Wilber and Bhaskar Begin an Important Debate

By: sean@metaintegral.com

When I first wrote “An Ontology of Climate Change” and began drawing on Roy Bhaskar’s work, in the back of my mind I was saying to myself: “Wouldn’t it be great if Roy and Ken were in dialogue and debate around the status of ontology in Integral Theory?” Fast-forward two years later and voilà... this has finally come to pass.

In the most recent issue of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (Vol. 7, No. 4) we published a number of articles that together signal an exciting new chapter in the growth and development of Integral Theory (and Critical Realism). This collection of four articles is significant for a number of reasons:

  • It builds on and reflects several years of dialogue between the scholar-practitioners associated with each metatheory. See my previous blog entry for details.
  • Due to his health Wilber hasn’t been able to write for many years – the fact that he is writing again is cause for celebration. He is currently putting final touches on Volume 2 of the Kosmos trilogy. His most recent piece (below) contains some really exciting new distinctions and clarifications around Integral Theory and ontology.
  • I believe Roy Bhaskar represents the ideal debate partner and interlocutor for Ken Wilber. Roy is deeply sympathetic to Integral Theory and is working to include its insights into his own work; he is a professional philosopher who has thought long and hard about many of the issues important to integral theorists; and he is an expert in ontology, an area that I feel Integral Theory needs to address more fully.
  • There are an emerging number of people associated with Integral Theory and Critical Realism becoming familiar with the other metatheory and this exchange will do much to further expose interested people to the conversation and hopefully inspire them to be part of it.

In summary, this rich exchange exemplifies the kind of debate and exploration we feel is essential to the growth and development of Integral Theory and we are excited that the 2013 Integral Theory Conference is creating a space for this conversation to continue and deepen. So come join us and be part of this historic conversation between Integral Theory and Critical Realism (and Complex Thought). 

Here are the articles from the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (Vol. 7 No. 4). For an overview of the context and relationship between each piece, please read my editorial.

Note: Wilber had not read Bhaskar’s comments prior to writing either piece, so he does not directly address any of Bhaskar's concerns. Instead Wilber engages general issues regarding the relationship between Critical Realism and Integral Theory.

And here is a “hot off the presses” piece from Ken Wilber with some additional comments on the Critical Realism – Integral Theory debate.

Together these six articles will keep your mind (as well as your overmind and supermind) engaged with some great material that I believe ushers in a new phase in Integral Theory.


Submitted by Giorgio Piacenza on

I'm glad Ken Wilber is making it clear that Integral Theory also includes ontology. In fact, epistemology and ontology inseparably. There had been some con fusion and I also fell for it. I fell for thinking that Wilber priviledged epistemology over ontology. The way perspectives were being spoken about seemed to indicate that the subjective and perspectives were being privileged. I already understood that both ontology and epistemology are necessary and that they stem from a deeper level of less dual unity. The post metaphysical stance was also associated with an excessive talk about perspectives and method perhaps at the expense of reality or ontology as such. What confused me most was the lack of acknowledgement of non physical realities as if they didn't exist because they were not perceived or didn't matter because they could not be disclosed with a shared method and interpreted under a certain altitude (which off course is not true).
But in this discussion we must refine the understanding of what holons are: Not things or processes but wholes that are parts of larger wholes. When talking about "holons" are we also speaking about the metaphysical categories of UNITY, DIVISIONS and their RELATION? Are we speaking about a TRINITY that is variously recognized in different traditions. SAGUNA BRAHMAN as Father (the Whole), Division (Logos) and Holy Spirit as the connectivity between the Many and the One (or between Divisions and Unity)?

In "Critical Realism Revisited" Wilber writes that Integral Theory has an extensive ontology also as involutionary "givens" (the Twenty Tenets, etc). However, I think that these ontological "givens" also are Metaphysical assumptions necessary for the integral model to hold. They are both 'things' andf Metaphysical epistemological 'assumptions' and thus, once again, talking about a "Post Metaphysical" model may lead to further confusions as when epistemology seemed to be privileged.
In my previous writings I mentioned that the relations between the realms (an underdeveloped element of Integral Theory) were given by three main types of reasoning or logics: Either-Or, Both-And and Neither-Or. When Wilber says that Epistemology and Ontology are "from the start" mutually "INTERACTIVE" "COMPLEMENTARY" and "COMPLEMENTARY" he coincides with my thinking about these three logics (as applied to the relation between epistemology and ontology) because "Interactive" means exteriorly related through well defined differences (either-or), mutually "Complementary" means related through mutually defined complements (both-and) and mutually "Enactive" means mutually interior to each other (thus need to be defined neither as exterior nor as complementary).

In other words, "HOLONS" are useful to ways of being (and associated realms) that range from well defined (like exterior dominant Physical objects), equally complementary subjective and objective Subtle Realm existence and Interior-Subjective dominant Causal Realm existence. All of these modes of epistemology-ontology simultaneously coexist in whatever mode of experiential realm we may be focusing on. Their existence can be actual in conscious experience or potential to conscious experience but all of them are always present. I think that this issue should be realized and discussed to expand Integral Theory.