Integral World Forum

Sean Hargens is a doctoral candidate at the California Institute of Integral Studies. His thesis, Integral Ecology: Consciousness, Culture, Nature, is an examination of environmental philosophy through the lens of Ken Wilber’s AQAL framework. His main philosophical interests include: environmental philosophy, intersubjectivity, embodied subjectivity, and hermeneutics. He has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for four years and is currently involved with the Diamond Approach of A. H. Almaas. Also, he has been an Outdoor Trip leader (backpacking and sea kayaking) in the Pacific Northwest since 1992. Currently, he is living in San Francisco with his significant other, Karin, and their dog and three cats. He can be contacted at

Integrating Whitehead

Towards an Environmental Ethic

Sean Esbjörn-Hargens

The transition to a new age requires a change in our perception and conception of space-time, the inhabiting of places, and of containers, or envelopes of identity. It assumes and entails an evolution or a transformation of forms, of the relations of matter and form and of the interval between: the trilogy of the constitution of place. Each age inscribes a limit to this trinitary configuration: matter, form, interval, or power [puissance], act, intermediary-interval.
Luce Irigaray


Creativity! That is the cosmic interval between matter and form. Creativity is the Ultimate Ground out of which matter emerges into form. This mysterious process of emergence is the driving force behind the Kosmos. Somehow, matter (and I will argue consciousness) is destined to organize itself into more and more complex forms. Emergence! Emergence is not a how. It is a what. Emergence only describes what happens; it cannot account for how new forms come into being. Nevertheless, to come into the clearing and find even this insight: stuff emerges--and to scream from your heart "EMERGENCE!," as Whitehead did--is to incite riot. It is to climb upon the roof of scientific materialism and shout to the people below that which they have longed for centuries to hear. Upon hearing this message, there is a stirring, a ruffling of being, an allurement to a deeper perspective, an uncovering of something forbidden and dangerous.

What could be more anti-establishment than to pronounce "creativity" as the very fabric of the universe? Whitehead as revolutionary! A rebel--taking a stand against a tradition much larger than himself. Equipped only with looking deeply into his experience and reporting as accurately as he could with the tools he had, that which he found there, Whitehead waved the banner of emergence and articulated his "philosophy of organism." Whitehead was asking for a new age, a new way of conceiving the interval between matter and form, a new way of perceiving of our relationship in the cosmos. Let us climb upon the roof with him and usher in this revolution of being-in-the-world.

Whitehead's Connection to Environmental Ethics

Whitehead is considered by many to be one of the greatest thinkers of the past century, with his Process and Reality sitting right next to books like Heidegger's Being and Time, and Sri Aurobindo's Life Divine. Whitehead's process philosophy marks a radical break with the scientific materialism of recent centuries, such a radical break that it is only in the last twenty years that an intellectual climate has emerged allowing Whitehead's work to be received by a wider audience. Nevertheless, he is still a marginalized thinker and is often dismissed by the academic community as "that process theology guy."

However, Whitehead's cosmology is much larger than just theology, and it has implications far beyond how we think of God. Recently, feminist scholars, including Catherine Keller (1986), Sallie McFague (1993), and Nancy Howell (2000), have brought to light the value (and limits) of "process thought" for an ecological worldview, drawing on Whiteheads implications for relationality and interiority. Also, there has been recognition among environmental philosophers of the value of Whitehead's thinking for an environmental ethic.1 Andrew Light (2000) points out that Whitehead's process philosophy was very influential, in addition to Spinoza, for Arne Naess' articulation of the Deep Ecology platform. Particularly noteworthy is Birch and Cobb's (1990) use of Whiteheadian thought in The Liberation of Life. Using Whitehead's acknowledgement of biological hierarchy Birch and Cobb articulate a value system for environmental ethics. Whitehead has also inspired aspects of the "new biology," such as Sheldrake's theory of morphogenesis. Additionally, Ervin Laszlo, the famous systems theorist, had developed what he calls a "neo-Whiteheadian" approach, which promotes a nonanthropocentric environmental ethic. Even David Ray Griffin (1994) has explored "Whitehead's Deeply Ecological Worldview." Most recently, Joseph Grange has written two companion volumes, Nature (1997) and City (1999), drawing heavily on Whitehead's cosmology in service of an environmental ethic.

Whitehead's compatibility with environmental ethics is a natural extension of his "philosophy of organism." What's amazing is that Whitehead was writing at a time (the 1920s) before the science of ecology had even emerged. To realize that Whitehead anticipates the seminal works of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac (1949) and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), to name just a couple of books that inspired and shaped the field of ecology, is to realize that Whitehead's vision extended far beyond those of his contemporaries. It has taken us nearly 80 years of playing catch up with Whitehead to arrive at a place where we can appreciate his insights. As a result of his far-reaching vision, Whitehead has been called the first "planetary philosopher," and now that a global community is emerging, his thinking is all the more relevant.2 This planetary perspective is especially poignant since we are facing an ecological crisis that threatens the very survival of our species and many others. Thus, if we do not reconstitute our relationship to matter and form along the lines that Whitehead is proposing, we are at serious risk of ecocide. More simply, if we continue to approach the world as though it is devoid of subjectivity, then we are on a ship that is sinking.

I am drawn to Whitehead for a number of reasons. Each of these reasons captures an active ingredient to what I believe constitutes a genuinely integral environmental ethic. The first is his staunch defense of a non-reductionistic worldview and an honoring of hierarchy in its healthy forms (holarchy). The second is his acknowledgment of Spirit (which he names God) and interiority (which he generally refers to as prehension or experience). The third is that much of his presentation shares a striking similarity with a number of theories and approaches, which I will be drawing on in future writings to explicate Integral Ecology (see below), including: phenomenology (Husserl, Heiddegger, and Merleau-Ponty), insights from Buddhism, and William James' radical empiricism (which Whitehead acknowledged as being influential). This is of value because it points to a level of consistency between disparate approaches, which adds strength to Whitehead's findings and facilitates a more coherent environmental ethic. Lastly, Whitehead has been foundational to the thinking of Ken Wilber and the model of consciousness Wilber espouses. Wilber has incorporated and expanded on Whitehead's philosophy, fortifying its strengths and gently exposing its vulnerabilities.

Wilber (1995) acknowledges that one of the most urgent tasks before us "is the development and establishment of a genuine environmental ethic..." (p. 517). This essay is a response to that call. In fact, this essay is a small part of a much larger project, which strives to articulate Integral Ecology. Simply put Integral Ecology is a comprehensive approach to environmental issues that attempts to draw on the full spectrum of disciplines within each domain of the Kosmos (objective, intersubjective, and subjective). But for now, I restrict myself to a thorough exploration of the limits of Whiteheadian thought. I'm focusing on the limits for two reasons. First, as noted above, much has been written on the contribution of process philosophy to environmental thinking, so there is no need for me to establish those points here. Second, very little critical attention has been generated from the environmental community. Consequently, the strengths of process philosophy, for environmental ethics, have a soft underbelly. As long as the shortcomings remain unaddressed the contribution of Whitehead to Integral Ecology remains limited. It is only upon creating relationship with the shortcomings of Whitehead's cosmology that we can really appreciate the strengths that process philosophy brings to the environmental table. Thus, this essay is primarily concerned with overcoming the limits of process philosophy in the context of environmental ethics. The goal is to highlight how two domains essential to Integral Ecology, intersubjectivity and developmental psychology, are not adequately addressed by Whitehead. The full implications of the importance of these domains for an environmental ethic will be the topic of a future essay. In other words, this essay is more about the failings of process philosophy that limit its usefulness for an environmental ethic than it is about Whitehead's contribution to environmental ethics. Until I clarify the problems, I won't be in a position to discuss in depth their relevance to Integral Ecology. Hence the title, Integrating Whitehead: Towards an Environmental Ethic. This essay is a stepping stone to a more direct exploration of Whitehead and Integral Ecology.

Given my interest in developing an integral approach that draws on Wilber's model of the four-quadrants as the most comprehensive and integral model available, it will be necessary to see how Whitehead falls short of being "all-quadrant, all-level."3 Despite Whitehead's shortcomings in this area, I want to stress that Whitehead is still more quadrant and more level than most great philosophers and that is why his work serves as such an important basis on which to construct an integral environmental ethic. An environmental ethic that did not build upon Whitehead's thought would be a shaky house just waiting to for a strong wind to come along and blow it down. As we will see, Whitehead provides one of the best-suited philosophical frameworks for establishing a bridge between the exterior and interior domains. Once we have built that bridge, we can cross over into the domain of interiority and flesh out the qualitative distinctions that will be critical for a truly Integral Ecology.

