Tag Archives: Psychological Temperaments

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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Why Do Intelligent & Knowledgeable People Disagree?

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Why do highly intelligent and knowledgeable people have fundamental disagreements about nearly everything — including their views on economics, politics, arts, sciences, philosophy and religion? 

To what factors ought we to attribute these differences of views if not only to a deficiency of either knowledge or intelligence? What other factors might come into play, even if their influences are subtle and subterranean? Are there some questions that cannot finally be settled and resolved at the bar of critical reason and empirical science? These kinds of “meta-questions” are deeper than merely asking, “What are the major belief systems in today’s world?”

Of course there are those who share common assumptions, beliefs, values and commitments among like-minded people who see the world through a similar lens and filter. These people find each other and stick together in elective affinities. They read the same books and attend the same conferences. They establish their own linguistic and symbolic identities. They form their own schools, institutes, academies and study centers. They belong to the same community of theory and practice. They “agree to disagree” with those outside their “hermeneutical circle” with its assumptions, beliefs, values, habits, traditions, customs, rules and disciplines. While their dialogues and debates with “outsiders” to their views may be cordial and congenial, there may also be an implicit unspoken thought that says, “It’s OK for you to disagree with me. I can’t force you to be right.”

One can see this drama played out every week in the various news hour and public opinion TV programs where those with differing cultural, social, economic and political views on just about every issue either “face-off” in a vigorous debate or come together in more congenial dialogue among “esteemed colleagues and friends.”

One can also see this drama played out if one reads books or watches debates in which highly intelligence and knowledgeable representatives of different philosophical worldviews or social ideologies engage in a vigorous exchange of ideas and beliefs. The Dialogues of Plato are the classical example of friendly but vigorous intellectual dialogue between philosophical friends with different worldview perspectives. Would that all “dialogues” were so eloquent and congenial. Many of us have witnessed some form of intellectual dialogue and debate on various occasions, or read widely divergent points of views in various books we have read. Again, how do we explain these differences in viewpoints?

A tough-minded rational objectivist might explain the differences between their views as ultimately due to either the lack of general or specialized knowledge and/or the inferior intelligence of his well-meaning and poorly informed and illogical opponent.

A tender-minded empathic subjectivist might explain the differences between their views as ultimately due to unconscious motivations such as unresolved childhood psychological or ongoing social issues that make his opponent inordinately combative and ideological. Differences in beliefs may also be attributed to the opponent’s unfortunate indoctrination into a dualistic and polarizing rather than relational and integrative way of thinking. “You have your truth and I have my truth. Maybe we’re both partly right. Anyway, can’t we all just get along?”

A third approach might attribute their fundamental differences to a combination of psychological predispositions and philosophical presuppositions, neither of which is very amenable to strictly rational arguments and scientific evidences since these can be interpreted and construed to support different psychological sensibilities and philosophical orientations.

As those of you who have been following my blogs know, for some time now I’ve been reading a variety of books from different worldview perspectives that ask the fundamental philosophical question, “What is the nature of reality? What is the really real?”  The books I’ve consulted variously present and defend the following alternative views:

Materialists believe that the physical world alone is primal or real, the world according to physics, chemistry, botany and biology.

Idealists  believe that mind or consciousness is primal and supremely real. There are different kinds of Idealists: Absolute Idealists, Transcendental Idealists, Evolutionary Process Idealists, and Pluralistic Idealists, among others. Of course there are also Moral Idealists who are more concerned with ethical values more than with metaphysical reality.

Dualists believe that mind and matter are separate from each other and are both real. Descartes is regarded as the father of modern philosophical dualism.

Panpsychists (along with dual-aspect monists, neutral monists, and process philosophers) believe that mind and matter are rooted in a common “stuff” that is co-arising and integral to cosmic, geological, biological, noetic and cultural evolution.

Agnostics believe that they don’t know and perhaps can’t know what is the fundamental nature of prime reality.

Ignostics (along with linguistic and ordinary-language philosopher) believe that it is pointless to ask the question about the fundamental nature of reality since all philosophical questions are meaningless linguistic mistakes, mere reifications of abstractions and language games that are rationally undecidable but pragmatically useful as functional tools in different cultural contexts.

