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Integral Ethics

The following is from my online essay series Integral Esotericism (Part Five - Integral Ethics) published on external link Integral World - original url. The only change I have made here has been to supplement the original term "Animacentric" with "Sentientism". However, I need to find time to add hyperlinks etc

1. What is Integral Ethics?

By Integral Ethics is meant here the practical application of the Esoteric Integral Paradigm, that is, the Integral paradigm as a practical path of spiritual ethics, self-mastery, and right attitude to other beings

Following an insight that came to me in the courser of refining this essay, I realised that Integral Ethics can be based on the following:

It is one thing to know these things intellectually, but quite another to put them into practice.

2. Integral Morality

Integral morality can be defined as the application of integral thought to morality and ethics. This determines the way one acts in the world towards other sentient beings (and even towards nonsentient matter). I see three approaches here, which can be considered as complementary: the epistemological (morality resulting from empathic understanding of the other), metaphysical (the synergetic dynamics of the yin and yang pole), and activist (animal liberation, deep ecology, going beyond ethnocentric and anthropocentric biases). The first of these is inspired by participatory thinker John Heron (who along with Richard Tarnas, Jorge Ferrer and other participatory thinkers represents a very different form of Integral than the Wilberian and post-Wilberian), the second by Edward Haskell (Unified Science), and the last by people like Peter Singer and the Animal Liberation movement, and by the environmental and alternative movement in general.

Three aspects of Integral Morality may be deduced:

Most of all, Integral Morality cannot be based on mere theorising alone. Integral Morality has to be an intensely practical activity. This is not to say that theory has no place, only that it is necessary, once theory is understood, to go beyond it.

At its core, Integral Morality is very simple. It is based on empathic communion, and hence understanding or knowing, between self and other. In this way the other being is realised as thee, thou, or you (sect 4-vi); as having equal right to life and happiness as oneself, regardless of whether he/she/it is of a different race, culture, gender, social class, or species. It is easy for us to apply this in our dealings with other humans, because we are conditioned by religion, society and philosophy to see them as equal (made in the image of God, etc). And as they are people like ourselves they can speak with words, or use facial gestures that we instinctively understand. Even if we are grossly lacking in empathy, we still will be reluctant to harm another, because of fear of punishment by society.

In the case of animals it is different, because they speak more in body language and nuance, and to some degree telepathically (hence if one is sensitive one communicate with an animal through the eyes). Yet because animals don't have the same rights we do, human beings think they have the right to think they own them, and can do what they want with them.

For me, the following words have great wisdom:

"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power.

Humanity's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.

And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it."[1]

For this reason there is perhaps no better starting point for the practice of a true Integral Morality than the consideration of the appalling way that non-human animals have been and are being treated by humanity. The justifications and excuses for this are many - animals are there for our purpose, they don't have souls (Aquinus, Descartes), they serve our palates. But most of all, the justification for this monstrous cruelty is simply a lack of empathy, a lack of willingness to engage with the sentience of another a being, a being who is just as conscious, just as sentient, just as full of love and need and trust and hope, as you are. If you had to only look into its eyes, into the eyes of any animal, with sensitivity and without bias, you would see this.

It is beyond human comprehension to understand what cruelty on an industrial scale means. Even if it happens to other people, to other human beings, that is, beings of the same species as ourselves, and hence we are socially conditioned to be sympathetic to their suffering, it is still incomprehensible. Even in the last hundred years, with the Armenian Genocide by the Turks, the Jews and homosexuals and gypsies in Nazi Germany, the dissidents in Stalin's Gulag, the Cambodians under Pol Pot, the massacres of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda, it is all beyond comprehension. The numbers are too big. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands. Millions. But how much more so its it beyond comprehension when the numbers are not millions, but billions, or trillions. So I will just give two quotes, two first-hand accounts, from an animal liberation brochure. This is nothing, just a drop in the ocean. I can't even say these are any more or less typical than the other heart-rending accounts. They just happened to stick in my mind a little more at the time. Perhaps if I had to reread the brochure, or other literature, other accounts would stick in my head instead.

The first, on transporting livestock:

"Like this bull I had last year -- this bull was one of the biggest bulls I've ever seen. It was at the very front of the trailer. And the spirit it had, he was just trying his hardest to get off the trailer. He had been prodded to death by three or four drivers...but his back legs, his hips have given out. And so basically they just keep prodding it. So it took about 45 minutes to get it from the front nose of the trailer to the back ramp....

Then from there it was chained with its front legs, and it fell off the ramp, smashed onto the floor, which I don't know how many feet that would be but quite a racket...I just said, 'Why don't you shoot the damn thing? What's going on? What about this Code of Ethics?'

This one guy said, 'I never shoot. Why would I shoot a cow that can come off and there's still good meat there?' When I first started, I talked to another trucker about downers. He said, 'You may as well not get upset. It's been going on for many years. It will go on for the rest of my life and your life. So just calm down about it. It happens. You'll get kind of bitter like I did. You just don't think about the animals. You just think that they aren't feeling or whatever"[2]

And as for life down on the farm:

"When I saw what life is really like for pigs on today's farms, I was left feeling physically sick for days. I suppose I knew they lived on concrete, indoors in factory farms. However, I was not prepared for the intensity of their confinement, and the awful reality of their boredom.

