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Regular readers will have seen how fruitful I have found Thomas Kasulis’s distinction between intimacy and integrity worldviews. So it is worth interrogating that distinction further and seeing how well the categories stand up to more careful scrutiny. The next couple weeks’ posts will in some respects follow my own thought process in trying to understand how robust the integrity/intimacy distinction turns out to be.

In explaining the distinction between the two, Kasulis breaks down the intimacy-integrity distinction into five main characteristics or features of each worldview:

  1. Intimacy is objective but personal; integrity emphasizes objectivity as public verifiability.
  2. In an intimate relation, self and other belong together in a way that does not sharply distinguish the two; integrity emphasizes external over internal relations.
  3. Intimate knowledge has an affective dimension; integrity emphasizes knowledge as ideally empty of affect.
  4. Intimacy is somatic as well as psychological; integrity emphasizes the intellectual and psychological as distinct from the somatic.
  5. Intimacy‘s ground is not generally self-conscious, reflective, or self-illuminating; integrity emphasizes knowledge as reflective and self-conscious of its own grounds. (Kasulis, Intimacy or Integrity, pp. 24-5 and 32)

I have begun to think that one of these things is not like the others – but is also, perhaps for that reason, more important than the others. In feature 1 and feature 3-5, integrity and intimacy are about knowledge, about epistemology: is knowledge self-reflective and public, or is it somatic, affective and dark?

Feature 2 is something else, however. It is not about epistemology about ontology; it is about the way things are, not about how we know them. It is about relationships, and whether they are internal or external to the constitution of a thing. And it is important that when Kasulis applies the intimacy/integrity distinction to the various fields of normative philosophy, this second feature tends to loom much larger than the other four. As Kasulis proceeds through the application of the distinction to aesthetics, ethics and politics, in each case there is always a discussion of internal and external relations between things; it is at least as prominent as the other four features, the ones about logocentrism, all put together. The previous discussion of Buddhism and the self is just one example. On aesthetics, integrity sees artist, audience and world as separate; intimacy sees them as overlapping. Integrity ethics looks like Kantian individualist autonomy; intimacy ethics, like an overlap between self and other. An integrity politics is about the rights of atomized individuals; an intimacy politics, to connections of communities with the state.

It seems to me that the intimacy/integrity distinction with respect to knowledge is not the same thing as the distinction with respect to reality and the relations that compose it. There may well be some intrinsic connections between the two, but it has been their differences that have been striking me lately, above all because of a thinker and set of texts close to my heart throughout my life: G.W.F. Hegel, and the Pali texts of early Buddhism.

As I reread Hegel recently, Hegel struck me as being fully an intimacy thinker on one of these dimensions, but fully an integrity thinker on the other. For Hegel’s work is suffused with a holist view of entities as existing in internal relation: we need to see the things that exist, physical and mental, as existing in terms of their relationships to a larger whole. This all holds true wtether in his idealist epistemology or his communitarian ethics. But this holism is expressed in a perfectly logocentric matter, one that does not look affective or somatic: what we need to have for an adequate understanding is the concept (Begriff), rather than any sort of “representation” or “picture-thinking” (Vorstellung), let alone a knowledge conceived of as affective or embodied. Here, the connection that makes up the intimacy/integrity distinction seems severed.

Now it could be that Hegel just happens to be a middle ground between the two, as we should expect from a typology of ideal types. His philosophy is all about finding a middle ground, after all. In between Zhuangzi, who combines an affective and somatic view of knowledge with a view of reality as built on internal relation, and modern positivists who do the opposite, we have Hegel who is halfway, expressing knowledge in words and explicit reasoning but seeing reality as built on internal relation. The typology could survive such an example. What would suggest to me that the distinction is inadequate is if we also had a solid example of an influential philosophy to be found in the exact opposite direction from Hegel: viewing a reality of external relations through affective and somatic knowledge.

And there would appear to be exactly such a philosophy: early Buddhism, the Buddhism of the various Pali texts. I established before just how much early Buddhism takes a reductionist approach based on external relation, in contrast to East Asian Buddhism (and to Kasulis’s characterization of the entire Buddhist tradition). But I realize that that is not quite to say that it is an integrity tradiition. In terms of Kasulis’s other four characteristics, the ones that have to do with logocentrism and explicitness, early Buddhism seems to have elements of the intimacy side. It is not merely that early Buddhism stresses affective and somatic dimensions of living well; it identifies those dimensions in knowledge itself. For example, the Theragathā, the Pali collection of stories of revered early monks, describes lay Buddhists who know the Buddha’s teaching by heart (dhammadharās) and will repeat elements of the teaching like “pleasures are impermanent” – but, says the text, they desire wives and children and jewels, and so they do not really know the dhamma (na jānanti yathāva dhammaṃ). For the author(s) of this text, true knowledge implies a transformation of the self that goes deeper than words and explicit reasoning. There’s an element of emotional, affective transformation here, despite the claim of external relation. This would seem the very opposite of Hegel.

What follows from splitting apart these two angles of the intimacy-integrity distinction? I came to realize a while ago that it would be fruitful to treat intimacy and integrity as one axis on which to classify worldviews, and ascent and descent as a separate one. Should we then dispense with intimacy-integrity and speak of three axes, with axes of external/internal relation and of explicit/affective knowledge separate from each other?

I don’t think so. Even though it can be divided up in this way, I have come to believe it’s still fruitful to treat the intimacy-integrity distinction as a whole. I will explain why next week.