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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In Wilber's addendum, the following paragraph calls for some further reflection, IMO:


This approach neither commits the epistemic fallacy (epistemology is privileged and ontology derived from it) nor the ontic fallacy (ontology is privileged and epistemology derived from it).  Nor does it see ontology separated and consigned to its own realm, and epistemology separated and consigned to its own realm—but rather both arise concurrently (as part of a 4-quadrant tetra-arising, all the way up and down), co‑evolve concurrently, and co-enact concurrently.  The Kosmos is simply too interwoven and too inseparable and too enactive to exist in any other fashion—there are no silo dimensions anywhere in the universe.  Atoms come into being at the same time that they “know” each other; molecules come into being at the same time that they “know” each other; and likewise cells, organisms, and so on.  If their knowing and being don’t properly mesh (which is certainly possible, and actually happens quite often), then the affected holon simply ceases to arise—it ceases to be carried forward by evolution, whether it is a subatomic particle, an animal, or an idea.


I believe, here, he is advocating a neo-Whiteheadian vision of punctuated existence, where whatever arises immediately perishes and is replaced by the next actual occasion ("prehensive atom of experience").  So, Wilber says that atoms come into being at the same time that they know each other.  The question is, how are knowing and being related here?  Is coming-into-being identical with knowing-each-other?  Is being identical with being-known (a version of Berkeley's idealist esse est percipi, to be is to be perceived)?  It seems this is one possible (and maybe the most likely) reading of tetra-enaction, but we might also acknowledge that knowing and being co-manifest without implying that a being's being is exhausted in, or fully constituted by, its being-known.  When Wilber says that there are some "arisings" which do not "mesh," for instance, this seems to imply an excess which is out-of-phase or non-coherent with other quadratic dimensions.  But Wilber says that those aspects which do not mesh immediately perish, whereas part of Bhaskar's contention is that there are aspects of the real that remain unactualized in given situations (and require special conditions to be actualized).  I'm not sure Wilber can account for this with a model that says that everything non-meshing or out-of-phase (if we can relate those two things) immediately perishes and is lost to the evolutionary advance of being.

Interesting. It seems what Wilber is saying is those aspects that materialize (arise, actualize) and do not mesh can go extinct. Which doesn't seem to be the same as those real aspects that have yet to actualize and remain withdrawn.

Also it doesn't seem to me that Wilber is akin to Whitehead in that each moment an actual occasion has to be created anew from scratch. It proceeds into the novel through transcend and include. Or at least certain aspects like basic structures. Transitional structures are another story...

Yes, I was thinking last night, too, that Wilber's non-meshing aspect is not really the same as Bhaskar's out-of-phase aspect.  I agree, the non-meshing part seems to refer to a part of the actual that is not adaptive to / with what has arisen in the other quadrants -- so, it is not the "withdrawn." 

Whitehead's account, also, however, does entail the transcend and include dynamic; each arising actual occasion prehends the past (transcending and including it) and that is part of its self-constitution.

Pascal responded to me on a parallel thread on Integral Life:


1. I believe that the way in which tetra-enaction in being articulated in the Addendum quote specifically precludes that coming-into-being is identical with knowing-each-other OR that being is identical with being-known. Quadrants are not identical and must be specified as minimally different in order to be semantically available to the possible simultaneity of their being and being-known. I think this point slips by people sometimes when Wilber is trying to be clear that "being-known" does not mean being-known-by-us but only by "something, somewhere".


I understand the point Wilber is making, that his insistence on the ubiquity of being-known is not anthropocentric, since he is only referring to being-known-by-something, not necessarily known-by-us.  I commented on this in my first letter above.

When Wilber says that being and knowing arise together, yes, that (in my preferred reading) could be seen to imply that being and knowing are at least minimally different.  Which means, being can't be restricted to or indentified with "being-known."  This, I believe, is key to Bhaskar's insistence on acknowledging the "withdrawn": there is always "more" to an entity than what is enacted (by other entities, or even by the entity on itself) at any given time.

One way the "withdrawn" aspect may manifest in Wilber's theory is perhaps in the "bottomlessness" of holonic nesting.  Meaning, when Wilber says that atoms do not depend on our knowing for their existence, but they do depend for their existence on their knowing of each other, I think we can still say that the being of atoms is not exhausted in or fully constituted by their actuality for each other, either, since their being would likely also enfold (and depend on) sub-holons (or other conditions) that do not "register" in an atom's prehensive worldspace.

