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Lines of Development


Different Areas of Human Development

Researchers who study human development have proposed different models of development. We can understand these different models as each mapping a different area or “line” of human development. For example: 

  • Jean Piaget mapped stages of development in the cognitive line of development.

  • Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan mapped stages of development in the moral line. 

  • Robert Kegan mapped stages of development in the ego or self line. 

  • Erik Erickson mapped stages of development in the psychosocial line.

  • James Fowler mapped stages of development in the faith line. 

  • Clare Graves mapped stages of development in the values line. 

  • Abraham Maslow mapped stages of development in the needs line. 

In the last section (Stages of Development) we learned about Clare Graves’ stages of development in the values line. These are the color-named stages outlined in Spiral Dynamics. In this section we will consider additional lines of human development.

The Cognitive Line of Development

Cognitive development is the development of our ability to think, to perceive, and to understand things. One of the most well-known researchers of cognitive development is Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist. Piaget identified four stages of cognitive development. Subsequent research has shown that while the content and sequence of Piaget’s stages is accurate, his estimates of the ages at which they emerge is not. There is evidence that we develop these cognitive abilities earlier than Piaget originally thought.

1.   Birth – Age 2: The Sensorimotor Stage

In this stage infants learn about their bodies and their environment through the use of their senses (seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and tasting) and through physical movement. Their acquisition of knowledge is limited to their sensory perceptions and physical (motor) activities.


2.   Ages 2 – 7: The Pre-Operational (or Pre-Logical) Stage

In this stage children develop language. They begin to be able to think symbolically (a word can represent a thing or a feeling, a wooden block can represent a telephone or a car in play.) Children’s thinking during this stage is egocentric. In this context egocentric does not mean selfish. It means that at this stage children believe that everyone thinks and feels the same things they do, and sees things from the same point of view that they do. To illustrate, a child in this stage was asked if his throat hurt. He replied, “Yes, can’t you feel it?”


Children in this stage cannot yet think logically (perform mental "operations"), and are not yet able to take the point of view of another person. 

3.   Ages 7 – 11: The Concrete-Operational Stage

Children in this stage develop the ability to think logically (to perform mental “operations”) about concrete objects and events – things they have actually seen, touched, or experienced. But they still have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical concepts. Children at this stage also develop the ability to move beyond egocentric thinking – to understand that another person can have a point of view that is different from theirs.

4.   Ages 11+: The Formal Operations Stage

In this stage older children and adolescents develop the cognitive ability to think about (to perform mental “operations” on) abstract concepts, and to formulate and test hypotheses. In other words, people in this stage can think about their own thinking. This results in cognitive abilities such as:

  • abstract thinking (required for complex mathematical operations);

  • hypothetical thinking;

  • deductive reasoning;

  • systematical thinking; and

  • metaphorical thinking.

5.   Vision Logic (Post-Formal Cognition)

Piaget’s stages of cognitive development end at formal operations. Some researchers have identified a stage beyond formal operations. It has been called:

  • Dialectical cognition, which means the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most reasonable reconciliation of paradoxical or seemingly contradictory information. 

  • Meta-systemic thinking, which means the ability to understand networks of ideas and how they interact with each other, and to organize them into “systems of systems.” This kind of network logic is able to envision multiple relationships among individual concepts simultaneously.

  • Post-rational cognition, which means the ability to understand that rational thought itself is a paradigm, and just one paradigm, for understanding the world.

  • Integral theory calls this level of “post-formal" cognitive development vision-logic.

The Faith Line of Development

The most well-known stage conception of spiritual or religious development is in James Fowler’s Stages of Faith. Fowler’s stages of faith development are built on Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. Fowler identified six stages of faith development. 

Stage 1: Intuitive – Projective Faith

This stage is seen in children approximately three to seven years of age. In this stage children imitate and are powerfully and permanently affected by their relationships with adults who are significant to them. And they are deeply influenced by the visible faith of the primary adults in their lives. 

This stage is also a time of imagination unrestrained by logical thinking. The lines between fantasy and reality are blurred. At this stage children understand religious stories, symbols, and myths literally and magically. They understand Bible stories the same way they understand fairy tales. God is understood to be a magical, all-powerful being who can see everyone (much like Santa Clause can) and who can do anything. Religious experiences and images that occur before the age of six become deeply embedded in the child’s psyche and can have deep, powerful, and long-lasting effects (both positive and negative) on their subsequent faith development.

The main factor that leads to the transition to the next stage is the emergence of the ability for concrete operational thinking.

Stage 2: Mythic – Literal Faith

In this stage children begin to take on the stories, beliefs, language, and observances of their religious community. Religious beliefs, symbols, stories, and myths are still understood literally. God is understood to be an anthropomorphic being in the sky, and heaven and hell are understood to be actual places. Stories are the primary way that children of this age construct meaning and understand reality, but they are not yet able to step back from and reflect upon these stories to grasp their conceptual or symbolic meanings. The meaning is both carried and "trapped" in the story. Symbols and myths are taken at face value.

