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I will try to show that there exists an initiatory theological-philosophical tradition, the

acknowledgement of which entails a set of considerations that I believe can shed light on

the debate, as framed by JL Mackie in The Subjectivity of Values, about the ontological

status of moral entities and relations and the intuitive faculty by means of which they are

known. I will conclude that Mackie’s argument from queerness is unconvincing in light

of these considerations. Because I think that some of the ontological and epistemological

claims concerning moral objectivity are initially best addressed in a non-analytic way, the

following argument does have a historiographical element.

The Anti-Realist Position

Are moral entities and relations real, objectively existing things of a certain kind, like

Plato’s Form of the Good, or are they not? The anti-realist’s position is a denial of the

objective reality of such moral things. This denial can take various forms. It can be a

positive thesis about what moral entities actually are, given that they are not objectively

real things. It can also take the form of a merely negative thesis that there are no such

objectively real things in the moral sphere. That is Mackie’s position and the position I

review and aim to counter (97).

The Kinds of Moral Objects Under Question

Mackie’s claim applies to objective values that compel one to action categorically. That

is to say, they must compel one to act simply by their own force and intrinsic value, and

not by their relevance to some other end. Mackie finds it problematic that no obvious

explanation can account for how and why moral objects exert a prescriptive influence on

our actions, that the knowledge of moral ideals will “by this knowledge alone, without

any further motivation, [impel one] to pursue and promote these ideals.” (103-104).

Another distinguishing feature of Mackie’s moral objects is that they are not merely

conceptually or linguistically posited phenomena. Their objectivity does not consist in

the universalization of a moral intuition or in the inter-subjective agreement concerning

the moral commands. The moral objects are considered as ontologically real and

objective. (105-108).

Lastly, Mackie’s objection extends to the posited intuitive faculty by which such objects

might be known. The argument that the intuitive faculty would be queer is buttressed by

AJ Ayer’s claims about the unintelligibility of propositions produced by those who rely

on this faculty, those Ayer called mystics.

The Argument From Queerness

Mackie identifies two arguments that have traditionally been used to support the negative

thesis of moral skepticism outlined above: the argument from relativity and the argument

from queerness. In this section, I shall focus on the latter.

If there were objective values, then they would be entities or qualities or relations

of a very strange sort, utterly different from anything else in the universe.

Correspondingly, if we were aware of them, it would have to be by some special

faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our ordinary ways

of knowing everything else. (111).

The above passage crystallizes the major objections posed by the argument from

queerness. The first objection concerns the metaphysical status of objective values: they

are unlike anything else in the universe, primarily because they are objects that act on us

with “authoritative prescriptivity.” (111). Objective moral goods would have to be

understood as something that anyone familiar with them would want and strive for,

because “the end has to-be-pursuedness somehow built into it.” But such objects are

unlike any other, and are therefore queer and unlikely to exist.

The problem epistemologically, is that when we try to understand how we reach an

awareness of these moral objects, of their truth and prescriptivity, we are, according to

the argument, forced to answer that it is not by means of “sensory perception or

introspection or the framing and confirming of explanatory hypotheses or inference or

logical construction or conceptual analysis, or any combination of these,” but by a

“special sort of intuition” (111). This “lame” answer – the positing of a special intuitive

faculty – is, says Mackie, the objectivist’s only resort for answering the difficult

epistemological question of how moral objects become known.

That it is a matter of great philosophical importance whether or not moral objects and

relations are real and whether they are or can be known by means of an intuitive faculty

is something admitted by Mackie, who writes that “it would be make a radical difference

to our metaphysics if we had to find room for objective values…somewhere in our

picture of the world. It would similarly make a difference to our epistemology if it had to

explain how such objective values are or can be known” (101).

