Herman Melville's Moby Dick: A Survival Guide to the Twenty First Century

Developmental theories

This section is unfinished: it may be just a placholder, or an initial draft of the intended content.

Robert Kegan's theory of adult development is a useful map for Moby Dick.

Kegan's map provides five stages of personal development.

  1. Impulsive mind (early childhood):
  2. Imperial mind (adolescence and some adults): where the interest on the individual's own needs and perspectives is primary. Ethics in this stage is mostly about getting your needs met, while working around the needs of others.
  3. Socialised mind: where the perspectives of others becomes primary
  4. Self-Authoring mind: where an awareness of how systems operates becomes primary, and the individual in understood as undertaking a role within a wider system
  5. Self-Transforming mind: where the individual is aware of gaps and weaknesses within systems and is able to switch fluidly between different systems, using them pragmatically, rather than being used or defined by them

To move between stages in Kegan's map of development, you don't just need to improve a little, you need a fundamental shift in perspective, which Kegan characterises as a shift from the subjective (for example, being subject to strong emotions or cultural or systemic perspectives and rules) to the objective (being able to experience strong emotions without being overcome by them, or work within systems without taking their perspectives or rules as final truths).

David Chapman in his summary of Kegan's work retitles the third, fourth and fifth phases of Kegan's map:

  • 3 Kegan's "The Socialized mind" = Chapman's "Communal mode"
  • 4 Kegan's "Self-Authoring mind" = Chapman's "Systematic mode"
  • 5 Kegan's "Self-Transforming mind" = Chapman's "Fluid mode

I prefer Chapman's naming, so I'll use that in this book.

I think you can argue, and I will be arguing, that Ishamel's narration of Moby Dick represents a Stage 5 Self-Transforming mind, or a mind working in a Fluid Mode.

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