I’ve also learned that there are some philosophers who prefer to construct hybrid worldviews that combine aspects of the above options. In his book, More than Matter, Keith Ward explores the major worldview perspectives and then presents his own rational preference which is a combination of idealism and dualism, or more precisely, pluralistic idealism and dual aspect monism. Much of his book is a critical response to both reductive and eliminative forms of  materialism and to linguistic philosophy’s “ordinary-language” ignosticism or indifferentism.

What motivates Keith Ward is a desire to provide a transcendent basis and ontological backing for what we intuitively perceive and subjectively experience as “consciousness, value and purpose” in the cosmos. At the same time, he knows that he needs to give a coherent account of the presence of chaos and contingency, misery and suffering. Ward believes that our transcendental intuitions and responsible commitments to such life-enhancing ideals as beauty, justice, truth, freedom, wisdom, wholeness and compassion constitute intimations and clues to the fundamental nature of the “really real.”

No one who has read Keith Ward’s many books can doubt that he is a serious and well-read philosopher who is in touch with all the major philosophical options. He is especially interested in fostering a critically reflective and constructive relationship between the domains of philosophy, science and religion. Part of the appeal of reading Keith Ward is that he is fair and good-humored in his treatment of views with which he most strongly disagrees. Also, he is disarmingly honest in acknowledging his own “internal critic” that continually questions everything he believes as well as what others believe. There is nothing dogmatic in his approach. His approach is more open-ended and provisional as in “This is what I believe to be true to the best of my knowledge.” He is always aware that human finitude limits our knowledge when it comes to questions of prime reality and ultimate concern.

Let me return to the question with which I began? Why do highly intelligent and knowledgeable people disagree in their assumptions and beliefs about the nature of reality and about the most fundamental questions that human beings ask themselves?

Do you believe that their differences can be finally resolved before the bar of critical reason and empirical science?

Do you believe that some people are simply too dull and ignorant to ever have a clear knowledge and understanding of anything important?

Do you believe that the fundamental differences in beliefs are due to early childhood traumas and poor object relations?

Do you believe that our differences in beliefs are the primarily the result of different psychological temperaments and socially constructed identities that predispose us toward adopting philosophical assumptions and beliefs that correlate with these psychological and sociological influences?

Do you believe that our differences in foundational beliefs are primarily the contingent and deterministic products of nature and nurture, or that they are the result free-will, rational knowledge, moral imagination and existential choice?

Finally, how do we live together in a pluralistic society and global age of “the saturated self” where we are daily exposed to a competing plethora of different assumptions, beliefs, values and commitments that come from all directions and that intersect each other in such ways as to create “hybrid identities” and “eclectic communities” that our grand parents and even our parents would never have dreamed of?

We live in a chaotic yet creative age when the pre-modern traditional religious sacramental-symbolic self, the modern secular rational-empirical self, the post-modern poly-centric, eclectic self, and the trans-modern integral-pluralist self have all taken the stage together. Each speaks its own language and has created it own forms of tradition and authority, its own hermeneutical circle and community of practice.

What happens to metaphysics when the worldviews of dualism, materialism, idealism and panpsychism, along with the anti-worldviews of linguistic philosophy and pragmatic ironism become “quantum entangled” with each other? We live in a paradoxical age when some people want to drive the wedge deeper between the various worldview perspectives while others want to bring them more closely together.

What happens  in political philosophy when the ideologies of Traditionalism, Progressivism, Libertarianism, Communitarianism, along with Radical Centrism and Principled Pragmatism become “quantum entangled” with each other? What is true in metaphysics is also true in political philosophy. Some people want to drive the wedge deeper until all we have left are the ideological polarities of the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. The Moderate Right and the Moderate Left want to bring the Traditional and the Progressive impulses closer together in stable managerial and bureaucratic governance. However, Moderates on both sides of the political divide are “insiders” to power and influence. They are often deaf and indifferent to the primary concerns of the “outsiders” that is, the Entrepreneurial Libertarians and the Ecological Communitarians.

The pragmatic question of how we live together across our differences — religiously, philosophically, educationally, culturally, economically and politically — in a pluralist society and global age is one of the great challenges of our time. We need a deeper and more dialogical understanding of the various possible reasons why highly intelligent and knowledgable persons can disagree, and of how we can live together and affirm our common humanity in the midst of our real and irreducible differences.