re: Adam Ruins Everything – Why the Myers-Briggs Test Is Total B.S.

Adam Conover has made a video that supposedly shows that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is, quote, “total BS.”

The video makes the argument that the theory of Psychological Types should be discounted because it’s not scientific. But the main debunking move of the video is that the theory can’t be right because Myers and Briggs didn’t have the right credentials. Since science seeks to separate theories from the people making them, the video ends up doing what it faults Myers and Briggs for doing, that is, using non-scientific methodology to determine what is and isn’t scientific.

Furthermore, credentialed psychologists and M.D.s had their own take on quantifying Jung’s theories around the time Myers and Briggs developed theirs. These other theories have something going for them too, but Myers and Briggs’ version was just better, which is why it won out.

Thirdly, the quote from Jung which Adam presents is misleading. It’s dishonestly stitched together from two unrelated quotes so as to give a different impression from what Jung said. In the first part of the quote, Jung says that type is complicated and hard to make out, not that people don’t have a type. In the second part of the quote (taken from a completely different place in the book), he says that ignoring his greater theory of psychological development and orientation at the expense of just sticking labels on people is a childish parlor game. Not that typology is a childish parlor game.

Finally, Adam’s video doesn’t even begin to address the scientific studies on the Myers-Briggs. Those studies have repeatedly shown that while the MBTI has problems, it actually does measure four of the five dimensions of personality. In short, it has an acceptable level of validity, but no more than that. If science is your criterion, the MBTI is okay, but not great. It cannot be total BS, as Adam claims, since no scientific study has ever found this to be the case for the MBTI.

So in short, Adam Conover presents himself as sciency, but uses unscientific argumentation. He presents a fabricated quote from Jung that is stitched together from unrelated passages, and he doesn’t even enter into the matter of what the evidence on the scientific value of the Myers-Briggs actually shows.

His video is a re-hashing of an older uninformed article on Vox.com, even repeating certain passages from that source without attribution. We have previously answered the arguments from that piece, as well as other similar MBTI “debunkings.” To read these responses, check the links below.

Drake Baer’s Lazy Critique of the MBTI
Why Adam Grant’s Critique of the MBTI Is Useless
17 Reasons That Joseph Stromberg’s Critique of the MBTI Is Uninformed
Todd Essig’s Misconstrual of the MBTI
MBTI for Skeptics

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.

***

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.

***

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.

***

  • 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.

ENFJ vs. INFJ

By Boye Akinwande

Many ENFJs get mistaken for INFJs if they are either socially shy or reserved, or if they are pensive, academic, and intellectual. Similarly, some ENFJs looking into typology mistype themselves as INFJs for the same reason, or walk away from typology altogether, since many of the ENFJ descriptions imply that ENFJs are all about the social arena, with little to no internal life.

To get some counter perspectives on this, I recommend that you check out either the admins’ basic ENFJ portrait, or Hannah Strachan’s video where she offers a nuanced commentary on Fe.

Now in theory, it might also be true that some INFJs who are socially soothing, charismatic, and assertive would then mistype themselves as ENFJs. But that doesn’t fit with my experience of the field. Though we have tried to add nuance to typology, showing how all types can have specific capabilities and shine, the majority of the field is still stuck in some biases, where it’s cooler to be introverted than extroverted; cooler to be intuitive than sensing.

So as I have already hinted, ENFJs can be socially shy and reserved as well as academic and intellectual. In the same way, INFJs can come across as socially active and more interested in people than in principles and ideas – they are not all intellectually minded.

While both INFJs and ENFJs tend to be holistic and often arrive at profound insights in relation to human beings and the social order, one could say that ENFJs are more often inclined to be concerned with that social order for its own sake, and with applying their insights to this order instead of just thinking of them in a vacuum. The contrast between Pythagoras, who started his own social movement – his own community of like-minded people – intent on making a difference in the world, and Plato, who mostly just reflected and refined his ideas, is apt here. As Plato even says of himself in one place:

“As a young man I reflected a lot about how society could be improved … but I refrained from action.”