The Integral Trail

This essay is predominately a Wilberian exploration of Whitehead, drawing on other thinkers at times to support my interpretations. I look forward to expanding this essay, at a later date, to include more actual textual examples from Whitehead's corpus. Until then, I acknowledge that my position isn't as reinforced as it could be. Though I'm convinced that even should some of the details in my argument shift as I deepen my understanding of Whitehead, the main thrust of my critique is valid and important. Regardless, I offer this essay up as a gesture of inquiry and not the final word.

In Part I I will outline the importance of Whitehead in Wilber's estimation. I think it is important to show that Wilber sees himself as a Whiteheadian, insofar as Whitehead goes. By establishing this relationship (between Whitehead and Wilber) we are in a much better position to understand Wilber's contribution to Whitehead's system.

Then in Part II I will look at how from an integral perspective Whitehead is not "all-quadrant." I will argue that Whitehead is still embedded in the mechanistic worldview from which he is trying to escape. I concede that Whitehead made important steps in the right direction, especially in light of what his contemporaries were doing. However, his system is predominately devoid of the intersubjective dimension of the Kosmos.4 Whitehead's system is characterized by I-It (subject-object) relationships and fails to acknowledge the intersubjective space out of which the subject and object arises.5 The later is a postmodern insight (the importance of contexualization of the subject/object relationship) and it would be inappropriate to slight Whitehead for not having incorporated this into his writings. However, now that we have it, we need to weave this important strand into an environmental ethic. After all, by its very nature the word "ethic" is dependent on the acknowledgment of intersubjective space. Thus, Integral Ecology must offer an I-We-It (subject-intersubject-object) approach.

The main reason that Whitehead's system does not give room to intersubjective space is that he denies contemporaries the ability to know each other. This is because his description of prehension excludes a subject prehending another subject (as subject). According to Whitehead, subjects can know other subjects only as objects. This formula makes it difficult to honor intersubjective space. One could argue that this critique isn't exactly accurate, intersubjectivity isn't absent, Whitehead just doesn't emphasize it. However, I will argue that the role of intersubjectivity in Whitehead's framework is problematic beyond the fact that he just didn't emphasize it.

In Part III I will show how Whitehead is not quite "all-level." The main issue here is that, though Whitehead acknowledges interiority, he reduces all interiority to "prehension:" the pre-conscious experience of a subject "feeling" another subject (as object).6 Whitehead does explore a variety of prehensions (conceptual, hybrid, impure, negative, and physical) but they are all shades of the same color. He does not fully develop or appreciate the many types of interiority that emerge after prehensions. This is understandable given that he was writing before the major insights of developmental psychology had come onto the scene. I claim that this inability to distinguish the many variations of interiority is a form of reductionism because it collapses all interiors into the concept of prehension (complex as this concept is).

Once you expand interiors beyond the limited (though insightful) notion of prehensions, a hierarchy of interiors becomes apparent. This hierarchy of interiors (subjectivity) has correlates in the exterior (objective) dimensions of form and it is important to acknowledge these parallel and equivalent hierarchies. The relationship between the levels in each of these hierarchies is one of "transcend and include" as Wilber puts it. Whitehead captures this with his adage: "The many become one and are increased by one."

However, Whitehead's account is incomplete in an important way because he fails to honor the complexity of interiority in all its varieties. Not only is it problematic to assign the concept of "prehension" (the basic unit of interiority) to all exteriors (which complexifies with evolution), as it appears Whitehead tends to do, but you also need to account for the post-rational stages of interiority (e.g., the realms discussed at length by such traditions as shamanism, Buddhism, and Vedanta. Thus, I will show how Whitehead's system begins to make more sense when you complexify his understanding of prehension (interiority) to include more complex forms of subjectivity.

Part I: "Turtles all the way down, all the way up."

In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Wilber (1995) lays out twenty tenets he sees as orienting generalizations of the Kosmos. These twenty tenets serve as the framework for Wilber's entire model; they are the "patterns that connect." Essentially what Wilber is doing here is expanding on Whitehead's "Category of the Ultimate," which has three concepts: creativity, the many, and the one. Wilber embraces this formula of an ultimate category, (i.e., the category needed to understand all other categories), but he represents it as twofold: creativity and holon (many/one) (p. 529). Wilber claims that reality is not composed of parts (atomism) or wholes (processes) but, rather, is composed of whole/parts, which he defines as holons, drawing on Arthur Koestler's work in this area. Wilber formalizes this insight as his first tenet, which indicates the primacy it holds in relation to the nineteen tenets that follow. Wilber claims that everything is a holon, (simultaneously a part and a whole), all the way down into less complex organization (e.g., atoms, quarks, and strings) and all the way up into more complex organization (e.g., plants, reptiles, mammals, and humans). Every thing (part) rests within a context of relationship (whole), which he names "agency-in-communion." There is a one/many relationship occurring in every pocket of the Kosmos, whether it is in the individual and collective spheres or the interior and exterior dimensions. Wilber refers to this as "turtles all the way down, and all the way up" in reference to an old joke that points out the infinite directionality of context.7 Wilber's first tenet is a recasting of Whitehead's insight that the many (parts) becomes one (whole) and is increased by one (a new level of complexity/concrescence).8 The starting point for both Wilber and Whitehead's system is the same ultimate category. Consequently, there is much compatibility between their metaphysics.

Wilber sees this dynamic, the phenomenon of emergence, or parts complexifing into new wholes with new qualities, as one of creativity. This capacity of a holon for "self-transcendence," which is the ability for novelty (emergence), is what Whitehead called creativity, the drive toward which, within the Kosmos, is the "eternal activity." Wilber describes this process in terms of increasing differentiation and integration. In other words, the Kosmos has a built-in drive towards greater complexity. Whitehead writes: "The ultimate character pervading the universe is a drive toward the endless production of new syntheses" (as quoted by Wilber, 1995, p. 68-9). As such, he realized a new way of seeing the relationship between matter and form and it was apparent to him that the interval between this relationship was creativity. In other words, creativity is the cosmic force that creates form out of matter.

It is not enough however, just to spot "emergence." After all, emergence does not explain anything; it only describes what in fact happens. The explanation, in Wilber's assessment, has to lie in something like Whitehead's notion of creativity. Creativity is seen as a feature of the Kosmos that accounts for emergence, but which itself cannot be accounted for. Wilber (1995) appeals to Eros and states, "Who knows, perhaps telos, perhaps Eros, moves the entire Kosmos, and God may indeed be an all-embracing chaotic attractor, acting as Whitehead said, throughout the world by gentle persuasion toward love?" (p. 78). Both Wilber and Whitehead agree that the Kosmos is driven by creativity and novelty and see evolution as the process of holons emerging hierarchically.

Once Whitehead had arrived at this new way of seeing the Kosmos -- that the relationship between part and whole was infused with creativity -- he was in a position to realize that one cannot know the more complex by the less complex (the reductionism that defines scientific materialism). Instead, you can know the lower only by looking at the higher. Wilber (1999d) points out that:

[Whitehead] said that if you want to know the general principles of existence, you must start at the top and use the highest occasions to illumine the lowest, not the other way around, which of course is the common reductionist reflex. So he said you could learn more about the world from biology than you could from physics; and so he introduced the organismic viewpoint which has revolutionized philosophy. And he said you could learn more from social psychology than from biology, and then introduced the notion of things being in a society of occasions -- the notion of compound individuality (p. 303).

God is seen as the highest level: the ultimate compound individual (holon). Thus one first looks towards the higher levels for general principles of existence and, by subtraction, one sees how far down the hierarchy of form these principles go. If you go the other way, you miss important principles due to the phenomenon of emergence, such as creativity or love. God is seen as the ultimate ground of creativity, love, and free will. Wilber points out that with complexity freedom increases. For example, a physicist can predict the movement of a planet for 100 years, but a biologist cannot even predict a dog's movement for 5 minutes. Wilber (1999d) points out that only in using the higher to explain the lower can you come to the conclusion, like Whitehead, that creativity is a general principle, otherwise " have to figure out a way to get free will and creativity out of rocks, and it just won't work." (p. 304). For Wilber, and Whitehead would agree, God is not the big electron in the sky!9

The acknowledgment that certain properties and qualities come into existence with each higher order of complexity is a radical notion, one that shakes the very foundation of the scientific project of the last three hundred years. Whitehead (1997) summarizes this project as a worldview that sees the Kosmos as "a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colorless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly" (p. 54). It is for this reason Whitehead bemoans that, "Thereby, modern philosophy has been ruined" (p. 55).

