Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Precursor to Integral Theory?

I had never really heard of Process Thought, which seems to be based in the work of Alfred North Whitehead's Process Philosophy. On first glance, it seems to be an integral theory, and a major precursor to Wilber's work. As such, I think this is an area those of us into integral thinking, in whatever form, should be exploring more -- right up there with Graves, Gebser, Cook-Greuter, et al.

Here is the introduction to the Center for Process Studies website:


With a foundation in the metaphysical system of Alfred North Whitehead (among others), and a methodology that integrates both speculation and empirical verification, process thought brings its unique metaphysical perspective to bear on many fields of reflection and action.

Ultimately, process thought seeks to integrate and reconcile the diverse facets of human experience (i.e. ethical, religious, aesthetic, and scientific intuitions) into one coherent explanatory scheme. The most common applications of process thought are in the fields of philosophy and theology. However, process has also found a meaningful foothold in many other discussions, including ecology, economics, physics, biology, education, psychology, feminism, and cultural studies.

Basic Doctrines

Process metaphysics, in general, seeks to elucidate the developmental nature of reality, emphasizing becoming rather than static existence or being. It also stresses the inter-relatedness of all entities. Process describes reality as ultimately made up of experiential events rather than enduring inert substances.

The particular character of every event, and consequently the world, is the result of a selective process where the relevant past is creatively brought together to become that new event. Reality is conceived as a process of creative advance in which many past events are integrated in the events of the present, and in turn are taken up by future events. The universe proceeds as "the many become one, and are increased by one" in a sequence of integrations at every level and moment of existence. Process thought thus replaces the traditional Western "substance metaphysic" with an "event metaphysic."

Terms that further characterize process thought are inter-relatedness, unity-in-diversity, non-dualism, panentheism, mutual transformation, person-in-community, and panexperientialism.

The main page offers links to a variety of articles explaining different fields of process study, so I have some reading to do.


Anonymous said...


thanks for the heads up. bookmarked!

however, what interested by in Wilber's version of integral is its *postmetaphysical* flavor as opposed to *metaphysical*. to consistent use of metaphysics (as in "process metaphysics) is not very attractive for me at this time. but i will withhold my critique until i get more information :)


CJ Smith said...


Process is a huge influence on integral, no doubt. Process philosophy even birthed process theology in Christianity.

The key aspect that flows from Whitehead into Wilber is "prehension" (also in CS Peirce and William james' radical empiricism).

Basically it takes seriously embodiment and consciousness as intertwined processes, not reducing one to the other (like materialism) nor separating them like Descartes.

What Wilber has done--and here is the post-metaphysical part C4--is made Whitehead "dialogical". That is added the lower quadrants, particularly the lower left. That reality involves an intersubjective. Whitehead was "monological" in the sense that his empiricism was based on a view of individuals and individual consciousness.

Process is a metaphysic more in the sense of a cosmology--view of the universe--than a series of postulates or theories about other worlds over something after death.

The notion in Wilber of a transcendent Eros within the universe persuasively pulling us towards greater depth and integration is also straight out of Whitehead. Versus say a coercive supernaturalistic God figure a la much evangelical Christian theology or the New Atheist attacks. They are attacking the supernaturalistic God not Whitehead's God, which they largely seem unaware of imo.



william harryman said...

Hey Chris,

Thanks for the excellent overview -- this is certainly an area I know nothing about, which means I have me some learnin' to do.