Tag Archives: integral ecology


As 2016 comes to a close, I’d like to rant about people who say “Happy Gregorian New Year,” but I’ve written about that elsewhere. For now, I’m getting ready for a busy 2017 for publications and conferences. Continue reading

Pope Francis and Integral Ecology

The new encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On the Care of our Common Home, contains many references to “integral ecology,” including an entire chapter by that title.

It’s relatively clear that Francis is working with the integral ecology proposed by the Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, who draws on the general ecology of Félix Guattari and the integral ecology proposed by the cultural historian Thomas Berry. Regarding Boff’s influence, consider the Pope’s allusion to Boff’s Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (# 49). The Pope’s sense of integral ecology is also clearly influenced by the ecological sensibility of St. Francis of Assisi, whose phrase “Laudato Si'” (from his Canticle of the Creatures) provides the title and opening line for the encyclical.

The following are the selections from the encyclical that explicitly mention integral ecology. There are also many other references to integral and integrative approaches, including integral development, progress, and education. Moreover, the Pope does not intend integral ecology to be an exclusively or primarily Catholic endeavor. The encyclical is addressed toevery person living on this planet” (#3).

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. […] Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human.” (#10-11)

“We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.” (#141)

Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour. (#124)

“An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us….” (#225)

“An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.” (#230)

“Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The Portuguese bishops have called upon us to acknowledge this obligation of justice: “The environment is part of a logic of receptivity. It is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next”. An integral ecology is marked by this broader vision.” (#159)

Testing the Boundaries of Reality

A few weeks ago, I gave a presentation at the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Forum at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.  I spoke about some of the research I used for my dissertation (Philosophy for a Planetary Civilization: On the Verge of Integral Ecology), which I defended last March.  A video of the talk is available HERE.  I was introduced by Matt Segall, who recently posted some summary reflections on the talk.

Like many talks I give, the style is mostly improvisational.  Nonetheless, my meandering musings elicited some thoughtful questions and comments from the people in attendance, making about half of the video Q&A.  I’m not going to summarize the presentation here, but I will state my gratitude for the various criticisms I’ve received.

Those criticisms include the following:

1) My critique of AT&T’s “Rethink Possible” slogan didn’t account for the full history of AT&T.  This was by far my favorite criticism.  AT&T is a weird entity with a complex history.

2) My interpretation of Platonic dualism didn’t do justice to the elements of Plato’s writings that subvert dualism and pervert the very idea of Platonism.

3) My espousal of rhizomatics might not be effective in countering the interconnected flows of global capitalism.

4) Aside from an injunction to tarry with complexity and uncertainty, my philosophical experiments do not give very specific guidance on questions of ethics, politics, and practical action.

5) My focus on the humor of truth (Isabelle Stengers’ concept for a critical standpoint from which to recognize the limits of one’s theories) did not adequately account for the many other ways of recognizing the limits of one’s theories (e.g., humility, imagination).

6) Perhaps the strangest criticism I heard is that my emphasis on humor makes me impervious to criticism or somehow difficult to criticize.  I’m happy to accept that criticism, especially insofar as I sometimes tell jokes instead of responding directly to questions.  However, I think I’m generally quite vulnerable and available to criticism.  Indeed, humor (following Stengers) was presented precisely as a means to stay open to criticism, not as a hipster strategy for being ironic and, like, whatevs.  Furthermore, as indicated by each of these six criticisms, some people found it quite easy to criticize my points and positions.

Integral Ecologist as Spiritual Guide

Thomas Berry began speaking of an “integral ecology” in the mid-1990s.  For the most part, his understanding of integral ecology was expressed in lectures and conversations, not published texts.  One exception to this is his essay on “An Ecologically Sensitive Spirituality” (1996).  Here’s a very fragmented excerpt from the essay, which was finally published a few years ago in a wonderful collection, The Sacred Universe (Columbia UP, 2009).

We need an ecological spirituality with an integral ecologist as spiritual guide. […]  The integral ecologist can now be considered a normative guide for our times.  The integral ecologist would understand the numinous aspect of a universe emergent from the beginning. […]  The integral ecologist is the spokesperson for the planet in both its numinous and its physical meaning […].  In the integral ecologist, our scientific understanding of the universe becomes a wisdom tradition. [pp. 135-135].

Also in the mid-90s, the liberation theologian Leonardo Boff began speaking and writing about integral ecology, seemingly independently of Berry.  Like Berry, Boff emphasizes the cosmological breadth and spiritual depth of integral ecology.  This cosmological and spiritual focus is also found in Ken Wilber, who developed his “all-quadrant all-level” (AQAL) model of Integral theory in the mid-90s and began applying it to ecology and environmental ethics, setting the stage for Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Michael Zimmerman to write their gigantic AQAL-based work, Integral Ecology (2009).

This doesn’t mean that integral ecology is a synonym for eco-spirituality.  Rather, integral ecology can refer to any approach to ecology that integrates spirituality (whatever “spirituality” is) with scientific knowledge of the universe.  Such integration can go in a lot of directions, from new age holism to new feminist materialism…and everything in between.

Alien Phenomenology vs. Environmental Holism

I’ve been enjoying Ian Bogost’s new book, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing.  It’s another great contribution to object-oriented ontology.  One of the problems I have with it so far is that it misrepresents holistic approaches to environmental issues.  I generally appreciate the object-oriented critique of holism, but it’s important to accurately specify what holism is involved.  To paraphrase Bogost, all holisms might equally exist, but they do not exist equally.

Bogost says the following:  “In every conception of environmental holism from John Muir to James Lovelock, all beings are given equal absolute value and moral right to the planet–so long as they are indeed living creatures.  One type of existence–life–still comprises the reference point for thought and action” (p. 7).

Every conception?  I don’t think so.  A bunch of conceptions?  Sure.  The majority of conceptions?  Maybe, depending on whose conceptions get counted.  In any case, not every conception of environmental holism in the last hundred years has made life the reference point for thought and action (nor have they all assigned “equal absolute value” to everything).  There are plenty of environmental holists who have arrived at their metaphysics like Bogost arrived at his, “by way of inanimacy rather than life” (p. 9). 

Consider Aldo Leopold or Baird Callicott.  They are most certainly holistic, but their reference point is the land, which includes but is not defined primarily in terms of biota.  Leopold and Callicott have been very influential on a lot of the environmental holism running around these days.  You cannot give a very relevant critique of environmental holism if you don’t critique the land ethic.  Another kind of environmental holism that eludes Bogost’s critique is the ecology and environmental ethics based on Ken Wilber’s Integral theory (of which Michael Zimmerman is a leading proponent).  The holism of Edgar Morin’s complex thought harbors a planetary environmentalism that is also noteworthy here.  My point is simply that some holisms are closer to Bogost than he indicates, and that environmental holism can be a partner in creative dialogue instead of a quickly dismissed straw man.

I’ll have more to say after I finish the book.  Regardless of any shortcomings it might have, it’s a fun and engaging book.  The Latour litanies alone are worth the price of admission.