That is to say, ENFJs, being extroverted judgers, will more often take an interest in applying the insights they are dealing with directly to their audience, indeed, to the specific situation at hand. They are, in other words, more prescriptive than INFJs and may, like the Buddha does in the Pali Canon, effortlessly adapt their terminology, intellectual level and frames of reference to where the audience is, so that their teachings will be effective.

Now, if we turn to INFJs, they are of course also typically socially oriented, mindful of people and may even need people as a medium to recognize certain intellectual truths, just like ENFJs do. On the other hand, since INFJs have tertiary introverted thinking, that is, they are able to direct it whereas it remains repressed in ENFJs, this means that INFJs will typically have more of an interest in building up their intellectual system for its own sake. One could perhaps compare the eternal and perennial flavor of Plato’s system with the teachings of the Buddha, which were skillfully adapted to the social context of his day. Indeed, one of the most important facets of the Buddha’s teachings, and one that is often overlooked, is that he stressed that his teachings were nothing ‘in themselves’ – they were solely means to ‘reach the other shore,’ that is, to escape the dissatisfactions of empirical existence and achieve nirvana. That is to say, his teachings were only valuable so long as they served a clear function; only so long as concrete people could actually benefit from them.

Another difference is that INFJs, being introverted perception dominants, will more often appear detached – indeed, when engaged in their thinking role, they can seem cold and distant (which is probably one reason why many people think, or used to think, that Plato was an INTJ or INTP type).

By contrast, even when ENFJs are solitary and detached, such as perhaps Erasmus and Goethe, they always still seem to have a sense of presence about them, as an old friend speaking directly to us and looking us in the eye. Goethe is perhaps the best example of this elevated-yet-present inclination in ENFJs: Looking at his accomplishments, though he was clearly one of the most intelligent people who ever lived, his thoughts are rarely forbidding and hard to follow, the way Plato’s might be. On the contrary, he speaks in a welcoming and cordial manner, always genuinely mindful of his audience and the overall feeling-tone of his expressions. He would not talk down to us or hide behind mystical utterances, for as he himself says:

“It [is] natural to me to empathize with the condition of others [and to] sympathize with it with pleasure.”

Ten (Edited) Quotes About Cognitive Functions

1

“Extraverted thinking … involves thoughts that are strongly influenced by what is ‘out there’: Facts, views and ideas which come in from [the outside] … (that is, not emanating from within our own minds). This is the kind of thinking associated with … empirical investigation, as well as concretized, planned thinking. … [It forms] judgments from … assessments of objective data.” – Phil Goss: Jung: A Complete Introduction

2

“[The introverted thinking type] is ‘building up his world of ideas’ … the ideas that are encountered [in his consciousness] … may be out of common circulation, but … can be far more profound … than the accepted dictates of conventional … thinking. These ‘new’ thoughts are, however, very difficult to articulate … [he] frequently goes on refining [his] conceptions when the patience of others has been exhausted.” – Renos K. Papadopoulos: Handbook of Jungian Psychology

3

“It is characteristic of extraverted feeling that it seeks to create or maintain harmonious conditions in the surrounding environment. … The extraverted feeling type will praise something … because it is proper to do according to the social situation. This is not pretense … but a genuine adjustment to [external] criteria. … – Daryl Sharp: Personality Types

4

“Extraverted thinking is interested in [data] that ‘holds true for everyone’ and proceeds to organize the external world [according to publicly] agreed definitions, whereas introverted thinking reflects on whether a particular construction [of the data] accords with the conviction of inner truth, regardless of what the received opinion might be.” – Kelly Bulkeley and Clodagh Weldon: Teaching Jung

5

“Extraverted feeling [uses] accepted or traditional social values. … It involves a conforming, adjusting response … that strives for harmonious relations with the world. … Introverted feeling strives for an inner emotional intensity. … The focus of such feeling is upon inner processes. … It is expressed in … intense, apparently raw emotion.” – Michael Daniels: Self-Discovery the Jungian Way

