Psychological Temperaments & Social Affiliations Influence Worldview Commitments

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What are the hidden influences of psychological temperament and social pressures upon worldview and lifestyle commitments? I will argue in this blog that they are pervasive and profound!

I was reminded again today of this truth in a second reading of a fascinating book by John Haught entitled “Is Nature Enough: Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science.”  There is no way that I can do justice to the book in this brief blog, and it is not my purpose here to review it. Rather, I’m using it as a launching pad for a discussion of the influences of psychological temperaments and social pressures, including the fiduciary communities of authority and tradition to which we belong, in seeking to make coherent and encompassing sense of our world.

Haught quotes a familiar maxim: “Never deny in your philosophy what you affirm in your heart.” He expands upon this maxim by saying, “Never deny in your philosophical claims what you implicitly affirm in your every act of knowing.” He goes on to claim that any worldview that dogmatically asserts that we live in an essentially mindless, purposeless, self-originating and self-enclosed universe is not large enough  to house our “critical intelligence,” which for Haught includes not only philosophical reason and empirical science but also affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience.

Haught claims that responsible science can exercise “methodological naturalism” without “metaphysical naturalism” that is “reductive” toward the affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience, regarding “mind” as a mere “epiphenomenon” of “matter”. He argues that the search for the truth of “what is” tacitly assumes in everyday practice that the human mind is “fitted” to the task of knowing the nature of reality. He claims that if we live in an essentially mindless, purposeless, self-orginizing, self-enclosed universe then there is no reason why we should trust our minds since they are merely the accidental by-products of that mindless and purposeless universe. The following quote by Charles Darwin underscores what Haught is saying: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” I will not attempt to set forth the fine points of Haught’s critique of scientific naturalism since that is not my purpose in this blog.

What struck me in reading Haught’s definition of “critical intelligence” was his reference to “affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience.” Those of you who have spent any time with Carl Jung’s model of temperament types, or Meyers-Briggs and David Keirsey’s adaptations of Jung’s model, will recognize that it is especially the Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Perceptive (INFP) type who cares most passionately about the affective, intersubjective and narrative regions, and it is the Introverted, Sensing, Feeling and Perceptive  (ISFP) who care most passionately about the aesthetic dimension. At the same time, much of Haught’s book reads like a text of rational philosophy in which he argues that “scientific materialism” makes dogmatic claims that contradict what we all implicitly and tacitly affirm in our every act of knowing, and that it is therefore an inadequate worldview. Haught has considerable knowledge and great respect for the scientific enterprise, but he thinks “materialism” (“physicalism”, “naturalism”) is misguided in reducing the later and more complex  presence of “life” and “mind” to a lifeless and mindless, meaningless and absurd universe. He rejects materialistic scientism because it is reductive toward those experiences that all humans, including scientists, find most meaningful and fulfilling.

What kind of psychological temperament might we expect to find among the majority of scientific materialists? While there will certainly be persons of different temperaments types represented, it is likely that the Extraverted Thinking Sensing Judgment (ETSJ) type will be in abundant supply, along with others who are naturally predisposed by temperament to view the external material world as perceived by the physical senses as mediated by skeptical reason and empirical sciences to be the only true and objective reality. Haught’s “critical intelligence” that includes “the affective, intersubjective, narrative and aesthetic regions of experience” will be “explained” in terms of physics, chemistry, neuroscience and biology, as well as in terms of Darwinian “natural selection and random mutations” with “survival advantage” across vast amounts of time. Some scientific materialists go further and claim that even mind (or consciousness) itself is an illusion, a ghost in the machine.

