Robert N. Barger, University of Notre Dame
Warren N. Kubitschek, University of Notre Dame
Josephine C. Barger, Indiana University
A paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational
Research Association, April 13-17, 1998, San Diego, California, USA
Philosophical tendencies and personality types have potential
importance for questions in the area of moral development. But before
raising questions about either philosophical tendencies or personality
types, we want to explore whether there is any statistical correlation
between the two. That is the task of this paper.
2. Philosophical Tendencies
Before we state our hypotheses, we must define terms. We speak, first
of all, of philosophical tendencies. By these we mean the world-views of
Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism, and Existentialism. It is not our claim
that these are the only world-views that exist, but that these four views
are paradigmatic of the basic ways in which people interpret the world.
The Idealist believes that reality is basically spirit or idea, that
knowledge is gained through the mind, and that value is measured by
conformity to ideals. Thus, the Idealist seeks always to treat people as
means, never as ends; to treat others as one would wish to be treated
oneself; and to judge solely on the basis of the intrinsic nature of
actions and not on the basis of the results of actions.
The Realist believes that reality is basically matter or the physical
universe, that knowledge is gained through the senses, and that value is
measured by conformity to nature. Thus, the Realist attempts to act in
accord with mental and physical nature; to live in the mean between excess
The Pragmatist believes that reality is basically a process or an
experience, that knowledge is gained through a trial-and-error approach,
and that values are determined by norms established by society. Thus, the
Pragmatist tries to promote the most net happiness for the greatest number
of people (even though in some cases this net happiness may be more
eventual than immediate).
The Existentialist believes that reality is self-defined, that
knowledge is gained through making personal decisions about what is true,
and that value is measured by what an individual responsibly chooses as
good. Thus, an Existentialist seeks to be true to him/herself, to exist
autonomously, to determine by one's choices whom one becomes, and to take
responsibility for one's choices.
In summary, the Idealist is invariant and abstract, the Realist is
invariant and concrete, the Pragmatist is variant and social, and the
Existentialist is variant and individual.
Note that each of the four previously-described world-views is stated
as a "belief," since none of them can be proven. They are simply
fundamental assumptions about the meaning of the world and how it should
be negotiated. They are each person's "best guess" at what is at the
bottom of reality.
3. Personality Types
Carl Jung is generally credited with inventing personality types. He
believed that people displayed different psychological or behavioral
inclinations. These inclinations, in his view, allowed people to be
characterized as belonging to different functional groups, or "types."
It was Isabel Myers, however, who devised a way to identify Jung's
types in the population using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This
led the way for subsequent research on personality types through
instruments similar to the MBTI. One subsequent researcher was David
Keirsey, who, although he retained the typological designations used by
Jung and Myers, interpreted the import of some of their types differently.
For example, he thought the distinction between Extraversion (E) and
Introversion (I) was the least important of the dimensions of personality
whereas Jung and Myers thought they were the most important. Keirsey
refers to the E type as "expressive" and to the I type as "reserved."
Besides the E and I pairs, there are three other pairs of types common
to Jung's, Myers', and Keirsey's typology: S and N, T and F, J and P. The
Sensing (S) type has a preference for perceiving through the five senses,
placing more importance on facts, details, and realities. Keirsey calls
this type "observing." The Intuitive (N) type has a preference for
perceiving with the mind in the form of ideas, concepts, and imagination.
Keirsey calls this type "introspective." The Thinking (T) type has a
preference for judging on the basis of impersonal objectivity, seeking
consistency and logic. Keirsey calls this type "tough-minded." The Feeling
(F) type has a preference for judging on a subjective, personal basis.
Keirsey calls this type "tender-minded." The Judging (J) type has a
preference for having things planned, scheduled, orderly, and leading to
closure. Keirsey calls this type "schedulers." Finally, the Perceptive (P)
type has a preference for having things open-ended and flexible. Keirsey
calls this type "probers."
After excluding the E and I types, which Keirsey does not consider to
be fundamental to personality, he uses the remaining six types to identify
what he considers to be the four basic types of temperament or character:
NF (Idealist), NT (Rationalist), SJ (Guardian), and SP (Artisan).
