaphysics as a Framework for Typology

“I use the [Heraclitean] term enantiodromia for the emergence of the unconscious opposite in the course of time.” – C.G. Jung: Psychological Types §709

“I referred to Heraclitus, and [Jung] said Heraclitus knew a lot and he had got the notion of the enantiodromia [i.e. “law of running counter to”] from him. [He said] it was important to have a philosophic background to know the theories of cognition.” – E.A. Bennet: Meetings with Jung (Daimon 1985) p. 27

By Ryan Smith

An unsolved question in Jungian typology is what broader metaphysics it should be situated within. At present, the most popular answer seems to be that one should seek to unite typology with empiricism and neuroscience (as has been done by e.g. Dario Nardi) since this framework is held to be the most scientific. But doing so gives rise to the awkward tension that Jungian typology (and function theory in particular) is marred by a host of unsolved empirical problems.[1]

On the other hand, orthodox Jungians often maintain that typology should be understood in conjunction with Jung’s fully developed late metaphysics as seen, for example, in Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, a volume published much later than Psychological Types. However, this claim is also problematic, since Jung seemed to lose much of his interest in typology in the latter part of his career.[2] Another problem with the orthodox interpretation is that Jung’s metaphysics were not well-developed at any stage of his career. In general, Jung preferred to talk about his theories as if his metaphysics were self-evident and did not spend much time clarifying exactly what those metaphysics were.[3]

Consequently, a third problem that arises from fusing typology with the late metaphysics of Jung is that, since that metaphysical system is itself poorly defined, it introduces even more ambiguity into the theory of cognitive functions as opposed to making more sense of it.

To put it briefly, one could say that Jung’s metaphysics are essentially Platonic in nature, but with a chthonic flavor instead of a celestial one. In Jung’s system, the collective unconscious corresponds to the Platonic concept of the cosmic psyche and the archetypes correspond to the forms.[4]

The obvious solution would therefore be to nest typology within Platonic metaphysics since the Platonic system is more well-rounded than Jung’s. I have already given some inkling of how this could be done in my essays on Jungian typology and Plato’s unwritten doctrine.[5]

In this article, I intend to take a different route. I will explore, not how typology can be nested within Platonic metaphysics, but how it can be paired with a Heraclitean framework. As we saw from the introductory quotes, Jung was greatly inspired by Heraclitus in the years during which he wrote Psychological Types. As readers of that work will know, Jung wavers with regard to the causes and origins of typology in that work, claiming both that type differences are the result of evolutionary and biological factors in one chapter and that they are caused by transcendent metaphysical principles in the next.[6] Taken at his word, it would seem that he intended for the study of cognition to be metaphysical as well as empirical.

Besides the obvious influence Heraclitus exerted over Jung, there are two other attractive reasons to explore Jungian typology in relation to Heraclitean metaphysics:

  1. Like Jung’s own metaphysics, the Heraclitean framework is under-developed and suggested more than it is spelled out. It is, however, still neater and clearer than Jung’s. Thus, adopting a Heraclitean framework steers us clear of the predicament of introducing more confusion or heavy-handed elaboration on the origin of psychic structures into typology (a weakness which the pairing with Platonic metaphysics is also encumbered by to some degree).
  2. Platonic metaphysics have an Fe/Ti bias, and Heraclitean metaphysics have a Te/Fi bias. Setting Jungian typology against a Heraclitean backdrop may, therefore, be more attractive to Te/Fi-aligned readers.[7]

There is, however, also a downside to the Heraclitean framework and that is that, since everything in Heraclitus’ cosmology is fluid becoming (and never static being), the Heraclitean interpretation has a hard time accounting for why the eight functions nevertheless to conform to static types (or as the Platonists would have it: forms).

In my opinion, the most suitable background for making sense of the metaphysical aspects of typology is still Plato’s unwritten doctrine, where the forms can account for the functions, but the indefinite duality can nevertheless explain their interrelation and why they have orientations. Be that as it may, the Heraclitean understanding of typology will allow us to see some things that other metaphysical frameworks cannot. Specifically, the Heraclitean framework does an excellent job of explaining the interplay of the functions and why they have orientations, as well as the volatile pulsation of the inferior.

