This is just a brief note about the Myers-Briggs version of Jungian typology. In case you share my black aversion to putting people into boxes, I need to say first of all that this is just a ready reckoner, a useful way to remind yourself that people really are different. It is a way of encouraging oneself to be tolerant of others. It is a way of encouraging me to be tolerant of myself!


An EXTRAVERT interprets knowledge about the world mainly in terms of relationship and of the longing to be in connection. Loosely, we may say that the extravert is looking for love. The extravert may be trusting. When Locke writes about the natural state of society, he imagines a friendly, lawless co-operation - an extravert's image.

(His optimistic intuition about primitive society has been widely borne out by studies of hunter-gatherer societies. One such study is reported in Colin Turnbull's book THE FOREST PEOPLE.)

An INTROVERT interprets knowledge about the world mainly in terms of struggle and of the longing for power and supremacy. Loosely, we may say that the introvert is looking for control. The introvert may be fearful. When Hobbes imagines the natural state of society, he says: "No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short" - this image of a primitive state of strife is an introvert's image.

(Thinkers who believe human nature is like this tend to pave the way for the acceptance of dictatorships. On the other hand, they may be valuable in bringing a sombre realism to the discussions of the naive.)

A SENSATION person depends for knowledge of the world mainly on sense-impressions. Locke says that the mind of a newborn child is a tabula rasa, a blank slate - a sensation person's point of view. (Incidentally, this view is now untenable.)

An INTUITIVE person depends for knowledge of the world primarily on looking inward at himself. Descartes tries to derive all sorts of things from his claim that he cannot deny his own existence - this is an intuitive person's behaviour.

The word "intuition" has various meanings, but in this typology ONLY means looking inward (for innate or quasi-innate knowledge), and in no way implies supernatural insight or guidance.

A THINKING person processes knowledge (however obtained) by logic and reasoning, and reaches decisions on a rational basis (though even the most deep-dyed rationalist has finally, as Descartes pointed out, to come to rest in a feeling of assent or decision that is "clear and distinct").

A FEELING person processes knowledge (however obtained) in felt, non-rational ways, and reaches decisions on a basis of "what feels right".

A JUDGING person tends to like closure.

A PERCEIVING person tends to leave things open.


The typology (as I understand it) is essentially about how you mostly prefer or tend to go about understanding the world, at least in the case of the last six terms.

The case of introvert/extravert is different, since this distinction is about the general prejudice which colours your attempts to understand the world. Jung does not seem to consider that anybody could achieve neutral impartiality.

There are 4 oppositions, and a person is supposed to prefer in each case one or the other, more or less. But this is a doubtful assumption.

One might, for example, be intensely committed to the synthesis of thinking-and-feeling (Confucius comes to mind here). This would be radically different from merely being more or less vaguely in the middle of the scale, between thinking and feeling.

Similarly, one might be strongly motivated to be in relationship (extravert), and also have a big need for privacy and control (introvert). Jung himself might be a case in point, at least in his later years.

Another point. The types are supposed to be inborn, "who you are". That is the whole point of them. But in practice type may seem or tend to change somewhat over time.


Four broad types emerge, because it is claimed that for Sensation people the main subdivision is into Judges and Perceivers; whereas for Intuitive people, the main subdivision is into Feelers and Thinkers.

I don't see a good theoretical basis for this, but am happy to believe that in practice people in the 4 groups (of all SJs, all SPs, all NTs, and all NFs) have enough common ground to make it useful to regard the groupings as valid for practical purposes.

Once there are four broad groups, it is of course irresistible to draw a parallel with the ancient theory of temperaments.

Kye Nelson has kindly summarised for me descriptions of the temperaments in the book by Keirsey and Bates. She modestly calls these "short impoverished descriptions of their rich material". As follows:-

- Artisan: need to make an impact and respond to impulses with skill (SP)
- Guardian: need to belong and be responsible (SJ)
- Rationalist: need for mastery and for truth: to understand the operating principles of the universe (NT)
- Idealist: need meaning, significance, and the greater good (NF)

5 It's worth noting that the division into Sensation, Intuition and Thinking is laid out by Locke. We know about the world (he says) by sensation, about ourselves by inner sense, and about God by reasoning.

