This piece deals with this question: if mysticism or pantheism is anti-reason, why does the tendency run parallel to philosophical evolution? Philosophical evolution, on account of the infallibility of logic (reason), by imperative must sharpen the human faculties of reason with the repercussion of setting the human mind free from the anti-reason tendencies of the subject matter. However, on the contrary, the irrationality of mysticism has thrived throughout the history of philosophy. Mystical philosophies in contemporary Thought, to a philosopher who meticulously follows logical methods of inquiry, would seem unreasonable, however, such philosophies are in existence and are being spewed by countless philosophers, globally. To find out the reason(s) behind this unnatural phenomenon in the history of human thought, this paper inquires and attempts to understand all the facets of the question and the Thought presented in it that can be possibly mediated by the author’s mind.
It is axiomatic that “Reason” is the ultimate soul of philosophy. Colloquially, “Reason” is to philosophy what a solution is to a mathematical problem. A philosophy lacking in “reason” is not just fallacious-emotional-manipulation but also adds to the devolution of the discipline whose only job it is to find clear and correct meaning in all the phenomena of the condition of Being. “Clear” and “correct” meanings are arguable concepts but it is rather irrelevant to the problem at hand. Although, I would argue that in a restrained manner, all contemporary philosophers agree on the definition of “correct reasoning” because all philosophers recognize all the established logical fallacies. However, this doesn’t warrant that these philosophers won’t commit fallacies themselves.
Philosophy, ever since its first conception, due to the nature of the problems it deals with has always been evolving. The evolution of philosophy has produced a myriad of theories asserting either such is or such isn’t the case. Over the long history of Thought, many philosophical traditions have been discredited owing to fallacious arguments. Pythagoras was the brilliant mathematician and philosopher whose groundbreaking work in the field of Geometry propelled scientific (natural philosophy at the time) inquiry into the most advanced domains of quest and discovery in the world at that time. But when “it came to their philosophical beliefs, the Pythagoreans were extremely superstitious and mystical. They believed that the human soul was trapped in a continuous cycle of death and reincarnation”. Pythagorean philosophy is contemplated with aw and perplexion today. Pythagoras, in fact, had his own religion with a set of rules based on mythical ideas that “abstained his followers from eating beans” and “walking on highways”. On the one hand, Pythagoras made trailblazing contributions to natural philosophy, and on the other hand, he attributed to himself a semi-divine character. It is believed that he once said, “there are men and Gods and beings like Pythagoras”. Bertrand Russell in his history of philosophy admits that Pythagoras was “intellectually one of the most important men who ever lived, both when he was wise and when he was unwise”.
Mysticism, despite being otherworldly philosophy or anti-reason for that matter, has been running parallel to philosophical evolution from the very early days of Philosophy. Mystical tendencies in the early days of philosophy were only natural. The human mind has to know answers to the questions that it posits and when the right answers or “reason” is difficult to find due to the limitations of the human mind and knowledge, answers in emotions and myth are sought after. But when reasonable philosophical explanations to previously mind-bending problems are offered, the myth or the emotional fallacy remains in the same place. The Reason is not allowed space in the zeitgeist from the fear of losing beliefs.
Understanding mysticism/ pantheism
Both pantheism and mysticism are, and aren’t simultaneously the same schools of thought. This vague statement stems from the fact that a multitude of thinkers have contributed their own versions of the theories. As a result, “touched with a more exclusively religious spirit, pantheism became the foundation of much of the mysticism of the middle age”. It is painstakingly difficult to sift through the disguise of language to find boundaries of distinction in the theories. In order to defog the objective of this paper, I am going to ignore the nuance in the two words. Although the multitude of works under the same definitive words may separate them in subtle ways, unreason unites pantheism and mysticism, for better or worse, time will tell. Mysticism/pantheism tries to explain and give meaning to existence. Given the immense significance of the task, this approach is trying to explain, the structure of the school of thought is an insult to existence. The scale of obscurity in the theses allows anyone to give any meaning of their want.