Children in this stage are beginning to think logically. They compose a world based on fairness and justice through reciprocity. ("If I follow the rules, God will give me a good life." "If I pray, God will grant my wish." ) There is a danger that this reliance on reciprocity can result either in an over-controlling perfectionism (or "works righteousness"), or in an opposite sense of internalized “badness” as a result of the mistreatment, neglect, or disapproval of significant others. In other words, if the world is fair and reciprocal, and people who are significant to me treat me badly, then it must be because I somehow deserve it – I must somehow be innately “bad.”

Two things can lead to the transition into the next stage of faith development. The first is encountering contradictions in stories that lead children to reflect on the meaning of the story. The second is the emergence of formal operational thinking which makes this kind of reflection possible. With the emergency of formal operational thinking literalism breaks down, and conflicts between authoritative stories (i.e., the Genesis story of creation vs. evolutionary theory; stories of God’s love vs. stories of God’s vengeance and violence) must be faced. 

In this stage children are able to understand that others think differently than they do and may have a different point of view. The emergence of this ability for mutual interpersonal perspective taking can lead to a more personal relationship with God.

Stage 3: Synthetic – Conventional Faith

In stage three our experience of the world extends beyond our family to school or work, peers, and society. Our faith can provide stability in the midst of this complexity. It does this by synthesizing the values and beliefs of the group we belong to and providing a basis for our identity and our worldview. The emergence of formal operational thinking (the ability to think abstractly) allows for the use of abstract ideas and concepts to make sense of our world. This stage is called synthetic because it's a pulling together or synthesizing of our values and our sense of self. 


In this stage we are concerned with forming an identity and are heavily influenced by the expectations and judgments of the significant people in our lives. As a result this is a conformist stage. In this stage we do not yet have a strong enough sense of our own identity to construct and maintain our own independent perspective. One danger of this stage is that we can so deeply internalize (and even sacralize) the expectations and evaluations of others whom we accept as authority figures that later autonomous judgement and action can be difficult for us to achieve. 


In this stage our images of God are derived from qualities experienced in personal relationships. Ultimate Reality is understood in interpersonal terms. We experience God as a Parent, Friend, or Companion. This stage is seen in the religious hunger of adolescents to have a God who knows and values them, who can be a guarantor of their identity and worth in a world where they are struggling to find out who they are and who they can be.
Our beliefs and values may be deeply felt in this stage, but we have not stepped outside of them to reflect on or examine them explicitly. We have an ideology – a set of values and beliefs – but we have not yet objectified this ideology for critical examination. We locate authority in people in traditional authority roles (if we perceive them as personally worthy), or in the consensus of a valued group. This stage typically emerges in adolescence, but many adults remain in this stage for their entire lives. There are many adults who hold essentially the same faith today that they held as adolescents. 

Conditions that can lead to the emergence of the next stage include clashes or contradictions between valued authorities, changes by officially sanctioned leaders that we find unacceptable, or encounters with experiences or perspectives that lead to true critical examination of our beliefs.

Stage 4: Individuative – Reflective Faith

Stage four, for those who develop it, is a time when we are pushed out of, or step out of, the circle of interpersonal relationships that have sustained our lives up to this point. We take on the task of reflecting upon ourselves apart from the groups and the shared worldview that have defined our lives. People who move into this stage begin a radical shift from dependence on others’ spiritual beliefs and authority to the development of our own. Fowler says,


"For a genuine move to stage 4 to occur there must be an interruption of reliance on external sources of authority . . . There must be . . . a relocation of authority within the self." (Stages of Faith, p. 179.)


In this stage we are no longer defined by the groups we belong to. We are concerned with personal boundaries and authenticity, and seek ideologies and groups that fit our independently chosen beliefs and commitments. Rather than trying to “fit in,” we seek out people and environments that “fit us.”

Fowler sometimes quotes Santayana who said that we don't know who discovered water but we know it wasn't a fish. In stage three we are like a fish sustained by water. To enter stage four means to spring out of the water and begin to reflect upon it. 

The transition to stage four can begin as early as 17, but some people never make the transition. Transitioning to this stage later in life can be traumatic, because by then we have built adult lives, relationships, and commitments that may have to be reworked, sometimes in major ways, as a result of our changing beliefs.

Stage 5: Conjunctive Faith

In stage five the boundaries and self-definitions we worked so hard to construct in stage four become porous and permeable. In this stage we still rely on our own views, but we become more open to other people’s points of view. We can appreciate the symbols, myths and rituals of both our own and other traditions because we have grasped the common depth of reality to which they all refer. We realize that truth has revealed itself in other traditions in ways that can both complement and/or correct our own, and that there are many different valid names and metaphors for Spirit. In other words, in stage five we can see that Christianity and Buddhism can both be “true.” And we can see that the transcendent meanings in both our own and others’ systems are always relative and partial. Yet while accepting the relativity of our own view, we can also make and act on commitments to it.

Going beyond mere tolerance, in stage five we are willing to be vulnerable to people and groups who are different from us, including those who may threaten our views and our self-definitions. We become open to new depths of spiritual experience and revelation from other sources. The quality of our mutual sharing in stage five is such that both parties make themselves “vulnerable to conversion to the other’s truth.” (Stages of Faith, pg. 186.)