The fourth category, that of Feeling, becomes important from Rousseau onwards.

[If you are interested in this, you could refer to Bertrand Russell's HISTORY OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY, especially pages 589, 591, 665, 667, 668 and 676.]

So it is clear that Jung is not deriving his classification from pure observation, but bringing categories TO observation from his philosophical reading.

Contrariwise, the division into introverts and extraverts did arise from observation (he says): from an attempt to understand why Freud and Adler would interpret similar cases in radically different ways (Freud is, of course, the extravert).

6 The terms "introvert" and "extravert" have changed their meaning since Jung introduced them. I have tried to return them to their original meaning, although aware that even Jungians have in some cases fallen into the popular usage (which largely duplicates the terms "intuition" and "sensation").

7 I think it is fair to claim that Jung has taken different philosophical styles or emphases, and (in effect) claimed that these are just intellectualisations of authors' differing personality types. It is far from clear that the kind of interpretation which reduces intellectual difference to mere psychology is good for the intellectual life. Ideas and intellectual styles should surely be judged on their intellectual merits, independently of the personality of the author.

(This idea is taken from Fichte, who introduces it in the context of his criticsm or Kant's ethical ideas. He is opposed to the idea that Kant's ethical system is impartial and universal.)

8 Jung liked the number 4. I guess that his concept of "the archetype" was partly inspired by Kant's ideas about the "synthetic a priori". It would be perfectly Jungian to say that there have to be four aspects, because the soul is governed by the archetype of 4-ness. But whether this would amount to anything more than saying that bad thinkers are apt to let their ideas make pretty patterns, I leave it to others to judge.

9 Finally: although Jung regarded introvert/extravert as the main division, more recent writers have emphasized sensation/intuition, on the grounds that sensationists and intuitives are apt to find each other mutually incomprehensible (and more or less infuriating!).


This very short set of questions should give you a good sense of how you fit into this scheme. It is of course only one way to class people, and you might be (say) an ESTJ, and still find yourself wildly unlike some other ESTJ.


Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to construe the world in terms of control (war, advantage, danger)? to need to feel in control? to need to have "security and supremacy"? including (socially) to need privacy, personal space, safety, and time out from people?



Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to construe the world in terms of relationship (love, co-operation, adventure)? to need to feel in contact? including (socially) to need to have company, interaction, and time with people?


Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to depend for knowledge of the world on sense-impressions?



Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to depend for knowledge of the world on what you discover inside yourself?


Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to process knowledge of the world and reach decisions by logic, thinking and reasoning?



Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to process knowledge of the world and reach decisions by feeling, emotion and bodily reactions?

7 DO YOU LIKE CLOSURE ("judging")

Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to like settled forms, patterns, clear decisions and closure?



Broadly speaking, do you tend in general (mostly) to like enquiry, spontaneity, freedom, openendedness and changeability?

To abbreviate - are you I or E?
are you S or N ("iNtuition"!)?
are you T or F?
are you J or P?

I found this simple scheme a revelation. I did the much longer questionnaire in Keirsey and Bates, and I came out as an ENFP. However:-

  1. although very E, I do need time for myself;
  2. although very N, I greatly value S, and would like to be more balanced;
  3. although apparently very F, I dispute this: I have a strong commitment to the view that feeling should be more important than thinking, but only just - in this respect I am a faithful Confucian!;
  4. and although I came out as moderately P, the likelihood (I think) is that I am extremely P, but have learned that if I give into it, it wrecks my life fast!

So I concluded that the relationship that I have to being who I am is crucial. I need both to accept (to be at peace with myself), and also to work (to counteract my limitations).


You may like to refer to PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, for vivid descriptions of the 16 "types", and for a detailed discussion of the four temperaments.

Antony Stevens general introduction, ON JUNG, nicely clarifies the original meaning of the introvert/extravert distinction.

29th July 2001

Top of this page
Poems and Essays index