RE: MD Is the MoQ still in the Kantosphere?

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sat Dec 11 2004 - 22:40:52 GMT

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    Sam and all MOQers:

    Sam Norton wrote:
    Schleiermacher's influence on the way in which mysticism was studied was
    huge, and his conception
    dominated academic studies of the question from his own time until very
    recently. The academic
    studies built up through the nineteenth century all shared an acceptance of
    the Kantian problematic,
    i.e. that division between the 'phenomenal' and the 'noumenal', and viewed
    mystical understandings
    as in some way bypassing the normal constraints of intellect, in order to
    access reality directly.
    Hence Rudolf Otto, for example, whose 'numinous' is the same as Kant's
    transcendent realm.

    dmb says:
    I could have jumped in before this point but picked this late one out of
    mercy for the readers. There are two main objections that spring to mind.
    The first one concerns mixing Kant's epistemology with the assertions of
    mysticism. I think you have confused or conflated some ideas that can't
    rightly be compared. For example, when Kant used the word transcendent to
    describe the categories of the mind, he was NOT refering to the ineffable,
    undivided mystical reality so much as the pre-given filters of perception.
    They are transcendent in the sense that they're concieved as existing prior
    to experience in the same way eyes exist before we actually use them to look
    at stuff. The transcendental categories are like the various settings on a
    pasta maker that gives shape to the blob of dough. And so the distinction
    between Kant's phenomenal and noumenal is just a particular form of
    subject-object metaphysics. As I understand intellectual history, Kant marks
    the shift from Modern to Postmodern with this move. The mirror of nature has
    taken a serious hit insofar as we do not reflect objective reality, but
    rather shape it with our perceptions, but Kant's categories have been
    replaced by a much rich view of these so-called filters. Matt K will be glad
    to tell you all about how the "inguistic turn" is the discovery of the huge
    effect of culture and language on our perceptions. In fact, the more extreme
    postmoderns will assert that there is nothing else except these filters.
    Kant has been thoroughly out-Kanted. The second objection is that mysticism
    has to do with your idea of a "modern synthesis"...

    Sam wrote:
    It is William James' version of mysticism, derived from Schleiermacher,
    which has dominated the 20th
    century investigations, and for my purposes here I would point out that, in
    this understanding - let
    us call it the "Modern synthesis" - mystical experience is rare, private and
    experiential; those who
    enjoy such experiences are spiritually significant and blessed; but they are
    the inheritors of the
    great spiritual teachers of the past, and they have access to the common
    root which supports all the
    different religious traditions of the world.

    dmb says:
    We have language and concepts available to us that didn't exist in the past,
    but I'm quite certain that philosophical mysticism existed LOOOOONG before
    Schleiermacher. Socrates spoke of that "divine madness" and the new
    testament is littered with references to it. I could dig up a gazillion
    ancient descriptions of the mystical experience and you'd still recognize it
    as the same experience we talk about today. Its only natural that we use
    modern language to discuss it today.

    Sam raised some Philosophical problems:
    - the problem of 'essentialism', that is, the assumption that there is a
    'common core' underlying all the different manifestations of mystical
    experience. This is an inheritance from the Cartesian program, seeking a
    reductive explanation of phenomena. If you accept, e.g., the Wittgensteinian
    notion of 'family resemblance' then it becomes problematic to insist upon a
    common core lying underneath difference;

    dmb says:
    I don't see how essentialism, Cartesianism or reductionism enters into the
    equation. The assertion is simply that people have reported and described
    the same experience and that they have done so regardless of their
    particular culture, time and place. This is simply recognizing a pattern.
    The only thing that can be reasonable in dispute is the meaning of these
    reports. Nothing needs to be assumed. One reads account after account and
    notices a common theme. Recognition of this common core is a conclusion, a
    point of view based on evidence, not an assumptiom.

    Sam said:
    - in discussing the ineffable characteristics of mystical experience, the
    'non-conceptual' (and equivalents) are being used to stand for conceptual
    terms. Put differently, if
    a mystical experience has some impact upon a person's understanding then it
    must be 'ascribable' to
    that person, by themselves or another, and so the insistence on
    'non-conceptuality' is

    dmb says:
    I don't quite follow the reasoning here. But if I had to guess, you're
    troubled by a seemingly inconsistent assertion that a mystical experience is
    both ineffable and noetic, that it is beyond concepts and it imparts
    knowledge at the same time. Is that about right? As I understand it, this is
    only a problem is we are claiming that the knowledge we gain from such an
    experience is conceptual, but its not conceptual. This is why we usually
    talk about it in metaphors or in terms of what it is NOT. And you may recall
    my explanations concerning epistemological pluralism. In those terms we
    would say that concepts are seen with the eye of the mind rather than with
    the eye of flesh and that the eye of contemplation is a third kind that is
    neither. This 3rd one is the eye with which we "see" in a mystical
    experience. So the apparent conflict here disappears when we say that the
    knowlege gained from a mystical experience cannot be expressed in concepts,
    but we do it anyway.

