Here’s a tanbih (تنبيه) for you in case you’re ever tempted – or worse, taken in – by obscurantist claims to special, “esoteric” items of knowledge, particularly when such items, merely on grounds of being esoteric in character, are set in opposition to rationally well-established premises.

The way something may seem i.e., to a perceiver, can be different from the way it is in itself. Therefore, the relation between appearance and reality is not necessarily one of entailment. In other words, not every appearance is epistemic i.e., guarantees the extra-mental existence of what it is an appearance of. Therefore, from your perception or experience of x, it does not necessarily follow that (1) x exists or (for that matter) that (2) x doesn’t exist. Call this thesis AR. The same is the case with beliefs; from your mere belief in p, neither (1) ‘p is true’ nor ‘p is false’ follows. In such cases, something else – over and above the mere appearance or perception – is needed.

Suppose, then, you have some mystical i.e., “supra-rational” experience of some x, from which you come out believing in some p. Given AR, nothing about your experience/perception of x entails the existence of x, although the experience may be evidence for why you believe in p. But, as you saw, your belief in p, by itself, doesn’t validly entail the truth of p; nor does your belief in p, this time in conjunction with the evidence for it, i.e., your mere experience of x, entail the truth of p – AR undermines this latter inference as well.

So, plug in any purported mystical phenomenon for x and any proposition or item of esoteric knowledge for p (that x is supposedly evidence for) and you’ll see the point. Once you do see it, internalize it by repeatedly thinking the argument through; hopefully then, mystical ‘flights of fancy’ (takhayyulat sufiyyah), in whatever form you find them, won’t have any purchase on your assent (tasdiq) – especially, again, when they’re opposed to premises which you hold on solid rational grounds.


One thought on “An admonition against mystic mongering

  1. Salam and peace my friend.

    Elaborate, but you forgot that the very same line of argument is pertaining to the “rationally well-established premises” as well.

    Also, the question is about knowledge itself and how one acquires it. If knowledge is conception and judgement, then the same line of argument follows to that as well.
    (To define something, you must believe that it is true based on some premises about X, but again, AR states that….)
    (Analogy, deduction and induction also produces some sort of perception or experience about X, but again, AR states that…)

    In addition, do not forget that there is a section of mysticism called philosophical mysticism which does not undermine any sort of rational proofs, and also that supra-rational does not mean irrational, but a stronger and elevated rational state (such as the realization of the limitation of reason, as stated by even a poetic line from your master Avicenna – thousands of sun shone in my heart, but in the end it did not even ponder the essence of an atom).


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