Augustine’s four versions of the Integral: From the origins to the present

by editor

Integralism is a complicated philosophy that has crossed several stages of development to arrive at what it is now. As we know, the Integral Thought developed in the second-tier of the Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Ken Wilber. Though second-tier, there is not just one version of the philosophy, there are as many as four versions. Henry Augustine, an Integral scholar, explores the four different versions/stages of Integralism in his essay, “A Synthesis Between Four Versions of Integral”. In this piece, he elaborates on the major four thought processes that Integralism went through from its origins to its present state. He baptizes the four version as “Integral-Aurobindo”, “Integral-NewAge”, “Integral-Wilber” and “Integral-Europe”.

Integralism – from the origins to the present:

Integral-Aurobindo: Though Integral thinking might have begun as early as the scientific epoch in the Spiral or as early as Descartes, Locke and their rationalism, the term “Integral” gained prominence only after Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga. People, after postmodernism, realized that there is something beyond the material world or the Wilber “flatland” that we live in. This led to the initiation of belief in the Spirit or what quantum physics would call, “Nothingness”. In Spiral Dynamics, Spirit is the only certainty that makes other things certain in our Kosmos. Thus Integral-Aurobindo established the concept of Absolute Reality in the postmodernist world.

Though Integral-Aurobindo is perhaps the first stage of the philosophy, it is transpersonal and completely third-tier in its thinking and language. It explores the Kosmos, the Existence of the Spirit and our role in the universe as human beings. In this phase of Integralism, emphasis is laid on two things. According to Augustine, “The first aspect is the emphasis on spiritual practice. The second aspect is the emphasis on engaging in this practice as holistically or ‘integrally’ as possible.” However, Integral-Aurobindo is not as rational in its explication as the other three versions. The reason for this maybe the transpersonal aspect of the philosophy and its insistence on the Existence of Spirit as a Certainty.

Integral-NewAge: Integral-NewAge is very different from Integral-Aurobindo in that it emphasizes “conceptualization more that its predecessor”. This version of Integralism is said to have started with the 1960s and gathered momentum within a decade after that. It can be termed as a rational and transrational analysis or inquiry of concepts, practices that were formulated during a “pre-rational” period. Integral-NewAge looked at Shamanism, Astrology, Alchemy, Tarot and other mythic/mystic things with transrational eyes. The results derived too correspond to the Spiral Dynamics of Graves and that of SDi (formed by Ken Wilber). On comparison, according to Integral-NewAge, Shamanism and Astrology correspond to Spiral Dynamics’ Purple segment and Spiral Dynamics Integral’s Magenta level. Similarly, Alchemy and Tarot correspond to Spiral Dynamics’ Blue level and Spiral Dynamics Integral’s Amber level. However, Wilber seems to opine that the whole meaning of these concepts formulated in “prerational” contexts will also have meaning that is “pre-rational” and hence “less meaningful”.

Integral-Wilber: Integral-Wilber is the current and most popular of all the versions. It draws inspiration from Integral-Aurobindo and uses it as the foundation for building the Wilber Integralism. Applying philosophical rationalism to Aurobindo’s metaphysical and mystical transpersonality, Integral-Wilber attempts to “systematize” and address our “deepest philosophical questions” as succinctly and rationally as possible. Integral-Wilber, using the Orange rationalism of the Spiral Dynamics, “2nd-tiers” the Integral Aurobindo. In other words, Integral-Wilber is a combination of both “Aurobindian 3rd-tier holistic development and rationalistic 2nd-tier holistic structuralization”. Though Integral-Wilber might be the most popular version of Integralism, it has objection from yet another version -  the Integral-Europe. As Augustine puts it, “To the thesis that is Integral-Wilber, Integral-Europe gives the closest resemblance of what we might call an antithesis.”

Integral-Europe: This movement started off with Enlightenment Europe and is a perfect antithesis to Integral-Wilber. Not that both versions are often in disagreement with each other. Integral-Europe (since most of the theorists are based in Europe and originated prominently there), questions a number of things that Integral-Wilber advocates and critiques them. For instance, Frank Visser insightfully questions the reason behind Wilber’s placement of biology into the UR quadrant without even considering whether it is possible to “quadrantize” it using the other three. Another important question raised is, why is the Wilber community always in agreement, without even a wee bit of disagreement? Integral-Europe does not try to disprove or put down Integral-Wilber, but takes a “chip off” it and accuses it and questions it, just to refine it. Integral-Europe can be described as a reaction against the “excessivism” of Integral-Wilber and is “more negative than positive, more skeptical than affirming”. This also does not mean Integral-Europe is not “integral”, but it is just that Integral-Europe rationalizes more on the hasty propositions of Integral-Wilber and refines it further.

Common Integral Denominator: If one looks at all the four versions, one can see that the primary, common Integral denominator between all these is the “Spirit”. It is the Spirit that pervades all these integral line of thinking. Call it “Ground of Being”, “Suchness”, “The Ultimate”, “Brahman” or “Nothingness”, the Spirit is all-pervading and omnipotent in Integral Thought. It is the Spirit which divides the first-tier from the second-tier in Spiral Dynamics. It is the Spirit which emerged in Integral-Aurobindo and spread all through postmodernist thought when people realized that there is something more to life that what meets the eye. It is the Spirit that establishes Certainty of the Existence of an ultimate identity. According to the Integral theory, from the Spirit, the Certainty, we deduce all other realities.

Reference Links:

1. Henry Augustine’s A Synthesis Between Four Versions of Integral

2. The Promise of Integralism – A critical appreciation of Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology.

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