Unitary Thought as the Next Development of Mankind

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* Book: Lancelot Law Whyte. The Next Development of Mankind. (2002) ISBN 978-0765801623


Whyte belongs to the 'school or organic holism', which also comprises: Alfred North Whitehead, J.S Huxley, Jan Smuts, Joseph Needham, Alfred Korzybski, J.S. Bois, David Bohm, Sylvan S. Tomkins, Teilhard de Chardin, Henri Bergson, Kurt Goldstein, Lewis Mumford, and Patrick Geddes.


Michel Bauwens, 2003:

The motivation for reading this book came from the website Philosphere, which specializes in epistemic shifts. Whyte's key theme is the necessity of strengthening the shift from dualisms to the 'unitary mode of thought'. Thus, it seems to be a form of integral thought.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Change is universal. This change is not chaotic and has continuity, it is a process. 'Form' is the recognizable continuity of any process. Unitary means one general form, dualistic means the co-existence of incompatible forms. Thus, "unitary throught is the continuing activity of recognizing one universal form within the diversity of particular processes."

As Man originally sought permanence, he saw a subject facing objects: conscious purpose vs material necessity. Thinkers were drawn either to overemphasize subjectivation, and see purpose in nature, or the opposite: essentialist diversity in nature. Process consists of the development of form through the decrease of asymmetry. The appearance of the contrary, i.e. decay, arises from isolating a sub-process from the whole. The first chapter concludes with the appearance of dualism in European culture and says the book is the history of its emergence, its development, and the first steps to its dissolution.

Chapter 2: Development

The normal condition for humanity is organic integration, disintegration can only be temporary. Total symmetry and stability is characteristic of the inorganic only; life is always unstable and in development.


"The ideal of perfection is an impostor; to claim it is to deny further growth. Man's yearning for the Absolute is false. Human personality cannot in general be integrated through the ideal of static perfection."

The European dissociation started in 500 BC, as a dualism between the

  1. system of immediate behavior, i.e. the instincts, and
  2. the system of delayed response based on the cortex, "reason".

They are in conflict, with neither able to permanently dominate the other. Genius is an exaggeration of the dissociation, which explores particular limits to the full.

The individual cannot cure himself from a distortion that is social in origin: only others can (and because the distortion is overwhelmingly male, woman is the solution!).

Chapter 4: The Characteristics of Man

Whyte then turns his attention to the general history of mankind, distinguishing a first period dominated by instinctive behavior; then a second, where this dominance is maintained, but supplemented by social differentiation and thought (the ancient civilizations). It is only in the third period that rational self-consciousness arises,: man starts to think about himself. This period lasts from 1600 BC to 1600 AD.

Whyte sees the Axial Age happening simultaneously in Europe and China. About 450-400 BC, Greek thought ceased to view man un-self-consciously as the innocent bearer of either a fortunate or a tragic fate, and adopted instead the subjective, rationalistic, analytical attitude. This is exemplified in the shift from Homeric poems, Heraclitus and Aeschylus, to the works of Socrates, Plato, and Aristoteles. In China, at the same time, Lao Tzu gave way to Confucius.

Three great developments occur in the period spanning 3000 to 400 BC:

  • The emergence of great empires, claiming to encompass the whole world, i.e. Egypt, China, and Persia
  • Monotheism
  • Universal ideas and rationalism

Thus, the concepts of universal empire, a universal god, and universal ideas strengthen each other.

Monotheism arises at the same time as a deeper subjectivity, and through it, spirituality and ethical idealism are developed to master the instincts, which is no longer whole, but was becoming degenerate and unbalanced. It is against these exaggerations that one must see the "repressions by monotheism". Guilt arises from what people see as the contrast between what they could or should be, and what they see of themselves through the expressions of their baser instincts.

Chapter 5: The European Tradition

After discussing the change to self-consciousness in 500-400 BC, both in Europe and China, he notes that from that point on, Asia and Europe diverged, because the latter alone opted for radical differentiation of power, developing its three components, i.e. Greek thought, Christian religion, and Roman Law, covering thought, emotion, and will. This created a type of civilization where the community allowed the individual maximum development through his access, in a personal and direct way, to these universals.

Yet Europe collapsed, why ? Because it superseded the dissociation upon which they were built, and European Man could no longer have unquestioned access to them. European man was divorced from any organic rhythm of tension and release, instead of this chasing the illusory permanent exstacy of the Absolute, either through idealism or through frenetic desire.

Chapter 6: Europe after 1600

Then comes the fourth phase, after 1600, in which humanism will thrive and men invents science, what Whyte calls the phase of Western Man. Until 1600, rationalism was subjective, there was no method, other than classification, to organize observations about nature. This changed when Kepler and Galileo invented measurement. He then describes the new power arising out of this new heuristic method, i.e. science, which was no longer static, but continuously adapted its pronouncements without loss of prestige, Along with the many benefits came the disintegration of thought and society, because "it contains no principle of order or integration", causing anarchic expansion in all fields. It also created a new dualism between the subject and objective, without bridges from one to another.

Chapter 7: The Twentieth Century

Whyte pays a lot of attention to the failure of humanism, which he says had been recognized by people like Schopenhauer, Dostoyevski, and Nietzsche. He explains the crisis of the early 20th cy. (1900-1945), as the terminal crisis of the tradition. The old was dead, but the new was still absent, so the vitality of distorted man, in the form of sadism, took over and produced fascism.

