I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the following article looks like a very relevant and timely one for us here at IPS.  Wilber is responding to the recent association of Integral Theory with Critical Realism (via Sean at Meta-Integral), and likely also to critiques of Integral Theory offered by Critical Realists.  Wilber said on a recent phone call that he was planning to issue a written defense of IT and critique of CR, in light of the emerging association of the two schools through Sean's work, so this appears to be it -- or the first of it. 

Response to Critical Theory in Defense of Integral Theory

(I think he should have said "Critical Realism" rather than "Critical Theory" in his title; they aren't the same.)

Also, I'm not sure, but it's possible that my paper -- which he read and discussed with me -- might have also prompted this in part, since I mention in it a possible critique of IT from a CR point of view, i.e. that it is committing the epistemic fallacy, and I attempt to offer my own articulation of how integral avoids that fallacy.


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Just reading the first couple of paragraphs it seems like nothing new. I cannot speak for critical realism, other than translated through Bryant. It seems Wilber is akin to Bryant in that there is some suobject (machine) always doing the translating (epistemic) of the ontic, which isn't necessarily human. But I still sense the more subtle correlationism in Wilber of the metaphysics of presence, for we don't see the kind of ontic withdrawal inherent to any suobject as in Bryant (or Derridude). Hence any given epistemic translation is and always will be incomplete at best, for the ontic is beyond any individual and even all collective translations. There is no causal awareness or translation of it all at the highest levels of either humanity or the universe itself, no consciousness per se. Or as Wilber said:

"...and all the way to the macro practices of meditation, where transcendence is the overall goal and occurs through the objectification of state-stages from gross to subtle to causal to True Self to ultimate Spirit (with each state-stage transcending and including its predecessor—the subject of one becoming the object of the next).  This Eros (which certainly can be viewed as spiritual) is a primary driver of evolution itself, starting all the way back with the Big Bang and all the way through to ultimate Enlightenment."

Yes, I just finished reading it through this morning.  I didn't notice anything new, either, from what has already been presented in the Kosmos excerpts, but I also was thinking that the discussion misses the issue of "withdrawal" as presented by other speculative realists.  I am not certain about Bhaskar's understanding of the relation of epistemology and ontology (whether he "fractures" them in the way Wilber argues), but that certainly isn't the case in OOO.  I have some comments on some of his specific arguments, which I will post when I have the time.


As an aside, I wrote to the Integral Life staff and told them that the reference to Critical Theory in the title was likely a mistake and that it should be changed to Critical Realism, and they have just updated that.

And let us not forget how the embodied realists like L&J deal with the issue of the withdrawn via the cognitive unconscious.

Here's my (initial, partial) response to Wilber's response to Critical Realism:


Wilber:  Integral Theory (IT) and Critical Realism (CR) share many items in common, but there are some deep differences as well.  To begin with, Critical Realism separates epistemology and ontology, and makes ontology the level of the “real”; whereas, for Integral Theory, epistemology and ontology cannot so be fragmented and fractured, but rather are two correlative dimensions of every Whole occasion (part of the tetra-dimension of every holon). 

I think an important distinction needs to be made here.  Ontology and epistemology both refer to forms of knowing or theorizing (both end in -ology, indicating modes of understanding).  I think one of Bhaskar's concerns is that how we know something is often, at least in some strands of postmodern thought, conflated with what something is.  This results, in practice, in ontological questions and discussions often being translated as, or reduced to, epistemological ones.  Bhaskar calls this the epistemic fallacy and wants to clear space for ontological discourse that neither subordinates nor reduces being to our modes of access to being (which is what you find in strong postmodern constructivist theorizing).  Being, in some sense, also resists our knowing of it, withdraws from our knowing of it, and/or retains elements that remain unactualized by our present modes of interaction or enaction (at any given time).

Although, to my knowledge, Bhaskar does not make this particular distinction, I think the discussion can be clarified if we distinguish ontology from the ontic.  The ontic is being per se; ontology is a field of knowledge which addresses the ontic.  Bhaskar is saying two things, I believe: 1) the ontic exceeds our knowing of it, and is not merely a product of our knowing of it; and 2) therefore ontology, our reasoning about what being is or what beings are, should not be wholly subordinated to epistemology. The philosophical movement called Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) would add that the ontic exceeds, or is not simply and wholly reducible to, anything's knowing of anything else (taking account of how atoms or cells or animals might also encounter each other). 

