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Master of Hallucination: A Pragmatist Epistemology and Exploration of Mystical Experience

Mystical experience appears to have always been a feature of human consciousness, and occurs with an enormous variety of content, character, and context. A modern awareness of the variegated nature of mystical experience has led to particular types being almost automatically considered false, usually on somewhat dubious grounds. How might a sound epistemology of mystical experience be developed? Most philosophers who tackle this question attempt to shoehorn mystical experience into a relatively traditional epistemology, with unconvincing results. God or whatever supernatural realm or entity a mystic might claim to perceive is a special kind of object, and requires a special epistemic approach. A common theme of mystical experience is the special knowledge or power that its subject claims to have gained. Perhaps such potentially tangible benefits should be made the focus of an epistemology of mysticism. In this thesis, my first act is to define mystical experience in a broader, more inclusive sense than most other treatments of the topic have done. I then examine the problems of formulating a viable epistemology of mystical experience around the traditional notions of objectivity and subjectivity, explore the question of whether current evolutionary theory can aid us in understanding the epistemic worth of mystical experience, and develop a pragmatist epistemology of mystical experience that draws on the work of William James and John Dewey. I conclude the thesis by arguing for an understanding of mystical experience as a supremely valuable force regardless of the reality of the supernatural, and as a potential cornerstone in a twenty-first century humanism.
Type of thesis
Barron, D. J. (2011). Master of Hallucination: A Pragmatist Epistemology and Exploration of Mystical Experience (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5535
University of Waikato
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