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A Critique of Ken Wilber’s Four Quadrants Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Apr 25th, 2019

Ken Wilber is one of the most known and respected American writers and thinkers of the 21th century. He usually writes about psychology, ecology, and philosophy. His works are both appreciated and criticized by lots of people. His ideas become crucially important and exciting for further human development and improvement.

One of the core works by Wilber is AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels), also known as a theory of four quadrants. According to this theory, there are “four quadrants’ of existence: intentional, behavioral, cultural, and social.” (Wilber, 1997)

Without any doubts, the diagram, Wilber presented in 1997, is impressive, and it explains a lot to people either scientists and philosopher or ordinary people.

However, during deep research and analysis, it is noticeable that Wilber’s four quadrants theory has several inconsistencies within levels and even quadrants themselves; the writer has not taken into consideration the religious aspects and the ideas of racial inequality, which are so burning nowadays.

According to Kim Wilber’s theory, there are four major levels, which our life consists of. Each level occupies its own corner: Upper Left – intentional level; Upper Right – behavioral level; Lower Left – cultural level; Lower Right – social level.

Each quadrant has something in common with another quadrant. For example, Right Hand quadrants are connected to the empirical level, and Left Hand are more about theoretical one.

Even if Wilber mentions that all people are different, and each detail of the diagram may cause certain controversies, it is rather strange that he does not mention the role of God in this “life scheme”. There are people who believe in God, and those, who deny God’s existence.

This is why such criterion as belief in God plays an important role and influence lots spheres of life. Wilber underlines that his model of four quadrants is a result of the extensive data search and analysis. If it is true, then why does he ignore such fact as belief in God?

This is one of the brightest remarks to a perfect model of human’s existence. Such omission calls numerous discontents and criticism from different sides. The article by Andrew P. Smith may serve as a good example.

Another issue that has not been mentioned in the quadrants by Wilber is the idea of multiculturalism. Cultural diversities, racial inequality, and ethnicity turn out to be burning problems in modern society. Business, education, and even entertainment are based on these inequalities.

If it is so pronounced, why does Wilber not mention this very issue as well in his work? He says that this diagram and the theory is “nonetheless enough to indicate the broad contours of the methodology of an integral theory of consciousness, and that it sufficiently indicates the inadequacy of any less comprehensive approaches” (Wilber, 1997)

However, such theory of consciousness cannot but rely on ethnical and racial ideas. The point that a person belongs to a separate class and ethnicity is explained every child, who has an ability to comprehend the reality. It is necessary to know own roots and past, and without these ethnical issues, comprehension cannot be complete.

One more point that causes certain misunderstandings is the following. Wilber points out that each holon in his diagram is a constituent of the previous one, and each quadrant its own beginning. However, lots of historians and writers support the idea that our world and the life of every human being have one common beginning.

According to the scheme presented by Ken Wilber, there is no concrete beginning. Each level has its own start (intentional level – prehension, behavioral level – atoms, cultural level – physical-pleromatic, social level – galaxies). His idea that “a whole that is simultaneously part of some other whole” (Wilber, 1997) is not perfect.

For example, he put prehension as a fundament for other intentional issues, such as sensation. It means that sensation should contain prehension.

However, people may feel something (sensation) without certain comprehension of what it is (prehension), so, it goes against Wilber’s idea. Such factor as personal abilities and physical condition has been taken into account as well.

Ken Wilber is considered to be one of the most interesting and influential writers in the field of psychology and spirituality. His theory of AQAL, the four quadrants, deserves special attention.

In spite of the fact that Wilber admits that this “approach is the minimum degree of sophistication that we need into order to secure anything resembling a genuinely integral theory of consciousness” (Wilber, 1997), lots of people criticize his ideas and find strong evidences.

His omission of religious factors, which play a crucial role in modern society, his neglect of ethnical issues, and possible controversy to personal ideas – all this proves once again that it is impossible to present our life according to certain, concrete frames and make a person follow these standards.

Each quadrant-level of existence contains important information concerning consciousness that should be rather interesting for humans. It is not obligatory to follow the scheme described by Wilber, but it is possible to take these approaches into account and try analyze this life and its sense.

Reference List

Wilber, K. (1997, February). An Integral Theory of Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies,4 (1), 71-92.

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