Temperament: Describing Keirsey’s Rationals (NTs)

This week, we look at Keirsey’s description for  NT Rationals.  In previous weeks we have looked at his temperament descriptions for Artisans (SPs), Guardians (SJs) and Idealists (NFs) and then asked what the world would be like if everyone the same temperament and and that group ran the world.  For example, what if every human, from the beginning was an SP, and therefore, SPs ran the world, how different would it be from the world we know?  Obviously, it has never happened, but it is interesting to think about.  Each of these descriptions is taken from Keirsey’s book Please Understand Me II, and in each case I have tried to be faithful to Keirsey’s views.

Rationals–Abstract Utilitarians.  Rationals share abstract language with the Idealists, but tend to use it very differently.  Keirsey notes that “Like the NFs, the NTs choose the imaginative, conceptual or inferential things to speak of over the the observational, perceptual or experiential.”  More simply they are fascinated with ideas and theories, far more than with ongoing, everyday events, and that is what they mainly talk about.  The two temperaments diverge greatly, however in the ways that they do this.  As we noted in describing the NFs, Keirsey sees them as moving quickly from a few facts or particulars to “sweeping generalizations”.  NTs, on the other hand are very careful in drawing conclusions.  They are “unusually exacting about definitions” and are much more likely to say that something is possible, likely, or even probable, than to just leap to the conclusion that it is absolutely true, as NFs might.   Similarly, their descriptions are much less colorful.  Where the NF might describe something as glorious, or devastating, the NT might say that the same conclusion is  encouraging, or unfortunate in outcome.

With the SP, the NT shares the Utilitarian approach to life, in being much more interested in what works than in how their actions might be seen by others.  As Keirsey puts it “Not that rationals prefer to be immoral, illegal or illegitimate…they do not refuse to cooperate with their social groups, but… they see pleasing others and obeying rules as secondary considerations…”

Are they unemotional?  In measuring preferences, the T or thinking preference does, of course, oppose the F or Feeling preference.  It certainly seems to be true that strong NTs are unemotional in their general behavior, and with that are nearly always going to choose the logical solution over the emotional solution.  Keirsey says about this that “when the Rationals are concentrating on some complex problems they do detach themselves from their social context and remain distant until they solve the problem.  At that moment they are not interested in others, but that does not mean that they do not care about others.  They are just as caring as any other type when they are focused on those they care about.”  I guess that leaves the question open, as it doesn’t define how much of the time they are “focused on those they care about.”  Rationals clearly do prefer to maintain  emotional control in thought and action.  Whether that masks deep inner emotion might or might not be the case, or this might vary from NT to NT.  I simply do not know of any clear evidence on this.

If there is an overarching NT drive, it is to solve problems as they are encountered and to do so in the most efficient possible way.  In doing this, they are neither bound to tradition or to any higher authority, nor are they the least unwilling to listen to and learn from anyone who has something to contribute.  On the flip side of this, however, they pay absolutely no respect to advice that seems meaningless, no matter how high the status of the advisor.

The number one Rational intellectual strength is Strategy.  A strategy is a plan or system for achieving a goal, and for the Rational NT, this goal, in a general way is to make some system run better, where better means both effectively and more efficiently.  Though the greatest number of NTs seem to be involved in what we usually think of as the “hard” sciences, from biology and chemistry to technology of all sorts, NTs may also be found trying to work with social systems, from families to companies and governments.  The key point, in that case, is that it is a system that they want to improve, not an individual.  You might think that Tactical intelligence or even Logistical intelligence might serve similar goals, but these are definitely lower in interest for the NT.  Presumably that has to do with the fact that Rationals are not interested in solving short-term problems.  He or she wishes to lastingly change some part of the world for the better.  Surprisingly Keirsey sees  their second greatest strength here as Diplomacy. It seems likely that anyone who wants to change or improve major systems would need to practice the diplomatic skills that allow you to recognize the reasons for the opposition of others, and think smartly of ways to counter this–hence diplomacy.

Interests of Rationals most commonly include education in the sciences, a special “preoccupation” or lifelong delight with technology, and careers in some area that will allow them to study underlying systems and search for better organization and better understanding. Over a lifetime this often means that they take a great interest in and acquire a lot of knowledge about many fields, some closely related, some not.

Orientation.  As we have seen before, by “orientation” Keirsey refers to the way in which we relate to the present, future, and past, and to place and time.  He sees Rationals as relating to the present “pragmatically.  He says that “one of the most important things to know about the Rationals is that they are pragmatic to the core, and so must….anticipate the practical consequences of their intended actions, before they act.”  Even this seems to leave something out though.  We could say that Artisans are pragmatic about their tactics to produce pleasure, and Idealists about their diplomatic approaches to harmonious group actions and Guardians in their efforts to preserve order. To distinguish Rationals from all others I think you have to recognize that their goal is not a particular change that will bring them some unique good thing, but the goal of having things of all different kinds work better.  Indeed, if you are not an NT, you might well ask of this–Really?  Why bother?  And the only answer, really, is that that is what NTs do.

About the future, Keirsey sees the Rational as skeptical.  This is not at all the pessimism of the Guardian who expects large quantities of failure in life, expects in some stoical way to be tripped up by life, just because that is the way it is.  Rather, it is the view that whenever you try to do something, you will make mistakes, you will travel up the wrong alley and believe in things that turn out not to be true–but that doesn’t mean that there is no eventual way to your goal.  It simply means that you have to be constantly wary of simple solutions and false leads–that you have to question everything, both new and old, both seemingly true and seemingly false, and finally–that in such work there really is no free lunch.

