By Sigurd Arild and Ryan Smith
“…it is often very difficult to find out whether a person belongs to one type or the other…” – Jung: Psychological Types §3
A popular means of assertion to back up one’s own type assessments in an argument is to state that someone is “obviously” a certain type instead of producing a proper argument. For example, people may say that Donald Trump is “obviously” an ENTJ and then lean back, content that they have now (in their mind) augmented their case. But in fact, if all they have said is that someone is “obviously” a certain type, then all they have said is that they have no real arguments to back up their claim.
Let us consider the matter as seen through the eyes of two capable epistemologists. First, consider the words of the German mathematician and philosopher Leonard Nelson:
“People who call some piece of knowledge ‘evident’ do not usually have any one clear characteristic in mind. Expressions of this sort are often used simply to describe the certainty that we do in fact have in respect of our judgment; our firm conviction of its truth. The description of a judgment as evident can, however, also bear another and more precise sense: that the state of affairs re-capitulated in our judgment is immediately clear to us, so that the truth of the judgment needs no further illumination, i.e. we do not need to think about it in order to realize that it is true. This means that we are not only certain, i.e. convinced, of the truth of the judgment, but that we are certain in a particular way, namely, that that truth is clear by itself, independently of reflection.” – Nelson: Progress and Regress in Philosophy vol. I (Blackwell 1970 ed.) p. 88
Something may more easily be said to be “obvious” or “self-evidently true” if that thing is a simple and distinct characteristic. For example, the proposition that Donald Trump “obviously” had red hair may more easily be said to be “obvious” or self-evidently true than more complex propositions such as “Trump’s smile communicates smugness.” When we are trying to determine someone’s type, we are not dealing with a simple and distinct characteristic, but with a complex pattern of deductive inferences. Therefore the question of someone’s psychological type is wholly unsuited to this type of prima facie appeal.
One could avert the criticism by adopting a “common sense” philosophy in the vein of Thomas Reid. But the obvious problem then arises that psychological types do not exist as a matter of common sense. If they did, we would hardly have had to wait until 1921 for the first credible theory of truly psychological types to appear. Psychological types could more properly be said to exist as heuristics or Platonic forms; the people who say that types exist as a priori empirical occurrences are at odds with the science.
As Nelson points out, to assert that a claim is “obviously” true can have two meanings: (1) One meaning is to simply declare that one has great personal conviction in one’s own claim. (2) The other meaning is declaring that one has great personal conviction in one’s own claim and that the question at hand is of a kind that needs no reflection in order to be decided.
It is our contention that the matter of determining someone’s type is not a question that can be decided without analysis or reflection. (We have argued the point here, here, here, and here.) So if the premise is granted that (2) can never be true when dealing with the question of someone’s psychological type, then it follows that all people are really saying when they are saying that someone is “obviously” a certain type is that they feel certain about their own judgment. To gauge the value of such statements, let us turn to Karl Popper:
“… I would insist … that these experiences, important as they may be … can never serve to establish the truth of any idea or theory, however strongly somebody may feel, intuitively, that it must be true, or that it is ‘self-evident’. Such intuitions cannot even serve as an argument. … For somebody else may have just as strong an intuition that the same theory is false. … Intuition undoubtedly plays a great part in the life of a scientist, just as it does in the life of a poet. It leads him to his discoveries. But it may also lead him to his failures. And it always remains his private affair, as it were. Science does not ask how he got his ideas, it is only interested in arguments that can be tested by everybody.” – Popper: The Open Society and Its Enemies (Routledge 2002) p. 232
Certitude in one’s own intuitions can never be a real argument. It is a person’s private affair and belongs more fittingly in a personal diary than in an exchange on someone’s type.
Note that we are not trying to discourage anyone from having intuitions about other people’s types. We are merely saying that stating that someone is “obviously” a certain type as a means to back up your claim is not an argument, but at best an attempt to shame or browbeat the other person into submission.
Even if you are someone whose judgment is generally acknowledged to be correct, your personal certitude is still ineligible as an argument because you may still be wrong on this occasion. For example, Jung’s self-assessment as a Ti type presumably led him to commit a series of errors with regards to identifying other Ti types correctly (see note 3 here).
Finally, note that Popper says that we should be interested in arguments that can be tested by anyone. Within the Jungian type community, as well as the field of self-development as a whole, there is a regrettable tendency to “seek a master” who is then presumed to have all the answers. These “masters” are frequently talented and entertaining, but a proper argument is rarely possible with them or with their followers. Even if you refute their stated arguments, show their research to be factually inaccurate, and expose their understanding of Jungian typology as lackluster, you are still bound to get nowhere, because such groupings really depend on group instinct and identity rather than critical argument. They have pawned their critical judgment with the master and are beholden to the convenient delusion that answers to complex questions can be handed to them on a silver platter if they simply stick to their guru.
It must be mentioned that though the flinging of unsupported type assessments as “obviously” true is exactly the kind of thing that might be expected from hobbyists on the internet, they are not alone in this regard: Keirsey Jr. has also made use of this technique on several occasions, and even Jung resorted to this sort of non-argument from time to time. Von Franz and van der Hoop were more neutral with regards to the manner in which they advanced their type assessments, while Myers deserves special credit in this regard for stating her type assessments in the non-combative, deferential, and open-ended manner that is conducive to true discussion.