An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.




Elliot Benjamin

In Scott Parker's recent Integral World essay: “Winning The Integral Game?” he calls for genuine dialogue and constructive criticism of Ken Wilber's comprehensive philosophy and integral theory. I couldn't agree with Parker more, and I think that his depiction of the two rival camps of “fans “ and “critics” is an accurate and excellent depiction of the integral dilemma over the past few years. Like Parker, I view myself as in-between fan and critic, trying to maintain a critical perspective on Wilber's philosophy, without wanting to either alienate myself from Wilber's ideas or sheepishly dedicate myself to them either.

I have written somewhat critically of Wilber's ideas and interpersonal responses to critics, as expressed in my Integral World essays “On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute,” “Wilber vs. Schneider,” and “Integral with a “Twist.” However, I also have an essay in Wilber's AQAL Journal, “Integral Mathematics,” which is simultaneously on the Integral World website. I have somehow managed to remain in positive communication with the higher ups in Integral Institute, and as I originally have written in my “On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute” essay, from my own personal experience I still do not view Ken Wilber and Integral Institute as having significant cult dangers.

However, whether or not there are “significant” cult dangers in Integral Institute, I am in agreement with Parker that it is important for people to be able to engage in constructive dialogue about integral theory in a non-coercive and open-ended manner. It is in this context that I would like to explore a suggested distinction between “integral” and “integrative.”

I concluded my essay “Integral with a Twist” with an urging that integral psychology be viewed from various dominant perspectives, such as humanistic-integral, existential-integral, transpersonal-integral, and artistic-integral.

However, this suggestion was directly related to offering a “twist” to the numerous AQAL Journal articles that continuously described Wilber's integral theory in all its quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types, with a focus upon various domains such as psychology, sociology, consciousness, politics, etc. [1]. The greatest number of these articles were focused upon integral psychology or integral psychotherapy, and it seemed to me that bringing in a subjective dominant focus would impart more life and feeling into what generally struck me, with a few exceptions, as quite repetitious and rather dry depictions of Wilber's philosophy [2].

But as I continue to think about what I suggested, it seems to me that it would be a much more extensive integration to actually incorporate Wilber's particular perspective on integral into a truly open-ended conception of the term “integral,” and this is what I propose by the term “integrative.”

For example, when I consider what I might mean by “humanistic/integrative” psychotherapy, I am thinking first off of maintaining a dominant perspective from humanistic psychology, along the lines of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, believing in the positive growth potential of human beings, and the priority of the therapist being caring, authentic, and genuine with his/her clients.

The integrative part comes into play as one opens oneself up to various techniques to utilize in this humanistic context, including cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic, etc. When I think in terms of humanistic psychology I automatically am including perspectives from existential and transpersonal psychology as well, and this extends the meaning for me of “integrative” even more. At this point I am essentially modeling “humanistic-integrative” after Kirk Schneider's conception of “existential-integrative” [3].

But now lets incorporate Wilber's particular perspective of integral psychology into our integrative mix. Wilber's conception of quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types (and even “zones“ for those of you who appreciate Wilber V [4]), may indeed have some extremely beneficial and effective uses in a therapy situation. A number of the AQAL Journal articles on integral psychotherapy have described the beneficial uses of this perspective in an impactful way [5]. However, we are now looking at Wilber's perspective as one of many, i.e. we are not agreeing to unilaterally view everything as residing in Wilber's integral world view, but rather we are viewing Wilber's world view as residing in something more.

What is this “something more?” I certainly do not want to spell this out in any kind of concrete way or form, as this would be reproducing the same pitfall that I am in agreement that Wilber seems to have fallen into. I use the term “integrative” to simply describe this “something more” [6]. If the term “integral” had not been so well worn out by Wilber, I could have used “integral” to describe this “something more.” But as things now stand, I think that we do need a new term to describe what many of us are attempting to offer: a fresh perspective on what it means to be integral; i.e. to be integrative [7].


1) See any of the articles in reference [5] of “Integral with a Twist” (www.integralworld.net; May, 2007).

2) Some of the exceptions are the following: Paul Landraites, “Jane: an Integral Psychotherapeutic Case Study” (Vol. 1, Issue 2,); Annie McQuade, “Revisiting the Interiors: Serving the Mentally Ill Living in Our Streets” (Vol. 1, Issue 4); David Zeither, “An AQAL Case Study of Short-Term Psychotherapy as Transformation” (Vol. 2, Issue 1); (AQAL Journal; www.integralinstitute.org).

3) See Kirk Schneider and Rollo May, The Psychology of Existence: an Integrative, Clinical Perspective (New York: McGraw Hill, 1995).

4) See Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality (Boston: Shambhala, 2006).

5) See in particular the articles by Landraites and Zeither in reference [2].

6) The existential psychotherapist Jim Bugental, in his book The Art of the Psychotherapist (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987), has utilized the term “something more” to describe the mysterious and unknown quality of something beyond our awareness. Although I am using “something more” in a somewhat different context from Bugental, I pay tribute to his way of describing an unlimited and unknown “beyond.”

7) For my own particular perspective on “integral” see my Integral World essay “My Conception of Integral” (www.integralworld.net; October, 2006).

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