AskDefine | Define phlegmatic

Dictionary Definition

phlegmatic adj : showing little emotion; "a phlegmatic...and certainly undemonstrative man" [syn: phlegmatical]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /flɛgˈmætɪk/
  • Rhymes with: -ætɪk


  1. Not easily excited to action or passion; calm; sluggish.
  2. Abounding in phlegm; as, phlegmatic humors; a phlegmatic constitution.
  3. Generating, causing, or full of phlegm.
  4. Watery.


Related terms


not easily excited to action
abounding in phlegm
generating, causing, or full of phlegm
Translations to be checked

Extensive Definition

Four Temperaments is a theory of psychology that stems from the ancient medical concept of four humors, or "humours" in UK English.

History and development

Temperament theory has its roots in the ancient four humors theory of the Greek doctor Hippocrates (460-370 BC), who believed certain human moods, emotions and behaviors were caused by body fluids (called "humors"): blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm. Next, Galen (131-200 AD) developed the first typology of temperament in his dissertation De temperamentis, and searched for physiological reasons for different behaviors in humans. In The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna (980-1037) then extended the theory of temperaments to encompass "emotional aspects, mental capacity, moral attitudes, self-awareness, movements and dreams."
Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) disregarded the idea of fluids as defining human behavior, and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), Alfred Adler (1879-1937), Erich Adickes (1866-1925), Eduard Spränger (1914), Ernst Kretschmer (1920), and Erich Fromm (1947) all theorized on the four temperaments (with different names) and greatly shaped our modern theories of temperament. Hans Eysenck (1916-1997) was one of the first psychologists to analyze personality differences using a psycho-statistical method (factor analysis), and his research led him to believe that temperament is biologically based. The factors he proposed in his book Dimensions of Personality were Neuroticism (N) which was the tendency to experience negative emotions, and the second was Extraversion (E) which was the tendency to enjoy positive events, especially social ones. By pairing the two dimensions, Eysenck noted how the results were similar to the four ancient temperaments.
  • High N, High E = Choleric
  • High N, Low E = Melancholic (also called "Melancholy"/pl. "-ies")
  • Low N, High E = Sanguine
  • Low N, Low E = Phlegmatic
Other researchers developed similar systems, many of which did not use the ancient temperament names, and several paired extroversion with a different factor, which would determine relationship/task-orientation. Examples are DiSC assessment, Social Styles, and a theory that adds a fifth temperament. One of the most popular today is the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, whose four temperaments were based largely on the Greek gods Apollo, Dionysus, Epimetheus and Prometheus, and were mapped to the 16 types of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). They were renamed (SP=Artisan, SJ=Guardian, NF=Idealist, NT=Rational). Rather than using extroversion and introversion (E/I) and task/people focus, like other theories, KTS mapped the temperaments to "Sensing" and "Intuition" (S/N, renamed "concrete" and "abstract") paired with a new category, "Cooperative" and "pragmatic" (loosely based on Judging and Perception, or J/P). When "Role-Informative" and "Role-Directive" (loosely connected with Thinking/Feeling or T/F, and corresponding to people/task-orientation), and finally E/I are factored in, you attain the 16 types. Finally, the Interaction Styles of Linda V. Berens combines Directing and Informing with E/I to form another group of "styles" which greatly resemble the ancient temperaments, and these are mapped together with the Keirsey Temperaments onto the 16 types.

The four personality types

Each of the four types of humours corresponded to a different personality type.


Sanguine indicates the personality of an individual with the temperament of blood, the season of spring (wet and hot), and the classical element of air. A person who is sanguine is generally arrogant, cocky, indulgent, and confident. He/She can be day-dreamy and off-task to the point of not accomplishing anything and can be impulsive, possibly acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion. This also describes the manic phase of a bipolar disorder. Also, the humour of Sanguine is usually treated with leeches.


Choleric corresponds to the fluid of yellow bile, the season of summer (dry and hot), and the element of fire. A person who is choleric is a doer and a leader. They have a lot of ambition, energy, and passion, and try to instill it in others. They can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics. On the negative side, they are easily angered or bad-tempered.
In folk medicine, a baby referred to as having "colic" is one who cries frequently and seems to be constantly angry. This is an adaptation of "choleric," although no twentieth/twenty-first century scholar or doctor of medicine would attribute the condition to bile. Similarly, a person described as "bilious" is mean-spirited, suspicious, and angry. This, again, is an adaptation of the old humour theory "choleric."
The disease Cholera gained its name from choler (bile).