The Idealists (NF) are abstract in communicating, utilitarian in
implementing goals, use strategic analysis, and have an impersonal
objectivity. Keirsey calls them "Identity seeking" personalities. The
Rationalists (NT) are abstract in communicating, cooperative in
implementing goals, use diplomatic integration, and have a personal
subjectivity. Keirsey calls them "Knowledge seeking" personalities. The
Guardians are concrete in communicating, cooperative in implementing
goals, use logistical maintenance, and are scheduled and orderly. Keirsey
calls them "Security seeking" personalities. Finally, the Artisans (SP)
are concrete in communicating, utilitarian in implementing goals, use
tactical variation, and are open-ended and flexible. Keirsey calls them
"Sensation seeking" personalities.
In summary, the NF type is abstract and cooperative, the NT is abstract
and utilitarian, the SJ is concrete and cooperative, and the SP is
concrete and utilitarian.
For further information on Keirsey's work on personality types, see
4. Hypotheses Regarding Tendencies and Types
Both philosophical tendencies and personality types are ways of trying
to understand people and their behavior. The MBTI and its variants have
become popular ways of investigating people's personality types. But there
has been less interest in investigating people's philosophical tendencies
in such an empirical way.
Comparing the philosophical tendencies and personality types explained
above, one might hypothesize that they would have certain correlations. If
the four philosophical tendencies are mutually exclusive, one might expect
them all to correlate negatively with one another. Likewise, if the
personality types are mutually exclusive one might expect that they would
also all correlate negatively with one another.
Since personality types NF (Idealism) and NT (Rationalism) are linked
to perceiving with the mind, one might expect that one or both of them may
correlate with the philosophical tendency of Idealism which is concerned
with the abstract or immaterial dimension of things and gaining knowledge
through the mind. Note: it is unfortunate that the label "Idealism" is
employed, using a somewhat different definition, by both the personality
researchers and traditional philosophers.
Since personality types SJ (Guardian) and SP (Artisan) are linked to
perceiving with the senses, one might expect that one or both of them may
correlate with the philosophical tendency of Realism which is concerned
with the concrete aspects of reality and gaining knowledge through the
Since personality type SP (Artisan) is linked with being sense-oriented
and flexible, one might expect a negative correlation with the
philosophical tendency of Idealism which is invariant and abstract.
Since personality type SJ (Guardian) is linked with being cooperative,
one might expect a correlation with the philosophical tendency of
Pragmatism which is social.
Since personality type SJ (Guardian) is linked with being orderly,
one might expect a correlation with the philosophical tendency of
Realism which attends to order in nature.
5. Differences Between Tendencies and Types
Keirsey and Myers and Jungian psychology in general say there are
distinct types of personalities that are essentially fixed. They say that
if you are a type X, no amount of change can make you anything else. There
are different shades and variations within a type (each of the four main
types is broken down into four more), but if you are one type you cannot
be another type.
Many social psychological scales measure tendencies, e.g., you are more
of this or less of that. But they don't preclude one person from being
more of this and more of that, or another person from being less of both.
Other scales are situational, e.g., one can be more extroverted in one
situation and more introverted in another.
Those who believe in types don't believe in tendencies, or perhaps even
in valid situational tendencies (cf., passim, www.keirsey.com). Those who
believe in tendencies see types as an oversimplification, perhaps useful
as an indicator of typical behavior/personality, but as incomplete and not
very useful in situations that vary.
Difference is crucial in terms of interpretation. Types and tendencies
are two different things, based on two different underlying assumptions.
Difference is also crucial in terms of measurement. Keirsey and
Myers-Briggs give forced choice questions. One has to rank four
alternatives or has to choose only one of two options. As a result, those
who end up high on NT must end up low on NF, and vice versa. Those who end
up high on SJ must end up low on SP, and vice versa.
On the other hand, we measured philosophical tendencies by a standard
Likert "strongly agree"-to-"strongly disagree" scale. Those who end up
high on one philosophical tendency may also end up high on any or all
other philosophical tendencies. Those who end up low on one may end up low
on any or all others. Any combination of high and low philosophical
tendency scores is possible.
One could pick a person's highest philosophy score and claim that it
is the person's "philosophical type." Or one could create additional types
like "absolutist" and "relativist" by adding together a person's Idealist
and Realist scores and the person's Pragmatist and Existentialist scores.
Unfortunately, people don't always answer forced choice questions in
the same way that they answer combinations of unforced questions. Thus,
combining these tendencies may not reveal the respondent's "philosophical
type." We will examine a person's philosophical type later, as a way of
interpreting some results, but this will be an oversimplification of the
way it was measured.
6. Measurement Methods of the Tendencies and Types
An inventory of 40 Likert-scale items, the Ross-Barger Philosophy
Inventory, (Ross & Barger, 1990) was used to measure philosophical
tendencies. Groups of ten items surveyed tendencies toward each of the
four philosophies of Idealism, Realism, Pragmatism, and Existentialism.
