[Religious Types 2] Existential Underpinnings

15 04 2012

[Previous Post in the Series]

Jung’s typological work has had a long and lively life. Unlike much of his work which has remained the province of those dedicated to analytic psychology and its goals, Jung’s typology has been widely used by others. It has undergone much clarification and elaboration and can now be fairly accurately tested through the use of diagnostic testing. I want to focus on the more contemporary elaborations of this, with their emphasis on types as a way of relating to fundamental cognitive functions.

Jung’s basic system of typology is straightforward enough and the outlines of it can be found in numerous books and websites so I won’t dwell on the basics too much. I will take for granted that anyone interested in reading this has spent more than a little time examining it or will be doing so before reading further. Instead, I want to examine some of the philosophical ramifications of the typological approach. Clarifying these lays the groundwork for later discussions.

Jung’s typology is developmental. Someone’s type is not just a description of them at present, but a very schematic outline of their past and future. While it emphasizes the individual’s preferences, it also suggests how they can broaden those preferences for a deeper and more engaged experience of the world. It focuses on the agency of the person while keeping their limits in mind.

Commercial uses of the MBTI often minimize this, but it is a key aspect of the typology’s therapeutic application. There are some very good accounts of this developmental approach, though (please, do take a moment to review this since I will also proceed to assume it as background as well).

This sort of account emphasizes that while we all possess the full range of faculties, both extroverted and introverted, we can effectively make use of a limited subset of them and, moreover, that as we develop one set of faculties consciously, we push the other faculties to the edges of our conscious awareness. While they do not cease to operate, we don’t often identify ourselves closely with the results of their operation and so we exert little conscious control over them.

For better or for worse, this is just a result of being human and having an upper limit to how much attention we are capable of devoting to one thing. As a person coming to navigate our environment, we need to be able to both respond to our environment as well as to our internal states. To do this well, we need some degree of stability in our experience. We manage this by favoring a narrow band of processes over others. We get comfortable and competent with those, leading us to rely more upon them. It is only as we experience their limitations in our later lives that we expand our efforts at mastery.

In favoring and sharpening these functions, we acquire both agency and identity, each of which reinforces the other. While these functional ‘choices’ are partly dispositional, rooted in our natural capacities, they are also influenced by the opportunities we are provided (and provide for ourselves) to develop them. Agency and identity join with capacity and opportunity to give shape to the typological profile that comes to characterize our experience both of the world and of ourselves.

This sense of inner and outer differentiates between the two basic attitudes in Jungian typology, introvert and extrovert. The differentiation of the two rests on a still more fundamental unity of the inner and outer world. To be an extrovert is not to be divorced from the contents of one’s own psyche, but to experience them most intensely through an engagement with the objects outside of oneself. Conversely, to be an introvert is not to be divorced from the outside world but to be experience it most intensely through the impact of that world on oneself. They are, to borrow the language of Spinoza, two modes of experiencing the same thing.

All of this helps explain a very basic dimension of Jungian typology–the primary and secondary function always differ as to their mode (i.e. introvert/extrovert). As we develop and focus on one dimension of our experience (inner/outer), we still need to navigate the other dimension.

Experientially, the one fuels the other. The introvert must attend to the external world to provide them with objects that leave a trace on their psyche which they can examine. The extrovert must attend to the impact of objects on their psyche in order to better direct themselves toward extroverted activities in which they find themselves.

When this complementary relationship between primary and secondary faculties breaks down, when one side plays too large a role in the process, this model helps us understand what tends to happen. Introverted excess leads the individual to become bored and restless, engage in more and more tenuous and vague reflection. Extroverted excess foster a sort of rudderless state, in which the person throws themselves into whatever situation is most available to them at a given moment. The precise nature of these states, of course, depends on which faculty is attached to this excess.

As we consciously develop and learn to make use of each faculty’s extroverted or introverted mode, we by necessity leave its complementary mode outside of our conscious attention. What we experience in the semiconscious or unconscious or (quite aptly named) shadow functions is the other side of the world as we consciously experience and manipulate it. We experience the limits of ourselves as agents and gain a sense of being subject to factors beyond our control.

That’s where I’ll pick up with the next post.

[Next in the Series: The Shadow Differentiated]

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