Pre/trans fallacy

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The American writer Ken Wilber posits that psychological development moves from the pre-personal, through the personal levels of development, to the transpersonal – this latter developmental milieu supposedly being the arena of the spiritually advanced or enlightened beings. In essence, this is an expansion of standard developmental psychology beyond the ordinarily accepted end-point of development, the mature adult ego.

Wilber maintains that this model is in conflict with simpler two-stage models of psychological development (be they from personal to transpersonal levels or the more mainstream view of pre-personal to personal levels). Uncritical use of a two-stage model of psycho-spiritual development can lead to one or both of the version of the 'pre/trans fallacy': either mistaking pre-personal material as spiritual (the elevationist fallacy), or mistaking the transpersonal for pre-personal (the reductionalist fallacy). He defines the 'PTF' thus:

"In any recognized developmental sequence, where development proceeds from pre-x to x to trans-x, the pre states and the trans states, because they are both non-x states, tend to be confused and equated, simply because they appear, at first glance, to be so similar." (Wilber 2000)

The reductionist fallacy is likely to occur in developmental models that deny the validity of transpersonal development – for instance, an experience of mystical union might be seen by a traditional psychoanalyst as a regressive longing for union with a mother-figure, rather than a valid spiritual experience in its own right. This fallacy is implicit in the limitations of the developmental framework from which it is committed, which demands that spiritual experiences be denigrated or pathologised to maintain the integrity of the model.

Similarly, the elevationist fallacy will be committed in models that ignore pre-personal developmental stages. Wilber talks here of 'Romanticist' theorists of transpersonal psychology who mistake the supposed innocence of childhood for a spiritually advanced understanding that is later lost during psychological development.

Wilber (2000) writes about his own elevationist fallacy in the introduction to one of the volumes of his Collected Works - his 'Wilber-II' phase of theory development is brought about by the development of the concept of the PTF and the recognition of his own PTF made in early writings (corrected in the publication of The Atman Project in 1980).

References:[edit]

  • Walsh, R. & Vaughan, F. (Eds.) (1993). Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision. Tarcher/Putnam: New York.
  • Wilber, K. (1983). Eye to Eye. Shambhala: Boston.
  • Wilber, K. (1995). Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Shambhala: Boston.
  • Wilber, K. (2000). Collected Works (Vol 3). Shambhala: Boston. Introduction available online at http://wilber.shambhala.com/html/books/cowokev3_intro.cfm/

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