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The Philosophy of Mysticism: The Perennialism and Constructivism Dialectic

The Philosophy of Mysticism: The Perennialism and Constructivism Dialectic

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Published by Randolph Dible
A metaphysical system to encompass the Perennialism and Constructivism debate in the interpretation of Mysticism and mystical experience, called Tarati to refer to Laws of Form, in a process framework in the vein of both Whitehead and Peirce. The scene is set up, and Forman's "Tirtha" and Jackson's "Matching Concepts" solutions are assessed.
A metaphysical system to encompass the Perennialism and Constructivism debate in the interpretation of Mysticism and mystical experience, called Tarati to refer to Laws of Form, in a process framework in the vein of both Whitehead and Peirce. The scene is set up, and Forman's "Tirtha" and Jackson's "Matching Concepts" solutions are assessed.

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Published by: Randolph Dible on Nov 09, 2009
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PHI 490, Professor Nolan November, 2009The Philosophy of Mysticism: Perennialism and ConstructivismRandolph Thompson Dible IIRecent academic research on mysticism is entrenched in an ideological clash between twoschools of interpretation of mysticism: perennialism (essentialism, or decontextualism), on the one hand,and constructivism (intentionalism, or contextualism), on the other. The former upholds the universalityof the mystical experience, while the latter takes it to be—like any other human experience, they say— completely conditional. I will begin by explaining what ‘mysticism’ means. I will then proceed to defineand illustrate the two schools of interpretation—perennialism and constructivism—by the arguments of their representative pupils. Then, assessing the relation between mystical experience in practice, andsystematic metaphysical theory, I will propose process philosophy (i.e.., from Heraclitus to Peirce andWhitehead) as a framework for the debate, and my theoretical solution. In the end, upon reviewing twostrong alternatives called, respectively, a “Middle Way” (Jackson, 1989) and a “middle ground,” (Forman,1993) I will argue that I can now articulate my own metaphysical system which is akin to the proposedalternatives to perennialist and constructivist interpretations of the purity of mystical experience.MYSTICISMAnthony Flew defines mysticism as “direct or unmediated experience of the divine, in which thesoul momentarily approaches union with God.” (Flew, 1979.) The 2005
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
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states that mysticism is the “Belief in union with the divine nature by means of ecstatic contemplation,and belief in the power of spiritual access to ultimate reality, or to the domains of knowledge closed off toordinary thought.” Religious scholar Ninian Smart proposes that mysticism is “those inner visions and practices which are contemplative.” (Smart, 1978.) The problem with this is that although contemplationmay characterize mystical
 practice and tradition
, the essentially mystical experience is itself characterized by a quietude or peace contrary to contemplation, and indicative of the “pure consciousnessexperience” theory Robert Forman proposes as its essence. In Smart’s characterization we find theconstructivist bias.The
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
article “Mysticism” by Jerome Gellman is taken fromhis chapter in
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion
, “Mysticism and Religious Experience”.Here is Gellman’s definition:“A (purportedly) super sense-perceptual or sub sense-perceptual unitive experience grantingacquaintance of realities or states of affairs that are of a kind not accessible by way of sense- perception, somatosensory modalities, or standard introspection.” (Wainwright, 2005.)PERENNIALISMThe term
 philosophia perennis
was first popularized by Leibniz, who took it from the sixteenthcentury theologian Augustinus Steuchius’ 1540 work. Steuchius used it to describe the “originallyrevealed absolute truth made available to man before his fall, completely forgotten in that lapse, and onlygradually regained in fragmentary form in the subsequent history of human thought.” (Ibid.) Leibniz usedit to describe what was needed to complete his own system. He called it “an analysis of the truth and
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falsehood of all philosophies, ancient and modern” by which on would “draw the gold from the dross, thediamond from its mine, the light from the shadows; and this would be in effect a kind of perennial philosophy”. (Thackara, 1984.)In recent times, Aldous Huxley’s 1945 book 
The Perennial Philosophy
popularized this pole of interpretation called “perennialism” for the public, in the name of that title. Huxley called this the‘Highest Common Factor’ “which is not only of divine inspiration and origin, but shares the samemetaphysical principles”. (Fabbri, 2009.) Before Huxley’s popularization of the term, French author Rene Guenon (1886 – 1951) wrote at length about the Sophia Perennis (Eternal Wisdom) or PrimordialTradition. Guenon has inspired Fritjof Schuon (1907 – 1998) as well as the Ceylonese scholar AnandaCoomaraswamy (1877 – 1947), who are also considered founding members of the esoteric Traditionalistschool of perennialism of the interwar period.Constructivists will dispute the actuality of ideal states, wisely suggesting that claims of actuallyexperiencing pure or transcendental states of experience, consciousness or being are not empiricallyverifiable, in the ordinary sense, certainly not in the sense naturalism or empirical science (andmetaphysically, materialism) seeks. But mystics recognize that there is a higher validation which cannot be represented, for if merely represented, articulated or expressed, looses its meaning. This validation isthat of being it, rather than merely seeing it. It is called “Knowledge Through Identity,” but what it isknowledge
of 
is not anything that can be called an object, but rather, the very objectivity that ismanifested in all objects. It can be called a certainty, perhaps, but in any case it is a circumstance thatneeds to re-enter academic discussion for a better appreciation of the purity of mystical experience, and to
Randy Dible

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