Background on Function Axes

By Ryan Smith and Eva Gregersen

In 2012, we wrote a piece, Determining Function Axes, where we argued for an axial understanding of the cognitive functions. To some extent, this conception had always been part of Jungian typology, but as far as we know, the idea of function axes, and their ontological and epistemological implications, had never been conceptualized in the manner which we employ on the site to this day (barring one exception, which we shall discuss below).[1]

Our piece from 2012 was a casual and ebullient article, simply stating the facts as we saw them. In the meantime, the axial understanding of the functions has risen to considerable popularity and prominence, and it seems to have taken on a life of its own. At the same time, however, some people seem to have trouble grasping the peculiar logic by which it operates....

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Review of ‘Paving the Great Way: Vasubandhu’s Unifying Buddhist Philosophy’

Jonathan C. Gold: Paving the Great Way
Columbia University Press 2015

Review by Ryan Smith

The Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu (ca. 350-450 CE) was a prominent contributor to numerous schools of Buddhist thought. As opposed to the majority of Buddhist thinkers, who acquaint themselves with one or two schools of Buddhism, Vasubandhu stands apart as a seminal contributor to no less than three schools of Buddhist thought: Sarvastivada, Sautrantika, and Yogacara.

pavingTo get some definitions out of the way:

  • The Sarvastivada were part of the monkish scholasticism of first-phase Buddhism. After the Buddha’s death, the Sarvastivadas laboriously strove to compile the unsystematic lectures the Buddha had given with the aim of constructing a complete ontological system based on his teachings. Vasubandhu originally wrote a treatise in this tradition, but grew increasingly dissatisfied with it as his understanding of Buddhism increased.
  • The Sautrantika are another early Buddhist school that are thought to have grown out of the Sarvastivada. As opposed to the Sarvastivada, who attempted a complete scholastic classification of phenomena, the Sautrantika rejected several of these elaborations as antagonistic to the Buddha’s true teachings. In particular, where the Sarvastivadas had held that objects exist in past, present, and future, the Sautrantikas begged to differ. Instead of belief in past, present, and future, the Sautrantikas posited a theory of extreme momentariness; of “time-points” between each of which the universe dies and is reborn in full. Hence, according to the Sautrantika, there is no past or future, as the Sarvastivada had held, but only the perennially unyielding now. Vasubandhu appears to have become fascinated with this doctrine, writing a commentary on matters of time that criticized the Sarvastivada doctrines from the viewpoint of Sautrantika.
  • The Yogacara is the ‘mind only’ school of idealist Buddhism that postulates subjectivity or consciousness to be the primary component of the real. To the Yogacara, there are no discernible entities (such as ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ ; ‘real’ and ‘unreal’) that can be meaningfully applied to the description of reality. However, the Yogacara school nonetheless maintains that consciousness itself is real, even if everything that is perceived in consciousness is illusory or unreal.

Though Vasubandhu is one of the most prominent Buddhist philosophers of all time, his influence remains scattered over these different schools (all of which accept his contributions to their own tradition as pivotal while regarding his offerings to the other schools as misguided). This spread is certainly one of the reasons why Vasubandhu has been comparatively overlooked when compared to philosophers like Nagarjuna, Dharmakirti, and Dignaga. In fact, it appears that no proper English-language monograph exists on Vasubandhu at all. It is thus with extreme timeliness that Jonathan C. Gold has written a book on Vasubandhu.

Reconstructing Vasubandhu’s Way

As Gold’s title implies, Paving the Great Way: Vasubandhu’s Unifying Buddhist Philosophy aims not merely to present Vasubandhu’s main arguments, but also to conduct a synthesis of his Sarvastivada, Sautrantika, and Yogacara views. The project is both daring and ambitious, and should Gold succeed in his endeavor, much of the parochialism that plagues inter-Buddhist relations might be laid to rest.

The book opens by putting the quietus to Frauwallner’s ‘Two Vasubandhus’ thesis of the 1950s. According to Frauwallner, the works attributed to Vasubandhu showcase such breath and extent that he holds that there must have beeen two Vasubandhus whose treatises have today been confounded. While Frauwallner does have some meager textual evidence to support his thesis (there are in fact sources speaking of different Vasubandhus from within the period), the majority of scholars have long rejected this view on account of the similarities in vocabulary and philosophical style that characterize Vasubandhu’s works. So it is with Gold, who rejects this thesis too. The discussion is no doubt of relevance in a monograph such as this one, but unfortunately for the reader, Gold’s discussion of this thesis is far too long and could easily have been cut in half. Indeed, the strongest arguments deplete themselves in the first quarter of the discussion: There is only one Vasubandhu.