Whyte summarizes the transformation in distinct phases:

  1. the final collapse of humanism
  2. the development of quantitative anarchy
  3. the growth of an new objective view of man
  4. the gradual dissolution of the European dissociation and
  5. the appearance of totalitarian tyranny

Quote: "Many of the special features of our time arise from the fact that the dissociation of European man has exhausted its efficacy, and that the earlier unity of primitive and ancient man, is in the process of restoration, in a form which can, in principle, retain and organize all the different developments of Europe and the West. The last three and a half centuries display all the complementary processes which must play a part in such a re-organization. ... It is the anarchistic exploitation of the quantitative process, playing the role of Mephistoteles, which played the key role of in loosening the tradition, and so facilitate the growth of the new."

An important part in science is that it was originally based on the idea of a boundless and infinite universe, but as the whole earth got explored, and as the basic units of matter got explored, it realized that it is facing a finite world.

Whyte then attempts to date some important contemporary trends.

The end of humanism:

  1. 1900 onwards: end of 3 centuries of rapid population growth
  2. 1918: end of the belief that technical progress would serve humanistic ideals

The quantitative method:

The quantitative method focused on 'exact space' is breaking down in micro-regions of uncertainty, and this is many other fields, i.e. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. He concludes that this method had its heyday in the 1920s.

The objective view:

Whyte notes both the crisis of subjective religion and idealism, and the rise of partial materialistic , and dogmatically abstract, disciplines of economic man (Marxism), sexual man (Freud). But as the latter's partiality is being recognized, it sets the stage for a uniting synthesis between the subjective and objective views.

The general process:

The dissociation meant priority was given to spiritual needs, over the sensual. But this is now over, and both are given proper consideration. This is a formidable progress. Hence what counts now, in the absense of a proper unitary integration, that is yet to come, is genuine emotional express, and a provisional acceptance of 'partial truths'.

Chapter 8/9: Nine Thinkers

After this summary overview, Whyte now turns to nine exemplary thinkers, who symbolize, in the general forms of their thought, the transformations he has been describing in general terms.

1) Heraclitus is a bridge between undifferentiated process thought of Asia, and Europe. Man is not yet a problem to himself, but part of nature if he embraces change (he is thus opposed to the harmony model proposed by Pythagoras)

2) Plato: to understand him is to understand Europe. He represents the search for permanence in a world of process setting the flux of the senses, the 'unreal', against the permanence of the forms of thought, the real.

3) Paul achieves a partial integration through the example of Jesus: open conflict between the Law of God and the lust of the flesh, is replaced by a inner conflict, but desire is transmuted to religion.
There are four periods in the history of western religion.

  • Abraham: no (consciousness of) sin.
  • Abraham to Moses: sin, but no standards
  • Moses to Jesus: the Law defines sin and punishment through fear of the Lord

In the fourth period, when development is stalled, the ego dissociates with change and wants permanence in another world, in the afterlife. In the meantime, the wait is made bearable through grace.

4) Kepler is a bridge between the medieval quest for unity in God, and the modern yearning for harmony in nature through science and measurement, lived when both could still be identical. It hid their antithesis, when the harmony of numbers would substitute for God.

5) Descartes, which he judges to be the apex of the European dissociation, ushering in the anarchy of quantity

6) Spinoza, a bridge between the static dualism and the unitary process thought, in a mixed static unitary form. He is monistic, i.e. unitary, but hi system lacks any process. As a person, he lacked the full active life, remaining isolated with his God: "we feel the poverty of an intellectual idealism which neglects the development of personality by active experience, it lacks the time-sense which is indispensable to mature thought.

7) Goethe was a true unitary man, heralding those to come, but limited by the conditions of the 18th cy. His thought was true to his life and experience, and hence, in continuous development. He was the first to replace analytical reason by historical reason, to recognize perpetual development.

8) Marx' revolt against the anarchy of individual capitalism in the social sphere, has the same significance as Goethe's dislike of the disintegrating influence of analytical thought in the personal sphere. But whereas Goethe's thought was integrated, Marx had a warring soul. "Marxism was a premature attempt at unitary thought, and therefore distorted."

9) Hegel was also a rebel against static analytical reason, and in reaction, 'systematized Heraclitus".

10) Freud may be considered to be the great discoverer of dissociated man, though as a scientific pioneer, who could not use any existing tradition, he was bound to use static dualistic principles. For Whyte, as an organism cannot be based on the existence of opposing principles, it must therefore always be based on a prior unity, conflict arising within that unity. Freud's theory provides a logic of human distortion but lacks a logic of development.

Chapter 10

Whyte writes: "There is a continuous gradation of forms of process expressed in a series of concepts of rising generality: sex, libido, Eros, and the formative tendency uniting the individual to his community.

What is needed is not a psychosomatic science which assumes the co-existence of psyche and soma, or mind and body, but a unitary method in which no basic dualism is admitted. The truth lies not in constructed synthesis, but in a single vision of what is single in nature."

Last Chapters

In the last chapters, Whyte says that were no integration occurs, every compensating ideal will necessarily generate its shadow complement. Thus, for example, Christian compassion calls for it shadow. He then develops a critique of idealism (seen as a sign of ignorance), because it neglects its complementary components, its shadow. It imagines permanent and universal human ends.

"But human behaviour is not directed towards unchanging ends, nor even toward those temporary ideals which each community sets up for itself. The rhythmic process of transformations does not tend to any final condition."

Unitary man can see himself whole, because he is ready to accept his personal life for what it is, a transient development through changes which cannot be foreseen.

In a critique of individualism, he says that "man cannot grow by his own efforts in isolation, he continues in his old path except in so far as he is part of a wider system which draws new responses from him: only the challenge of suffering can change him. Suffering is the strain of adaptation to a novel situation, calling for a new form of development.

The unitary man reverts magic: while the primitive discovered spirits like his own in nature, unitary man recognizes the general form of natural processes within him.