In stage five we are able to embrace paradox and see the truth in apparent contradictions. We can recognize the equal validity in conflicting truth claims. We understand that truth has many dimensions and we are able to hold these together in paradoxical tension. We seek to unify opposites, in theory as well as in our experience. We are ready for and open to a relationship with Spirit that includes both Spirit’s mystery and unknowability as well as its closeness and clarity. 

In stage five we are also open to exploring and recognizing the unseen influence of our personal unconscious. We realize that our conscious self is not all there is to us – that our beliefs and behaviors are sometimes shaped by dimensions of ourselves that we are not fully aware of.  We also recognize the existence of the collective social unconscious – the myths, ideal images, and prejudices that are built deeply into our self-system by virtue of our embeddedness within a particular social class, religious tradition, and ethnic group.

In this stage we live and act between a transforming vision and an untransformed world. In a few cases this dissonance leads to the radical actualization that Fowler found in stage six.

Stage 6: Universalizing Faith

Fowler found that movement into the sixth and last stage (so far) of faith development is rare. In this stage we adopt and actualize universal values, such as unconditional love and justice. Fowler says that in this stage people radically live as though what Christians and Jews call the "kingdom of God" were already a fact. (Although this stage is definitely not limited to Christians and Jews.) Fowler calls people in stage six “incarnators” and “actualizers” of Spirit.

In stage six we experience a shift from our “self” as the center of experience. There is a de-centering from the sense of “self” that developed in us throughout all of the previous stages. In stage six we have, in a sense, transcended our individual self. Our center becomes our direct participation in God or Ultimate Reality. We live with felt participation in a force that unifies and transforms the world. And yet in the process we become vibrant and powerful individuals as well. 

Our “self” at stage six engages in spending and being spent for the transformation of the present reality into a transcendent actuality. There is a pouring out of oneself for others’ sake, and self-preservation becomes irrelevant. Regardless of threats to self, to our primary groups, and to the institutional arrangements of the present order, in stage six we become “disciplined, activist incarnations,” making real and tangible the imperatives of absolute love and justice.” (Stages of Faith, pg. 200.) 

People in stage six are intensely liberating people, and sometimes subversive in their liberating qualities. Many people in this stage die at the hands of those whom they hope to change. They are often more honored and revered after their death than during their lives. Examples Fowler gives of individuals who reached this stage include:

  • Mother Teresa of Calcutta

  • Mahatma Gandhi

  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Thomas Merton

  • Dag Hammerskjold

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist and professor at Harvard, has this to say about individuals at stage six:    

. . . you have to think about what it means to actually be more complex than what your culture is currently demanding . . . it's usually a very risky state to be in. I mean, we loved Jesus, Socrates, and Gandhi – after we murdered them. While they were alive, they were a tremendous pain in the ass. Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr. – these people died relatively young. You don't often live a long life being too far out ahead of your culture.  (See 

In stage six we are at home with what Fowler calls a “commonwealth of being.” Our community is universal. Particularities are cherished because they are vessels of the universal, and thereby valuable apart from any utilitarian considerations. Life is both loved and held to loosely. In stage six we are ready for full fellowship with persons at any of the other stages and from any other faith tradition.

We can see in the unfolding of Fowler’s stage a progression to increasingly wider perspectives. Fowler writes: “From the non-differentiation of self and objects in the earliest phases of infancy to the naive egocentrism of the Intuitive-Projective stage, each successive stage marks a steady widening in social perspective taking.” (Faithful Change, pg. 66.)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who proposed that human behavior is motivated by certain needs, and that these needs emerge in a sequential order. When the needs of one level are met, then the needs of the next level emerge and motivate our actions. Maslow called the first four of these needs “deficiency” needs, meaning that they are based on a feeling of lack or deprivation. Failure to meet deficiency needs leads to psychopathology. Maslow called the remaining needs “being” needs, meaning that they are based on our need to achieve our full potential as human beings. In Maslow’s theory if, at any time, the satisfaction of a lower more basic need is threatened, our motivation can revert to that level of functioning.





























The Moral Line of Development

Our moral development is defined as our ability to understand the difference between right and wrong, and to act according to that understanding. Two well known researchers of moral development are Harvard professors Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan.

Kohlberg identified common stages of moral development by following a group of research subjects over a 20 year period from childhood into adulthood. He posed hypothetical moral dilemmas to his subjects and tracked how they responded over time. Kohlberg identified six stages of moral development which can be grouped into three levels. He believed that we pass through these stages at varying rates, and that some people never reach the highest stages.


The Pre-Conventional Level: The Punishment and Reward Orientation


At this level right and wrong are determined solely by punishment and rewards. Wrong is defined as what I will be punished for, and right is defined as what I will be rewarded for, or what will get me what I want. 

  • Stage 1: Obedience & Punishment. We obey rules or authority figures in order to avoid punishment. Our morality is fear-driven.

  • Stage 2: Self-Interest. We obey rules or authority figures in order to obtain a reward. Our morality is driven by self-interest. 


