Why Does Integral Philosophy Sound Like New Age?

Why Does Integral Philosophy Sound Like New Age? February 21, 2013

I can’t make heads nor tails of this.

A lot of my friends like integral philosophy. I remember years ago when evangelicals readers were scandalized because Rob Bell had a couple endnotes citing Ken Wilber in one of his books. I’ve been encouraged to read Wilber by others, like Brian McLaren and Shane Hipps. I’m not saying Brian and Shane are fanboys, I’m just saying they’ve told me I might like it.

Some, however, are fanboys. Every once in a while, I’ll run into someone for whom integral philosophy in general, and Wilber specifically, is the key that unlocks the door. It’s the answer to all of life’s questions. Honestly, it reminds me of the Preterists I know, who basically claim, “If you could only see what I see, everything would make sense!”

Others, however, scoff at integral philosophy and think that Wilber is a hack. Just a brief look at the section on his reception by other philosophers at Wikipedia shows that he’s taken some hits in that community. Same goes for the broader field of integral theory.

I’ve largely ignored/avoided integral theory as a result of its lack of acceptance in academic circles. Not so with Tripp and Bo at Homebrewed Christianity. They recently posted a guest post on the topic, meant to make sense of it. Here’s a money paragraph:

According to integral philosophy, however, the evolution of consciousness is largely dependent on the evolution of human culture. When humans evolve their culture through new agreements or new forms of organization, this results in a corresponding growth in human consciousness. Through the “network effect” of cultural transmission, when one person has a conceptual breakthrough or new realization, this advance can be shared with others. And as new discoveries or new skills are adopted within a larger cultural context, such advances become refined and reinforced. Consciousness and culture—the individual and the group—thus co-evolve together.

I still don’t really get it, but I can see why it is appealing to Rob Bell and others. I’m probably too traditionally trained in philosophy to appreciate it, if it really does have something to offer.

But I bet that some of you disagree with me. So I put it to you: Do you know Integral Theory? If so, what’s to like?


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