Looking-Glass Selves

Personal Reflections

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Sunday, March 29, 2009


Problems with Ken Wilber's Metanarrative

Metanarratives – totalizing schemes or language games – are, like medieval first principles, frequently circular. The end, triumphantly, confirms the beginning, However, the circularity of Ken Wilber's integralism, even more so than the better-known version (in my field) by Pitirim A. Sorokin, is particularly vicous.

Wilber's model begins with the mythic premodern, continues with the modern and, then, the postmodern, and culminates in the integral. To Wilber, the integral incorporates, and explains, the previous stages. Here is Wilber:

Instead of attacking the paucity of the modern and postmodern worldviews—which is the standard move by spiritual and new-paradigm advocates—it is perhaps more adept to reformulate and reconstruct the premodern interpretations of Spirit in light of modern and postmodern developments, such that the enduring fundamentals of the premodern, modern, and postmodern forms of Spirit's own display can all be honored by trimming their absolutisms and acknowledging their true but partial natures (which is surely what Spirit does as it moves through its own manifestations in the premodern, modern, and postmodern world: just who did you think was authoring all that?).

Indeed, Wilber seemingly opposes all "absolutisms" except for his own. However, my difficulty with his approach, as a nominalist, is that he begins with two substantially realist stages (the premodern and the modern), moves on to a nominalist stage (the postmodern), and concludes with another realist stage (the integral). Consequently, while Wilber's framework may offer some appealing synergy for the new ager or transpersonalist, it is, to me, distinctly unsatisfying.