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The Integral Approach

"Integral" means "inclusive, balanced, comprehensive." The Integral approach may be contrasted to other methods—mythic, rational-scientific, pluralistic—which, as they themselves announce, exclude other approaches as being inferior. They are thus, by definition, partial and incomplete. These latter methods, although widely accepted and dominant in the world's cultures, tend to generate partial analysis and incomplete solutions to problems. As such, they appear less efficient, less effective, and less balanced than the Integral approach.

Like any truly fundamental advance, the Integral approach initially seems complicated but eventually is understood to be quite simple and even straightforward. It's like using a word processor: at first it is hard to learn, but eventually it becomes incredibly simple to use.

The easiest way to understand the Integral approach is to remember that it was created by a cross-cultural comparison of most of the known forms of human inquiry. The result was a type of comprehensive map of human capacities. After this map was created (by looking at all the available research and evidence), it was discovered that this integral map had five major aspects to it. By learning to use these five major aspects, any thinker can fairly easily adopt a more comprehensive, effective, and integrally informed approach to specific problems and their solutions—from psychology to ecology, from business to politics, from medicine to education.

What are these five aspects? Technically they are referred to as "quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types." Of course, unless one has already learned the "word processing system," as it were, then these aspects won't make much sense. But they are indeed very simple and easy to use once one gets the hang of it.

There is an important point about these five aspects. Because the integral map that they were drawn from was created by an extensive cross-cultural comparison of human capacities, these five aspects appear to be potentials available to all human beings. (We will see examples of this in a moment). Thus, the integral approach does not ask a person to adopt anything that they do not already have available to them. This is not some "outside" philosophy that people are asked to believe, but a pointer to potentials that they already possess but perhaps are not fully utilizing or expressing.

For example, one of the five aspects—called quadrants —refers to the fact that all major human languages have first-, second-, and third-person pronouns (for example: I, you/we, and it). These three dimensions of reality (I, we, and it) often show up as art, morals, and science (or the aesthetic expression of "I," the morals of "we," and the objective "its" of science)—the Beautiful, the Good, and the True is another version of these dimensions.

If we realize that "it" can appear in plural, or "its," then we have the "four quadrants" or dimensions that are present in all major human languages: I, we, it, and its—or the intentional, cultural, behavioral, and social dimensions of all human beings.

   
 

Upper-Left Quadrant

"I"
Interior-Individual

Intentional

Upper-Right Quadrant

"IT"
Exterior-Individual

Behavioral

Lower-Left Quadrant

"WE"
Interior-Collective

Cultural

Lower-Right Quadrant

"ITS"
Exterior-Collective

Social (Systems)

 

Notice some of the major and extremely influential modes of inquiry that are based in each of the quadrants:

Upper Left: phenomenology, psychotherapy, meditation, emotional intelligence, personal transformation

Upper Right: empiricism, scientific analysis, quality control, behavioral modification

Lower Left: multiculturalism, postmodernism, worldviews, corporate culture, collective values

Lower Right: systems theory, social systems analysis, techno-economic modes, communication networks, systems analysis

Which of those approaches is right? All of them, according to Integral theory.

The Integral approach simply points out that these dimensions of reality are present in all cultures, and therefore any truly comprehensive or integral approach would want to touch bases with all of those important dimensions, because they are in fact operating in people in any event, and if we do not include them in our analysis, we will have a partial, fragmented, and broken approach to any proposed solution.

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