- The state of being whole, undivided, perfect in composition; unity, wholeness, completeness.
- The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
Integrity is the grand unifying concept of all knowledge and philosophy. It is the way, the means, and the end all in one. It is the ultimate value that subsumes all other values and explains why they are valuable. It is what defines a self or any entity that exists. Its absence literally entails disintegration, corruption, and confusion. Integrity is the root of all that is good and true. It is an end in itself.
There has been much philosophical, psychological, and ethical discussion about the meaning of integrity. The word carries many rich and diverse overtones but there is one idea that underlies them all, unity. The concept that unifies all philosophy and knowledge is itself that which it describes, unity. It is self-coherent and self-reflective. It is the most stable of all conceptions. It is fundamental to the very concept of being itself.
I have been fascinated with the concept of unity and self-reflective self-coherence for many years. This article welcomes the New Year 2013 as the Year of Love and Unity and gives a brief overview of the lines of research I will be pursuing. There is no limit to what could be written on this theme. This article is an outline of my basic insights and intuitions that move me to think that integrity is the key that opens every door. It unifies everything from the most fundamental meaning of existence itself (Ontology) to the highest value any sentient being can know (Love) which is itself the ultimate unity, the mystical vision that All is One.
Ontology: The Integrity of Being
Ontology is the branch of metaphysics that deals with the nature of being, what it means for a thing to be, to exist. There are two kinds of entities – elementary and compound. An elementary (or fundamental) entity is not made up of parts. Most, if not all fundamental entities are theoretical constructs; all “things” we actually encounter in this world via our senses are compound entities. A fundamental object with no parts is a simple unity, like a zero dimensional point or elementary particles like electrons and quarks (though the latter may be found to be composite like other particles that were once thought to be elementary like protons and neutrons). The relation between the parts and the whole raises a lot of questions. Aristotle wrote about degrees of integrity, thinking for example that a rigid body had more integrity than a jointed one. The concept of integrity carries the connotation of a harmonious integrated relation between the parts that constitute a thing. A thing has, by definition, ontological integrity which is really a redundancy because without integrity a thing does not exist as such.
Logic: The Integrity of Thought
Logic and ontology are closely related. The three classical Laws of Logic are formal expressions of the integrity implied by the idea of existence, what it means for a thing to be what it is:
- The Law of Identity: It is always true that A is A.
- The Law of Non-Contradiction: It is never true that A is not A.
- The Law of Excluded Middle: It is always true that a thing is either A or not A.
MRI of the anterior cingulate
cortex which signals conflict.
All philosophy, science, and rational discourse are based on these three laws of logic which in turn are based on the idea of integrity. This logic is built into our brains – it has a neurological basis. Conflicting thoughts, beliefs, or desires evoke a painful state of mind called cognitive dissonance which is to the mind as physical pain is to the body. There is a compelling evolutionary explanation for this function. Without it, our minds would quickly fall into delusion and disintegrate like the bodies of children born with congenital insensitivity to pain who repeatedly injure themselves. The biological basis of cognitive dissonance is found in the anterior cingulate cortex which is involved in error control, conflict management, and motivation. There is evidence “suggesting that the more it signals conflict, the more dissonance a person experiences and the more their attitudes may change.” Cognitive dissonance is a critical evolutionary adaptation that makes us what we are; Homo Sapiens, that is, the rational species of the great ape genus Homo. The healthy response to cognitive dissonance is to change our beliefs and behavior to better accord with reality. Unfortunately, not all responses are healthy. Perhaps the most notorious example of what happens when you break the relation between integrity and logic is seen in the Monica Lewinski case when President Clinton questioned the meaning of “is” to hide his broken integrity. I documented the disintegrating effect of habitual suppression of cognitive dissonance in my article The Art of Rationalization: A Case Study of Christian Apologist Rich Deem.
Epistemology: The Integrity of Knowledge
Epistemology explores the question “How do we know anything?”. Like all branches of philosophy, it has a long history with a thousand rabbit trails one could follow. But for this overview, I focus on the essential answer: our confidence in any conclusion is based directly on how many independent lines of evidence support it. It is the unity of multiplied independent and diverse witnesses that convince. For example, by sight I may think there is a pool of water in the desert, but when I try to touch it I realize it was a mirage. There was a lack of consilience between my different senses. When all my senses cohere, I have confidence that the thing sensed is real and this confidence is greatly amplified if I find my observations cohere with those of others. This is very practical, ancient wisdom. It governs our courts of law, our daily lives, and is oft repeated in biblical verses such as “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall ever word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). Epistemology, ontology, and logic are fundamentally based on the concept of integrity which is why they are mutually interdependent, as explained by Hugh G. Gauch, Jr. his book Scientific Method in Practice (quote available online):
In ordinary discourse, ontology, epistemology, and logic are reasonably distinct and recognizable topics within philosophy. But at the point where discourse begins, those topics fuse together. The reason is that epistemology presumes ontology, because what we know depends on what exists. But also ontology presumes epistemology, because what we can become aware of depends on our sensory and cognitive faculties. And logic is operating in any rational discourse.