Melancholic is the personality of an individual characterized by black bile; hence (Greek μελας, melas, "black", + χολη, kholé, "bile"); a person who was a thoughtful ponderer had a melancholic disposition. Often very kind and considerate, melancholics can be highly creative - as in poetry and art - but also can become overly pre-occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world, thus becoming depressed. The temperament is associated with the season of autumn (dry and cold) and the element earth. A melancholy is also often a perfectionist, being very particular about what they want and how they want it in some cases. This often results in being unsatisfied with one's own artistic or creative works and always pointing out to themselves what could and should be improved.
This temperament describes the depressed phase of a bipolar disorder.
There is no bodily fluid corresponding to black bile; the medulla of the adrenal glands, which decomposes very rapidly after death, can be associated with it.


A phlegmatic person is calm and unemotional. Phlegmatic means "pertaining to phlegm", corresponds to the season of winter (wet and cold), and connotes the element of water.
While phlegmatics are generally self-content and kind, their shy personality can often inhibit enthusiasm in others and make themselves lazy and resistant to change. They are very consistent, relaxed, rational, curious, and observant, making them good administrators and diplomats. Like the sanguine personality, the phlegmatic has many friends. However the phlegmatic is more reliable and compassionate; these characteristics typically make the phlegmatic a more dependable friend.

Historical Development

Decline in popularity

When the concept of the temperaments was on the wane, many critics dropped the phlegmatic, or defined it purely negatively, such as the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, as the absence of temperament. In the Five Temperaments theory, the classical Phlegmatic temperament is in fact deemed to be a neutral temperament, whereas the "relationship-oriented introvert" position traditionally held by the Phlegmatic is declared to be a new "fifth temperament."

Modern adaptations

Christian writer Tim LaHaye has attempted to repopularize the ancient temperaments through his books. In Waldorf education and anthroposophy, the temperaments are used to help understand personality. They are seen as avenues into teaching, with many different types of blends, which can be utilized to help with both discipline and defining the methods used with individual children and class balance.

Temperament Blends

LaHaye believes there are twelve mixtures of the four temperaments, representing people who have the traits of two temperaments, called Mel-Chlor, Chlor-San, San-Phleg, Phleg-Mel, Mel-San, Chlor-Phleg; and the reverse of these: Chlor-Mel, San-Chlor, Phleg-San, Mel-Phleg, San-Mel, and Phleg-Chlor. The order of temperaments in these pairs was based on which temperament was the "dominant" one (this is usually expressed by percentages). A person can also be a blend of three temperaments. Other four-type models, such as Social Styles, also have similar blends q.v., and in the five temperament theory, the blends are defined along the three areas of "Inclusion", "Control", and "Affection". The blends expand the number of types to 16 (12 blends of 2 types, plus the four pure types) or more (for blends of three).

External links

phlegmatic in Czech: Čtyři povahy
phlegmatic in Danish: Humoralpatologi
phlegmatic in German: Humoralpathologie
phlegmatic in Spanish: Teoría de los cuatro humores
phlegmatic in Korean: 사체액설
phlegmatic in Hebrew: ארבע הליחות
phlegmatic in Georgian: ტემპერამენტის ტიპები
phlegmatic in Dutch: Humores
phlegmatic in Portuguese: Teoria humoral
phlegmatic in Serbian: Колеричан темперамент
phlegmatic in Swedish: Humoralpatologi

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Laodicean, Olympian, abeyant, aloof, ambivert, apathetic, benumbed, blah, blase, bored, calm, careless, cataleptic, catatonic, choleric, cold, comatose, composed, controlled, cool, cycloid, cyclothyme, cyclothymic, dead, debilitated, desensitized, detached, disinterested, distant, dopey, dormant, droopy, drugged, dry, dull, ectomorph, endomorph, enervated, equanimous, even-tempered, exanimate, extrovert, flat, foul, groggy, heartless, heavy, hebetudinous, heedless, hopeless, impassive, imperturbable, in a stupor, in abeyance, in suspense, inactive, inanimate, incurious, indifferent, indolent, inert, insensible, insensitive, insouciant, introvert, jaded, lackadaisical, languid, languorous, latent, leaden, lethargic, lifeless, listless, logy, lumpish, matter-of-fact, melancholic, mesomorph, mindless, moderate, moribund, nonchalant, numb, numbed, passive, philosophical, placid, pluckless, pooped, regardless, resigned, restrained, sanguine, sated, schizoid, schizothyme, sedentary, self-controlled, self-possessed, serene, slack, sleeping, sleepy, slow, sluggish, slumbering, smoldering, somnolent, soporific, spiritless, spunkless, stagnant, stagnating, standing, static, stoic, stoical, stolid, stultified, stupefied, supine, suspended, syntone, tame, temperate, torpid, tranquil, unaffected, unanimated, unaroused, uncaring, unconcerned, undemonstrative, undisturbed, unemotional, unenthusiastic, unfeeling, uninquiring, uninterested, uninvolved, unmindful, unmoved, unperturbed, unresponsive, unruffled, vegetable, vegetative, wan, weary, withdrawn, world-weary
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