Whitehead characterizes the worldview of scientific materialism as obsessed with simple location, the idea that everything must have qualitative features in space and time for it to be infused with ontological significance. A result of this fixation on simple location is what Whitehead calls the "Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness." This fallacy occurs when abstractions are mistaken for the concrete. For example, the very notion of something (e.g., a book) having simple location (e.g., the book is simply a hard, 8x10 inch object) is an abstraction, filled with a variety of assumptions about the world. Thus, to conclude that the book is only that object I see on the table is a fallacy because the book is a concrescence of the entire Kosmos. It does not solely exist on the table but is in the walls of the room, inside me as I look at it, inside the plants in the room, and is part of the very table it rests on. Things are prehending the book while at the same time the book is prehending things.

Now that the affinities between Whitehead and Wilber have been elucidated and we can see that they are both building a metaphysics around the ultimate category of holons and emergence, we can examine where these two great thinkers part company. To begin, we will explore how, despite Whitehead's challenge to the reductionism of scientific materialism, he falls short of escaping what Wilber calls subtle reductionism. This has led Wilber to categorize Whitehead as "monological," which has provoked a response from a number of Whiteheadian scholars. A clearer understanding of Whitehead's position in this area is necessary if we are to grasp the potential for him to contribute to an environmental ethic. After all, insofar as Whitehead can be charged with being monological, his contribution to Integral Ecology will be minimal. An integral approach to environmental ethics needs to be able to account for the variety of concepts of nature and the different value systems that accompany those concepts. One is hard pressed to do this with an anemic account of intersubjective space.

Part II: For a Delicious Metaphysics Just Add Intersubjectivity

Wilber (1998) defines most empirical science as monological (monologue) "because you can investigate, say a rock, without ever having to talk to it" (p. 36). Wilber points out that empirical science picks objects of inquiry that it will never have to dialogue with. It investigates strictly subject-object relationships. In fact it is only recently that the scientific community has moved away from object-object relationships (i.e., the objective scientist (a misnomer) viewing the object world). In empirical science there is neither room for subject-subject relationships (i.e., dialogue) nor room for trans-logical modes of being that go beyond linear thinking.10 In so far, as any empirical endeavor treats its subject of inquiry as an object (even if it labels that object a subject) it is guilty of being monological.

Wilber is cautionary about the extent to which the "new-paradigm" of ecological science (e.g., chaos theory, complexity, quantum theory) can save us from the mechanistic (Cartesian-Newtonian) worldview. His position is that they are both monological:

...The real problem with empirical science is not that it is atomistic instead of holistic, or that it is Newtonian instead of Einsteinian, or that it is individualistic instead of systems-oriented. The real problem is that all of those approaches -- atomistic and holistic alike -- are monological.11 They are all empirical and sensorimotor based -- evidence supplied by the senses or their instrumental extensions.... Under no circumstances -- and under no paradigm whatsoever -- does empirical science show any inclination to deny its empiricism -- nor should it. (Wilber, 1998, p. 38)

For Wilber the question is not whether empirical science is atomistic or systems-oriented. The question is whether or not science denies all the higher modes of knowing and claims that all knowledge comes through the empirical modes (as defined by monological science). This is the tragedy of modernity. This is the gutting of the Kosmos, in Wilber's opinion, of the rich texture of interiority, of intersubjective and subjective experience.

So, how does Whitehead fall into all this? After all, he is anything but reductionistic. Whitehead directly challenged the reductionism that has been running around without check in our mechanistic world. Could it be that even his proposal of a philosophy of organism is a continuation of the reductionistic agenda? Wilber would answer in the affirmative insofar as Whitehead maintains a subject-object relationship between parts of the Kosmos. However, Wilber bows to Whitehead as a transitional figure who opened up science to interiority. In this way it is perhaps more accurate to say that Whitehead has not been reductionistic, for he has expanded the Kosmos, via his notion of prehending, from the Right-Hand quadrants (individual behavior and systems with simple location) to include the Upper-Left quadrant (individual subjectivity). This is why Whiteheadians, system-theorists, and the like, are horrified at Wilber's contention that they are monological. They see their contribution as anti-reductionistic because more of the Kosmos (i.e., aspects of interiority) is being honored than is acknowledged by the mechanistic worldview. In other words, they have made room for subjectivity by transforming the object-object relationship (value free scientist - empirical world) into a subject-object relationship. This is anything but a reduction from their standpoint.

However, for Wilber, it is not enough simply to open the door to interiority, you have to walk through it and honor its full complexity. Without a full appreciation of the complexity of interiors we are failing to honor the Kosmos in its entirety. This distinction--how the proponents of the new sciences and Wilber can look at the same thing (i.e., the ecological worldview) and the former see it as a radical improvement (holistic) while the latter sees it as a step in the right direction with something left to be desired--is the key to understanding much of the controversy around Wilber's concept of monological. Let's restate it this way: the proponents of the ecological worldview are really excited about their new found holism, while Wilber comes along and rains on their parade. He does this by pointing out that there still remains a more holistic Holism to achieve. It is as if Wilber has not given these revolutionaries time to enjoy their successes in ushering in the "subjective" before he pulls the rug of satisfaction out from under them to point out that there is a much larger task to attend to: honoring the Kosmos in its full intersubjective glory. 12

So while Wilber is willing to applaud Whitehead for going beyond his peers and acknowledging the reality of "interiority," Wilber sees the limits of Whitehead's view of interiority because it remains tied to an I-It (subject-object) relationship. This is why Wilber sees Whitehead's presentation as "monological." Wilber points out that Whitehead's concept of prehension is an I-It relationship (not I-thou)13 because as each subject (I) prehends all its immediate ancestors as objects (its), each "I" then becomes an "it" for the next "I" to prehend.14 In other words, according to Whitehead's metaphysical system, contemporaries cannot know each other. Despite the fact that the "universe is a communion of subjects" there is no room for simultaneous co-presence, true dialogue or mutual understanding. Wilber (1997) criticizes this and claims that:

[Whitehead] fails to grasp the extensive significance of intersubjectivity (his societies are interobjective, not genuinely intersubjective; that is, they are societies of monological occasions), so that he fails to see that actual occasions are not merely subjective/objective, but four-quadrant (holons). (p. 349-51)

This concern over intersubjectivity is also one of the main feminist critiques of Whitehead.15 For example, Nancy Howell (2000) is concerned that within Whitehead's system "contemporaries do not participate in internal relationship." Thus, she sees the relationships between contemporaries as external (Wilber's charge of monological) and she concludes that "in Whitehead's system, the doctrine of internal relations is primarily concerned with subject-object relations rather than intersubjective relationships" (p. 11). Howell is adamant that a feminist theory of relations should include intersubjective relationships as the starting point from which to understand all relationships. It is not enough for Whitehead to speak of the "universe as a communion of subjects," or claim that "relationships are constitutive." What is needed is an approach that carves out a clear understanding of how contemporaries can know each other. It is not enough to merle emphasize intersubjective space from time to time it must be your starting point, a foundational keystone, one that is understood on its own terms.