Careful distinctions are required for discourse, but all reality is ultimately one. It is this integral nature of reality that guides science, as we shall presently see.
Consilience: The Integrity of Science
Scientific theories are designed to give a comprehensive explanation of a body of facts in terms of a few elementary principles. Successful theories reveal the underlying unity of apparently diverse phenomena. A Theory of Everything, often called the Holy Grail of physics, would give a fully unified explanation of all physical phenomena within a single theoretical framework based on a small set of axioms. Newton made the first great step in this direction with his three laws of motion. James Clerk Maxwell unified Optics with Electromagnetism. Einstein unified Mechanics with Electromagnetism in his theory of relativity and simultaneously exposed the fundamental unity of space and time. The historical trajectory of science is clear – it is continuously approaching a full integration and unification of all knowledge. I expand on this theme in my article The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality where also I show that the very essence of science, objectivity, is based on the concept of invariance which reveals the unity that defines the thing that really is. E. O. Wilson explored what this ultimate unity of all knowledge – from astronomy to zoology – might look like in his excellent book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.
Morality: The Integrity of Action
Reflections of Being by Peter Ralston (pg. 67)
There is good reason the word “integrity” means both “wholeness” and “moral soundness.” Morality flows from the native integrity of the self. Integrity is the ontology of morality. Nietzsche caught a glimpse of this in his chapter called The Despisers of the Body in Thus Spake Zarathustra:
Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage – whose name is Self. In your body he dwells; he is your body. There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom.
We live in an age of great moral confusion as we transition from theism to atheism. Two thousand years of Christian theism has twisted our innate moral sense away from its natural foundation in our own selves and replaced it with arbitrary rules dictated by an inscrutable god. Atheists react by denying there are any objective moral values at all, not knowing there is a third way. Both the theist and the atheist are wrong. This error is so deeply engrained that some Christian apologists, most notably William Lane Craig, are confident that merely asserting there would be no morals without God to “ground” them is sufficient to prove that God exists. There is a great irony here. He exposes the fundamental logical incoherence of his argument in his article Keeping Moral Epistemology and Moral Ontology Distinct. He simultaneously insists that “keeping the distinction between moral epistemology and moral ontology clear is the most important task in formulating and defending a moral argument for God’s existence of the of the type I defend” even as he admits that “we do not need to know or even believe that God exists in order to discern objective moral values.” Simply stated, Craig destroys the natural unity of being and knowing which we explored above. Just as Bill Clinton had to obfuscate the meaning of “is” to hide his damaged integrity, so Bill Craig must attack the inextricable unity of ontology and epistemology to foist his proof of God upon his philosophically unsophisticated audience. His error is as obvious as it is egregious. Objective moral values are real and are based on the objective ontology of what we are – the integrity that defines us as a self and as an integral member of society. The moral value of any action depends upon the nature of that action and how it affects others. We know if something is moral because of what it is and how it affects the unity of self and others. Ontology and epistemology, though separable in principle for careful philosophical discourse, are inseparable in practice. I explain this in more detail in my article The Golden Rule and the Foundation of Objective Morality.
Love: The Integrity of Consciousness
~ The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm (1956)
The essential nature of love is unity. Self love and love for others are one love. Love is the root and reason of morality. It explains all things. It is the only reason to live and the only answer to the question “to be or not to be.” It flows naturally from our ontology as conscious beings – indeed, love is the consciousness of unity of self and others, as explained in my article The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality where I develop an objective scientific theory of morality. Philosophers and theologians have long perceived a close relation between the highest value, oft referred to as the Good, and the concept of Being in and of itself. Evil is often defined as a privation of good, a loss of being. Anything that threatens the integrity of a self, such as disease, age, or violence, is seen as a kind of evil. In Biblical terms, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10). Love is the highest value, and integrity is the sure guide that will lead every person home. Trust your heart. Be very sensitive to cognitive dissonance. Avoid rationalizations. Seek the truth that springs from the integrity of your own body.
Let 2013 be the Year of Love and Unity. Pursue it with all the integrity of your heart and mind.
Love is an end in itself.