    Sam said:
    - the "Modern synthesis" depends upon an individualist epistemology, again
    deriving from Descartes,
    which makes what happens to a particular ego central. If this is rejected
    (which it generally has
    been) then, once more, the synthesis breaks down.

    dmb says:
    Well, no. Let us not forget that one of the central assertions of
    philosophical mysticism is that ego-consciousness is dissolved in the
    experience. Except for the fact that people have both ego and mystical
    experiences, the mystical conception of self is quite opposite from
    Descartes'. That's the source of the isolated lonliness that Pirsig is
    trying to get rid of.

    Sam quoted - The French church historian Henri de Lubac:
    "The links of Denis, the first and most influential of
    the great mystical theologians, with Neoplatonism are undeniable. But
    precisely that which, for
    Denis himself, constitutes mysticism, is not what these experiences which he
    describes my have in
    common with, for example, those of Plotinus. It is, on the contrary, their
    position at the
    intersection of a whole specifically Christian spiritual tradition of
    scriptural interpretation and
    the ecclesiastical experience of the liturgy, the eucharistic liturgy. His
    mystical theology, as he
    understands it himself, is his manner of recognising the Christ, at the
    breaking of bread, in all
    the scriptures."

    dmb says:
    If I understand this at all, Lubac is saying that mysticism is not about the
    experiences reported by people like Plotinus. He's saying mysticism is,
    instead, reading the bible and participating in rituals? This is where
    Pirsig's comments about shutting out the light come in. His assertion is
    that myth and ritual serve as a static portrait of DQ, but that the problem
    comes in when those static portraits are not seen as such, are not used to
    guide the practicioner toward an experince of their own but are instead seen
    as the point and purpose of religion in themselves. This seems to be the
    crime of which Lubac is guilty. As I understand it, Lubac doesn't understand
    that such rituals are vehicles of transformation and his misunderstanding
    has lead him to worship a stationary car with no wheels rather than use it
    to go some place. This is the attitude that has put the churches up on
    blocks in the front yard. This is what makes the churches broken down and
    obsolete. They don't function as vehicles and do not even understand that
    they should.

    Sam said:
    - As more research has been done directly on the Christian mystical
    tradition, it has become more
    and more clear that not only are the Christian mystics themselves not
    interested in their own
    'experiences' (understood as private, ineffable, noetic etc), but that their
    precise arguments are
    to undermine and critique the emphasis upon such exotic experiences, as a
    snare and spiritual
    delusion, leading to the vices of self-absorption and Titanism.

    dmb asks:
    Delusion, self-absorption and Titanism? Please explain.

    Sam wrote:
    If the academic community is right in rejecting the Kantian problematic, and
    therefore the 'Modern synthesis' understanding of mysticism - and the
    grounds for doing so are really quite overwhelming - where does that leave
    Pirsig and the MoQ?

    dmb says:
    I don't think these dominos tumble in the order you suggest for the reasons
    outlined above. And I'm a bit baffled by the claim that "the grounds for
    doing so are quite overwhelming" and you're being awfully vague about "the
    academic community". May I assume that you mean theological circles?

    Sam wrapped it up:
    For the links
    between the MoQ and Schleiermacher's project seem profound, even down to
    some of the language used.
    Is it accurate to describe the MoQ as simply a redescription of
    Schleiermacher's scheme, that is, is
    not Dynamic Quality merely a Kantian 'pure experience', and the levels of
    Static Quality merely a
    redescription of phenomena? If not, why not? This is not to suggest a direct
    borrowing, only to
    point out that Pirsig's work - probably via William James - has inherited a
    conceptual shape from
    Schleiermacher, and that conceptual shape is very largely discredited within
    the academic community.

    dmb says:
    Well, yes, its pretty clear that Schleiermacher, James and Pirsig are all
    talking about the same experience, but this is not particularly modern, does
    not begin with Schleiermacher and doesn't rest upon Kant's epistemology.

    You gotta remember Kant's place in history. He was writing and thinking in
    an atmosphere of materialism, objectivity, the mirror of nature, realism,
    rationalism and all those various permutations of SOM. Kant was no mystic
    and so his conception of the nomena is not like the "nothingness" of the
    East or like Pirsig's DQ. Rather it is more like the assertion that there is
    an objective, divided reality out there, but we can never really know it.
    The mystic, by contrast, says that we can not only experience reality
    directly, but also that we ARE that reality. In Kant's view there is an
    impossble gulf between phenomena and nomena, between subjects and the
    objective world and never the twain shall meet. Philosophical mysticism
    asserts that this is the illusion to be overcome and there is no gulf at
    all. See?

    Eyes shape and divide the world. Cultures and ideas shape and divide the
    world. The mystical experience removes those shapes and divisions, not to
    get a clear picture of things, but to dissolve things and see the undivided
    reality. Its not a matter of a subject getting an unfiltered picture of the
    objective reality because those are among the divisions that are dissolved,
    see? That's where the loss of ego comes in, see? And this is where concepts
    fail because concepts are all about definitions and divisions, see? How's
    that for starters?



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