Intersubjective Musings: A Response to Christian de Quincey's "The Promise of Integralism"
On the contrary, it is only if one inquires into the underlying motivation of what is being said that one can hope to grasp its truth. In other words, what is the urgency that speaks through an utterance which alone makes its truth claim understandable? This is the prime question of hermeneutics. If one ignores this question, as modern scientific method urges us to do, one risks missing the true meaning of what is being said.
In a recent volume of Journal of Consciousness Studies (JCS), Christian de Quincey presented what he called a "critical appreciation" of Ken Wilber's integral model. De Quincey's article is a response to Wilber's recently published Collected Works (CW). However, he focuses on the issues that he feels are the most relevant to the Journal's readership (i.e., intersubjectivity, the mind-body problem, and panpsychism and Whitehead). In fact, in a footnote, de Quincey explains that he will actually draw primarily on one of Wilber's latest books, Integral Psychology (IP), since Wilber's approach to psychology is a keystone to his "theory of everything."  It is clear that de Quincey has a good working understanding of Wilber's integral vision, evidenced by the first two sections ("Introduction" and "The Four Phases of Wilber"). However, as he begins his section "Style and Substance," de Quincey's grasp of Wilber begins to slip away and we are given a surprisingly selective representation of the man (Wilber) and his "all-quadrant, all-level" model (AQAL). It is a representation that I feel exposes de Quincey's ideologically based approach to Wilber's opus more than it reflects any accurate portrayal of Wilber's Integral Psychology.
In response to this "slip-sliding away" I would like to suggest a more appropriate relationship to Wilber's thinking, as articulated in his Collected Works. I will call attention to a number of de Quincey's partial representations, but I will principally focus on the issue of intersubjectivity -- which is dear to my heart. In fact, I have had several conversations (in-person and via email) with de Quincey on this very topic, so my stance here will not be new to him. To be sure he finds my position as untenable as I find his; which should serve as a reminder to both of us that hermeneutics isn't as easy as pointing to a passage and claiming "there it is." Nevertheless, I will bring many sections of Wilber's writings to bear on the discussion in the hopes of providing a gestalt out of which Wilber's actual position on intersubjectivity can begin to emerge. It will be up to the reader and scholar to decide which presentation has a stronger hermeneutic foundation. That said, I feel there is a solid case to be made against de Quincey's account and I hope this response substantiates an alternative view.
I would like to begin by honoring the intuitive insight that de Quincey brings to bear on this topic. As we will see, he makes some important points about Wilber and about intersubjectivity. However, wrapped up with those insights are confusions, many of them stunning for a scholar who purports to have read Wilber's entire body of books. Hence this paper will be an attempt to sort out what is insightful and what is problematic with de Quincey's presentation. Specifically in the section below, "The Difficulties with Wilber's Approach," I address this conflation of insight and misreading. As I read de Quincey's article it became obvious that he was supporting his position with a highly prejudiced reading of Wilber. First, there are key passages that de Quincey overlooks (conveniently). Second, the ones he does draw on are often decontextualized or, in my opinion, misinterpreted. As a result, de Quincey ends up offering suggestions which, had he examined Wilber more sympathetically (or at least with less overt animus) he would have found much compatibility between his position and Wilber's.
This isn't to say that de Quincey hasn't anything new to add to the discussion. On the contrary, I feel he is a vibrant voice trying to bring a much-needed consideration to an area of philosophy (intersubjectivity) that has been long overlooked. Though, I believe de Quincey could get a lot more mileage out of his agenda if he took the time to empathetically consider what Wilber is offering in this area. It is my position that a closer reading of Wilber provides a framework to think about intersubjectivity in a more comprehensive way than has been advanced hitherto. Thus in responding to de Quincey, I hope to demonstrate that when Wilber's actual position on intersubjectivity is acknowledged, generative spaces emerge in which to explore this fascinating realm. Consequently, I am grateful to de Quincey's article, for presenting an opportunity to engage the topic of intersubjectivity and clarify important issues. May the disagreements between de Quincey and myself facilitate an exploration of the sphere of intersubjectivity and deepen all of our understandings.
This essay follows the contours of de Quincey's article starting with his section "Style and Substance," and concludes with the following section "Intersubjectivity." Because each step of de Quincey's logic is filled with half-truths, I have found that to provide a comprehensive response to de Quincey's interpretation of intersubjectivity in Wilber's model I must follow his path and give the antidote to his partiality at each turn. Only then can remedy be achieved and health restored.
The essay is divided into three parts. The first part sets the stage by examining some of the misguided assumptions from which de Quincey is working. The second part takes a close look at how both de Quincey and Wilber approach intersubjectivity. The third part challenges some of the claims that de Quincey makes about Wilber and intersubjectivity. Each part will open with a brief outline of the sections contained within it. I wish that there were space to address the numerous misrepresentations contained in the later parts of de Quincey's article. However, may this response expose the limits of de Quincey's reading of Wilber and therefore suggest caution to readers regarding his over all interpretation of Wilber.
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