What is, and what do you think about, the role of Agape in Integral Theory? Wilber has talked fairly frequently about the interplay of Eros and Agape -- understood primarily as ascending and descending movements -- in a number of his works, but arguably more emphasis has been placed on Eros in Integral thought. I was prompted to reconsider Wilber's framing and use of these concepts by something I was reading by William Desmond (and I'll talk about this in more detail later). For now, I'd just like to ask: What are your thoughts on Agape, and how do you see it showing up -- both explicitly and implicitly -- in Integral Theory?

(This thread was originally posted on the Facebook version of this site.  For those with access, there is a good, lengthy conversation taking place there).

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Here are two more of my posts to the FB discussion:

I haven't had time to write much today. Briefly, in Christian thought, there is a kenotic element to agape: a movement (self-transcendence) towards the other, for the other / as the other. Desmond distinguishes this from eros, which moves towards the other for the self (how the other may (ful)fill the self, whether through passionate embrace or through dialectical inclusion). Agapeic self-transcendence, here, may contribute towards the others' greater determination (integration, consolidation) or it may also 'open' the other, change or transform the other.
Desmond associates agape with the excessive plenitude of being which always, at all points, exceeds determination -- including all processes of integration, (holonic) individuation, etc. This excess is the play of the 'between,' the fertile gap between subject and object and other determinate domains (like the plus-sign of the quadrants). The between as the given 'too muchness' of being is not itself a determinate something but rather allows for all determining, all erotic becoming. Agape here is plenipotency, a dynamism which cannot be finally fixed and which 'gives' otherness (diversification, determination) as and for others, while eros is found in/as the self-determination and self-mediation of all emergent forms (where the movement towards otherness is for the enhancement of the self).


I'm really enjoying this conversation -- big appreciation to everyone who is participating in it.
I've been referring to the work of William Desmond throughout the conversation, not because I think he should necessarily be the authority on these matte
rs, but simply because reading his work prompted me to start thinking anew about several elements of Integral Theory, its emphases, etc.

What his work highlights for me is that there is perhaps a tension in IT between its holonic basis and its frequent dialectical presentation. In a number of places, Wilber equates vision-logic or integral thinking with dialectical thinking. From a metaxological perspective, there is certainly a dialectical 'moment' to integrative thinking, but dialectic itself is inadequate to the 'fullness' of a holonic understanding of the community of being. For dialectical understanding, the 'other' is sublated as one pole of a greater, self-mediating, self-determining whole (transcend-and-include). There is a way of understanding a holon in dialectical terms: it is a self-mediating whole which sublates (includes and integrates) lower wholes, while also itself being a sublated part of a greater whole, all the way up, all the way down. But if, as Desmond argues, any self-transcending integrity (holon) is not only a self-mediating dialectical whole, but open beyond itself, with an infinite depth at work in its self-mediation and an openness to the excess of the between, then a community of such beings cannot be seen as fully dialectically subsumed in a greater self-mediating whole. Such beings 'escape' and exceed any total dialectical subsumption. Such beings can participate in and co-constitute greater wholes, but will also always exceed (or withdraw from) any 'inclusion' and resist final determination. In Desmond's terms: "The community of being is not an inclusive totality, but a being together in transcendence of which there is no totalization."

In other words, as stated above, dialectical metaphysics is insufficient for the richness of such a holonic* community. (Desmond would say that dialectic absolutized undermines dialectic.) Wilber, however -- while he does offer helpful qualifications about wholeness vs totality such as in the passage David quoted -- tends frequently to describe holonic being in primarily dialectical terms, as processes of ongoing dialectical transcendence and inclusion. In the quote David shared, he limits the possibility of 'totalization' of the whole not through an acknowledgement of the insufficiency of the dialectical process of transcend-and-include self-mediation and self-determination to account for the fullness of being(s), but by arguing that one whole will be dialectically subsumed by another whole, ongoingly.

This view carries over into his discussion of agape. For him, agape is framed within the terms of dialectic: it is the 'include' part of transcend and include. For Desmond, however, as I stated in my previous post, agape is related to the plenipotent, inexhaustible 'too muchness' of being -- being-towards-other -- that both transcends and allows for the dialectical self-determination of inidividual holons or integrities (as the play of eros). My sense is that Desmond's post-dialectical, metaxological understanding is quite compatible with many elements of IT, but the parallel emphasis in IT on dialectic occludes (or stops short of fully actualizing) the implications of its holonic view -- including for the meaning of agape.

