Monday, August 31, 2009

Long-term problem: identifying the advocates

Two of my theme questions are:

4. Who are the main advocates of reason in our time (1960 to now)? What are their key ideas and what actions have they taken to disseminate those ideas?

5. Who are the main advocates of mysticism in our time (1960 to now)? What are their key ideas and what actions have they taken to disseminate those ideas?

What the two questions have in common is the problem of identifying contemporary advocates -- both those individuals who originate new ideas (or new arguments for old ideas) and those individuals who disseminate those ideas. By "contemporary" I mean advocates who have lived within the last philosophical generation (fifty years). By "advocates" I mean those few individuals to whom most other intellectuals on their side of the reason/mysticism debate have turned for guidance. These contemporary advocates are the designers, manufacturers, and distributors of the "intellectual ammunition" that lesser intellectuals use in the reason/mysticism war.

Following are very short lists of individuals who are or might be qualified as originators or disseminators. Additional suggestions are welcome. I will update the list as I encounter new possibilities for investigation.

Candidates and nominees for main advocates of reason
- Rand, Ayn (1905-1982)
- Peikoff, Leonard (b. 1933)
- Is there a contemporary advocate of Aristotle's epistemology?
- Are there other advocates of reason (as the sole faculty for acquiring facts and values)?

Candidates and nominees for main advocates of at least one form of mysticism

- Niebuhr, Reinhold (1892-1971) for mysticism in Christianity.
- Lewis, C. S. (1898-1963) for mysticism in Christianity.
- Prager, Dennis (b. 1948) for mysticism in Judaism.[1]
- Who is a main advocate of faith or other form of mysticism in Islam?
- Who is a main advocate of modern pagan mysticism in some form?

- Feyerabend, Paul (1924-1974), for a form of mysticism in "science."
- Derrida, Jacques (1930-2004) for a post-modernist form of mysticism.
- Rorty, Richard (1931-2007) for a post-modernist form of mysticism.
- Who is a main advocate of oracular "common sense"?
- Who is a main advocate of intuition?
- Who is a main advocate of instinct?

If you can suggest candidates for the main advocates -- either originators or disseminators -- of either mysticism or reason in our time, please use the comment form.

Burgess Laughlin

[1] An example of a mystic who was more of a cultural effect than a cause in the mystical movement is Hyman Bloom (1913-2009), a painter. His style reflected his immersion in many forms of mysticism articulated by others. See "Hyman Bloom, a Painter of the Mystical, is Dead at 96," Holland Cotter, The New York Times, August 31, 2009, online (may expire).


  1. One commenter, who unfortunately did not follow the rules of etiquette (stating his name), wonders why I left the Pope off my initial list of advocates of mysticism. That is an appropriate and welcome question.

    Generally, I am trying to identify either (1) the leading contemporary originators of arguments for reason or mysticism or (2) major disseminators. "Leading" and "major" are relative terms. For some forms of mysticism there might not be any individuals who have a coherent argument and a large following. I may have to accept minor figures if they are the only ones in their field. E.g., who today is advocating (at an intellectual level) for "common sense"?

    So far as I know, the current pope (Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, born in 1927 and beginning his reign in 2005) does not qualify. He is mainly a repeater of arguments -- for revelation, faith, tradition, and authority -- that the Church has long offered. If this view of him is inaccurate, please correct me.

    His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, might qualify, especially because of his little book, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), an encyclical that circulated in 1998 throughout the Church and was widely discussed there. What FeR offered that was new was an attempt to define the three-way relationship between faith (and other Catholic forms of mysticism), "science" (reason), and post-modernism (a "secular" mystical movement competing with Christianity in Euro-culture countries).

    Summary: Who today is, in content or formulation, the most original Church intellectual advocating for any form of Catholic mysticism? Likewise, who is the most influential disseminator of ideas about or arguments for mysticism?

  2. Other commenters, in another venue, have suggested the following as candidates for advocates of secular mysticism:
    -Ekhart Tolle.
    -A contemporary follower of Helena Blavatsky, a founder of Theosophy.
    - Rupert Sheldrake (who thinks that the laws of reality are actually "habits" of reality).
    - Ken Wilber.
    - Terrence McKenna.

  3. I have commented elsewhere but feel obliged to state again, that Derrida is on the 'wrong' list.

    Nothing more reasonable than a criticism of 'reason' (criticism in the Kantian sense).

    R. McGuckin

  4. One of the seven chapters I cut out of the detailed outline of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith was a chapter on Derrida. Everything I read by him and about him supports the conclusion that he was an advocate (and practitioner) of mysticism.

    Derrida's On Grammatology illustrates his mysticism. His style is the message.

    I will not debate that here, in this comment thread. However, anyone who is convinced that Derrida was an advocate of reason, as defined in this website, and an opponent of mysticism, as defined here in this website, is welcome to write an essay proving his point and then to post a link here.

    For my view of Kant -- a thoroughgoing mystic -- see Ch. 7 of The Power and the Glory. The Table of Contents is viewable here:


I welcome all pertinent comments and questions from readers who follow my strict rules of etiquette. I will not publish improper comments. If your screen name is not your first and last real name, be sure to include your name -- first and last -- in the body of your comment. Example acceptable forms of a name are: Burgess Laughlin; B. Laughlin; and Burgess L. or something similar that would be recognizable. The burden is on you to identify yourself.