Medieval Christian and Islamic Mysticism and the Problem of a 'Mystical Ethics'

In Thomas Williams (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Ethics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280-305 (2018)
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In this chapter, we examine a few potential problems when inquiring into the ethics of medieval Christian and Islamic mystical traditions: First, there are terminological and methodological worries about defining mysticism and doing comparative philosophy in general. Second, assuming that the Divine represents the highest Good in such traditions, and given the apophaticism on the part of many mystics in both religions, there is a question of whether or not such traditions can provide a coherent theory of value. Finally, the antinomian tendencies and emphasis on passivity of some mystics might lead one to wonder whether their prescriptive exhortations can constitute a coherent theory of right action. We tackle each of these concerns in turn and discuss how they might be addressed, in an attempt to show how medieval mysticism, as a fundamentally practical enterprise, deserves more attention from practical and moral philosophy than it has thus far received.

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Amber L. Griffioen
Duke Kunshan University


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