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Liberalism and Mysticism

  • Christopher J. Eberle


Somewhere near the heart of much recent liberal political theory is the claim that if the state restricts an agent's liberty, its restrictions should have some rationale that is defensible to each of those whose liberty is constrained. Liberals are committed to “the requirement that all aspects of the social should either be made acceptable or be capable of being made acceptable to every last individual.” In a pluralistic culture, there are many claims which are particularly controversial, many about which we expect “reasonable disagreement.” If we are to enjoy consensus regarding state restrictions, citizens should not support coercive policies on such controversial grounds. If, for example, some coercive policy is passed by popular referendum, and if its supporters have no reason to vote for the policy other than their religious convictions, then, given that reasonable, informed people reject religious belief, the policy in question lacks public justification. Given the liberal view that coercive policies should be defensible to all those affected by them, conscientious citizens should restrain themselves from supporting (or rejecting) policies on the basis of excessively controversial grounds. Principles of restraint specify both the types of grounds on the basis of which citizens may appropriately support a given policy and the types of grounds on which citizens may not properly rely.



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1. Waldron, Jeremy, Theoretical Foundations of Liberalism, in Philosophical Qtrly 37, 127, 128 (1987). See also Cohen, Joshua, Procedure and Substance in Deliberative Democracy, in Behabib, Seyla, ed., Democracy and Difference 100, 102 (Princeton U Press, 1996); D'Agostino, Fred, Free Public Reason, 2330 (Oxford U Press, 1996); Gaus, Gerald F., Value and Justification: The Foundations of Liberal Theory 17 (Cambridge U Press, 1990); Gaus, Gerald F., Justificatory Liberalism: An Essay on Epistemology and Political Theory, 209 (Oxford U Press, 1996); Larmore, Charles, The Foundations of Modern Democracy: Reflections on Jurgen Habermas, in The Morals of Modernity 220 (Cambridge U Press, 1996); Nagel, Thomas, Equality and Partiality 8, 3340 (Oxford U Press, 1991); Rawls, John, Political Liberalism xlvi, 137, 217 (Columbia U Press, 1993); Copp, David, Hampton, Jean, and Roemer, John E., eds, The Domain of the Political and Overlapping Consensus, in The Idea of Democracy 254 (Cambridge U Press, 1993); and Rawls, John, The Idea of Public Reason Revisited, 64 U Chi L Rev 765, 770 (1997). Some defenders of liberalism reject the unanimity requirement; Lawrence B. Solum denies that the social order needs to be universally acceptable to reasonable agents subject to that order. Solum, Lawrence B., Novel Public Reasons, 29 Loyola LA L Rev 1459, 1478 (1996).

2. Principles of restraint come in all shapes and sizes. I can't possibly evaluate them all. In order to focus the issue, I will analyze principles of restraint according to which citizens in liberal democracies have good reason to refrain from relying on mystical perception in personal deliberation and public discourse about which coercive laws and policies merit their support.

3. See Audi, Robert, The Place of Religious Argument in a Free and Democratic Society, 30 San Diego L Rev 694, 697–98 (1993); Larmore, Charles, Political Liberalism, in The Morals of Modernity at 126 (cited in note 1); Levinson, Sanford, Religious Language and the Public Square, 105 Harv L Rev 2061, 2065 (1992); Stephen Macedo, Liberal Civic Education and Religious Fundamentalism: The Case of God v. John Rawls, in 105 Ethics 474 (1995); Nagel, Thomas, Moral Conflict and Political Legitimacy, Phil and Pub Affairs 215, 229 (1987); Rawls, , Political Liberalism at xi, 63 (cited in note 1); and Rawls, , The Idea of Public Reason Revisited at 766 (cited in note 1).