On Philosophical Knowledge and the Initiatory Tradition

That there exists an unbroken philosophical tradition concerning the Mysteries of life,

from ancient Chaldea1, down to the present day, cannot be doubted by anyone who has

reviewed the matter in even the most cursory manner. Scores of books have been written

in the last hundred and twenty years, roughly from the time of the founding of the

Theosophical Society and the publications of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s Secret

Doctrine, revealing the hidden, esoteric, theosophical teachings veiled in vulgar, exoteric

forms of mythologies, philosophical systems, and organized religions2. It is primarily

“Chaldeans, or Kasdim. At first a tribe, then a caste of learned Kabbalists. They were the savants, the
magians of Babylonia, astrologers and diviners. The famous Hillel, the precursor of Jesus in philosophy
and ethics, was a Chaldean. Franck in his Kabbala points to the close resemblance of the “secret doctrine”
found in the Avesta and the religious metaphysics of the Chaldeans.” (Blavatsky, 75.)
Cf. Annie Besant, Alice Ann Bailey, H. Spencer Lewis, &c.

from this tradition that I draw my objections to the argument from queerness and the

related criticism that intuition does not provide intelligible propositions.

This tradition teaches that there are undeveloped faculties in man, and it provides

aspirants and neophytes with the means to develop those faculties. Mackie is wrong

because he supposes that just because a faculty is unusual to him, it cannot therefore

exist. He is like the blind man who argues from queerness that phenomena of light and

color are not likely to be real; or like the man lacking reason who because he does not

participate in the world of rationality simply assumes and asserts that that world must

lack relevance. He is like the non-mathematician who rejects as queer the existence

different kinds of mathematical infinities without bothering to take up the mathematics

that establishes the validity of that view.

It would have been less philosophically presumptuous of Mackie to research what those

who spend many years understanding it and refining its use have said about the intuitive

faculty and the objects of its perception.3

But are there really such people? And are their claims intelligible and important? The

serious student of religious and philosophical mysticism is forced to answer both

questions in the affirmative. Plato/Socrates himself interpreted the term” mystic”4 to

mean the true philosophers:

“Adept (Lat.). Adeptus, “He who has obtained.” In Occultism one who has reached the stage of Initiation,
and become a Master in the science of Esoteric philosophy.” (Blavatsky, 6.)
This is important because AJ Ayer’s Critique of Ethics and Theology referred to the unintelligibility of
claims made by those who rely on the faculty of intuition, and he called these people “mystics.” (32, Sayre-

And I conceive that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning and were not

mere triflers when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes

unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will live in a slough, but that he

who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods. For

"many," as they say in the mysteries, "are the thyrsus bearers5, but few are the

mystics,"-meaning, as I interpret the words, the true philosophers. In the number

of whom I have been seeking, according to my ability, to find a place during my

whole life.”

So there is such an initiatory tradition, and something about it was so noble as to attract

even one such as Plato/Socrates, who spent a whole life trying to become worthy of the

Mysteries revealed within that tradition. My contention is that this tradition would have

taught a person the actual nature and use of intuitive faculties, and that the tradition has

produced a great body of intelligible claims about reality that philosophy alone and

uninitiated couldn’t make.

Mackie’s pronouncement on the queerness of moral entities and the intuitive faculty

strikes me as historically and philosophically naïve, therefore, because it ignores the

contents of that tradition, which has something relevant to say about both the ontological

and epistemological aspects of moral realism.

There are a half million pages returned on Google for the input, “Phaedo,” and less than 200 for the input,
“thyrsus-bearer,” which, perhaps, indicates the ratio even in our modern day of initiates to non-initiates.

Moral Mechanics and a Defense of Mystic Intuitionalism

The feature of moral objects that Mackie found most queer is that they would have a

prescriptive authority that compelled the person who knew about them to act in concert

with them. Why might moral realities have this feature, and how might it operate?

I assert that moral realities might stand in relation to the constitution of man in a manner

that is somehow magnetic: that the compulsion to virtue that follows from the knowledge

of the good follows as a sure consequence of our esoteric physiology coupled with the

nature of the influence that idealities exert on us.

