An Introduction to Steve McIntosh’s Integral Philosophy

By Steve McIntosh

How I came to integral philosophy

For those of us who have been on a spiritual path for a while, there often arises a strong desire to try to make a meaningful difference in the world around us. But this outwardly directed urge to service is often dampened when we remember Gandhi’s famous saying that “we must become the change we want to see in the world,” which inevitably leads back to the task of working on ourselves. 

Nevertheless, those who have managed to make a positive difference in the world (like Gandhi) have always intrigued me. I’ve always had a passionate interest in the times in history that were marked by dramatic advances. This led me to closely study these periods in which significant cultural evolution—improvement of the human condition—had occurred, searching for clues as to what had actually triggered and sustained this growth.

As I look back on it now, I can see that this interest in cultural evolution has been a major theme in my life; it has determined most of my life choices from an early age. Through my study of history, I initially concluded that art was one of the primary levers of social progress. Art had marked the advances of the Renaissance, and in my own lifetime, music had played a significant role in producing cultural evolution. Thus for a long time, I concentrated on studying art movements and their role in changing the way people felt and thought about the world. But not only did I study the art movements of the past, I also tried to anticipate the art movements of the future. I experimented with new forms of art and tried to discern the tenets of an emerging new aesthetic. This search for the causes of cultural evolution led me to the discovery of a new way of seeing things, best described as integral philosophy.

Integral philosophy is a new understanding of how the influences of evolution affect the development of consciousness and culture. Although aspects of it have been around for a long time, it’s only since the late 1990s that the essential elements of integral philosophy have been coming together into a coherent whole. The power of this new philosophy becomes self-evident to those who use it because it actually raises their consciousness. It’s a philosophy of evolution that literally causes evolution. 

The emergence of integral consciousness

A new, historically significant “level” of consciousness and culture is emerging in our time, and the emergence of this new perspective promises to be the evolutionary equivalent of the emergence of modernity during the period known as the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And just as the rise of modernism changed the world forever, we can expect similar (but more benign) progress from the rise of “integral consciousness.” Integral consciousness is a new view of the world that expands our perception of reality and provides fresh motivation to make a positive difference. This new way of seeing and living arises from an enlarged set of values framed by an expanded understanding of cultural evolution.

When we participate in integral consciousness, when we make meaning from this perspective and adopt its values, we become endowed with the power to make significant progress in the improvement of both ourselves and the conditions in our world. Integral consciousness thus promises to produce exactly the kind of evolution that the world needs most. As we consider what form a successful future might take, we begin to realize that without some kind of positive cultural evolution, the future of humanity looks pretty bleak.

History shows that cultural evolution has indeed occurred in the past, and the same forces that caused evolution then can thus be reasonably expected to continue into the future. And now, with integral philosophy, we are provided with a clearer view of how future cultural evolution is likely to unfold and how we can participate in it directly.

Integral philosophy has emerged out of the various efforts of twentieth-century thinkers to fashion a new philosophy that comes to terms with the staggering facts of evolution itself. Among these philosophers of evolution, two of the most significant are Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) and Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947). However, despite the enduring contributions of Teilhard and Whitehead, integral philosophy is much more than just a contemporary understanding of these great thinkers. Today, the most famous proponent of integral philosophy remains Ken Wilber. He and I, however, do not agree on several important issues. But we do generally agree about the worldview of postmodernism

The word “postmodern” is a battleground of meaning. But integral philosophy uses this term to describe the overall stage of cultural evolution that has arisen in the last sixty years as an alternative to modernism. Integral philosophy could not have appeared in its current form before now; its power rests on a host of important insights and developments that have only recently emerged. 

Every time I have tried to describe or teach the subject of integral consciousness, it has taught me. That is, integral consciousness seems to be a kind of self-organizing dynamic system with a life of its own. Sometimes it seems as though it won’t stand still long enough to actually be explained. The growing and emerging nature of integral consciousness is testimony to its status, not as a philosophy in the conventional sense, but as a new vantage point, a new stage of awareness that is just now becoming available.

Although integral philosophy has a strong spiritual component, its spirituality is broad enough to include a wide diversity of beliefs. Like the three legs of a stool, science, philosophy, and religion each have an important role to play in supporting higher levels of civilization. These different approaches to truth each address distinct and irreducible aspects of human experience that must be accounted for in any comprehensive understanding of reality. And while these diverse fields do well to inform and support each other, like the legs of a stool they must be kept apart; if they come too close together the stool falls over. That is, philosophy must not be limited to only what can be proved by science, nor should it be extended to encompass matters of faith or propositions that must be taken on the authority of a spiritual teacher or a religious text. Integral philosophy is thus informed by science and religion, but it remains respectfully independent of both.

In my book, Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution I draw on the work of hundreds of other writers and thinkers. But as you may come to see for yourself, integral consciousness provides abundant opportunities for original discoveries. As has happened time and again in the history of the emergence of new stages of culture, ordinary people serve to bring forward the new truth, new beauty, and new ideals of morality that always accompany the birth of a new historical level. And if you adopt integral consciousness and begin using it for yourself, I believe you will undoubtedly discover original insights of your own. 

Just as during the original Enlightenment, when amateurs armed with the scientific method were able to make significant new discoveries about the natural world, we can expect that in this Second Enlightenment, similar discoveries can now be made within the newly understood realm of evolving human culture. In fact, the most remarkable aspect of integral philosophy is just how practically useful it is. Integral philosophy is increasingly being employed by regular thinking people who are using it to make significant progress in family life, business, education, politics, and many other areas where evolution is sorely needed. But ultimately, the most useful aspect of the integral way of seeing things is how it actually increases the scope of our awareness. 

The “cash value” of integral philosophy is found in its method and practice for permanently raising our own consciousness as well as the consciousness of those around us. The rise of integral consciousness therefore provides a way for us to literally become the change we want to see in the world.

Click here for our Developmental Approach applied to politics in 700 words.

An updated excerpt from Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution by Steve McIntosh (Paragon House 2007)

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