Integral theory (philosophy)

From Academic Kids

Template:Integral theoryThis article is about integral theory in philosophy and psychology. It is unrelated to the concept of an integral in calculus.

Integral theory seeks a comprehensive understanding of humans and the universe by combining scientific and spiritual insights. According to the Integral Transformative Practice website, integral means "dealing with the body, mind, heart, and soul."

Integral theory flows into everything, but its genesis and basis is ultimately an attempt to overcome the drawbacks introduced by the advent of rationalism. Rationalism, through Descartes' dualism, split mind (and by implication, spirit) from body. This freed science from religious control and enabled vast advances in our understanding of the physical world. But in doing so it subordinated, then ignored, then denied the existence of an ineffable realm. Scientism makes the error of thinking that its method is universally applicable, even in the face of mathematical proofs of the Incompleteness theorem and the Uncertainty principle which show that it, too, has its limits. Integral theory begins by acknowledging and validating mystical experience, rather than denying its reality. These experiences have occurred to humans in all cultures in all eras, and are accepted as valuable and not pathological. Integral theory claims that both science and mysticism (or spirituality) are necessary for complete understanding of humans and the universe.


Integral theorists

Integral theory is a new and developing movement. Consequently, no member of a list of integral thinkers or artworks will be uncontroversial. The following thinkers used the term "integral" to describe their work.

The word "integral" was originally used by the Hindu writer and guru Sri Aurobindo to describe the yoga he taught (integral or poorna ("complete") yoga). Aurobindo's integral yoga involves transformation of the entire being, rather than, as in most other teachings, a single faculty such as the head or the heart or the body. Aurobindo's major works include: The Life Divine, The Synthesis of Yoga, and Savitri. Important concepts in Aurobindo's thought include: philosophical evolution, Involution, the physical, the vital, the mental, the psychic, the subtle, the causal and the nondual. Founder, with The Mother, of Auroville, an international community dedicated to human unity.

Jean Gebser, Swiss phenomenologist, was the author of The Ever-present Origin, which concieved of human history as stages of consciousness. Gebser saw in the momentous events of the 1930s and '40s a revolution in consciousness which he identified as the transition to the integral stage.

Haridas Chaudhuri, a Bengali philosopher, was a correspondant with Aurobindo and founded the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Michael Murphy, author of The Future of the Body, and George Leonard, are co-founders of the Esalen Institute and the Human Potential Movement, and co-authors of The Life We Are Given.

Ken Wilber is the most visible and popular integral theorist in the world today. Wilber's books include: Sex Ecology Spirituality, Integral Psychology, and Boomeritis. His major ideas include: AQAL, Integral ecology, Integral politics, and Vision-logic. Founder of the Integral Institute, Integral Naked, and Integral University.

Clare Graves, American psychology professor, was the creator of the Emergent Cyclical Levels of Existence Theory of human development, which inspired the book Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowan.

Georg Feuerstein is the author of Wholeness or Transcendence: Ancient Lessons for the Emerging Global Civilization and Structures of Consciousness: The Genius of Jean Gebser, An Introduction and Critique, and founder of the Yoga Research and Education Center and Traditional Yoga Studies.

Allan Combs is the author of The Radiance of Being: Understanding the Grand Integral Vision, Living the Integral Life.

Robert Kegan and Susan Cook-Greuter are Harvard developmental psychologists who are considered integral theorists. They are members of the Integral Institute.

Integral artists

Integral art can be defined as art that reaches across multiple quadrants and levels, or simply as art that was created by someone who thinks or acts in an integral way.

Alex Grey is a psychedelic visual artist whose works have been admired by Wilber and others.

Stuart Davis is an eclectic musician whose works include the concept album Bright Apocalypse. Mystical and integral themes feature large in his lyrics.

Saul Williams is a hip-hop artist who is associated with the Integral Institute.

Wilber is a big fan of the Wachowski brothers. He considers the Matrix series to convey important philosophical truths, and has done a DVD commentary track on them with philosopher Cornel West.

Other thinkers

Many writers and artists who did not use the word "integral" to refer to their theories nonetheless are considered by theorists to act, think or theorize in an integral way. These include contemporary thinkers like Jurgen Habermas and Rupert Sheldrake, and historical figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gandhi.

The following writers contributed essential ideas to integral theory:

  • Edward Haskell, author of Full Circle: The Moral Force of Unified Science

See also


  • "The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, nonmarginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that—to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are "meta-paradigms," or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching." —Ken Wilber, "Foreword", in Frank Visser, Ken Wilber: Thought As Passion
  • This means that the chief activity of integral cognition is not looking at all of the available theories—whether premodern, modern, or postmodern—and then asking, "Which one of those is the most accurate or acceptable?," but rather consists in asking, "How can all of those be right?" The fact is, all of the various theories, practices, and established paradigms—in the sciences, arts, and humanities—are already being practiced: they are already arising in a Kosmos that clearly allows them to arise, and the question is not, which of those is the correct one, but what is the structure of the Kosmos such that it allows all of those to arise in the first place? What is the architecture of a universe that includes so many wonderful rooms? — Ken Wilber, "The Ways We Are in This Together: Intersubjectivity and Interobjectivity in the Holonic Kosmos" Excerpt C of draft of forthcoming book, Kosmic Karma and Creativity

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