Temperament – Fact or Fiction?

Temperament - Fact or Fiction
Part One

We are all unique. I get that.  But how do we know that temperament is the truth about how a human is designed in their core, nonmaterial makeup?  How do we know this is not just another faddish idea?  Is it merely a theory dreamed up by some misguided creative minds?  Do we really fit into one of four temperaments?  I get these questions often.  So here is my attempt at a fuller answer with the evidence for the reality of this age-old understanding of human beings.  Let’s seriously consider temperament — fact or fiction.

When does a theory become a fact?

Which theory of human design has the strongest track record? Options include recent ideas (such as the enneagram) that are flooding the internet.  They also include ideas insisting all of us have only one basic urge driving us.   Which should you choose for the best self-understanding?  Many theories about the design of the human psyche have come and gone or are now only of historical interest.  Consider, first, with me the history of the theory of the four temperaments.

This may surprise you.  Of all the proposed theories about our micro and macro universe, we have accepted only a few as facts.   Newton’s theory of gravity (regarded for centuries as solid scientific fact) was toppled by Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity.  Such is the nature of expanding knowledge.  It is striking, however, that the oldest theory of our inner design is still in dominant use: the four temperaments.

Some say we cannot know truth or fact unless we test it in every possible circumstance.  “If it hasn’t, then one day maybe we will find an occasion where it isn’t true” is the argument.  Has everyone in the world over the ages verified the dominant theory of four temperaments?  No, of course not.  There are many who have never even heard of it. 

But does a known reality have to be tested in all possible situations and occasions before we regard it as true or factual?  What determines something in our world to be indeed a truth or a fact?

First, perhaps we need to ask, “Is the evidence for the theory of the four temperaments subjective or objective?”

Our next question regarding “temperament – fact or fiction” involves whether the evidence we must consider is objective or subjective.  We test objective data in a different manner from subjective data.  For example, gravity is an objective fact of nature.  It exists outside of our minds and not solely as a perception within our minds.  We can, therefore, test it as an objective happening.   If an apple falls out of a tree and hits you on the head, it is a valid, objective event that you can objectively verify.

Subjective data is different.  We are told that when we think, feel, and act the way we do, we cannot maintain that the impetus for our actions comes only from our temperament.  Can we find the source of our thoughts, actions, and feelings in other causes?  Thoughts, feelings, and actions could be random.  They could be initiated by circumstances perhaps.  They could be caused by a desire to please in a particular situation when, in fact, we generally don’t prefer to please.  Or they could be because they are profitable or considered “appropriate.” 

If temperament urges produce actions, the individual must verify consistent urges that express who he or she really is.  Only the individual can know and verify this for certain.  Therefore, it is verified subjectively, not objectively.   Subjective truths can be just as real as objective ones.

Can we possess the strengths of a temperament other than the temperament we verify as dominantly ours?

Yes.  It was the purpose of the temperament key to reveal this.  The number of answers (A’s and B’s) you felt were dominantly “you” (in regard to the category the question was addressing) were totaled.  If you completed the paper version of the temperament key, the results showed a number alongside each of the eight letters.  An example might be S with a score of 10 and N with a score of 5.  S and N are letters belonging to two different temperaments (either SP or SJ).  The other temperaments are NT and NF.  So you actually answered 10 for an S temperament and 5 for an N temperament.

You, therefore, revealed you are dominantly an S, but you have 5 of another temperament in you as well.  The larger number indicates your temperament (your default mechanism) and the lesser number shows that you can still have some of another temperament and its strengths in your makeup.  As Henry David Thoreau might have said, those of an S temperament hear a “different drummer” than what is heard by those of the N temperament.  The answer to the question above is a definite yes.

When evaluating temperament – fact or fiction, the evidence is objective as well as subjective

Evidence of urges and drives of our temperament has a secondary existence outside our minds.  The evidence exists in our actions.  Actions are observable in the outside world.  However, this secondary form of evidence (our actions) is not as dependable when we are trying to determine a person’s temperament. 

Motivation for an action can be the opposite of who we really are at our core or what we prefer.   So, don’t think you can know a person’s temperament simply by observing their actions.  This means our temperament’s internal urges, known only to us, are where we must go to discover a person’s true temperament.  We must listen to a person’s answers to the temperament key first and not to our opinion of what we think they are.

Understanding of our own temperament grows

One more fact enters the picture of who we understand ourselves to be.  Our understanding of who we truly are grows.  As a person develops, they may have deeper self-knowledge.  So temperament is an excellent tool to track our development and improve on deepening our self-understanding.

Part Two continues the story of “Temperament — Fact or Fiction?”


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