2. Is there complete, non-Bhaskarian perishing of an entity whose being does not "mesh" with being-known? This is not indicated in the quote. What it says is "ceases to arise" in the form of a "holon". Since Wilber has been distinguishing between sub-sist & ex-ist we should perhaps presume that "arise" indicates the transfer from subsistence to existence... at the very least there is not assertion above that we should completely deny ontological status to potential entities which are not amendable to epistemological interactions. They are simply described as not being players in the game.


Yes, we've talked about this over on my forum some, the relationship of Wilber's notion of subsistence to the notion of the "withdrawn."  That's worth exploring.  However, when Wilber is talking about not tetra-meshing, he is not talking only about not being amenable to epistemological interactions.  He refers to the non-meshing of being and knowing in the quote above, but in his fuller discussions of this topic, he seems to be referring, also, to -- for instance -- the non-adaptativeness of certain organismic forms to changes in physical environmental conditions, causing them to perish or go extinct.  In other words, non-meshing is ontological as well as epistemological. 

Anyway, regarding subsistence:  in my own reflections on Bhaskarian and OOO notions of the "withdrawn," I have generally interpreted the "withdrawn" as referring, not to a hidden, self-same, self-existing, set-apart "core" that never enters into relationship with anything else (though some OOO folks, like Harman, sometimes appear to endorse such a view), but rather to the fact that in any tetratic actual occasion, there will remain aspects of a holon's being that are not manifest in and to that particular actual occasion, or to the particular "meshing" and interaction of holons at any given level or grouping.  In other words, I agree with Wilber that there are no "silos," wholly cut off from everything else everywhere.  This amounts to the endorsement of a kind of subsistence: aspects of a holon's being must be said to subsist, not manifesting -- ex-isting -- in an enactive occasion for a given sentient being or group of sentient beings, while nevertheless remaining part of the "real" (the ontic depth and set of possibilities for those beings).

In what I'm writing about on this thread, I am not saying Wilber's theory can't handle the kinds of issues and questions Bhaskar's CR raises.  I am questioning the apparent stance that says, "Integral Theory doesn't need to relate to Bhaskar or dialogue with CR because IT has it all covered anyway," because I think it is clear that Bhaskar at least points to certain things that are at best under-articulated in Integral Theory, and therefore engagement with the kinds of questions CR raises is worthwhile -- even if the solutions prove to be somewhat different.

Here is my response to David's post on Integral Life:

Hi, David,

I'm glad I could help coax you out of cyber-hyber-nation.  :-)

It is late for me, so I will respond briefly to your three points, mostly as just an opening to further discussion and inquiry together.

1.  I agree that the "no single dog," or "multiple-object," aspect of Integral Theory could contribute to an Integral homeomorphic equivalent to "withdrawal."  But it's a subtle question, because the "no single dog" aspect could also be read as an expression of correlationism and/or the epistemic fallacy.  I'm not sure I can do justice to this question in a brief response, but here's a start.  In saying the dog is different for different observers (something CR and OOO also accept and explicitly express), are we saying that the dog wholly is what it is for other observers, or perhaps that the dog is the sum total of what it is  for multiple observers?  In other words, is the being of the dog found in its appearance-for (or multiple-appearances-for) other beings?  The epistemic fallacy, according to CR and OOO, involves identifying the being of objects with the epistemic mode(s) in which they are accessed, i.e., in their epistemic appearance-for other beings.  Is the argument that there is no single dog an argument that the dog's being is found entirely in its multiple appearances-for?

Regarding Wilber's remarks on subsistence, I think there is a subtle distinction between this argument and Bhaskar's argument about withdrawal that needs to be made.  Wilber is arguing that atoms might be posited as subsistent elements of reality, but only for the level of consciousness which enacts reality in atomic terms, which then retro-reads that atomic reality back into the past and extro-reads it out into the world for all other beings.  Higher beings will enact, and then posit the subsistence of, other elements.  Thus, what is "subsistent" changes according to the level and mode of consciousness doing the enactment.   Bhaskar is not talking so much about any specific kind of thing or object that subsists "out-of-phase" with present enactments, but rather is (like Wilber) trying to speak at a level of great (metaphysical) generality -- specifically, trying to transcendentally deduce "what ontologically must be the case" for scientific practice and other injunctive modes of knowledge acquisition to make sense and to be possible.  I might be wrong about this, but I think Bhaskar (or an OOO philosopher) would ask Wilber, "Minimally, what must you metaphysically presuppose for your theory of enactment and subsistence to make sense?"