4. Perry, Michael J., Religious Morality and Political Choice: Further Thoughts-and Second Thoughts-On Love and Power, 30 San Diego L Rev 704 (1993) (emphasis in original). My target in this essay, then, is not just aliberalism which excludes religious grounds from political debate and deliberation altogether, but also those versions of liberalism which impose the weaker constraint that religious grounds for political commitments be corroborated by secular grounds. See, for example, Solum, Lawrence B., Inclusive Public Reason, 75 Pacific Philosophical Qtrly 217 (1994) and 29 Loyola LA L Rev at 1465 (cited in note 1); Perry, Michael J., Religious Arguments in Public Political Debate, 29 Loyola LA L Rev 1421, 1437–38, 1458 (1996); Rawls, , Political Liberalism at iii, 247 (cited in note 1); and Rawls, , Novel Public Reasons at 776 (cited in note 1).

5. Alston's, position is definitively articulated in Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience (Cornell U Press, 1991).

6. Alston, William, Perceiving God, 83 J Philosophy 655 (1986).

7. Alston, , Perceiving God at 1 (cited in note 5); Alston, , Perceiving God at 83 (cited in note 6).

8. Agents tpically don't perceive God as Trinitarian in nature; rather, like all perceptual experience, the perceiver brings to her experience a set of background beliefs which aid her in identifying what she perceives.

9. Alston, , Perceiving God at 193 (cited in note 5).

10. I hardly need to mention that individuating the various versions of mystical perception is a sticky matter indeed.

11. Alston, , Perceiving God at 146–65 (cited in note 5); Alston, William P., Beliefo Forming Practices and the Social, in Schmitt, Frederic F., ed, Socializing Epistemology: The Social Dimensions of Knowledge 31 (Rowman and Littlefield, 1994); Alston, William P., A Doxastic Practice Approach to Epistemology, in Marjorie Clay and Keith Lehrer, eds, Knowledge and Skepticism passim, (Westview, 1989); Alston, William P., Taking the Curse Off Language Games: A Realist Account of Doxastic Practices, in Tessin, Timothy and van der Rhr, Mario, eds, Philosophy and the Grammar of Religious Belief 16, 34 (St. Martin's, 1995).

12. Alston, , Perceiving God at 159 (cited in note 5).

13. My example is unavoidably simplistic. In particular, it fails to convey the degree to which our actual checking of perceptual claims is dependent on testimony.

14. This is my read on Alston. So far as I know, Alston doesn't explicate clearly and in detail of what CMP's overrider system consists.

15. In Perceiving God, Alston argues that only socially established practices enjoy presumptive innocence and that idiosyncratic practices require discursive redemption. But he has since changed his position: he has dropped entirely the appeal to social establishment. See Alston, William P., Reply to Critics, 20 J Philosophical Res 72 (1995).

16. Alston notes a kind of consideration which may bolster a practice's presumptive innocence, what he calls significant self-support, which plays little role in my argument and hence to which I do not include substantive reference at this point.

17. I believe that Alston's defense of the autonomy of distinct doxastic practices, and in particular of mystical perception, constitutes one of his most interesting and important insights. Alston concurs; he claims that by advocating the autonomy of distinct doxastic practices, he is contributing to a “paradigm shift” in the field of epistemology. Alston, William P., The Autonomy of Religious Experience, 31 Int J for the Phil of Rel 68 (1992).

18. Alston, , Perceiving God at 162 (cited in note 5).

19. As I shall use the term in this essay, a “ground” may be a belief, an experience, or a combination of both; in doing so, I follow Alston. Thus, for example, an agent's having the phenomenological experience as of visually perceiving a computer on the desk counts as a ground for her belief that there is a computer on her desk, as is the experience of recalling that there was a computer on the desk several minutes ago and as is the belief that trustworthy Tom just deposited a computer on her desk.

20. For more on the concept of autonomy, and in particular, on criteria for granting autonomy, see Eberle, Christopher J., The Autonomy and Explanation of Mystical Perception, 34 Religious Studies 229316 (1998); and God's Nature and the Rationality of Religious Belief, 14 Faith and Phil 152 (1997).