The Conventional Level: The Social Orientation


At this level right and wrong are determined by what pleases or is approved of by others.

  • Stage 3: Social Conformity. We behave based on expectations of what "good boys" and "nice girls" do. The emphasis is on living up to social expectations and norms because of how they impact our day-to-day relationships. Our morality is based on how our actions impact our relationships with family members or close friends.


  • Stage 4: Law & Order. We behave based on the good of society as a whole. Our morality is based on obeying laws, respecting authority, and performing our duty so that the social order is maintained. We think from a full-fledged “member-of-society” perspective, and consider the good of society as a whole when making moral judgments.


The Post-Conventional Level: The Universal Principles Orientation


At this level our understanding of right and wrong is based on universal principles such as justice, equality, and human dignity. 


  • Stage 5: Social Contracts. At this we stage realize that different societies have different views about what is right and wrong. We can think about society in an objective way, stepping back from our own society and considering the rights and values that a society ought to uphold. We evaluate existing societies based on these ideas and judgements. (For example, a totalitarian society might be well-organized and efficient, but not judged to be morally good because it violates the basic rights of individuals.) At this stage we may argue for laws to be changed if they are not "working." Modern democracies are based on (and require) this stage of moral reasoning.


  • Stage 6: Universal Ethics. In this stage our morality is based on self-chosen, universal principles, such as equality and justice. At this stage we have a principled conscience and we follow universal ethical principles regardless of what the official laws and rules are. Examples of people who acted from this stage include Gandhi’s “nonviolent noncooperation” and the civil disobedience of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.


Carol Gilligan is a psychologist who came to Harvard as a research assistant to Lawrence Kohlberg. Gilligan’s research grew out of two problems with Kohlberg’s research. First, females tended to score lower than males on Kohlberg's tests of moral development. And second, all of the research subjects in Kohlberg's original study were male. 

Gilligan asserted that Kohlberg's theory of moral development was biased against females. She conducted her own study of moral development, which included both males and females across the life span. In her study Gilligan found differences in the moral reasoning of males and females. She found that males, in general, tended to base their moral reasoning on the principles of justice and rights, whereas females, in general, tended to base their moral reasoning on the principles of caring and responsibility. In other words, more males had an “independence” orientation to morality, and more females had a “relationship” orientation to morality.


Gilligan is careful to point out that while the majority of males and females in her study tended to respond from these two different moral orientations, there are many exceptions – many males whose moral reasoning is based primarily on caring and responsibility, and many females whose moral reasoning is based primarily on rights and justice. In addition, while we may tend more naturally to one or the other, we all have the capability for both within us. Also, neither orientation is inherently better than the other, just different. Both make important contributions to moral understanding and action. At Gilligan’s highest stage – integrative – adult men and women are able to find a healthy balance that incorporates both justice, rights, and independence as well as caring, responsibility, and relationship.


Gilligan’s work is explained in her book In a Different Voice. She identified three stages of “feminine” moral reasoning that correspond to Kohlberg’s three levels of pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional morality. Gilligan’s stages are:

The Pre-Conventional Level: Individual Survival


Our primary concern at this stage is with caring for ourselves and ensuring our own survival. Concern for ourselves is what motivates moral decision-making at this stage. Eventually, this level of functioning is judged to be selfish and irresponsible, which causes us to move to the next stage.

The Conventional Level: Goodness as Self-Sacrifice


At this level goodness is seen as caring for others unselfishly. At this stage we define our moral worth by our ability to care for and be accepted by others. Eventually this perspective leads to problems in relationships, as well as problems with our not feeling "authentic" or "real," because we always puts others’ well-being before our own. These difficulties lead us into Gilligan’s last stage of moral development.

The Post-Conventional Level: Interconnectedness


At this level we reconcile the tension between selfishness and responsibility for others through a new understanding of the interconnectedness of self and others, and the need to care for both ourselves and others. Non-violence as a universal principle emerges at this level.



Gilligan identified a stage of moral development beyond post-conventional, which she called integrated. In this stage mature adults, both women and men, are able to integrate the values of “masculine” justice and rights and “feminine” care and compassion. 

Appendix A is an article with more information about Carol Gilligan’s work.


The Psycho-Social Line of Development


Erik Erikson was a German-American psychoanalyst. He mapped eight stages of psycho-social development. Erikson proposed that each stage has a central issue that must be faced, and that our personality development takes place as we work through the central issue of each stage. The central issue of each stage takes the form two opposing forces that we must navigate. Successful resolution of a stage entails learning to hold and balance both of these forces. If we successfully resolve the central issue of a stage, we emerge from that stage with a specific personality strength.


The stages outlined by Erikson are the periods of life in which the central issue of that particular stage becomes most prominent. The issues themselves continue to be present throughout our lives in one form or another. Also, mastery of the central issue of one stage is not required in order to move on to the next stage. However, because the successful resolution of the issue of each stage prepares us to take on the issue of the next stage, if we fail to successfully negotiate a stage we will experience problems around the issue of that stage as we move through subsequent stages.