Wilber (1999e) agrees with Howell's emphasis on intersubjectivity. He finds Whitehead's description of prehension accurate, as far as it goes, but he is concerned that Whitehead has not "started with the correct view of human experience" (Wilber's emphasis, p. 707). Wilber does not see human experience as a "monological subject grasping monological objects," but rather sees it as being grounded in intersubjective space. Whitehead (1978) makes it clear that contemporaries (i.e., the subject-subject relationship) are alienated from each other when he states that "Actual entities are called 'contemporary' when neither belongs to the 'given' actual world defined by the other" (p. 66). For Wilber this is a bleak picture, one that does not recognize that the subjective "I" arises out of intersubjective space before it can prehend the objective space.16 Thus, given Whitehead's inadequate account of the role that intersubjective space plays in prehension (interiority), his approach is prey to monological accusations despite his attempts to overcome flatland.17 Only in honoring the I, We, and It dimensions of relationship can an environmental ethic be fully coherent.18

In defending Whitehead from Wilber's accusations of denying intersubjective space, Whiteheadians claim Whitehead is "relational." But Wilber is quick to point out that even though Whitehead (as well as most versions of ecology and systems theory) is "relational," he is dealing only with external relations (I-It, and not I-thou). Wilber's point is that a subject does not just prehend its objects, but that the subject-object relationship (I-It) is actually situated (contextualized) within intersubjective space. Not to recognize this is an incomplete honoring of interiority, although arguably, doing so is an important move away from there only being it-it relationships (objective things interacting with the objective world). This improvement of including the subject is why people get so excited and assume interiority is being honored fully, when in fact "subjectivity" as used here only has its foot in the door to interiority.

This "we" space is not just an object for the "I," it is actually the background space that allows the "I" to see the "It." Thus, there is part of intersubjectivity that is not "an object that once was subject" (Whitehead's notion of causality as perception). As such, Wilber (1999e) does not think that Whitehead's framework is "sensitive enough to the nonreducible realities in all four quadrants, all the way down" (p. 708). Carol Bigwood (1993) eloquently echoes this point:

...We exist simultaneously in cultural and natural ways that are inextricably tangled. We are always already situated in an intersubjective (and thereby already cultural), spatiotemporal, fleshy (and thereby already natural) world before we creatively adopt a personal position in it. Moreover, nothing determines us from the outside or inside, precisely because we are from the start outside ourselves, thrown open to our surroundings in a semideterminate but constant coition with things. (p. 56)

The insight that we are always already situated in an intersubjective space, even before we take relationship with the world (as subject or object) is bringing to the table the fruit of postmodernism. Subjective experience is inextricably born through and within a context of intersubjective structures. This is an important insight, which needs to be woven into an understanding of both the subject-object relationship and subject-subject relationships.

However, Jeffrey Sanders (1998) argues that this insight of the "significance of intersubjectivity" is already woven into Whitehead's cosmology. He claims it is actually the "major point of Whitehead's system and, in fact, you can say that the whole of his system is dedicated to understanding how one entity can be internal to another" (p.6). But this is misleading because even if one entity is internal to another, this does not give you true "intersubjectivity," which later Sanders acknowledges as being "two subjects prehending one another" (p. 9), which, according to Whitehead, can't occur.

Last Spring (2000) I attended a presentation by Christian de Quincey in which he also suggested intersubjectivity is central in Whitehead's framework. Nevertheless, I remain suspicious, and strongly feel that scholars are confusing Whitehead's intuition of the importance of intersubjective space (which can be seen at many points in his writings) with its actually existence in his metaphysical framework. If there is room in Whitehead's process philosophy for intersubjectivity, it needs a light to be shown on it and some major remodeling done within it, to bring it up to code. One only has to be reminded that Whitehead was adamant that contemporaries can't know each other to see that there is no room for intersubjectivity, as subject-subject relationships, within Whitehead's framework, nor does his metaphysics support the occurrence of intersubjective structures.

For a little clarification on this topic, it is helpful to turn to a dialogue between Wilber and David Ray Griffin, the noted Whiteheadian scholar. This dialogue reinforces and clarifies a number of the issues addressed above. Thus, I will provide a quick synopsis of the exchange.19

A Little Mutual Understanding

Griffin opens by pointing out that the only problem he has with Wilber's presentation of Whiteheadian process thought is the accusation that it is monological. Griffin points out that "each occasion is internally influenced by EVERY prior occasion and exerts influence on EVERY future occasion...." Griffin then asks, "How much more relational could an ontology be?"

Wilber responds by pointing out that, "you can be ecological and relational and still be monological. Traditional systems theory, for example, is a relational and ecological model, but it is entirely in third-person it-language (monological)." Wilber continues to explain how most of ecology (including Gaia theories) are monological. Then he points out that, "to the extent that some Whiteheadians talk is about I-it prehensifications--even in relational and ecological terms--they are often stuck in monological modes."

Griffin responds by conceding that in Whitehead's system, the subject only prehends objects. However, he wants to make it clear that "whatever is prehended by a subject is by definition an object for that subject. It does not imply 'objectivity' in the (dualist) ontological sense...." He then explains that "the objects of the elementary prehensions... are 'objects-that-had-been-subjects,' so that the prehension (or feeling) of them is a 'feeling of feeling.' " This is why he finds the term monological disconcerting.

But for Wilber, the intersubjective space is more than just an acknowledgment of the objective nature of a subject-subject interaction. Wilber sees the intersubjective space as the background that gives rise to the subject, regardless of whether it entered as an object. After all, as Wilber explains, "as the new subject creatively emerges, it emerges in part from this intersubjectivity, and thus intersubjectivity at that point first enters the subject as part of the subject, not as an object-that-was-once-subject." This is the key point: the subject is actually composed of aspects of the intersubjective space, even before it prehends anything (e.g., other subjects as objects). Thus there is a dialogical relationship between the subject and intersubjective spheres even before the monological relationship between the subject and object occurs.

To illustrate this point, Wilber gives the example of someone being at a post-conventional stage of morality. At this stage of moral development, an individual will have thoughts arise within that space (of moral development), but the structure of this post-conventional stage was never an object. However, this stage of development does form part of the structure/space from which the new subject arises moment to moment. Therefore, this structure enters "the subject as prehending subject, not as a prehended object that was once subject."

Griffin understands what Wilber is driving at, but feels that it is a very subtle distinction, and furthermore, that it is misleading to characterize Whitehead as "monological." He suggests that Wilber should call his position "complete," while calling Whitehead's "partial," which is essentially what Wilber is doing. However, for Wilber, this distinction is more than subtle. It is crucial if we are truly to overcome the monological tendencies we have inherited from modernity. At the end of the exchange, Wilber clarifies that "[Griffin] does not think that Whitehead's view is partial or limited, only that from [his] perspective it could be characterized that way."

In order to understand why intersubjectivity slipped through the metaphysical cracks in Whitehead's formulation, it is necessary to reveal the limits of his methodology. This in turn leaves us poised for an exploration of the many types of interiority discussed in Part III.

The Limits of Methodology

The point that Wilber makes about the inability of someone at a post-conventional stage of morality to take that structure as an object is extremely important. What Wilber is saying is that because of the phenomenological methodology that Whitehead chooses you could not expect him to discover the role intersubjective space plays in the creation of the subject.20 It is important to note that a realization of interconnectedness doesn't equal intersubjectivity. There is a difference here between the structure of intersubjectivity and the space (interconnectedness) that fills that structure. The very methodology Whitehead employs prevents him from grasping that distinction. This is the same reason that phenomenology cannot spot the stages of psychological development as discovered by Piaget, Gilligan, Kegan, Loevinger, or Kohlberg. A different methodology, such as structuralism (a la Saussure and Foucault), is required to obtain that information. This is a perfect example of science obtaining answers based on the kinds of questions it asks and then denying that there are any other types of questions. Change the questions, and you get different answers. Ask more types of questions (i.e., It questions, I questions, and We questions) and get a more vibrant and full picture of the Kosmos. If you restrict yourself to just phenomenology (I questions), for example, you are limiting your palette to a few select colors.

To illustrate this, think of the famous frog sitting in a pot of water on a stove. Now this poor critter does not realize that the water is slowly heating up to a boil, and it remains in the pot and gets cooked, though it could have just jumped out at anytime. There is nothing about phenomenology (experience, reflection, and reporting of interiors) that can spot (in this case, for the frog) stages (e.g., 70 degrees, 80 degrees, 90 degrees, etc.). Likewise, children do not say things like "When I was operating at a pre-conventional stage, I thought..." No. They cannot detect the structures of consciousness they are operating out of or their transformation between those structures. However, if you test a thousand 8-year-olds, 16-year-olds, and 28-year-olds, for structures of consciousness (i.e., worldviews), your research will demonstrate stages.21 Wilber (1999e) sees Whitehead's inability in this area as a major weakness for he combines formal analysis of known structures (exterior) with the causal analysis of observable processes (phenomenology), without making use of intersubjective methodologies, developmental psychology, and linguistics etc. (p. 716).22 Thus, it should not surprise us that Whitehead did not have access to the role that intersubjective space plays in the subject-object relationship. Also, given his methodology, he wouldn't be able to distinguish levels of interiority within subjective and intersubjective space.

