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



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

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

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!).

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.

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 rythm of tension and release, instead of this chasing the illusory permanent exstacy of the Absolute, either through idealism or through frenetic desire.

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.