TSElosopher’s meeting 16.10.2017. Joonas Uotinen, Kari Lukka, Eriikka Paavilainen-Mäntymäki, Katja Einola, Otto Rosendahl, Milla Wirén, Eero Karhu

Integral Perspective on Happiness, Joonas Uotinen, 2015

Editor’s note:

As one of the themes in TSElosophers is to provide an agora for contemplating one’s own work with people interested in philosophical issues, this autumn we have been reading material written by TSElosophers. Subsequently what has emerged is the insight that in discussing one’s work, it is difficult to only keep to what has been written, as the thinking evolves and develops continuously. This was pronounced in our previous session where the discussions were only tangentially attached to the reading material. The following blog by the author illustrates the discursive width of our meeting nicely.

Blog by Joonas:

TSElosophers meeting was about advances in consciousness studies, happiness, and their possible implications on social sciences, economics in particular. Possibly an interesting go as it included discussions on the latest hot topics in the West, of consciousness, happiness and buddhism.

As a context to my essay (Uotinen, 2015) on the possible implications of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory (Wilber, 2000 and Wilber, 2009, f. ex.) to happiness, I presented a short introduction on consciousness studies. At the heart of the consciousness research is the existence of consciousness itself(1).

Here I referred to Chalmers (1995) where he, interestingly, claimed that the tools of our contemporary science can not solve the “hard problem” whatsoever. The hard problem is the emergence of consciousness itself. He, then, proposed that the consciousness appearing non-reducible, it should be taken as new fundamental phenomenon on par with mass, electromagnetic charge and space-time, for example. He proposed that we should turn towards such psychophysical theories in science.

Ken Wilber’s Integral theory appears to be just such a psychophysical theory that, while not using the same concepts as Chalmers does, takes experience as a non-reducible and maps the relationships and dynamics between the material and the experience.

Wilber tried to integrate the knowledge of all humanity to obtain an integral view; something more completely true, literally.

Some elements of his theory in very short:

  • Experience can not be reduced to objective materia but is undetachable from it.
  • Experience together with the rest of the universe lead onto a developmental trajectory for the both of them (experience evolves and being part of the universe so does universe). For example, he refers to western developmental psychologists’ experiments where they found that a child’s ability to understand that others have a different experience about the world, appears around the ages 3-4. This would hardly happen if no other being or materia was there (in which case it is likely the child would not be either). This only shows the necessity of the rest of the universe to be there for the existence of mind or its evolution and thus they seem inseparable. This echoes the contemporary extended mind theories; also in part by Chalmers (Clark & Chalmers, 1998).
  • The developmental trajectory spans from elemental physical particles to the mentioned developmental step of the mind all the way to enlightenment of the mind, that is the transcendence of dualistic thinking into a non-dualistic thinking.
  • The developmental trajectory takes the form of a holarchy: each consequent “step” contains the preceding one but is something more. Each preceding thing is a holon of the consequent thing(2). For example, to begin to form social roles, a child first needs to understand the aforementioned differing experience of the others.

My article “Integral Perspective on Happiness” (Uotinen, 2015) examined the implications of Wilber’s Integral theory to happiness. While mostly being a conceptual analysis between the theory and the happiness discussions, the article also cautiously touched on whether the implications seem to have any truth in them. Without further details presented here, the following topics were covered:

  1. happiness, culture and ethics of ecological sustainability,
  2. Examination of enlightenment as THE happiness basing on Integral theory, Aristotle, Buddhist texts, Western studies of buddhist thought, and other philosophical classics on happiness,
  3. How Integral theory possibly gives further content to and expands Aristotle’s happiness theory through adding developmental psychology and different wisdom traditions, such as buddhism, to it,
  4. Juxtaposition of Aristotle’s happiness conception (eudaimonia) and enlightenment and
  5. The implications of Wilber’s Integral theory on social sciences, economics, in particular.

The discussion

The topics elicited varied, eager and interesting discussions. The following comments were expressed or topics touched:

  1. Why would not science be able to explain the emergence of consciousness one day?
  2. It was suggested that the existence of experience as additional to materia and development of the mind reflects discussion on free will.
  3. How such ideas on happiness as enlightenment, eudaimonia, or just the word happiness reify the idea of some yet unattained goal thus making the distance to that goal more visible. This causes misery in itself.
  4. The problem and danger of paternalism and cultural colonialism in Wilber’s ideas and in ideas of developmental steps of the human in general,
  5. Being about something ethereal, spiritual, mental, happiness should not be discussed amongst sciences or academia whatsoever.
  6. Another view was presented as well: that material well-being and mental well-being should not be seen as separate in the first place.
  7. Perhaps we should not focus on happiness but on how to coexist together on this planet.
  8. That all disciplines, economics in particular, should be aware of that which it does not take into account or that which it does not care about, specifically with regards to happiness and well-being.
  9. Harari in his book “Sapiens: A brief history of humankind” suggests that the ability of Homo Sapiens to believe in imaginary narratives enables collectively aligned action. The ability for narratives gives rise to shared values such as morals and happiness ideals.
  10. Unlike in Ancient Greece and the middle ages where moral development and happiness were seen as more inseparable, today there is often the view that morality opposes one’s true, “natural” desires and wants, one’s happiness. Often, the morality of the middle ages is seen as imposed by the church in order to control the masses.
  11. People have beliefs about others’ aims in life or happiness conceptions and about the beliefs that others’ have about others. But are these beliefs true? For example, it may be believed that people involved in business only want money and sometimes these assumptions can be even made within academia and yet when these people are actually asked, very different answers appear.
  12. From thinking what are theories for, the idea came that they are to bring momentary senses of control which lead to experience of harmony. Happiness is experience of harmony.