About the past, Keirsey says that the NT is relativistic.  He comments “To Rationals, events of themselves are not good or bad, favorable or unfavorable.  It is all in how one looks at things, they say–all is relative to one’s frame of reference….we make up our world and only then find it outside of ourselves.”  Of all of Keirsey’s descriptions I confess to finding this one the least clear to me.  Many philosophers have seen the world in this way, and perhaps many of them may have been NTs, but I fail to see the logical connection between this and all other NT qualities.

The Place for the Rational is anywhere that two or more concepts intersect one another to produce something meaningful.  As a very simple example, width and length produce a two dimensional concept of an object, and length, width and depth produce a different sort of concept.  The Rational’s place is where things intersect to produce something else, and thus, some unique concept..

And finally, for the Rational NT, their time is the Interval, and the Interval, in turn, is the segment of time that an event encompasses.   Keirsey says “For them, time exists not as a continuous line, but a an interval, a segment confined to and defined as an event.  Only events possess time, all else is timeless.”

Self-image.  Here, we leave the NT world of Einsteinian definitions of time and place, etc.!  Rationals find their self-esteem in seeing and being seen as ingenious.  Keirsey quotes one as saying “You want to be the first to do something.  You want to create something.  You want to innovate something.”  This passionate desire carries over from work to sports, card games, puzzles, etc.–to be better than you were before, even if you will never the the best.  Related to this, Rationals find their self-respect in their sense of autonomy.  In a very strong statement, Keirsey says “As much as possible, at times even regardless of the consequences, Rationals desire to live according to their own laws, to see the world by their own lights, and they respect themselves in the degree that they act independently, free of all coercion.  And lastly, Rationals find their self-confidence in their “strength of will or unwavering resolution.”  This is so important, Keirsey says, that “Once Rationals resolve to do something, they have in a sense made a contract with themselves, a contract they dare not go back on.”  He feels that they dare not go back because there is always the fear that strength of will will fail, and with it, their self-confidence, and perhaps the meaning and purpose of  life.

Rationalist values follow very logically from all that has been described.  Their preferred mood or state is that of being calm.  They trust above all, reason.  They yearn for achievement, and seek knowledge.  And ultimately the knowledge they seek is not the universal ‘why’ of the NF that seeks to know the very meaning of existence.  Rather it is knowledge about  what things are like, how they function, and therefore, how to make them function better.  Keirsey notes that they prize deference.  This is not so much praise for themselves as clever people, but praise for their creations, and interest in those creations.  In this they may be often disappointed, not because others are not impressed by the end result, but because few can understand and appreciate the complex technology that is behind that end result.  With all of these other values it can be seen that beneath that calm exterior they aspire to be seen as a Wizard.

IN SUMMARY:   Rationals are classed as Abstract Utilitarians.   Like NFs they think and talk about ideas and possibilities, rather than daily events.  Unlike NFs they do this in very precise and unemotional ways, always careful to qualify ideas with maybe, possibly, etc.  Where we summed Idealists as “passionate communitarians”, a good term for Rationals would the “passionate achievers“.  Making things better and more efficient seems to be a deep innate drive that dominates over social support and social approval.  In any conflict between what logical analysis suggests and what emotional feeling suggests, logic is the probable winner.  They strongly attempt to control emotion in both language and action, in keeping with the preference for logical solutions.

The greatest intellectual strength is in Strategy–long range planning within systems.  Second to this is Diplomacy–which for them is probably the route to getting others to accept your plans!

In education, career choice and outside activities, scientific and technological interests dominate.  Even where career interests focus on human behavior the interest is in understanding systems that govern it and ways that these might be improved.

In Orientation, they are pragmatic in relating to the present, skeptical (but not long-range pessimistic) in relating to the future, and relativistic (perhaps) about the past.  Their place is always where two or more things intersect, opening up new ideas and possibilities, and their time is the Interval or segment of time of any event.

They value being calm, trust reason, long for achievement, seek knowledge, prize deference and aspire to be true wizards.

REFERENCE:  Keirsey, David (1998).  Please Understand me II. Prometheus Nemesis:  Del Mar CA

COMING UP:  If NTs ruled the world–then what?  This is a pure thought experiment and readers are welcome to send in their ideas in advance, or as comments later.



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2 Responses to Temperament: Describing Keirsey’s Rationals (NTs)

  1. INTP says:

    Hi Lars,

    Just getting back to this topic. I had a major problem with one of my other websites and spent days getting a fix. I am just starting on the NT blog (never seem to know in advance how these are going to work out), but I wanted to comment that I thought your Google example was inspired with NTs and NFs. But, since I boxed myself in with just pure NTs, my outcome isn’t going to be all that nice. I am not so sure about it being a free world. My guess would be yes in places that seem to do no harm (logically, not emotionally) and no in other places, but we shall see.

    Thanks for your comments.

  2. Lars says:

    If thinking about what the world would look like if Keirseys NTs ruled it, the first thing that springs to the mind is a world of science: academics would be very dominant, maybe even in politics and day to day routines.

    I think NTs are also good businessman, which would probably collide with the more academic oriented ones. I think it would be a very free world with not many restrictive laws and maybe constant change in society because of new ideas and knowledge, for example like the ancient greeks who developed democracy.

    But it would probably also result in conflict: direct conflict in the form of war and indirect between different schools of knowledge and beliefs.

    A real world example of a mixed NT/NF world is the Google company: innovation is constantly sought, but with long term strategy on business and income. The NF part comes in the form of Googles philosophy to be “the good ones” and offer every service for free.

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