Guest Blog: A symbol of our shared trajectory (Zachary Stein)
April 26, 2007 10:15

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A symbol of our shared trajectory:

Philosophical Reflections on Integral Methodological Pluralism as a Regulative Ideal

Draft 1.0

Zachary Stein


Most academic philosophers would like to forget that in the Critique of Practical Reason one can find the linchpin of Kant's moral theory, the "Kingdom of Ends," equated with the corpus mysticum, the mystical body of God. Here the telos of moral action is revealed in the imagery of Protestant religiosity. Echoing Bohme and foreshadowing Schelling we see Kant offering a theme found in both Jewish and Christian mysticism. Humanity becomes responsible for the salvation of God. Exiled and forgotten, encased in matter, God becomes dependent upon the use we make of our freedom; and so the moral law catalyzes the resurrection of God from a divine forgetfulness of self-limitation in Nature and Ignorance.

Of course, this is surprising because it was Kant who shattered the validity of metaphysical speculation. It was he who ushered in a philosophy of science and a deontological ethics that proceeded in an immanent fashion. That is, he was the first to attempt to make sense of the human condition in a post-metaphysical manner. He suggested that doing philosophy means turning away from objects and towards the conditions of their possibility. This was revolutionary. Knowledge was bounded; the limits of reason were traced. And yet we find the cryptic mystical message noted above.

The point: despite Kant's counsel of epistemic humility we find the radical promise of Unconditional Knowledge offered up as a regulative ideal.  Regulative ideals are the catalysts of the mind. They are not the product of inquiry but the propeller. They stand as the goals guiding our endeavors. And according to Kant, these goals are unconditional, total, differentiated but holistically encompassing; in a word, and to foreshadow: implicit in the very notion of knowledge itself is the regulative ideal of an Integral Methodological Pluralism.

To this end it serves us to note that Charles Peirce labored in Kant's shadow while also in the shadow of Darwin. So Peirce had a slightly different view. He took Kant's regulative ideals and brought them down to Earth, embedded them in Nature and Evolution. Instead of the static transcendental and purely epistemic Kantian image (e.g. solely Upper Left), Peirce saw these regulative ideas as serving to guide future-oriented inquiry-based communication communities (e.g. all four quadrants). Moreover, with a nod to Schelling, Perice suggested that Evolution is best understood as a learning process in which humanity plays an uncanny role. We are the self-conscious continuation of evolution; what catalyzed it catalyses us.

However, we must articulate our ends and so give voice to the mute and laborious workings of Nature. Certain regulative ideals serve this function by explicating imminent evolutionary impulses and making them available to us as shared symbols of our trajectory. Peirce envisioned humanity as capable of multitudinous self-correcting endeavors to be aimed ultimately at an ideal communication community coterminous with the Kosmos. The ideals of harmonious love between all beings and unconditional knowledge about all things stand as goals to be approached asymptotically.   

Not coincidentally, we find comparable regulative ideals in Habermas's post-metaphysical thinking. But Habermas rearticulates them following Peirce and some trends in 20th century philosophy. Here we find a further refinement within an explicitly truncated vision. For methodological reasons Habermas shifts focus away from speculations about humanity's place in Nature. Scrubbing them clean of their transcendental contamination and making them presentable for squeamish academics, he demonstrates that regulative ideals are purely immanent potentials inherent in our communicative practice. By employing the tools of linguistic analysis to rationally reconstructing the inescapable presuppositions of communicative action Habermas makes a stronger, if less exciting, case than both Kant and Perice.

According to Habermas we always already maintain a kind of radical "transcendence from within." With every speech act we make implicit reference to the unconditional validity of Truth, Justice, and Beauty. We can do what we do and say what we say because we traffic in context transcending unconditional validity claims. Like Peirce, and Kant before him, Habermas suggests that there is a telos inherent in our endeavors. We are guided by a set of regulative ideals that seem to be inserted like catalysts into the heart of the lifeworld. And they serve as subtle persuasions to seek the unattainable purity of total knowledge, justice, and authenticity. Of course, Habermas knows that these ideals have been fractionated and particularized in the proliferating disciplinary and methodological matrixes that characterize contemporary discourse. And so he outlines a theory of rationality that aims to bring some unity to this seeming cacophony of perspectives.

