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Integral is a term used for efforts to synthesize and incorporate all meaningful, applicable dimensions into every endeavor, whether theory, policy, or practice. As integral efforts do this, they also address further development or evolution of individual and collective levels.  Integral approaches aim at the further development of individual and communal consciousness in order to support ever more balanced and healthy developments in personal, cultural, and social-political life. As a developmental, systemic approach, it recognizes the interrelationships, underlying mechanisms, and processes in interactions of all kinds. These include political, psychological, social, economic, and ecological interactions and issues ? all human endeavors.

Pascal, largely considered as the last homo universalis, noted that it is as impossible to know the parts without knowing the whole, as it is to know the whole without knowing the individual parts. However, his perception does not represent a quest for unlimited knowledge, but enfolds the recognition that while knowledge will always be limited, nonetheless actions will always be required.
The integral aproach recognizes this perception as fundamental, and believes that honoring, including and appropriately weighing more available truths relevant to a context can lead to more skillful means being employed in that context. These means are informed by the further perception from “the logic of the heart” that it is up to every person on earth to make life the best it can be for every other person on earth --but that this can be done only one step at a time. Such an approach will gain for its participants the deeper thinking, assumptions, and consciousness than those which created problems, and thereby a qualitatively greater capacity to adequately address those problems.

The modern version of this approach is being pioneered by individuals whose writing you will find linked from this portal, and includes catalysts Ken Wilber and Dr Don Beck

Ken Wilber's Integral Model, called All Quadrants All Levels (AQAL), provides a tool to identify and describe the dimensions that integral thinking always includes. This model is useful for conceiving integral approaches. The following is an overview of the basic AQAL features

These were synthesized from a huge body of historical, philosophical, and current human knowledge and formulated by Wilber into a systematic framework to help people recognize the essential areas of attention for any endeavor to be effective and contribute to the healthiest and highest good of all affected. This method can serve as a map of the territory that needs to be covered whether an effort is focused on politics, education, health, economics, ecology, human relations, personal development --any human endeavor or challenge.

Some introductory graphics

1. The first graphic below is a very basic illustration of the first way Wilber’s integral approach examines things. The circle reminds us that we are considering a whole, and the four sections are a map of the dimensions or aspects comprising it. The whole could be an individual or some other organism, an effort itself, an organization or institution, perhaps a society, or even a public crisis. Such wholes are always part of something larger in their environment, which also gets attention in an integral approach. This graphic illustrates a broad, general map to consider only one whole thing at a time. Complex situations need an array of maps such as this one, and others, in order to be integrally understood and worked on.

Two patterns are apparent in these four quadrants. The horizontal line produces the first pattern: the upper quadrants refer to individual aspects, and the lower quadrants refer to collective aspects. The vertical line yields the second pattern: the left-side quadrants refer to interior "invisible" aspects, and the right-side quadrants refer to exterior, "visible" aspects. This is called All Quadrants because all these dimensions are considered in an integral approach.

2. The second graphic conveys the all levels examination. While considering all the quadrants, the integral approach also considers all the layers of development that have brought the subject to the present time, and considers the current and potential future stages of development. The graphic conveys that there are multiple levels to consider, with the reminder that different levels of development may apply to different quadrants within the whole being addressed. 

Depending on the subject and the scale of attention to it (and multiple scales may be very important to include), levels of development can refer to stages within an individual’s life-span just as it can refer to stages of cultural and social development over a much longer period of time. This is called All Levels because all are considered in an integral approach.


Politics has a much broader meaning than the conventional connotations that include political parties and governments. It broadly denotes the ways all people live and work together. It includes any scale, from individual, to local to global, and includes not only political but also public and private social, educational, economic, and health institutions. Endeavors intended to inform policy and ways of relating are also political, such as fundamental research on motivation, communication, institutional change, etc. 


Integral Politics (IP) is a boundary-spanning commitment to ongoing learning and new practices, a kind of civic engagement and governance that fosters the development of the whole self, the whole community, the whole society, the whole planet. 