This brings us to the second half of Wilber's critique of Whitehead. We have seen how Whitehead is not "all-quadrant" by the nature of his not being able to flesh out the dimension of intersubjective space (the Lower-Left quadrant). However, Whitehead, as mentioned, took a huge step in the direction of honoring the Kosmos when he included the mechanistic worldview (Upper and Lower-Right quadrants only) within a more encompassing ecological worldview which gives room for the role of the subject (Upper-Left quadrant) and its relationship to the empirical world. Three out of four quadrants is not bad, especially for someone who was writing at a time that did not have access to the findings of postmodernism. Now I will examine the way in which insights from developmental psychology and the nondual traditions can help us to recast Whitehead's net towards an "all-level" approach. This is a necessary step for an integral environmental ethic to be able to make sense of the variety of interiors that are found in the natural world and within human culture. A clear understanding of the holonical organization of interiors is paramount to making ecologically sound decisions.

Part III: One Foot in the Door of Interiority

The very fact that Whitehead was willing to make interiority (prehension) the keystone of his system is enough to place him on the philosophical map next to thinkers like as Spinoza, Leibniz, Schelling, and Schopenhauer, all of whom honored the dimension of interiority. Whitehead is careful not to equate prehension with consciousness. He is not arguing that atoms have consciousness; rather, he is claiming that even the smallest of things (e.g., atoms) have interiors, and this basic, primitive unit of interiority is called "prehension." Some people mistakenly read Whitehead as claiming that inanimate objects have consciousness, when in fact, all he is claiming is that inanimate objects are composed of holons and those holons experience each other in basic subtle ways (prehension). Wilber is in substantial agreement with Whitehead up to this point. What Wilber is dissatisfied with is how Whitehead collapses (as a result of his phenomenological approach) all interiors into the single category of prehension.

To be sure, Whitehead (1978) develops a complex understanding of prehensions in the section entitled "The Concrete Facts of Relatedness" (p. 22). Here he recognizes many important distinctions within the concept of prehension. These distinctions include: positive prehensions ("feelings"), negative prehensions (ignoring "feelings"), physical prehensions ("feeling" an actual entity, A.K.A. "conformal feelings"), impure prehensions (the combining of physical and conceptual prehensions), pure prehensions (either physical or conceptual prehensions), hybrid prehensions (prehending the conceptual or impure prehensions of another subject), and conceptual prehensions (prehending eternal objects). This can be represented by Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Types of Prehensions

  Physical (pure)    
Positive   Impure (Physical + Conceptual)  
  Conceptual (pure)    
      Hybrid (Conceptual or Impure of another subject)

When presented like this, it becomes apparent that there are only two core prehensions, pure physical prehensions and pure conceptual prehensions (column B). Everything else is just a derivative (columns C and D) or a negation of those in column B.

Whitehead also acknowledges what he calls "subjective forms" (e.g.," emotions, valuations, purposes, adversions, aversions, consciousness, etc.") (p. 24) and develops such concepts of interiority as "subjective aim" (the ideal of what a subject can become, which shapes the very nature of its becoming) and "subjective form" (how a subject experiences the datum of a prehension). He also distinguishes between "primary feelings" (when the data of a prehension is reduced to either a single actual entity or a single eternal object) and "propositional feelings" (a feeling that includes a proposition). As one can see, Whitehead has a very sophisticated subjective tool box with which to describe interiority. I want to argue, however, that this sophistication remains tied to the concept of prehensions, which Whitehead sees as the rudimentary building block of experience (interiority).

Prehensions: The Atom of Interiority

As I see it, Whitehead's notion of prehension lends itself to a very atomistic approach to interiority, one that does not honor the full diversity of interior experiences. Thus, I would argue that Whitehead's approach to interiority bears similarities to the gross reductionism of scientific materialism, because it claims that because everything (all interiority) is composed of atoms (prehensions) there is nothing but atoms (prehensions). This approach is not capable of fully recognizing the emergent properties that arise out of prehensions (e.g., irritably, sensation, perception, impulse, emotions, images, etc.). As a result, we get a tragic from of reductionism that claims everything is just atoms (a denial of emergent properties). Whitehead does acknowledge gradations of complexity and emergence with regard to "prehensions" but this is never really developed in his system. What we get can be represented by Figure 2 below:

Figure 2: Whitehead's Vision

Individual Interiors Individual Exteriors
prehension 7 humans
prehension 6 mammals
prehension 5 reptiles
prehension 4 insects
prehension 3 plants
prehension 2 cells
prehension 1 atoms

Realize here that prehension in the chart above includes all the varieties of prehensions (see Figure 1) as well as concepts such as subjective form and subjective aim. As a result, a rich tapestry of internal experience can be painted with these concepts. Nevertheless, Whitehead doesn't make very clear which of the individual exteriors corresponds with which types of subjective form or subjective aim. It is not clear, for example, how prehensions 2 and 5 are different from one another (if at all) or where "reflective consciousness" emerge? Does reflective consciousness equal prehension 1+2+3+4+5, or does it just happen at prehension 6? The intricate relationships between the kinds of prehensions different individuals experience is not clear. Obviously, Whitehead intuited and explored a wide range of complex interiors, but he leaves us only with a vague understanding of the kinds of emergence that occurs within interiority.

To be sure, one of the main tenets of Whitehead's cosmology is that he claims everything prehends everything else. Yet what this shows us is that Whitehead is less concerned with the emergent properties of interiority as he is with describing the basic building blocks of experience (prehension). Although Whitehead provides an exhaustive exploration of the basic units of experience it is necessary that we go beyond prehension and acknowledge the more complex forms of interiority. To his credit, Whitehead did realize that each exterior (individual) has an interior, which is an amazing insight. Nevertheless, without access to the work done by developmental psychologists over the last 40 years, Whitehead was incapable of articulating the many distinctions between the types of interiors associated with each exterior (see Figure 4)

David Ray Griffin has taken on this task in his Unsnarling the World-Knot (1998). Within its pages Griffin offers the following picture of the hierarchy of emergent compound individuals, see figure 3 below:

Figure 3: Griffin's View of Compound Individuals

Interiors Exteriors
prehension (mind) neurons
prehension (pre-mind) cells
prehension (pre-mind) organelles
prehension (pre-mind) macromolecules
prehension (pre-mind) atoms

Although Griffin makes important moves in the right direction, Wilber believes that his presentation still robs us of the richness of both exteriors and interiors, by making a huge jump from neurons (the "highest-level enduring individual" according to Griffin) to mind (the prehensive experience of billions of individual neurons). Wilber sees Griffin's jump from neurons to mind resulting from his failure to acknowledge that the reptilian stem and the limbic system are compound individuals. Instead Griffin simply sees them as organizational aggregates. Wilber cites the example of the skin boundary of a horse (limbic system) as constituting a compound individual, much like the membrane of a cell does. Consequently, it is clear that Griffin also needs to go beyond "prehensions" in order to successfully account for interiority.

Beyond Prehensions

Using the upper quadrants of his four-quadrant model, Wilber shows there are actually a number of important distinctions between neurons and mind, which Griffin does not take into account. Wilber sees that a series of little jumps are necessary (neurons to neural cord to reptilian brain stem to paleomammalian limbic system to neo-cortex) to arrive where Griffin ends up. Furthermore, he sees each jump as contributing to the emergence of a new, more complex compound individual, with both an exterior and interior dimension (sensation to perception to impulse to emotion to image to symbol to concept). In fact, when we couple biology/evolutionary theory with developmental psychology we get a much richer picture of interiority and exteriority.23 See figure 4 below:24

Figure 4: Wilber's Vision

Interiors Exteriors
concepts complex neocortex (humans
symbols neocortex (primates)
emotion/image limbic system (paleomammals
impulse/emotion brain stem (reptiles)
perception/impulse neural cord (fish/amphibians)
perception neuronal organisms (e.g., annelids
sensation proto-neuronal organism (e.g., coelenterata)
rudimentary sensation metabolic organisms (e.g., plants)
irritability cells (genetic)
prehension atoms

Once we complexify our map of the interiors, we start to have a more accurate view of how each exterior has a correlate in the interior domain that reflects its complexity. Wilber is adamant, echoing Whitehead, that where there are exteriors there are interiors--they arise together and are mutually arising and determining. He likens a universe without interiors all the way down to a universe with all ups and no downs -- it just does not make sense. For Wilber (1999e) "Inside and outside arise together whenever they arise and interiors go as far down as down has any meaning" (p. 709). By this Wilber means that at a certain point, even outsides (exteriors) lose meaning (e.g., in quantum mechanics) but whenever the exteriors do manifest (concrese), they are accompanied by an interior.

