‘This book shows that mysticism is incomplete without scientific rationalism, and that our current social and political projects cannot be completed without assimilating the values and practices of mysticism. It discusses cross-cultural ethics, mysticism and value theory, mysticism and metaphysics, mysticism and the theory of knowledge, ethics and religion. parapsychology, patriarchy, and social and political history.
"To anyone who has thought vaguely about the contrasting ideals of ideological East and West, this will be an enormously exciting book. There has been nothing on the subject so clearly written, so comprehensive, and so wise. Angel laces head-on the difficulties involved in reconciling reason and mysticism and constructs a surprisingly plausible case. His argument for the view that each of the two traditions needs the insights of the other is one that neither side can honestly ignore. This book is engaging and absorbing, and admirably embodies the synthesis for which it argues."
Ronald de Sousa, University of Toronto
‘This is a book with delightfully surprising insights for readers interested in our present cultural and religious situation as well as its Future."
Julia Ching, University of Toronto
‘The book is especially timely and fleshes out issues in a way that can engage minds well trained in critical philosophy and scientific thinking, while supporting with exceptional strength those who find mystical experience central to their human experience."
Robert M. Garvin, State University of New York at Albany
Leonard Angel teaches philosophy at Douglas College in New Westminster, British Columbia. He Is the author of two previous books of philosophy, The Silence of the Mystic, and How to Build a Conscious Machine.
This book is written for both specialists and nonspecialists: It’s written for students of religion and culture who assume, as I do, that where there are widely differing values, there must be a way, somehow, of establishing fruitful dialogue between their exponents. It’s written for the postmodernist who thinks it’s foolish to hope for any syntheses across widely divergent value systems; for my colleagues trained in analytic philosophy who would like to have mysticism made accessible; for theological students and religious practitioners of all traditions and backgrounds concerned about integrating social humanism with intuitions of sacralism and Divine Mystery; for the existentialist who is at the point of wanting more than freedom; for the student of paranormal psychology; for the cultural theorist interested in understanding the broad shape of history; and, finally, it’s written for mystics who are looking for an account of mysticism, its content, its values, and its implications for human community, which pays more than lip service to the desire for clarity.
There are many topics swirling through this book, and it may be easy to get lost in the currents. Consequently, it will be useful to highlight some main theses I am advancing (one for each chapter):
1. Those who think that mysticism and scientific and social rationalism should be easy to accommodate to each other probably have not listened closely to the rumors of the many apparent irrecondilables.
2. Contrary to the tale told by postmodernist and relativist authors, a comprehensive framework of value can be articulated whose vocabulary and basic concepts are immediately recognizable to people of all cultures, and, which is sufficiently detailed to enable fruitful dialogue to take place between people no matter how divergent their backgrounds and values. This framework is the relational ethical framework presented in chapter 2.
3. It is widely agreed that in order to develop ethics completely one must engage in value theory. What is not recognized is that mysticism’s primary thrust is in value theory. The mystic holds that mystical experience is of supreme value. Consequently, the ethicist must undertake to become familiar with mysticism and mystical experience, or else admit that there is a central claim within value theory that she or he cannot address.
4. Mysticism can be understood by the non-mystic. Its claims can be articulated in a way that does no violence to the laws of logic or clear thinking, and a set of clear practices can be presented which enable the non-mystic to grasp, and practice if desired, the central elements of mystical training and the six (or seven, depending how you count) main mystical standpoints.
5. Because mystical standpoints are in the first instance ways of experiencing the world, or ways of maintaining one’s consciousness, and because each mystical standpoint has a corresponding, distinct metaphysical interpretation, mystical experience is of virtually no evidential value for mystical metaphysics. Nonetheless, acquiring mystical standpoints is of real aid for the philosopher: it informs philosophical psychology, and it reawakens the quest for speculative metaphysical understanding.
6. The most important point of contact between religion and ethics is not on the issue of Divine Command theory, but on the question of cultivating the intuition of the sacred as a crucial element of one’s experience. The sacralist ethics is distinct from a secularist ethics; ft doesn’t involve any dogma or Divine Command component, and needs to be taken seriously by moral philosophers and cultural theorists.