Erikson's eight stages of psycho-social development are:

1.    Trust vs. Mistrust  (birth – approximately 18 months)

In Erickson's first stage the central issue children must deal with is the development of trust. If children have a loving, responsive caregiver with whom they can establish a trusting relationship, they will develop trust in their world and the people in it. If they do not have this, they will develop a sense of mistrust. The existential question at this stage is: “Can I trust the world?” If children come through this stage with more trust than mistrust, the resulting personality strength is a sense of hope.

2.    Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt  (approximately 18 months – 3 years)  

In this stage the central issue is the development of a sense of autonomy or independence. Children in this stage are learning that they have a will separate from that of others, and they develop this will by asserting their independence. In order to successfully navigate this stage, children need to be allowed to assert their individual will and independence within reasonable and safe limits. Children who are not allowed to assert their own will and autonomy will develop feelings of shame and doubt in themselves. The existential question at this stage is: “Is it okay to be me?” If children come through this stage with more autonomy than shame and doubt, the resulting personality strength is willpower.

3.    Initiative vs. Guilt  (approximately 3 years – 6 years)  

The central issue in this stage is for children to develop the ability to take initiative and act on their own ideas. We can see this happening in preschoolers as they plan and build a block tower, or use art materials to make their own unique creations. In order to successfully navigate this stage, children need to be allowed to take initiative and act on their own ideas. Children who are not allowed to act on their own initiative, or who are criticized when they attempt to do so, will develop feelings of guilt. The existential question at this stage is: “Is it okay for me to do and act?” If children come through this stage with more initiative than guilt, the resulting personality strength is a sense of purposefulness.

4.    Industry vs. Inferiority  (approximately 6 years – 12 years)  

The central issue in this stage is the development of a sense of industry. By industry, Erickson meant learning to be successful and productive at tasks such as academics, group activities (for example, games and sports), and making friends. Children who do not experience success in these areas will develop feelings of inferiority. The existential question at this stage is: “Can I make it in the world of people and things?” If children come through this stage with more industry than inferiority, the resulting personality strength is a sense of basic competence.

5.    Identity vs. Role Confusion  (approximately 12 years – 18 years)  

The central issue in this stage is the search for a sense of personal identity. Identity means how people see themselves in relation to their world. It's their sense of self or individuality. If adolescents are unable to successfully develop a sense of personal identity, role confusion will result. Role confusion means that the person cannot see clearly, or at all, who they are and how they can relate positively with their environment. The existential questions at this stage are: “Who am I?” and, “What can I be?” If adolescents come through this stage with more identity than confusion, the resulting personality strength is a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem.

6.    Intimacy vs. Isolation  (approximately 19 years – 40 years)  

The central issue to be dealt with in this stage is intimacy. Adults who successfully navigate this stage are able to form intimate personal relationships with others and engage in committed relationships. Adults who are unable to do this develop feelings of isolation. The existential question at this stage is: “Can I love?” If adults come through this stage with more intimacy than isolation, the resulting personality strength is the ability to give and receive love.


7.    Generativity vs. Stagnation  (approximately 40 years – 65 years)  

The central issue in this stage is generativity. Generativity means concern for others and the need to create and nurture something that will outlast us, something that will be of benefit to future generations. Adults who are unable to do this stagnate because they are stuck in self-absorption. The existential question at this stage is: “Can I make my life count?” If adults come through this stage with more generativity than stagnation, the resulting personality strength is the ability to give unconditionally and unselfishly in support of future generations.

8.    Integrity vs. Despair  (approximately 65+ years)  

In Erikson's final stage, adults deal with the issue of integrity. By integrity Erikson meant being at peace with one’s self – accepting one's whole life up to this point – and coming to terms with one's future death. Successful negotiation of this stage includes accepting responsibility for one’s past and feeling satisfaction with one’s life. Adults who are unable to experience this sense of fulfillment develop feelings of despair. The existential question at this stage is: “Is it okay to have been me?” If adults come through this stage with more integrity than despair, the resulting personality strengths are wisdom and peace of mind.

Uneven Development

We are each at different stages of development in different lines of development. For example, the stereotypical "computer nerd" may be at a high stage of development in the cognitive line, but at a lower stage of development in the emotional or interpersonal lines of development. We can illustrate the uneven nature of human development in a diagram called a "psychograph." 














Necessary But Not Sufficient   


Each line of development can be viewed as answering a different fundamental question. For example: 

  • The cognitive line answers the question, "What am I aware of?" 

  • The ego or self line answers the question, "Of the things I am aware of, who am I?" or "What am I?"   

  • The moral line answers the question, "Of the things I am aware of, what is the right thing to do?"

  • The values line answers the question, "Of the things I am aware of, what do I value the most?" 


  • The needs line answers the question, "Of the things I am aware of, what do I need the most?"

  • The faith line answers the question, “Of the things I am aware of, what is of ultimate concern to me?”


Development in some lines is "necessary, but not sufficient" for development in other lines. This means that development in one line is necessary before development in another line can occur, but development in this first “necessary” line does not guarantee that development in the dependent second line will take place. 