Wilber agrees with the idea put forth by Leibniz/Whitehead/Hartshorne/Griffin that only holons (i.e., compound individuals) have interiority. There must be some recognizable wholeness not just heaps of aggregates (e.g., a pile of rocks doesn't constitute a whole). Holons have agency and interiors; heaps do not. Wilber suggests that a social holon is between a whole and a heap because it is composed of individuals united in relationship but it lacks a locus of self-awareness. Thus the upper quadrants are filled with compound individuals, whereas the lower quadrants are composed of social holons. For example, to think that rocks have souls is a product of a magical worldview. It reflects a form of panpsychism (though not Whitehead's) that is problematic. Rocks are heaps (with no interiors except more exteriors), that are composed of atoms which do have interiors, but only of the most basic types (propensities and patterns that endure across time). In short, a rock is indeed a manifestation of Spirit, but it does not have a soul. This raises the issue of how interiors and exteriors are related.

Relating Interiors to Exteriors

Wilber and Griffin both acknowledge and avoid what Griffin calls the "emergence category mistake," which occurs when you do not realize that both the interior and exterior dimensions have emergent properties. It is common for many physicalists to claim that interiors emerge out of the top levels of the exteriors. This is profoundly mistaken. You cannot get interiors from exteriors. An attempt to do so is a concession to the undeniability of consciousness, (i.e., it must come from somewhere). Again what is needed is the realization that interiors and exteriors both arise together and have correlative emergent properties. It is not that consciousness pops out of matter; rather, it accompanies matter from the beginning in the form of interiority. Wilber admits that when you try to describe the interiors of the lower levels you cannot make any strong claims as to what they consist of; he just wants to acknowledge that they are there. He is willing to accept Daniel Dennett's proposal of amoebas demonstrating a form of sentience. Anything below that, Wilber feels is too "fuzzy" with much disagreement between biologists. Wilber would rather appeal to the transrational nondual states (the only real place this issue can be solved) than to the mathematical formulas bickered about at the rational level.

Another way of describing the interiors is to think of them as Wilber (1995) does: a worldspace. He chooses the term "worldspace" over "worldview" because the latter carries too much conscious baggage with it, especially when you try to discuss the world view of the lower levels (e.g., an atom can have a worldspace but not a worldview). It is not that atoms share a cognitive map of the world, rather they "[have] depth, and therefore they do share a common depth. And a common depth is a worldspace, a worldspace created/disclosed by a particular degree of shared depth" (p. 540). Wilber is very cautionary about assigning ideas of consciousness to the lower levels; he wants to be very clear on what we are talking about when we say an atom prehends or feels other atoms.

Wilber (1999e) sees the difficulty in relating interiors (worldspaces) to exteriors (matter) reveals an inability to see the basic building blocks of the universe (quarks, atoms, strings etc.) as having interiors. The brain is seen as having an interior (mind) but it is often assumed that this emerged at some point from the lower components (matter) via evolution (the emergence category mistake). This posits a dualism and claims that a miracle occurred (e.g., via God) that allowed interiors to spring into being. Alternatively, others deny interiors as having a causal reality and come up with some form of physicalism.

Wilber claims that the proper understanding of the relationship between interiors and exteriors is disclosed only in postrational stages of development. Nevertheless, rationality allows us to at least grasp that every exterior has an interior, even if we cannot grasp the exact nature of this relationship. This realization is achievable according to Wilber because interiors and exteriors co-arise. Panpsychism is often appealed to towards this end, but Wilber points out that the problem with this is that panpsychism tends to equate interiors with one kind of an interior (i. e., feelings, the soul or awareness etc.) then inscribes that one interior across the board and all the way down to the wee bits of the universe.25 Wilber sees this as problematic. For him, consciousness is ultimately unqualifiable--interiors go all the way down and all the way up--but there is no one particular type of interior that does. Wilber refers to himself as a "pan-interiorist, not a pan-experientialist, pan-mentalist, pan-feelingist, or pan-soulist." Wilber demonstrates how the forms of the interior show an actual developmental unfolding, moving from prehension to sensation to perception to impulse to image to concept to rules to rationality to vision-logic, etc. . But Wilber is adamant that none of these goes all the way down (e.g., atoms do not have feelings and cells do not have souls). Wilber points out that the interior of a cell is in fact "protoplasmic irritability," the interior of an electron, according to quantum mechanics, has a "propensity to existence." But electrons or cells cannot be said to have minds or souls; they have the rudimentary forms of what later becomes mind, etc..

Wilber (1999e) agrees with the Whiteheadian stance that prehension is perhaps the earliest form of interiority because he recognizes that "every interior touches--prehends--an exterior at some point, since interior and exterior mutually arise" (p. 707). However, Wilber thinks that equating prehension with "feelings" or "emotions" is a bit of a stretch. Despite Whitehead's technical use of the term "feelings," it is a term that is open to misunderstanding. Nevertheless, when presenting his four-quadrants, Wilber invites people to push interiors as far down as they feel comfortable (though he does argue that interiors go all the way down).

To Transcend and Include

One of the important characteristics that define both interiors and exteriors is that they both arrange themselves in an holonic fashion. This holonical relationship becomes obvious once we look at Figure 4 is the fact that both the interior and exterior domains involve a process of "transcend and include." For example, at the cellular level, you do not just have cells; you have cells composed of atoms composed of molecules. When you have metabolic organisms, you have organisms composed of cells composed of atoms composed of molecules. So each senior level, transcends (goes beyond) its junior level, but it includes the junior level; it does not just replace it. When we look to the interior side of each exterior, we see the same phenomena occurring. There is prehension, then there is irritability (which includes prehension), and then there is rudimentary sensation (which includes irritability and prehension). Each new type of interior is dependent on the ones below it. In other words, to have concepts you need symbols, and to get symbols you need the capacity for images. Thus it is "turtles all the way up and all the way down." This relationship between levels solves one form of the mind-body split by characterizing the relationship between mind (concepts) and body (feelings) as being one of "transcend and include," where mind transcends and includes body.26 In this way, we avoid a dualism because mind is realized to contain body. When Whitehead states "the many become one and are increased by one," he is generally referring to the exterior domains, but it is important to realize that this whole-part relationship also applies to the interior domains. Only by acknowledging this relationship can you account for the "unity of experience" that occursónamely, the fact that one's self is composed of many selves. Wilber is clear on the point that there are exterior holons and interior holons, and he stresses that both interiors and exteriors develop.

One mistake that often occurs when people are trying to understand the relationship between junior and senior levels is to conclude that the senior levels have complete causality over the junior levels. This is not the case, though the senior level can have a huge influence on the junior levels simply because the junior levels are included in the very fabric of the senior level. There is in that sense no separation. Wilber (1999d) wants to make it clear that neither he nor Whitehead sees quantum mechanics as supporting the idea that the object is created or even altered when prehended by a subject. Wilber interprets Whitehead as claiming:

As each occasion comes to be, as it becomes subject, it prehends its ancestors or causal objects and is thus changed by the objects, or formed by its immediate past. But the object is not changed, and indeed could not be changed, by its subject or by being prehended, because the object now only exists in or as the past, and you can't alter the past by merely thinking about it or prehending it (p. 325).

Wilber agrees and points out that this is another way of saying that the subject contains the object (the senior level contains the junior level) but the object does not contain the subject (the junior level does not contain the senior level). This realization of Whitehead is what leads him to honor the truth of hierarchy as a natural product of the Kosmos, or as Wilber (1999d) says, "there are indeed nonmutual or nonequivalent relationships" (p. 325). To illustrate this, Wilber gives his controversial example of how the noosphere contains the biosphere but the biosphere doesn't contain the noosphere. After all, he claims, the brain, which is 6 million years old, does not create the world, which is 13 million years old. Wilber is quick to point out that even Bohm's classic 1975 paper supports this.

