The Enneagram, A Constellation of the Real

The Enneagram is another fascinating heuristic system of proletarian science which has unjustly not received mainstream acceptance. The Enneagram, as its name implies, states that every person fits into one of nine categories, which are simply denoted by numbers. Everyone also has a secondary type, which is the number either before or after that of one’s primary type (e.g. a 5-4, a 6-7). Of course, such a simple schema hardly does justice to the complexity of the human psyche, so there’s an extra twist. Types, when their mental health deteriorates, display the characteristics of another type: the order is 1-4-2-8-5-7-1 and 9-6-3-9, so an 8 will deteriorate to a 5, etc. Also, when each type reaches a height of mental health, they will exhibit characteristics of the other adjacent type in the aforementioned list, ascending in the reverse order, so a 5 would become an 8, etc. Don Richard Riso in his book Personality Types describes each type in terms of stages of mental health, and the results are remarkable.

Much as I’d love to discourse at length about the Enneagram, it is simply not possible to do justice to it in a brief essay. The reader is directed toward the Enneagram web site (though Riso’s book is infinitely better, if you can find it), but here they will have to content themselves with a brief summary of each type (from here; click for a larger view):

What is interesting about the Enneagram is that it constitutes a closed system. That is to say, all humans (possibly excluding those who are mentally handicapped to the point of non-functionality) fit into its schema, and even the seeming overlaps and lacunae are anticipated and explained within the system itself.* Lyotard says that a possible criterion for modernity is a conscious attempt to arrive at some sort of universal values. The Enneagram would, then, be a product of modernist thinking. It is true that there is a great deal of material that the Enneagram cannot explain, e.g. personal taste, particular idiosyncrasies; yet, it provides a fascinatingly accurate framework for these particularities, one which is accurate enough to elicit shivers in whoever dares to read the full description of their own Enneagram type.

Though the Enneagram is far too intricate to explore here, its author (Oscar Ichazo) created another, smaller, closed system: the Instinctual Subtypes, which has three interrelated terms (as opposed to the Enneagram’s nine). Ichazo posits three types of instincts: the Self-Preservation (SP) instinct, the Social (SO) instinct, and the Sexual (SX) instinct. It must be noted that in the case of the SX instinct, sex itself is not its sole object, but rather pleasure, taken in a broad sense (or, if the reader prefers, a more Freudian definition of ‘sex’). These are arranged hierarchically for each person, in the following order:

1) The instinct taken in its most literal sense
2) The instinct taken in an abstract sense.
3) This instinct remains dormant, or at least not a concern to the person in question.

A student of the instinctual subtypes will often render herself as, for example, SX/SP/SO, or simply SX/SP. The literality or abstractness of a given instinct is crucial. A person whose primary instinct is SP, for example, will be concerned with nutrition, comfort (e.g. they may be acutely aware of a change in temperature), money, etc. A person whose primary instinct is SO will be interested in personal interaction. A person whose primary instinct is SX will be interested in physical gratification, such as confectionary foods, sex, sports, etc. However, a person whose secondary (abstract) instinct is SP may be concerned with fame, a secondary SO may be concerned with social science (structures, the social in the abstract), and a secondary SX may find their gratification in music, intellectual theories, or pyromania, etc.

It should also be noted that as a person’s mental health deteriorates, their symptoms will often take the form of a perversion of their primary instinct. For example, a SP/SX may tend toward eating too much or too little.

There is no detailed causal explanation for why particular instincts are made primary, abstract, or dormant. Riso suggests, however, that one born into a life of austerity (during the Great Depression, for example) will likely tend toward SP-primacy.


Like the Enneagram, the instinctual subtypes constitute a closed system, into which each person fits. One aspect about the instinctual subtypes which is even more fascinating than the Enneagram (and intriguingly serves to illuminate the latter) is that it is applicable to both humans and animals. Like Hume in his Treatise on Human Nature, who at the end of each chapter illustrated how his philosophical principles were assumed even by animals, the Instinctual Subtypes can be applied even to one’s cat.

The primary difference between applying the Instinctual Subtypes to animals and applying it to humans is that humans possess the ability to defy their instinctual configurations, forcing themselves to venture outside of their structural comfort zone. Though this aspect has been explored somewhat in Enneagram studies, experiments in terms of the Instinctual Subtypes have been few, if they have occurred at all.

From personal observation, I have noticed that if one tries to make manifest their dormant instinct, one’s primary instinct becomes dulled, and the secondary becomes more abstract. In my own case, as a SP/SO/SX, as an experiment I went out of my way to throw myself into pleasurable activities (as opposed to a natural inclination toward asceticism), and found that I began to lose concern with more concrete SP-tendencies (in my case: interest in exercise and nutrition), as well as to lose my attraction toward people (not misanthropy, but rather an antihumanism, à la the French Structuralists). A kind of tectonic shift occurred. The same shift can be observed in the life of Nietzsche, another SP/SO/SX, who upon his overcoming of asceticism became inclined toward an “anchorite” existence, not to mention his quest to destroy the ‘human’ values which people had formerly held most dear. (His SP-primacy, however, was held in check by his weak constitution, as is made evident by his discourse on the value of diet & nutrition in Ecce Homo).