For example, development in the cognitive line is necessary for, but not sufficient to guarantee, development in the moral line. This means that we cannot be at a more advanced stage in our moral development than we’re at in our cognitive development. If the moral line of development answers the question, "Of the things I am aware of, what is the right thing to do?" then the answer to this question can only come from among the "things I am aware of" (in other words, my stage of development in the cognitive line). This means that a person can be at an advanced stage of cognitive development and still be at a relatively early stage of moral development. But individuals at an advanced stage of moral development will always be at an advanced stage of cognitive development as well. 

The chart below shows the cognitive stage of development that is necessary for corresponding stages of development in some of the other lines of development. Keep in mind as you look at the chart that it shows the highest possible stage in the values, moral, and faith lines that a person can reached based on their level of cognitive development in the first column. This does not mean that a person who is at a particular stage in the cognitive line will automatically be at the corresponding stage in the values, moral, or faith lines. So, for example, the fact that a person is at the vision logic stage in the cognitive line does not necessarily mean that they will also be at the pluralistic stage of values development, or at a post-conventional stage of moral development, or at the conjunctive stage in their faith development. They may be at an earlier stage of development in one or more of these other lines.


























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Subject & Object       


Psychologists who study human development have found that we move fairly predictably through the stages of development up to young adulthood. But when we reach our mid-twenties stage development tends to stop, often for decades. Robert Kegan, a developmental psychologist and professor at Harvard, proposed that growth to a new stage occurs when "the subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next stage." What does this mean? To understand, we must first understand the distinction between subject and object. "Subject" is something I identify with and experience as "me." "Object" is something I identify and experience as "not me." Here is one way to picture the difference between subject and object:    

We could say that an object is something I look at, and subject is what I look through, or the “me” that is doing the looking. It’s what’s on the “inside of my face” looking out at the world.

Kegan explains that this relationship between subject and object is what creates our way of making sense of our experiences and the world. It shapes our thinking, our feeling, and our ways of relating to ourselves and others. He explains the distinction between subject and object:

What I mean by “object” are those aspects of our experience that are [evident] to us and can be looked at, related to, reflected upon, engaged, controlled, and connected to something else. We can be objective about these things, in that we don't see them as "me." But other aspects of our experience we are so identified with, embedded in, fused with, that we just experience them as ourselves. This is what we experience subjectively – the "subject" half of the subject-object relationship.

 -- See

The following chart illustrates some of the differences between subject and object.


















Kegan gives a good illustration of the difference between subject and object in an experience related to him by a father who took his two sons to the top of the Empire State Building. The younger brother was at Kegan’s stage one. In stage one our perceptions are what is on the subject side of subject and object. In other words, children in stage one are subject to their perceptions. They take their perceptions to be reality. If their perception of a particular object changes, they believe the object itself has changed. They can’t “stand back from” or reflect on their perceptions, and whether or not their perceptions are accurate reflections of reality. 

The older brother in Kegan’s story had moved into stage two. In this stage children’s perceptions have become objects they can “step back from” and reflect upon. They can think about their perceptions, and realize that their perceptions may or may not accurately reflect reality. They can understand that just because their perception of an object has changed, that doesn’t necessarily mean the object itself has changed. For children in stage one, their perceptions are the invisible filter they look through to see and understand the world. For children in stage two, their perceptions are something they can look at (in their minds).

From the top of the Empire State Building when these two brothers looked down at the people on the street below, they simultaneously commented, “Look at the people. They’re tiny ants,” (the younger brother) and, “Look at the people. They look like tiny ants.” In other words, a child in stage two can understand that even though the people below look as tiny as ants, they aren’t really that tiny. But for a child in stage one who is still subject to his visual perceptions, because the people on the street below look tiny, in his mind they have actually become tiny. (See Kegan’s The Evolving Self, pg. 29.)     

So, how does the subject at one stage of development become the object of the subject at the next stage? Let's take as an example a person at the orange rational stage of development: 








This person is embedded in the rational worldview. At present the rational worldview is not something they can stand back from and reflect upon, or make an object in their awareness. Rather, the rational worldview is the invisible lens through which they see and understand the world. Their move to the rational stage of development occurred when their previous traditional worldview became something they were no longer fused with or embedded in, when it became something they could stand back from and reflect upon. 

When this person develops to the point that they can step back from and reflect upon the rational worldview, they will have a new subjective self – a green, postmodern self. In other words, they will then see the world through an invisible green lens. 







Robert Kegan points out that when we make a shift in our experience of subject and object, we are not just accumulating more and more things (objects) that we can look at or think about. Rather, we are making, “a qualitative shift in the very shape of the window or lens through which one looks at the world. A given subject-object relationship establishes the shape of the window. Thus, for a certain period of time . . . you know the world through that system, and while your knowing gets increasingly elaborated, it all goes on within the terms of that system.” (See 

The idea of stage growth as a change in our subject-object relationships fits well with what Clare Graves, who researched the values line, said about stage growth. Graves said that growth to a new stage occurs when our present level of thinking is found to be inadequate to solve the real life problems we face – when our problems can only be solved with a shift into a new way of thinking and believing. He called this the "Humpty Dumpty effect." Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall, and all the king's horses and all the king's men (in other words, all of the resources available to us at our present stage) can't put Humpty together again. When this happens, we may become more willing to step back from our current values and worldview and examine them, in order to understand what is no longer working, and to find new and better ways of thinking and believing – ways more adequate to our present challenges.


