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Joseph DillardDr. Joseph Dillard is a psychotherapist with over forty year's clinical experience treating individual, couple, and family issues. Dr. Dillard also has extensive experience with pain management and meditation training. The creator of Integral Deep Listening (IDL), Dr. Dillard is the author of over ten books on IDL, dreaming, nightmares, and meditation. He lives in Berlin, Germany. See: and his YouTube channel.


Reposted from Healing Integral with permission of the author.

Problematic assumptions about AQAL's moral line of development

Joseph Dillard

Moral development is not easy to objectively measure in the right-hand quadrants because there are always contexts to consider.

Wilber considers the moral or ethical line as a key determinant of level of development along with the leading cognitive line,[1] the lines of relationship and self. Wilber has also said that for development to move from one level to another there has to be tetra-mesh, that is, some degree of sustainable balance among all four quadrants.[2]

“... a paradigm is a social practice or behavioral injunction, not simply a theory or intellectual edifice (although, of course, they tetra-evolve together). Accordingly, any new paradigm will include a set of exemplars and practices—practices that, if they contain more depth (or Eros) than their predecessors, will throw the old approaches into a legitimation crisis that can only be resolved by a vertical (‘revolutionary’) transformation—as we said, the crisis in legitimacy can only be resolved by an increase in authenticity. Thus, a new integral paradigm will therefore be a new set of injunctions and practices, not simply theories, not worldviews, not Web-of-Life notions, not holistic concepts—but actual practices.”[3]

“Authenticity,” as represented by truth, humility, courage and accountability, do not appear to be more prevalent among the spiritual elite, including integralists, than among the “deplorables,” “ethnocentrists” and “tribalists.” This can be implied by the fact that a majority of trial lawyers are democrats[4] and soldiers,[5] that is, those who kill people for a living, may be Democratic liberals as easily as Republican conservatives. There need to exist concrete, operational criteria for each quadrant at each level of development in order to know if you have attained tetra-mesh at that level or not.

For example, on the moral line, if we haven’t defined what moral development means in intentional, values, behavioral and interactive quadrants of both late prepersonal and early personal, we cannot know if we have the tetra-mesh required for development from late prepersonal to early personal. We also have to know the criteria for tetra-mesh in all preceding levels of moral development, that is, what it looks like for early and mid-prepersonal as well as late prepersonal, since moral development has to include all these factors in order to transcend it in early personal moral development. The failure of any of these criterion in any of the preceding levels implies a diminished capacity for tetra-mesh at early personal, at the very least.

A case can be made that at least up to formal operations that the cognitive line can be measured objectively in the behavioral and interactive quadrants. Objective, measurable demonstrations of relationship and empathy can also be made, at least to early personal.[6] The problem is that the moral and self-lines measure interior quadrant capacities and assume or infer corollaries in individual and collective behavior. Where is the data, where are the exterior milestones, by which you know that you have reached a certain level of moral or self-development in the right-hand quadrants? This determination is very individual, goal and level-dependent. As such it is a significant and powerful way integralists have abused the ranking inherent in both AQAL and evolution.

Kohlberg does not claim to demonstrate behavioral correlations to measures of moral judgment; there is only the inference and assumption that if your moral judgment is post-conventional then your actions in your two external quadrants will be as well. However, the only way to falsify, and therefore be able to prove or disprove such assumptions, is to create exterior, right-hand criteria for each of Kohlberg’s levels and then to see if the behavior of people who have attained post-conventional levels of moral judgment meets those criteria. To measure moral behavior in an objectively agreed-upon way you would simply agree on what behaviors demonstrate a certain level of development and see if a person functions at that level or not. This has not been done, largely because, as has been pointed out above, anyone at any level can be loving or greedy, compassionate or selfish, if measured in purely behavioral terms. Even Hitler can indulge in philanthropy, as he did in building the “worker’s vacation paradise” at Prora on the Baltic.[7]

We subjectively make such behavioral determinations of morality all the time, since they relate directly to the question, “Can I trust this person or not?” For integral AQAL, while “truthfulness” is in the domain of the interior individual quadrant of intention and “justness,” what Kohlberg actually was measuring regarding morality, is in the domain of the interior collective quadrant of culture and values, “truth” is objectively measured in the two exterior quadrants. Whether a person lying or not is a fundamental measure of truth as well as moral development.

Each level of development includes as well as transcends the next, meaning that the presence of a behavior that is not a demonstration of a particular level of moral development indicates a lower level of moral development. For example, if we determine that stealing, lying, hitting and physical abuse are evidence of a pre-conventional level of moral development, as most of us would, then instances of stealing, lying, hitting or physical abuse disqualify any level of development past some agreed-upon stage of prepersonal.