* Maybe such a view, since it offers a ruptured holism (recognizing the gifts and limitations of both atomism and holism, and also escaping or exceeding dialectical enclosure), could be called strange holonics.

Here's another link brotha's and sista's: 


I remember this young man from zaadz. What I found interesting about his framing is the modernist vocabulary he uses. We are a  part of this interactive process of symbiosis and perhaps osmosis. Sometimes these 'older' words ( eros/agape) carry too much baggage and the refresh button is not such a bad idea. Anyway, I think that young man is touching on similar themes there, so have at it. Another way to put this might be the framing of philosophy and science in hipper language.

Or not: 

Modernity sometimes shows a stupidly antagonistic attitude to the longer intellectual and spiritual traditions of the West – in theology and philosophy. This leads to the invention of new wheels, but these wheels are not necessarily better helpers to motility of spirit. Bad wheels bring motion to a standstill and we cannot move forward. Sometimes we need to rock backwards to get out of a rut and budge the jam and then roll with release into the future. I would say Radical Orthodoxy has something of this rocking motion – and with its releasing promise. Rocking back allows forward release. 

That's a quote from Desmond. Maybe it's not either or but both old and new. Strange holonics is pretty cool.

Hi, Andrew, I've been meaning to respond for awhile.  I hear you on the limitations of the eros/agape language.  I have never used either much in my own thinking and reflection on these topics, and only started thinking of them (and how they show up in Integral Theory) when I started reading Desmond.  They are not needed for doing science, in my opinion, but while I don't often use them even philosophically, I don't have a problem with their being used metaphysically or phenemonologically (as some of the approaches we're considering here do).

Thank you for posting the link to Matthew's article.  I've followed his work periodically since our Zaadz/Gaia days and have appreciated how he has been developing his views in dialogue with Whitehead and other thinkers.  He's definitely circulating through some of the same conceptual territory we've been exploring here.

As for folks who have experienced an 'agape ___ force,' can you say more about that?  Are you describing your own experience?

Hi Bruce, ah yes, Matthew! Very good! 

First I will offer up this link: 


And within the polarity of the two choices offered in the paper--post-metaphysical god-talk or the rise of fundamentalist god-talk-- I believe, recently, I've been trying to wedge a 'talk' in-between these two choices ( alternate metaphysics) albeit one that isn't supernatural per se. Anything that I've ever experienced has been experienced within my own body mind; that is to say that I've never experienced Jesus in the way that the disciple Thomas did ( as a resurrected god-man that he could touch physically while knowing he was touching an apparently resurrected being). I never did get into how that might be possible , though, in the theology I laid out in the Noah thread. Those ideas would also explain why there never will be or could be a second coming as traditionally espoused. At the same time i very much approve of post-metaphysical god-talk.

In this thread we discussed Wilber's conception of subsistence, which is somewhat akin to the concept of the withdrawn excess we've seen above in Desmond, Cameron and the OOO folks. But Wilber's subsistence is not quite the same. In the linked thread you can skip to the parts on subsistence by doing a search on that term. Although other instances of the idea are discussed throughout in how Wilber formulates the causal/relative.

Hey Bruce, yes, those theological theories of mine do involve past religious tropes. But I think humanity is capable of something completely fresh and new when it comes to god-talk, too. 

Agape is kenotic, self-emptying and giving; it transcends towards other for the other; it is thus nourishing and creative, generative for the other in its otherness, as a good; it is an ecstatic power-for, a moving out without (hope or need for) return. In Desmond's terms, agape points to the overdetermination of beings in the between, multiply mediated and mediating, comprising but always escaping holonic closure (what I've called 'strange holonics'). As such, agape cannot be captured or fully represented in dialectical language, since the dialectical movement of 'transcend and include' is a movement of self-mediation, of (erotic) transcendence towards the other for the self. Dialectical 'inclusion' might be framed as agapeic embrace, as Wilber does, but this embrace is erotic in its self-reference, in its self-expansion and enhancement; at the least, it falls short of the fuller (post-dialectical, metaxological) framing that Desmond gives to it.

