There is much that I admire in the works of Ken Wilber, and I think it is essential reading for anyone who wants to think philosophically in the 21st century. That’s not to say that Wilber is right about most things; in many respects I think he isn’t, and I will critique his work in future posts. But before I get to critiquing Wilber’s work, I want to discuss why I admire it so.
Wilber sometimes seems to claim that his work is widely studied in academia. It isn’t, but that’s not a criticism. Wilber’s writing is exactly the kind of work that really needs to be done, but is rarely done within the confines of academic writing. Why? Because Wilber’s work looks at big questions: questions of truth wherever it can be found, the nature of the universe and our place in it, the good life. The traditional questions of philosophy, in other words. Academics generally refuse to investigate these questions, whichever of the three main academic approaches they take. Philologists often believe we have no right to discuss the questions in a text unless we’ve studied it in its own language for decades; analytic philosophers carve up questions into smaller and smaller pieces, leaving the bigger questions unanswered; postmodernists question any questions we might ask, so that the meta-questions are all that are left. (Why these approaches dominate is a question I’ll leave for another time.) Each of these approaches has its value; but each is missing something big.
Wilber’s work finds that “something big.” He takes what he calls an integral approach, meaning an attempt to integrate the valuable insights and truths from every possible source, Asian, Western or otherwise. This basic methodological idea is what makes Wilber’s work a valuable starting point for any cross-cultural philosophical inquiry.