Wilber:  [Critical] Realism maintains that there are ontological realities that are not dependent upon humans or human theories -— including much of the level of the “real” -— including items such as atoms, molecules, cells, etc. -— and IT agrees, with one important difference: IT is panpsychic (a term I’m not fond of, preferring “pan‑interiorist,” meaning all beings have interiors or proto-consciousness, a la Whitehead, Peirce, Leibnitz, etc.) -— to wit, atoms do not depend upon being known by humans, but they do depend upon being known by each other.  The “prehension” aspect of atoms (proto-knowing, proto-feeling, proto-consciousness) helps to co-enact the being or ontology aspect of the atoms for each other -— their own epistemology and ontology are thus inseparable and co-creative.  The atom’s prehension is part of its very ontology (and vice versa), and as each atom prehends its predecessor, it is instrumental in bringing it forth or enacting it, just as its own being will depend in part on being prehended/known/included by its own successor.  If, for the moment, we leave Quantum Mechanics out of the picture (see below), none of this depends on humans for its existence or being, and yet the atom’s prehension-feeling-knowing is an intrinsic part of this level of the “real.”  Consciousness is not something that can be sucked out of being to leave an awareness-free “ontology” lying around waiting to be known by some other sentient being; consciousness, rather, goes all the way down, and forms part of the intrinsic awareness and intrinsic creativity of each ontological being or holon.  Whitehead’s “ultimate category” -— namely, “the creative advance into novelty” —- is part of the prehension of each and every being in existence, and the creative-part cannot be ripped from the being‑part without severe violence.  To postulate the most fundamental level of reality as merely ontology—being without knowing or consciousness or creativity—is basically a 1st-tier move that shatters the Wholeness of this and every real occasion.

As I was arguing above, it seems to me that Bhaskar's project is to legitimate and clear theoretical space for ontological discussion (which had become somewhat "uncool" in the postmodern climate).  But beyond this, he is attempting also to transcendentally deduce and articulate those ontic conditions that are required for the practice of science to be possible and intelligible.  If an object's being were identical to our knowing of it -- if its being were wholly exhausted by, or wholly actualized by and immediately and nakedly present to, our awareness -- then experimental activity would not make sense, because there would be nothing else to discover about it.  This is why Bhaskar says we need to differentiate ontology from epistemology:  the ontic nature of a being is not co-extensive with and not a mere product of our knowing of it.  It exceeds us, it can surprise and elude us.  This is a different claim, in my view, than arguing whether or not reality is "panpsychic."

Influenced by my understanding of arguments developed by OOO (which itself draws on Bhaskar's work, but which is a panpsychic model [like Wilber's, in some ways]), I would like to suggest that Bhaskar's concern to differentiate (though not divorce) ontology and epistemology in this way would still be valid in a panexperientialist framework, and is not limited in its relevance simply to the practice of science.   OOO, for instance, develops this argument in relation to multiple fields of knowledge and practice, not just science.  From a Bhaskar-(and Heidegger-)influenced OOO point of view, the being of an object withdraws from, and exceeds, any particular knowing occasion: an atom's knowing of another atom does not exhaust that atom; that atom's knowing of itself does not exhaust itself; a scientist's knowing of an atom does not fully capture the being of the atom.   The ontic exceeds the actual, the enacted.  This is an ontology which eschews the metaphysics of presence, in other words. 

One reason for holding a view such as this, as Graham Harman and others develop it, is that, if the being of objects were wholly exhausted in the actual -- in their present being-known by, or relations to, other objects or themselves -- then the universe would be a frozen tableau, without reason to change, because there would be nothing in reserve.  Reality would be "spent" or "exhausted" in the present knowing/relational field.

There's more to discuss here, some of which I take up in a forthcoming paper. And I may say more here, in subsequent responses.  For now, I just wanted to say that I appreciate Wilber's concern that ontology and epistemology not be fragmented from each other, and (being an Integralist myself) that is a concern I share, but I also think Bhaskar's general argument about the being of things not being reducible to our knowing of them is worth considering even in a panpsychic scheme.  This is one definition of the real (in the CR and OOO worlds of thought): a being's reality is its irreducibility to our consciousness of it or our descriptions of it.  Wilber notes above that atoms are not dependent for their being on us, but their being is dependent on their knowing of each other.  But from the point of view I described above, there is no knowing occasion which wholly constitutes or determines the being of another, on any level.

