…martin, james & proudfoot on religious experience

Martin: “Critique of Religious Experience.”

…religious experience under Swinburne’s scheme:

  • Experience of a public object as a supernatural being.
  • Experience of the supernatural being as a public object expressed in ordinary language.
  • Experience (like number 2 above) without the public object expressed in ordinary language.
  • Experience not expressed in ordinary language.
  • Experience of a supernatural being without sensations (can be of either a public or non-public object).

Hypothesis #1 (H1), Religious experience is caused by something external.

Question: Can we verify that what is external is a supernatural being? Are there other things that can cause the experience that are external, but not a supernatural being?

Hypothesis #2 (H2), Religious experience is psychological (not something external).

“Black cat as the devil” example?

Mystical experiences are of type 4 above (experience not expressed in ordinary language).

Often these are cited as having common elements.

As with Stace: experience of a “non-sensuous” Unity.

Katz critiques this claim with the notion that this can be contested due to the inconsistency of objectivity between cases.

Swinburne’s “Principle of Credulity” (PC): “Allows one to infer from the fact that it seems to a person that something is present to the probability that it is present.”

What are the problems with this?

How does the “Negative Principle of Credulity” challenge Swinburne’s (PC)?

[Modified from above] “Allows one to infer from the fact that it seems to a person that something is absent to the probability that it is absent.”


James: “Religious Experience as Feelings of Forming the Root of Religion.”

Religious Experience as a mystical State of Consciousness.

  • Ineffability:
  • Noetic Quality:
  • Transiency:
  • Passivity:

Other related elements of religious experience.

  1. Words and messages that suddenly “make sense.”
  2. Feeling of “having been here before.”
  3. …other dreamy states…
  4. Certain aspects of nature, out-of-doors, (…case of Malwinda von Meysenbug?)
  5. Yoga (union with the divine).
  6. Buddhist “higher contemplation.”
  7. Sufism “detaching the heart from all that is not God,” culminating in the ”transport” toward the “total absorption of God.”

The “incommunicableness of the transport is the keynote of all mysticism. Mystical truth exists for the individual who has the transport, but for no one else.”

…mysticism is perhaps a type of sensuous knowledge rather than conceptual knowledge.

Significance of “orison” or meditation.

  • Serves to detach from other sensations.

The question is, can all of the above be a way to account for the “truth of twice-borness and supernaturality and pantheism?”

  1. Mystical States are authoritative for those who experience them.
  2. This authority is not something that should be accepted uncritically.
  3. The “supersensuous” quality of mystical experience is one type of consciousness and it is a type of consciousness that opens up to other possibilities.



Proudfoot: “Religious Experiences as Interpretive Accounts.”

For Proudfoot, James make the claim that religious experience is more sensuous, rather than intellectual. Yet, a question remains whether or not this distinction is as clear-cut as James proposes?—are these just experiences simply other thoughts and beliefs?

Sensible authority:

Is there a difference between the “Authority of the experience for the subject” [vs the observer]?

The difference rests on the noetic quality of the experience for either the observer or the subject.

For Chisholm what is noetic is confirmed by “appear words”

…we report what “appears” to be the case as something in which we believe to be our sensory experience.

We also “compare” these experiences with how it appear with might (or might not) be the case.

When we extend this comparison to include an “inference to best explanation” (choosing the best possible theory), this is epistemic.

When we use this epistemic way to understand our perceptions, this looks a lot like James’ account of the noetic experience.

Therefore, [for Proudfoot] if we take this as a way to understand noetic experience, the line between sensual experience and intellectual/conceptual experience becomes blurry.

James seems to be pointing to Pierce’s account that we do not need to know the origin of a hypothesis in order to use the hypothesis.

The problem here is that the origin of the experience is in question when referencing a religious experience, i.e. what “caused” the hypothesis?–is somewhat different question from what “caused” an experience?

We still feel justified in asking what “caused” the mystical experience.

Think of Ryle’s “achievement verb” whereby when we suggest we have “seen’ something, it is customary to assume we have actually seen it.

Yet, we still must account for religious experience whether there is a supernatural entity that “caused” the noetic experience to begin with or not.

Religious Experience:

Recall that we might be concerned with whether such experiences are “real” but Proudfoot is only looking to “explicate the concept.”

Experience cover a wide ranges of possibilities not restricted to so-called” factual experiences, given that experience can also of dreams, fantasy, & so on.

What distinguishes a religious experience also need not be one of simply thinking things about or visiting religious places.

Religious, feelings, acts, and experiences are “religious” for people in “so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”

Key word here is “apprehend.”

The person who has a religious experience must make the judgment that the experience is in direct relation/confirmation to his/her religious beliefs. This, in brief, is noetic.

Explaining Religious Experience:


  • How the experience seemed to that person at that time?
  • Is this the best explanation?
  • Experiences also rely in explanation and interpretation.
  • Then we need to also distinguish between descriptions and explanations.
  • A descriptive account of something usually needs to be backed up with the evidence of the specifics of the experience.
  • Therefore an explanation relies on descriptions.

Why are religious experiences not given a religious “explanations”?

  • “Apologetic protection.”
  • Phenomenological accuracy.


–aurelio madrid

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