When all is said and done it would appear that making good on the post-metaphysical turn means, in part, explicating the ideals that will allow philosophy to function as a regulative meta-disciplinary inquiry catalyst. Now, I hope it is clear that Integral Methodological Pluralism is such a regulative ideal. And as such it represents the radical core of a philosophical impulse that spans centuries. And, more importantly (and controversially), I claim that it should be seen as the principle upon which the validity of the Integral Edifice rests. All other AQAL accoutrements are, philosophically speaking, the contingent facts unfolding and shifting in the wake of this regulative ideal.

Clearly this is quite a claim. It amounts to saying that there is a difference between Integral as a substantive set of doctrines (e.g. a synoptic integration of facts) and Integral as a formal endeavor or impulse (e.g. a regulative meta-disciplinary inquiry catalyst). If you read Habermas on post-metaphysical rationality you'll get a sense of just how important this difference is. Deciding that the formal trumps the substantive means abandoning rich descriptions of what's True, Good, and Beautiful. Instead we come together in light of regulative ideals and formal procedures for cashing in contested claims. What makes a claim justified in not whether it is found in the substance of our shared dogma, but rather whether it can withstand scrutiny in light of the shared second-order formal presuppositions of inquiry and action that constitute the trajectory of our endeavor. 

Let me explain: nobody would deny that facts come and go. For example, ten years from now the state of developmental psychology will be very different from what it is now. The substance of the Integral Model will change: more types will be discovered, new stages will emerge, etc. Spiral Dynamics will probably find its way into the trash-bin of history as better empirically refined models of human development supersede it. But I'd bet my beard that the formal regulative ideal of an Integral Methodological Pluralism will only become more justifiable as we unfold our potentials and evolve our knowledge base and its concomitant institutional structures; the inquiry regulating meta-disciplinary stance that is the principle of our Integral Endeavor might just reverberate for all time in the halls of future knowledge!

Of course, some of the substance of what we know will not change. The most obvious candidates are certain phenomenological and meditative disclosures that have stood up to scrutiny for thousands of years. But the way we understand these will undoubtedly change. In any case, I think the general point should be clear.

But have no doubt, Quadrants, Levels, Lines, States, and Types, are crucial ingredients in today's Integral Model. The theorists and researchers who fill in the substance of the Integral Operating System are generating valid knowledge, worthy of integration. I'd never suggest otherwise. Knowing what we know, ignoring these would be asinine. What I am suggesting is that the Integral Operating System is one (the best?) possible current manifestation of a deeper impulse. And that impulse is where we should hang our hats. It boils down to where we place our commitments: in some substantive set of doctrines and findings, or in some more formal ideal?

It is also about where we aim our criticisms when we are spilling ink about all things Integral. Most contentions are about the substance of Integral Doctrines. Make no mistake: factual disagreements are important and crucial for furthering the field. But too many critics claim to critique the endeavor when they are in fact critiquing its contingent manifestation. Some do aim properly at the formal ideal itself, but they end up with nowhere to stand. Because if I'm right something like the Integral Impulse is a condition for the possibility of argumentation: it's an unavoidable formal presupposition of inquiry and action. So the claim is that the Integral Impulse is indelible, inextinguishable, and indefatigable. And as the reflections above suggest, it has shown up in various guises through the ages, with Integral Methodological Pluralism as the latest, and perhaps clearest, expression of this post-metaphysical philosophical trend.

Don't get me wrong: I love to argue! Let's disagree: but only if we acknowledge some formal alignment despite our substantive differences. So I see many Integral Visions as manifestations of one impulse. And so far the ideal of Integral Methodological Pluralism is the clearest symbol of our shared trajectory.


Zachary Stein is a student of philosophy and cognitive development pursing a doctorate at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.  He is also the Senior Analyst at the Developmental Testing Service (



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