Flatland, Modernism, pre-modernism and post-modernism – Ken Wilber’s view

If you’ve struggled with what people actually mean by postmodernism and its relationship to modernism and pre-modernism you might appreciate these extracts from Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology – I certainly did.


See also my other posting on I, WE & IT and also the posting on Mythos and Logos including Karen Armstrong’s work.


Modernism, pre-modernism and post-modernism

In other words, the four quadrants (or the Big Three) are actually the underpinnings of the modern differentiation of the values spheres of art, morals and science. Where premodernity had tended to fuse, or not clearly differentiate, the Big Three, modernity clearly differentiated them and set each free to pursue its own path. This differentiation was part of the dignity of modernity, which, in allowing each domain to pursue its own truths, allowed each to make stunning and far-reaching discoveries , discoveries that, even the harshest critics agree, set modernity apart from premodernity.


But something else set modernity apart. The differentiation of the big Three went too far into the dissociation of the Big Three : the dignity drifted into disaster, and this allowed an imperialistic science to dominate the other spheres and claim that they possessed no inherent reality of their own (scientism, scientific materialism, one-dimensional man, the disenchantment of the world). Gone was mind and soul and spirit, and in their place, as far as the eye could see, the unending dreariness of a world of its; ” a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying a material, endlessly, meaninglessly.”


And so it came about that virtually the entire spectrum of consciousness, and certainly its higher levels, (soul and spirit), were reduced to permutations and combinations of matter and bodies. Put bluntly, all ‘Is’ and ‘we’s’ were reduced to ‘its’, to objects of the scientific gaze, which no matter how long or hard it looked, could find nothing resembling the Great Nest of human possibilities, but saw only endless patterns of process ‘its’, scurrying here and there. Integral Psychology P.64



Thus , it seems that premodernity had at least one great strength that modernity lacked: it recognized the entire Great Nest of Being, which is basically a general map of higher human potentials. But premodernity also had at least one great weakness; it did not fully differentiate the value spheres at any of the levels of the Great Nest. Thus, among other things, objective-scientific investigation of the spectrum was hampered; the specific and often cultural expressions of the Great Nest were taken to be universally valid; and the moral injunctions recommended to all were tied to those limited cultural expressions. Giordano Bruno might have experienced many of he upper levels of the Great Nest, but because the value spheres were not fully differentiated at large and their individual freedoms were not protected by law and custom, the Inquisition cheerfully burned him at the stake.


Modernity, on the other hand, did manage to differentiate the Big Three of art, morals and science, on a large scale, so that each began to make phenomenal discoveries. But as the Big Three dissociated, and scientific colonialism began its aggressive career, all ‘Is’ and all ‘we’s’ were reduced to patterns of objective ‘its’, and thus all the interior stages of consciousness – reaching from body to mind to soul to spirit – were summarily dismissed as so much superstitious nonsense. The Great Nest collapsed into scientific materialism – into what we will be calling “flatland” – and there the modern world, by and large, still remains.


Our job, it thus appears, is to take the strengths of both premodernity and modernity, and jettison their weaknesses. Pp 64-65

To re-legitimize other ways of knowing, to work clearly with and between all three I, WE & IT ways of knowing (plus community-tradition) brings the possibility of re-enchantment and balanced development of the individual and of societies!

The model at the heart of this site utilizes Wilber’s triadic structure you can read a summary HERE.



All postings to this site relate to the central model in the PhD.

Summaries are HERE


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