Next we are treated to Vasubandhu’s views of time in relation to the Sarvastivada and Sautrantika views: What is the nature of past, present, and future according to the ontology of first-phase Buddhism? In what ways can past and future be said to be real? Do past and future exist as domains of being in themselves, or are they qualities of objects? In this discussion, Gold concludes that Vasubandhu holds there to be no past or future, but only present entities (dharmas), carrying the seeds of causation (karma) within them. But, we might ask, if past and future are not real, how can causation influence the now? According to Gold, Vasubandhu’s answer is that karma is not a dharma – i.e. it is not a reality, but a conceptual judgment inferred by the mind. In other words, Vasubandhu’s view of causation is much the same as David Hume’s: We do not observe the necessary connections of causality; we only postulate it with our minds. Oddly, however, Gold does not mention Hume at all, and his presentation of Vasubandhu’s position is not very clearly laid out.

In the book’s third chapter, we are presented with a discussion of causality, reincarnation, and the (lack of) self in early Buddhist philosophy, as well as Vasubandhu’s reactions to these. According to the Buddha, there were no agents and entities, only modes and conditions. However, in observation it will oftentimes seem as if there is a free agent, producing results according to its self-nature (svabhava), and not according to the great world-chain of causality among interconnected objects. According to Gold, Vasubandhu defends the view of the Buddha on this point by appealing to the scholastic views of first-phase Buddhism to say that a thing can only ever have one self-nature: As far as the ontological classification of objects found in Sarvastivada goes, a thing that has more than one self-nature is not one thing (and thus must be interconnected). Likewise, a thing must constantly produce whatever it is in its nature to produce. To take the example of a rose, if we postulated it to have one self-nature along the precepts laid out as Vasubandhu’s view, then we observe that the rose grows from a seed. If the rose were one thing, then we should expect the rose to keep growing indefinitely. However, since the rose does not continue growing, but withers and dies, Vasubandhu sees this as confirmation that the rose is not one thing. According to Vasubandhu, the process shows that the rose has no self-nature, but that it is rather part of a causal line where it is interconnected with other modes and conditions.

Like the Buddha (and David Hume), Gold sees Vasubandhu as acknowledging the view that we naturally perceive stable entities as standing above the chain of causality as it unfolds through a series of time-points. However, according to Vasubandhu, to believe in the veracity of such stable entities across the time-points is an illusion, leading to both ontological materialism, and to the great Buddhist heresy of belief in the self.

Vasubandhu’s Yogacara

Finally, Gold treats us to Vasubandhu’s contributions to Yogacara, which he describes as the crowning achievement of Vasubandhu’s work and the unification of all Buddhist thought (to that date). To recap, Yogacara was the idealist school of Buddhism which claimed that “all is mind.” Their analysis proceeded along these lines: According to the Buddha, phenomena and mind are said to be “non-different.” Everything we observe as real is thus merely the movement and interplay of illusory mental constructs. Only consciousness is real – there is no outside reality for it to interact with. In Kantian terms, there is the thing-as-it-appears-to-me but no thing-in-itself – no bedrock of reality to give shape to our perceptions (however much our minds may distort them).

However, Yogacara has always been controversial. If the Buddha’s assertion that phenomena and mind are “non-different” can be interpreted to say that everything is really mind, then what prevents that same dictum from being taken to mean that everything is really phenomena (as indeed the Buddha appeared to do)? Or, better yet, what prevents us from saying that phenomena and the mind are co-created through the process of dependent arising, such as Nagarjuna had done?

In any case, to defend his Yogacara beliefs, Vasubandhu strives to render it probable that there are similarities between illusory dream objects and the “objective” occurrences that we ordinarily believe to be real. For example, wet dreams and nightmares may beget concrete physical effects in exactly the same way as real objects would. And appealing to Occam’s Razor ex ante, Vasubandhu declares Yogacara the simpler, and hence more sensible, worldview.

Interestingly, while Gold first appears to follow suit in his exposition of Yogacara and Vasubandhu’s contributions to it, Gold ends up concluding that the Yogacara view that only the mind exists is a “textbook error,” at least with regards to Vasubandhu’s version of that doctrine. In defense of this assertion, Gold quotes Vasubandhu to say that since Yogacara asserts that there is no perception of things, then the mind cannot be perceived either. And in a state where nothing is to be perceived, liberation is attained. However, though Gold’s endnotes record how his fellow Budddhist scholar Mark Siderits characterizes this reading of Vasubandhu as “quite close” to Nagarjuna’s pupil Candrakirti, Gold nevertheless fails to explain how (what he takes to be) Vasubandhu’s Yogacara is in any way different from its rival school of Madhyamika; the school which was based off the teachings of Candrakirti and Nagarjuna.