Whitehead as Transpersonal Philosopher?

In addition to Whitehead's tendency to reduce all interiors to varieties of "prehensions," there is another way in which he falls short of an "all-level" approach: he does not climb into the highest reaches of human consciousness, namely the nondual. Accordingly, Wilber claims that Whitehead's specialty is the physical realm, and being the good scientist/philosopher that he is, he reports that very well. However, Whitehead only has guesses about the subtle and causal realms.27 Wilber does not fault Whitehead for doing this; after all, you need high levels of realization to be able to report the subtle and causal realms, and Whitehead was not engaged in any formal contemplative practice. If anything, we should applaud Whitehead for at least honoring Spirit (God) in a descaralized world. This quality makes Whitehead a preferable place to start for an environmental ethic than many other thinkers. Nevertheless, just as we needed to add the insights from disciplines such as developmental psychology and postmodernism to Whitehead's system in order to make it more comprehensive, so too must we turn to the great nondual wisdom traditions to provide insights into the highest reaches of interiority.

One reason that Whitehead does not articulate the nondual is due to his cultural Christian framework, which is theistic and denies nonduality in lieu of a Godhead. As a result, Whitehead is incapable of acknowledging the Godhead as nondual Suchness. Whitehead describes the Primordial Nature of God as involving "eternal objects" (archetypal patterns), which Wilber (1995) sees as corresponding to the "high subtle prior to gross involution" (i.e., concrescence). However, Wilber points out that many traditions, such as Mahayana Buddhism, interpret these "eternal objects" as cosmic memory habits, similar to the theory of morphogenesis. Wilber likens Whitehead's "Consequent Nature of God" to the high subtle to low-causal realm, and calls this the "ever-evolving consummate Holon" (p. 619). Despite all this, neither the primordial nor the consequent nature of God covers the high causal (unmanifest Godhead) or the nondual (Godhead as Suchness). Wilber concludes that "Whitehead seems quite unfamiliar with those domains" (p. 619).

Nevertheless, John Buchanan (1996) is a transpersonal theorist who has drawn on Whitehead's metaphysical system as an appropriate complement to transpersonal psychology. Buchanan sees Whitehead as the great transpersonal philosopher.28 Wilber (1997) disagrees on the grounds that Whitehead did not attain "subject permanence" (remaining consciously awake in all three states of consciousness -- waking, dreaming and deep dreamless sleep).29 Without this accomplishment, Wilber (1997) points out that "there is no corresponding mode of knowing that will disclose the Real" (p. 350, his emphasis). Thus, there is no real "transpersonal" anything. It would be like having a philosophy of bowling but you yourself have never gone bowling. A complete metaphysics must be able to account for the highest reaches of interiority and nonduality. On both accounts, Whitehead is silent.

In addition, Wilber claims that there must be room for this injunction in your system, even if you yourself do not stabilize transpersonal waves of consciousness. Nowhere in Whitehead's system are there injunctions of spiritual practice that cultivate transpersonal stages leading to subject permanence. Wilber concedes that Whitehead is an excellent place to begin, but "[he] simply does not go nearly far enough" (p. 350). Wilber acknowledges the important contribution Whitehead has made to current thought, through indispensable concepts like prehension and prehensive unification, actual entities and societies, creativity as the ultimate category, concrescence, presentational immediacy, causal efficacy, etc. However, Wilber claims that these terms all take on different meanings as you advance towards the nondual, and unless you honor the nondual in your system, then you are operating with a partial system. Wilber draws extensively on cross-cultural research to demonstrate that nondualality naturally results when interiority continues to transcend and include its junior dimensions.30

Another result of incorporating a nondual framework into Whitehead's system is that it is only by doing this that one can overcome the mind/body split and duality in general. This "world-knot" is not solvable at the rational or philosophical level, though Whitehead and Griffin try admirably to do just that. The solution lies in acknowledging that higher levels of development can occur, leading to nondual awareness where the Mind-Body distinction dissolves entirely. The "hard problem," (how exterior quantities give rise to interior qualities), is only solved by developing to the nondual level of awareness. Wilber (1999e) explains: "The solution is what is seen in satori, not anything that can be stated in rational terms (unless one has had a satori, and then rational terms will work fine)" (p. 712). This is the reason that the Mind-Body problem has yet to be solved: everyone (except those in the nondual traditions) has gone at it from a rational point of view. The solution does not exist at those levels, just as you can't define relativity using Newtonian physics.

Conclusion: Eating Metaphysical Pie in the Room of Interiority

There is nothing like having your metaphysical pie and eating it too. We started by preparing a metaphysics with some fresh intersubjectivity. To really appreciate our integral meal, we entered the textured room of interiority and sat at the table of holonical complexification. What a feast. The 'ol Perennial family recipe. It never misses its mark.

This paper has served as a foundation-building enterprise. I admire Whitehead immensely and see many points of contact between his process philosophy and the direction Integral Ecology must take. However, before Whitehead's metaphysics can be appropriated towards that end, his system needs augmentation. In particular it is necessary to bring in the insights that postmodernism and social psychologists have introduced concerning the intersubjective dimension of our lived experience. Otherwise we are left without a space to honor the many concepts of nature held by cultures, we can't discuss ethics and values in any meaningful way, we are blind to the subtle ways that intersubjective space shapes the subject-subject relationship, and we are incapable of incorporating the process of dialogue (contemporaries knowing one another) in the direction of mutual understandingówhich is the biggest obstacle facing the environment.

In addition to a clear understanding of intersubjectivity, an integral environmental ethic also needs to be able to honor the many types of interiorities that occur along the evolutionary spiral, as well as the varieties that are found within human subjectivity (including the transpersonal domains). Thus, Whitehead's system needs to be reinforced with postmodernism, developmental psychology, and nondual religious traditions. This alliance establishes the importance of a developmental/holonic framework. This framework enables an integral environmental ethic to avoid the reduction of interiors to the building block of subjectivity. Once interiorities are freed from being limited to the concept of prehension, a rich world of subjectivity opens up. No longer are we trying to force blocks (interiors) through a single round hole (prehension).

Until an approach to the environment honors all-quadrants and all-levels it will fall short of a genuine integral approach. Now that we have upgraded process philosophy to an "all-quadrant, all-level" affair, we stand in a good position to see what kind of environmental ethos can be built on such a foundation.