21. See, for example, Rawls, , Political Liberalism at xxiii (cited in note 1).

22. Macedo, Stephen, The Politics of Justification, 18 Pol Theory 280, 295 (1990). See also Gutmann, Amy & Thompson, Dennis, Moral Conflict and Political Consensus, in Douglass, R. Bruce, Mara, Gerald M., & Richardson, Herny S., eds, Liberalism and the Good 125 (Routledge, 1990); Larmore, Charles E., Patterns of Moral Complexity 74 (Cambridge U Press, 1987); Nagel, , Equality and Partiality at 155 (cited in note 1).

23. Bruce Ackermann seems to accept (1) in Why Dialogue?, 86 J Philosophy 522 (1989). Perhaps Charles Larmore's account of restraint, as articulated in his Political Liberalism (cited in note 3), is a variant of (1)—I'm not sure. According to Larmore, if we are interested in respecting our fellow citizens, we will commit ourselves to resolving our differences regarding basic constitutional matters rationally. The norms of rational discussion require that, when two agents disagree with one another on the merits of a given policy, they will attempt to find some common ground—premises both accept—on the basis of which they can resolve their disagreement to their mutual satisfaction. Of course, debates regarding coercive policies involve not just two but tens of millions of citizens. Hence, if it is possible to settle constitutional disputes rationally, it seems that Larmore is committed to the proposition that there is some set of premises which have two features, viz., (a) they are in fact rationally acceptable to all the millions of citizens who have a say on the policy under discussion and (b) they are determinate enough to provide guidance on that policy.

My position—not at all new—is that (a) and (b) are in tension such that no set of premises satisfies both. The central point is that what makes a given premise rationally acceptable depends (in crucial part) on the particular claims a given agent accepts and in light of which she, as a rational agent, attempts to determine whether or not a given premise is true. That is, what makes some premise rationally acceptable depends (in crucial part) on the other beliefs and commitments of a given agent. Hence, we can't determine what “reasonable” agents will accept in the abstract—just by inspecting propositions; we need to identify whether or not, given a particular agent's epistemic circumstances, the grounds to which she has access support one or another policy. Thus, whether or not reasonable agents believe in a flat or round earth depends upon the evidence available to them and that evidence varies from person to person and from time to time. Similarly, whether or not it is reasonable for citizen C to believe that every human being ought to be considered an equal moral agent depends upon the evidence available to C—the authorities on which she relies, the moral claims that seem intuitively obvious to her, etc. I think that, given the sheer number of people in the United States and the varied epistemic circumstances in which they find themselves, there are indeterminate numbers of citizens who, given the evidence available to them, would reject any claim we might think has a chance of serving as common ground. Hence, there are no grounds to which there are no reasonable or cogent objections and which might serve as a common basis for resolving political disputes.

MacIntyre's criticism of Jeffrey Stout on this score seems to me exactly conect: Against Stout I want to suggest that he is indeed right in thinking that there is a consensus of platitudes in our moral culture, but that this belongs to the rhetorical surface of that culture, and not to its substance. The rhetoric of shared values is of great ideological importance, but it disguises the truth about how action is guided and directed. For what we genuinely share in the way of moral maxims, percepts and principles is insufficiently determinate to guide action and what is sufficiently determinate to guide action is not shared. And this is after all what we might expect, if it were the case both that the variety and heterogeneity of the types of moral reasoning recognized among us issued in as wide a range of disparate normative conclusions in everyday practical life as it does in the realm of moral theory and that a refusal, or perhaps a failure, to allow that this is so was a prerequisite for the effective functioning of our central political, legal and educational institutions.