7. Mysticism is not, otherworldly, and can be fully integrated with the most worldly of social visions.
8. Examination of the evidence for paranormal occurrences such as clairvoyance, materializations, spontaneous past-life memories, and so on, leads to conclusions on the validity of these phenomena which are sure to startle many assumptions frequently made concerning the relations between science, mysticism, and the paranormal.
9. Without supplementation by a mystical vision, the western Enlightenment project cannot complete itself. Progress depends on the integration of mysticism into liberalism.
I am deeply indebted to more people than I can thank here. During the last few months I have been reworking many details, and comments by my philosophy colleagues at Douglas College have been most helpful. Robert Fahrnkopf gave me excellent responses to a recent draft. Brian Davies and Doug Simak have stimulated my thinking in many areas and provided helpful remarks.
For roughly a year, Dr. Shotaro Iida and I had weekly meetings, at which conversation ranged over an enormously wide variety of topics and projects. I’m deeply in his debt for his insights and his vibrant and indomitable approach to problems both practical and theoretical. Kurt Preinspurg was the official commenter when the first draft of what is now chapter four was presented at a U.B.C. colloquium some years ago. His helpful comments resulted in improvements to the chapter, and over the years we have had many fruitful conversations, on politics, history, metaphysics, and freedom. Verena Huber Dyson helped me clarify my thoughts on several topics over the years, and some of the discussions found in the book would have been much weaker were it not for her responses to some early versions of the arguments. Since the days when Mark Glouberman and I "measured the speed of light," I have been trying to keep up with the speed of his wit. I’m most grateful to him for his feedback on many ideas in so many areas, and his genuinely stimulating approach and comments. During the course of some pleasant and productive exchanges, Sol Kort urged me to read Charlene Spretnak’s work, and I’m grateful for that lead. He has also provided many others, which have also proved useful. Ken Hertz gave me some important feedback on modes of identification given his excruciating (and unfortunately ongoing) experience as a victim of a severe form of almost total Parkinsonian paralysis. I thank Earl Winkler at U.B.C. for inviting me to make a presentation at the 1990 Centre For Applied Ethics Conference. The presentation was the initial draft of what has become chapter 2.
I’m equally indebted to many others who read portions of the manuscript, sent me articles, provided sources or advice, or conversed at length on various topics covered herein over the years, including: Ronald de Sousa, Alan Drengson, Ali Kazmi, Dale Bryerstein, Spencer Carr, Eileen Sowerby, Barry Beyerstein, Don Evans, Shia Moser, Rhoda Friedrichs, Michael Feld, Sam çoval, Chris Friedrichs, Steve Slutsky, Don LePan, Sue Wendell, Frank Leonard, I Hugo Meynell, Howard Hersberg, Vidjut Aklujkar, Ken Dangerfield, l.ouise Schmidt, and Bob Hadley. My students have tested the ideas in his book, and helped form them at every turn. I want to thank Barbara Sefran for her references, queries, and thorough work on the index. I’m also indebted to the anonymous readers for SUNY whose reports contained invaluable suggestions and comments, and to Lois PaIwp, Christine Lynch, Nancy Ellegate, and the other members of the SUNY editorial, production and marketing team for their superb suggestions and advice on the project. This work has been inspired,. Guided, aided, and reshaped by many. Its errors, however, are my responsibility alone; I would very much appreciate it if readers respond, pointing out errors and difficulties in lines of reasoning, so that I may improve my thinking on those matters.
Scholarship is always a pleasure, but within an atmosphere of serenity it has been blissful. I’m deeply grateful to my wife Susan for her serenity, wisdom, and constant support. Thanks also to Naomi, T’ai, and Ken for help with the ides of chapters 2 and 3.
I wish to thank the editors of Skeptical Inquirer for permission to incorporate the material of my article "Is there empirical evidence for reincarnation?" into chapter 8. Finally, I am most grateful for social sciences and humanities research Council of Canada grant No. 410-85-0132, which funded time for the development of this book.
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