In the gestation shed, I heard a constant clanging noise. It was the sows hitting their heads against their cage doors as if trying to escape. After a while, some would give up and lie down, while others again took up their futile action.

I saw the pens where pigs are fattened up for slaughter --essentially concrete cells, each holding about a dozen pigs. In one pen, there was a pig missing an ear. Another had a rupture the size of a grapefruit protruding from his stomach. A dead pig was constantly nudged and licked by others. The stench in these places is overwhelming.

At the larger farms I visited in North Carolina, there were thousands of pigs housed in sheds. Many were dead or dying --one actually died right in front of me as I videotaped. Dead pigs had been left in the pens with the living; other pigs had been tossed in the aisles -- barely alive, unable to reach food or water."[3]

Or as Peter Singer, in my mind the greatest moral philosopher of the modern age, puts it in his book Animal Liberation:

"[W]hen nonvegetarians say that 'human problems come first' I cannot help wondering what exactly it is that they are doing for human beings that compels them to continue to support the wasteful, ruthless exploitation of farm animals."

Even from a limited anthropocentric point of view, one can see the way in which human cruelty to other humans stems from cruelty and insensitivity to animals. It is almost a cliché in forensic profiling to say that psychopaths begin by torturing and killing animals and then progress to killing people. But consider also that when Islamic insurgents in Iraq use the term "slaughtering" to refer to their beheading their prisoners[4]; they are transferring their treatment of animals which are regularily slaughtered and beheaded, to their hated and hence depersonalised enemy. And as Carol Adams has shown in her book The Pornography of Meat, advertisements for meat, largely structured by and for white males, are based on racial and sexual stereotypes and especially on a depersonalising, pornographic attitude to women[5]. Abuse and consumption of animals can be used to sell abuse and consumption of women, and vice-versa. While in more conservative (as opposed to progressive) Islam, women who dress immodestly might be compared to "uncovered meat"[6].

It is interesting also to note that when the Nazis instituted their "final solution" they used cattle trucks to transport the Jews. In other words, they treated their prisoners the same way as farm animals are treated as a matter of course.

The parallel was not lost on Isaac Bashevis Singer:

"As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he always had the same thought: in their behaviour towards creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with another species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme racist theories, the principal that might is right... for the animals, life is always Treblinka."[7]

What is required then is a quantum leap that has to be as vast and courageous and dedicated as the abuse of animals and of nature is monstrous. It is this radical paradigm shift that I refer to as Integral Morality. Integral Morality is the opposite of institutionalised and industrialised cruelty. And it works because it requires you to feel with your heart, not rationalise with the head, or be full of greed and selfishness and insensitivity as with the lower affective being.

Integral morality is thus the same as integral epistemology. The way we treat other beings determines our view of the world, our understanding of reality, and vice-versa.

An illustration of this can be found in John Heron's concept of co-operative inquiry and a "participative paradigm", which asserts the participative relation between the knower and the known.

"An epistemology that asserts the participative relation between the knower and the known, and, where the known is also a knower, between knower and knower. Knower and known are not separate in this interactive relation. They also transcend it, the degree of participation being partial and open to change. Participative knowing is bipolar: empathic communion with the inward experience of a being; and enactment of its form of appearing through the imaging and shaping process of perceiving it"[8]

In this way you can see the Other (whether human or animal or nature) as a Person. If instead, you see the Other as an object, as an it, you can project your shadow, make them into either an enemy or a non-entity, and exploit him/her/it without qualms of conscience.

If our interaction or co-action (this essay sect 4-vii) with all other beings around us is in this way karmic and moral, then the only right way to act is through a universal morality that respects not only all humans but all sentient beings, and beyond that all entities, even those that are apparently (to us, because of their hylic and inconscient nature) lacking in even the most limited and constricted form of consciousness. Such an Integral Morality must include a morality and responsibility of compassion and care that is not limited to Homo sapiens but includes all life and for that matter all existence.

Wilber hints at this when he speaks of modern morality going beyond limited premodern moral systems by giving women equality and so on, and suggest that a future morality with have to extend to animals as well (I can't find the quote for this), it also corresponds to what he calls the "kosmocentric"perspective. But beyond these ideas, and Buddhist themes of loving-kindness to all sentient beings, this is an idea that still has to be fully developed. I see great promise here in the animal liberation and environmental movements, and also the Creation spirituality of Matthew Fox. Another development, this time within the sphere of Transhumanism, is the hedonic imperative of David Pearce, which proposes that advanced future technology such as genetic engineering and nanotech, can be used to alleviate the suffering of all sentient beings, not just human[9].

Similarly, I would argue that an integral morality, to be truly integral, has to embrace everything, not just all humans but all intelligent and sentient beings (e.g. higher animals, higher invertebrates, and, when developed, Artificial Intelligence), not just all intelligent and sentient beings but all of life, not just all of life but all of nature, even the inanimate world[10], with love and compassion.