Integral Politics is characterized by two major features:

(1) It is concerned that all peopleand societies have the opportunity to develop to their fullest capacity, freedom, equality, and responsibility to the extent they are able, for their own sake, that of others, and the planet. Everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their potential: the essential well-being of some should not be sacrificed for the casual well-being of others. 

(2) Integral politics employs systemic, integrative thinking and recognizes that politics does not exist in a vacuum, but is intimately involved in every public concern on every scale. It involves an enlivening of concepts from their stasis, to more accurately and proportionately respond to the challenges at hand. Whatever conceptual frameworks are adopted must be rigorously tested in the crucible of experience. Integral politics is about engaging this process of discovery of truth; it is not about asserting final truths.

E.g. an integral political vision could try to integrate the good intuitions of as well leftist as rightist politics, and to avoid their limitations. From right we could conserve its emphasis on personal responsibility and subjective values, from left the fact that structures and institutions are important and have to be adapted towards more justice and compassion.  On the other hand, we have to avoid the rightist tendency of installing of too many hierarchies and central regulation, and the leftist tendency towards materialism and short term visions.
Integral political thinking can provide comprehensive, long-range perspectives that are not embedded in current contexts. It reflects a dynamic systems approach that articulates the necessity of connections between various scales of public dialogue and deliberation, to foster the continuous bi-directional information flow through all levels of the system. IP can propose specific methods and processes for this to take place from the scale of the local to the global, and make commentary where it is absent but needed.

As such, political interests and issues include (but are not limited to): individual and corporate statuses and status frameworks that regulate public affairs; procedures of inclusion into and exclusion from these statuses and status frameworks; public decision-making; public acceptance (or rejection) of public decisions; social control and social cohesion; social norms (including laws); authority (including leadership); political socialization, enculturation and formal education; ethics and morals; conflict and dispute-resolution (i.e. the processes of integrative discussion, leading to an integrative view rather than to divergent positions between which a choice has to be made); this means respectful dialogical processes that do not objectify any party; educational issues preparing people to interact on an integrative mode; progressively replacing coercion by consensus; economics related to such an approach; etc. 


Integral thinking is using all our capacities in creative tension with one another in order to grow into integral discernment towards addressing today’s complexity. This means we need to both educate and further develop ourselves, as follows.

(1) First, at minimum, we need some framework to describe the stages of development through which human beings, organizations, institutions, and societies can grow. Without this, we can make at least two common mistakes. One mistake is assuming people will operate the same way as they face situations. The other mistake is condemning the views of others as simply wrong, instead of correctly acknowledging that their positions and reactions reveal a part of an eventual integral solution.

(2) Next, we need to be able to grasp the complexity of situations by understanding individual and collective dynamics. At minimum, this requires using at least general understandings of developmental stages to come to grips with the interior motivations, intentions, and worldviews of individuals and their choices of behavior, and how cultural worldviews, norms, and societal ways of relating govern, influence, and limit the choices available to individuals and collectives. In other words, we must understand the dynamic interplay of influences wielded by the four quadrants. This means there are no simple answers and a certain amount of general knowledge, mentioned here, must be employed to understand and affect these dynamic systems. 

(3) Thirdly, recognition of this complexity requires the development of processual approaches to develop integral solutions to address it. Simplistic either/or thinking not only polarizes situations into win-lose debates, it also denies inherent complexity. Only by developing new processes can such dualistic approaches be replaced. Our modern societies are not accustomed to processual approaches, and this may constitute the largest implementation challenge for integral thought. 

(4) Finally, the foregoing elements point to a requisite capacity of each person or group that wants to employ integral thinking. In addition to the awareness that our interpretations reflect our perspectives as observers of a situation as well as the situation itself, we must contextualize our preferred perspectives so that we can consider all relevant diverse perspectives, life experiences, and needs. This meta-perspective is mandatory for the design of effective, inclusive, transparent, and accountable integral processes.  It is the essential hallmark of integral thinking.

Site created 27 Sep 2002 and launched 6 Dec 2002 - This version 15 Feb  2003, an integration from contributions by members of the Postconventional Politics eList