MacIntyre, Alasdair, The Privatization of Good, in Sterba, James P., ed, Justice: Alternative Political Perspectives 239, 243 (Wadsworth, 1992). Many others have made this point. See also Arneson, Richard J., Neutrality and Utility, 20 Canadian J Philosophy 215, 226–27 (1990); D'Agostino, , Free Public Reason at 80 (cited in note 1); Galston, William A., Liberal Purposes 102–05, 143, 154–62 (Cambridge U Press, 1991), Perry, , Religious Arguments in Public Political Debate at 1451 (cited in note 4); Quinn, Philip, Political Liberalisms and Their Exclusion of the Religious, 62 Proceedings and Addresses of the Amer Philosophical Assn 78–9 (1995); Solum, Lawrence B., Constructing an Ideal of Public Reason, 30 San Diego L Rev 729, 743 (1993); and Waldron, Jeremy, Religious Contributions to Public Deliberation, 30 San Diego L Rev 817, 839 (1993).

25. Wolterstorff, Nicholas, The Role of Religion in Decision and Discussion of Political Issues, in Audi, Robert & Wolterstorff, Nicholas, ReOligion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Convictions in Political Debate 99 (Rowman & Littlefield, 1997) (emphasis in original).

26. Stephen Macedo seems to deny this assumption, at least with respect to matters of basic justice. According to Macedo, “There does not seem to be any reasonable disagreement about the core meaning of the constitutional basics: the good of basic democratic procedures and core civil liberties.” Macedo, Liberal Civic Education and Religious Fundamentalism: The Case of God v. John Rawls at 495 n 78 (cited in note 3). But as Perry, Quinn and no doubt many others, have pointed out, the most controverted issue of our time, viz., abortion rights, raises constitutional issues and is intensely debated. Perhaps the apparent inconsistency between Macedo's statement and the unambiguous testimony of political experience can be reconciled by explicating further what Macedo means by “reasonable” disagreements. Perhaps, like Rawls, Macedo believes that denying the claim that at early stages in pregnancy “the political value of the equality of women is overriding” and thus that “any comprehensive doctrine that leads to a balance of political values excluding th[e/ duly qualified right in the first trimester is to that extent unreasonable;…” Rawls, , Political Liberalism at 243 n 32 (cited in note 1). This strikes me as hopeless: although Rawls makes it clear that his remarks about abortion are illustrative in intent, it is equally clear that any argument regarding the overridingness of the political value of the equality of women—were Rawls to articulate some such argument—would generate a firestorm of critical literature from folks we have no reason to doubt are quite reasonable. Even on such fundamental matters as “which entities enjoy the full protection of the state?” we can expect little but “reasonable disagreement.”

27. In this, I follow Nagel, , Moral Conflict and Politcal Legitimacy at 232 (cited in note 3).

28. Some argue that the social and cultural conditions of modernity provide an essential backdrop for restraint. In particular, that we now expect reasonable disagreement regarding “the good life” motivates the search for commonly accepted principles of political association. Thus, according to Lawrence B. Solum: The fact of pluralism motivates liberal political theory. This fact provides those of us who live in plural societies with a reason to search for common ground, for principles that we can affirm from our own perspective and that will provide a basis for stable compromise. Solum, Lawrence B., Faith and Justice, 39 DePaul L Rev 1083, 1088–89 (1990). See also Larmore, Charles, Political Liberalism, in Morals of Modernity at 122 (cited in note 1).

I think that disagreement regarding conceptions of the good life adds nothing to the political mix that was not already there, viz., reasonable disagreement about coercive policies—reasonable disagreement generated by the fact that agents invariably rely on different epistemic resources that lead to conflicting conclusions. Consider that appeal to mystical experience to support coercive political policies raises basically the same question raised by appeal to conceptions of the good—viz., is it appropriate for citizens to support coercive policies on the basis of “parochial,” disputed grounds? But appeal to mystical perception does not at all involve appeal to a conception of the good: CMP is a putative source of information, and the information gained therein need not have any implications at all regarding what counts as good or bad. Moreover, the political problems generated by appeal to mystical perception have long been recognized. (See, for example, Cohn, Norman, The Pursuit of the Millenium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages (Oxford U Press, 1961). Pluralism regarding the good life doesn't generate the problem to which liberalism is a putative solution; finitude does.

