After borrowing Ken Wilber’s latest book,Integral Spirituality from the library, I was moved to purchase it because I had dipped into it and read the following on page 176:
The myth of the given or monological consciousness is essentially another name for phenomenology and mere empiricism in any of a hundred guises–whether regular empiricism, radical empiricism, interior empiricism, transpersonal empiricism, empirical phenomenology, transcendental phenomenology, radical phenomenology, and so forth. As important as they might be, what they all have in common is the myth of the given, which includes:
the belief that reality is simply given to me, [etc.].
My jaw dropped. If all those empiricisms and phenomenologies are equivalent, (ummm, ‘guised,’?) are they really a matter of the subject’s belief? Belief hangs over Wilberâ€™s argument like a piano suspended from a crane over a tent. One supposes the tent is full of academic phenomenologists and empiricists!
Belief is an odd psychologizing turn. Why does Wilber choose belief to be the critical verb? Do we believe in givenness of reality? Leave aside the strange and flattening conflation of, for example, James and Husserl around the construct ‘monological’ consciousness, and consider why Wilber is unwilling to state that for these cases reality itself is given to the subjective consciousness regardless of intentionality of any kind. This includes belief.
Some of the many problems of his theory are here in this excerpt.
This is aside from the controversies which have to do with the institutionalisation of the Integral and Wilberâ€™s own stature as king of his own hermetic kingdom. Thereâ€™s a connection however. Wilber wants very much to privilege his own consciousness and build a system from it. (This is why Integral Theory hasn’t found rigorousÂ analytic and scritical venue outside of its originator’s own opus and his groups.) Wilber doesnâ€™t seem to grok the givenness of his reality is no less a worthy subject for his own criticism, criticism waged against all those old school philosophical phenomenologists. Wilber’s theory has yet to obtain a privileged “meta-frame” for simple technical reasons.
Wilber, is not a convincing conceptual, propositional, and operational thinker. He manages to conflate, for example, the empiricism of James with the phenomenology of, for example, Merleau-Ponty. In his flattening move, he implies they are equivalent because they are oriented around around the belief that reality is given. Then, disregarding the longstanding alternative view, (one view among many,) that reality is a suchness, and, completely turning this on its head, he reduces all the ways various phenomenological viewpoints are, in fact, different from one another to a singular, (weakly) psychologized posit with intentional belief at the center of his implicit criticism. (Is belief necessary to a radical empiricism?) In the prototypical Wilberian turn, he develops his argument as if his idiosyncratic interpretation is per force authoritative, correct, and, even, in a purportedly better ‘Wilberian’ future, normative.
Belief can’t be the catch-all for phenomenological reflexivity unless one implements a monological meta-perspective with a definitive (ie. well defined) version of belief at its core! There exist alternatives different than this possibility, and different than another whipping boy of Wilber’s, pluralistic relativism. Even so, this monological view would be not much more than a notion of Wilber’s. There are lots of alternatives, among them are: mysterium, incompleteness, various monisms and realisms, and idealisms. etc. We might admit too ways in which these and other facets of experience are entangled, and are entangled at different orders, and within dynamic arrays of psychological contingencies. We might, too, entertain belief as a problematic of subjectivity, psychologize it as a problematic of reflexivity, or even play with novel views, one such being that belief is a measure of suspicion of that which isn’t seemingly (to the subject) true.
By virtue of my own prejudices, I suspect a truly integral psychology would invert Wilber’s concerns. Rather than psychologize philosophical dispositions, it would philosophize psychological dispositions. This would require Wilber to investigate cognitive psychology and also research folk psychology because commonsense theories of mind, (alternately: everyday practical phenomenology,) are not constructed out of experience and knowledge of august philosophers!
Then there are the folk theories of mind in their infinite subjective varieties. Those count for a great deal since the flux of subjective perspectives is incredibly diverse. (Keep in mind most people don’t construct their perspectives because they’ve evaluated the options given by the ‘history of ideas’. Wilber’s foundational quasi-constructivist supposition strikes me as a strawman with respect to the extant plurality of actual instantiated intentionalities, including those classifiable under the rubric, ‘belief.’ Those possibilities aren’t required to lend themselves to reduction. Wilber’s never groked this although it remains a commonsense objection to his weird integral flatland where the disparate get mixed to grey like finger paints do when subject to overactive artistry!
Is Wilber arguing against belief in givenness (in his own terms,) because heâ€™d like his Integral perspective to supplant the flattened â€˜phenomenologicalâ€™ he decries? Taken specifically, there’s no reason a phenomenology can’t also take as a given experience while making no appeal to intentionality. (It would be paradoxical like Strawson is paradoxical.)
Anyway, he has yet to develop any warrants for this turn he makes. Iâ€™m left to ponder why his own subjectivism has become so limited and incapable of self-criticism. Taken generally the phenomenological is hardly monological. As a catch-all, and taken as a term for the richness of subjectivity, it seems strikingly to be the antithesis of monological. Yet, clearly to argue against this, Wilber requires it to be reified. Thus, once again, Wilberâ€™s orienting of generalities concretizes a map about only his own interpretation. Moreover, this map, evidently, is of a territory surrounded by a big protective wall!
This is all unfortunate. If I may suggest: a meta-sociology of knowledge, perspectivism, and consciousness is a worthwhile project. But, in buffering out dialectical, cooperative research with authoritative, likeminded thinkers across the spectrum of interdisciplinarity, Wilber has implemented a hierarchical defense against just about any and all contestation of his work. That this defense rotates around a fallacious appeal to his own authority, and has, over the past decade or so, caused Wilber to rationalize his superiority in the most self-serving, loony terms, has polluted the otherwise worthwhile integral project.
In fact heâ€™s polluted the Integral with his own consciousness cum personality. (Integral Spirituality is full of snippy asides and reflexive dodges.) This is ironic. Nowadays one notes the project includes an admission fee if the polloi want to get close to the pandit; has popped up a consulting cottage industry, and suckered insiders to obtain, well, mere belief. When the lack of warrants and intersubjective contests are pointed out, Wilber lashes out, effecting a refuge of scoundrels: that his critics misunderstand him because they havenâ€™t read his work. Loony.
I have no idea why he canâ€™t step outside himself and his hermetic prejudices enough to see how odd this all is. At the end of this day, Wilber canâ€™t carry much integral water simply because heâ€™s not very integral himself. (Pro-certainty; anti-critical inquiry.) Heâ€™s, strangely enough, a warped kind of traditionalist, kind of a post post-modern (Fritjof) Schuon for our times, at the head of a spiritual food chain he’s constructed for himself, with all roads leading to nis own mind. He wrote it and he understands it best. (Incidentally, once you unbolt all the jargon and junk away, and cut wilber a bunch of slack for his being at least a king of category errors, the whole edifice of the Integral isn’t difficult or hard to understand.
His appeal to (his conjured) injunctive verification and its fallacious appeal to authority and non-falsifiability; overlays the mere assertion that â€œhe knows because he knows,â€ and underpins the necessary master mentality asserted to defend against criticism, says more about Wilber than it can possibly say about how a renegade intelligence might forge an important new outlook–meta-perspective–on the entanglement of subjective and objective and hybrid perspectives.
Or: he knows because his consciousness is so vaunted and valorized. Not only does he read his own clippings but he certifies many of his own reviewers! This harkens back to a psychology about self-inflation. Pathos comes to mind too.