Integral Theory is a modern "theory of everything" that proposes to encapsulate many theories, philosophies, practices, and thinkers into a single framework. It is a self-proclaimed synthesis of all human knowledge and experience. (1)
Integral Theory is the product of Ken Wilber, a still-living American writer and mystic, who left his pre-med program at Duke University after finding interest in Eastern literature and philosophy, pursue his own studies and write his first of many books: "The Spectrum of Consciousness" (1973). Some of his most popular works of writing have been "The Holographic Paradigm and Other Paradoxes", "Grace and Grit", "A Brief History of Everything", "Boomeritis", and "A Theory of Everything".
Though integral theory has been widely ignored in academia, it has conjured a following within some cultures, especially within modern New Age circles, leadership training, and self-improvement education and publications. (2)
The central concept to Wilber's Integral Theory is "AQAL": All Quadrants, All Levels. In this model, the quadrants contain all human knowledge and experience. With one axis marking Interior/Exterior and the other marking Individual/Collective, Wilber claims it to be the most comprehensive approach to reality, and a coherent explanation of all academic disciplines and all human knowledge and perception. (3)
This gives a diversity not only in answers, but in perspectives of the question. Where psychology is concerned, for example, it begs the frameworks of Freud (intentions) to be considered alongside Skinner (behavior), Gadamer (cultural), and Marx (social).
Within these four quadrants, Wilber posits, all perspectives and occurences are encapsulated. The utility of this model is as an overview, giving us a means to understand development, guide our ethics and morality, inspire leadership, and propel social services.
Interestingly, Integral theory aligns itself with the "two truths" of Buddhism:
There is a conventional/provisional truth AND an "ultimate" truth which together constitute our reality. Furthermore, they assert that it is not logically justifiable to regard any metaphysical system as absolutely valid, and this does not necessarily lead to nihilism, but strikes a middle ground between naivete and excessive scepticism. (5)
Aside from humans, which are treated as a special case, the term "Holons" is used for any unit of a whole. There is the concept of the "great chain of being": any entity or concept is part of a larger whole. From quarks to galaxies, it is thought that anything that can be identified as a single 'thing' can also be consider a part of another thing.
Each and every Holon can be viewed from within or from the outside, and from an individual or collective perspective, any four quadrants.
Perhaps the primary thesis of Integral Theory is that under this model an approach from any of these quadrants has a valid perspective to offer. According to Wilber, all are needed for real appreciation of a matter. It is possible for all perspectives to be correct, and all are needed for a complete account of that thing.
Integral Theory puts a broad focus and contextualization on human psychology and sociology. Much of the focus of Integral Theory, as in Integral Life
and Integral Leadership
and more, is concerned with Developmental Stages, as in psychological stages.
This gives an individual and society at large a means of targeting and understanding progress toward a goal of optimal living, according to Wilber, and is thereby the primary contribution of his work.
This photo gives a general overview of Integral Theory's stages of development:
Taking this direction toward psychological and sociological development, Integral Theory is being applied to a diverse number of fields.
Here are just a few:
See how people are applying integral thinking to self-improvement and self-help. You'll find articles, courses, and premium covering the diverse field that is you.
Integral thinking applied to management, business, and inter-personal relations. You'll find many interesting thing here, including the most extensive list we've found of other sites connected to integral theory.
Integral thinking is being applied here to addiciton, alcoholism, and depression. You can learn about workshops and events, or read their blog about some of the phenomenal work being done.
There are so many available perspectives when it comes to ecology and our impact. It's no surprise that an inclusive and and comprehensive approach is beneficial to research and conservation. Find out more!
Like integral leadership, but specifically focused on business, roping in perspectives like emotional intelligence, products/services, corporate values, and systems theory.
An interesting look at an Integral-focused business consulting firm. They are helping people create mission-driven strategies and become successful entrepreneurs.
Now, Ken Wilber and his team offer a comprehensive development course.
Integral Theory has been ignored in academia most likely because it is a speculative, non-empirical idea. This is excludes it from scientific fields, and though it may seem fitting for the field of philosophy, it has not been widely accepted there either.
Frank Visser, a critic of Wilber's work states "Numerous critics cite problems with Wilber's interpretations and inaccurate citations of his wide ranging sources, as well as stylistic issues with gratuitous repetition, excessive book length, and hyperbole." (6)
Integral Theory's categorization may be viewed by other philosophers and academics as excessive and arbitrary. It has also been used by its creators to commercialize on spirituality, to a widely New Age audience.