29. Appeal to possible consensus is, of course, problematic: how close to the actual world must a world containing consensus be? I leave such questions unanswered.

30. Solum, , Faith and Justice at 1092 (cited in note 28).

31. Perhaps Solum would claim that values that can be derived from public political culture share with logic, common sense, and the “assured results of modern science” that they are accessible to the public, that is, that they can be accepted as a reasonable ground for action by the public at large—unlike religious claims derived from a sacred text. Solum, , Novel Public Reasons at 1464 (cited in note 1). I will discuss the accessibility requirement later. Suffice it to say that an account of restraint which lacks some such criterion is seriously deficient.

32. Robert Audi's powerful case for restraint is instructive on this point. Audi focuses almost entirely on restraint regarding religious belief—he claims that an agent must support a given policy on the basis of at least one motivationally sufficient and evidentially adequate secular reason, where a secular reason is a ground the normative force of which does not evidentially depend on the existence of God (or denying it) or on theological considerations, or on the pronouncements of a person or institution qua religious authority. Liberal Democracy and the Place of Religion in Politics, in Audi, and Wolterstorff, , Religion in the Public Square at 26 (cited in note 25) (emphasis in original). But why single out religious belief for restraint? Aren't there secular grounds which are at least as controversial as any religious belief, e.g., the superior vantage point to which the vanguard of the proletariat is privy in virtue of its place in history, the privileged insight of African Americans into the way in which political arrangements in America have a racist rationale, etc.? If there are, Audi argues that agents should exercise restraint with respect to them as well. (See Audi, , The Place of Religious Argument in a Free and Democratic Society at 690 (cited in note 3).) But then that raises the question, what do religious sources of belief and such “non-public” sources of belief have in common? I believe that Audi would claim that both sources of belief should be excluded because a fully rational and informed agent could deny that those sources are reliable. (See id at 689.) But once the claim is stated in that general form, it is open to what I take to be the convincing objection that it is either too stringent—every political policy of any substance is rationally rejectable by informed, rational agents or too weak—those who rely on such sources would claim that fully informed agents would not deny the reliability of “non-public” sources. But this is getting ahead of myself.

33. Wolterstorff, , The Role of Religion in Decision and Discussion of Political Issues, in Audi, and Wolterstorff, , Religion in the Public Square at 87 (cited in note 25).

For this book, how far liberal democracy is committed to some form of rationalism is far more critical than the place for individualist premises. The centrality of this problem is evident once one understands that the argument against reliance on religious convictions often comes down to an argument for reliance on premises that are deemed rational in some way that excludes religious convictions.

Greenawalt, Kent, Religious Convictions and Political Choice 23 (Oxford U Press, 1988).

Given the actual disagreement in our Western societies over liberal ideals, it is manifest that justificatory liberalism cannot explicate “publicly acceptable” principles as those to which each and every member of our actual societies, in their actual positions, actually assent. If that is the test of public justification, justificatory liberalism is most unlikely to vindicate substantive liberal principles. Justificatory liberals require a normative theory of justification—a theory that allows them to claim that some set of principles is publicly justified, even given the fact that they are contested by some. And this, in turn, appears to call for a moral epistemology, in the sense of an account of the conditions for justified moral belief…

Gaus, , Justificatory Liberalism at 3 (cited in note 1) (emphasis in original).