6

“Introverted sensation concerns itself primarily with finding order [and] organizing experience … whereas extraverted sensation involves compelling, often shared, experiences of the textures, smells, sights, sounds, and tastes of the world – a direct relationship with reality.” – John Beebe: Energies and Patterns in Psychological Type

7

“[Extroverted Intuitive types] show [a] lively originality. … They can argue with great intelligence … [and] their … [intellectual] energy will lead to discussion and research. … [They] will avoid being too closely bound by fixed formulas and laws … [desiring] freedom of intuition. … [Introverted Intuitive types] … tend to find symbolic meanings in everything. … Their beautiful, somewhat vague theories and visions seem to lift them above ordinary human beings” – J.H. van der Hoop: Character And The Unconscious

8

“Immanuel Kant, being a Ti type and having a preference for Si over Se, was very far from the ESP types in terms of his natural inclinations. Kant wanted to inquire into the conditions and rules that govern our cognitive faculties on the most fundamental level and to commit to writing a system of thought that appraised the limits of the box within which all human cognition unfolds. Indeed, from the Se perspective one might easily say that Kant’s works seem like some alien landscape where everything is ripped out of the context of life and posited to exist outside of everything that is real in an effort to control it intellectually. Faced with the Kantian endeavor, then, the Se type can but laugh: ‘If you insist on living your life according to the belief that your cognition is constrained by some invisible ruleset, which scantly makes any practical difference in your life, whether it existed or not, then you are the one who is living inside a box,’ the Se-type might say.” – Ryan Smith: Unpublished Manuscript

9

“Jung in one place gives as marks of function differentiation: Strength, stability, consistency, reliability and adapted-ness. And of the undifferentiated inferior function, it is lacking in self-sufficiency, depending on people and circumstances, and unreliable, inclining one towards moodiness. ‘The inferior function always puts us at a disadvantage because we cannot direct it,’ he says in one place.” – J. Jarrett: Jung’s Theory of Functions

10

“Types with feeling dominant are often prone to see things as they ‘should’ be; types with thinking dominant to see things as they logically ‘must’ be; types with intuition dominant to see things as they can be made to be; but the extraverted sensing types, as far as the eye can reach, see things as they are.” – Isabel Briggs Myers: Gifts Differing

ENFP vs. INFP

By Boye Akinwande

People who use a classical function-based approach to typology, like we do on this site, often confuse ENFPs and INFPs with one another because they have the same functions in almost the same order. The two NFP types are the only types with Fi and Ne as their uppermost functions and Si and Te as their lowermost ones. This means that if all the INFPs of this world were to magically disappear, the type that would be the most suitable to fill in for them, consciousness-wise, would be the ENFPs and vice versa. On the other hand, while the difference in function arrangement between these two types is a slight one, since they have all the same functions in almost the same order, the psycho-dynamic approach to typology will nevertheless reveal some subtle but identifiable distinctions between them.

ENFPs have dominant Ne and INFPs have dominant Fi. Like ENTPs, who are sometimes said to be “the most introverted extroverted type,” some ENFPs may at times be mistaken for introverts, since Ne need not be bubbly or springy with regards to social demeanor, but might as well be introspective, internal, and reflective. Regardless of whether an Ne type’s actual behavior is extroverted on the trait level, however, Ne is always extroverted in a Jungian sense, since it invariably draws its stimulus from external conditions. The reflective sprees of Extroverted Intuition will rarely remain in the subjective and introverted realm for as long as the sprees of the Introverted Intuitive type; Ne does not read more and more subjective and archetypical meaning into the external conditions until it has created a web of subjective meanings the way Ni does. Rather, the process of Ne typically moves from external stimuli to quickly exhausting all the ideational and associative suggestions that are readily apparent in these stimuli, and then on to the next external stimuli.