Assessment of ‘Paving the Great Way’

Paving the Great Way is marred by two recurring weaknesses that make it difficult to give a fair review of the book:  The book is (a) poorly structured and (b) lacking in overview and clear definitions. For example, I started this review by laying out some typical differences between Sarvastivada, Sautrantika, and Yogacara, but Gold himself offers us little in the way of such definitions. Sometimes it even seems like Gold does not always understand the extent of these differences himself. Hence, he ends up concluding that an unspecified “Buddhism” is anti-empirical because it does not furnish a belief in the self. However, this conclusion is only true with regards to Yogacara, and not because that school does not believe in the self, but because it believes every facet of immediate observation to be illusory. The Buddha himself, and earlier strands of Buddhism like Sarvastivada, were not in any way anti-empirical, but rather super-empirical: Like David Hume, the reason the Buddha denied the self was that he had searched for such an entity everywhere in experience and found none. The self is not an empirical reality but a rationalistic prejudice: We intuit its presence, but unmediated experience offers no proof of its existence.

Granted, it is Gold’s thesis that Vasubandhu synthesizes the various schools of Buddhism into a “unifying Buddhist philosophy,” but without laying the contours of each denomination out in detail, it is impossible for the reader to judge the merit of this hypothesis. Similarly, just like no general outlines are offered for the Buddhist schools taken under consideration, little is given in the way of outlines and overviews of the specific works being discussed: Time and again, the reader is picked up and dropped mid-paragraph into a work by Vasubandhu while given little in the way of an introduction. Gold conducts exegeses of the passages cited, but without offering more of a background, these exercises seem more like pieces of ad hoc ­­reasoning than an overarching argument or exposition of Vasubandhu’s thought.

As I said in the beginning, Gold aims to show how Vasubandhu’s work, which has traditionally been read as stretching across three diverse traditions of Buddhist thought, is actually one extensive, unifying whole. This, too, is unclear after finishing the book. Gold’s argument for the continuity of Vasubandhu’s thought seems to be that Vasubandhu employed similar pieces of reasoning on the matter of causality throughout all periods of his thought. However, as students of philosophy will know, the same argument can easily be made to fit different metaphysics, depending on the context in which it is employed and the first assumptions chosen to back it up. Thus Hegel had no trouble recycling many of Kant’s arguments, and Shankara made good use of Nagarjuna’s arguments in his reformation of Vedanta. The argument that Vasubandhu voiced a distinctive view of causality across all of his works is therefore not sufficient to render it probable that he had a “unifying Buddhist philosophy,” as opposed to being, in turn, a Sarvastivada, a Sautrantika, and a Yogacara.

What is clear about Vasubandhu after reading Gold’s book, however, is that he had a keen eye for contradictions and inconsistencies in the theories that he was exposed to and that, in his own works, he frequently innovated upon what had been handed down to him. Having a keen zest for philosophical discourse, he tirelessly polished, smoothed and evened out the theories of the schools that he worked with – in short, he truly helped pave the way for many of the traditions that he supported.

Philosophical Archetypes: Pythagoras (ENFJ)

“[With Pythagoras] everything derives from a wisdom equally and undividedly committed to the sacred and the worldly, the rational and the religious – it is the wisdom of one whose knowledge ‘transcends’ that of the common man.” – Walter Burkert: Weisheit und Wissenschaft (Verlag Hans Carl 1962) p. 173

“[Pythagoras’s] motive in acquiring power … was not personal ambition but a zeal for reforming society according to his own moral ideas.” – W.K.C. Guthrie: A History of Greek Philosophy vol. I (Cambridge University Press 1992) p. 175.

“[Pythagoras had an] overpowering feeling of sympathetic stirring that bound [men] to him.” – Friedrich Nietzsche: The Pre-Platonic Philosophers (University of Illinois Press 2006) p. 55...

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The Hidden Significance of Fi

Boye Akinwande is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. In this article, Akinwande explores the hidden merits and significance of Fi in an apologia for a function that has often been short-changed.

By Boye Akinwande

To many, the Introverted Feeling (Fi) function seems to be the hardest to understand because the values and sentiments that lie at the core of an Fi type’s consciousness are not wont to give themselves to outward expression in the same way as Fe or Te.[1] Even Ti will often be found to have greater outward applicability than Fi, since Ti can at least point to the self-authentication of its internal logic.[2] At times, an unpleasant question comes knocking: Does Fi even do anything? What merits and significance can it offer us, apart from the creation of art and subjectivized dream worlds?...

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The Greek Loves: Agape

“And so it appears that every lesser creature is too small a receptacle for that good which has no end and is its own measure.” – Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, canto XIX

“A fallen god is not a man: he is a fraud; the lover has no other alternative.” – Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, p. 665

“I’ve seen Plato’s cups and table, but not his cup-ness and table-ness.” – Diogenes of Sinope, Fragment, GD 109...