The grounding for the Instinctual Subtypes is posited as immanent, irreducible. Unlike the Enneagram (whose types are so precise as to defy immediate dismissal), the Instinctual Subtypes are broad enough that one could argue that their success is due solely to the ubiquity of these concepts. Indeed, one could make an excellent study out of investigating the relations between McLuhan’s ‘electric culture’ and the mass ‘sexuality’ (i.e. pleasure seeking) displayed in contemporary culture: perhaps the ‘tactility’ of the television medium (as opposed to the abstractness of print) has something to do with this link?

Confronting so many empirically valid theories (Love Languages, the Enneagram, the Instinctual Subtypes), one is tempted to think of the real as a sphere, and each of these theories a small slice of it: like measuring an object with Calculus via Riemann space, as the number of slices approaches infinity, our measurement becomes more and more accurate.

A Riemann sum for 2-dimensional enclosed space.

Let’s recapitulate our definition of proletarian, bourgeois, and canonical science: Proletarian science is that which is demonstrated (reality), but not proved (real); Bourgeois science is that which is proved, but not demonstrated; canonical science is that which is both. 

The problem with proletarian science is that in order to become ‘proved’, to make its way into canonical science, it privileges the most abstract of bourgeois sciences: sciences are arranged in a hierarchy from most abstract at the top and most concrete at the bottom. Luckily, however, bourgeois science reverses this hierarchy: in order to be demonstrated, to make its way into canonical science, it must be instantiated through more concrete theories. A specific problematic emerges when considering this reversible hierarchy, however: though the most abstract of sciences, mathematics, bases itself upon tautology, and is therefore absolutely true, there is no correspondingly tautologous ‘concrete’ science at the other end of the spectrum. Some may suggest phenomenology, whose sole purpose is to describe reality with as much accuracy as possible. However, the existence of such non-compossible paradigms as Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometries renders the total objectivity of phenomenology impossible, because phenomenologists are forced to make such choices.

Roughly, then, proletarian science acts through the correspondence theory of truth (empirical verification), whereas bourgeois science acts through the coherence theory of truth (theoretical purity). The sciences at both ends of the spectrum (e.g. mathematics) can be said to take both into account, hence they are canonical sciences while at the same time remaining at the ends of the pole.


*[For Enneagram scholars:] To illustrate, the 8-7 and 7-8 occasionally have an attraction toward art and/or knowledge, tendencies belonging to the 4 and 5, respectively. Though the tendencies toward 5-ish behaviour can be explained due to the 8’s deterioration to the 5 and the 7’s ascension toward the 5, the 4’s position in this is somewhat mystifying, but at the same time undeniably manifest in a 7-8’s or 8-7’s behaviour. To explain this we need merely look at the parental influences which lie behind one’s tendency to become one’s type: the 8 has a negative view of the nurturer parent, whereas the 7 has an ambivalent view of the nurturer parent. Thus, in the 7-8 and 8-7 type, the other parent (the protector) is not accounted for. Hence, the child’s stance toward the protector parent is what determines their ultimate tertiary orientation: if the 7-8 or 8-7 child is negative toward the protector, then they will display characteristics of the 4, who has a negative orientation toward both parents. Conversely, if the 8-7 or 7-8 has an ambivalent orientation toward the protector parent, they will display characteristics of the 5, who has an ambivalent orientation toward both parents. To my knowledge, no previous Enneagram scholar has noticed this tendency. A similar phenomenon can be observed with the 1-2 and 2-1 in relation to the ‘protector’ parent.



  • The Enneagram divides people into nine different groups, each having a subtype and a particular direction in which they always deteriorate or ascend according to their state of mental health.
  • The author of the Enneagram also developed a system called the Instinctual Subtypes, where everyone has the main instincts (Social, Self-Preservation, Sexual) arranged in a certain constant way, e.g. SP/SO/SX.
  • Mathematics is the most Bourgeois science of all, since it is the most abstract.  It is absolutely true because it expresses itself in tautologies (one side of the equation is always equal to the other side, unless it is incorrect).  Because the mathematician studies the phenomenon of numbers, however, their science is at once empirical and theoretical, thus both Bourgeois and Canonical.
  • The closest approximation to a tautologous proletarian science is praxeology, which focuses on ‘raw’ actions, without taking into account the correctness of the thinking behind them, but only its place within a means-end scheme.

**Note: Social constructionism is not taken into account here because canonical science aims toward universality, whereas social construction, insofar as it only constitutes the framework in which the instantiations of these structures take place. In proving why a proletarian science works, a bourgeois science would identify how the general conditions in which it takes place dictates the empirical results found, i.e. it separates the contingent from the universal. In the example of the Instinctual Subtypes, a bourgeois science may focus on the ways that the instinctual subtypes instantiate themselves (e.g. why one SO/SX prefers music instead of theories), while the proletarian theory of the Instinctual Subtypes itself may retain its universality. A proper science would include in its purview the ‘virtual’, i.e. it would be able to predict even those situations which are not and/or have never been actualized in reality.


About Graham Joncas

We are a way for capital to know itself.

Posted on July 17, 2011, in Review and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Brilliant. There are so many people who think they have the answer, but many become stuck in the process of opening themselves up to greater dimensions of thought. As Infinite Waters on youtube says, ‘lose your mind and come to your senses.’

  1. Pingback: Not sure about my instincts and heart fix, help appreciated :)

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