A podcast from a segment of This American Life on NPR with David Dickerson titled, “The Devil Wears Birkenstocks” ( gives a wonderful and humorous real-life illustration of a person making his traditional mythic (blue) religious beliefs, which he was previously embedded in and subject to, into objects he could examine and reflect upon. This is what is happening when he says, "For the first time, I saw myself from the outside." And, "Basic facts about the nature of Jesus, of God, of our duties on this earth, seemed to me less like eternal truths and more like things I happened to believe."

The Shadow 

At any stage of development we can repress or shut off an aspect of ourselves from our conscious awareness, so that we no longer consciously experience it. When this happens, the repressed part of ourselves becomes a shadow element in our personality.

For example, a child who is in the red egocentric stage of development experiences strong aggressive impulses. When the blue “law and order” stage emerges, it places a high value on discipline and self-control, so blue tends to clamp down hard on red impulses. If, as a child, every time I had an angry outburst I was severely punished by my strongly blue parents, or taught that God was angry with me, then out of self-preservation I may learn to completely block my angry impulses from my conscious awareness.

Once I have disowned my anger in this way, I no longer consciously feel it. On a conscious level, I truly believe that I don’t get angry. However, this does not mean that anger no longer arises in me. Anger is a natural emotion that arises in all of us from time to time. But now, for me, it only arises in a repressed and disowned part of myself that I am not consciously aware of. 















Now some interesting things may start to happen. It's as if my repressed anger has a mind of its own and is determined to be acknowledged. If I won't let it out through the “front door” of my conscious awareness, it will find covert ways out through a “back door,” ways that are likely to sabotage my life and damage my relationships. Some of the dysfunctional ways it might come out include:

  • If I internalize my repressed anger it may come out in the form of depression or physical symptoms.

  • I may act out my repressed anger in passive aggressive behavior toward others. 

  • I may project my disowned anger outward onto others. Some part of me can sense that anger is present, but because I don’t experience it as coming from within me, I conclude that it must be coming from others around me. I see my disowned anger in them. These others may or may not actually be angry with me. If they are not angry, I will mis-perceive them as being angry. If they are angry, I will perceive them as being more angry than they really are – because I am experiencing both their anger and my own, except that I believe it is all coming from them. When I see these angry people around me, I may even feel superior or lucky to be one of those rare, highly spiritual people who don't get angry.

This kind of projection onto others can occur with any aspect of myself – positive or negative – that I have disowned.


Now let’s look at what is happening in terms of subject and object when we have a shadow element. Because shadow elements are hidden from our conscious awareness, we don’t experience them as subject or “me.” We can recognize these disowned aspects of ourselves when we see them in others (or when we project them onto others), but we cannot experience them within ourselves. Because we do not experience them as subject, they are not something we can move from subject to object. We can't make an aspect of ourselves an object in our awareness if we don't even realize it exists.



Shadow elements remain at the developmental stage of maturity we were at when we disowned them, until we consciously re-integrate them. This means that when our conscious awareness moves on to a new stage of development, the shadow parts of us will lag behind, at whatever stage they were disowned. Whether the repressed part of ourselves is anger, fear, our need for others, or any difficult thought or emotion, the fact that our ability to experience and express it remains at an earlier, less mature stage of development will create dysfunction in our lives. 

In Section 1 we learned about 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person perspectives (I, you, and it). When we disown a shadow aspect of ourselves, in reality it is still part of our 1st person “I”. But we experience it as object or other – as not “I”. If we project it onto another person, then we experience it in 2nd person – as you or yours, not me or mine.

We can even dissociate from a shadow element one step further until it becomes a 3rd person “it.” Ken Wilber often uses the example of a person who disowns their anger and then starts having dreams of being chased by a scary monster who wants to hurt them. The monster is their disowned anger being experienced as a dangerous third person “it.” When the monster chases them, the emotion they consciously experience is fear, not anger. They may work on ways to process and deal with their fear, but none of this work will get at the real problem, which is the disowned anger that is creating the scary monster.

Freud’s most famous statement about the goal of psychoanalysis is often quoted as, “Where id was, there ego shall be.” Freud, however, never used the words “ego” or “id.” These are Latin words that were used by those who translated Freud’s work from German into English. The literal translation of what Freud said was, “Where it was, there I shall be.” In other words, the goal of psychoanalysis is that the elements of my 1st person awareness that I have disowned and made into 2nd person “yours,” or 3rd person “its,” will be reclaimed as part of my 1st person “I” awareness. Then (and only then) can I make them into objects in my awareness.

