PTypes - Personality Types
PTypes Personality disorders

Ideal Types

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 say:

"[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 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 portrait' (429)."

"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 following manner:

'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.

Summary - Personality Disorders
Copyright © 2012 Dave Kelly

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