Ken Wilber 3/5

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Jun 5, 1996, 3:00:00 AM6/5/96

This is what I posted in response:

D. H. Frew's Response to Ken Wilber

In my essay, "_The Whole & The Parts_: Ken Wilber's Treatment of
Plotinus in _Sex, Ecology, Spirituality_", I argued that Wilber rearranged
altered quotes, and misrepresented the quotes' authors, to suit his
In his reply to my essay, he has demonstrated that he is willing to extend
same approach not only to the text of my essay, but to that of his own
book as
well. There are many examples of this in Wilber's reply (indeed it is
hard to find
a single paragraph that is without fault), but a few examples will suffice
to make
the necessary points.

Perhaps the single most damning example is in regards to Wilber's
presentation of Plotinus' last words... Wilber defends his use of texts,
that he:

... made it very clear that all quotes were from Inge, and thenceforth, I
careful citations: the page numbers given in Inge contain the exact
references to
the specific Plotinus material (usually the Enneads). All that is
required, of a
scholar who makes such choices, is that he carefully indicate what his
are. I did so, abundantly, clearly, unmistakably, fully. ...

This is not true. After saying in a footnote (page 631, note 13)
"All quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from Inge, The Philosophy of
Plotinus [original in italics], vols. 1 & 2, indicated as I and II",
Wilber went on to
present 10, presumably from Plotinus/Inge, in the next 13 pages with no
at all! Given that there is no index to Ennead citations in Inge, how is
a reader supposed to check any of these "quotes" without reading the
entirety of both
volumes of Inge's lectures? This is NOT indicating a source "abundantly,
clearly, unmistakably, fully" as Wilber claims. But this is not the worst
of it.

It was precisely such a lack of citation that led to a major
disagreement over Plotinus' last words. I took issue with Wilber's
of Plotinus' last words. On page 333 Wilber said that Plotinus' last
were "...I was waiting for you, before the Divine-in-us departs to the
Divine-in-All". Wilber then added the parenthetical comment "(he would
never say 'the
Divine-in-me')". In his reply, Wilber states that:

... I [Wilber] clearly give the citation for [this quote]. (The
interpretation is from both Karl Jaspers and Inge... and I give the
citation and
page number in one of the notes: again, scholars can check the original
decide for themselves).

This is not true. There is NO citation for this quote. NO
indication of
*any* connection with Jaspers. (If Wilber is now telling us that this is
somewhere in Jaspers, then he is contradicting his statement that "All
unless otherwise indicated, are from Inge...". Of how many other "quotes"
Wilber is this also true?)

Unable to find the quote in Inge, I turned to MacKenna to find
that he
had rendered the passage as "I have been a long time waiting for you; I am

striving to give back the Divine in myself to the Divine in the All."
What Plotinus
actually said is not the issue. The issue is where Wilber got the
authority to
claim that Plotinus "would never say 'the Divine-in-me'". Wilber ignores
and instead focuses on the issue of which translation is correct. But as
would have it, the footnote to another "quote" led by accident to the page
the page where Inge records Plotinus' last words. On page 121 of volume
Inge translates: "I was waiting for you, before that which is divine in me
to unite itself with the Divine in the universe." Once again, as I asked
in my
essay, where does Wilber get the idea that Plotinus "would never say 'the
Divine-in-me'" when that is exactly what Wilber's own source reports?

On the relative merits of Inge as a translator, I confined myself
to the
issue of omissions of text from the original, not differing translation.
Even so,
Wilber chooses to spend much of his reply explaining why he chose Inge
over MacKenna (dismissed as "a bank clerk and a journalist"), and drawing
Bertrand Russell's words of praise towards Inge in his _A History of
Western Philosophy_. James O'Meara, in another post to Alexandria,
Wilber's arguments, noting that "Stephen MacKenna was a bank clerk and a
journalist in the same sense that Wilber was a dishwasher. Neither has
training in philosophy or Greek history. MacKenna, however, did know
Greek. I fail to find any relevance in this. If Wilber is able to intuit
the meaning
of Plotinus without reading Greek, then MacKenna was able to translate
Plotinus with the same insight." O'Meara also addressed Wilber's reliance
Russell to defend Inge.

