As an INTP, I’ve been occasionally nagged by the question of whether the Myers-Briggs dichotomies are merely arbitrary or if they point to deeper ontological realities. After all, it seems that personality theorists will slice the personality pie in any way possible in order to advance a new or “groundbreaking” theory of individual differences. In this post, I will discuss how the Myers-Briggs preferences can be readily associated with more basic universal processes and categories. I suggest that this philosophical grounding provides good reason for choosing the Myers-Briggs taxonomy over competing frameworks and that maybe, in the end, it will prove the most optimal way of slicing the personality pie.
Introversion / Extraversion
This dichotomy can be roughly linked with the philosophical notion that everything has both an external form (ES) and an internal experience (I). While it is easy for us to assert that humans and animals have inner experiences, can the same be said for inanimate objects like rock and iPhones? In our sensation-oriented culture, seeing (ES) has become the primary criteria for believing (i.e., empiricism). Hence, materialism, which essentially asserts that only the physical and measurable should be considered real, has become the default assumption.
An alternative to this, one that does not get as much press (at least not among the intelligentsia), is the idea that consciousness or experience is equally foundational to the constitution of the universe. While this perspective has no shortage of names (vitalism, pan-psychism, pan-experientialism, pantheism, chi, tao, etc.), what we decide to call it less important than the deeper truth it embodies. Introversion, the turning of our attention inwardly, allows us to explore and understand this inner world of experience that accompanies our physical form. As typologists, we give credence to both the inner and the outer, introversion and extroversion, seeing them both as equally real and important.
Sensing / Intuition
Before reading about this dichotomy, you may wish to skip down to the section on Judging / Perceiving below. It is not difficult to see how a rudimentary type of sensing must occur at the most fundamental levels of reality. Without pressing the point, I will suggest, with Alfred North Whitehead, that the most basic perceptive processes are not limited to sensory perception but may also include some nonsensory or intuitive elements. David Ray Griffith explains this nicely in his thought-provoking book, Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism.
The key question is how do we interpret and make sense of sensory data? Or put differently, where is the mind in matter? If consciousness or experience is foundational (see above), could this not entail some sort of rudimentary intuition?
The S-N dimension can also be associated with the One (N) and the Many (S), mind (IN) and matter (ES), temporal / finite (S) and eternal/infinite (N), god (N) and world (S), potentials (IN) and actualities (ES), to name a few. Clearly, on a philosophical front, the S-N category is laden with interesting associations and implications for the philosophically-minded typologist.
Thinking / Feeling
This personality dimension can be associated with the general laws of attraction and repulsion. Thinking types, especially Introverted Thinkers (ITPs), are known for going it alone. They often forgo social engagement in favor of their own pursuits. They don’t bond readily with others, at least not in a deep or enduring sense. They are highly independent and autonomous. Feeling types, especially Extraverted Feelers, are bonding extraordinaires. EFs are affiliative to the core, cherishing opportunities to attract and forge new connections with others.
Judging / Perceiving
How does a an oxygen molecule know to bind with hydrogen rather than a different element? Without projecting our own cognitive capacities onto the microscopic world, we can nonetheless witness a sort of rudimentary perceptive (P) and evaluative (J) process occurring. The universe must be capable of making distinctions and decisions in order to function as it does. This requires both perception (taking in information) and judging (evaluating and making decisions about how to act according to that information).
As a typologist and lay philosopher, I cannot help but look for points of connection and consonance between philosophy and typology. I feel that Jung and Myers did well in fashioning their dichotomies, using constructs that have both specific meanings and broader connotations and implications. For me, this gives the Myers-Briggs a certain edge over other taxonomies, such as the Big Five and the Enneagram, which are more difficult to connect with basic philosophical categories. The concept of intuition, while dismissed by the majority of ES empiricists, seems especially valuable. Intuition is what allows us to see beneath and beyond appearances, to experience and apprehend a world which does not lend itself to measurement, a world which, for many, serves as a wellspring of meaning and inspiration.