The "Pre/Post Fallacy"

I've been reading Ken Wilber's upcoming book, Integral Spirituality (which is gradually being posted online for members of the Integral Spritituality Center), and in the second chapter he makes a very interesting point that, I think, makes sense of a lot of the conflict within the Church.

Wilber notes that human development in various areas (cognitive, moral, psychosexual, etc.) tends to go through three stages: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional.

So in moral development, for example, a baby who has yet to be socialised into the commonly accepted norms of his or her culture is at a preconventional stage. Once they have been socialised, they are at the conventional stage. And at some point they may reach a point where they can reflect critically on those norms, meaning they are at the postconventional stage. This will be familiar to anyone who has studied the theories of moral development of Lawrence Kohlberg or Carol Gilligan, but it applies equally to other areas as well.

Now, if I'm at a preconventional stage, my moral reasoning will be centred on "me," and I might reject cultural norms for no reason other than, "I don't feel like it," or "nobody tells me what to do."

If I'm at the conventional stage, I will accept the norms of the culture.

If I'm a the postconventional stage, I might find fault with some of the cultural norms, and might have legitimate reasons for rejecting them.

So the rejection of cultural norms, when it happens, comes from people at the lowest and highest stages of development. But those in the middle -- those who do not reject the norms -- often conflate the two groups as though there were part of one undifferentiated mass.

So, to use an example from recent Church history, there are people who might very well reject the official teaching on contraception for purely hedonistic reasons. On the other hand, there are others who have carefully studied the issue, and found that the teachings are based on faulty reasoning. But to many of the staunch defenders of Humanae Vitae, these postconventional criticisms are coming from the same place as the preconventional rejections, and can therefore be dismissed for the same reasons.

And this is an example of what Wilber calls the "Pre/Post Fallacy."

Of course, those who have only developed to the conventional stage will not accept this, because they don't recognise any stages beyond their own. Those who dare to criticise the official teachings are inevitably thought to inhabit a lower stage, never a higher one. Which is probably why so many conventional thinkers seem to think that most dissenters would change their minds if the official teachings were taught with greater forthrightness and clarity. In other words, if people dissent, it is because they have not yet been adequately socialised.


Anonymous Josh said...

Thanks for a very succinct and clear representation of the pre/post fallacy. Super helpful as I was trying to gather a lot of information about it this week.

2:40 a.m.  

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