Steve McIntosh Responds to Kalman’s Critiques

Book Reviews / June 2008

Steve McIntoshThe last issue of Integral Leadership Review contained a review of my book, Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution, by Matthew Kalman. Although Mr. Kalman had a variety of complimentary things to say about my work, towards the end of the review he became quite negative and even cynical. Interestingly, I expected that my entry into the marketplace of ideas would be a bruising experience, but except for Mr. Kalman’s, all of my reviews have been extremely positive. So at first I shrugged it off, figuring I could just pretend to be too important to take notice of it. But several of my integral friends encouraged me to respond to what they characterized as a biased and unfair attack. However, although I certainly disagree with Mr. Kalman’s critiques, I’ve decided to write this response primarily because it gives me the opportunity to make several points that might be useful for the integral community as a whole.

Mr. Kalman’s central criticism is that my book is not academic enough. Yet ironically, the first drafts of the book were too academic— it took quite a bit of effort to make the book sufficiently accessible so as to be relevant to non-academics. In fact, I’m interested in integral philosophy because it has the power to make the world a better place. And right now the most direct way that we can use integral philosophy to improve the world by helping to build the integral worldview as a cultural structure. Thus my main goal in the book (and in my life) is to recruit people to the integral way of seeing. If I had written this book in a way that tried to assuage critical academics (or made arguments tedious enough to answer every possible objection) it would have been at cross purposes to my goal of writing a popular trade book that would recruit people to the integral perspective. So even though Mr. Kalman would prefer that I write from the stance of an objective observer, treating integral philosophy as the latest organizational development strategy to be skeptically scrutinized, my approach is more political—like evolution itself, I’m trying to “gently persuade” those who are ready into adopting the integral worldview. And it is the impassioned and political nature of my approach that has garnered the most praise and attention in the marketplace of ideas. Nevertheless, at the end of chapter 8 I do include a section entitled “Some Critiques of the Integral Reality Frame”, where I offer five pointed criticisms of integral philosophy; unfortunately, Mr. Kalman chose to ignore this section.

Curiously, in the review he picks and chooses small points out of context and offers a series of quibbles that ignore the fact that in most cases the answers to his objections appear on the very page he critiques. For example, he complains that I don’t provide a citation for a quote of Robert Kegan’s about how the “values line of development” determines one’s overall state of existence; yet on this very page is endnote 21 (page 254), which gives the exact location in Kegan’s book where he makes this clear. Similarly, regarding my characterization of Jurgen Habermas as a “defacto founder of integral philosophy,” Mr. Kalman snidely complains, “where’s the evidence that he’s [Habermas] actually heard of it?” Yet in the brief section on Habermas I explain that his impact on integral philosophy has come solely through his influence on Wilber, and I admit that Habermas has “not taken notice of integral philosophy” (page 188). Further, Mr. Kalman accuses me of lacking rigor and sophistication and complains that my observation that both competition and cooperation interact in the course of evolution is a “glib truism”. Yet he fails to mention that this section of the book is in fact a critique of two prominent books on cultural evolution that claim society evolves solely through increasing cooperation. I clearly point out that it is “obvious” that competition and cooperation interact and this is why I critique these books for missing this obvious point! (page 290)

Are these out-of-context attacks simply oversights or sloppy scholarship on Mr. Kalman’s part? I’m not sure, but shortly after the review appeared a number of integralists (previously unknown to me) emailed to say that they thought Mr. Kalman’s review was dishonest and motivated by a hidden agenda. I could continue the exercise of refuting Mr. Kalman’s criticisms point-by-point, but rather than counterattacking, let me try to turn this around. The reason we are all in the integral movement is because of its exciting new truth. And it is natural to have a degree of emotional attachment to the most prominent bringer of this new truth—Ken Wilber. So I can understand that my critiques of Wilber may have struck a nerve. However, in order to receive the recognition he deserves, Wilber needs both criticism and praise. Although he has received plenty of harsh critiques and plenty of praise, rarely does he get both from the same source in a balanced way. Indeed, in addition to my critiques I fully acknowledge Wilber’s historical significance, writing that: “Wilber’s quadrant model does for the internal universe what Descartes’ philosophy did for the external universe during the Enlightenment.” (p. 191). Moreover, I strive to adopt a “gentlemanly” tone, and do my best to assure that all my critiques are constructive. For example, as a preface to my critique of Wilber’s psychograph model I write: “Before I respectfully disagree with Wilber, I need to say that I’m grateful that he has chosen to explore these matters in the detail that he has, and I hope that the field of developmental psychology will take notice of integral philosophy’s advances in this area.” (page 251). Then I conclude my critique by writing: “I’m sure Wilber could advance some interesting counterarguments …” (page 256).

The point here is that as members of this small and emerging integral community we would do well to strive for a collegial custom of discourse that demonstrates the evolutionary advances of integral consciousness. I’m thus arguing for an “integral ethic” of brotherly (and sisterly) regard for one another that showcases the heightened sense of morality that accrues to those who have achieved an integral level of values. Let there be vigorous debate and rigorous critiques, but let these critiques be penned in a way that shows how we have risen above the petty sniping that characterizes so much of modernist and postmodern academic discourse. However, in the final analysis I have to acknowledge that it may take a while for the integral community to evolve its way into a kind of congenial approach that transcends the status quo, so I can certainly forgive Mr. Kalman for falling short in this spirit of collegial fair play that I commend.

One final point: Mr. Kalman takes me to task for not providing enough social science evidence; he argues that the claims of integral philosophy cannot be valid unless they are backed up by research, studies, and academically acceptable “proof.” Yet this proposed standard would effectively deprive integral philosophy of its important role of serving as a bridge between science and spirituality. As I argue in my book, at the integral stage of consciousness it is very important that we afford a degree of separation between science, philosophy, and religion. In practice, this means distinguishing between integral philosophy and our own spiritual belief system (separating philosophy and religion), and it also means allowing integral philosophy to transcend the limitations of social science research (separating science and philosophy).

Do we need social science to prove something culturally significant happened in the 1960s? Should we make sentence completion test research the foundation of our worldview? No, philosophers don’t do research to bring out new facts, they make progress by thinking deeply about the common facts that we can already see. Although integral philosophy relies on and incorporates the facts of both hard and soft science, its primary insights have been achieved through an examination of the patterns and structures of human history. And ironically, even when compelling empirical evidence of vertical development within consciousness is produced, it is generally ignored by psychologists, sociologists, and other professional academics. For example, in my discussion of the evidence for the spiral, I cite the University of Michigan’s recently completed “World Values Survey,” which provides abundant evidence of the stages of the spiral, yet this heroic work of research is being largely ignored by the social science community.

Thus, we need to resist the temptation to try to reduce integral philosophy to a social science in order to gain the elusive validation of mainstream academia. Indeed, the dysfunctional politicized logjam that is the current state of postmodern and modernist academia is one of the very life conditions that calls forth the transcendence into the integral worldview. So no matter what research we may come up with, we cannot expect that the cautious and conventional professionals who guard the gates of academic legitimacy will be willing to validate our transcendence of their way of thinking.

Steve McIntosh is the author of Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution (Paragon House 2007). For more information on his work, visit: