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Gregory Desilet Gregory Desilet is author of various writings on language and culture, such as Cult of the Kill: Traditional Metaphysics of Rhetoric, Truth, and Violence in a Postmodern World and Our Faith in Evil: Melodrama and the Effects of Entertainment Violence. See also:, which hosts an eulogy for Derrida. In his Misunderstanding Derrida Desilet questions Ken Wilber's understanding of postmodernism.


Derrida and Wilber
at the Crossroads
of Metaphysics

Gregory Desilet

This essay has been written originally to be included in the book Dancing with Sophia: Integral Philosophy on the Verge (SUNY Press). Published with permisson of the author. This is an summary and extension of the arguments found in essays published previously on Integral World. (FV)
My descriptions of the views of Wilber and Derrida are offered in a spirit of provocative inquiry rather than a posture of authoritative insistence on the correctness of Derrida's views.

Over several decades Ken Wilber has consistently addressed the task of modernizing and postmodernizing perennial philosophy. According to Wilber, advances in modern science and postmodern theory have been sufficiently validated to necessitate their inclusion in any scheme of understanding aimed at taking into account the full quality of human experience as currently measured among various world class philosophers, theologians, and spiritual practitioners. Admiring science and its emphasis on methods of verification, Wilber wants to make a science of spiritual wisdom. And, following postmodern epistemological critique and 20th century developments in science, he wants to upgrade that science to accord with current knowledge, including relativity theory in physics. Nevertheless, he wants to distance his views from certain aspects of postmodern theory—specifically all those views construing language as an endless play of signifiers untethered to anything outside the signifiers themselves. Wilber includes language theory among the many fields of theory in which he travels in his spiritual quest because the problem of meaning is analogous to the problem of spirit. Issues of meaning and spirit involve the interior and intangible side of experience and these qualities have proven difficult to render unto science due to the difficulty they present to measurement. But Wilber's efforts of analysis and theory construction have enabled him to arrive at a philosophy of integral spirituality he believes overcomes the difficulties posed by the interior and the intangible so that this realm now opens itself to access and management comparable to the tangible realm. And, if his work were indeed to accomplish such a task, it would be fair to say he has made it possible to pursue a science of spirituality.

This study argues instead that Wilber fails to formulate a science of spirituality consistent with his claims for the potential of such a science to relieve problems of verification and uncertainty. More specifically it maintains that Wilber's claim to have ventured into the realm of post-metaphysical thinking overreaches, that his spiritual orientation remains grounded in classical metaphysics, and that his belief in the post-metaphysical nature of his spirituality and philosophy depends on questionable assumptions about both metaphysics and postmodernism.

Despite his dissatisfaction with the term postmodern, this analysis will use the late Jacques Derrida as the exemplary postmodernist and will center primarily on comparing and contrasting elements of Wilber's views with those of Derrida. The pairing of Wilber and Derrida is featured because Wilber offers a reading of Derrida and because, in my view, Derrida provides the most cogent lines of argument pertinent to a critical examination of Wilber's positions. This pairing is also featured because I have had the benefit of personal encounters with both Wilber and Derrida. Though I was able to spend considerably more time with Derrida than with Wilber, both of these encounters presented opportunities to ask questions relevant to the issues addressed in this essay.

A few words should be said about how critical commentary may be seen to square with an integral approach to doing philosophy and spiritual inquiry. It would seem consistent with the logic of "integral" that an integral approach to inquiry focus on integrating different views by way of a process Wilber describes as "transcend and include." However, when an integral philosopher such as Wilber includes and appropriates the views of another thinker such as Derrida into the framework of his (Wilber's) orientation but does so on the basis of what appears to be an inadequate interpretation of those views, then critical commentary may be seen to be integrally beneficial in its effort to set the record straight. For, surely, integral theorists are not interested in building coherence out of misinterpretations of key philosophical works. And, if it should turn out to be the case that an illusory coherence were constructed on the basis of crucial misunderstandings of a philosophical position which, if adequately understood, challenged the metaphysical core of Wilber's spiritual vision, then it would be consistent with the integral desire for rigor and adequacy to throw open the door to this kind of critical commentary.

In the spirit of full disclosure I confess I am divided in my loyalties on points where integral and postmodern philosophies may be seen to have fundamental differences. On the one hand, I side with Wilber on the issue of grand narratives. One of the things I most admire about Wilber is his steadfast attempt to fashion a "theory of everything." In pursuit of this ambition the comprehensive interdisciplinary breadth of his reach into the archives of world knowledge and wisdom traditions has been remarkable and sets a standard few have been able to match. In my view, any philosophy claiming to be philosophy constitutes an attempt, explicit or otherwise, at grand narrative. Even when a philosophical position claims to be no more than, say, a philosophy of language or a philosophy of morality or a philosophy of whatever, it does not and cannot avoid including within itself default assumptions ushering in conclusions pertaining to metaphysics, conclusions about the nature of being which immediately trigger entanglement in a theory of everything. So, on the issue of metanarratives I do not side with Jean-François Lyotard insofar as postmodernism, as he defines it, avoids grand narratives. In my opinion, Derrida does not side with Lyotard on this issue either—a conclusion drawn from Derrida's statements that it is not possible to escape metaphysics.

On the other hand, when it comes to the question of the nature of being, I side with Derrida's postmodernism rather than Wilber's integral philosophy. In principle, there can be no deeper level of critical analysis than the metaphysical level, the question of being. Therefore, a challenge at the level of being is one that affects every aspect of what rests above it. In challenging Wilber's metaphysics, then, no part of his approach to spirituality remains untouched, but only the primary aspects affected are discussed below. This postmodern deconstructive challenge to Wilber need not be seen as an attempt to demolish integral philosophy or spirituality. Instead, the reason for illuminating the contrasts between Derrida and Wilber will be to demonstrate that the deconstructive approach cannot be, as Wilber would have it, appropriated into the integral project as Wilber understands and practices it. As will be argued, an adequate understanding of Derrida's thinking about being and time precludes translating it into an orientation compatible at the deepest levels with integral post-metaphysics. Whether this incompatibility requires revisions of integral foundations to the point where the notion of "integral" no longer seems appropriate is a question remaining to be worked out in spiritual communities relevant to the question.

Seeing Derrida and Wilber as opposed in their respective views of the nature of being requires a fundamental characterization of both thinkers with regard to metaphysical positioning. Any such characterization amounts to interpretation—and interpretations, as will be argued herein, may always be significantly skewed from the mark of adequate textual and contextual understanding.

So, again, in the spirit of full disclosure, the reader should understand my descriptions of the views of Wilber and Derrida are offered in a spirit of provocative inquiry rather than a posture of authoritative insistence on the correctness of Derrida's views or the correctness of my interpretations of Derrida's or Wilber's views.

Constraints on length also necessitate limited engagement with many of the reasons and arguments for the positions taken by Wilber and Derrida. Nevertheless, I have attempted within the space limitations of an essay to cite key passages concerning the ideas expressed and thereby also to provide as much support as possible for the accuracy of my interpretations of Wilber and Derrida. In this respect, the style of what is presented herein is more like journalistic reporting on events from a philosophical front line than a scholarly study (which would require something more like a book length endeavor). I report on the main philosophical maneuvers, as I see them, while encouraging readers to explore for themselves in greater detail the sources provided.

My exchange with Wilber is a good place to begin because it highlights a fundamental misreading of Derrida on Wilber's part. It is possible to view this particular instance of misreading as a minor lapse on Wilber's part, one not needing to be exploded into a major disjunction with the consequences I claim. However, I see this misreading as symptomatic of a very large difference between Wilber and Derrida running through the entire fabric of Wilber's thinking. Pulling on the thread of this difference results, I argue, in unraveling the fabric and rendering it into something substantially other than what Wilber intends and claims to offer. Wilber's misreading of Derrida is significant because it exposes a difference in their views with far-reaching consequences for any discussion of spirituality—especially any stance consistent with the deepest aspirations of the integral community and integral theorists. At bottom this difference hinges, as already mentioned, on a difference in metaphysical positions, the most important consequence of which, as will be explored below, pertains to differences in the understanding of transcendence.

Analysis of Derrida's Remarks in Positions

Wilber's reading is a bad misreading. In fact, this misreading twists what Derrida says into its opposite.

I met Ken Wilber at his Integral Spirituality book signing in Boulder in November of 2006. Based on comments he made concerning Derrida's views during the talk prior to the signing, I was most interested in his response to a particular question. When I approached him during the signing, I asked: "Do you believe Derrida errs by offering what amounts to a false critique of absolute transcendence?" Without hesitation he answered "yes." Derrida's approach, Wilber explained, contains a basic flaw most evident in his critique of transcendence culminating in specious claims about transcendental signifiers and signifieds. He directed me to the footnote in Integral Spirituality where he describes how Derrida came to understand the overstatement of the relativism of language advanced by many postmodern theorists, including Derrida himself. Wilber claimed Derrida reversed himself by acknowledging the transcendental signifier/signified's necessary role in language. This reversal occurred specifically in relation to the issue of translation. Since the passage in Wilber's book is brief and important and repeats the substance of what he said to me at the book signing, it bears repeating here since it can be cited and therefore verified by others:

Although poststructualism has many important, enduring, and universal truths, its rabid denial of universal truths landed it in the first of many performative contradictions. . . . But, in any event, that rather complete relativism ended with Derrida's admission, in Positions, of a transcendental signifier—there is a reality to which signifiers must refer in order [sic] get a conversation going. Without a transcendental signifier, Derrida said, we couldn't even translate languages—and there ended the extreme poststructualist stance. (Leaving behind its very important, but very partial, truths. Many of these partial truths of poststructualism—contextualism, constructivism, and aperspectivism—are fully incorporated in AQAL). . . . Overall, then, we might note that AQAL includes signifiers and signifieds and referents, including both their sliding (or relativistic, culturally-specific) and their non-sliding (universal) aspects [emphasis in original] (Wilber, 2006, note, pp. 155-56).

Derrida's admission, according to Wilber, marks a grudging capitulation to the necessity for an absolute ground, some manner of absolute transcendence in systems of meaning in order for such systems to be in any genuine sense meaningful. Wilber appears to have first introduced this reading of Derrida at a much earlier date than the Integral Spirituality text (e.g., Wilber, 2000, pp. 601-602). Wilber's reading of Derrida has been questioned previously by several commentators (Meyerhoff, 2006, 2010; Desilet, 2007a; Hampson, 2007). When I suggested to Wilber his belief Derrida had "reversed" himself regarding the transcendental signifier was likely not accurate based on my knowledge of Derrida, Wilber replied, "No, see for yourself. Look at what he says in Positions." Wilber continued, explaining that Derrida had finally realized the role of a transcendental signifier in language could not be eliminated without undermining a feature of language crucial to reliable communication. Not having the book in front of me and not sure what passage he might be referring to, I was unable to effectively contest the issue with him in the moment. Later that evening, I searched through my copy of Positions and found the passage in question. Before considering the broader philosophical implications of Wilber's insistence on the crucial role of the transcendental signifier and absolute transcendence, it is worthwhile reviewing in detail what Derrida actually says in Positions.

The passage Wilber refers to opens by establishing the context for what follows as one wherein the possibility of a transcendental signified is questioned. In this questioning Derrida asserts that the possibility for any signifier to function as a transcendental signifier is fundamentally linked to the possibility for a clear separation between signifier and signified. This separation is complicated, in Derrida's view, by the fact that every signified also behaves as a signifier.[1] Since, for Derrida, the problems of the transcendental signifier and the transcendental signified are inextricable and interchangeable, in Positions he uses the phrase "transcendental signifier/signified." He then submits a two-part explanation for why the distinction between signifier and signified is problematic and must be undertaken with exceptional caution.

a) it [the operation of clearly distinguishing between signifier and signified] must pass through the difficult deconstruction of the entire history of metaphysics which imposed, and never will cease to impose upon semiological science in its entirety this fundamental quest for a "transcendental signified" and a concept independent from language; this quest not being imposed from without by something like "philosophy," but rather by everything that links our language, our culture, our "system of thought" to the history and system of metaphysics (Derrida, 1981, p. 20).

The "entire history of metaphysics" has never ceased to "impose upon semiological science" the a quest for a "concept independent of language" because this is precisely what is needed in order to provide the metaphysical ground for a "science" of semiology, a "science" of language and meaning. Also, Derrida underscores the need for a transcendental role for the signified in order for there to be a clean separation of the roles of signified and signifier. He next points out, however, that inability to mark a clean separation of signified and signifier does not thereby imply a complete merging of the roles of signified and signifier, since languages do in fact perform certain functions, including translation from one language to another.

b) nor is it a question of confusing at every level, and in all simplicity, the signifier and the signified. That this opposition or difference cannot be radical or absolute does not prevent it from functioning, and even from being indispensable within certain limits—very wide limits. For example, no translation would be possible without it (Derrida, 1981, p. 20).

This segment appears to be the source of Wilber's confusion. He reads the last sentence as Derrida's admission that translation would not be possible without the transcendental signifier/signified. In arriving at this misunderstanding Wilber appears to do the following: In part b he reads the sentence—"For example, no translation would be possible without it"—such that the antecedent for the preposition "it" becomes "the transcendental signified" (which concept is featured in part a). But a careful reading shows that the antecedent for it in the previous sentence is "this opposition or difference." And "this opposition or difference" is that between the signified and signifier—a difference remaining slippery and fundamentally problematic, a distinction not transparently clear nor "radical or absolute." Consequently, in this passage Derrida is only acknowledging the complication of the distinction between signified and signifier need not entail assuming the complete collapse of the distinction. He reinforces this point in the next sentences.

In effect, the theme of a transcendental signified took shape within the horizon of an absolutely pure, transparent, and unequivocal translatability. In the limits to which it is possible, or at least appears possible, translation practices the difference between signified and signifier. But if this difference is never pure, no more so is translation, and for the notion of translation we would have to substitute a notion of transformation: a regulated transformation of one language by another, of one text by another. We will never have, and in fact have never had, to do with some "transport" of pure signifieds from one language to another, or within one and the same language, that the signifying instrument would leave virgin and untouched [emphasis in original] (Derrida, 1981, p. 20).

When Derrida says, "translation practices the difference between signified and signifier" he prefaces this with the crucial words: "In the limits to which it is possible, or at least appears possible." And he notes further that "this difference is never pure," never clear to the point of being a difference calculable to the measure of unequivocal transparency. Therefore, the difference between signifier and signified always remains problematic and thereby so also does translation.

When Derrida states, "In effect, the theme of a transcendental signified took shape within the horizon of an absolutely pure, transparent, and unequivocal translatability," he describes the presuppositional landscape within which the transcendental signified is theorized as possible in traditional metaphysics. He calls into question precisely the metaphysics corresponding to this theme and horizon. In other contexts he argues that insistence on transparency and the transcendental signifier are symptomatic of the metaphysics of presence (e.g., Derrida, 1974, pp. 44-65). Contrary to this metaphysical framework, Derrida proposes that the limits of signification (and thereby communication) indicate another necessity—namely that a pure transparency of signifier and signified or of text and translation is not possible ("We will never have, and in fact have never had, to do with some 'transport' of pure signifieds . . ." etc.). In summary, in these passages Derrida explains why he subscribes to the view that all interpretation is translation and all translation is transformation. Accordingly, the transcendence that would enable pure transparency is, for Derrida, out of the question—or at least irreducibly problematic.

Wilber's reading is a bad misreading. In fact, this misreading twists what Derrida says into its opposite. The possibility for such a misreading serves only to reinforce Derrida's claim that language can never guarantee a particular understanding. And, consistent with this claim, the reader should remain alert to the possibility that the reading I propose as an alternative to Wilber's offers no guarantee of transparency with Derrida's text. Nevertheless, it is a reading that recommends itself because it does not require believing Derrida abdicated his entire project in one sentence, as Wilber too readily assumes. Wilber's misunderstanding confirms the constant potential in language for misunderstanding and verifies that a problematic difference between signifier and signified always operates to insure interpretation is little more than a species of translation. This interpretive translation always accomplishes transformations—and thereby potential misreadings—not only between languages but within the same language.

Having established how he has misread Derrida, it remains to consider why Wilber has so easily misread him. Derrida and Wilber are both in agreement concerning the intimate connection—implicit in the metaphysical ground or core assumptions of philosophical and spiritual orientations—between transcendental signifiers and signifieds and notions of transcendence. However, according to Derrida and in the wake of his broad deconstruction of metaphysics, any metaphysical position explicitly or implicitly providing a substantial role for forms of absolute transcendence is a metaphysics necessarily resurrecting all the problems and dead-ends of traditional metaphysics postmodern philosophers have labored to escape. Wilber's misreading of Derrida only adds further proof of strong attachment to belief in a particular tradition of absolute transcendence. And this belief is odd given Wilber's assertions in Integral Spirituality that he has arrived at a post-metaphysical spiritual and philosophical position. Wilber adheres to a species of transcendentalism and Derrida regards all such transcendentalism as classically metaphysical. The question then becomes: how can Wilber claim to be post-metaphysical in his thinking when Derrida has argued that the notion of absolute transcendence—to which it is argued Wilber subscribes—is of a piece with the "entire history of metaphysics"?

Wilber on Metaphysics and Post-Metaphysics

In Integral Spirituality Wilber argues lack of transparency of meaning—the problem of the sliding aspects of signifiers, the potential for different yet valid readings in communication and interpretation—opens the door to varieties of relativity of meaning. Radical relativity of meaning leads not only to problems in communication, which threaten the transmission of spiritual knowledge, but also problems of transcendence, which threaten the foundation, objectivity, and universal value of spiritual knowledge. In response, Wilber proposes the problem of relativity can be resolved by appeal to a system of Kosmic addressing.

Given terminologies achieve precise and repeatable meanings, according to Wilber, insofar as terms may be assigned coordinates in a matrix based on his four quadrant division of being—the mapping device he refers to with the acronym AQAL (all quadrants, all levels). Briefly, the AQAL quadrant is a refinement of the subject/object relation, the classic relation of all modern philosophy. AQAL extends the subject/object relation from a duality to a quadrant. It does so by assigning singular and plural modes to the subject and singular and plural modes to the object.

In this quadrant partitioning, the upper left becomes the I quadrant (interior-individual or subjective) and we occupies the lower left (interior-collective or cultural), while it belongs to the upper right (exterior-individual or behavioral) and its the lower right (exterior-collective or social). The left/right dimensions of this division can also be understood as the difference between what can be experienced and what can be observed—where experience is understood to mean, among other things, that which is not directly accessible to observation. Each quadrant is further divided into developmental levels of complexity. The upper left, for example, manifests broader and deeper levels of consciousness; the lower left, increasingly complex orders of cultural knowledge and practice; the upper right, growing complexity in organizations of atoms and molecules into limbic and neocortex systems; and the lower right, ever more sophisticated forms of social organization such as agrarian, industrial, and informational.

Wilber generates his Kosmic addressing coordinates against this AQAL background. With respect to how any object or any signified comes into existence and takes on meaning, Wilber asserts that "part of an object's Kosmic address is the fact that objects come into being, or are enacted, only at various developmental levels of complexity and consciousness" (Wilber, 2006, p. 252). Thus, the address of any particular object contains among its coordinates an indication of the quadrant and the level of development within the quadrant to be attained in order for that object to appear or make sense. For example, climate change and global warming will make sense only to a society having attained a level of consciousness and knowledge capable of observing and grasping the import of complex meteorological phenomena. Consistent with this level aspect of the quadrant system, an object's address must include designation of the quadrant coordinates for the developmental level of the perceiver (consciousness) as well as the coordinates of the perceived (external phenomenon).

Kosmic address referencing provides a system of grounded meaning and communication which, according to Wilber, supplants the need for positing ex nihilo an ultimate objective ground of reference or a pure given. Consequently, Wilber's ontological position shifts away from forms of classical realism and the positing of objects as existing entirely independent of perceivers. His view counts as a species of relativistic perspectivism and he wants to clearly separate this view from any connection with traditional forms of philosophy or metaphysics. In fact, Wilber defines metaphysical thought in such a way as to make the departure from reliance on any manner of givenness count as post-metaphysical thinking.

Whether they [objects] exist in some other way [apart from their "enactment" through various developmental levels as indicated in AQAL] CANNOT BE KNOWN in any event, and assuming that they do exist entirely independently of a knowing mind is nothing but the myth of the given and the representational paradigm—that is, is just another type of metaphysical thinking and thus not adequately grounded. At any event, post-metaphysical thinking does not rely on the existence of a pregiven world and the myth of that givenness (Wilber, 2006, p. 252).

Metaphysical thinking, in contrast to Kosmic addressing, posits a foundational ground as given, which means completely lacking in evidence and justification. The correction for this metaphysical magic trick of positing something out of nothing arises from a willingness to give up on the myth of the given and accept nothing as an imposed and posited ultimate ground. With no such ultimate ground, however, everything becomes absolutely relative to everything else. In the absence of such a posited metaphysical ground a reliable means of location can only be accomplished through something like Wilber's system of Kosmic addressing whereby everything in existence can only be located within a network of relations of one thing to another.

Wilber believes his system of addressing can adequately take the place of what the metaphysical given was supposed to do but could not do—namely, provide a form of objective reference. The problems of location, assignment of meaning, and indeed existence itself are resolved insofar as Kosmic addressing serves as a collectively repeatable and communicable mode of identification for objects, events, and life-forms in the world. In other words, what is now required for existence is the specification of "the location of both the perceiver and the perceived, relative to each other" (Wilber, 2006, p. 255). Nevertheless, this form of relativity does not preclude the possibility for a science of meaning in the sense of calculable, repeatable, and communicable operations. And it does not, Wilber argues, preclude invariants and particular forms of absolute transcendence. The apparent contradiction of the continued role of absolute transcendence in Wilber's integral spirituality, despite his concessions to relativity, will be explained shortly.

Wilber's work supposedly ends the age of metaphysics because it makes it possible to locate everything in mutually verifiable ways. It now becomes possible to speak of interior or subjective phenomena and experiences with terminologies capable of verification by external procedures such that these phenomena are demonstrable to others. This is so because the Kosmic addressing system avoids the pitfalls of mere abstraction and breezy postulating by referencing, through its AQAL coordinates, a set of observable operations rather than referencing exclusively interior events such as feelings, cognitions, concepts, ideas, revelations, or the like.

Meanings, when tied to some manner of observable performance tests, reliably produce the experience or existence corresponding to the signifier in question. More specifically, an injunction prompts a series of actions which in turn produce an experience which calls forth the awareness or knowledge in question. The validity of this knowledge experience or meaning may, if desired, be further subjected to the tests of a community of those who have already performed the injunction and achieved the experience. With this methodological approach it becomes possible to collectively verify the existence of everything by providing something like a map with directions for arriving at a direct experience with whatever is at issue.

This verification process includes especially inner experiences such as the experience of God. In the case of modes of spiritual enlightenment, for example, if persons perform actions A, B, C, and so forth, they will have experience E (enlightenment). This process, according to Wilber, takes the form: "If you want to know this, do this" (Wilber, 2006, p. 267).

In summary, it may be said that Wilber has devised a post-metaphysical philosophical position because it makes it possible to escape metaphysics (the postulating of givens) by introducing into the left interior side of the AQAL quadrant the kind of verifiability and objective reference possible in the right side of the quadrant. Previously unverifiable and loosely located meaning and value structures of the interior quadrants now acquire the same status of verifiability as the observable features of the exterior quadrants. The left side of the quadrant now escapes ungrounded metaphysical fuzziness. As Wilber expresses it, "The meaning of a statement is the injunction of its enactment. No injunction, no enactment, no meaning. That is, mere metaphysics" (Wilber, 2006, p. 268). Meaning must have a use and if it cannot be operationalized in or through a set of observable processes which can be noticed, repeated, and preserved by others then it cannot count as meaningful. With respect to spirituality and the question of God, this means that in a very concrete sense the existence of God, the ultimate transcendental signified, is, in Wilber's view, verifiable and may be verified by any person who chooses to undertake the demonstration.

For Wilber, then, the genuine path to God consists of revelation through the practice or enactment of a set of prescribed behaviors or overt expressions rather than exclusively the incorporation of a set of particular, highly specific beliefs. God is authentically discovered through experience rather than through faith or belief. This approach to spirituality shares some similarities with science in its operationalization of the path to proof or revelation. However, certain limits to the path to revelation through operationalization can be discerned even in behaviors as everyday as the use of language—the practice around which so much of Wilber's thinking turns.

Derrida and Wittgenstein: The Limits of Language and Science

What might Derrida have to say about an operationalized theory of meaning?

The problem of inner experience and unobservable phenomena—mental processes especially—obsessed logical positivists such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and continued to preoccupy him in his later work. The view of the early positivists is sometimes represented by the dictum: If it exists, it can be measured—a dictum which also reads as: If it cannot be measured, it does not exist. Wilber's desire to locate meaning by operationalizing it through sequences of observable processes parallels Wittgenstein's later work which highlights language as operationalization, as "operating with signs." Words are like currency in having material substance and social exchange value or use value. For Wittgenstein, a person cannot have a private language any more than it would be possible to have a private currency. In this respect, meaning must be demonstrably viable within a marketplace in order to avoid becoming valueless word salad. Similarly, the claims to enlightenment and revelation from spiritual practitioners must be demonstrably viable within a larger community in order to be distinguished from hallucination and other forms of false consciousness.

Granting, for the moment, a similarity between Wilber and Wittgenstein with regard to a theory of meaning and given the discussion thus far concerning differences between Wilber and Derrida, what might Derrida have to say about an operationalized theory of meaning? And, more specifically, since Derrida never read or commented on Wilber, what might Derrida have to say about Wittgenstein's view of meaning?

In the early 1990s, during a trip to the University of California at Irvine where Derrida was a visiting professor, I asked him if he had read Wittgenstein, since Wittgenstein was so prominent a theorist in the area of language theory about which Derrida had written so much. To my surprise he said he had read only a few commentaries on him. He explained he did not want to begin reading such a formidable body of work unless he could devote a great deal of time to it, and, thus far, he had not found the time. Derrida died in 2006 before finding the time, so we will never have the benefit of his reading of Wittgenstein. But at our meeting, Derrida did respond briefly to a famous passage from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations. Here is what I read to him:

Suppose everyone had a box with something in it: we call it a "beetle". No one can look into anyone else's box, and everyone says he knows what a beetle is only by looking at his beetle. Here it would be quite possible for everyone to have something different in his box. One might even imagine such a thing constantly changing. But suppose the word "beetle" had a use in these people's language? If so it would not be used as the name of a thing. The thing in the box has no place in the language-game at all; not even as a something: for the box might even be empty. No, —one can 'divide through' by the thing in the box; it cancels out, whatever it is (Wittgenstein, 1953, p. 293).

With this imaginative illustration (called the Beetle Box Analogy), Wittgenstein attacks the model of language which presupposes a crucial role for unobservable and inaccessible mental states in the communication transaction. However, the example is not intended to show unobservable mental states are not a possible part of what may transpire in thought and communication. It is only intended to show that whatever may transpire in the mind which may seem to remain inaccessible to public examination need not be a necessary part of the processes called thinking and communication.

Though never comfortable commenting on excerpts taken out of context, on hearing the Beetle Box passage an immediate problem appeared to Derrida. He objected that the signifier itself, the word beetle, is as much a box into which no one can look as the "box with something in it." Cancelling out what is in each person's box therefore achieves nothing with respect to addressing problems of meaning and communication.

Derrida went on to explain that because the word beetle has a use in a given language does not mean this signifier becomes functionally transparent through verbal enactments.[2] The signifier is every bit as problematic, according to Derrida, as the signified. Cancelling out the thing in the box amounts to collapsing the distinction between signifier and signified, which, as noted earlier in the discussion of Positions, is no more possible in Derrida's view than drawing a clear distinction between signifier and signified. The material signifier (sign) does not and cannot escape issues of transparency besetting an immaterial signified (meaning). In other words, problems of meaning cannot be significantly alleviated, according to Derrida, by shifting the burden to whatever may appear to be the social exchange value of material signifiers—words and sounds—in writing and speech.

By contrast, for Wittgenstein as well as for Wilber, all aspects of what may be collectively important about mental states are accessible in the sense that they manifest themselves in corresponding observable operations. If something were to remain fundamentally hidden from view, it would not be significant to the essence of these processes—"it cancels out, whatever it is." With respect to the role of mental processes in thought and communication Wittgenstein remarks: "It is misleading then to talk of thinking as of a 'mental activity'. We may say that thinking is essentially the activity of operating with signs" (Wittgenstein, 1958, pp. 6-7).

But thinking can safely be reduced to operating with signs only if it is possible to be certain it does not matter what is inside the beetle box. But to what extent is certainty warranted in such cases? Imagine, for example, that you know of no word in your language to fit what you have in your box. So you use several sentences to describe it. Others then take these sentences and, in a sense, reverse engineer them in order to construct for themselves what may be in your box. It seems most of the time, through social interaction, that others have adequately processed your description and have understood what is in your box. But on some occasions others make reference to this item in a way which seems to indicate they have not adequately understood. How might this be explained?

Consider, for example, the play of a chess grandmaster. The effects of the grandmaster's mental activity are observed as pieces on the board are moved and checkmate is achieved. When this happens often enough against other great players the grandmaster's credibility rises. Others may ask how he does it. They may suggest he write a book. But could a book be written providing a set of instructions guaranteeing any other player who follows those instructions will become equally as good as the grandmaster? Even the grandmaster's close and attentive coaching may provide no guarantee of such success. In the world of chess these measures have been taken many times among grandmasters and students and it may be safely said there are no set of operations ensuring the level to which any given player can rise. Coaching and practice may be important ingredients but at a certain level of mastery it becomes difficult to instruct anyone on how exceptional greatness is achieved. The grandmaster's difference is operationalized in game performances yet the secret of success remains hidden. The secret cannot itself be operationalized in a set of words or routines and provides an ongoing stimulus to others to uncover it. The secret is unobservable (say, in the grandmaster's beetle box) but not therefore entirely inaccessible or untheorizable to the imagination due to its observed effects. This residual or partially hidden genius is anything but irrelevant to solving the puzzle of the game of chess, as those who have tried to program a computer to play like a grandmaster have discovered.

If it were decided in advance, as Wittgenstein seems inclined to decide, that what is inside the box does not matter, then the importance of communication (understood as successful social operations) has trumped the importance of aspiration and competition in the challenge of gaining insight through learning and inquiry and has perhaps even trumped the importance of that most controversial and besieged of values: truth.

In fairness to Wittgenstein, however, it should be noted that some commentators (e.g., Staten, 1984) have argued persuasively that his later views contain many important elements of a deconstructive view, such as appreciation for the role of context and the examination of particular cases. Other commentators (e.g., Hymers, 2005) show that it would also be a mistake to identify Wittgenstein too thoroughly with the varieties of verificationism associated with the Vienna Circle. Wittgenstein's radical operationism differs from verificationism in several respects, primarily with regard to differences between the former as a theory of meaning and the latter as a theory of truth. For Wittgenstein, the fact that a word has a use in a language and how language-users come to know the use of a word (the meaning of a word is its use) must be distinguished from verification theories of truth relying on immediate sense experience (the meaning of a statement is its method of verification). And other commentators (e.g., Lyotard, 1984) have noted Wittgenstein cannot be entirely summed up within the framework of a performative theory of meaning. So it is not obvious Wittgenstein's use of "operating with signs" need be understood as offering a narrowly performative theory of meaning. Insofar as a convincing case can be made for this more complex reading of Wittgenstein, this reading would perhaps separate him to some degree from Wilber as reflected in Wilber's dictum: "If you want to know this, do this."

However, in fairness to Wilber, it is important to be especially clear about this dictum. Wilber does not intend for it to imply a kind of behaviorism, verificationism, or scientism. These interpretations would land his approach back in the two-dimensional "flatland" he rails against which reduces all being to the right side of the AQAL quadrant. His operationism seeks to avoid reductionism by preserving immaterial quality alongside material phenomena. This entanglement of the immaterial and the material entails that qualitative phenomena remain accessible by way of the trace of the operational (or material) in their being just as material objects retain the trace of the immaterial in their being. In this way Wilber seeks to overcome the traditional dualism of the material and the spiritual. For Wilber, spirit is one, includes matter, and manifests itself though all the expressions of creation. Derrida's departure from this position does not suggest a renewed dualism of spirit and matter. Instead, his departure consists primarily of the claim that the being of any such spirit must be divided in itself in an essential rupture, a non-identity with itself, in order for there to be anything at all. This self-division, touched on here, will be discussed more thoroughly in the remaining sections.

For purposes of broadening the scope and relevance of issues of observation and operationalization beyond language and into the wider arena of science, consider another analogy offered by Albert Einstein regarding attempts to decipher the operations of the natural world.

In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears it ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of the mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison [emphasis added] (Einstein and Infeld as cited in Gregory, 1988, p. 189).

Einstein's Watch Analogy is similar to Wittgenstein's Beetle Box Analogy. But there is also an important difference. Einstein does not suggest that what is inside the watch is irrelevant. There are several points to unpack in this analogy. First, there is the possibility of more than one explanation adequately accounting for all observations of the watch. Second—and this point grows from what is only implied in the example—there is the possibility that, over time, the initial explanation may prove inadequate to account for further observations and measurements. And third, there is the impossibility of ever opening the case and comparing the picture of the mechanism with the real mechanism.

This last point may seem strange but it may help to see it in a slightly different way. Einstein intends to suggest that the problem of getting inside the watch is analogous to the problem of getting outside nature in order to objectively see it from the outside in. But this would, at bottom, require getting outside the entire universe in order to look inside. The inability to compare, the inability to "even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison," is precisely the problem of the inability to get outside all context, to stand in a non-context which would provide an absolute position from which to compare. From within this way of conceptualizing nature, from within this model of being, knowing truth with certainty is in principle impossible.

In the domain of language theory, Derrida takes pains to point out no sign or set of signs can coerce or guarantee one particular interpretation. As a consequence, he argues further that choices always exist between competing alternatives which the evidence of material signs received from the senses is not sufficient in itself to decide. Instances where alternative interpretations do not appear or do not seem possible may be explained as a poverty of imagination. The presence of alternatives produces what Derrida calls an undecidable fork—undecidable not in the sense that a decision cannot be made on some basis but rather undecidable in that a decision is not automatically made due to a preponderance of material evidence in favor of one alternative over another. As such, according to Derrida, whatever the relationship between signifier and signified may be, it is not a causal relationship—as language demonstrates every day through the misunderstandings to which it continually gives rise. Granted, such misunderstandings are open to repair, but the process of repair is itself conducted by way of the same processes which are exposed to misunderstanding.

In the domain of physical science, in a given instance of the reading of the "signs" of physical evidence, a clash of different explanations equally responsive to observation and evidence results in a dilemma referred to as the problem of underdetermination, where a theory, meaning, or interpretation cannot be shown to be uniquely true or verified. The pervasiveness of underdetermination in relation to meaning in language explains why, in Derrida's view, there can be no determinate science or hermeneutics of meaning and no determinate science of the relationship between signifier and signified. This impasse accounts for statements of his to the effect that communication is (im)possible—possibly possible and possibly impossible but certainly insolubly problematic (Derrida, 1982, pp. 309-330).

Derrida offers another way of expressing the consequences issuing from underdetermination in his use of notions such as repetition-with-a-difference and iterability. Both refer to the spatial/temporal embedment whereby the limited number of signifiers in any given language necessarily involves their repeated use through constantly changing contexts. The meaning of signs must be flexible and interpretable enough to be used in changing contexts, otherwise the communicative function of language would be completely nullified. Yet this flexibility is precisely what also threatens and undermines fully transparent communication. Derrida finds this feature of language sufficiently ironclad to warrant calling it the law of iterability (for a full account of the law of iterability see Derrida, 1977, 234). Iterability splits and divides the signifier through spatial/temporal difference and deferring, loosening and transforming the bond between signifier and signified, but not destroying the connection. This play in the system of signifiers insures that signifiers and signifieds always contaminate one another. Furthermore, this play insures not only the ever-present potential but also necessity for error or mistakenness in the reading and writing of signs through their radical incapacity to locate in an absolute sense.

In Derrida's view, there can be, in principle, no system of address escaping the law of iterability or repetition-with-a-difference. Yet Wilber sees this dependency of signs on changing context as a problem of relativism to be overcome in a manner analogous to the way in which the problem of measurement is overcome in special relativity. The following argument occurs in the context of Wilber's most recent and definitive defense of his Kosmic addressing account of language.

As everybody knows, Einstein's theory [of special relativity] is badly misnamed; he thought about calling it things like absolute theory or invariance theory. The idea is that there is no fixed point anywhere in the universe that can be considered center; each thing can be located only relative to each other; this still creates absolutes and universals, but in a sliding system of reference to each other and to the system as a whole at any given time, with time itself being set by the invariant speed of light (Wilber, 2006, p. 253).

But Wilber's use of special relativity in this sense is misleading at best because it sidesteps the complicating role of context. Within any circumscribed context certain invariants will become possible. The selected context for special relativity corresponds to four-dimensional Minkowski space. This Minkowski space artificially frames the cosmos and establishes a particular space within which specified events transpire. But this space has not proven sufficient for understanding all events occurring in the observed cosmos. This insufficiency led Einstein to formulate the theory of general relativity and a corresponding new context of spacetimes through interconnecting gravitational fields. This new context of Riemann space consistent with general relativity displaces Minkowski space. General relativity, in turn, has also proven inadequate in accounting for other observations of the physical world and has given way in the microcosmic realm to contextualizations imposed by quantum mechanics. The currently dominant explanation of the phenomenon of nonlocality in quantum theory requires conceiving of a spacetime in which nonlocal effects (or "information") not only travel faster than the speed of light but are nearly instantaneous. As a result, the speed of light as an absolute limit to travel and effects within spacetime remains thoroughly questionable. In the cosmological context, the only absolute may be the absolute lack of absolutes.

Within each of these selected spatial contexts it becomes possible to work with particular types of invariants allowing for repeatable measurements. But this is perfectly consistent with Derrida's deconstruction, since the problems of underdetermination deconstruction underscores are a direct result of the problem of contextualization—which is the problem of the absence of an absolute context of contexts. Everywhere humans look, whether in language or in the cosmos, context is infinitely large, infinitely small, and infinitely divisible. This means the problem of context is a problem not only of where to draw the boundaries but how to draw them in ways not so reductionistic as to become irrelevant to the complexity of the field of study. And this challenge is rendered more complex by the endless recontextualizations wrought by the passing of time or what Derrida refers to as the yet-to-come.

Wilber does acknowledge the important role of context and the constant shifting of context through time as presented in much of postmodern theory yet fails to theorize that role radically enough. Wilber's analogy between Kosmic addressing and Einstein's special relativity therefore remains inadequate to the challenge of deconstruction and the pervasive problem of contextualization. Wherever a context is drawn, there are always other ways of drawing it which then open the door to alternative addresses for selected things and events. The crucial problem, then, is not so much one of relativity as it is one of multiple contexts along with the underdetermination of signs—material, observable marks—within and through shifting and overlapping contexts.

Furthermore, the limitation of addressing cannot be resolved by the notion that multiple contexts provide multiple addresses and thereby a complex convergence of object identity through an intersecting mapping of these multiple addresses. If each address is itself potentially incomplete and/or misdirecting, the accumulation of addresses may add stimulation and provoke thinking but cannot fulfill identity and overcome the potential for a "misreading of signs." Problems of iterability and underdetermination necessitate that any given address, contrary to Wilber's claims and consistent with Derrida's theorizing of language, does not and cannot ever provide an instruction which will guarantee arriving at a particular location.

This is not to say Wilber's addressing system cannot be useful. Instead, it points out that his addressing system does not rest on the kind of absolute foundation he claims for it in Integral Spirituality. And, as Derrida would insist, understanding and appreciating these limitations of sign systems is crucial for an adequate understanding of the nature of being. This is the case because, from the point of view of inquiry and understanding, everything material, the entire physical world, functions as a sign to the inquiring mind. This broadening of inquiry is reflected in the exasperatingly broad question: What does it all mean? An adequate understanding of the nature of being (to the extent that is possible) is necessary for achieving an adequate metaphysics—or at least an adequate understanding of the limits of metaphysics. Correspondingly, this understanding of the limits of metaphysics also provides an understanding of what may be thought of as the boundaries of the spiritual.

Economies of Order and the Limits of Metaphysics

As mentioned in the previous section, play in the system of signifiers insures potential for mistakenness in the reading and writing of signs combined with a necessary constraint against providing absolute or thoroughly objective location. This necessarily incomplete, partial, or perspectival nature of human understanding may be viewed as the consequence of an essential flaw in the being of human being. This is the course of explanation often found in institutionalized spiritual traditions. Alternatively, this limitation may be viewed, as Derrida argues, as a consequence of being itself. The nature of being may be such that it can only reveal itself partially—in glimpses which enforce measures of omnipresent blindness precluding absolute certainty and thereby necessitate some manner of error. The words blindness and error are italicized because these terms tend to lose their traditional meaning when applied to a system exceeding a traditional economy of order. The word "economy" is used to indicate a structured movement of exchange, interaction, and transaction. In the context of metaphysics, "economy" refers to the potential for transitions and transformations of being. An economy built around a principle of precise measurement, strict correspondence of cause and effect, and, speaking fiduciarily, a balance of payments, corresponds to a closed economy. Scientific theories of the natural world lean strongly in favor of theorizing whatever system is being observed as a closed economy because closed economies are more amendable to basic mathematical strategies of measurement and calculation (think Newton's F=ma and Einstein's E=mc2).

But there are alternative economies of order, economies that see partiality (lack of fullness) and limitation (contamination) as a consequence of the nature of being itself, of the nature of all creation. Derrida (1978), following Georges Bataille, calls such an alternative economy of order a general economy. A general economy features the necessity of interrelation and dissemination of information or meaning as exceeding all measures of control and recuperation. It forms a law of irrecuperable loss. This general economy circulates around and through an excess irreducibly present in the nexus of causes and effects. Philosopher and literary theorist Arkady Plotnitsky (1994) explores Derrida's use of general economy in great detail alongside parallel developments in theoretical physics. In Plotnitsky's study, a general economy, according to Bataille, "makes apparent that excesses of energy are produced, which, by definition, cannot be utilized. The excessive energy can only be lost without the slightest aim, consequently without any meaning" (Plotnitsky, 1994, pp. 1-2).

This possibility for irrecuperable loss is theorized by Derrida in his notion of the trace—a term he finds descriptive of the quality of being. The trace is an absenting presencing, disappearing as it appears. In the process of emergence there is also loss, a persistence/desistance similar to the flame of a candle. The flame moves through time but it is not the "same" through every instant because its previous existence has become its past. Its previous existence, its past being, is now apprehensible only as memory. Like words in language, the tracks of the trace are readable but are also themselves traces. And what passes away in the tracings of being at any moment in time may be of incalculable value. Even if being is archived in a kind of library or museum or memory bank there is no guarantee that "it" is preserved in its essence because part of its essence consists of its temporal context. And since context is always on the move, there is no way to preserve without loss. This is the crucial consequence of a general economy. Because it is not possible to fully control this loss through any means of flawless preservation, this economy lacks closure and remains open to indeterminate change from the future. This feature of unpredictability (technically named entropy) is inherent in systems that lack strict causality.

The economy of order implicit in classical principles of cause and effect Bataille calls a restricted economy—restricted in the sense of a closure whereby every action immediately or eventually provokes what can be understood and measured as a proportionate reaction. "Restricted economies consider their objects and the relationships between those objects as always meaningful and claim that the systems they deal with can avoid the unproductive expenditure of energy and control multiplicity and indeterminacy within themselves. General economy exposes such claims as untenable" (Plotnitsky, 1994, p. 2). The untenability of these claims became evident in the 20th century when lack of strict causality emerged as a notable limitation in the theorization of information systems as well as the understanding of microcosmic particles in quantum physics.

A notable distinction between restricted and general economies arises from the different ways in which oppositional relation must be correspondingly structured. This difference will prove to be important in the upcoming discussion of transcendence. A restricted economy imposes a structuring principle establishing a strong polarity of opposites and clear lines of choice. In a restricted economy the structural tension between opposites such as true and false or fact and interpretation operates with a clarity facilitating either/or alternatives and decision-making. In a general economy, however, every oppositional structure submits to a reversal and a displacement. This displacement involves an extraordinary reconfiguration of the structure or dynamic play between opposites.

Plotnitsky expresses this displacement of traditional oppositional tensions using as key example the tension between description and reality, interpretation and that which is interpreted. This tension points out an important distinction in his use of the terms absolute and radical. He says, for example, there cannot be "an absolute difference between an account and that which is being accounted for in a general economy. Once difference is absolute [between any set of classic opposites], it is not radical enough for a general economy. Absolute difference or exteriority of that type would always lead to a restricted economy, repressing the radical—but again never absolute—difference defined by and defining the field of general economy" [emphasis added] (Plotnitsky, 1994, p. 22).

A general economy displaces discrete and essential difference between opposites with a new structure wherein the opposition presents a tension between elements both different yet connected, both penetrated to the core each by the other yet irreducible one to the other. Plotnitsky calls this structure complementary—after Niels Bohr and the quantum theory of wave/particle duality. Thus, the quantum view of matter and energy is an example of a general economy, as is any economy in which a version of entropy operates—where entropy is understood as imposing an element of disorder, disjunction, or loss of information yielding unpredictability, incalculability, or irretrievability. In addition to quantum theory, deconstructive semiology falls into this category of entropic systems.

Applying the principle of complementarity to any oppositional pair yields a structure in which the two sides of the opposition penetrate each other in every instance such that there is no pure instance of either. This circumstance then entails there can be no crossing over from an impure state to a pure state (absolute transcendence) because there are no pure states or pure instances of anything. This circumstance of oppositional structure supports, according to Derrida, the notion of a universal law of contamination (analogous to the law of iterability). This universal contamination does not accord with degrees of mixture or gradations of difference. Instead, this law of contamination presents the circumstance of superposition—superposition of continuity (irreducible dependence) and discontinuity (irreducible separation). In the domain of language, complementarity is consistent with the emergence of meaning variously through contingent contexts precluding a calculus of discrete either/or discriminations. Discriminations or judgments are not so much coerced or caused but rather motivated—motivated by a limited perception informed by the evaluation of what appear to be the most relevant factors of a here and now context. This universal law of contamination consistent with a general economy and a complementary structure of oppositional relation necessitates a deconstructive rethinking of the notion of transcendence. And, as might be guessed, this rethinking of the notion of transcendence bears importantly on the evaluation of Wilber's theorizing of transcendence, especially concerning his view of spiritual enlightenment.

Transcendence, Enlightenment, and Derrida's Radical Atheism

Among theological traditions including a notion of God as creator and origin of the cosmos, one of the most commonly occurring distinctions may be found in the division between God and what God has made. Such distinctions follow the model of oppositional structure in which there is a sharp division between the two sides of the opposition, whereby God exists completely separate from and independent of creation. Furthermore, God is perfect and God's creation is perfect—at least until corrupted by a contaminating element entirely separate from God (usually explained as brought into existence as a consequence of God's bestowal of free choice among the agents in creation). In these types of cosmologies, therefore, God remains wholly transcendent of creation. The possibility of transcendence for the beings of God's creation entails liberation from exposure to sources of contamination. This enables a crossing over into the realm of existence which is in essence reunification with God and God's perfection. This transcendence is an absolute transcendence into perfected or fully realized being. In some spiritual traditions this transcendence is called salvation and in others it is called enlightenment.

From the language Wilber uses in his current characterizations of spirit and enlightenment in Integral Spirituality it becomes clear his spirituality remains within what Derrida calls a restricted economy. All restricted economies fall within classical metaphysical traditions and cannot be regarded as in any profound sense "post-metaphysical" as Wilber claims for his integral spirituality. There are two primary indicators for this assessment: 1) the deep structure of basic oppositions in Wilber's notion of Spirit, such as, for example, Emptiness and Form, timeless and temporal and 2) the dominant role of notions such as union and oneness in his characterization of Spirit as well as the transcendence of enlightenment.

Recall Wilber's definition of spirit in Integral Spirituality: "Spirit is defined as the union of Emptiness and Form (where Emptiness is timeless, unborn, unmanifest, and not evolving, and Form is manifest, temporal, and evolving)" (2006, p. 236). Spirit is the theological equivalent of God in Wilber's spirituality and oneness with spirit is Wilber's version of enlightenment.

Wilber acknowledges in Integral Spirituality that in ancient spiritual traditions peak enlightenment was understood differently. It was thought to be achieved when novitiates attained, through difficult and focused practices, a state of enlightened oneness with timeless Spirit. But this practice reinforced, Wilber argues, a profound dualism between timeless Spirit and the temporal world of everyday experience. This profound dualism, with its unbalanced emphasis on the timeless, undermines the experience of oneness and renders it inauthentic against the realization in the current era that Spirit includes the temporal as well as the timeless. Spirit has always included the temporal and the timeless but only in more recent times has human consciousness risen to the level of understanding the profound evolutionary or temporal aspect of Spirit's nature. Therefore, spiritual practices today, Wilber argues, attain only partial enlightenment if attending to and seeking union with exclusively the timeless quality of Spirit. Partial enlightenment consists of oneness with one side of the opposition—such as Emptiness, the unborn, the unmanifest—while failing to include the other side—Form, the temporal, and the manifest (e.g., Wilber, 2006, pp. 235-237).

However, Wilber's theorizing of the possibility of a partial enlightenment betrays an orientation toward the structure of oppositional relation consistent with a restricted economy. Such partial enlightenment would not be possible even in principle from within the dynamics of a general economy. It would not be possible because in a general economy each side of the opposition does not exist in the manner of differentiated or pure being apart from its opposite. It would not be possible, now or in previous eras, to authentically realize the timeless aspect of Spirit because no part of Spirit is timeless. In a general economic structure of oppositional relation each side of any given opposition is already and everywhere contaminated by the other. And this contamination necessarily entails a radical departure from the more traditional structure of oppositional relation.

The structure of opposition offered in a restricted economy undergoes a deconstruction such that, in the case of time and timelessness, both sides submit to a radical reconceptualization. If timelessness is already everywhere contaminated by time, then there is no such thing as timelessness. And, likewise, there can be no such thing as time as it is ordinarily understood. The notions of time and timelessness are exposed as having been markers for something else, as having something unexpected in their respective "beetle boxes." The complex nature of this complementary relation of opposites is suggested in the yin/yang visual symbol where the black swirl contains a dot of white and the white swirl contains a dot of black. The yin/yang symbol is often understood from within the frame of a restricted economy but lends itself more credibly to the general economic way of understanding oppositional relation whereby the dots represent inherent contamination of one side by the other.

To better understand the nature of the distinctions at stake and their relevance to Wilber's views, consider in greater detail Wilber's more recent formulations of his understanding of Spirit or Godhead alongside a recent commentary on Derrida's views in relation to spiritual themes.

In his view of spirituality, Wilber retains the notion of timelessness while also incorporating temporality as an inseparable part of Spirit. And he also retains for Spirit the quality of oneness and the potential for transcendence to absolute oneness with Godhead. Absolute transcendence and oneness with Spirit—enlightenment—is the goal of his spirituality, which is also the overcoming of dualism in what Wilber calls nondual spirituality. Nondual spirituality is of the essence of an integral spirituality because it exposes the illusory nature of essential divisions and thereby opens access to the subtle underlying reality through full realization of the harmonious oneness of everything in the Kosmos. Oneness and absolute transcendence go hand-in-hand in Wilber's thinking. This point cannot be emphasized enough. His insistence on absolute transcendence requires his version of nondual spirituality place ultimate emphasis on oneness. In describing his integral vision he says, for example:

Before Abraham was, I AM. I AM is none other than Spirit in 1st-person, the ultimate, the sublime, the radiant all-creating Self of the entire Kosmos, present in me and you and him and her and them—as the I AMness that each and every one of us feels. Because in all the known universe, the overall number of I AMs is but one (Wilber, 2007, p. 224).[3]

Turning now to one of Derrida's commentators, Martin Hagglund, consider the steps in Hagglund's account of the structure of desire as Derrida sees it and how this structure is implicated in broader spiritual oppositions and the theme of transcendence. In this excerpt from his analysis, Hagglund approaches the question of desire from within a discussion of what he calls Derrida's radical atheism.

Denial of the existence of God or Godhead defines, according to Hagglund, the general stance of traditional forms of atheism. But Hagglund believes Derrida goes further than denying the existence of God. For example, Hagglund asserts, "The atheism that Derrida expresses does not only deny the existence of God [substitute here also the I AM of Spirit in Wilber's sense] and immortality; it also answers to what I call radical atheism. Radical atheism proceeds from the argument that everything that can be desired is mortal in its essence" (Hagglund, 2008, p. 111).[4]

Initially, Hagglund explains, it may seem the idea that "everything that can be desired is mortal in its essence" can be countered by the strategy of certain mystics such as Meister Eckhart. Desire and mortality, Eckhart might argue, are indeed linked and what we truly desire is to be rid of desire and to be rid of mortality. But this fails to imagine the situation from the direction of what is thereby necessarily implied about the nature of God. Without desire and without mortality God could not possibly love any other creature, including humans. Love and desire are qualities arising only in finitude. Hagglund clarifies as follows:

The experience of love and the beloved are necessarily finite. Such finitude is not something that comes to inhibit desire but precipitates desire in the first place. It is because the beloved can be lost that one seeks to keep it, and it is because the experience can be forgotten that one seeks to remember it. As Derrida strikingly puts it, one cannot love without the experience of finitude. This is the premise from which radical atheism necessarily follows. If one cannot love anything except the mortal, it follows that one cannot love God, since God does not exhibit the mortality that makes something desirable. The absolute being of God is not only unattainable but undesirable, since it would annul the mortality that is integral to whatever one desires [emphasis in original] (Hagglund, 2008, p. 111).

Traditional atheism, according to Hagglund, remains within a traditional model of desire because even though it denies the existence of God it retains the notion that humans nevertheless desire absolute being. In other words, in traditional atheism the notion that humans desire absolute being, absolute transcendence, and immortality goes unquestioned. For the traditional atheist this desire remains incapable of fulfillment but nevertheless persists as a fundamental desire and therefore taints life with a peculiar nostalgia which Derrida finds unnecessary when the nature of being is adequately theorized.

The unity and fullness of absolute transcendence is precisely what is precluded by temporality. The movement of time divides everything from itself and prevents any possible fullness of being or understanding. The spacing of time is what makes it possible for anything to happen. Without the constant interval between now and then, there would be no movement, no difference between being and seeing, and hence no desire, only stasis. By way of this analysis of the necessarily pervasive role of time, the highest state of conscious knowledge or attunement can only be, and must necessarily be, an incompleteness and a persistence of the sense of incompleteness. Being finite, being mortal, living within time, means being always in movement and incomplete.

Furthermore, movement brings not only the potential for but the inevitability of the radical transformation intrinsic to mortality. As Hagglund interprets Derrida, the apparent desire for immortality is a false reading of desire—as is the reading of timelessness in the opposition of time and timelessness. In fact, the attainment of immortality would annihilate the possibility for any experience whatever. From within a general economy, immortality and timelessness are exposed as names for denoting phenomena other than what were thought to be the case. Hagglund argues (interpreting Derrida), immortality is a misleading name we give to desire. The notion of immortality actually reflects the desire to extend mortality, to extend our existence within time for a longer duration. We want to live in time without the ravages of time while retaining all the advantages of time.

The ideal of timelessness masks a desire for survival—the desire for persistence through time into a future in which the last day is far away, unknown, and rarely confronted in the imagination. Timelessness is a way of thinking escape from the destructive effects of time while not escaping from its constructive effects. Genuine timelessness entails a condition in which nothing can happen, a dimension of absolute stasis. Thus, the deconstructed opposition of time and timelessness emerges as the opposition of unremitting change through time versus desired persistence through time. Similarly, the opposition of mortality and immortality, traditionally understood, is a confusion of the underlying opposition of deterioration and loss versus endlessly extended survival within time.

A similar rethinking also happens in the opposition of good and evil. Evil in itself does not exist. It is inextricably bound up in all that is good. As Hagglund explains, "The possibility of evil is not a deplorable fact of our human constitution, which prevents us from achieving an ideal Good. Rather, the possibility of evil is intrinsic to the good that we desire, since even the most ideal fulfillment must remain open to the possibility of non-fulfillment" (Hagglund, 2008, p. 113).

This understanding of fulfillment requires, in turn, a rethinking of fulfillment as arising through, and only through, temporality. Nothing is untouched by temporality. Hagglund cites Derrida as saying, "The thought of 'radical evil' here is not concerned with it as an eventuality. It is simply that the possibility of something evil, or of some corruption, the possibility of the non-accomplishment, or of some failure, is ineradicable" (cited in Hagglund, 2008, p. 113). Hagglund then concludes, "For the same reason, everything that is good must be open to becoming evil. This threat of evil does not supervene on the good; it is part of the good that we desire" (Hagglund, 2008, p. 114). Evil is already everywhere part of the good. This means the potential for failure comes hand-in-hand with the potential for success. As soon as good becomes possible in any sense whatever, so too evil becomes possible. Evil, as the potential for failure, disaster, and annihilation, is therefore of the essence of the good. Like all oppositions in a general economy, good and evil contaminate each other to the core—even to the extent that in every good act there is also evil and the need to weigh and choose between conflicting values.

For Derrida, structuring oppositional relations in accordance with a general economy and its notion of complementarity requires a displacement and rethinking of all the traditional oppositions. In fact, these oppositions are no longer oppositions in the old sense and preclude the old dualism. However, this complementarity also precludes the nondual in Wilber's sense. Complementarity implies both one and two simultaneously, in the sense of retaining essential difference—one cannot be reduced to the other—while displaying essential relation—one cannot exist without the other. Here dualism is displaced but not subverted and oneness can be spoken of only as the system within and through which a displaced or deconstructed dualism inheres. Derrida would not use the word nondual to describe the relation of opposites construed deconstructively because it connotes too strongly in a direction obviating the irreducibility of twoness and division. However, it would also be misleading to suppose, on the other hand, that deconstruction may be aligned with any form of traditional philosophical dualism. The features of a general economy and complementarity of opposites belong to a different set of notions about division and opposition exceeding traditional dualistic and monistic notions.[5]

Two types of arguments may be advanced to seriously challenge the accusation that Wilber's spirituality falls outside the kind of oppositional structure ascribed to a general economy. It may be argued that Wilber's view of enlightenment is experiential and that therefore the "oneness" achieved through practice is empirically grounded. This kind of oneness is not therefore easily dismissed by theoretical or analytical claims that it is impossible or illusory. According to Wilber, such enlightenment has been demonstrably achieved by countless individuals. Furthermore, why should anyone take seriously the claim that Wilber's sense or understanding of "nondual" is somehow substantially different from what has been described as the complementarity of opposites in a general economy? Cannot this kind of critique be seen as philosophical hairsplitting which results in an obfuscation of the broad quality of Wilber's work and his efforts to mine what is valuable in spiritual traditions? In answering these two objections it will be helpful to examine the integral view of consciousness in relation to the deconstructive view.

Pure Self vs. Divided Self

As a last example of the paradoxical quality of the trace and the structure of oppositional tensions in postmodern deconstruction, consider what is referred to in integral approaches as the "double I" structure of the subject. This "double I" structure, as described by Wilber (1996, pp. 179-181) and other like-minded integral thinkers such as Roland Benedikter (2005), establishes a contrast between a normal self or ego and a higher self or witness. On the surface this may seem to correspond with the postmodern claims that the self is not indivisible but necessarily multiple and divided. However, insofar as one side of the self—ego—is enveloped by another side of the self—witness—in a fixed hierarchy of order of being, the treatment of this division in integral thinking corresponds to the structure of opposition characteristic of a restricted economy rather than a general economy.

According to integral theory, the normal self always manifests as a construct and thereby remains open to deconstruction whereas the witness self emerges as the performing agency or medium of deconstruction and therefore remains undeconstructible. The witness can never function as the object of its own gaze because the very act of turning inwardly on itself requires a witness. The witness is always there as the background of every act of gazing. This witness has no content and is therefore, in the judgment of integral theorists, completely empty, pure, and whole. Descriptions of this witness self make use of notions of the pure in phrases such as "pure action of consciousness," "pure flowing attention," "pure activity," and "pure intensity." Such expressions of purity and its possibility are of a piece with expressions of wholeness peculiar to a restricted economy and its characterization of the extremes of the two sides of any opposition.

In Derrida's thinking, however, the undeconstructible must never be confused with the pure, the whole, or the indivisible. The essence of consciousness lies in its infinite impurity, its infinite divisibility, its inherent exposure through an abiding structural openness to the constant coming of the other in the yet-to-come. Every instance of consciousness and being—including, insofar as it makes sense to say, consciousness itself or being itself—is necessarily already divided. Consciousness and being are split by difference all the way to the core. And, to the extent the notion of origin remains intelligible in a deconstructive approach, origin becomes origins such that even the origin is divided at its origin. Consequently, for Derrida, nothing counts as pure. Similarly, no absolute transcendence or purely absolute other exists within a metaphysics where division counts as a fundamental part of the essence of its formulation of being and origin.

The other functions as an absolute for Derrida only in the sense of presenting an absolute opening or exposure to generative difference—what has already been spoken of as the yet-to-come. The yet-to-come, as that which can potentially come into awareness and experience, cannot be absolutely alien to the self (because the self is partly comprised of it) yet neither can it be absolutely known or comprehended at any moment in time. As such, the yet-to-come retains a quality of essential difference from and essential relation to what is. The yet-to-come is the unpure, the always already contaminating and dividing other of difference. And this undeconstructible othering is part of the structure of all being, including consciousness. As such, consciousness can never be readily halved into normal and witness compartments with the latter as the undeconstructible portion. In this halving of consciousness the normal or ego self retains the structure of being and is in this respect no different from the witness self. The persistence of the so-called witness self in the background of every gaze is itself confirmation of the inherent divisibility of consciousness, the inherent contamination of consciousness by an othering principle. This inherent divisiveness explains why the self is never entirely at home with itself and may be more adequately characterized as nomadic rather than in any significant sense settled or complete. Where traditional metaphysics understands transcendence as a crossing over into a state of fullness and pureness, deconstructive postmodernism understands quasi-transcendence in the continual mitosis and reconstitution of the trace structure such that the self is always incomplete, contaminated and split by the othering of time and difference.

The division of the self into normal and witness parts is not peculiar to Wilber's version of spirituality or to integral theory. Integral theory acknowledges a debt to perennial philosophy and ancient spiritual traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Consistent with these traditions, the witness self is elevated to transcendent pure consciousness as the higher self and plays the dominant role in the quest for enlightened awareness and oneness with Godhead. As a result, the normal self, the ego, descends into the role of a lower self, which can then be held to account for human shortcomings. In the following endorsement of Buddhist spiritual tradition, theologian Karen Armstrong, for example, provides an excellent account of the logic of this process once the ego has been separated out in the spiritual quest.

Nirvana was the natural result of a life lived according to the Buddha's doctrine of anatta ("no self"), which was not simply a metaphysical principle but, like all his teachings, a program of action. Anatta required Buddhists to behave day by day, hour by hour, as though the self did not exist. Thoughts of "self" not only led to "unhelpful" (akusala) preoccupation with "me" and "mine," but also to envy, hatred of rivals, conceit, pride, cruelty, and—when the self felt under threat—violence. As a monk became expert in cultivating this dispassion, he no longer interjected his ego into passing mental states but learned to regard his fears and desires as transient and remote phenomena. He was then ripe for enlightenment . . . . To live beyond the reach of hatred, greed, and anxieties about our status proved to be a profound relief. (Armstrong, p. 24)

To see what is wrong with this attitude toward spiritual growth it is only necessary to imagine who—as in what sort of person—would be relieved to be rid of the burden of the demands made by the self and its desires. This person would necessarily be one who finds the constant pull of desire to be too exhausting, too great a challenge. This person would be one who declines to learn how to live with desire and how to negotiate the pain in failing to fulfill desires. The doctrine of anatta, the project of no self, corresponds to what Nietzsche refers to as a project of nihilism, the negation of the self and its inherent agenda of desire.

But as Hagglund has pointed out, following Derrida, escape from desire is not possible. Even the desire to escape desire is still desire. Every attempt at escape from desire is nihilistic because there can be, for living creatures, no life, no consciousness, no being, nothing at all outside the structure of time and its attendant consequences of desire and mortality. Granting as much, even adopting the attitude that desire is an unfortunate but necessary part of life is nihilistic because it disparages one of the essential features of life.

Those who might want to argue that this attitude toward desire, this desire to escape desire which is also the desire to escape time, is not a fundamental part of Wilber's integral spirituality need to explain how passages such as the following are to be understood, passages where Wilber is describing nondual enlightenment:

Enlightenment is a union of both Emptiness and Form, or a union of Freedom and Fullness. To realize infinite Emptiness is to be free from all finite things, free from all pain, all suffering, all limitation, all qualities—the via negativa that soars to a transcendental freedom from the known, a nirvikalpa samadhi beyond desire and death, beyond pain and time, longing and remorse, fear and hope, a timeless Dharmakaya of the Unborn, the great Ayin or Abyss that is free from all finite qualities whatsoever (including that one). (2006, p. 236).

In the pure empty awareness, I-I am the rise and fall of all worlds, ceaselessly, endlessly. I-I swallow the Kosmos and span the centuries, untouched by time or turmoil . . . (SES, 318).

It would be difficult to mistake such passages for anything other than an endorsement of the desire for a transcendent escape from time. But here it may well be asked: Why, then, does Wilber go on to describe what appears to be an endorsement also of life within time when he says, "On the other side of the street, if to be one with Emptiness is the ultimate Freedom, to be one with the world of Form is the ultimate Fullness—one with the entire manifest realm, one with the Rupakaya (Form Body) in all its glory, finding that eternity is in love with the productions of time."

But Derrida, were he to have been directly questioned about such a vision of enlightenment, would, I believe, have no part of it. He would find in both of these notions, Freedom and Fullness, a distinct betrayal of the nature of being. The ideal of "fullness," and of oneness with the fullness of the "productions of time" through all of time is still a classic expression of the metaphysics dominating the entire history of humanity—the metaphysics of presence and the ideal of the fullness of the "now." For Derrida, being—adequately understood—necessarily precludes both the possibility of absolute Freedom and absolute Fullness. Freedom as freedom from loss and mortality and Fullness as oneness with all temporal creation are both paradigmatic symptoms of an orientation grounded in the metaphysics of presence. The attainment of any form of absolute Freedom or Fullness as Wilber describes it would necessitate an equivalence of being with absolute death and a condition of absolute stasis that would preclude the existence of the Kosmos itself.[6]

Living within time is a fate, it seems, humans are least disposed to accept, given the track record over the course of recorded history. The disparagement and rejection of time and desire are hallmarks of religious traditions both East and West as well as most of the great philosophical traditions. In the history of civilization few sages have offered a comportment toward life accepting the fundamental terms or structures of life—which are time, desire, and mortality. These structures have been willed or wished away in one manner or another mostly because they are viewed as the elemental structures of pain and misery rather than the elemental structures of life. It is not surprising, then, that an integral spirituality seeking to integrate the best from ancient and more recent traditions will likely also import the essence of these offerings—which is their metaphysical foundation. This metaphysical foundation consists of assumptions about time, desire, and mortality which are the primary targets of Derrida's thinking.

Lastly, regarding self, consciousness, and self-consciousness, it is worthwhile to address the question of the empirical evidence for the experience of peak enlightenment—the nondual experience of absolute transcendence. Wilber and other integral theorists claim many individuals have indeed attained such enlightenment and this empirical fact, they maintain, argues convincingly for the very real nature of the oneness of all being. The best way to offer critical commentary on such experiences would not be to attempt to discredit them in any way. Neither I nor anyone else has had all the experiences there are to have. If someone has such a peak experience and feels they have attained a level of consciousness convincing them beyond doubt of the oneness of all creation, then they should, and probably will, own that experience and pay no attention to critics such as me. The fact that others may believe such an experience to be profoundly illusory or impossible will not, and probably should not, deter them. None of us can do any more than to follow the brightest of our inner lights. But still, Derrida's account of being suggests attempts to turn such personal experiences into a science or religion of spiritual practice confronts great potential for disappointment concerning aspirations of both the founders and the followers of such practice. A wise spiritual teacher may point in one direction or another for particular persons but can provide no cultural blueprint to guarantee happiness or spiritual fulfillment for everyone.

Also, weighing alongside the evidence of such peak experiences of oneness are epiphanies of a similar intensity but of very different quality. Derrida himself, for example, had such an alternative peak experience profoundly affecting his thinking and his outlook for the rest of his life. He never liked talking much about his personal life and never provided an extensive account of his peak experience. But he did mention it in one of his conversations with me and in one of the last interviews of his life. As a young man he had an insight deriving from the time when he was a schoolboy growing up in Algeria, an insight resulting from several years of processing his experience of victimization and persecution as a Jew. This period of trial and suffering may be understood as analogous to the spiritual pilgrimage or training others go through on a journey to enlightenment. But for Derrida the insight gained from his alienation from a community of others eventually led him to conclude: "I am not alone with myself, no more than anyone else is. I am not all-one. An 'I' is not an indivisible atom" (Derrida and Roudinesco, 2004, p. 112).

Derrida saw that every self is always penetrated by the presence of an other and this penetration is the source of double-edged and seemingly contradictory bestowals generating intense experiences ranging from the tragic to the euphoric. Over time Derrida learned that this penetration, this internal division, this "nonidentity to oneself" is not purely and exemplarily a Jewish experience. It is a condition which is of the essence of being human, although it is not always understood or embraced as such. Derrida explains, "I vindicate this uprooting division; I do not consider it an absolute evil. One suffers from it, but it emancipates. As the condition for a somewhat awakened gaze, it interrupts many a dogmatic slumber. The rupture of belonging often gives me the chance, for example, for a judgment that is more than just, less unjust, on the politics of communities to which I am supposed to belong and concerning which I want to remain more vigilant than ever…. It is also important for me to remain as free as possible in order to criticize them whenever this is necessary" (Derrida and Roudinesco, 2004, p. 113). And at the philosophical level Derrida realized "the rupture of belonging" was a condition and an attitude important not only to self and community but also to life and being. In other words, Derrida's insight and accumulated life experience led him to hold to a realization or enlightenment sharply contrasting with the enlightened "we are all-one" of traditional forms of spirituality.