Sample items from this inventory are the following: "Knowledge is
found by considering the practical consequences of ideas" and "Reality
originates in the material and physical world."
An inventory of 36 forced-choice items, the Keirsey Character Sorter,
(Keirsey, 1997) was used to measure personality types. Each of the four
responses to the first 16 items were to be ranked according to the
respondent's preference. A sample of this type of item follows: "I
respect myself more for: - being autonomous and independent; - doing good
deeds; - having good intentions; - being bold and adventurous." These
initial items were followed by a set of 20 binary-choice items. A sample
of this type of item follows: "Do you think of yourself as: - a private
person; - an outgoing person." There were no noticeable overlaps in
content in these inventories.
7. Reliability of Scales
It is not known whether reliability measures exist for the
Keirsey Character Sorter. Previous research has been done with the
Ross-Barger Philosophy Inventory, however. An expanded 80 item version of
this scale was used with N=347 students at a midwestern university. The
inter-item reliability was moderately high: Idealism: alpha=.77, Realism:
alpha=.74, Pragmatism: alpha=.69, Existentialism: alpha=.72. Factor
analysis showed some support for a four factor solution, although it was
The current research was done with N=50 students from two midwestern
universities. A shortened Ross-Barger Philosophy Inventory with ten items
per scale was used. These items were chosen to maximize corrected
item-total correlations for factor analysis in previous research.
Inter-item reliability was mixed: Idealism: alpha=.82, Realism: alpha=.71,
Pragmatism: alpha=.56, Existentialism: alpha=.61.
Evidence shows that these scales are measuring something. Some scales
are measuring "whatever they measure" more consistently than do other
scales. Differences in reliability between studies and range of
reliability across scales show that more work is needed to refine scales
8. Descriptive Statistics
8.1. Personality types
Keirsey Type N %
NF 20 40%
NT 10 20%
SJ 13 26%
SP 7 14%
Total 50 100%
Two-fifths of these respondents are NF (Idealists).
About a quarter are SJ (Guardians).
One-fifth are NT (Rationalists).
One-seventh are SP (Artisans).
8.2 Philosophic tendencies
Philosophic Tendency Mean Std. Dev. Minimum Maximum
Idealism 33.0 6.3 18 47
Realism 30.9 5.2 22 49
Pragmatism 35.0 4.2 23 45
Existentialism 36.5 4.7 26 46
These respondents, on average, had high existentialism and pragmatism
scores, moderate idealism scores, and lower realism scores. They varied
the most in their idealism scores, then their realism scores (std. dev.
and range). They varied least in their existentialism and pragmatism
Respondents were more likely to agree with any statement than
disagree with it. (Means are all greater than 30.)
9. Correlation of Philosophic Scales, Personality Types
9.1. Correlation of personality types in these data
Four dichotomous variables were created, indicating Keirsey
personality type: Variable NT = 1 if Keirsey Type is NT, otherwise = 0;
Variable NF = 1 if Keirsey Type is NF, otherwise = 0; Variable SJ = 1
if Keirsey Type is SJ, otherwise = 0; Variable SP = 1 if Keirsey Type
is 1, otherwise = 0. Note that these variables are not mathematically
independent: if we know the value of three of these variables, we know
the value of the fourth.
NF NT SJ
SJ -.48** -.30*
SP -.33* -.20 -.24
N=50 ** = p<.01 * = p<.05
All correlations among these variables are negative. This is
because of the way the Keirsey scale asks questions and measures
personality types. If one is an NF (NF = 1), one cannot be an NT,
SJ, or SP (NT=0, SJ=0, SP=0). That is, the correlations are
negative by construction. (So these results say more about
measurement, than they do about whether there are "personality types"
or that if there are personality types, Keirsey is correct about what
The correlations are not perfectly negative (i.e., =-1) because of
the way correlations are computed. (Some people with NT=0 have NF=1,
but more people have NT=0 and NF=0.)
9.2. Correlation of philosophic tendencies in these data
In the philosophy scales, a high score indicates greater tendency to
agree with ideas of that philosophy. Since this was not a forced
choice, respondents who agreed with Existential statements could also
agree with Idealistic statements, and so on.
Existentialism Idealism Pragmatism
Pragmatism .22 -.01
Realism -.05 -.02 .64**
N=50 ** = p<.01 * = p<.05
The only statistically significant correlation is between Pragmatism
and Realism. Those who had high Pragmatism scores are likely to have
high Realism scores. Those who had low Realism scores are likely to
have low Pragmatism scores.
