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THE OBJECTIVITY OF MYSTICAL TRUTH CLAIMS HE PHILOSOPHICAL ANALYSIS of mysticism is ompleting the turn to the subject. While it has long een recognized that interpretations of mystical experience are mediated by cultural, religious and linguistic factors, until very recently analysts have simply assumed that mystical experience itself is unmediated and transcultural. This assumption is now under siege. It is now being cogently argued that not just mystical interpretations, but mystical experiences themselves are mediated by the traditions within which mystics operate. This is a welcome development. A clarification of the mediated character of mystical experience, by raising new questions, challenging old assumptions and inspiring fresh readings of the basic literature, offers an opportunity for significant advance along new paths in mystical analysis. But there is another side. Where there is new insight, there may be oversight; where new paths are being explored there may be wrong turns into blind alleys; where one false assumption is clarified, another may take its place. My intention in this essay is to forestall one of the wrong turns. For along with the clarification that a mystical experience is mediated has come the assertion, familiar from other philosophical and theological contexts, that all truth claims which follow from these experiences are by that very fact subjective and without ontological status. To be sure, this assertion has an initial plausibility and in many instances may in fact be true. But it is one thing to assert that a given mystical truth claim is not objective, quite another to assert that all mystical truth claims are in principle without objectivity. Such an assertion is not based on an appeal to the relevant mystical data; it is based upon fundamental assumptions about 81 82 JAMES ROBERTSON PRICE III the nature of knowing, objectivity and the real. In what follows I will challenge these assumptions and argue that while mystical experience is indeed mediated, this does not in principle preclude the objectivity of mystical truth claims. To this end I will examine a particular and influential work by a contemporary scholar, Steven T. Katz.1 Katz makes a clear and forceful case that mystical experience is culturally mediated and argues in consequence that mystical truth claims have no objective status. I will focus on the latter argument and attempt to show that his claim in this regard is based neither on convincing logical argument nor coherent epistemological procedures.2 That Katz's position is the rule rather than the exception among scholars who affirm the mediated character of mystical experience makes it all the more important to bring the relevant logical and epistemological issues out into the open, particularly at a time when the philosophical analysis of mysticism is in a state of ferment.3 Before attempting this critique, however, it is necessary to consider Katz's argument in some detail. Katz's main concern in the lead essay of his book is to frame a critique of what he takes to be the facile assumption that there is a " common core " to mystical experience. For Katz, there is no perennial philosophy. "There are NO pure (i.e., u,nmediated) experiences," whether mystical or otherwise (p. 26) He documents his case by analyzing selected aspects of the Jewish, Buddhist and Christian mystical traditions and i Steven T. Katz, "Language, Epistemology and Mysticism," in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, edited by Steven T. Katz (New York: Oxford University, 1978), pp. 22-74. This volume is the work which pioneers the completion of the turn to the subject in mystical analysis. A follow-up volume of essays has recently appeared: Mysticism and Religious Traditions, edited by Steven T. Katz, (New York: Oxford University, 1983). 2 Katz, "Language, Epistemology and Mysticism," p. 65. All further citations will be noted parenthetically in the body of the text. a Cf. ,Jure Kristo, "The Interpretation of Religious Experience: What Do Mystics Int-end When They Talk About Their Experience?" Journal of Religion 62 (1982): 23; John Hick, God has Many,Names, (Philadelphia: Westminster , 1982), pp. 95-99; Robert M. Gimello, "Mysticism ana Meditation," in Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, pp. 193-194. THE OBJECTIVITY OF MYSTICAL TRUTH CLAIMS 83 contends that Jewish mystics have specifically Jewish...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 81-98
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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