The Danger of Typecasting People (or What Myers-Briggs Type is C.S. Lewis?)(long)
March 01, 2012
In our family, we've sort of made a parlor game out of Myers-Briggs - trying to figure out what type various real people and characters are. We don't ever assume we've gotten them right, though.
I realized, recently, that we don't usually try to type people from different countries or people who died a while ago. C.S. Lewis is both.
[Side note: I've loved C.S. Lewis's writing since elementary school. I read the Narnia Chronicles over and over. In college, I came to love his theological writings. They discussed the big questions that nobody in any church had ever even mentioned. His writings helped me go from being an atheist to being a Christian. ]
Breakfast with Pandora, in an intriguingly titled and very interesting post, Was C.S. Lewis Hephaestus?, and intuitive * introverted * creative, in Was C.S. Lewis an INFP, both discuss Lewis's Myers-Briggs type.
This turned into a wonderful topic of conversation at our dinner table recently. I'll get to our conclusion at the end, but, first, I'm going to discuss some of the arguments of the two bloggers.
One danger of trying to type people is taking one aspect of a life and using it to determine the person's type. For instance, in explaining why Lewis should be considered an INFP, IIC writes:
Lewis was known for diligently writing back to those who wrote to him. While an INTJ might feel the need to be so DILIGENT about the personal stuff, an NF would be more inclined to write back simply because an INF, despite the huge need for introversion, needs and enjoys people a lot. An NF wouldn’t have to force himself to be diligent or anything; an NF would simply write back because he was being himself.
There is so much more that goes into one aspect of behavior, such as letter writing, than just a Myers-Briggs type. I know a very diligent, and extremely charming, E/INFP letter writer. For her, letter writing is almost an art form. On the other hand, I'm also an NF (INFJ), but I don't like to write letters. I don't think that anyone really cares about getting letters from me so, in the letters I do write, I rarely express my own ideas, enthusiasms, or personality. It doesn't mean that I don't enjoy people. I don't think that most other people enjoy me, and I don't want to spend time boring them.*
Dear husband says that Lewis also took his duty, particularly his Christian duty, very seriously. If he felt it was his duty, as either a Christian, or as a don, or as an upper-middle-class British professional, to respond to letters, he would do so, regardless of whether he was inclined to or not. Lewis actually preferred to spend lots of his time alone, reading, and didn't care to have visitors - not exactly the habits of someone who "needs and enjoys people a lot."
There are a number of things that lead to a pattern of behavior - not only Myer-Briggs type, but also talents, upbringing,** and past experiences.
BwP, on the other hand, considers Lewis to be an INTJ:
To be so sure of yourself as to become the mid-20th century's most celebrated Christian apologist-- as C.S. Lewis became and was for over a decade-- you must be able to break free of an INFP's self-doubt. NFPs would break under the strain of trying to justify Christianity because we can never be sure of anything. That type of systematic thinking just evades us. And we would want to see the other's point of view, even if we were (and many of us are) deeply committed Christians.
So I do agree with the majority that C.S. Lewis was probably an INTJ. Just because someone is mainly a thinker and systematizer does not mean they don't feel deeply, and don't, later on, consider the errors of their overly logical ways, as Lewis did. But that type of iron-clad know-it-allness that comes out in works like "Mere Christianity" is NTJ stuff.
I've known NFPs who are far more didactic than I am as an INFJ. In fact, I have spent long (patient) hours listening to NFPs tell me, in great detail and certainty, what I should do with my life, how to raise my kids, and particularly what I should believe.*** Not that all NFPs are like this (thank goodness!!), but it is possible. Dear husband, an INFP, says that this kind of certainty is a way for some NFP's to try to escape from self-doubt.
[By the way, NFPs are some of my favorite people - creative, playful, bright, and a lot of fun to be around. After all, I've been happily married to one for 31 years!]
Dear husband, with a degree in philosophy, certainly can systematize so that's not impossible for an INFP. The thing that always surprised me about Lewis is that, as systematic as any individual book can be, his books as a whole seem to wander. Except for the fiction, they don't build on each other. Each book seems to be involved in the idea, or argument, of the moment - which is very NFP. The next book can be off in a very different theological area.
Our conclusion? We went around on this for a while. We agree with IIC that Lewis probably was a P. IIC mentions that Lewis rarely had his personal finances under control, which sounds more P than F. Organizing personal finances is not something which would necessarily fall under the primary duties of a professor or a Christian so Lewis may not have had the incentive to keep them under control.
However, I've noticed that INFPs generally seem to want people to... not necessarily like them, but think well of them. They're willing to work a good bit at that. Lewis was more blunt than that, at least in his writing. We agree with BwP that Lewis seems more T than F.
We came up with INTP. From Personality Page:
INTPs value knowledge above all else. Their minds are constantly working to generate new theories, or to prove or disprove existing theories. They approach problems and theories with enthusiasm and skepticism, ignoring existing rules and opinions and defining their own approach to the resolution. They seek patterns and logical explanations for anything that interests them. They're usually extremely bright, and able to be objectively critical in their analysis....
For the INTP, it is extremely important that ideas and facts are expressed correctly and succinctly. They are likely to express themselves in what they believe to be absolute truths.
This fits C.S. Lewis's writing pretty well.
- There's an interesting discussion on Lewis's type at INTJ forum (including the Myers-Briggs types of some of the Narnia characters (Mr. Tumnus as an INFP)).
* Yes, I'm amazed when people read my blog.
** A British P, or, even more, a Finnish P could appear as J as an Italian J, just because of cultural differences and expectations.
*** This always seems strange to me because I'm a J, but I rarely give advice.