Once we have owned (or re-owned) and consciously experienced something as “I” – as subject – we can then take the next step (when we are ready) of moving it from subject to object. When we move something from subject to object it goes from being “I” to being “mine.” It becomes something we have, rather than something that has us. In other words, if instead of disowning my anger I develop the ability to be consciously aware of its arising and passing, then it is still recognized and experienced “my” anger, but it no longer takes over as “I.” When a strong emotion takes over as “I,” then I am driven by it and may be unable to stop myself from acting on it, sometimes in destructive ways. When it moves from “I” to “my,” I own it and can still feel it fully, but without being overtaken or controlled by it. I still have it, but it doesn’t have me.

Shadow elements can be hard to spot because, by definition, we're unaware of them. If we were aware of them they wouldn't be shadows. Some clues that we may have a shadow element include:

  • When we find ourselves having a strong automatic negative reaction to another person (because what we disown in ourselves we dislike in others). 

  • When those who know us best see a characteristic in us that we don't see in ourselves. 

  • When those who know us best tell us that the reason we dislike another person is because we and the other person are so much alike, but we just don’t see it. 

  • When we over-react to a person or situation in a way that is out of proportion to the circumstances.

  • It’s also possible to have a “positive” shadow – to repress or disown a positive trait in ourselves and then be drawn to, and even fall in love with, others who consciously manifest that trait.

It takes a lot of energy to keep aspects of ourselves hidden from our conscious awareness. The energy it takes to repress or deny disowned aspects of ourselves could potentially be used in other ways – in life, work, relationships, service, play, personal growth, etc. When we do the work of reintegrating disowned shadow aspects of ourselves, we liberate the energy we were using to repress them.

Appendix B explains one process for re-integrating shadow elements of our personality. It’s call the 3-2-1 Shadow Work Process. We have seen how in creating a shadow element we move it from a 1st person “I” to a 2nd person “you” and perhaps even to a 3rd person “it.” We can reintegrate a shadow element by reversing that process, by taking it from 3rd person, to 2nd person, to 1st person. This is what the “3-2-1" in the “3-2-1 Shadow Work Process” refers to. 

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Application to Integral Spirituality: Growing in Love -- Increasing Circles of Care and Compassion

The integral model can be applied to any discipline -- education, politics, law, etc. Wilber has applied them to spirituality and created a model he calls integral spirituality. Below is one way the idea of lines of development can  inform an integral approach to spirituality.

To truly love others requires advanced stage development in the cognitive, moral, interpersonal, and values lines. Each new stage of development brings the ability to take increasingly wider perspectives. In the moral line we progress through stages of selfishness (egocentric stages), to stages of care for those in our own group (ethnocentric stages), to stages of care for all people (worldcentric stages), and finally to stages of care for all living things (cosmocentric stages). An integral approach to spirituality would support people in their growing capacities for care and connection at each stage of development.


An integral approach could support those currently in egocentric stages of development by helping them express their needs in healthy ways, and by fostering a sense of tribal (purple) or familial belonging. Fostering a sense of tribal belonging allows those in egocentric stages to form the human bonds that are essential for physical, emotional, and psychological survival. These tribal bonds also form the beginning of relationships that will eventually move people out of egocentric stages.









When people are ready, an integral approach to spirituality could offer teachings and activities that encourage and reward moving beyond egocentric self-interest into feeling and showing care and concern for others. The first step in this expansion of our ability to care for others involves learning to care for those in our particular group – our family, neighborhood, congregation, etc. Activities that allow us to get to know and serve one another in meaningful ways support the move from egocentric to ethnocentric stages. Working to create a shared group identity and a shared sense of higher meaning and purpose, beyond mere self-interest, can help move people from egocentric to ethnocentric stages.


To help those currently in ethnocentric stages of development relate to and love others in the healthiest ways possible at this stage, an integral approach to spirituality could teach and support the healthy expression of blue traditional values in our relationships. These include the values of loyalty, honesty, integrity, and service to others.













To help those who are ready to move from ethnocentric to worldcentric stages, an integral approach to spirituality could support the expansion of our ability to relate to and love to others by helping us understand the perspectives and experiences of those outside of our particular group. This could be accomplished by providing opportunities to serve and interact in meaningful way with others outside of our familiar groups, whether those groups are our family, our congregation or denomination, our social class, our race, our gender, our sexual orientation, etc.


To help those currently in worldcentric stages of development relate to and love others in the healthiest ways possible at this stage, an integral approach to spirituality could teach and support the healthy expression of modern (orange) and postmodern (green) values in our relationships. These include independence, personal empowerment, equality, and inclusion.









Beyond worldcentric stages of development are cosmocentric stages. People in worldcentric stages live from the conviction that all people in the world are equal, and should be treated equally. Those at the cosmocentric stage “zoom out” the lens of their perception, care, and concern so that it includes not just all humans, but all living things and the entire cosmos. Our circle of care and concern at the cosmocentric stage includes all of creation. The focus of care and concern at this stage is on how humankind can support and protect the irreplaceable results of 13.7 years of creative evolution in our Universe. 


To foster growt into cosmocetric stages of care and compassion, an integral spirituality could include opportunities to engage with and protect all life on earth. 


Appendix C contains excerpts from address given by Father Thomas Berry called, “Every Being Has Rights”, as well as 10 principles of "earth jurisprudence" that he has proposed. This is one example of a cosmocentric morality. (See













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