Kegan’s Theory of Evolution of Consciousness

Brief Overview

Kegan refers to his theory as the “personal unfolding of ways of organizing experiences that are not simply replaced as we grow but subsumed into more complex systems of mind” (Evans et al., 2010, p. 178).  What?  Basically, we know what we know through the development of our consciousness. Growing requires moving through five orders of “knowing:”

About the Author

Kegan introduce his theory in 1982.  Shortly after in 1994, he introduced a revised edition of his theory with implications of his work for society.

Printable Summary (PDF)




Information submitted by Teng Zhao and Brodie Quinn

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory:  Four phases towards self-authorship:

  • Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory:
    • Order 0: Most common in newborns ages 0-18 months, “living in an objectless world, a world in which everything sensed is taken to be an extension of the infant.”
    • Order 1: Around age 2, children are aware of their reflexes and realize objects are independent from themselves
    • Order 2: Instrumental Mind—“durable categories” are constructed such as “classifications of objects, or ideas with specific characteristics”
    • Order 3: Socialized Mind—“cross-categorical thinking,” a person is able to connect one durable category to another (see order 2)
    • Order 4: Self-Authoring Mind—the ability to “generalize across abstractions” which is also labeled as “systems of thinking”
    • Order 5: Self-Transforming Mind—generally, individuals never reach this stage before the age of 40, the ability to see beyond themselves, stages, others and systems to understand how “all people and systems are interconnect[ed]”
Application of Theory to Practice

This PowerPoint applies Kegan and Baxter Magolda’s theories of self-authorship to the college admission process. Specifically, this presentation is useful for college admission staff and guidance counselors to understand the transition that an individual makes from high school to college. The author argues that it is necessary to understand this process prior to helping students through the process of self-authorship. This presentation also offers specific, practical examples for guidance and admission counselors.

Submitted by Nikolas R. Webster

Annotations of Associated Literature


Information submitted by Jenni Batchelder

Original Citation

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Additional Resources

This page was written and created by Ashlie Baty. The webpage is maintained by Amanda Peerce and Jesse Ford.  For information on the page, please contact Amanda Peerce at or Jesse Ford at