One cannot understand mysticism because it is not understandable. It is imperative that an argument should be devoid of primitive feelings, but to understand mysticism one must utilize their feelings. And that allows one to make any, whatever sense of these they want.
On the presumed nature of the philosophical evolution
A presumption is inherent in the question; why is mysticism, being anti-reason, parallel to philosophical evolution? The presumption in the question is that it presupposes philosophical evolution, a perpetual process of setting human Thought free from the prejudice of anti-reason. It is most desirable and possible due to the infallible nature of logic. However, if not largely, it is equally improbable for philosophical evolution to naturally aim for logic and to outrun anti-reason. The question-statement establishes that mystical tendencies run parallel to philosophical evolution, which indicates the trajectory of philosophical evolution that is neither heading away from anti-reason nor is it heading towards it. From the premises in the question-statement, we can conclude that philosophical evolution, representing reason, and mystical tendencies, representing anti-reason, are in a state of natural equilibrium.
Mystical tendencies from Pythagoras to the Scholastic era
As mentioned earlier, Pythagoras had his religion with a set of mythical and absurd rules and a devout following. He was a philosopher of great caliber and he also had these tendencies towards explanations that can be called otherworldly. Moreover, “the testimony of both Plato (R. 600a) and Isocrates (Busiris 28) shows that Pythagoras was above all famous for having left behind him a way of life, which still had adherents in the fourth century over 100 years after his death”.
Throughout this period up to the scholastic era, philosophy kept evolving and it still is, but the explanations from emotion and false reason didn’t fall behind. In the pre-socratic school, thinkers were just starting to question the mechanisms of the physical world. They have been believing in religion up till now but there seem to be problems that religion can’t explain. Thinkers have just started to realize that they can ask questions and dig for deeper meaning and explanation. They are at this point addicted to philosophizing. Naturally, there must have been a cutthroat competition for finding answers. In a competitive environment, the standards of truth must have been compromised. One philosopher, in haste, may have advanced a mythical explanation for a certain problem that could’ve set a precedent for hastily coming to conclusions. Or in other words, a mystical explanation. The philosopher Xenophanes advanced the thesis of the permanence of God, he retained the changing world with the permanence of God. Simultaneously, there may have been other philosophers who in ignorance, may have set the bar of truth very low.
The Socratic school at its prime time was relatively well reasonable. Socrates himself was the greatest influence on the absurd explanations of the world at the time. The well-known Socratic method was catching on as a method of inquiry. During his lifetime and even posthumously, Socrates influenced people to overcome mystical tendencies through his new radical method of Socratic dialogue. It however did not succeed in completely emancipating human thought from anti-reason. Socrates paid the price of his life for being reasonable and anti-reason tendencies became a part of the history of thought.
Philosophy kept evolving. Philosophers were sharpening their faculties of reason and for them, it was obvious that Matter needed to be looked at, experimented with, and that some truth was hidden in it. The philosopher Empedocles and Anaxagoras had earlier tried to understand the matter but their findings were very elementary. They “needed revision in several important respects, and this they received at the hands of the atomists Leucippus and Democritus”. Democritus then proposed that the atomos, the uncuttable tiny piece of matter, were the fundamental block of matter.
The traditional mystical approaches to the world were challenged yet again by this another method of inquiry. It was a step further in the evolution of natural philosophy. Not everyone included in the thinking circles was going to take after a new method. People existed then and people exist today who are scared of losing what gives them meaning in life. It is natural to be afraid of losing our identity and losing the meaning of our life.
Throughout this period, the appeal of anti-reason and relevance were challenged by ever more strong and promising methods of inquiry and theories; however, on account of people’s general ability to understand the complex phenomena of life, mysticism thrived and it is still thriving.
The philosophical evolution during the Pythagorean and scholastic eras is just a snip of the eternal competition between reason and anti-reason.
Christianity came with its own radical explanations for everything that a human mind can contemplate. Islam came and before both Judaism was standing in the way of Reason. Whenever anti-reason has been the dominant and popular school of thought, it has tried to expunge reason off of human minds. Whether it’s in the form of Judaism or mysticism, the reason is always a threat.