Whether individual behavioral transgressions (lying, stealing, hitting, physical abuse) disqualify a higher level of development or not is open to debate; there are issues of both quality, as in intention and context, and quantity, as in degree of damage, to be worked out. For example, you cannot simply say that lying is pre-conventional moral development and that anyone who tells any lie is therefore at a prepersonal level of moral development, that since moral development is for integral a core line that determines overall stage development, and that if you lie we have proof you are no further than late prepersonal in your development. It’s not that simple. There are obviously issues of quality and quantity of lying. What do you lie about? To whom? Why? In what circumstances? How often?

A good example is the financial system of the United States and indeed, the entire Western economy. “The system concentrates wealth and subverts democracy not because participants are different from the rest of us but because they are acting rationally within a perverse, exploitive system. Would you turn down $600,000 a year? How about $600 million a year? It makes no sense for banks and financiers not to maximize their gains in this system. Those who fail to maximize their gains will be fired.”[8]

Moral development is not easy to objectively measure in the right-hand quadrants because there are always contexts to consider and “extenuating circumstances.” These allow spiritual leaders, politicians and deep state careerists to lie, cheat, seduce, steal, kill and torture and still claim they are representing egalitarian-pluralistic late personal values or above. But actual behavior cannot be ignored if your criteria for advancing in moral development is tetra-mesh. This is a fundamental dilemma for integral AQAL, integralists and the spiritual elite in general. Setting concrete ethical milestones in the external quadrants creates rigidity; not doing so allows us to excuse any and all egregious and unethical acts as “lapses,” as viewing the ethical depravities of the “mean green meme” as somehow representative of late personal development instead of what they really are: regressions to mid-prepersonal levels of development.

Integral flagrantly and casually not only ignores and excuses egregious moral lapses but horrendously non-moral behavior in order to allow people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to be considered late personal or perhaps, in the case of Bill Clinton, even 2nd Tier.[9] Any rational, objective attempt to determine moral behavior and therefore moral development as a whole following Wilber’s criteria of tetra-mesh places all three of these individuals much, much lower in development. This is because moral development is a core line. If you can’t cut it there, you don’t get to “pass go” to the next level of development.

If we want to make huge exceptions, excuses and rationalizations for their behavior, those justifications then apply to every other person in similar positions of power across the world and throughout history. Logically, this means we are justifying the behavior of people like Josef Mengele[10] and Shiro Ishii.[11]

Nuremburg was intended to settle that issue once and for all.[12] We cannot support or make excuses for people because they are “our” reprobates and pretend our development is much somehow higher that theirs. If we are generous and were to somehow grant such immorality early personal status, perhaps as “shadow” early personal, that is still far below late personal or 2nd Tier status, which is what Clinton, Obama, Clinton and integralists largely claim for themselves.

Making such embarrassingly obvious self-benefitting justifications calls into question just what sort of system of moral development we have. Since moral development is clearly one of the major criteria for level advancement, making excuses for inexcusable behavior and supporting those politicians and transpersonal teachers who make immoral choices makes a mockery of the entire integral system of developmental levels. When we avoid or discount criteria in the external quadrants in order to claim tetra-mesh, integral not only has a crisis of legitimacy and authenticity, but also of credibility. This is the basic problem for integral and for you and me: by confusing interior truthfulness and justness with truth and using the former to justify lapses in the latter, integral and the broader “spiritual elite” has created an undeniable and well-deserved crisis in legitimacy, authenticity and credibility.

This has come to a head now because, as we have seen, it is easy to pose at a higher level of development, based on interior quadrant competencies like judgment, until moral judgment is actually tested, that is, seriously challenged. However, it is exactly such situations, such tests, such challenges, that determine morality and character. For example, in love and employment we put our best foot forward. We present ourselves as honest, likeable, trustworthy, dependable and so forth. However, if we fall in love or hire people based on their best presentation, we have no one to blame but ourselves when they do not live up to our expectations. What we need to know is who and what a person is at their worst, what they do when they are under fire, criticized, get scared, have a meltdown, are in the presence of a favorite seductive addiction, don’t get what they want or are unfairly treated.

While we very much need to know the answers to such questions, we usually don’t want to know. We typically go by a combination of image, attractiveness and qualifications, jump into the relationship and generally hope for the best. We will vote for Hillary and hope that she will live up to our pluralistic, egalitarian expectations while ignoring the very real possibility, based on her record in office, that she will start World War III. A real measure of moral tetra-mesh will evaluate who people are at their worst and rule out some higher stage of moral development when the worst appears in some unacceptable quantity or quality. If such criteria had been in place, Clinton, Obama and Clinton would never have served in government.