This process is very different from the process of Introverted Feeling, which is the adaptation that is dominant in the INFP. As suggested above, the primary driver of the consciousness of almost all ENFPs is the chase of new possibilities and new ideas. Their natural compulsion is to continuously search for these new potentialities. Though they also have strong likes and dislikes, they are, as a rule, open to exploring any new idea that reaches them from the external realm.

Now, as said, INFPs have auxiliary Ne, so everything we’ve said above will also, as a rule, be somewhat true of them. However, at the end of the day, the INFP’s dominant cognitive process is Fi, which means that rather than being first and foremost orientated towards possibilities in new and unfamiliar ideas encountered from the outside they are, as van der Hoop has said, somewhat inclined to shield themselves from the influence of external conditions. They do this because they are at heart more orientated towards their own subjective evaluations and sympathies. In other words, the INFP will typically have less of a problem shutting themselves off from external stimuli that appear threatening or irrelevant to their inner world. With them it is the inner world that determines the outer potentialities, and not the other way around.

Another way to look at this difference is by looking at the lowermost functions of the types. ENFPs have inferior Si whereas INFPs have tertiary Si. One consequence of these orientations is that the INFP’s cognitive life will generally be more organized and structured than that of the ENFP, which has no conscious Sensation to stabilize it and give it continuity. That is to say, the ENFP will more readily latch onto a new idea with passion and enthusiasm, but as a rule, they will also be quicker to leave this same idea again once the fire of novelty has died out. INFPs are more serious and deliberate about which ideas will even be allowed to have their day in court, but the ones they do give a hearing will be more cautiously and meticulously evaluated. With the aid of tertiary Sensation, more stable entities will be allowed to take form in the psyche of the INFP.

This is not to say that this trade-off is unequivocally in the INFP’s favor, however, because while ENFPs have inferior Si, they also have tertiary Te, which is the inferior function of the INFP. This means that compared to the INFP, the judgments and associations of the ENFP tend to be more in touch with real-world factors. They engage with their observations more directly and consequently  the psychic output of ENFPs will, as a rule, be more immediately applicable to the real world than that of INFPs.

Did Poststructuralism Help Enable Trump?

Since Trump’s election in November 2016, some scholars and writers, most notably among them the American philosopher Daniel Dennett, have claimed that Trump’s victory was in part made possible by the attack on truth and rationality undertaken by French poststructuralist philosophers in the 80s. How much sensibility is there to this claim?

Well, to start with, the most common claim of these authors is that the poststructuralists undermined truth and rationality itself, thus enabling everyone to live in their own la-la land with no respect for facts or truth. But for our part, we don’t really think that’s true: It isn’t so much the critique of science and facts contained in poststructuralist thought that has been influential in the world of politics: No, it is rather the conception of the subject.

Though the poststructuralists differed on method and disagreed on many things, one thing they all had in common was their attack on liberal humanism’s conception of the subject as a universal entity capable of bridging the particular properties of each specific subject: Gender, race, class, and so on were second-order characteristics, so to speak – the most important thing according to the liberal humanists’ conception of the subject was that we are all human beings and as such, entitled to the same political rights and duties, as well as equally capable of accessing and understanding the world through reason.

Broadly speaking, this conception of the subject was the dominant one amongst both left- and right-wingers from roughly 1945 ‘till 2000. But as we said, the French poststructuralists undertook a virulent philosophical attack on this idea of the subject in the 1980s. Even Marxists understood the subject in this universalist manner.

Their attack was successful, but not in the way that they had hoped. Their adherents copied their critical view of the universal conception of the subject, but rather than the erudite philosophical criticism presented by the likes of Foucault, Derrida, and others, the adherents became obsessed with the particular characteristics of each specific subject. Race, class, and gender went from being seen as less important properties of the subject than its ability to reason to being seen as more important.

An obvious example of a kind of thinking that was inspired by the French poststructuralists, yet reworked their philosophical criticism into an obsession with identity is intersectional feminism. Many intersectional feminists are actually completely candid about the fact that they don’t see rational arguments as merely hinging on their own objective validity. To them, the evaluation of what you say is not determined by the content of your sentences so much as by your identity: Whether you’re male or female, white, black, able-bodied, handicapped and so on. The closer you get to the constellation of white cis hetero male, the less of a claim you can make to simply having your arguments evaluated on the basis of rationality.

