(This is a very brief excerpt from my article, “Endless Forms Most Beautiful: Essence, Teleology, and The Enneagram” from the just-published 2013 Enneagram Journal. You can obtain the whole article by purchasing the Journal through amazon.com.)

Introduction

It is often said that the Enneagram is rooted in ancient wisdom traditions, and these roots are often touted as one of the reasons why the Enneagram is such a powerful system for understanding ourselves and others. However, some of the philosophical assumptions underlying the traditional teaching of the Enneagram face significant challenges from more-modern philosophy and science. This article will look at some of those assumptions: essentialism (the belief that things, including humans, have an essence that is a fundamental property of the thing) and teleology (the belief that design and purpose are immanent in nature). I will explain the philosophical and scientific problems with those views, and offer an alternative perspective, methodological naturalism, that I believe not only avoids those problems but strengthens our understanding of the Enneagram and the aspects of human nature that the Enneagram addresses.
     I hope this article is the beginning of a conversation in the Enneagram community, and encourage anyone interested in doing so to provide feedback and critiques of the article or ideas contained herein in the IEA’s online “Nine Points Magazine” (www.ninepointsmagazine.org).

Essentialism
In “A Moveable Feast,” Ernest Hemingway writes about visiting Sylvia Beach’s Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, and walking out with books by Dostoyevsky, Lawrence, and Turgenev under his arm. Being an unrepentant Hemingway geek, I made Shakespeare and Company a must-see destination on my first trip to Paris a few years ago, and I planned to walk out with books by the same authors as an homage to my literary idol. Unfortunately, the cramped Left Bank bookstore had no Dostoyevsky or Lawrence in stock. I did, however, manage to buy a slim Signet Classic edition paperback of Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons” that now sits safely on the “Hemingway” shelf in the fiction section of my home library. This copy sits unread (I have a copy bought from a used bookstore in Philadelphia for reading), but treasured nonetheless. When I hold the book, it makes me feel emotions I can’t quite put into words. I keep it safely on a high shelf so my children can’t reach it, and I would be devastated if something were to happen to it. The copy I bought in Philadelphia, on the other hand, is worth only the two dollars I paid for it. Logically, I know my treasure is just a paperback book, exactly like thousands of other copies of the book. Emotionally, however, the book feels like it has innate qualities that separate it from a copy that would look exactly the same to someone else. 

This may seem irrational, but I’m guessing the reader also has objects that evoke similar emotional responses. We all have the ability—in fact, the tendency—to impute objects with value based on factors beyond the rational; we assume they have “essential” properties that we can’t see or accurately explain but really believe are there.
     We think this way because we are all “intuitive essentialists”; that is, we are all prone to believing things have some inherent, “essential” quality. There are two broad ways to think about essentialism: 1) the innate, intuitive, “naïve” essentialism that we inherit as part of our evolutionary heritage and 2) the philosophical Essentialism grounded in Plato, of believing that essential properties are a foundational component of reality and that essential ideals or forms exist in another realm.

Read the whole article

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