This is a debatable issue, of course, but it is a subtly but significantly different issue than the one Wilber critiqued above: the materialist idea that reality consists of insentient atoms and quarks and other frisky dirt, with consciousness only emerging much later.

One point for the moment. Wilber speaks out of both sides of his mouth when he says ontology and epistemology cannot be separated, for that it exactly what he does with the causal realm versus the created, relative plane. His causal is beyond time and form and apparently can exist without form in some Platonic ideal. In that sense it is the Real ontic, not the shadows or mere reflections on the created relative world.

And yet this Real is knowable by direct access via nirodha states. So in that sense the -ologies are not separated, at least in terms of human response to it. One question is: Is this the kind of consciousness that goes all the way down? No, as he is clear that pre-hension, while a form of awareness of other is not the kind of self-consciousness that arises at a particular stage of human development. I would agree that human consciousness is indeed another ballgame, but question that it can achieve full, direct access with the Real, which implies the metaphysics of presence mentioned above. Wilber might argue not so, since when we are not in the causal state we return to the relative plane and hence maya. But this doesn't account for that time when we are in nirodha, which apparently is completely present in all there is, was and ever will be.

Don't get me wrong; I have no doubts that we humans can experience consciousness without an object. It just ain't the causal realm. And it ain't full present awareness of All, just our psychoneuroecological embodiment. And that is just an infinitesimal fraction of 'what it is.' See the states thread for more on that.

Btw, Bhaskar has turned to this Vedantic causal business himself in his later and current career. See this thread for more on that.

At the end of p.1 of the Lingam's critique I appreciate how he's noting that a subjective frame of some kind is necessary for us to say anything about the ontic. Which of course he doesn't limit to humans but applies to holons all the way. He relates it to both Whitehead and Peirce but I also see Bryant in this, in that any machine interprets or translates its interactions. And yet any machine never realizes the full monty, so to speak, either in another or in itself, given the always withdrawn nature of the ontic. There is always that reserve that doesn't enter into manifestation, hence any machine can only say so much to communicate with another based on its translations. Granted saying implies a human communication, but recall our discussion of rhetaphor,* and how any machine engages in signs and communication appropriate to its structural limitations.

And as to the withdrawn nature of the ontic. recall previous discussion about kennilingual distinction between the causal and the relative planes (see this post and following). And the differences between that version and Bryant's more immanent version.

* See this post and several that follow before arriving at the theurjianism rhetaphor for this phenomenon.

Yes, I appreciate that, as well.  OOO writers do acknowledge that (and Bryant's model of interpretive machines support that), but it seems OOO writers want mostly just to set it aside:  yes, we are interpreting and filtering, but let's not fret about that; let's just go ahead and give it our best shot, instead of throwing up our hands and swearing off grand narratives about the nature of being.

On the other hand, I also notice that, while Wilber contextualizes Bhaskar's ontology in this way (a Turquoise model of being that folks at other levels will likely reject), he does not (in this excerpt at least) do that about his own. 

Interestingly enough, in my research into neuroscience, aside from the likes of Thompson or Damasio, the field has a paucity of data on consciousness in general and the self system in particular. It's taboo, being not only something that is difficult to 'prove' but associated with Decartes' ghost in the machine so not even worthy of investigation. Or at best an illusory 'interpreter' that makes up stories after the fact of nonconscious processes, a mere epiphenomenal aftereffect that while perhaps useful is not 'real.' (For example, Gazzaniga.) So despite my qualms, in that sense I appreciate Wilber for showing how the self is not itself just a static thing but evolves through stages, enacting different worldspaces along the way. 

Back to Wilber on p.2, I appreciate his point that we cannot know the interior of the frog, it's zone 1. This is accepted in OOO as well. It's just that it seems implicit--here, at least; it is explicit when we get to meditating humans--that a suobject knows itself from zone 1. To some degree perhaps, but fully? Isn’t that the whole (pun intended) point of an integral model, to see any phenomenon (aka suobject) from as many perspectives and/or enacted paradigms, from any many levels as possible, to get a better understanding? And even then, it is not by any means a complete or full understanding, just because it is integral. 

