This might be the most comprehensive, and yet simple, model of an all-encompassing meta-theory that has ever existed. The 4 Quadrants attempt to map all the dimensions of a certain issue and, at the same time, all that is in existence. A rather daunting proposition, but see for yourself.

First, I will give some context about how this model was devised and who the great thinker is who has come up with this. Whoever might be only interested into the map itself, please jump this section.

4 Quadrants has been thought up by Ken Wilber, maybe the single most influential philosopher of our time. In a three year retreat, he has extensively written on his Magnus Opus entitled “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” where he has presented this theory.  It, at least theoretically, tries to map the whole Kosmos Taking the original greek word of cosmos, thus not only the physical realm but virtually all of existence.

Practically, the intention was to map all the great wisdom and knowledge traditions that exist. As he often repeats, nobody can be a hundred percent wrong. Everybody can be right – but partial. Thus rather than looking at what is wrong with a certain approach, he looked at what was right and more importantly in which aspect/perspective/dimension that approach is actually right.

This has lead to this widely acknowledge and in so many ways applicable map of the Kosmos. And among others this is the theoretical foundation of the integral approach for which Ken Wilber is so famous.

The fundamental idea is that all of the existence, all knowledge can be mapped into four basic quadrants underlying the Universe. This division is based on two parameters: internal and external, on the one side, and singular and plural on the other. Adding those up we arrive at four quadrants:

  • Upper Left (UL); subjective: individual, self, consciousness, experience – I
  • Lower Left (LL); intersubjective: collective, community, culture, worldviews – WE
  • Upper Right (UR); objective: object, organism, thing, behavior – IT
  • Lower Right (LR); interobjective: system, (social) structures, networks, environment

[as seen in the featured model]

Every problem has different dimensions in which it can be divided. On one level there is the kind of feelings that we have about a certain model and how we perceive it (UL). Then there is the collective view of the situation and the overall cultural view of the issue (LL). Also there is what the problem is factually or physically about and what kind of immediate behavior it shows (UR). And finally, there is also the big systemic view of the issue, which corresponds to the structural boundaries and systems the problem entrenched in.

This all gives a truly comprehensive view of any issue that one might be looking at. So, for example, let’s take education and the education issue which is going on in virtually all countries in the world. Very simplified one might say that education on the subjective level (UL) is all about the personal development of the student or maturity. On the interobjective (LR) however one might be thinking about the kind of structures or the educational system that a student is in. The intersubjective quadrant (LL)  might be thinking about the kind of values and “social skills” the student has developed. And finally, the objective quadrant (UR) might be all about the test scores and what kind of measurable/testable knowledge the student can demonstrate.

The idea then is that all truly comprehensive and holistic approaches of everything from models, applications, change-processes, analyzes and so forth – knowingly or unknowingly –  have to take into account all the four quadrants.

While this may already be extremely sophisticated and complex, there is much more to that than just for dimensions. The most basic extension of the 4 quadrants is AQAL which is the acronym for All Quadrants, All Levels. But every true passionate theorist would say that even that is far to basic and cannot grasp the whole Kosmos and thus the model has been added by states, lines, voices and types.

Thus for anybody interested in a better explanation of the 4 quadrants or about what else can be added to this map, please go ahead and take a look at Wilber’s books. They are really a pleasure to read and I can already promise that they will expand your kosmic understanding extremely.

For purposes of referencing:

An extremely useful model, that serves as a heuristic for having most sides of any psychosocial phenomenon covered is Ken Wilber’s four quadrants, which on the first axis deals with singular vs. plural and on the second axis with interior vs. exterior. Thus resulting in the four perspectives of the Subjective Upper Left (UL), the Objective Upper Right (UR), the Intersubjective Lower Left (LL) and the Interobjective (LR).

4 Quadrants by Ken Wilber