2.  Yes, I think there is some misrepresentation going on -- on both sides.  Regarding misrepresentation of Wilber, you may recall that, in one of my papers, I defended Wilber against the charge of "epistemic fallacy" by noting the very thing you did here: Wilber doesn't only talk about perspectives, he talks about holons.  Now, there are some places in his writings where he seems to suggest that perspectives are the real base, before anything else, so I can understand where that impression comes from, but I think a fairer and fuller representation of Wilber's overall theory must include the holonic component.  So, I agree with this. (I don't get your argument about CR falling prey to naive empiricism, though; it is quite a bit more sophisticated than that).

3.  Regarding CR being more anthropocentric than IT because it entertains only one human worldspace, what about Wilber's model of tetra-enactment and subsistence?  Isn't that also one worldspace's way of making broad generalizations about reality?  Yes, it is a way of generalizing about reality that admits that phenomena show up differently for different beings, but CR does that too (it calls those different phenomenal worldspaces "the actual," which it differentiates from "the real.")  CR does not claim it has an infallible or absolute "access" to the real; rather, it just thinks it is worthwhile to make relatively bold metaphysical speculations about what "the real" must be like, in order to support what we actually observe in the actual.  It is up front about this (non-naive, non-myth-of-the-given) metaphysical aspect of what it is doing.

I'll stop here, as it's late.  I'm happy to discuss/explore this more, though, and am glad you've shown up to play a part in it.

Best wishes,


You are doing a fine job of articulating and coordinating some of our earlier musings on subsistence and existence. Following are a few links to those discussions, where one can also read a few posts on either side of it: 1, 2, and 3 is the Murray thread, where we came at this from a kosmic address.

"CR does not claim it has an infallible or absolute 'access' to the real; rather, it just thinks it is worthwhile to make relatively bold metaphysical speculations about what 'the real' must be like, in order to support what we actually observe in the actual.  It is up front about this (non-naive, non-myth-of-the-given) metaphysical aspect of what it is doing."

Which gets me back to one of my first questions in the OOO thread. OOO is anti-correlationism, yet this speculative realist premise or transcendental deduction is itself an anthropocentric and correlationist translation, or kosmic address as it were, of what reality is like. I.e., it is an existent speculating on a subsistent. Even though it admits no direct access to verify or confirm such a speculation, it nonetheless seeks evidence by deducing the premise from empirical, scientific findings, i.e., after the 'facts.'

But of course the 'facts' are those actual, manifest occasions. It matters not if those facts subsisted before we came along to 'exist' them in our translated worldspace. Subsistence might grant ontic status to objects regardless of epistemic translations, but as Balder points out even subsistence is an actual occasion and has nothing to do with that occasion's withdrawn reserve or excess. An occasion's actuality might be otherwise under different conditions. Yes, some such occasions may have been around (subsisted) a long time relatively, since the Big Bang, hence their apparently stable structure. But they could be different under different initial conditions, which conditions may very well change at the end of this cycle and the beginning of another.

So this notion of the withdrawn is still necessary to keep things open and otherwise, and to posit it in a non-metaphysical that doesn't require changeless and timeless Causal realms and states with immediate access. As I said, it may appear timeless and changeless given the human translative frame and the billions of years of semi-stability. And it does thereby open doors into post-metaphysicality, which is after all the current integral project. Still, I take the Lingam's point that even so, this is the human postmetaphysical kosmic address that is speculating or transcendentally deducing it all. Reality no doubt subsists that speculation, but it doesn't exist as this translation beforehand and hence back around to our epistemic correlationism. Which is why even Bryant is now back to being a correlationist in this post and our discussion thereof here and preceding/following.

David, I find myself in a similar place: not exactly "in" either the IT or the CR/SR/OOO camps, but moving between them and venturing down tributaries into each on occasion.  As for the bulk of my time and investment, it is with IT; but I also enjoy the borderlands.  I do think that IT could be what is in CR that is more than CR; but in some ways (as I note in my post below), I think the reverse could be said as well (at least with regard to certain elements).  Overall, I think IT exceeds CR in the scope of its vision, but there are places where CR can (fruitfully) challenge and stretch IT, in my opinion.  And now that CR has become MR (Meta-Reality), it is making that nondual limit more explicit.  (Though, as we've discussed some on this forum, there is some lingering dissatisfaction here with the framing of nonduality by both...)

