Methodological fundamentals and the distinction between extraversion and introversion

When I left my big-picture sketch of Jungian thought, I noted that the methodological fundamental (with subjectivity rather than objectivity as point of departure) was itself a theoretical choice; a choice that contrasts with the dominant preference for intersubjectively verifiable observation taken, paradigmatically, in a scientific approach.

There is a certain temptation to assign this difference in fundamental methodological approach to the poles of temperamental types which Jung contrasted in Psychological Types, i.e. an extraverted vs. introverted attitude (Einstellung). After all, the main difference between these poles, according to Jung, would be an emphasis, to the exclusion of everything else, on subjectivity (on the introvert side) or objectivity (on the extravert side). Tempting as the thought may be, I think the superficial similarities hide a deep difference.

In Jung’s work, the difference between an emphasis of the object vs. one of the subject is not the same difference as that between the material and the psychological realms (nor are they congruent). For objects, in Jung’s thought, are typically not simple objects or physical, material things (“middle-sized dry goods”, in Austin’s phrase): what he refers to when he speaks of objects are typically other people, especially those in a significant personal relationship. For example, take this passage, in which Jung characterizes Freud’s views:

Freud sieht seinen Patienten in steter Abhängigkeit von und in Beziehung zu bedeutsamen Objekten. Vater und Mutter spielen eine große Rolle; was etwa noch von bedeutsamen Einflüssen oder Bedingungen im Leben des Patienten eintreten mag, geht in direkter Kausalität auf diese Urpotenzen zurück. […] Immer wird ein bestimmt qualifiziertes Objekt begehrt oder einem solchen Widerstand geleistet, und dies stets in Übereinstimmung mit dem in frühester Kindheit erworbenen Modell der Beziehung zu Vater und Mutter.

GW VII, §58 (Jung’s emphasis).

Thus “objects”, in the sense in which they make the focus of the extraverted attitude, are not the material items which make up the physical world. They are clusters of psychological meaning, centered around other people (and perhaps also around earlier significant experiences). Their influence comes from “objects” (as opposed to coming from “the subject”) only in the sense that the latter appear to act independently (i.e., they are not subject to the conscious will). But it’s not as if we’re ever leaving the sphere of psychology when we’re talking about the difference between object-centered and subject-centered, i.e. extraverted and introverted, attitudes here.

The same understanding of “objects” can be found in the contrasting characterization of the introvert view (Adlerian analysis), where there is

ein sich unterlegen und minderwertig fühlendes Subjekt […], gleichgültig ob gegen Eltern, Erzieher, Vorgesetzte, Autoritäten, Situationen, Institutionen oder sonstige Dinge. […] Dieser Ansicht liegt eine ungewöhnliche Betonung des Subjektes zugrunde, wogegen die Eigenart und Bedeutung des Objektes ganz verschwindet.

Ibd., §57 (Jung’s emphasis).

Note how none of the items in this list of “objects” (from parents to institutions) is simply a material thing (the kind which could be individuated by coordinating it in spatiotemporal terms). Thus when Jung summarizes his own conclusion (from Types), that

there are at least two different types of people, of which one is more interested in the object, and the other more in themselves


gibt es mindestens zwei verschiedene Menschentypen, von denen der eine sich mehr für das Objekt, der andere mehr für sich selbst interessiert

Ibd., §61.

the “object” in question cannot be the broad category used in philosophy, where this term denotes practically everything an experience can be about; it is better understood as “psychologically significant focus of an experience”, and typically will be a relationship with another person (or persons). Given this shift in how he understands the terminology, the contrast between subject-focus and object-focus (introversion and extraversion) becomes more plausible; but of course there is now also a semantic distance to the use of subject-object terminology in other fields.

(Interestingly, this more concrete understanding of “objects” seems to be a later development in Jung’s thinking. For example, in his early lecture “Zur Frage der psychologischen Typen”, given in 1913 and reprinted in GW VI, he paints very much the same picture of the contrasting views in Freud and Adler, using much the same terms, such as “objects”, “external world”, “influence of the environment”, but without giving any concretizations; see esp. §§ 860, 880-881. This allows for a more abstract and inclusive understanding of these terms which, curiously, has been lost in the later editions of GW VII which I’ve quoted above. Types itself occupies a middle position within this apparent shift: the sections on “Identifikation” and “Identität” in the Definitions chapter, for instance, generally use significant other people for examples of “objects” with whom identification or identity occurs, cf. §§ 737, 740; but Jung also allows for a broader use of “object” which includes “Sachen”, cf. § 738, although he himself doesn’t make any use of that extension, and the examples for “Sachen” are, again, actually not physical objects, but intellectual movements or a business transaction: “eine geistige Bewegung, ein Geschäft usw.”.)

By Leif Frenzel

Leif Frenzel is a writer and independent researcher. He has a background in philosophy, literature, music, and information technology. His recent interest is Jungian psychology, especially synchronicities and the relationship between consciousness and the unconscious.

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