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The Puerile Nature of the Tertiary Function

By Eva Gregersen and Ryan Smith

Of all the function slots, the tertiary function is perhaps the most overlooked and least understood. The dominant function is fairly self-explanatory as the prime determinant of conscious orientation; von Franz has done good work on the inferior; and van der Hoop did his part to flesh out our understanding of the auxiliary. There are, however, still some observations that may be elaborated concerning the tertiary. But before we proceed with elucidating the puerile nature of the tertiary function, we must first address the matters of (1) the threshold of consciousness relative to the functions and (2) our debt to John Beebe.

1. The Threshold of Consciousness Relative to the Functions...

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Hume’s Critique of Induction

By Sigurd Arild

According to Hume, there are two kinds of propositions: Relations between ideas and matters of fact.

Relations between ideas are simple and can, given the scarcest of knowledge, be proven without having to rely on personal experience or outside observation. For example, five plus seven will always equal 12, and in theory you could figure that out in your mind, even if you only had knowledge of smaller numbers and their operations. Out of 2 + 2 = 4 you could in principle deduce that 5 + 7 = 12, using your intuition and the capacities of your own psyche, without having to check with the external world....

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Determining Function Axes, Part 3

Boye Akinwande is a contributing guest writer for CelebrityTypes. In this article, Akinwande elaborates on the concept of function axes and how to determine them, expanding on Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

By Boye Akinwande

A facet of Jungian typology that CelebrityTypes has really brought to life, theoretically refined, and elaborated upon is the idea of Function Axes.

Ti: With regards to the perception of external reality, Ti tends to perceive the facts as being of secondary importance to the abstract idea that they are attempting to clarify in their minds.[1] In other words, the Ti type perceives facts as governed by ideas, whereas the Te type perceives ideas as things that should ideally amend themselves to the facts.

One consequence of Ti’s tendency to abstract from external reality is that the individual will be more preoccupied with discovering ideal structures in his mind than in actually making sense of the messy multitude of facts as these were handed down to him through external reality. A consequence of this idealistic bias is that objects are viewed as being more similar in nature than a Te type would perceive them.[2]

Fe: In Jungian typology, there can be no Ti without Fe and vice versa.[3] Though Ti and Fe polarize each other in consciousness, the Ti/Fe axis itself still primes the consciousness of the individual to view the human being as another such “ideal” object, where many of the properties of the particular individual can be stripped away in order to form the ideal object ‘human being’ (Ti). Here the unstated premise will be that humans are structured similarly and that our desires and goals must therefore also be aligned on some level (Fe).

Te: Whereas Ti has a tendency to remove the individual a bit from reality and its current affairs, Te rather tends to place the individual as an active participant in the current state of reality. In this mode, we must be concerned with the specific properties of reality as these are presented to us, because it will not do to sit on the sidelines, mourning that reality could or should be different. On the contrary, Te flings our consciousness directly into an uncooperative world and reminds us that only we are responsible for leveraging whatever we have got to get what we want out of that world.

Fi: In the Te mindset, our world is disobliging and resources finite. My triumph may very easily turn out to be your downfall and vice versa. I don’t owe you anything, what you want is not necessarily what I want, and again, vice versa. Such a mode of consciousness creates the backdrop for a species of relativism, and it is here that Te meets the Fi perspective to form the Te/Fi axis; an axis that identifies goals on the basis of actual and personal relevance, rather than on the basis of abstract and communal ideals.

So to put it simply:

  • Fe/Ti types live in a world of abstract, theoretical commonalities between objects, of which one unstated premise is that, deep down, our interests are all aligned.
  • Fi/Te types live in a world of concrete, empirical certainties of objects, of which one unstated premise is that we have our own interests at heart.


[1] Jung: Psychological Types §628

[2] Jung: Psychological Types §40 ff.

[3] Jung: Psychological Types §708

Three Facts on Sabina Spielrein

By Eva Gregersen and Sigurd Arild

Since a lot of misinformation and erroneous scholarship on Spielrein and her life seems to be circulating, it may be worthwhile to take a moment to clear up some of the misunderstandings.

1: Jung never spanked Spielrein (and probably not her coat either)...

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Philosophical Archetypes: Xenophanes (ENTP)

“The freedom of the individual finds its high point in Xenophanes and in [his] almost boundless withdrawal from all conventionality.” – Nietzsche: Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks §10

“His temperament was … restless, curious, many-sided, critical as well as biting, he would rightly be considered … the man who would trace new paths in crucial theological, philosophical, and gnoseological areas.” – Vamvacas: The Founders of Western Thought p. 85

“There is nothing in the whole of the literature of philosophy that is so critical, so self-critical, so correct and so true as … Xenophanes.” – Popper: The World of Parmenides p. 46...

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