Summary and Conclusion

Despite showing attunement to postmodern philosophical developments, Wilber misses the point of deconstructive postmodernism as he continues to insist it does not imply what Derrida believes it implies. Ultimately Wilber adheres to his own version of a myth of the given in the belief that, for all practical purposes, clear, transparent communication and translation are as good as given when factored through his Kosmic addressing system. However, for Derrida, regardless of sophisticated sets of enactments or operations, transparency can never be taken as given. An absence of certainty in communication, a failure of objective location, persists—as is verifiable on a daily basis in attempts at communication, including this sentence. But this absence of certainty and failure of objective location are nothing to lament. The conditions of temporality and tensions of difference underlying this undecidability are precisely what make life, movement, change, experience—and any apprehension of the Kosmos whatever—possible.

In a deconstructive postmodern metaphysics/cosmology, traditional notions of time (as difference or change) and Being (as sameness or permanence) interpenetrate each other all the way through and at every point—which, as Derrida argues, does not prevent the existence of a functioning world. Indeed, a world functioning with movement and life requires this inextricable link between time and being. And this link produces undecidability as part of its essence, where modes of understanding, signification, and communication are always troubled by—but not destroyed by—undecidability.

If post-metaphysics is defined in the sense Wilber has indicated as deployment of a method of addressing or identification free of unwarrantable givens and allowing for transparent understanding and communication, then, for Derrida, there is no post-metaphysics, no escape from metaphysics. Not now nor ever, in Derrida's view, can there be a post-metaphysical epistemology in the sense Wilber describes because there can be no escape from the problem of undecidability created by the possibilities for multiple readings—whether of nature, text, or spirit. There remain only decisions about which metaphysical choices to make. The primary metaphysical decision involves a choice about how to view the structure of oppositional relation, as, for example, in the different choices for approaching oppositional relations inherent in restricted and general economies. For Derrida, restricted economies appear to offer the promise of grasping the real and escaping troubling aspects of undecidability. Instead, they offer only the illusion of such escape while remaining metaphysics writ large.

Although offering no ultimate escape from metaphysics, Derrida's approach offers an escape from traditional metaphysics and its construction of notions of absolute transcendence which easily slide, however unintentionally, toward authorization of modes of certainty. Attitudes of certainty contribute to predispositions toward conceptual models and hierarchical arrangements immune to destabilizations, profound reversals, and unpredictable transformations. These kinds of models, consistent with restricted economies, ultimately imply forms of mastery and control that are without warrant. Institutionalized in small communities such models in no small measure account for the persistence throughout history of authoritarian cults.

The limitations of human communication and understanding disclosed by the conditions of a general economy along with its temporal constraints on the nature of being, suggest three levels of implausibility for spiritual enlightenment as understood by Wilber. When reading these disclaimers it must be kept in mind they are not offered as final pronouncements of truth but must instead be understood as what is implied if, and only if, granting the nature of being as Derrida describes it.

  1. Transcendent, totalized awareness of the Kosmos at any given point in time is not possible.
  2. Even if such enlightenment were somehow possible, there could be no way of verifying with certainty it had been achieved.
  3. And even assuming it had been achieved for oneself, there could be no reliable and unique set of instructions or operations for communicating to others how precisely to go about achieving it themselves.

Consequently, the notion of enlightenment as a state of full or peak awareness and oneness with the Kosmos has no practical role in a deconstructive postmodern spirituality. The nature of what is is such that oneness is not of the essence of what is. In this view, the fabric of the Kosmos is such that the possibility of enlightenment, as Wilber defines it, precludes the possibility of the Kosmos itself.

Given the discussion herein, it may now be more easily imagined what becomes of the creation cosmology consistent with a restricted economy and its corresponding type of transcendence when transformed into the structure of oppositional relation peculiar to deconstruction and a general economy. If each side of the opposition contains no pure instance of itself and is inextricably bound up with the other of itself, then in the case of God and God's creation there is no part of creation that is not also God and no part of God that is not also creation. Wilber may seem to say the same with regard to his understanding of Spirit but the direction in which he takes the implications of this view exposes the fundamental difference separating his understanding of opposition from Derrida's understanding. For Derrida this structure entails there is also no God as absolute transcendence, no possibility for crossing over into an entirely pure or ultimate mode of existence or consciousness, and no oneness or pure identification with this being since the nature of identity itself is challenged.

Undoubtedly Wilber and like-minded theorists would not be happy to find their views associated with traditional forms of metaphysics. Nevertheless, attempts to depart from such forms of metaphysics cannot succeed by reaffirming orientations giving renewed meaning and prime significance to states of transcendent awareness implied in notions such as transcendental signifiers, pure consciousness, and realizations of oneness. The deconstructive critique of transcendence appears to be a part of Derridean postmodernism Wilber and other integral theorists have not so much overlooked as underestimated. In Gary Hampson's apt phrasing, if there is a way out of postmodernism it is to pass through it, and Wilber has yet to genuinely pass through it.

I admire Wilber's attempt to take the quackery and charlatanism out of spirituality by rendering it unto science and verifiability. The problem is that spirituality, like language, cannot be made into the kind of science Wilber imagines. Its objects of investigation are not amenable to objective and transparent measurement. As Wilber understands, human experience in various fields of inquiry need not require subscribing to the Kantian notion that something remains always and essentially beyond observation in the thing-in-itself. But experience does suggest that observation will not yield singular and definitive answers to questions directed at the natural world. The answers to such questions always depend on context and context, theorized deconstructively, is an infinite finitude. This circumstance of infinite finitude creates what theorists such as Plotnitsky have referred to as an anti-epistemology. This orientation renders obsolete classical notions of objectivity, subject/object, and reality while retaining these notions under an alternative logic of oppositional relation. Nevertheless, anti-epistemology does not preclude forms of knowledge. Instead it places an insurmountable limitation on achieving absolute transparency at any level of individual or collective consciousness and provides the rationale for understanding why this must be, in principle, the case.

At nearly every crossroad where Wilber could choose to depart from traditional metaphysics he takes the traditional path. It is one thing to desire to be integral in spiritual approach and retain the best of all spiritual traditions but another to do so while retaining the metaphysical foundation which has provided fertile ground for a long human history obviating the crucial role of time at the core of human being and all of creation. Adapting Wilber's myth metaphor to Derrida's metaphysics, the myth of the pure must be added to the myth of the given—as in the myth of pure transparency, the myth of pure communication, the myth of pure transcendence, the myth of pure consciousness, and the myth of pure oneness. To these must also be added the myth of repetition-without-difference (or loss) and the myth of the possibility of restricting being to a restricted economy.

Finally, the skeptical reader may continue to ask: Why be persuaded that the general economic metaphysics of deconstruction has found a better spiritual attitude in its seemingly radical embrace of temporality and finitude? Consistent with Einstein's watch analogy, this metaphysics may still be wrong but it answers well to the current range of human experience and observation. Current theory in the fields of physics and semiology and related fields such as biochemistry and information theory reflects the dominance of the general economic metaphysical paradigm. If spirituality involves some measure of faith combined with reason as well as judgment combined with evidence—and it seems that it must—then each person is left to make a metaphysical choice, the choice of which attitude more aptly describes the nature of being and more likely promotes the better life here and now. I hope to have persuaded the reader to at least consider the general economic metaphysics as the more philosophically justifiable position and attitude and therefore currently the better choice.


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[1] For perhaps the most thorough explanation of Derrida's reasons for this assertion and for his view of language see Derrida, 1988.

[2] W. V. O. Quine (1960) makes essentially the same point with his principle of indeterminacy of translation. This principle states: "Manuals for translating one language into another can be set up in divergent ways, all compatible with the totality of speech dispositions [utterances by native speakers], yet incompatible with each other" (1960, p. 27). Quine and Derrida share significant views about language, which makes it all the more surprising Quine was among the more vocal signatories of the group of intellectuals opposing the Cambridge award of an honorary degree to Derrida.

[3] Wilber also emphasizes the unitary nature of Godhead when he speaks of the Ascending and Descending path to spiritual enlightenment. The words he uses to summarize this path apply to "any Nondual stance wherever it appears" when he describes the practice as "flee the Many, find the One; having found the One, embrace the Many as the One. Or, in short: Return to One, embrace Many. The exuberant and loving and unconditional embrace of the Many is the fruition and consummation of the Perfection of the One, and without which the One remains dualistic, fractured, 'envious'" (Wilber, SES, p. 336). For Derrida, the Perfection of a pure and simple One would preclude the possibility of the Many. All being is "fractured" in non-identity with itself and this is the perfection of imperfection required in order for there to be anything at all.

[4] Hagglund acknowledges that several commentators (e.g., Caputo, 1997; Caputo and Scanlon,1999; Kearney, 2001) have found Derrida to be an inspiration for deepening religious conviction and attunement to God. Nevertheless, he shows the ways in which these commentators have failed to adequately interpret Derrida's relevant texts.

[5] The use of the word "traditional" here does not preclude the possibility that within ancient traditions such as Taoism and Buddhism there are lineages that may perhaps be interpreted as consistent with the deconstructive view of oppositional relations (for a more direct discussion of these possibilities see Desilet, 2007b). The yin/yang symbol has already been mentioned as an image suggesting this type of understanding. Nevertheless, tasks of translation and interpretation, as Derrida has argued, are never simple and this is especially so in the case of ancient texts and symbols.

[6] Plotnitsky verifies this understanding of Derrida in a passage worth citing from his discussion of Derrida's notion of différance in relation to general economy. First, Plotnitsky notes Derrida's general working definition of différance as (citing Derrida) "the movement according to which language, or any code, and system of referral in general, is constituted 'historically' as a weave of differences" (p. 40). Plotnitsky then says, "Différance enacts an irreducible, general economic loss in all representation by ineluctably—always already—subtracting from the fullness of any presence, original unity, centrality, or plenitude—whether they are conceived of in terms of form, content, structure, history, logos or telos, or other concepts defining Western philosophy. Derrida assembles these classical forms of governing interpretive, theoretical, or historical processes under the general rubric of 'presence.' Hence the corresponding theories—restricted economies—become forms of the 'metaphysics of presence'. . . . Différance connotes the joint dynamics of production-dislocation—an energy-like and an entropy-like process. Hence the general economy of difference and accompanying structures recomprehends classical theories: it accounts for the conditions of their possibility and for the production of their concepts" (p. 41)

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