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

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Edward Berge has been studying all things integral since 1998. He graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Arizona State University and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society. By profession he has been a massage therapist and is currently a professional liability insurance underwriter focusing on medical malpractice. By avocation he is dancer, researcher, writer, and art and literary lover and critic.

Constructive and Deconstructive Postmodernism

Edward Berge

Wilber's critique of so-called deconstructive postmodernism is woefully inadequate by anyone laying claim to the moniker of integralist.

Gary Hampson (2007), in his Integral Review article “Integral re-view postmodernism,” discussed how Wilber distinguishes constructive and deconstructive postmodernism. The latter is a lower level of postformal development (green) while the former is a higher postformal development (teal and above). Aside from Hampson questioning the validity of deconstruction as relativistic he also questions this placement and suggests that perhaps they are both sides of the same postformal coin (level).

In this regard Mark Edwards (2010) says:

“I regard integral metastudies as a counterpart to the more typical forms of decentering and deconstructing postmodernism.... These two postmodern activities are fundamentally different and provide critical counterpoints for each other's development. Decentering, pluralist postmodern research is not something I believe is to be integrated within an integral metastudies.... This is not a developmental modernism versus postmodernism battle. It is an ongoing complementarity (e.g., Plato and Aristotle). An integral metastudies should not be seen as a rational project of integrating every perspective, concept, paradigm, or cultural tradition within its domain. There must be some things that, by definition, lie outside of its capacities to accommodate and explain. Consequently, an integral metastudies needs a decentering postmodernism that it cannot integrate, that lies outside of its scientific and systematic purview, which continually challenges it and is critical of its generalizations, abstractions, and universalizings. The decentering form of particularizing postmodernism is not something that integral metatheory can locate or neatly categorize somewhere within its general frameworks. Decentering postmodernism will always provide a source of critical insight and substantive opposition to the generalizing goals of an integral metastudies. In the same way that postmodernism often misunderstands integrative approaches as just some form of scientific monism, there is a danger that integral researchers can misrepresent the decentering and localizing concerns of postmodernism as simple relativism” (408 - 09).

Recent work on metatheory suggests that postmodern decentering is itself a form of metatheory, a complement to the more constructive kind. For example in the special Integral Review issue on metatheory Steven Wallis (2010) says:

"It may be noted that six of our authors describe metatheory as making implicit assumptions explicit, analysis of assumptions, analysis of underlying structure, and the analysis of structure. These are essentially deconstructive approaches. In contrast to this deconstructive approach, metatheory may also be understood to integrate multiple theories. The two approaches may be inseparable as one cannot combine or integrate two theories without also integrating the assumptions, structures, and concepts of those theories. In short, metatheory (as the study of theory) may be conducted in at least two ways. It may be integrative (where multiple theories are combined). It may be deconstructive (where theories are parsed into their constituent components for analysis and/or recombination). Either way, the process leads to the creation of a metatheory, metatheorum, or a 'theory of theory'” (78).

Hampson further emphasizes that seeing the two forms of postmodernism as antithetical is representative of formal reasoning:

"Notions of construction and deconstruction as necessary adversaries can appropriately be seen to stem from an either/or mindset. Thinking dialectically, their relationship can fruitfully be rather understood as complexly interpenetrating. Deconstructive and reconstructive postmodernisms share one genealogy which itself has a dialectical underpinning" (151).

Postformal reasoning in this context sees the relationship of these two forms as complexly interpenetrating and dialectical. The above quotes by the other authors make this explicit as well. So how is it that Wilber came to see them as antithetical and/or one a lower/higher level to the other? Wilber gets at least some of his criticism from David Ray Griffin. For example, Griffin (1989) says:

“A philosophical postmodernism inspired variously by...Jacques Derrida and other recent French thinkers....can be called deconstructive or eliminative postmodernism. It overcomes the modern worldview with an anti-worldview.... This type of postmodern thought issues in relativism, even nihilism” (xii).

As but one of several examples Wilber says in the Introduction to Volume 6 of the Collected Works (see citation):

“Deconstructive postmodernism thus began to actively fight any higher stages of growth, often turning academia into a charnel ground of deconstructive fury. Little new was created; past glories were simply torn down. Little novel was constructed; previous constructions were merely deconstructed. Few new buildings were erected; old ones were simply blown up. Postmodernism often degenerated into the nihilism and narcissism.”

Catherine Keller studied with Griffin at Claremont School of Theology. This is what she has to say (2002):

“I will suggest that his [Griffin's] analysis suffers from a fallacy of misplaced opposition....he has mounted the argument against a deconstruction of his own invention.... Reconstructive postmodernism depends on deconstruction as much as much as deconstruction depends on the speculative schemes it deconstructs” (3-4).

She goes on to note that Griffin does not engage Derrida or the other French deconstructionists but rather disputes US philosophers that have taken up the study. We can see that Luis Pedraja (1999) also disagrees with Griffin's diagnosis regarding Derrida, and to the contrary finds much akin with him and Whitehead:

“I am also breaking ranks with those, like Griffin, who place Whitehead in direct contrast to postmodern deconstructionists.... While Griffin's interpretation of Whitehead merits serious consideration, it still attempts to salvage a 'centeredness' which is difficult to maintain in Whitehead's philosophy....we also must recognize that Whitehead's critique of modernism radically deconstructs the possibility of an unbiased, axiomatic center that can be abstracted from the whole. This does not mean that Whitehead advocates a radical relativism or a denial of freedom like some advocates of deconstruction. But neither does Derrida's philosophy in its basic presuppositions advocate a radical relativism and a denial of freedom as some of his interpreters propose.”

We can see that the “centeredness” and “unbiased, axiomatic center that can be abstracted from the whole” Griffin salvages is akin to Wilber's, which is what the latter uses as one of the rationales for his own constructive or integral postmodernism. It is questionable that such was present in Whitehead, as the likes of Pedraja and Keller [1] will attest. And even without such a center the latter do not find that Whitehead, or Derrida, descend into relativistic pluralism.

Habermas is another of Wilber's sources for criticism of decon pomo. But how accurate is Habermas' criticism in light of the above references? Raymond van de Wiel (2004) echoes Keller above on Habermas' critique:

"This evaluation is very unfortunate, not to say ill-advised, because it is based on the very limited, 'Americanised' version of deconstruction.... It is not considered by Habermas that Derrida's deconstruction of the metaphysical tradition might bring him close to his own pragmatism.... If one reads Derrida's criticism of Husserl in a slightly more sympathetic way, one might even find a few parallels in Derrida's and Habermas' work” (3-4).

He goes on to suggest, much like I did in “What 'is' the diffèrance?” (2012) with Wilber, that Habermas is using a Hegelian (formal) logic here, which is consistent with Hampson's observations above:

“What we need, I will argue, is to move in a non-dialectical [non Hegelian?] way 'beyond' the simplistic oppositionalism which has prevented, and continues to prevent, both the 'post' and its serious critics to explore the fertile terrain of their intersection” (2).

There is just too much postformal support questioning Wilber's reduction of Derridaean deconstruction. I have used several sources, some that suggest Wilber's dichotomous parsing is indicative of an either/or formal operational approach. Others may not agree with that but nonetheless maintain that the Wilberian critique (via Griffin and Habermas) leaves much to be desired, and just might be rooted in its own metaphysical prejudices. (If by metaphysical we mean the need to still find an unbiased, axiomatic center.) While still others see con and decon pomo as complementary and necessarily interpenetrating, much like we've seen as indicative of postmetaphysical thinking in “What 'is' the diffèrance?” In any event, Wilber's critique of so-called deconstructive postmodernism is woefully inadequate by anyone laying claim to the moniker of integralist.


[1] In this regard also see a more recent book that Keller edited, Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation (Taylor and Francis, 2010).

Works Cited:

Berge, E. (2012). “What 'is' the diffèrance?” Accessed 4/1/12 from

Edwards, M. G. (2010) "'Of Elephants and Butterflies: An Integral Metatheory for Organizational Transformation," in Integral Theory in Action: Applied, Theoretical, and Critical Perspectives on the AQAL Model, Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (Ed.) Albany, NY: SUNY Press, pp.385-412.

Griffin, D.R. (1989). Varieties of Postmodern Thought (SUNY Press)

Hampson, G. (2007). "Integral re-views postmodernism: the way out is through." Integral Review 4.

Keller, C. (2002). Process and Difference (SUNY Press)

Keller, C. and Schneider, C. (ed). Polydoxy: Theology of Multiplicity and Relation (Taylor and Francis, 2010).

Pedraja, L. (1999). “Whitehead, deconstruction and postmodernism.” Process Studies 28 (1/2): 68 - 84

van de Wiel, R. (2004). “From post to neo and back: Habermas and Derrida.” Accessed 3/29/12 at

Wallis, S. (2010) "Toward a science of metatheory," Integral Review 6:3, July.

Wilber, K. (no date). “Introduction to Volume 6 of the Collected Works.” Accessed 3/29/12 at

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