It is not a bare and unjustified assertion that the moral life might be mediated according

to certain knowable, though hidden, mechanisms. It is a view that is plausible given a

basic familiarity the occultist’s picture of man and the cosmos.

Whether or not this is so is a matter that can only be adjudicated when we have first

considered the proposed mechanisms and distinctions of the Divine Life and our

participation or non-participation therein. I contend that it is the occult teachings of the

Theosophists (and Anthroposophists) that provide us with the distinctions and

propositions necessary to assess this matter accurately.

Without a preliminary study of those disciplines, assertions of the impossibility of moral

realities and the “lameness” of intuitive faculties are without value. Gödel had to grapple

with Russell to prove his incompleteness theorem. Marx and Engels could not have

developed their theories on historical materialism without first engaging in a careful

study of Hegel’s spiritual dialectic. Similarly, it could be that the moral philosopher

cannot pronounce authoritatively on moral phenomena and our hidden faculties without a

study of the ancient mystery tradition.

Or, at any rate, that is the logic according to which I am unsatisfied with Mackie’s

argument from queerness.6

I will give one example of a modern mystic producing intelligible and interesting claims

through an intuitive faculty, though there are many from which one could choose7. The

American author Barbara Brennan published, in 1987, Hands of Light, a work that has

since become a classic in the field of energy healing. Brennan can be considered a

mystic with an intuitive faculty (what she called High Sense Perception). Her work

contains an overview of human energy fields, how they interact with one another, with

the body, and with various kinds of energies - psychical, emotional, mental, spiritual, &c

- through a mechanism of seven major vortices, of which the adult human has seven


Incidentally, I am sympathetic with Mackie’s rejection of theism. It was not until I came across the
Theosophical interpretation of exoteric religions that I became convinced of the plausibility and importance
of religious dogmas. Without the key to their hidden meaning, they can seem to some worthy of rejection.
Another interesting example concerns the origin of Hebrew letters and is found in Isaac Bentov’s “A Brief
Tour of Higher Consciousness: a Cosmic Book on the Mechanics of Creation.” His teachings appear
consistent with certain Theosophical doctrines. His methods are also reproducible and hence his
experiences can be tested and confirmed independently by those who are willing to practice them.
See the appended diagrams. Konstantin Korotkov appears to have made some headway into the scientific
measurement of a portion of these energetic fields with his development of Gas Discharge Visualization
technology, and the publication of Light after Life, and other works that draw on his research using that

One does not have to agree with Brennan’s picture of our energetic constitution, nor does

one have to accept without question all of her claims concerning their form and function.

But to deny the intelligibility or relevance of her claims is preposterous. Such claims can

enrich our understanding of what moral realities and relations might entail from the

perspective of actual influences and mechanics. More generally, the diagrams suggest

that there is some non-obvious faculty by means of which we can perceive non-trivial


This looking for hidden moral mechanisms would be necessary, I think, for making sense

of the doctrine of Karma – a doctrine that proclaims the universal law of (moral) causes

and effects. Such a doctrine has relevance for moral philosophers.9


Because of my research into occult philosophy, I am convinced that there are actual

mechanisms that correspond to the phenomena of moral life, that these mechanisms

involve objectively real moral entities, and that they can be known through mystical

intuitionalism. For that reason, I do not find JL Mackie’s argument from queerness to be

a convincing argument in favor of moral anti-realism.10

Cf. Encyclopedic Theosophical Glossary, entry “Karma.”

This has been a very brief sketch of the possibility that the occult, initiatory philosophical tradition has
something important to say about modern philosophical problems. Regrettably, I am unable here to explore
the matter in more detail.

Near the end of Mackie’s essay, he concedes, “if the requisite theological doctrine could

be defended, a kind of objective ethical prescriptivity could be thus introduced.” But

because he thinks that theism cannot be defended, he does not regard it as a “threat” to

his argument (118). I think that an examination of mystical/occult philosophy does

indeed provide a “threat” to his anti-realism.