Here are the definitions of the four drives of individual holons from the Integral Glossary.

Agape: One of the four main drives of an individual holon, along with Eros, agency, and communion. The vertical drive of the higher to embrace, enfold, or “love” the lower; self-immanence. Also refers to the involutionary force that pulls evolution from above. Its complementary opposite is Eros. Its pathological expression is Thanatos.

Eros: One of the four main drives of an individual holon, along with Agape, agency, and communion. The vertical drive of the lower to “reach up” towards the higher; self-transcendence. The urge to find higher, deeper, and wider wholeness. Its complementary opposite is Agape. Its pathological expression is Phobos.

agency: One of the four main drives of an individual holon, along with communion, Eros, and Agape. The horizontal drive for self-preservation, autonomy, and wholeness. The drive to be a whole and not a part. Its complementary opposite is communion. Its pathological expression is alienation, repression, rigid autonomy, and hyperagency.

communion: One of the four main drives of an individual holon, along with agency, Eros, and Agape. The horizontal drive for self-adaptation, partness, and joining with others. The drive to be part of a larger whole. Its complementary opposite is agency. Its pathological expression is fusion, herd mentality, and hypercommunion.

In my view, these drives neither individually nor taken together capture the meaning of agape as Desmond uses it (a use which is consonant with many of the 'traditional' connotations of agape/kenosis).

So we might say that kennilingus has kenosis, if by that we take the suffix osis added to ken:

-osis: a suffix occurring in nouns that denote actions, conditions, or states, especially disorders or abnormal states.

Hahaha, yeah, if you want to ruin that word!

Interesting about Lingam's notion of agape, when dysfunctional it becomes Thanatos. It reminded me of the suicidal urge expressed through ultimate love of all Others, the sacrifice of Christ. And this discussion of Black Swan.

Ken-osis.  Nice.  As they say in the deconstructed timeline season of Arrested Development: "You have all the itis-es & a host of osis-es."

So I'm looking from the perspective summarized in my The "Gap" in Universal Agape.  And that is that Agape is not only or specially a kenotic, self-emptying phenomenon.  That is just a facet, one of the more common manifestations.  Who transcends for the other?  And what is accomplished?  And how is always done?

Normally the definition is given in mystic idealist terms with a heavy emphasis on subjectivity and contemplative ethics.  But there is nothing which requires this to be the central area of definition.  In fact it natural that Christian theologians would focus here but they are not special. 

When a being is impulsed to release self-concern for the sake of another -- that other is already joined with it in a participatory and interpretive field of coherence which is secured through the act of mutual sacrifice exchanged between its contributing entities.  The gesture of moving outward without hope or need for return is a description of the subjective perception by an entity of the urge to serve beyond itself among some field of other entities. 

I have yet to see an argument which makes it necessary for this experience to grounded in or associated with a trans-dialectical escape from holonic closure.  As I lay out in the paper on this topic, there is an attractive trans-holonic influence but it should not be conflated with agape. 

So, roughly speaking, I am saying that Desmond is conflating Agape (which can be defined "dialectically") with the trans-dialectical, trans-holonic influence which appears as elements of both Eros and Agape.  If he wants to use "agape" to mean the trans-holonic influence then he must sift out the characteristics which are fully explainable as the inclusionary/consolidating influence of holonic fields.  Otherwise only a metaphysical God concept can permit both.

The Integral Glossary, of course, skews its definition to describe common ways that these forces show up for individual holons.  There is nothing in that definition, however, which disagrees with what I have been saying.  The only point I would contest is that Thanatos is NOT necessarily the pathological expression of Agape.  However there are many instances in which that is true. 

Generally speaking I contest the overly simplistic conflation of involution/evolution, agape/eros & masculine/feminine.  As I cover in the appendix to the paper, there are good reasons for thinking that we should separate these pairs... and in some cases consider that they are not reciprocal pairs but only two examples of a set. However agency/communion has a much stronger conceptual relationship to eros/agape than do the other pairs.

In my view, these drives neither individually nor taken together capture the meaning of agape as Desmond uses it (a use which is consonant with many of the 'traditional' connotations of agape/kenosis).

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