For example, some intersectional feminists openly state that men shouldn’t attempt to argue rationally when finding themselves in a disagreement with women, but only seek to listen and understand. In the same way, whites should not argue rationally when disagreeing with blacks and so on and so on. The implicit idea is that, rather than all of us being fundamentally the same as human beings capable of accessing reason, a man will never be able to understand a woman’s lived experience, a white person will not be able to understand a black person’s lived experience and so on. By forcing a disagreement to be hashed out on the premises of rational argumentation, the stronger party is marginalizing the unique experiences and perspectives of vulnerable groups. Therefore, as said, the stronger party should not argue, but merely listen attentively and empathetically. As intersectionalists and poststructuralists see it, rationality is not just rationality. It may contain some logic, but it is also to a very large degree created by power dynamics, Western self-glorification, and habitual thought-forms (that is, matrices which only people who are sufficiently aware of poststructuralist philosophy or the particulars of each subject’s identity and the power structures that surround it will be capable of escaping).

The consequence of such a view is that rationality and attempts to be impartial and objective can no longer be seen as the foundation for debates or disputes, that the particular characteristics of each subject can never be bridged by reason and therefore that the perspectives felt by one race or gender can never be falsified, no matter how many facts or counterarguments are presented against them.

Now, as everyone knows, these discourse critiques were primarily used by left-wing groups. That is not to say that that is how all of the left wing thinks, though. In fact, there has been a substantial philosophical conflict lurking on the left wing between what we will here call the left-wing liberals and the progressives.  Liberals are the old-fashioned lefties who saw the subject as something universal and who approached politics by trying to build broad coalitions between different societal groups through the use of reason. What we call progressives in this context are the groups who are more obsessed with the particulars of particular groups and their identities. These are the left-wingers who, rather than building broad political coalitions, seem to thrive on exposing what they see as covert racism and sexism; policing the language of others; no-platforming speakers they don’t like and so on. In their zeal to effectuate their agenda, left-wing progressives have frequently turned on other lefties. Rather than engaging in broad, pragmatic coalition-building, they seem more interested in fighting what they see as oppression of marginalized groups wherever they encounter it – even if it means ruining their own side’s momentum in the grander scheme of things.

This is where Trump comes in. Just like the progressive leftists, Trump has accepted a particular view of the subject where the subject’s characteristics are more important than the universal ability to reason. Only in Trump’s case, rather than championing the lot of women, minorities, gays, and so on, he takes the heterosexual white man as his favored, quote-unquote, “marginalized” group.  In this way, both Trump and the poststructuralism-inspired progressive leftists favor a certain segment because of its identity, not its arguments. Likewise, both Trump and the progressives portray their chosen segment as anti-establishment underdogs that heroically rise up in revolt against the powers that be: For the progressives, the dominant powers are racism, sexism, and homophobia. For Trump it is political correctness, cultural feminism, and the misguided practice of sucking up to Islam and Islamic interests. The two are in this respect mirror images of each other. And ultimately, both are indebted to the attack on the subject that was undertaken by the poststructuralist philosophers of the 80s.

So the way the poststructuralists contributed to Trump is not – like Dennett and others have said – that it destroyed the conceptions of science and truth and that everyone is now living in their own personal world of alternative facts. For example, most Trump supporters will grant that there were more people at Obama’s inauguration ceremony than at Trump’s, thereby showcasing that the traditional notions of truth and rationality are still very much in place where these can be brought to bear on falsifiable claims. No; the way the poststructuralists contributed to Trump was by dissolving the universalist view of the subject and paving the way for the obsession with identity that we’re seeing today where gender, race, and so on are conceived of as almost mythological entities which the dictates of reason can never bridge or surmount and which function as a type of “ground zero” that precedes each and every political analysis.