All other correlations are not significantly different from 0. No
other correlations are greater in absolute value than .22 (p > .10).
Knowing how someone responded to Existential statements, for example,
tells us nothing about how they responded to Idealistic statements.
Put another way, some of those who had high Existentialism scores had
high Idealism scores and some of those with high Existentialism scores
had low Idealism scores, and vice versa.
In the previous study, all philosophic scales were correlated with
the minimum r = .24. Part of this difference is a function of removing
half the items from the previous scales, in order to maximize item
correlations. By maximizing the inter-item correlation within a
scale, one expects the between-scale correlations to be reduced.
Part of this may be due to differences in samples, particularly if
there was differential exposure to consideration of philosophic
tendencies (e.g., class lectures and discussions come to mind).
This difference in studies again indicates the need for further
research on and refinement of the philosophic scales.
Philosophical types cannot be clearly distinguished. While some
respondents had one high score and three lower scores, most had
several high scores. Indeed, three respondents did not have a single
"high score" but instead had the same high score on two scales.
9.3. Correlation of personality types and philosophic tendencies
NF NT SJ SP
Idealism .09 -.18 .16 -.13
Realism -.45** .36* .11 .08
Pragmatism -.38** .22 .08 .17
Existentialism -.06 .12 -.01 -.04
N=50 ** = p<.01 * = p<.05
There is a pattern of statistically significant correlations
relating the NF and NT Keirsey personality types with the
philosophical tendencies of Pragmatism and Realism.
Keirsey Idealists (NF) are significantly more likely to have low
Pragmatism and Realism tendencies.
Keirsey Rationalists (NT) are significantly more likely to have
higher Realism tendencies. Note that they also are likely to have
higher Pragmatism tendencies, although this correlation is not
statistically significant at any of the usual levels (p = .13).
We know that Pragmatism and Realism scores are strongly correlated.
We know that the Keirsey scale has set up F (Feeling) and T (Thinking)
as opposites, so this pattern of correlations is consistent.
Non-significant correlations: No other correlation is
statistically significant at the usual levels. Indeed, no other
correlation is as large in magnitude as the correlation of NT and
Pragmatism (.22, p=.13).
9.4. Personality types and their relation to philosophic tendencies
We think of personality as being an important characteristic of
individuals. We expect their personality to influence how they act
and react, what they like and dislike, what they find good and bad.
Philosophers think in much the same way about an individual's
philosophy. How one views the world and how one relates to the
world should influence how people act and react, what they believe,
and what they find good and bad.
Are an individual's personality and philosophy simply two names for
the same thing? Or, if not the same thing, is one dependent on the
other? If we know someone's personality, do we know that person's
philosophy? If we know that person's philosophy, do we know her/his
Keirsey, in describing the different personality types which he
claims exist, sometimes uses statements which we would claim are
statements of philosophy. Thus, we would expect a correlation between
personality types and philosophical beliefs.
Our results show that this is not the case. While some personality
types are moderately related to certain philosophical beliefs, for the
most part personality and philosophy are essentially unrelated. Even
where personality and philosophy are related, it is not a strong
A number of different conclusions may explain this finding:
(1) Personality and philosophy are truly different. Attempting to
understand people solely in terms of their personality is at best
an incomplete understanding.
(2) Personality type and philosophical tendency are more closely
related than indicated here, but our measurement of philosophy is
too prone to error to show it. Certainly, more work needs to be
done to refine our measures of philosophical tendency.
(2a) In particular, it may be that there are philosophic types,
rather than philosophical tendencies. If people were forced to
choose one set of beliefs over others, rather than just agreeing or
disagreeing with certain statements, the results might be quite
(3) It may be that there are not personality types, as opposed to
the holding of Keirsey. That is, people may not fall into four,
clearly separated categories. Rather, they may have differing
tendencies along certain dimensions, some of which may be
consistent with Keirsey's types, but some of which may be
inconsistent. It may be that personality tendencies (e.g.,
aggression, depression, etc.) may be more closely related to
(4) Philosophical tendencies have a moral component, whereas
personality types do not. If we are interested in moral
development, philosophical tendencies appear to have more to
contribute than do personality types.
Keirsey, D.M. (1997). The Keirsey Character Sorter.
Ross, C., & Barger, R.N. (1990). The Ross-Barger Philosophy Inventory.