November 12, 2005

Epistemology of mysticism

Phillips, Stephen Hall
Aurobindo's philosophy of Brahman
Degree: PH.D.- 1982 / Harvard University; 0084 // DAI, VOL. 43-05A, Page 1577, 00305 Pages 296 pages. Chapter titles: 'Epistemology of Mysticism,' 'Aurobindo and Indian Tradition,' 'The Nature of Absolute,' and 'Divine Life: What's It Worth?'
ABSTRACT: The thesis undertakes a critical examination of the central concepts and claims of a modern Indian metaphysician, Sri Aurobindo (Ghose). Aurobindo says that while his philosophy is interpretive of all experience it is expressive of mystic experience in particular, his own and that of others. Chapter 1 considers this position by addressing the epistemology of mysticism. Under what conditions might mystic experience constitute reason to believe in the objective truth of particular mystic claims? This question is for the most part debated in abstraction from the content of Aurobindo's philosophy, so that Chapter 1 could be considered prolegomena to the study of almost any mystic philosophy.
Aurobindo's particular mystic philosophy relies on broad ideas of earlier Indian thought, though his formal education was Western and he wrote in English. He would have us believe that his effort to understand his own extraordinary experiences, which supposedly ensued from his personal practice of yoga, led him to develop ideas forged in ancient Indian mystic traditions. Chapter 2 considers the general nature and philosophic import of his dependence on earlier Indian thought. It is motivated by the worry that Aurobindo may be more Hindu apologist than mystic empiricist in his defense of Indian mysticism and some of its doctrines.
Chapter 3 presents a thorough, critical exposition of Aurobindo's concept of the Absolute (Brahman). In its critique, it integrates themes of mystic empiricism and intellectual history commenced previously. The fourth and final chapter addresses issues of theodicy and eschatology which are crucial to the coherence of Aurobindo's view. It also probes the value of the mystic goals proposed by him, bringing to bear on the topic much of the previous discussion. There particular pragmatic criteria are delineated as decisive for assessing Aurobindo's worldview, mystic tradition, and extraordinary experiences.

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