Kant on the Epistemology of Indirect Mystical Experience

Sophia 56 (2):311-336 (2017)
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While numerous commentators have discussed Kant’s views on mysticism in general, very few of them have examined Kant’s specific views on different types of mystical experience. I suggest that Kant’s views on direct mystical experience differ substantially from his views on indirect mystical experience (IME). In this paper, I focus on Kant’s complex views on IME in both his pre-critical and critical writings and lectures. In the first section, I examine Kant’s early work, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, where he defends the possibility that the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg’s alleged visions of the spirit-world are veridical cases of IME. In the second section, I discuss Kant’s views on IME during his critical period. I first argue that the epistemology of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason accommodates the possibility of IME. I then examine Kant’s views on Swedenborgian visions in his lectures from the 1770s to the 1790s and argue that his critical views on Swedenborg are largely continuous with his pre-critical views in Dreams. Finally, I examine passages in Kant’s late works, Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone and The Conflict of the Faculties, where he discusses three non-Swedenborgian types of IME. In the final section, I explore briefly how Kant’s views on IME relate to contemporary debates among analytic philosophers of religion regarding the nature and possibility of mystical experience.
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First archival date: 2017-09-04
Latest version: 3 (2017-10-23)
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