This empathy-based morality and sensitivity can be applied on a number of levels. Wilber speaks of the series Egocentric, Ethnocentric, Worldcentric, and Kosmocentric, but as usual he railroads everything into a deterministic linear succession (in this case identifying these stages with Wilber-Beck spiral dynamics; e.g. Egocentric corresponds to the Red vMEME, and so on) . It is not that one of these then leads to another, but that all are equal and parallel. I would suggest six dimensions of morality, which all have to be equally developed. These can be shown as follows:

Morality Wilberian equivalent Description Positive aspect
(integral morality)
Negative aspect


1.Egocentric Looking out for no.1 Self-worth, self-esteem Selfishness, insensitivity

(human centered)

Conventional morality Humanitarianism, philanthropy, social reform, 3rd world aid Racism, sexism, chauvinism, specieism,
Animacentric / Sentient (soul/feeling centered) n/a Valuing all sentient beings Animal liberation, animal rights, animal welfare *

(life centered)
n/a Seeing all life as sacred Environmentalism, Deep ecology *

(world and cosmos centered)
4.Kosmocentric Seeing all of creation as sacred and of worth (Creation Spirituality) Stewardship of nature, living in harmony with the Earth ? n/a

n/a Oneness with all the worlds, universes, planes of existence, everything Enlightenment and transenlightenment experiences? ? n/a

Table 13b - levels of empathy and of morality

* note - although one could cite examples like radical animal liberation movements and exterme environmentalism, these do not have the intrenched ugliness and hypocracy of negative egocentrism, or of various forms of chavinism, bigotry, or ethnocentric and anthropocentric bias.

An Integral Morality that includes, or at the very least attempts to include and develop along, all these dimensions equally would form the basis of an Integral Holistic Society, and vice-versa. All of which again shows how these boundaries blur and why inflexible typology should always be avoided. In fact what we have here is the Collective equivalent of Integral Spirituality, the practice of compassion and kindness for all sentient beings, which at present is only encouraged by a few religions (some forms of Buddhism, perhaps Creation spirituality to some extent, and aspects of the New Age and in the secular world the Animal Liberation movement, perhaps the most profound philosophical insight of the 20th century.

Ultimately, the development of an animacentric (soul centered) or sentientist (pertaining to all sentient beings) and biocentric (life centered) morality are the greatest spiritual and moral challenges of the present day. An Integral society, whether small or large, must be built on such a foundation.


[1] Milan Kundera The Unbearable Lightness of Being,

[2] Interview with a Canadian livestock trucker from A Cow at My Table, 1998 documentary

[3] Not Your Childhood Image by Lauren Ornelas,

[4] Hence they release statements like "As we promised, we the mujahedeen from the Falluja Squadron slaughtered the American hostage-" - - Al Qaeda militants kill American hostage - Jun 18, 2004

[5] Carol Adams The Pornography of Meat, Continuum, New York, 2003; see also the review by Lisa Kemmerer in Philosophy Now, no.56, July/August 2006, pp.42-3

[6] In one case which I am only mentioning here because it made the news as I was writing this essay, a top Australian Muslim cleric was stood down for several months for sermons (excerpts from one of which appeared in The Australian newspaper 26 Oct 2006) likening scantily-dressed women to uncovered meat, saying in this way they're responsible for sexual attacks on them. The Sheik claims his comments were misinterpreted in the same way the Pope's recent comments on Islam (regarding which see ref) were, as he was only quoting an ancient Islamic scholar to make a point regarding adultery (see "Muslim cleric stood down" 27.10.2006®ion=7 ) but his misinterpreted or not his comments reflected both the pattern of his own sermons and the opinions of his Lebanese constituency. According to letters to the editor in response he does not however represent other Australian Muslims such as the Turkish community or progressive Muslim of either gender.

[7] Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies: A Love Story

[8] John Heron, Co-operative Inquiry, London, Sage, 1996. An extract from Chapter 1 - Co-operative inquiry and participative reality including the above quote, can be found at This was also reprinted in P/I: Pluralities/Integration newsletter #67 (April 25, 2005)

[9] See for the website and online book. For a review (including comments by leading transhumanist Nick Bostrum) see Katherin Power, "The End ofSuffering", in Philosophy Now, no.56, July/August 2006, pp.24-6

[10] Compare this with the Hassidic idea of tikkun (a Jewish Kabablistic word that can be approximately translated as restitution, redemption, healing) which includes not just tikkunim of one's employers, and one's animals, but even of one's tools

"Speak to the Holy Spark that languishes inside them when you speak to their steel and stone.

When you speak to the Holy Spark that languishes inside them, envision it rising up to its Source."

see Tikkunim (Meditations on the Raising of the Sparks) by the Baal Shem Tov

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
original essay Integral Esotericism (Part Five - Integral Ethics) published on external link Integral World, published January 2007. This page uploaded 15 November 2008