Karl Marx once wrote that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. In the case of poststructuralism’s influence on Trump, there is mostly just a farce. Poststructuralism was a left-wing project which set out with the aim of undermining traditional authority and the white man’s ossified forms of rationality. But in terms of actual politics, poststructuralism mostly just ended up causing the left wing a lot of headaches and infighting since, as mentioned, the progressive elements which poststructuralism gave rise to were almost just as likely to turn on other, more old-fashioned mainstream leftists as they were to turn on their mutual opponents on the right wing. Now Trump has picked up a few tricks from the poststructuralist playbook and what mostly caused the left a lot of infighting has, in the hands of this right-wing populist, helped turned the tide of an election that he probably should have lost. If we were to analyze this development through the lens of the identity-obsessed poststructuralist groups, there is, furthermore, an inviting irony in the fact that Trump is a white, male, privileged capitalist – in other words, everything the poststructuralists set out to destroy they have in a sense helped to enable.

In a purely political context, it would undoubtedly have been better for the left wing if it had never accepted the poststructuralist groupings into their midst, but instead focused on the old-fashioned type of coalition building that has traditionally been a source of strength for the left, creating alliances between very different societal groups. Groups who, in spite of their differences, were able to reach each other and rally behind the same causes through a universalist conception of the subject and a common commitment to rationality.

Review of ‘The Dream of Enlightenment’

Anthony Gottlieb
The Dream of Enlightenment
Penguin 2016

Review by Ryan Smith

Do you, like Pope John Paul the Second and Prince Charles, regard Descartes as a subjectivist? Or Rousseau as someone who believed that humans in the state of nature would treat each other nicely? Do you believe that Hobbes was an atheist? Or that the history of philosophy leading up to Kant can be divided into empiricists and rationalists? Well, then you are wrong.

Nietzsche says somewhere that philosophers are incompetent when it comes to tending to philosophy as a subject, since philosophers perennially seek to de-historicize everything and see philosophical thought as floating in a free realm outside of time and space. Nietzsche was right about this.

Philosophers are notoriously afraid of historicizing philosophy. I once had a discussion with a guy who loved Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. In his opinion, people who found broad swatches of that book incomprehensible had simply failed to reflect deeply on its contents. When I rejoined that Sartre had written the work during a period when he popped as many as 20 amphetamine pills a day, and that several passages are in fact meaningless according to Sartre, my interlocutor replied that historical details like that are not relevant to philosophy.

That was a typical example of the tendency that Nietzsche was lambasting. Philosophers tend to believe that philosophical thought is so elevated that it stands outside of the conditions of history. In reality, all this approach means is that the whole field of philosophy ends up reproducing the same amateurish historiography, littered with distortions which in many cases were actually the work of partisan writers, meant to glorify their favorite philosopher at the expense of his rivals. Real historians would laugh at the so-called historical method that prevails in philosophy.

So wouldn’t it be nice with a book that sought to re-historize philosophy? To look at the field afresh, as it were? Well, that book exists – it’s Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Enlightenment, which was published last year.

Descartes wasn’t particularly interested in whether the world really exists. He merely wanted to get some preliminary methodical considerations out of the way before proceeding with the thrust of his project, which consisted of anatomical studies of carcasses, the findings from which he creatively used to argue that bodies are like biological machines. He is regarded as the father of modern philosophy, but in reality his project had far more in common with the naturalistic spirit of the Greeks than with any of the philosophers who succeeded him. Spinoza was not the noble loner who consoled himself by devising of his high-minded philosophy in solitude. In the Marrano-Jewish community from which he was excommunicated, at least two other members had previously gotten themselves into trouble by presenting God, not as a supernatural anthropomorphic being, but as an entirely natural rational principle, animating the whole of the cosmos. Nor was he impoverished – in fact, he lived quite comfortably from the money his fans and friends continually sent him. You might say he had his own Patreon thing going. Hume did not regard the problem of induction as something to get hung up on. In his opinion, this limitation was simply an a priori condition of all cognition; a reminder of how fragile human knowledge is and always will be. He would have laughed at the Herculean efforts some of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers undertook to solve it – in vain, one might add.

