Stages of Knowledge and Creating an Integral Society
Stages of Knowledge and the Need for an Integral Republic
Knowledge develops through stages, whether it be in individuals or civilizations. These stages relate to the level of perception and experience that evolves through growth and experience. In developmental psychology Jean Piaget referred to stages of development. More recently Alan Combs and Ken Wilber, influenced by Sri Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, and others, have elaborated stages and states of consciousness that can serve as a basis for holding civilizations to higher standards of knowledge. They discuss stages up to “integral consciousness,” or “integral and beyond.”
Stages of Knowledge
|Level of Perception||Human Stage||Social Stage||Knowledge Stage||Western Example|
|Bodily drives||Infant: biological needs||Wholly Dependent on Leader or Government||Precognitive and biologically based||Precognitive Action|
|Response to Authority||Child: Obey parents orders||Official Truth||Cognitive Conditioning||King’s Laws, Church Doctrine|
|Awareness of Others||Youth: Compares Norms||Social Justice||Questioning||Luther’s 95 Theses|
|Empathy with Others||Teens: Form Identity||Identify with a cause||Idealism||Calvin’s Institutes|
|Pluralism of Values||Question Own Identity||Adopt Reason and Science||Rationalism / Modernism||US Constitution|
|Limits to Reason||Anything Goes||Post-Modernism||Proliferation of Facts||Wikipedia|
|Facts Need to be Apraised||Mature Wisdom||Integral Society||Value-based facts||Nascent integral works like LLPH|
Stages of Knowledge in Western Civilization
The pre-history of Western civilization was already at the “official truth” stage, as leaders who were often the strongest individuals in a society dictated rules to their followers as a condition of meriting their protection. However, after the fall of the Roman Empire came the distinction between moral truth and political truth with the division of the spiritual and temporal spheres. The religious doctrines were questioned by Luther after his visit to the Vatican where he experienced cognitive dissonance between church teachings and large disparities of wealth, if not the spiritual exploitation of German peasants by the Church.
Luther’s Reformation led to the breakdown of a civilization held together by pre-rational truths and the splintering into religious and political communities that became new religions or nationalisms. This was followed by a period of wars settled by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that created a world of states based on national ideals. These nation-states imposed official ideals on smaller territories known as states. This was a stage of separation from the original parent, the Roman Empire, and the creation of group identities, none of which proved to be universal or satisfactory to all people living within the states.
The American Revolution began a new stage in Western civilization by developing a “national” identity base on principles of reason and natural law. With thirteen colonies, most of which had an official religion, the Americans were forced to create a system of government that accepted pluralism of cultural identities and religious freedom at the federal level. The experiment greatly inspired Immanuel Kant who developed the philosophical basis for rational morality and a system of voluntary federation of republics that could lead to Perpetual Peace.
In Germany, by the time of Nietzsche, the idea of Kant’s society based on reason alone had become transcended by criticisms that led to moral relativism. Nietzsche is often cited as the foundation of post-modernism which opened up the door for new forms the will to power the world witnessed in Hitler and Stalin. Yet, today that very problem of postmodern knowledge is represented in Wikipedia, in which authors control knowledge, not according to standards of reason or value, but through a form of will to power over knowledge that was available to them to create a new font of knowledge based on the proliferation of facts in an environment of scientism and value relativism.
This value relativism and will to power has now ascended to the status of orthodoxy in United States culture. Politics at the federal level has become an unabashed contest of special interests to control legislators rather than any traditional concepts of civility or constitutional limited government that restrain political behavior. In the cultural realm, Fox News and MSNBC represent a similar discourse in the mass media whereby the ends justify the means. This is the opposite of the U.S. Constitution and Kant’s rule that everyone should be treated as ends in themselves and not as a means to another’s end.
Thus, forms of the will to power that were unleashed in Germany and culminated in National Socialism are on the loose in the present United States, causing many analysts to compare trends in U.S. society to the rise of Nazism and Fascism.
We need to outgrow this immature and dangerous phase of postmodern culture and move into integral society. Previous philosophical attempts to develop the basis for postmodern values in religion can be found in works such as Ernst Troeltsch’s History of Christianity and the Absoluteness of Religion and H. Richard Niebuhr’s Radical Monotheism and Western Culture. In the realm of integral knowledge there are projects like the New World Encyclopedia.
In Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0, I have elaborated a solution to the special interest anarchy in contemporary society and politics with a set of principles that, unlike the general concepts “natural law” elaborated by the U.S. founders, spell out core principles that they implicitly held that are universally valid and learned from the history of Western civilization. Discussion of these principles and their application in law can begin the political process for the foundation of an integral society.
As always, Gordon displays excellent scholarship and judgment.
His discussion of stages of knowledge and moral development evokes some additional sources, for example Lawrence Kohlberg’s moral stages, and August Comte’s hierarchy of knowledge – Religion, Philosophy and Science. I am not sure that Gordon would agree that, as a source of knowledge, Religion is “inferior” to Philosophy, which in turn is inferior to Scence. Anyway, that was Comte, the founder of Positivism.
About Nietzsche and post-modern relativism: You are right. That’s the problem today. “Absolute relativism,” to coin a phrase. We have lost our way.
However, another, related concept comes to mind: Pragmatism. This has been a very American perspective for a long time, at least since William James. Americans have always been more interested in what WORKS, than in what is “metaphysically true,” in an absolute sense. I must confess, I have seen merit in this.
“Pragmatism” is an excellent response to this problem. “What works” can be said to be approximate truth. For example, Newton’s billiard ball universe allowed approximate answers to bodies in motion, even though it was not necessarily and absolute or exact formula. Similarly, we can say the lessons of history can tell us things that work. For example, the U.S. Constitution was based on a study of political systems and incorporated what was known to work, combined with guesses about the uncertai9n.
However, pragmatism has to understand the entire system. For example, it may be “pragmatic” for Pfizer to lobby the government for corporate welfare, or Halliburton to lobby for war. However, that contradicts what is pragmatically necessary to keep a society sustainable.