And I must differ with Wilber when he says that the ‘real’ must be attached to a knowing suobject of some kind: “In actuality it is either the product of both the prehensive-feeling-knowing plus holonic-being-isness of each of the holons at the particular level of the real being described (e.g., quarks, atoms, molecules, genetics) and their relations—all of which are tetra-enacted and tetra-evolved; and/or it is the result of the way the world emerges and is tetra-enacted at and from a particular level of consciousness-being.” 

Not the phrase “in actuality.” Here Bryant makes a key distinction between the virtual proper being and the actual local manifestation. Hence the ‘actual’ is how a suobject relates to others and its environment, but the virtual never fully enters into the actual. Granted Wilber too makes the distinction between the causal and the manifest, but the difference between his causal and Bryant’s virtual has been discussed above and elsewhere. For the moment we might say Wilber is sneaking in his ‘actual’ real into his causal ‘real’ when he asserts the causal too is enacted and accessible to direct awareness (zone 1).

Critical Theory??? Serious gaff there, Kenny!!

This is interesting from p. 2:

"These levels of being-consciousness (red, amber, orange, green, turquoise, etc.) are not different interpretations of a one, single, pregiven reality or world, but are themselves actually different worlds in deep structure."

Here Bryant and Morton would agree, or as they phrase it: "There is no environment." Or as I phrase it: "There is no assholon." Whatever reality we know or perceive is filtered through our structural apparatus, which structure itself evolves.

And of course the point that we must use multiple enacted methodologies, from multiple sources, to get a bigger picture of what the real is. Which methodologies and structural sources are themselves evolving and changing, hence so is the 'integral' picture.

He also brings in Peirce not only to support no assholons but that each holon uses semiotics, not just translation but signals to communicate those translations. Again my notion of rhetaphor.

Wilber then says CR was used to justify the scientific method, which method is not likely the same across methodologies and hence might not disclose or enact other paradigms. Bryant uses Bhaskar's transcendental deduction though in a much broader sense. And I think it is akin to Wilber doing the same with his 3-step process for any domain: do the exercise, have the experience, corroborate with peers.* That method is not specific to any domain, and seems to be the scientific method. So not sure what he's bitching about here unless it's in applying that method only to the 'material' or right quadrants.

I also appreciate his bringing in QM and that the 'real' changes depending on the measurements made. It's not that the read is limited to those measurements, for give the virtual infinity of measurements (or structural enactments-translations) we never get at the final and Whole Real. Again agreeing with our OOO brethren.

And yet... There's still the problem of his full enlightenment, where only the relative goes through this process and the causal does not. Again, see previous posts above about how the causal is not the same as virtual proper being or the withdrawn according to OOO.

* "Each valid mode of knowing consists of an injunction, an apprehension, and a confirmation." (My emphasis.) See this source.

Going back to the causal and its relation to the relative, see this post for some summary SES quotes and commentary.

Yes, as I mentioned above, the Lingam is explicit at the end of p. 2, in that he sees CR as very subtly reducing the ontic to the right hand quadrants. As I said, I'm not familiar with Bhaskar other than through Bryant and some cursory reading of Bhaskar himself, but I know Bryant is certainly not guilty of this.

P. 3 uses endnote 7 of Excerpt B on the difference between existence and subsistence. His first point is that pre-hension goes all the way down, which is consistent with OOO. And his claim that a suobject's interpretation "contributes" to its ontic being is also acceptable. But per Bryant the ontic is never fully determinable by the epistemic. As I've said above, the Lingam doesn't think so either because his Causal is beyond the relative. But the difference is that his Causal is fully knowable through the intentional evocation of the nirodha state, at least for humanity. So this is consistent with his claim that "neither being nor consciousness can be separated from the other, at any level." But for an amoeba? It certainly pre-hends something, but does it apprehend ultimate enlightenment. I'm sure the Lingam wouldn't make this claim but it seems implicit to the no separation of episto-ontological.

Again, I appreciate when he says that different levels of consciousness enact and bring into existence different worlds, again consistent with OOO. It is one of my complaints with the likes of neuroscientists like Gazzaniga and countless others like him that reduce consciousness to brain studies. And do not do neuroscientific studies on meditators who have developed aspects of consciousness to a high degree, except for the likes of Thompson etc. who show marked differences in brain results from so doing. Sure, if you take the average Joe off the street with no mind training, of course their brains don't show much difference. Duh...

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