One thing that is tiring about the book is that the author expends considerable resources kicking a downed enemy with snide points about how unflatteringly the church acted in the face of these new philosophies, and how busy the people of the cross were with limiting free thought and free speech in Europe. To be sure, the gradual liberation from the intellectual stranglehold of the church is an important part of the history of the enlightenment. But the basic opposition between church and free thought is clear after the first batch of observations have been furnished to this point. Double-digit variations end up becoming their own pious zeal. Another minus is that the book is patchy and random about which of its themes it develops over several pages, and which are merely outlined in a sentence or two.

Nonetheless, the book is original and absolutely worth reading. There can be no denying that Gottlieb writes about philosophy in a comical, coy, and crystal clear way which supersedes Bertrand Russell in several places.

The book’s main point, namely that philosophy cannot be separated from the historical conditions in which it was spawned, is a cogent one, and after turning the last page it is evident that many of the things usually said about the West’s greatest geniuses are distorted, wrong, or both. The history of philosophy is as much mythology as it is history. It has assumed a life of its own and many philosophers would hardly recognize themselves in the standard histories of the field. It is also instructive to see how first-rate minds either aligned themselves with the intellectual fashions of the day or were consigned to sideshows as ‘minor philosophers.’ No matter how smart you are, it is hard to escape the spirit of the times. Harder still is to be noticed and taken seriously if your thought does not fit the current trends.

In the end, one could ask: If philosophy is presumably able to stand outside of time and space, why is it then that 90% of the most important advances in Western philosophy originated from just two places and were concentrated over two small periods, with a duration of less than half a millennium in total (that is to say, Greece in classical times and Northern Europe in the early modern period)? That this astounding coincidence should somehow have nothing to do with the terms imposed on thought by history is, it seems, something one would need to take 20 amphetamine pills a day to comprehend.

Why Jung is INFJ, Part 2: What Jung Said About Himself

By Ryan Smith

In Part 1 of this series, we saw that:

  • Jung, when asked in public, always said he was a Ti (ITP) type.
  • There is a “secret” seminar where Jung identifies his Intuition as “superior.”
  • Some theorists take this to mean that Jung secretly identified as an Ni (INJ) type.
  • Jung was not always honest about his own type assessments in interviews.

Here in Part 2, we are going to present and discuss all of Jung’s statements about his own type. ...

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Plato’s Discursive Defense

By Ryan Smith

Now that we have reconstructed the contents of the Unwritten Doctrine and examined the paradox of how the One can be both unconditioned and limited at the same time, it remains for us to examine whether the Unwritten Doctrine actually refutes the Third Man Argument, as it was ostensibly meant to do.

First, let us recap Plato’s main line of defense against the Third Man Argument. Recall that the argument goes: “You say that sensible things are caused by the Forms – for example, that all physical men must be caused by the ideal Form of Man. But what causes the Form itself? Must that not be another Form, which is itself then caused by another Form, and so on in an infinite regress?”...

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On the Historical Continuity of Buddhist Schools

Among contemporary Buddhist schools, many lay claim to be the authentic heirs of the teaching of the Buddha. Yet there is considerable variety among the Buddhist schools in precepts, ethics and philosophy. As one scholar of Buddhism has said, it is as if the whole corpus of philosophy has been gone through in Buddhist form. So how can we choose? Which school is the closest to the teachings we find in the earliest Buddhist texts?

The earliest Buddhism we know presents us with an elitist teaching for men of superior intellectual acumen in whom an intense appetite for the transcendental was present. I say men, since women were officially excluded and only later did the Buddha allow himself to be persuaded to let women join the movement. True, the Buddha sometimes offers advice, instruction and comfort for the common folk, but a sharp line is drawn between those who would walk the path of awakening and become monks, and the ordinary people whom the Buddhists merely counseled. When the Buddhists later opened their ranks to laypeople, this represented a decadence and fall in metaphysical level compared to the Olympian heroism and Doric bareness of the original Buddhist order.

