I define the personality disorders as ideal types. I'm relying on an
article in The DSM-IV Personality Disorders (1995) by Schwartz,
Wiggins and Norko (pp. 417-32) for my knowledge of the application of
the concept of ideal type to personality disorder. In the article they
"[I]deal types provide only a (one-sided) point of view from which
patients can be further examined. As Jaspers (1923) warned, 'Once the
study of personality starts to pigeon-hole people into pure types, it
comes to grief...an individual can never be exhausted by any one type,
since this only serves to delineate one aspect of him' (p. 438). And
Kurt Schneider (1923b) wrote:
"'Psychopathic [i.e., personality] types look like diagnoses but the
analogy is a false one. A depressive psychopath is simply a 'certain
sort of person'. People or personalities cannot be labeled
diagnostically like illness or like the psychic effects of illness. At
most, we are simply emphasizing and indicating a set of individual
peculiarities which distinguish these people and in which there is
nothing comparable to symptoms of illness....In any detailed portrayal
the type is soon lost and other traits not necessarily linked to the
special characteristic in question creep in to form a concrete
"Weber was always fully aware that ideal types are human constructs. They represent human attempts to conceive reality; they do not necessarily represent reality itself. This all-too-human quality of the types becomes especially apparent when one recognizes their one-sided and perspectival character. Because ideal types are from the outset guided by the values we posit, they remain partial and limited and should not be mistaken for absolute truth. As Jaspers was to express this idea in General Psychopathology, "[Ideal types] concern perspectives of understanding and not material being" (Jaspers, 1923, p. 434). This does not mean, of course, that ideal types have nothing to do with reality ("material being"). We might better say that ideal types are products of the interaction between the active, knowing mind of the scientist and the data provided by reality.
"Weber (1903-1917) described the construction of an ideal type in the
'An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more
points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete,
more or less present, and occasionally absent concrete individual
phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized
viewpoints into a unified thought-construct. (p. 90)'
"We focus on reality from the point of view that is dictated by our
values. From this point of view, we notice certain features of reality
and ignore those features that would become visible only from other
points of view. We thus select only certain features of reality
relevant to the point of view we have adopted; we then postulate
connections among these selected features. We thus go beyond the data
in order to conceive of relationships that underlie them.
"Ideal types, moreover, are idealized descriptions of the concrete
features of things that are given from this particular point of view.
The concrete features of things frequently prove to be difficult to
distinguish from one another; their identities may remain fuzzy, fluid,
indefinite, and vague. With ideal types, we draw precise and clear
conceptual boundaries around these features of things. We conceptually
set aside the real indistinctness and ambiguity, and we imagine a
'pure' case in which the relevant features are distinct and
unambiguous. Furthermore, in actual cases the features may vary so
widely that each individual seems unique and incomparable to others.
The ideal type, however, specifies manifold features, all of which are
not found in each actual case. The features delineated by the ideal
type are, as Weber expressed it, 'more of less present' and
'occasionally absent' in individual cases.
"The result is a general category that in all likelihood does not
exactly depict any actually existing instance of it. Rather, the
category describes a general class that has been deliberately
'perfected' and 'purified' for intellectual purposes. The scientific
mind requires clear, distinct, and precisely defined concepts in order
to comprehend reality. And the perfection and purity of the ideal type
make it a clear, distinct and intelligible concept. The realities
themselves are never so clear, distinct, and intelligible; that is why
they would remain forever unintelligible if exact concepts were not
constructed and applied to them."
"Ideal types, as a system of interconnected concepts, can then serve as
a kind of 'theory' for the study of any particular phenomenon. We call
this 'a kind of "theory"' because it is not a theory in the usual sense
of providing a conceptual representation of reality that will be either
true or false. Ideal types, as we have said, are not true or false;
they are only helpful or unhelpful in the further investigation of
reality. Yet in further investigation of reality, it would seem to be
more helpful to employ a fully defined system of interrelated concepts
than to use merely one or two sparsely defined notions" (424-25).
Prototypes, Ideal Types, and Personality Disorders: The Return to Classical Phenomenology - Google Books.
Schwartz, M. A., Wiggins, O. P. & Norko, M. A., (1995). Prototypes,
ideal types, and personality disorders: the return to classical
phenomenology. In Livesley, W. John, (Ed.), The DSM-IV Personality
Disorders (pp. 417-432). New York: Guilford.