Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Mark EdwardsMark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology and a PhD in organisation theory from the University of Western Australia. He now works at Jönköping University in Sweden where he teaches and researches in the area of sustainability and ethics. Before becoming an academic he worked with people with disabilities for twenty years. He is the author of Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory (Routledge, 2009) .

Another Way
of Putting It

My particular take on the four quadrants, holons and suchlike

Mark Edwards

So, from the outset let me make it clear that the “Four Quadrants Diagram” does not represent a single holon or the perspective of a single holon.

Occasionally, some poor misguided soul asks me to explain my particular take on the four quadrants, holons and suchlike. The following is a brief summary of how I usually respond (if they don't run away or scamper off into cyberspace beforehand). I'll start by saying that I do not see the “Four Quadrants Diagram” as representing a single holon. The “Four Quadrants Diagram” represents many and various things, but it does not represent a single holon. Above all it represents a set of perspectives - the famous “I-We-It-Its”. So, from the outset let me make it clear that the “Four Quadrants Diagram” does not represent a single holon or the perspective of a single holon. More specifically, the four quadrants that are shown in the “Four Quadrants Diagram” are not the four quadrants of a holon. So that we can be clear about things (as if), let's call the “Four Quadrants Diagram” the “I-We-It-Its” model. Here's how the “I-We-It-Its” model is usually drawn (see Figure 1).

Notice that the individual-collective dimension of the “I-We-It-Its” model represents one, some, many or even all (sentient and social) holons. So, this diagram does not simply represent one holon. That the “I-We-It-Its” model does not represent a single holon is becoming even more evident because it is now being drawn with holons in each Quadrant (Figure 2) (see the excerpts from Volume 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy)!

The “I-We-It-Its” model represents, above all, a set of perspectives - this is why it has these four pronouns of “I-We-It-Its”. But as we all know there are, in fact, six primary perspectives - the singular and plural of first, second and third person. The “I-We-It-Its” model is actually an (unfortunate) abbreviation (reduction) of these six primary perspectives (see Figure 3) - it's missing the singular “You” (“Du” auf Deutsch) and the plural “You” (“Ihr” auf Deutsch, “You All” in southern American, “You Guys” in northern American” and “Yous” in Australian). (At the moment all these singular and plural forms of the second person are being lumped into the plural (collective) quadrants of the first person!!).

So what does this all mean? It means that the “I-We-It-Its” model is not a model of quadrants. It's a model of sextants - the six sextants of holonic perspectives. Now, I'm not proposing that we replace the term “four quadrants” with the term the “six sextants” (even though it sounds sexier - and even more redundant). The four quadrants still refer to the fundamental qualities that each and every holon possesses. These qualities are interiority, exteriority, agency and communion. They are not interiority, exteriority, individual and collective. The individual-collective dimension is a dimension of quantity not of quality. The individual-collective dimension refers to the number or quantity of holons. It does not refer to fundamental characteristics or qualities of each and every holon. The agency-communion dimension refers to that quality of holons that concerns relationality.

When I talk about or represent the relational qualities of specific holons I refer to the agency and communion dimension. When I talk about or represent the numerical quantities of holons I use the individual-collective dimension simply as a qualitative scale - one holon, two holons, three holons, or a squillion holons. (Of course, this also means that there can be one individual holon, two individual holons, three individual holons, etc or one collective holon, two collective holons, three collective holons, etc.) Most importantly this means that my approach can consider holons in relationship (see Figure 4) (notice that in the current way of representing the four quadrants we never see any holons in relationship). And, in effect my approach breaks open the Four Quadrants prison to which all holons are currently confined. My approach sets them free to go forth and multiply, coevolve, interact, cooperate and enter into conflict in any way they choose (and in any way that we choose to represent those interactions).

There are many implications of this clarification on my take on quadrants, holons and suchlike. One is that there are six primary perspectives and that the “I-We-It-Its” model is actually misleading and quite reductionist. My approach injects the world of “You” in both its singular and plural forms into the whole way of representing perspectives. It also turns “It” into “He/She/It” and “Its” into “They”, and thereby humanising the “Other”. Another implication is that the four quadrants refer to the four quadrants of each holon and actually have nothing to do with perspectives. Every perspective has four quadrants. And every perspective is a holon its own right (see Figure 5).

Because I see that the four quadrant of a single holon are something different to the four perspectival categories of the “I-We-It-Its” model, I can represent individual holons in relationship. Figure 5 can be used to represent many of the fundamental relationships that exist in an integral vision of reality. For example, It can be used to represent the relationship between me and you, you and someone else, me and my family, you and your organisation, her and her country (nation), your country and my country, your terrorist group and my country, those two countries, and my terrorist country and your society. These relationships can be represented as dyads (as in the examples given), as triads and so on. Because the relationships between holons can now be represented we can also look at how those relationships are mediated and this brings in the whole school of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and its approach to developmental processes.

As I continue to point out development is a mediated process as much as it is a structural one. Integral approaches to development must be able to analyse mediational processes (that can only be represented through relationships) if it aspires to a comprehensive understanding of developmental processes. In figure 6 is a holonic representation of my relationship with my friend Harry. The mediating holon includes all those words, gestures, behaviours, symbols, books, games, computers and artefacts that are used to mediate our relationship. This representation opens up an integral approach to relationships which can then look at the interaction of my consciousness, my behaviour, my values and worldviews and my social roles with Harry's consciousness, Harry's behaviour, Harry's values and worldviews and Harry's social roles. And we can do this for all levels, all lines, all types, all states, all dynamics and all perspectives. Such a process of representing the infinite variety of relationships can be opened up for any singular or plural combination of first, second or third person perspectives. And so we enter into the world of what I call integral holonomics - where the representational, modelling, analytical, theory building and theory testing capacities of integral approaches are only limited by our imaginations.

© Mark Edwards, August 2005

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