Integral AQAL does not have measurable criteria for moral behavior in the exterior quadrants in order to define what is and is not tetra-mesh for a specific level. As a result, it has no way of demonstrating that anybody is functioning at anything beyond a pre-conventional level of morality. Until it does, the realistic and practical assumption needs to be that we all are functioning at pre-conventional, with proof otherwise supplied behaviorally when we are put under sufficient stress or in contexts that require conventional or post-conventional behavior. If evidence exists in the exterior quadrants for a pre-conventional level of moral development, we need to stop excusing the immoral behavior of others, particularly politicians and integralists, because we are convinced they are late personal or 2nd Tier, if for no other reason than with higher degrees of wisdom and responsibility must necessarily go higher degrees of accountability.

A follow-up excerpt from “Healing Integral” will look more closely at how Kohlberg arrived at his pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional determinants of moral development and demonstrate why most of us do not qualify for any level of moral of development beyond the pre-conventional.


[1] Integral Spirituality, pp. 64-5.

[2] “Because each holon has at least four quadrants or four dimensions of being-in-the-world, and each of those dimensions must mesh with the already-existing worldspace, there are at least four types of selection pressures: each holon must mesh to some degree with its own I, we, it, and its [i.e., ‘always already’ perspectives embedded in linear languages]. Thus, each holon must be able to register the external it-world accurately enough (truth); each holon must be able to register its internal I-world accurately enough (truthfulness); it must be able to fit with its communal or social system of its (functional fit); and it must be able to adequately negotiate its cultural milieu of we (meaning).” Introduction to Excerpts from Volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy.

[3] Excerpt B: The Many Ways We Touch—Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach, p. 6-7.

[4] Carney, T.P., Trial lawyer industry tries to buy a democratic majority. Washington Examiner.

[5] Satler, J., Only 43.8 percent of military identify as republican, down from 56 percent in 2005. The National Memo.

[6] See Selman, R.L. “The relation of role taking to the development of moral judgment in children". Child Development. 42: 79-91. But notice that Selman’s criteria are all cultural judgments of intent (intentional) and only make predictions about exterior quadrant behavior and relationship.

[7] Prora. Wikipedia.

[8] Smith, C.H., If We Don't Change the Way Money Is Created, Rising Inequality and Social Disorder Are Inevitable.

[9] Bill Clinton’s ‘Vital Center’ and Integral Consciousness: Is it truly second-tier? Integralism

[10] “As a German SS Officer as well as a Nazi physician, Josef Mengele is probably the most widely-known name on this list. Known as the “Angel of Death” or even “Beautiful Devil,” Mengele was the main physician in charge of determining which prisoners were best to keep as forced laborers, and who were too weak and needed to be killed. Not only did Mengele choose the fate of millions, he also was widely known for his human experiments. At Auschwitz, Mengele was highly interested in learning more about heredity and often did experiments on identical twins. It is said that he took 10 of them, put them to sleep and then used chloroform to kill them, and dissected each of them to compare the bodies. He also did an experiment were two twins were sewn together by their veins to make conjoined twins. Besides these experiments, he also conducted experiments on how to change eye color by injected dye into the iris, amputating limbs and attempting to reattach them, and sterilizing women.” Grant, A. Top ten evil doctors

[11] “Shiro Ishii was a Japanese microbiologist as well as a physician. He was the lieutenant general of Unit 731, which was a biological warfare unit during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Despite being known as pushy and self-centered, Ishii excelled in school and was stationed at the 1st Army Hospital in Toyko. Those who supervised him were highly impressed, and he received post-graduate medical schooling at Kyoto Imperial University. In 1942, Ishii began his tests on germ warfare by using bombs, firearms, and other methods. He tested the germs on Chinese POWs as well as on civilians. He did at time use the weapons on the battlefield. In any case, Ishii took human experimentation into his own hands, and it is said that tens of thousands of people died, due to weapons that exposed anthrax, cholera, the bubonic plague, and others. He also did other experiments on people such as forced abortions, simulated heart attacks, strokes, hypothermia, and frostbite, and even vivisections.” Grant, A. Top ten evil doctors

[12] “The "Nuremberg Principles" are:

  1. Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefor and liable to punishment.
  2. The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.
  3. The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.
  4. The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.
  5. Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.
  6. The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:
    1. Crimes against peace
    2. War crimes
    3. Crimes against humanity
  7. Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle 6 is a crime under international law.” Nuremburg: Its lesson for today

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