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The Question of Psychological Types

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by Sangharakshita


Lecture 86; the Question of Psychological Types Friends.

We all know that in the course of our lives we meet, from time to time, very many people. We meet them in our homes, we meet them in the street, meet them in our office maybe, factory, workshop. Meet them when we go on holiday, meet them when we go for recreation and so on in this way we come into contact, more or less close contact with all sorts and conditions of men and women. And if we are really observant, if we go around with our eyes open, or at least relatively open, we shall begin to notice various things about the people with whom we come in contact, the people that we meet. We may for instance notice that they're all different, notice that they're all even physically different. They may all be built in the same sort of way, they may all have a single trunk and two legs and two arms, two feet, two hands, one head. It doesn't seem very imaginative, but despite this lack of imagination on the part of nature, despite this very standard pattern, this very standard equipment, we notice that they are all different. At the same time we notice too that in very many ways both physically, psychologically, morally, spiritually, they're very much alike. In fact they may be all the same.

And further than that we notice that people are both all the same and at the same time all completely different. We notice in fact as we move about, that people seem to fall quite naturally without any sort of forcing, into a number of groups. Into a number of groups, the members of which have certain characteristics, certain qualities, certain features, in common. And it's as though as we start sort of thinking about it and reflecting upon it, it's as though the members of these various groups were related to one another very much in the same way that the members of a single biological family are related to one another. They bear a sort of family resemblance to one another. And pursuing this train of thought we may say that we've all had the experience for instance of reading a book, say reading a novel - it may be some great classic of the past or it may be a comparatively modern novel - and in the novel there are various characters, various personages. Sometimes they're very well described, sometimes very vividly described. And every now and then when we read in this way and make the acquaintance of these characters in this way, the thought flashes across our minds, 'but I know somebody just like this' or 'I've met somebody just like this'. Who not only looks like that, looks like the person described by the novelist, by the writer, but behaves like that in the sort of situations which the novelist has described that particular character behaving in. And the same sort of thing happens when we actually meet people for the first time. We very often get the sort of feeling, well I haven't met this person before but I sort of know this person, they seem somehow rather familiar, and then it sort of comes home to us that we already know or have known someone very similar to this particular person. And sometimes in both these cases, both these kinds of cases, the resemblance is not just accidental, not just trivial but extends to the whole character structure as it were, so that the whole character structure of the person that we meet as it were in the novel and the person that we meet in the flesh and somebody else that we've known in the past seem pretty much the same, and in such cases of this, when we have experiences of this sort, we very often say that these different people, real and imaginary or imagined, are of the same type.

And if we are particularly observant we may notice that there are some types, certain types that seem to recur, that seem to turn up again and again, not only in literature, not only in fiction, but also in real life, and it's almost as though there's a sort of limited number of these relatively fixed types that we happen to meet, just like the famous case of the stage army in the old days - sometimes you had a play, you had a drama on the boards of the theatre in which there was a great army required, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of soldiers. So you get them marching across the stage from left to right, left to right, backwards and forwards and you think well there are hundreds, there are thousands of soldiers coming and going on the stage but eventually you realise you seem to recognise them as you come round, you realise it's the same maybe thirty, forty people dressed up as soldiers just going round and round as it were. It's not fresh soldiers coming in all the time, it's the same old batch of soldiers just marching again and again over the stage. So it's very much like that in real life. You begin to realise as it were there's a relatively fixed number of types of people that you encounter.

Now this particular knowledge, this particular understanding is or can be of great practical use because it helps us in dealing with the people that we meet at least to some extent, if we know from certain little signs, certain little indications, the type to which a certain person belongs, and we can very often judge what their reactions, what their response, is likely to be in any given situation. If we say something to them for instance or if something happens to them or if they encounter a certain experience. So if we're able to as it were classify them in this way and as it were almost to predict their behaviour then of course we ourselves will know how to behave with them, how to avoid treading on their pet corns, how to put things across to them, how to anticipate their difficulties or objections and so on.

So in view of all these facts it isn't surprising that the question of what has come to be called psychological types should have been studied with considerable interest from very early times, and it isn't surprising also that this same question, the question of psychological types, is relevant to the subject that we're considering generally in the course of this series of lectures, the subject of the Higher Evolution of the Individual, and that's why we're considering this topic, this question of psychological types, today.

Now I want to begin in an easy, in a simple, in a straightforward manner, by describing some of the theories that have been put forward in this connection, and some of the lists of psychological types that have been drawn up by different people at different times on the basis of the theories. Before doing that though I should observe that the expression 'psychological types' is not the only one in use. This is the one that happens to have been popularised by Jung but there are several others which have been in use and which are still in use.

We can speak not only of psychological types, we can also speak of 'personality types' or 'character types'.

We can speak too of 'psychosomatic types' and, less technically we can speak simply of 'temperaments'.

Now all these different terms, all these different expressions, have got their own distinctive shades of meaning but we're not concerned with that this evening. For all practical purposes, so far as we're concerned now, all these different meanings more or less approximate. We can comfortably ignore any differences, any finer shades of meaning that there may be.

Now so far as I've been able to discover in ancient times, that is to say in classical times, in Greek and Roman times in the West there was to all intents and purposes only one theory of psychological types and this was known as the theory of the four humours. Humour in this particular context means simply a fluid and according to this particular theory the four humours are blood, phlegm, yellow bile (also known as choler) and black bile. And according to this theory which originally was a physiological, a medical, theory, all these humours, all four of them enter into the constitution of the human body. They enter into it in different ways, to different extents, and it's the relative proportions in a person's body that determines not only physical health and strength but also according to this theory, temperament.

Now a person with a predominance of blood is said to be according to this theory of 'sanguine' temperament and he can be very easily recognised because he has a ruddy complexion, we are told. A sort of flush of blood to the face, he looks fine and healthy and vigorous as it were. So you very easily recognise this sanguine temperament, and by nature, by temperament as it were he's cheerful and optimistic. He's the sort of person who always hopes for the best rather like Mr. Micawber, always sure that something will turn up, that things will turn out right in the end. But this type of person, this sanguine temperament person even though cheerful and optimistic is not always very persistent. He may get discouraged, he may give up if his efforts do not immediately bear fruit or result in success.

Now a person with a predominance of phlegm in his system is said to be of 'phlegmatic' temperament and he is described by the ancient sources as being sluggish, as being not easily aroused or moved, as being apathetic, but also calm and composed. So one can see there's a positive as well as a negative side here.

Again one with predominance of yellow bile is said to be of a choleric temperament and we're told that he tends to be brunette in complexion, in colouring, with a rather strong, in the case of a man, muscular physique. Such a person, we are further told, is hot tempered, irascible and passionate. This is the choleric type. I can see a few people smiling as if they recognise themselves.

Then we've got the person with the predominance of black bile, a rather unpleasant fluid this. It's said to be acrid and evil smelling. A person with a predominance ...

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