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:


Adrian van Kaam

The Missing Link in Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology

Elliot Benjamin

NOTE: This article is reprinted from the August/September 2010 AHP Perspective magazine, published by the Association of Humanistic Psychology,, under the title: "The Missing Link in Ken Wilber's Integral Psychology: Adrian van Kaam".

In Ken Wilber's introductory Note to the Reader in his book Integral Psychology (Wilber, 2000), he paid historical tribute to a few individuals who made attempts at formulating a predecessor to integral psychology. These individuals include James Mark Baldwin, William James, and most especially Gustav Fechner. As Wilber concluded about Fechner, who did his work in the early and mid 1800s:

“Fechner's approach to psychology was thus a type of integral approach: he wished to use empirical and scientific measurement, not to deny soul and spirit, but to help elucidate them.” (Wilber, 2000, p. xi).

Wilber summarized the contributions of Fechner, James, and Baldwin, which ended with the death of Baldwin in 1934, as follows:

“These pioneering modern psychologists managed to be both fully scientific and fully spiritual, and they found not the slightest contradiction or difficulty in that generous embrace.” (Wilber, 2000, p. xi).

In a later chapter of Wilber's book, entitled Some Important Modern Pioneers, he pays tribute to three additional figures who made preliminary integral psychology contributions primarily in the early and mid 1900s: Jurgen Habermas, Sri Aurobindo, and Abraham Maslow (Wilber, 2000, pp. 82 - 85). However, I contend that Wilber missed perhaps the most noteworthy of all the integral psychology predecessors, who had been highly active and visible in the fields of psychology and philosophy for over a half century and who died just a few years ago; I am referring to the Dutch psychologist, philosopher, theologian: Adrian van Kaam.

In van Kaam's (1966) book Existential Foundations of Psychology, he passionately argued for the formulation of what he referred to as “comprehensive psychology.” He developed his ideas into a discipline that he called “anthropological psychology,” which he described as “an open, personal, progressive integration of historical and contemporary psychological knowledge” (van Kaam, 1966, p. 166).

However, in some fundamental ways, van Kaam's formulation of a comprehensive psychology appears to me to go deeper than Wilber's integral psychology, as van Kaam's view of psychology has tremendous scope, inclusive of “the study of the self-image expressed in cultural endeavors other than psychology, such as art, literature, social customs, language, philosophy, science, education, and patterns of worship.” (van Kaam, 1966, p. 160). In a foreshadowing of Wilber's later integral attempt to unite opposing theories of psychology, which Wilber initiated in his very first book The Spectrum of Consciousness (Wilber, 1977) and developed in his book Integral Psychology (Wilber, 2000), van Kaam said the following:

The integration of seemingly opposed constructs requires the continual shaping and reshaping of a theoretical model in its structure and substructures. This constant change in theoretical vision enables the psychologist to comprehend with inner consistency the ever-increasing number of phenomena and laws uncovered by the growing number of differential psychologies. (van Kaam, 1966, p. 161).

Van Kaam appeared to have a non-egotistical approach to integrating all the diverse psychologies that were prevalent when he was formulating his ideas. This may represent a significant contrast to the personal ego involvement that a number of authors have claimed Wilber exhibits. For example, Daryl Paulsen in his (2007) Journal of Humanistic Psychology article entitled "Wilber's Integral Philosophy: A Summary and Critique", said the following:

First, for Wilber there is nothing beyond Wilber. As one studies Wilber's writings it becomes apparent that Wilber believes everyone is partially right, but he is more right. Although he incorporates others' works, they are always reduced to a component in his system, not the other way around. (Paulsen, p. 381).

Van Kaam's use of the term “existential” is quite different from our present day meanings we give to the term, and was also quite different from the dominant meanings of the term in the mid 1900s. As van Kaam wrote in the 1983 Forward to his (1966) book Existential Foundations of Psychology:

The book became a plea to widen existential psychology to a universal anthropological psychology, sufficiently foundational to integrate objectively on a scientific basis all validated findings and insights of the various “differential” psychologies, covering both the subjective experiential and the measurable aspects of human life. (van Kaam, pp. xi – xii).

Van Kaam eventually broadened his comprehensive and anthropological psychology into what he referred to as Formative Spirituality and established the Institute of Formative Spirituality to study “the scientific integration of formationally relevant findings and insights of different arts, sciences and formation traditions” (van Kaam, 1966, p. xii; see for more information about Formative Spirituality, and Muto & Martin, 2009 for a comprehensive portrayal of the life and philosophy of van Kaam).

In discovering the integral writings of Adrian van Kaam, who has written over 75 books and 360 articles (Muto & Martin 2009), I was quite struck by the similarities in outlook and perspective on psychology between him and Ken Wilber. This similarity is inclusive even of van Kaam's establishment of an organization whose explicit purpose was to explore the integration of virtually all facets of life. Although Van Kaam was coming from a universal Catholic religious perspective (see here and Muto & Martin, 2009), his intensive focus on integrating diverse psychologies sounds quite similar to me to the basic premise of Wilber's Integral Institute organization.

In my opinion, it would have been interesting, appropriate, and academically respectful for Wilber to acknowledge the integral contributions of Adrian van Kaam along with Fechner, James, Baldwin, and the others who Wilber respectfully acknowledged in his informal history of the precursors of integral psychology. Van Kaam's Institute of Formative Spirituality was in full force when Wilber wrote his first book The Spectrum of Consciousness (Wilber, 1977), but I do not recall any mention of van Kaam in any of Wilber's books, and I have read nearly all of them. This is not to take away from what I believe is an enormous contribution that Wilber has made to psychology and to philosophy in his integral approach. But I contend that there is a missing link in how Wilber has portrayed the development of integral psychology, and I believe that acknowledgement and respect should be given to Adrian van Kaam for the significant role that he played in the integral scheme of things.

When van Kaam developed his ideas about anthropological psychology in the mid 1900s, the world of psychology was torn apart between Rogers' client centered therapy and Skinner's behaviorism. Neo-Freudian and Jungian psychodynamic theories were also prominent at this time, and I believe that van Kaam had a deep and far reaching perspective to “integrate” (see Benjamin, 2007) all these diverse psychologies that he referred to as “differential” psychologies. Van Kaam also wrote about extending the strict quantitative experimental classification of what science is, allowing for non-quantitative phenomenological explorations of experience, which has been gradually increasing in acceptance by the scientific mainstream in the context of qualitative science (Creswell, 2007, Moustakas, 1994). For all these reasons, I consider Adrian van Kaam to be the “missing link” of integral psychology, and this brief article pays tribute to him for his unacknowledged role in the formation of Ken Wilber's integral psychology.


Benjamin, E. (2007). Integral vs. integative. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from

Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative inquiry & research design. London: Sage.

Muto, S. A., & Martin, F. (2009). Portrait of Adrian van Kaam and Humanistic Psychology. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 49(3), 355-375.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Paulsen, D. (2007). Wilber's integral philosophy: A summary and critique. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48(3), 364-388.

Van Kaam, A. (1966). Existential foundations of psychology. New York: Lanham.

Wilber, K. (1977). The spectrum of consciousness. Wheaton, Ill. Quest Books.

Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology: Consciousness, spirit, psychology, therapy. Boston: Shambhala.

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