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Book I Chapter 1 - 8

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« on: January 06, 2023, 03:56:30 am »

8. This introductory chapter is perhaps the proper place for a word on the relation of Metaphysics to the widely diffused mental tendency known as Mysticism.[1] Inasmuch as the fundamental aim of the mystic is to penetrate behind the veil of appearance to some ultimate and abiding reality, there is manifestly a close community of purpose between him and the metaphysician. But their diversity of method is no less marked than their partial community of purpose. Once in touch with his reality, wherever he may find it, the mere mystic has no longer any interest in the world of appearance. Appearance as such is for him merely the untrue and ultimately non-existent, and the peculiar emotion which he derives from his contemplation of the real depends for its special quality on an ever-present sense of the contrast between the abiding being of the reality and the non-entity of the appearances. Thus the merely mystical attitude towards appearance is purely negative. The metaphysician, on the contrary, has only half completed his task when he has, by whatever method, ascertained the general character of the real as opposed to the merely apparent. It still remains for him to re-examine the realm of appearance itself in the light of his theory of reality, to ascertain the relative truth which partial and imperfect conceptions of the world's nature contain, and to arrange the various appearances in the order of their varying approximation to truth. He must show not only what are the marks of reality, and why certain things which are popularly accepted as real must, for Philosophy, be degraded to the rank of appearance, but also how far each appearance succeeds in revealing the character of the reality which is its ground. Equally marked is the difference between the mystic's and the metaphysician's attitude towards ultimate reality itself. The mystic's object is primarily emotional rather than intellectual. What he wants is a feeling of satisfaction which he can get get from immediate contact with something taken to be finally and abidingly real. Hence, when he comes to put his emotions into words, he is always prone to use the language of vague imaginative symbolism, the only language suitable to suggest feelings which, because immediate and unanalysed, cannot be the subject of logical description in general terms. For the metaphysician, whose object is the attainment of intellectual consistency, such a method of symbolism is radically unsuitable.

A symbol is always a source of danger to the intellect. If you employ it for what you already understand, and might, if you chose, describe in scientific language, it is a mere substitution of the obscure for the clear. If you use it, as the mystic commonly does, for what you do not understand, its apparent precision, by blinding you to the vagueness of its interpretation, is positively mischievous. Hence, though some of the greatest metaphysicians, such as Plotinus and Spinoza, and to a certain extent Hegel, have been personally mystics, their philosophical method has invariably been scientific and rationalistic. At the same time, it is probably true that, apart from the mystic's need for the satisfaction of emotion by the contemplation of the eternal and abiding, the  intellect would be prone to exercise itself in less arid and more attractive fields than those of abstract Metaphysics. The philosopher seeks, in the end, the same goal as the mystic; his peculiarity is that he is so constituted as to reach his goal only by the route of intellectual speculation.
 [1] For further discussion the reader may be referred to Royce, The World and the Individual, First Series, Lects. 2 and 4. See also infra, Bk. IV. chap. 6, 2.

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