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The Philosophical Relevance of Religious Experience1


The meaning of the title of this essay is not clear. And something must be done towards clarifying it, in order that the question at issue may be understood.

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page 229 note 2 This exclusion should not be taken as equivalent to a flat denial that feelings of sublimity and so on have any religious significance. Perhaps they have. But I do not intend to discuss the matter here.

page 236 note 1 It may be said that the religious mystics themselves have employed a technique, for example ascetic practices. But the Christian mystics at least adopted ascetic practices for other purposes than for inducing mystical experience. In any case they did not regard the relation of mystical experience to ascetic practices as being that of effect to cause in the same sense in which states induced by drugs are the effects of the latter.

page 236 note 2 I am indebted for this idea to a reading of Professor R. H. Thouless's valuable little work. An Introduction to the Psychology of Religion.

page 241 note 1 I am using the word “experience” here to signify experience considered in its subjective aspect. I mean, by saying “experience of union with a Being” I do not intend to assume that the experience is necessarily what the subject feels it to be.

page 242 note 1 The question of the relation between mystical experience and interpretation of the nature of God is an interesting question. In the case of those Sufi mystics, for example, who spoke of God in terms of “friend” and “lover” and who were conscious of their departure from the legalistic Mohammedan tradition, how far was the change in the conception of God due to their mystical experience and how far did it precede this experience, being shaped, for instance, by Christian influences? Such questions are difficult to answer. But if it could be shown that their conception of God was primarily due to their mystical experience, this would be a point of some importance.

1 This paper represents a lecture given at The Royal Institute of Philosophy in March, 1956.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
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