What Causes Type Differences?

As we have seen, there is considerable variation in how different parties in the field elucidate typology. Most commonly, people assume that Jungian typology is a scientific discipline that just happens to be waiting for some improved empirical validation. One corollary of this view is that type differences are predominantly caused by physical and biological differences, but again, this standpoint is not as solidly justified by empirical studies as one could ideally wish.

In the Platonic system, the psyche is transcendent. Although it may be affected by empirical criteria, it is not empirical in origin and the true noetic status of the psyche exists as a noumenal reality in itself and not part of the sensible world. This is one of the elements of the Platonic system, which suggests a Ti bias since, as Boye Akinwande has pointed out, Ti sees facts as governed by ideas, where Te sees ideas as things that should ideally amend themselves to the facts.[8]

In the Heraclitean system, there is no reality apart from this world, and therefore the psyche must be seen as situated within. However, while the psyche is not transcendent, transcendent factors still play a role in its development and expression. To understand this, we must pay close attention to Fragment DK B119 – closer, in fact than many professional translators have done.

The fragment reads:

“A man’s character is his fate.”

The fragment is usually taken to mean that man possesses some pre-determined character, which then accounts for his fate. But this cannot be true, since the word used for character is ethos, and the word for fate is daimon.

We know from other Greek writers at the time (such as Empedocles and Hesiod) that ethos is not some fixed entity, but a disposition that is procedurally shaped by various factors. Likewise, we know from contemporaries of Heraclitus that ethos is not behavioristic since, for example, a man may alter his behavior to hide his true ethos.[9] We should therefore regard ethos as a malleable disposition inherent to a man’s character that is, to a certain extent, reflected in his habits and behavior but which is really noetic in nature.

With regard to daimon, Heraclitus understands this term as a metaphysical entity tied to the individual personality.[10] Since different people have different daimons, this outlook can easily explain the emergence of psychological types. The “type” is the daimon and constant throughout life, but the daimon is not the only factor shaping a man’s ethos. As we have seen, immanent and empirical factors also contribute, and there is no true ontological status of the ethos or psyche “in itself”, but only of the daimon in itself. We can thus explain not just why there are different psychological types, but also why type is not tied to behavior and why each individual expression of a given type may differ in terms of empirical criteria (and thus why Jungian typology encounters problems when we attempt to reduce it to a wholly empirical theory).

Daimon is the metaphysical force shaping ethos. It is synonymous with the type, but it is not the only factor giving form to the empirical personality. It vies for power with immanent factors, which is why a person’s type may be more dimly or clearly expressed.[11]

Clear and Unclear Types

Isabel Myers supposedly once said that the best people were the ones who were “psychologically patriotic.” By this, she meant those who do not deny their type or try to be other types than they are. In this respect, she was in complete agreement with Heraclitus, who alludes to a psychological dualism, which he expressed with recourse to the metaphors of fire and wetness. The psyche may be either flaming or wet, and as a personal value judgment, he holds that the flaming psyche is the “wisest and best.”[12]

Ethos is an immanent entity, shaped by a contest between daimon and empirical conditions. When empirical factors predominate, the psyche is held to be wet, but when daimon predominates, the psyche is characterized as flaming.

The flaming psyche participates in the general fire play of the empirical world. It consumes, alters, and transforms in accordance with the inescapable nature of this world, which, according to Heraclitus, is constant strife and flux.[13] The flaming psyche is thus active and undaunted and sees itself as an active participant in the world. It does not weep when the world does not live up to imagined idealistic conditions, since the world is simply the way it is and can never be made to conform to some abstract ideal. Justice is not conformity to some ideal. The world is inherently just the way it is.[14]

By contrast, the psyche characterized by wetness foolishly seeks to isolate pockets of static being in a world that is characterized by ever-changing becoming.[15] The wet psyche does not appreciate itself as a contestant in a world characterized by strife, but seeks to approach the world as some imperfect prelude to a more perfect world, characterized by non-changing entities (rather than processual becoming), collaboration (rather than strife), and trustworthy ideals (rather than ever-changing conditions that one must make the most of).[16]

