Friday, February 04, 2022

The Three Parts of Personality

I had a pastor I dearly loved in the 1980s, and scheduled an appointment with him to discuss my spiritual discouragement. It didn't help. When I came home, my wife asked "How did it go?" and I answered "He drew three circles."  She groaned and nodded. He was very bought into that model of the human of mind, soul, spirit in concentric circles.  Maybe it was body, soul, spirit. Or maybe I have the order reversed.  But it was the idea that it is our spirit that is in contact with God, so therefore we had to have that part penetrate our souls, and then our minds.  Something like that.  He was sure it was entirely scriptural.

I remember from going to the Y as a lad that triangle with Spirit, Mind, Body written on the three edges, and when they were really rolling they would bring out the Latin Mens sana in corpore sano*, "A healthy mind in a healthy body, apparently not noticing that they left out the spirit part. With my trusting nature, I just assumed that it was just part of a longer saying or quote.  I couldn't imagine that grownups in charge of lots of things could get that wrong.

We have some mind/body dualism in our philosophy, and the MBTI goes with four parts or four axes, but we more often go for three parts. Id, ego, superego. There are three doshas in Hinduism, roughly corresponding to CS Lewis's image of the head ruling the belly via the chest, for cerebral/spirit, visceral/animal, and integrative or human function. Three parts is not obligatory and our minds don't insist on it, but we seem to like it.

Contrast this with how we divide types of personality, which is usually a set of four:

Earth, air, fire, water

Phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholic, choleric

Kretschmer gold, blue, green, red

Eysenck, which led to MBTI

JK Rowling was following this deep attractive tradition by having four houses and a Sorting Hat that just knew where you belonged. 

Why three parts and four types? Do they reflect anything real, or are they just poetry? God is a Trinity, and you might make the argument that we are an echo or imitation of this if there are three parts of us, but it becomes hard to push the analogy further - is the Holy Spirit supposed to be the mind or the body? It therefore doesn't seem that useful.

*I think earlier, when I was just learning to read, I could tell it was in a foreign language and thought it had something to do with the Men's Sauna, but I could never find one. I figured they must mean the steam bath, where my mother had forbidden me to go. As for corpore sano, I don't think I thought anything about it.  It was already too confusing.


Christopher B said...

I have to think divisions or groupings of two, three, and four just feel natural based on our physical experiences.

Two - night and day, male and female, many other opposites
Three - solid, liquid, or gas (inferable from steam/fog/clouds and wind) which would map pretty well to our bodies producing/ingesting solids, liquids, and air.

Four gets a little trickier but seasonal variations or at least the progression of the equinoxes suggest that, as well as the progression of the moon from full to new and back, or sunrise-noon-sunset-midnight.

DCC Men's Saturday said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
james said...

There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Four which I do not understand:

Grim said...

Plato & Aristotle both have tripartite personality models (they would have used a different word than “personality,” but you’re on the same ground with it). They roughly correspond: vegetable, animal, rational.

George Weinberg said...

I think actually personality is usually rated on 5 axes whose initials spell out OCEAN.
Openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That's called the Big Five, and now many people thinking and doing research on those lines are going for six, or HEXACO model. Pretty good stuff, as long as you are measuring Westerners and don't mind that there are some leftover pieces unaccounted for.