In his reply, Wilber is amazed that I objected upon discovering
a three-paragraph text that Wilber presented as "a passage [from Plotinus]
justly became world-famous" had in fact been constructed by him for his
The first paragraph is from Ennead II, Tractate 9: "Against the Gnostics",
Wilber suggests in setting the stage. But the following two paragraphs
are from
Ennead V, Tractate 1: "The Three Initial Hypostases", and have nothing to
with Plotinus' writings against Gnosticism! In fact, II/9 was the
Tractate written by Plotinus, while V/1 was the tenth, written years
earlier and
well before Plotinus' concern with the advances made by the Gnostics. In
reply, Wilber defends the fact that he "joined two of Plotinus's quotes
into one
section. The footnotes give the original Inge page numbers, and [anyone]
see that there are two different quoted page numbers. ... the footnotes
what's up."

This is not true. The footnote in question, "I.198,205", only
tells the
reader that the quote is to be found on two pages in Inge. Most readers
assume that a single passage from Plotinus is split up in Inge and
presented on
two different pages; not that two unrelated quotes have been spliced
Nor is there any way for the reader to tell where the splice occurred from
the text
as presented by Wilber.

Wilber spends a lot of time and energy defending his use of Inge's

translations of Plotinus. Readers may not be aware, and were not informed
Wilber, that there is no "Inge translation of the Enneads". Inge quotes
many times in the course of his lectures, but there is no collected
translated by Inge, nor is there an index of Plotinus citations in the
This makes it exceedingly difficult to check Wilber s quotes. (And should
made it exceedingly difficult for Wilber to find any particular quote from
I repeat what I said in my essay, and Wilber chooses not to address in
reply... Why didn t Wilber cite the Enneads in the standard form (Ennead,

Tractate, chapter), allowing anyone to simply and easily read the text for


I really don't care which translation of Plotinus anyone prefers,
Wilber is disingenuous in his defense of Inge. Wilber states in his reply
"where Inge's translations deviated from MacKenna, he had his own
reasons, and these sorts of deviations are explained at length in Inge's
notes, which scholars can easily consult and adjudicate for themselves."

This is not true. In the case of the three paragraph "quote" from

Plotinus, with which I dealt at some length both in my essay and above,
citation given by Wilber for Inge is "I.198,205" or volume I, pages 198
and 205.
One of the problems with this "quote" was the omission of sentences in the

original relating to the Gods and the sacred earth. In the reply given
Wilber leads us to expect an explanation in Inge. Turning to page 198,
footnote for the quote reads "2.9.16" or Ennead II, Tractate 9, chapter
That s it. No other explanation for the changes in the text. No
extensive notes.
Turning to page 205, we find the first of five footnotes relating to this
part of the
quote. While two of them discuss the relative merits of a single word in
translation, none mention MacKenna or his translation and none explain the

missing lines from Plotinus relating to the Gods and the sacred earth.

Where I saw a pattern of omission in accord with Inge's professed
Christian interpretation of Plotinus, Wilber saw "redundancy", saying

... [Frew] accuses Inge of intentionally leaving out sections of the
where Plotinus extols the sacredness of the earth; Inge does so, Frew
maintains, because Inge wants to give Plotinus a Christian twist and
somehow downplay this part of Plotinus. But Inge includes so many of
these passages
(one of which I quote at length), that it is just as likely that Inge
omitted them
due to redundancy. ...

I fail to see how the omission of the Gods from a text that
makes no reference to nature spirits, only to an abstract "Divine", can be

dismissed as cleaning up "redundancy". And if one was to clean up all of
kind of "redundancy" in Plotinus, there would not be very much text left.
regards Inge's Christian interpretation, it is interesting that one of
Inge's footnotes
to this quote used by Wilber suggests that Plotinus is alluding to the
Book of
Genesis in this passage.