The wet psyche believes it can change its type, or misleads itself with regards to its true type, since it believes that it would be “fair”, “deserved”, or “ideal” for it to be another type. But as Heraclitus says, the true nature of the world is out there and does not care about arguments as to how things “should” be different.[17] The best a man can do is thus to acknowledge himself as a participant in the dance of cosmic fire and not seek to alter or situate himself outside of it by viewing the matter in terms of normative or idealistic thought categories. Those who do so anyway appear infantile, not just in the eyes of flaming psyches, but in their relation to the true nature of the world.[18]

As we have seen, daimon is a metaphysical entity that contains a definite potentiality. It attempts to shape a man’s personality – his ethos – but as an agent in itself, daimon will always be incomplete. It is a potentiality and not an empirical condition. The daimon is therefore dependent on the willingness (and capability) of the individual to acknowledge it and to develop himself in accordance with it. It is possible to turn away from one’s daimon, but in doing so we invariably attempt to set ourselves up as arbiters beyond the “givens” that we have been handed in life. We attempt to make ourselves unbounded (apeiron) but, as human beings, we are inescapably bound to conditions we did not choose. We vie to set ourselves up as gods, but this is not a possibility inherent in human existence.[19]

Heraclitean Metaphysics as the In-Between

At the start of this article, we saw how many contemporary typologists attempt to reduce typology to a wholly empirical theory. Their supposition is that typology is a branch of empirical science and that differences in psychological type are due entirely to “brain differences” and other biological factors. The implication of this view is that the type, too, is wholly empirical, and thus that it should ideally be capable of being measured according to empirical criteria (which, as we have seen, has so far not been possible).[20]

On the other hand, Platonic metaphysics, which we have outlined elsewhere (and which could be said to be in line with Jung’s metaphysics as well), attempt to relegate the psyche exclusively to the metaphysical domain (generated by forms, numbers, the One, and the Indefinite Duality).

The allure of a Heraclitean metaphysics would thus be that it explains type and cognitive functions as an in-between – created by both empirical and noetic factors, all of them vying for dominance. The ever-present flux of Becoming can thus explain the enantiodromia, the “law of running counter to” and offer a far more Jungian formation of the functions where, for example, a dominant Ni type can be overtaken by inferior Se and, indeed, be dominated by Se for a time as an effect of “the law of running counter to.” Finally, the Heraclitean framework can explain why some people might behave in a way that is uncharacteristic of their type, or why their type is unclearly or non-conductively expressed since it is their ethos that attempts to hide or dominate their daimon. But, to the discerning observer, the true daimon is always there even though, as Heraclitus would have it, phusis kruptesthai philei – “nature loves to hide.”[21]


[1] Nardi: Neuroscience of Personality (Radiance House 2011)

[2] Van der Hoop: Conscious Orientation (Fascimile Publisher 2015) p. ix

[3] McLynn: Carl Gustav Jung – A Biography (Black Swan 1997) p. 312

[4] Laurikainen: Beyond the Atom – The Philosophical Thought of Wolfgang Pauli (Springer 1985) p. 199

[5] Smith: Plato’s Unwritten Doctrine and Jung’s Typology (IDRlabs 2014)

[6] Jung: Psychological Types §158; §709

[7] Smith: Determining Function Axes Part 5 (IDRlabs 2015)

[8] Akinwande: Determining Function Axes Part 3 (IDRlabs 2015)

[9] Grimm: Flux (Arme 2011) p. 150

[10] Darcus: ‘Daimon’ as a Force Shaping ‘Ethos’ in Heraclitus (Phoenix 1974) p. 399

[11] Heraclitus: DK B115

[12] Heraclitus: DK B118

[13] Heraclitus: DK B80

[14] Heraclitus: DK B53

[15] Heraclitus: DK B72

[16] Plato: Timaeus 37d

[17] Heraclitus: DK B1

[18] Heraclitus: DK B79

[19] Heraclitus: DK B32

[20] Smith and Gregersen: Background on Function Axes (IDRlabs 2015)

[21] Heraclitus: DK B123