The nature of the anti-reason is essential to assert itself in the domain of reason. Mysticism has been asserting its relevance throughout the history of thought.
Mysticism during the medieval period managed to remain relevant and concurrent to the philosophical evolution, also due to the lack of any other cogent explanations for the problems of the time.
During the scholastic era, reason had become more persuasive. Philosophical evolution had reached a point where it was possible to compare anti-reason and reason. Mysticism was more open for debate but that also didn’t change the fact that the human mind first wants an easy explanation and that keeps mysticism parallel to philosophical evolution.
Mystical tendencies in contemporary Thought
Why are mystical tendencies still prevalent in contemporary thought? In Indian philosophy, the concept of reincarnation until the soul finally becomes absolute with God is still popular. Millions of followers of various Gurus believe in this quintessential example of mysticism. This philosophy is popular in the west as well. One is inclined to state the fact that this is also a lucrative business for the Gurus. Why do millions of people across the world subscribe to a belief system that they know is profiting from their participation and that the system will fall apart if capital is taken out of the equation? This question demands inquiry. The majority of the people who seek explanations for their life problems in mysticism are heartbroken individuals (estimation). Particularly, the western populations who travel to India seeking content and fulfillment are in fact truly seeking peace, satisfaction, and an escape from the conditions, or perhaps, the tragedies of their lives. Mysticism is a painkiller for people weary of life. One can say that the relevance of mysticism is partly due to the overabundance of misery in the world. And partly due to the fact that “ mystics claim for themselves a kind of knowledge or illumination different from ordinary sensuous or reasoned knowledge”.
Urstoff: The Ultimate Stuff of the Universe
In the early days of philosophy, philosophers’ mainly inquired about the stuff that the universe was made up of. It was only natural for pre-socratic thinkers to delve into the inquiry of the material. And this was the point when philosophy started to evolve from myth to reason. Theistic philosophies were being conquered by more logically rigorous ideas which demanded meticulous reasoning such as monism and dualism, the problem of the one and the many, unity in tension, and unity in difference.
The goal was to find the ultimate nature of the universe – which is still unfounded. For instance, the monists believed that the universe was made out of material and argued against the existence of an immaterial substance. Dualists, however, argued that the mind was an entity separate from matter and that the universe was made out of material and immaterial substances. Similarly, the problem of the one and the many suggested that there must be a single entity or a cause behind the existence of the universe. It is apparent that philosophy at the time was not as organized as it is today. Questions were not clearly categorized on the basis of the nature of their inquiry.
Regarded as a Pantheist by many scholars of his work, Baruch Spinoza put forth the idea of infinite modes of being which maintained that “there is only one existing substance, God, and there are infinitely many modes”. This was an attempt of Spinoza at categorizing the materials that existed. Mystical and pantheistic philosophies such as that of Spinoza’s are prevalent even in modern and contemporary philosophers’ works which is testament to the relevance of mysticism to philosophical evolution.
Mystical tendencies from the Pythagorean school of thought to the scholastic era were without doubt, parallel to the reasonable philosophical evolution and the anti-reason is even today as common as the reason. Mysticism, despite being an anti-reason and implausible school of thought, is concurrent in position with the philosophical evolution. The mystical approach appeals to human emotion.
Impulsivity is a significant characteristic of the human mind. Humanity is a sponge for pleasure that mysticism has to offer in the form of vague yet poetic arguments, music, and reasoning that is very easily fathomed by the common man, as opposed to many other schools of thought. Thinking is hard and that is why people keep mysticism alive for its easy-to-understand meaning of the condition of Being.
Finally, one is tempted to mention that mystical tendencies in human Thought and action will remain parallel to the evolution of philosophy which raises a question on the supposed nature of philosophical evolution. – is it bound to evolve in favor of reason? Maybe the idea that philosophy evolves in a logical manner is flawed.
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