Around the start of the Common Era, Buddhism separated into the Hinayana and Mahayana schools. Neither of these are identical with the older forms of Buddhism. Hinayana became the custodians of the original Buddhist texts. A strong focus was placed on orthodoxy and scripture. It was heavily monastic and taught the importance of an ethical, puritan and ascetic way of life. Now Mahayana, on the other hand, was much more open to innovation. So much so, in fact, that the Russian scholar of Buddhism Shcherbatskoy has said that Mahayana Buddhism practically turned all of the prior teachings of Buddhism on their heads.

If you could say that Hinayana had somewhat expanded on the teachings of the Buddha, encumbering them with numerous ethical and claustral concerns, the same is doubly true of Mahayana. Except in this case the unsolicited expansion concerns the outgrowth of Buddhism from a series of individualistic practices, turning self-overcoming into a bona fide religion. Here, anyone could be a Buddha and instead of the personal goal of transcendence into nirvana, we find an almost Christian attention to the salvation of the masses, the common folk and their well-being. Original Buddhism had said very little about the gods, yet as with Catholicism, we find in Mahayana a phantasmagoria of gods, demigods and non-historical Buddhas, who can help the practitioner reach the other shore.

Thus we can see that both Hinayana and Mahayana have embellished considerably on the teachings of the Buddha and both have crowded out his doctrine thereby. So which contemporary school of Buddhism is the closest to original Buddhism?

In medieval times, a variant of Mahayana known as Cha’an or Zen emerged – it arose in China and then spread to Japan. Zen Buddhists have many fanciful legends about how their doctrine is actually the direct transmission of the original teachings from the Buddha himself, but these legends have nothing substantial at all to support them and so they must be regarded as fabrications.

On the other hand, in mixing with the endogenous warrior culture of Japan, Zen revived many of the elitist and individualistic elements of Buddhism that had otherwise been lost to both Hinayana and Mahayana. In Zen we find the view that all formalization and ritualistic practice actually dilutes and blunts the efforts of the initiate, making it harder for him to overcome his conditioned self and reach transcendental reality. (When we ask which contemporary school of Buddhism is the closest to the original teachings, we should here remind ourselves that the Buddha was from the warrior caste and that his teaching was intended, in part, as a revolt against the elaborate ritualization of the priestly caste.) Doctrines and dogmas, yes, even the doctrine of “Buddhism” itself represent nothing but a stifling of the superior man’s efforts to reach unconditioned reality and thus we find Zen practitioners saying that the Buddha was a turd or that they’d like to kill him. It was all a strong reaction against the outsourcing of one’s own spiritual development to a new priestly caste, preaching a codified version of Buddhism that was just as stripped of Buddhism’s original exigency as the Brahmanical religion had become at the time of the Buddha.

On this basis, it should be easy to see how Zen’s relentless focus on spiritual awakening and its conception of it as an individual affair, requiring exceptional virility, self-control and the readiness for any sacrifice that self-overcoming may require, are closer in spirit to original Buddhism than the Hinayanist wardens of the original texts and traditions with their formalized, communitarian and ritualistic approach. But we can also see how Zen, while indebted to Mahayana and in every sense an outgrowth of it, is a branch that turns on its trunk and lays bare how far the original teachings of the enlightened one were from the trappings of more traditional religions (trappings which, indeed, most contemporary Westerners erroneously regard as the heart of Buddhism).

With regards to Jungian typology, we may thus say that while Hinayana is undoubtedly the closest to original Buddhism in terms of factual harmonies and historical continuity – indeed all outer doctrines and unities – Zen alone continues the Olympian, iconoclastic, individualistic and (spiritually) aristocratic mindset that fostered original Buddhism. In other words, when we want to answer the question of which contemporary school of Buddhism is the closest to the teaching of the Buddha himself, we find that Hinayana is the closest in terms of Sensation, while Zen is the closest in terms of Intuition.