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Intuition and Sensation as Names and Misnomers

By Sigurd Arild

As they are used in Jungian typology, the names of Intuition and Sensation are often confusing to the newcomer. Indeed, it is not just newcomers; even experts have at times been confounded by that choice of nomenclature. For example, as van der Hoop has said:

“Jung’s definition, according to which intuition is the mental function which transmits perception in an unconscious way, I do not … regard as very useful. In the first place, intuition is not felt as perception, nor as a group of perceptions, but as an insight into the significance of the whole of the experience. In the second place, it cannot claim as a characteristic that it arises in an unconscious way. The expression ‘in an unconscious way’ is extraordinarily vague, and likely to give rise to endless misunderstanding. It is true that intuition does not appeal to arguments, as [Thinking] and [F]eeling often (but not always) do. But the certainty of [S]ensation depends just as little on arguments [as Intuition]. Moreover, [F]eeling and [Thinking] may also arise in a unconscious way, without thereby becoming [Intuition].” – Van der Hoop: Conscious Orientation p. 19

The first thing to note here is that Jung himself did not have a very clear idea about what Intuition was (at least not at the time when he was writing Psychological Types): In fact, the phrase “perception via the unconscious” had been copied over from the psychoanalyst Maria Moltzer, and its further deployment in Psychological Types was supposedly instigated by the psychoanalyst Toni Wolff.

In 1998, David Keirsey attempted to get closer to the meaning of Intuition when he, in an endnote to Please Understand Me II, contended that introspection (N) should really be decoupled from introversion (I). Thus, instead of a confounding conglomerate where all introverts are thought to be introspective in comparison to extroverts we get a system that allows for more introspective extroverts (ENs) and more immediate introverts (ISs).

Building upon the foundation laid down in Keirsey’s endnote, if we had the luxury of rechristening the names of Intuition and Sensation, I would contend that Intuition should more properly be called Introspection as Keirsey says, or perhaps ‘Reflection,’ in the sense that Intuition tends to make reference to so-called non-immediate knowledge considerably more often than does Sensation.

By non-immediate knowledge I mean making references to concepts, associations, and ideas that do not follow directly from the immediate situation and which do not objectively pertain to it (I am here using the word ‘objective’ as it is normally used, and not in the idiomatic sense employed in Psychological Types).

In the everyday meaning of the word, almost anything can qualify as an ‘intuition’ and so this epithet does not really tell us much. In my own experience, referring to Intuition as ‘Reflection’ has often helped S types to recognize how N types tend to be different from them: Certainly, “making too much of things” and “going out on a limb” – an unjustified limb –  have been consistent S-type criticisms of N types in the seminars and workshops that I have attended.

In the CelebrityTypes article On the Bias Against Sensation, it is mentioned that Jung himself did not partake in the popular and widespread bias against those types. While that is true, Jung could perhaps be said to have contributed to the bias in his own indirect way: By calling that function ‘Sensation,’ he implied an overly crude and unthinking relationship between the mental processing of the S type and the unmediated influx of sense-data upon the psyche. But I would argue that sensory input is really just one means to the preferred ends of the S function, which is to grasp, react to, and interact with the actual, the present, and the real to a fuller degree than N types do.

The real irony of this argument is that, for all intents and purposes, the most descriptive name for Sensation will then be Intuition! Instead of implying that S types are mindlessly thrown about by their senses, the ‘Intuitive’ label would rather imply that S types meet life more naturally, intuitively, and without the need for a lot of the high-flowing and stilted reflection that the N types so often evince.


  • Arild and Smith: 4 Little-Known Facts about Jung and Types CelebrityTypes 2014
  • Bair: Jung: A Biography Back Bay Books 2004
  • CelebrityTypes: Different Approaches to Type CelebrityTypes 2015
  • CelebrityTypes: On the Bias against Sensation CelebrityTypes 2013
  • Jung: Psychological Types Princeton University Press 1976
  • Hayman: A Life of Jung W. W. Norton & Company 2002
  • Keirsey: Please Understand Me II Prometheus 1998
  • Shamdasani: Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology Cambridge UP 2003
  • Van der Hoop: Conscious Orientation Kegan Paul 1939

Published in Sigurd Arild