Which “doors of perception” ought we to trust? Does it make sense to “reduce” the later and more highly complex affective, intersubjective, narrative, aesthetic, cognitive and theoretical regions of experience to the earlier and simpler mechanisms of physics, chemistry, neuroscience and biology? Does it make sense to explain the seemingly miraculous presence of life and mind, interiority and intersubjectivity, narrative and aesthetics in terms of an originating lifeless and mindless universe without interiority and intersubjectivity? Does it make sense to explain the complex “information” contained in DNA to terms of an originally lifeless and mindless universe that produced DNA code through billions of years of evolution? Again, to some people this strictly physical and exterior explanation of reality makes sense. To others who have access to the same scientific knowledge it does not add up. For them something is terribly wrong with this picture. It seems to ask us to give philosophical lip-service to claims that are contradicted by our every act of knowing and by all that we affirm in our hearts. Are the affective, interpersonal, narrative, aesthetic, ethical and theoretical regions of experience that “Nature” has endowed us with to be “explained”, without remainder, by physics and chemistry, and dismissed as “folk psychology?”

A simplified way to saying what I’m getting at is this: “Mystics” will tend to be intuitive inward-looking INFPs. “Materialists” will tend to be sensory outward-looking ESTJs. They fundamentally trust different “doors of perception.” No amount of further “philosophical reasoning” or presentation of “scientific evidences” will change their minds. No appeals to tacit, subsidiary knowledge or explicit focal knowledge will change their minds either. While those with different worldviews may agree concerning the value of the search for the truth of “what is,” they may not agree as to the primacy of Mind (Idealism) or Matter (Materialism), or whether they are either Two Separate Realities (Dualism) or One Integral Di-Modal Reality (Neutral Monism), or something else. Nor will they necessarily agree about “how we know” and which “doors of perceptions” we ought to trust the most and the least.

And again this is where temperament comes into play. People don’t just change their temperaments. Temperaments seem to be “hard-wired.” That is not to say that persons do not change and grow, and that the range of their temperamental predisposition cannot be expanded to be more inclusive. But our temperament is a lens through which we see the world. All our assumptions, beliefs, values and commitments are influenced by that lens. We may even assume that those who see the world through a different temperamental and epistemological lens are narrow, truncated, short-sided or blind to the truth.

In addition to our temperamental predispositions there is also the influence of social pressures, especially of the fiduciary communities of authority and tradition, theory and practice into which we were born or to which we have chosen to affiliate ourselves. Those who identify with a particular worldview such as dualism, idealism, materialism or panpsychism, or with a particular social philosophy such as conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism or communitarian will tend to hang out and affiliate with each other. “Birds of a feather flock together.” We read each other’s books and go to each other’s conferences. We site each other as vetted authorities on the subject, and we turn to our fiduciary community for resources to help us critique those whose ideas are alien, divergent and “outside the camp.” We reinforce each other and build up our fiduciary tradition by forming societies and fellowships, forums and colloquy, seminars and salons, centers and institutes.

At the same time we may also feel social pressures from outside our primary fiduciary community. In a pluralist society there are many voices and many fiduciary communities. In the post-modern society we may ever experience the “polyphrenic self” that has become skeptical toward all grand-narratives and worldview perspectives, even though such “perspectival relativism” is itself ironically a worldview among worldviews.

It has been said that “there is no view from nowhere.” The human subject and the surrounding environment influence one’s perspective on what is. Psychological temperament and social pressures, including the fiduciary framework and community of practice to which we have given our passionate loyalty and commitment, will play irreducible roles in shaping how we see the world and what we consider as most important. When philosophical reasons and scientific evidences seem to leave us at a stalemate, we fall back upon our temperamental predispositions combined with the fiduciary communities of authority and tradition, theory and practice to which we have given our loyalty and allegiance. In the event that we prefer to stand outside of all fiduciary frameworks of received authority and tradition, our assumptions, beliefs, values and commitments will still be shaped by social pressures and cross-pressures that we may not be entirely aware of, and by our psychological predispositions that tilts us in one direction or the other.

While the modernist idol of “detached objectivity” has been overthrown, that is no reason to surrender to post-modern relativism and nihilism, to the cult of “anything goes.” Somewhere between objectivity and subjectivity, in the interstices between thinking and feeling, intuiting and sensing, introspecting and observing, perceiving and judging, and especially in the exercise of critical intelligence and creative dialogue, we may catch glimpses of “the truth that sets us free.”

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