  1. See also Armstrong-Buck (1986), McGee (1994), Zimmerman (1994), Palmer (1998), and Kerr (2000).
  2. Wilber sees Whitehead as one of the first great Vision-Logic thinkers. For a more in-depth discussion of vision-logic, consult Sex, Ecology, Spirituality (1995) p. 184-204 and p. 258-264.
  3. "all-quadrant, all-level" is Wilber's catch-phrase for an integral approach, one that recognizes ìall-levelsî: the many dimensions of being, such as body, heart, mind, and spirit; as well as ìall-quadrantsî: both the interior/exterior domains and the individual/collective domains of everything.
  4. In keeping with Wilber's use of the term, I use the word Kosmos as inclusive of the physiophere, biosphere, noosphere, and theosphere.
  5. In other essayís I refer to these two dimensions of intersubjectivity as intersubectivity-as-relaionship and intersubjectivity-as-context, respectively. For the purposes of this essay I will avoid these terms and allow the context to determine which dimension I am speaking to. For a fuller discussion of these dimensions of intersubjectivity and others see The Evolution of Intersubjectivity (forthcoming).
  6. Whiteheadís terms (e.g., feelings) are often technical terms that should not be confused with common parlance.
  7. Wilber (1995) p. 35.
  8. However, Wilber (1995) suggests that there is another meaning, besides emergence, of Whitehead's "the many become one and is increased by one," and that is the idea of prehensive unification. For example, this is where the single living cell embraces its entire physical universe. Wilber characterizes this as "all antecedent actual occasions participate to some degree in a holarchy of embrace" (p. 92-93).
  9. Wilber (1999d) p. 301.
  10. Wilber (1996b) outlines four of these modes (psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual).
  11. When discussing systems theory it is important to realize that it does not just apply to social holons (the Lower-Right quadrant), it also applies to individual holons (Upper-Right quadrant). They both have system aspects because, as Whitehead explains, all individuals are compound individuals. However, systems theory, according to Wilber can only cover the exterior/objective world (Right-Hand quadrants) and therefore cannot adequately map consciousness (Left-Hand quadrants). The Whiteheadian approach acknowledges that only individuals posses interiority, social holons do not (though the individuals in the social holon do). Thus all varieties of systems theory (chaos, complexity, autopoiesis, etc.) are built around "it" language, whereas consciousness is built around "I" language. Wilber (2000c) sees the value of systems approaches as important because they describe "[the] aspect of consciousness that involves its exterior forms in collective systems." (p.154). Nevertheless, the system approaches need to be informed by both the "I" and "we" dimensions of relationality.
  12.   Intersubjectivity is defined as being the space between subjects that includes: values, a shared worldview, and the process of mutual understanding (achieved through dialogue). In other words, a subject-subject relationship. It is important to realize that there is a different type of intersubjectivity for each psychological structure (worldview). Also, this is different than ìrelationalityî (which can be object-object, subject-object, or subject-subject relations), and ìinterconnectednessî (which can just emphasize the external empirical connections).
  13. Wilber (2000c) discusses the relationship between "I-thou" and his use of "we" in relation to intersubjectivity (p. 154).
  14. Wilber (1997) compares Whitehead's theory of prehension with Kegan's famous work in developmental psychology where "what is subjective becomes objective." This is consistent with Whitehead's central point that there is a ceaseless conversion of the subject of one moment into the object of the next moment (p. 349-51 n. 11).
  15. The other main feminist critique is concerned with there being a holonic hierarchy in Whitehead's system.
  16. Wilber (1999d) explains that it is a common mistake for people to presume Whitehead is claiming that everything interacts with everything else. What he said, claims Wilber, is that "a thing prehends everything in its actual universe, and its actual universe consists only of its ancestors, not its contemporaries and not its descendants" For a more complete exploration of this point in contrast to common ideas about holographic theory and its relationship to the Hinayana Buddhist concept of momentary dharma-events see p. 323-25.
  17. Flatland is a term that Wilber uses to refer to the world without interiors. This is how he characterizes scientific materialism and monoloical science -- flat, no depth (interiors).
  18. The I, We, and It, represent the three value spheres (art/I/subjective, religion/we/intersubjective, and science/it/objective).
  19. For the full-length excerpts of this dialogue, consult the Introduction to Volume 8 of the Collected Works of Ken Wilber.
  20. See Cooperís (1993) chapter on Methodology, where he compares and contrasts Heideggerís and Whiteheadís phenomenological approaches. Whitehead was inspired by the new physics but the experiential component of his writings is phenomenological.
  21. Wilber (1999e) provides an important look at the cross-cultural studies that support the thesis that there are universal structures of development. The evidence for this is in fact overwhelming (p. 478-479).
  22. See Wilber (1995) especially the notes for chapters 4 and 14, for a discussion of the strengths and limits of phenomenology, as well as the summary of his psychological model posted at
  23. Wilber (1999e) argues that at each of the levels represented in Figure 3, not only do interiors prehend their corresponding exteriors, but they also prehend their own past. Wilber sees this as compatible with Whitehead's system and claims that: "This appears to account not only for Mind-Body (interior-exterior) interaction, but for interior causation, interior inheritance, and mind-body interaction" (p. 708).
  24. These distinctions are not to be seen as set in stone. There are many ways you could represent this chart. Nevertheless, these are the most comprehensive arrangements based on current research and evidence.
  25. This is similar to Whitehead's presentation of prehension, but he was not as explicate as panpsychism. Whitehead acknowledged that there were different types of prehension, he just did not describe those differences. We had to wait for developmental psychology for that.
  26. For an extended discussion consult Wilber (1995, notes for chapter 12 and 13).
  27. A comprehensive explanation of Wilber's spiral of consciousness is beyond the scope of this paper, and can be obtained from his books (1986, 1995, 1996b, 1999e). However, Wilber's general orientation is helpful for understanding his critique of Whitehead here. Basically, Wilber supports the idea that there are four waves of consciousness after rationality. These transpersonal stages include: psychic (nature mysticism), subtle (deity mysticism), causal (formless mysticism), and nonduality (the union of form and formless). Each wave transcends and includes its junior wave. Wilber's presentation has substantial backing from a variety of disciplines, including much cross cultural research (consult Integral Psychology). Though these conclusions remain controversial.
  28. Sanders (1998) also presents a case for Whitehead as being an important transpersonal philosopher.
  29. The ability to remain conscious during all three states is recognized as an important indicator of realization.
  30. Consult Wilber (1995, 1996b, 1997, 1999e) for a more detailed presentation of this topic.


Armstrong-Buck, S. (1986). "Whitehead's Metaphysical System as a Foundation for Environmental Ethics." in Environmental Ethics Vol. 8. p. 241-59.

Birch, C. & Cobb, Jr. J. (1990). The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community. Texas. Environmental Ethics Books.

Buchanan, J. (1996). "Whitehead and Wilber: Contrasts in Theory." in The Humanistic Pscychologist. Vol. 24, No. 2, p. 231-256.

Cooper, R. (1993). Heidegger and Whitehead: A Phenomenological Examination into

the Intelligibility of Experience. Athens. Ohio University Press.

Grange, J. (1997). Nature: An Environmental Cosmology. New York. State University

of New York Press.

Grange, J. (1999). The City: An Urban Cosmology. New York. State University of New

York Press.

Griffin, D. R. (1994). "Whitehead's Deeply Ecological Worldview." In Worldviews and

Ecology: Religion, Philosophy, and the Environment. Ed. Tucker, M.E. & Grim,

J. Maryknoll. Orbis Books.

Griffin, D.R. (1999). Unsnarling the World-Knot: Consciousness, Freedom and the Mind-Body Problem. University of California Press.

Howell, N. (2000). A Feminist Cosmology: Ecology, Solidarity, and Metaphysics. New Jersey. Humanities Press.

Irigaray, L. (1993). An Ethics of Sexual Difference. New York. Cornell University Press.

Kerr, A. (2000). The Possibilities of Metaphysics: Environmental Ethics and the Naturalistic Fallacy. in Environmental Ethics, Vol. 22. p. 85-99.

Kraus, E. (1998). The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead's Process and Reality. New York. Fordham University Press.

Light, A. (2000). Callicott and Naess on Pluralism. in In Beneath the Surface: Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep Ecology. Cambridge. MIT Press. p. 125-48.

McFague, S. (1993). The Body of God: An Ecological Theology. Minneapolis. Fortress Press.

McGee, G. (1994). "The Relevance of Foucault to Whiteheadian Environmental Ethics." in Environmental Ethics Vol. 16. p. 419-424.

Palmer, C. (1998). Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking. Oxford. Clarendon Press.

Sanders, J. (1998). Dharma, Karma, and Yoga: Whitehead and Wilber As Transpersonal" Philosophers? A paper presented at the Silver Anniversary Conference for the Center of Process Studies.

Whitehead, A. (1981). A Key to Whitehead's Process and Reality. Ed. by Sherburne, D. University of Chicago Press.

Whitehead, A. (1985). Process and Reality: Corrected Edition Eds. Griffin, D, & Sherburne, D. New York. The Free Press.

Whitehead, A. (1997). Science and the Modern World. New York. The Free Press.

Wilber, K. (1986). Up From Eden. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1996a). A Brief History of Everything. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1996b). The Atman Project: A Transpersonal View of Human Development. New Edition. Wheaton, IL. Quest.

Wilber, K. (1997). The Eye of Spirit. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1998). The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion. New York. Random House.

Wilber, K. (1999a). One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1999b). The Collected Works, Volume 1. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1999c). The Collected Works, Volume 2. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1999d). The Collected Works, Volume 3. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (1999e). The Collected Works, Volume 4. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2000a). The Collected Works, Volume 8. Boston: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2000b). "Waves, Streams, States and Self." In Journal of Consciousness Studies, Volume 7, no. 11/12 pp .145-176.

Wilber, K. (2000c). A Theory of Everything. Boston. Shambhala

Zimmerman, M. (1994). Contesting the Earth's Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity. University of California Press

I would like to thank a number of people for reading earlier drafts of this essay and providing helpful feedback, including: Karin Swann, Sean Kelly, Brian Swimme, Charlene Spretnak, Christian de Quincey, Jorge Ferrer, and Kaisa Puhaka.