Here's another post to David (a different David!) on Integral Life:

Bruce: The epistemic fallacy, according to CR and OOO, involves identifying the being of objects with the epistemic mode(s) in which they are accessed, i.e., in their epistemic appearance-for other beings.  Is the argument that there is no single dog an argument that the dog's being is found entirely in its multiple appearances-for?

David:  I don't think that's Wilber's argument. He writes, for example, that "rejection of the myth of the given still allows for what are called 'intrinsic features' of sensory experience." (IS, p. 251) That leaves us with a more paradoxical view, which seems to be what CR wants to avoid when it tries to split ontology and epistemology.

In the passage on p. 251, Wilber also notes that intrinsic features are not pregiven but are interpretive and constructed; they are "the products of the highest level of consciousness making the claim" (emphasis mine).  In other words, in this passage, he still appears to be identifying the being of things with (or at least limiting his discussion of the being of things to) the (epistemological) mode in which they are accessed. 

As you probably know, I was fully on board with him on this -- with this means of avoiding the myth of the given.  It was one of the primary insights that inspired me to start my own forum on this topic.  And I still think he is essentially right about this; we can't really get away from the fact that, when we perceive or describe reality, we are perceiving or describing reality (from where we sit).

I expect Bhaskar would actually agree with this; I know Bryant does, since he now sometimes calls himself a pan-correlationist rather than a realist (meaning he is acknowledging how this co-construction goes on at all levels, by all things for all things).

And yet, there appears to be a need also to posit an excess to any such "construction."  In the CR/SR/OOO circles, the term "real" is defined as "the irreducibility of things to our perceptions of them."  It is not a positive statement about what beings metaphysically are; only the assertion that things always exceed our perceptions or experiences of them, and that it is in fact important to be able to assert this if we are to make sense of scientific inquiry and other forms of injunctive knowledge acquisition. 

As Layman puts it:  "Neither a CR or an OOO or an IT can function coherently unless "multiple appearances-for" are affirmed and coordinated at least minmally by the suggestion of a common object which exceeds them if only by presenting itself as a pure distinction from all that."

This suggests (as CR maintains) that, to be coherent, we must admit that what something "is" is not exhausted by our present experience of it, nor is it ever simply and wholly identifiable with our perspectives on it.  Which means, incidentally, that we can't define it either simply as the "sum" of everything's perspective on it.  But this is what Wilber is focusing on in the passage you quoted: nests or layers of appearances-for.  Subsistence, as Wilber is defining it, is more of an epistemological term: it posits multiple-appearances-for, here from a diachronic rather than a synchronic perspective (the over-lapping of retro-read higher perspectives and various lower or other perspectives).  In this passage, Wilber is not (yet) addressing the ontic excess that is the concern of CR and OOO alike.

In their insistence on not "collapsing" ontological talk into epistemological talk, CR and OOO are saying we should still be able to maintain some form of metaphysical discourse about "that" which exceeds perspectives and appearances.  They do this, minimally, by saying that it is the ontic nature of beings to withdraw from, and to exceed, other beings, such that the apprehension of one being by another being never fully captures or exhausts or "sums up" that being.  And they also go a bit beyond this minimal distinction when they talk about things or beings in particular ways, such as when they talk about their being generative mechanisms or difference engines, or as having either autopoietic or allopoietic structure, etc.

With the talk about "ontological grounding," while I'm not sure which essay this comes from, I think what is being suggested is not that we have to posit an interiorless ground of inert stuff, or to claim that reality is insentient and not panpsychic, but only that we admit that the being of things is not exhausted by our knowing of them and that being should not be "collapsed" with knowing.  At minimum, when we talk about perspectives, we presuppose real sentient beings capable of taking such perpsectives -- not mere, illusory appearances-for. 

I think IT has resources for expressing this in its own ways, but it also seems (to me) that CR and OOO are articulating something that has been more implicit in Integral Theory and that IT could benefit from addressing these issues more directly.  That, at least, is what this recent "encounter" with CR invites.

Best wishes,


Reading the last post it dawned on me (as gift from me Muse) that one reason IT fails to grasp this withdrawn excess is because of its misrepresentation of pomo in general and Derrida in particular. Bryant accurately ties this excess directly to Derrida in "Time of the object." Which goes along of course with my various and sundry posts/threads on this very topic, that IT (at least kennilingus) has failed to properly go through pomo let alone beyond it, still stuck as it were in the transition to pomo.

That brings to mind Gary Hampson's essay on this topic, a summary of which can be found here.

I was thinking of and using Hampson's terms in my post. I used him early on in the "real/false reason" thread, where I extensively develop this argument.

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