Interestingly, Wilber's mis-use of Plotinus is mirrored in his
of my original essay. Wilber takes me to task for "condemn[ing] an entire
page presentation ... on the basis of reading all of 20 pages".

This is not true. I was up front in the title of my essay that I
only addressing Wilber's "treatment of Plotinus", not the whole book.
I clearly stated in the opening paragraph that "This is really more of a
pre-view rather than a book re-view, for the simple reason that I have not
more than 20 or so pages of this book. Why bother to read any further,
Because the unusual demands that Wilber places upon would-be readers call
an unusual response." In addition, I closed the essay by noting that "If
a book is
the sum of its parts, and Wilber's treatment of Plotinus is indicative of
reliability of the rest of his material, then _Sex, Ecology, Spirituality_
is probably
not worth the read. ... But I am the first to admit that a book can be
*more* than
the sum of its parts. ... _Sex, Ecology, Spirituality_ might be filled
brilliance..." This hardly seems like a blanket condemnation.

Throughout his reply, Wilber implies that my disagreements over
are trivial, saying that "he [Frew] does not dispute that I got the spirit
of Plotinus
right", and "Frew cannot fault me on the spirit of Plotinus", and "Frew
substantially questions" whether or not "the spirit of Plotinus is
conveyed vividly
and accurately by [Inge's] translations", and "Frew did not show one place
I presented the main thrust of Plotinus's ideas incorrectly."

This is seriously misleading. Wilber gives the impression that I
with his interpretation of Plotinus, when in fact I never addressed that
topic at
all! "Does not dispute" means exactly that; it is not the same as
I was limited to the length of an email posting and so confined myself to
of distortion of text, period. I deliberately did not get into questions
interpretation. I am well aware that scholars can interpret texts
differently and
had no desire to get into such a debate when the simple, direct issue was
of accurate representation of texts. Wilber takes the absence in my essay
of arguments against his interpretation of Plotinus as evidence that I do
disagree with him, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

As a matter of fact, I have serious disagreements with Wilber's
portrayal of Plotinus' thought. I am a practicing Neopagan (Gardnerian
and look to Plotinus as one of the great teachers in the lineage that
leads at
least figuratively, if not in fact literally, to my own practice. Plotinus
is a
cornerstone of my own religion's theology, and so I do take exception when
work is misrepresented.

In his reply, Wilber claims that my own agenda in writing my essay

is exposed by my "implicit defense of sorcery and magic".

This is not true. I never discussed sorcery or magic in my essay,

except that in regards to one of the "quotes" I referred in passing to "an

Alexandrian sorcerer who was an enemy of Plotinus and worked magic against

him". The ONLY mention of sorcery or magic in my essay was in a negative

context. This hardly constitutes a "defense of sorcery and magic",
implicit or
otherwise. Perhaps Wilber is aware that I am a Neopagan and makes
assumptions based on what he believes he knows about Neopaganism, but the
fact remains that this was not a part of my essay.

Towards the end of his reply, Wilber notes that "Word has it that
[Frew's] attempting to do the same ... with my treatment of Emerson."

This is not quite true. My friend and colleague, Gus diZerega,
alarmed by Wilber's mis-use of Emerson, and HE has prepared a critique
I will post as a separate essay.

I believe that Wilber's work, as exemplified by his treatment of
Plotinus, his treatment of Emerson (as we shall see), and his treatment of
speaks for itself. Keith Thompson of the San Francisco Chronicle has come

to similar conclusions with regard to Wilber's treatment of Huston Smith,
Stanislav Grof, and Richard Tarnas. (His misrepresentations of all but
cannot be dismissed by resorting to differing translations.) I look
forward to
further dialogue and discussion and beg Alexandria's indulgence for what I
has not been a waste of bandwidth.

D. H. Frew

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