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Preface: The Jungian Psychological Functions
as Developmental "Function Levels"

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Introduction

I'm going to make the argument that Carl Jung's four psychological functions (Intuition, Sensing, Feeling, and Thinking) originate as developmental levels.

Thus:

  • Intuition has similarities to how people experience the world in infancy;

  • Sensing has similarities to how people experience the world in childhood;

  • Feeling has similarities to how people experience the world in adolescence; and

  • Thinking has similarities to how people experience the world in late adolescence and adulthood.

Sigmund Freud and Psychosexual Development

Freud

Around 1905 Sigmund Freud developed a theory of "psychosexual development." It served as both a developmental theory and also an early "personality type" theory

  • In terms of developmental theory, Freud suggested that people go through several development stages from infancy to adulthood (oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital).

  • In terms of "personality type" theory: Freud also suggested that people could develop fixations on one or more stages and exhibit signs of that fixation in adulthood. For example the anally-fixated adult might be excessively organized (or the opposite, that is, defiant and disorganized); a phallic fixation lead to a strong oedipal complex in males and electra complex in females; and so on. See the Wikipedia article "Psychosexual development" for more.

 

A lot of this theory is laid out in Freud's book, On Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works.

Jung's Psychological Functions

Jung

In 1921 Carl Jung published his book Psychological Types.  The main idea of the book was to spell out the equal and opposing psychological "attitudes" of extraversion versus introversion and how they manifest themselves in art, religion, and philosophy. But along the way Jung also developed a theory of four psychological functions: Intuition, Sensing, Feeling, and Thinking. Each of these functions could appear in either introverted or extraverted form, for a total of eight personality types appearing in the general population.

--Link to supplemental essay: Psychological Functions

Jung provided descriptions of the functions and personality types so that readers could identify them in the general population, but he didn't otherwise develop them into a formal personality type theory or speculate on how they arose.

 

Other theorists seized upon Jung's psychological functions and personality types as the basis for their own personality type theories. Jung never formally endorsed any of them, and by 1934 he effectively repudiated all of the existing typology systems as "a childish parlour game."[1]

Outside of the basic descriptions of the psychological functions and personality types originally published in the book Psychological Types, Jung had little else to say on the subject. Nonetheless, he evidently set great store by his function theory. In the book Psychological Types Jung compared the four functions to the four points of the compass and said, "I would not for anything dispense with this compass on my psychological voyages of discovery.”[2] And 13 years later, in the same 1934 essay where he condemned existing personality type systems (his forward to the 1934 re-issuance of Psychological Types), he said that his descriptions of the psychological functions were intended to be "a critical psychology dealing with the organization and delimitation of psychic processes that can be shown to be typical."[3]

So there exists a bit of a mystery here. Jung apparently set great store by his function theory, yet he actually wrote very little on the subject (outside of the original descriptions in the original 1921 version of Psychological Types). I'm going to put forward a couple pet theories to explain this mystery.

I have already mentioned that Sigmund Freud's theory of psychosexual development was both a developmental theory and also an early "personality type" theory. So the question arises: Did Jung think of his psychological functions as developmental stages? 

Jung himself didn't present his functions as developmental stages in Psychological Types, or anywhere else to my knowledge. Nonetheless, I believe he did think of them as developmental stages. He and some of his students referred to Intuition and Sensing as "early functions." For example: 

  • In the book Psychological Types, Jung describes Intuition as "a characteristic of infantile and primitive psychology"; he describes Sensing as "strongly developed in children and primitives."[4]

  • In The Origins and History of Consciousness, Erich Neumann specifically says that Intuition and Sensing are the perceptive functions and develop in childhood while Feeling and Thinking are rational functions and develop later.[5]

 

Thus, Jung's definition of Intuition and Sensing as "irrational functions" likely reflects the fact that those two "early" psychological functions develop at a stage when children don't have the mental capacity for mature rational or logical thinking.

The question then arises: If Jung saw his psychological functions as developmental stages, why didn't he say so? Answer: Childhood development was Sigmund Freud's territory, and Jung tried not to step on Freud's toes more than absolutely necessary even after the two of them stopped working together. With regard to some subjects, conflict was unavoidable. But Freud's area of interest was youthful hysterias and childhood origins of traumas; Jung largely stayed away from that area of psychology and focused on older patients.

 

Freud had his prior and much more famous system of developmental stages (oral, anal, phallic, etc.), so Jung stayed away from any discussion of early psychological development. Jung discussed his system of psychological functions only in the context of adults.

