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Participatory epistemology

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Title: Participatory epistemology  
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Subject: Epistemology, Richard Tarnas
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Participatory epistemology

Participatory theory, vision or framework is a conceptual framework which attempts to bridge the subject-object distinction. According to Jorge Ferrer, "the kernel of this participatory vision is a turn from intra-subjective experiences to participatory events in our understanding of transpersonal and spiritual phenomena."[1]

Participatory epistemology

A participatory epistemology is a theory of knowledge which holds that meaning is enacted through the participation of the human mind with the world. Originally proposed by Goethe, it has been discussed extensively by cultural historian Richard Tarnas.[2]

In a participatory epistemology, meaning is neither solely objective nor solely subjective. That is to say that meaning is not, per modern or positivist views, found solely outside of the human mind, in the objective world, waiting to be discovered. Nor, per postmodern or constructivist views, is meaning simply constructed or projected onto an inherently meaningless world by the subjective human mind.[3] Rather, Tarnas argues that meaning is enacted through the dialectical participation of the human mind with the larger meaning of the cosmos. Thus meaning exists in potentia in the cosmos, but must be articulated by human consciousness before it exists in actuality.
In this view, the essential reality of nature is not separate, self-contained, and complete in itself, so that the human mind can examine it "objectively" and register it from without. Rather, nature's unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind. Nature's reality is not merely phenomenal, nor is it independent and objective; rather, it is something that comes into being through the very act of human cognition. Nature becomes intelligible to itself through the human mind.[4]

According to Tarnas, participatory epistemology is rooted in the thought of Goethe, Schiller, Schelling, Hegel, Coleridge, Emerson, and Rudolf Steiner.[5]


Ken Wilber argues that participatory epistemology is limited in its appropriate scope to observing the interior of a subjective plural domain.[6] Jorge Ferrer argues that Wilber's criticisms of participatory theory have conflated pluralism with vulgar relativism.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Jorge Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, 2
  2. ^ David Fideler, "Science's Missing Half: Epistemological Pluralism and the Search for an Inclusive Cosmology " in Alexandria 5: Cosmology, Philosophy, Myth, and Culture, 64 [1]
  3. ^ Richard Tarnas, "Epilogue", The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View[2]
  4. ^ Richard Tarnas, "Epilogue", The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View[3]
  5. ^ Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, 433
  6. ^
    Zone #1: interior holons (an "I" or "we") looked at from inside their own boundaries. This means a first-person approach to first-person realities (1p x 1p), in both singular and plural forms...The plural form is the inside of a "we" (which can be brought forth, enacted, and disclosed with methodologies such as hermeneutics, collaborative inquiry, participatory epistemology).
    "Excerpt D: The Look of a Feeling: The Importance of Post/Structuralism Part I. Overview and Summary to Date" ("the fourth in a series of excerpts from the first draft of volume 2 of the Kosmos trilogy, Kosmic Karma and Creativity (whose first volume was Sex, Ecology, Spirituality"). [4]
  7. ^ Jorge Noguera Ferrer, Revisioning transpersonal theory: a participatory vision of human spirituality, 2002 SUNY p225 [5]


  • Tarnas, Richard The Passion of the Western Mind, 1991; Ballantine
  • Bache, Christopher Dark Night, Early Dawn, 2000; SUNY
  • Ferrer, Jorge Revisioning Transpersonal Theory, 2002; SUNY
  • Tarnas, Richard Cosmos and Psyche, 2006; Viking
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