The topics are too vast for blog. I shall, however, try to make few post-discussion comments on the topics discussed. Points 3 to 9 all seem to relate to something that today seems to often surface when happiness is discussed: skepticism about the concept itself. This seems to stem from two different directions: (1) there is skepticism as to whether happiness can be solved (and therefore discussed), and (2) the fear that if such a concept was formed, it will start to oppress other views and thus other people’s ways of life and, possibly even constrain individual liberties. The (2) seems related to cultural relativist views which I partly discuss in chapter 7 of my article.

Happiness discussions, then, seem to closely align with the discussions on truth. While all people do have differing views on the reality, it seems a fully relativist approach leaves us stranded with regards to how to lead our lives as individuals and as a society. In it, we have but a panoply of possible ways of understanding the world, the self and different life paths and we have to choose from them without criteria that would make some of them better than the others. This appears to relate to Schwartz (2000) discovery on how increased freedoms (opportunities) of the Americans over the 20th century seems to have made them worse off at least in terms of some mental disorders. It appears we need something more and it appears there is something more to this.

Good works on and possibilities towards this direction, to my understanding, are Buddhist thought (not the religious versions but the self-exploration versions), the famous Finnish academician Erik Allardt’s work (f. Ex. Allardt, 1993) and the late discussions on it in, for example, Hirvilammi (2015), the novel empirical research on virtues globally by Martin Seligman (f. Ex. Seligman, 2004) and the possibility of forming a Gross National Happiness Index for Finland in lines with Bhutan (Ura et al., 2012).

With regards to the hard problem and its significance to happiness discussions, it appears to me now, that as long as we see consciousness and experience as truly existing phenomena, regardless of it being reducible or not, the question actually may not be of significant importance to happiness discussions.

There was also valuable criticism on the article. The truthfulness of the content of Wilber’s theory was not discussed(3), there were some deduction errors or conceptual and referential unclarity(4), and the story in the paper was unclear and the conclusions unbalanced in terms of how much discussion was given to each of the conclusions.

I think some of the most interesting avenues that Integral theory seems to highlight in Happiness discussions is the connection between the developmental levels or trajectories discussed by many Western developmental psychologists and Eastern wisdom traditions. I have not encountered such a view amongst the new happiness discussions within Academia.

Joonas Uotinen


Allardt, E. (1993). Having, loving, being: An alternative to the Swedish model of welfare research. In Nussbaum, M. and Sen, A. (1993). The quality of life, 8, 88-95.

Chalmers, D. J. (1995). Facing up to the problem of consciousness. Journal of consciousness studies, 2(3), 200-219.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. analysis, 58(1), 7-19.

Harari, Y. N., & Perkins, D. (2014). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. London: Harvill Secker.

Hausman, D. M. (2011). Preference, value, choice, and welfare. Cambridge University Press.

Hirvilammi T. (2015). In search of sustainable wellbeing. Integrating ecological issues into wellbeing research. Helsinki: Kela, Studies in social security and health 136, 2015. ISBN 978-951-669-971-7 (pdf)

Hämäläinen, R. P., & Saarinen, E. (2008). Systems Intelligence–A New Lens on Human Engagement and Action. SAL, Helsinki Univ. of Technology.

Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat?. The philosophical review, 83(4), 435-450.

Schwartz, B. (2000). Self-determination: The tyranny of freedom. American psychologist, 55(1), 79.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.

Ura, Karma; Alkire, Sabina; Zangmo, Tshoki; Wangdi, Karma (2012). An Extensive Analysis of GNH Index (PDF). Thimphu, Bhutan: The Centre for Bhutan Studies.

Wilber, K. (2000). Integral psychology. Shambhala Publications.

Wilber, Ken, (2009). Kaiken lyhyt historia (Helsinki, Basam Books)


  1. Chalmers (1995) pointed out that many consciousness articles actually miss the whole target of explaining the emergence of consciousness, though this was the task they set out to accomplish, and, unaware, instead of touching the actual problem, end up explaining how some function within consciousness or experience works, a function such as integration of knowledge, for example.
  2. Over the developmental trajectory, the ways of thinking change and move towards greater wisdom and a better match between the universe and one’s conceptualizations of it. Over this process a holistic way of thinking for example appears. Holistic thinking, thinking in terms of wholes within wholes is something that is researched for example in the Systems Intelligence Research group in Aalto University (Hämäläinen & Saarinen, 2008). It is part of systemic thinking.
  3. While it is true the truthfulness of Wilber’s theory was not directly discussed and the work was mostly conceptual analysis, I did touch cautiously upon the possible truthfulness of its implications for example in chapter 6, pages 102-103.
  4. For example on page 99, paragraph on the right, lines 4-9, from what Kraut (2008) says does not follow that the case truly is so. In this particular example, I believe I should have talked about our understanding of Aristotle’s theory and not Aristotle’s theory per se.