 

Therefore, in the following essays I am going to try to make the case that Carl Jung's four psychological functions (Intuition, Sensing, Feeling, and Thinking) can also operate as developmental levels: 

 

  • Intuition (traditionally abbreviated as N so as not to confuse it with Introversion) has similarities to how people experience the world in infancy

  • Sensing (abbreviated as S) has similarities to how people experience the world in early childhood

  • Feeling (abbreviated as F) has similarities to how people experience the world in late childhood and early adolescence

  • Thinking (abbreviated as T) has similarities to how people experience the world in late adolescence and early adulthood

 

For me personally, there appear to be some clear parallels between the psychological functions and the motifs that appear in both childhood development and early mythology/religion. As an amateur I have nothing to lose by brainstorming a few such connections and parallels and posting them. Readers can examine them to see if they pass the "sniff test," and maybe use them for a better understanding of the cognitive functions as a whole.

Viewed in that manner, one can then greatly expand the descriptions of the functions and how they operate in our lives. For example, it then becomes possible to dig around in modern theory on childhood development and relate some of that material to psychological functions.

 

I am suggesting that the four psychological functions are all present and active as part of the human brain's natural architecture in both the infant and the grown adult. But the separate functions tend to reach maximum development in separate stages corresponding to brain growth. Once you hit adulthood you have access to all four functions in adult mode, with a preference for one over the other three depending on genetics and family environment.

 

Again: Each new stage of development (infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood) is marked by a new "function level": Intuitive level, Sensing level, Feeling level, and Thinking level. In the process of growing up, people go through all four stages of psychological development and get experience with all four functions. By adulthood, people have access to the full panoply of psychological functions, thus achieving adult cognitive sophistication. But they also tend to have a preference for one of the four "function levels" out of comfort, ease, familiarity, or because it's a good tool for the pursuits they love.

One might ask: If Intuition develops in infancy, does that mean adult Intuitives think like children? Answer: No. Adult Intuitives are using an adult version of an early "function level." Adult Intuitives achieve the cognitive sophistication of full adulthood with experience in all four function levels; but it suits them to give preference to an early level (the Intuition-based functional level) and ratchet that upward to adult competency with help from the other three function levels as needed.

 

One might also ask the reverse of that question: If Thinking is a late function and largely appears in adulthood, then how can a child appear to act like a Thinker prior to reaching adolescence?

 

Answer: Humans are born with a mental architecture already genetically programmed into their brains, much in the same way that animals are born with instincts genetically programmed into their brains. Even in early infancy, the four psychological functions are probably present in human brains in instinctual or archetypal form, awaiting full development as the brain hits the appropriate size and complexity for each new stage. 

 

As such, the Thinking portion of the brain architecture is present and can even be put to use in early childhood in very simple form, long before the child has the physical cognitive ability to process adult Thinking subjects like logic and philosophy. In other words, a child can more or less "act like" a Thinker prior to actually having a mature Thinker's full knowledge base and skills.

 

--Link to supplemental essay: Weak Instincts as Brain Architecture

 

To sum up:

As humans grow from infants to adults, they go through a variety of developmental stages in terms of cognitive ability. It seems to me that these developmental stages match (to some degree) aspects of the four adult psychological functions: Intuition, Sensing, Thinking, and Feeling. Thus, I'm going to try to analyze psychological functions as developmental "function levels."

 

The four psychological functions are all present and active as part of the human brain's natural architecture in both the young child and the grown adult. But the separate functions tend to reach maximum development in separate stages corresponding to brain growth. Once you hit adulthood you have access to all four functions in adult mode, with a preference for one over the other three depending on genetics and family environment.

 

Also, the development of later functions doesn't eclipse or shoulder out earlier functions. In a similar manner, we learn to speak at age 2 or 3, to read at age 6 or 7, and to drive at age 16. The earlier skills remain with us and develop alongside the later ones as we get older.

~Posted October 19, 2023

References

Endnotes

[1] C.G. Jung, Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 6), trans. H.G. Baynes, rev. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XX (Princeton University Press, 1971, First Princeton/Bollingen Paperback printing, 1976), p. xiv.

[2] Ibid., p. 541, par. 959.

[3] Ibid., p. xiv.

[4] C.G. Jung, Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 6), trans. H.G. Baynes, rev. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XX (Princeton University Press, 1971, First Princeton/Bollingen Paperback printing, 1976), pp. 454 and 463, pars. 772 and 795.

[5] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XLII (Princeton University Press, 1954, First Princeton Classics edition, 2014), p. 296, text and footnote.

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