34. Note that the claim that citizens should exercise restraint is a moral claim, one typically based on some rendering of the concept of mutual respect, civility, or autonomy. There is, however, an intimate relation between the moral basis for restraint and the epistemic claims I am interested in evaluating in this essay: in explicating what respect requires of virtuous citizens in liberal democracies, advocates of restraint invariably make recourse to epistemic claims—claims regarding rationality and reasonability. The relation between the two aspects of the case for restraint is expressed with admirable clarity by Larmore:

In general, political principles are precisely those that we believe may be enforced—mposed by coercion—if need be. The idea that such principles must be rationally acceptable to those who are to be subject to them rests on a moral view about the conditions under which norms may be backed up with force. This underlying moral commitment is that no one should be made by force to comply with a norm of action when it is not possible for him to recognize through reason the validity of that norm.

Larmore, , The Foundations of Modern Democracy: Reflections on Jurgen Habermas, in The Morab of Modernity at 220 (cited in note 1).

Clearly, in explicating what the moral view in question requires of us, Larmore must—and does—explain to us what he takes the requirements of reason to be. It is on those requirements that I focus in this essay.

35. Given the limits imposed by the reader's patience, I have culled out simple and straightforward formulations of principles of restraint from what are often complicated, multifaceted cases for such principles. Given their complexity, I make no claim to exegetical comprehensiveness. While I have attempted to get the gist of a given position across, it was impossible to formulate them with due respect for their nuances, qualificationSt etc.

36. Bird, Colin, Mutual Respect and Neutral Justification 107 Ethics 62 (1996). Perry, Michael J. in Love and Power 105–06 (Oxford U Press, 1991), and Greenawalt, Kent in Private Consciences and Public Reasons 46 (Oxford U Press, 1995), have explicitly endorsed this constraint but do not claim, as Bird does, that it rules out mystical perception.

37. Bird, , Mutual Respect and Neutral Justification at 71 (cited in note 36).

38. Id at 73 n 25.

39. Id at 73.

40. Alston, William P., Literal and Nonliteral in Reports of Mystical Experience, in Katz, Steven T., ed, Mysticism and Language 80 (Oxford U Press, 1992). See also Yandell, Keith, The Epistemology of Religious Experience 61115 (Cambridge U Press, 1993).

41. It seems that providing some such description is what Bird requires in order for some experience to count as communicable. Thus, he claims that some experiences count as opaque because “the agent simply finds the vocabularies available to him inadequate to convey the full significance and nature of an experience he has had.” Bird, , Mutual Respect and Neutral Justification at 73 (cited in note 36). But ail of our experiences are to some extent not fully describable in explicit terms. That we are unable exhaustively and explicitly to describe a given experience characterizes all perception, not just mystical perception, as Michael Polanyi argued long ago. Polanyi, Michael, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Univ Chicago Press, 1962).

42. Bird would undoubtedly not be mollified by this response: his (unfortunate) appeal to intelligibility is merely an entrée to a more serious appeal to critical analysis. All that is necessary, he claims, for a ground's counting as transparent is that “others understand clearly the nature of the experience being reported, so that everyone is in a position to know what considerations would count against it.” Bird, , Mutual Respect and Neutral Justification at 72 n. 24 (cited in note 36). It is really because opaque grounds are not amenable of “public critical scrutiny” such as we find in science, mathematics and ordinary sense perception, that they are not fit for political deliberation. Id at 71.I discuss that proposal shortly.

43. Michael J. Perry and Kent Greenawalt have both made considerable use of the notion of public accessibility in articulating an account of restraint, although Perry has recanted his endorsement of this constraint See Perry, , Religious Morality at 703727 (cited in note 4). Greenawalt claims that citizens and legislators should typically employ publicly accessible grounds in public political discourse, although he believes that, because of the inability of public reason to resolve many important issues, citizens should feel free to rely on their personal, publicly inaccessible grounds in determining which policies to support. I will gloss over that important aspect of Greenawalt's position. See Greenawalt, , Religious Convictions and Political Choice at 12, 1040–41, 1046 (cited in note 33); and Greenawalt, , Private Consciences and Public Reasons at 151–64 (cited in note 36).

Perhaps John Rawls accepts something like the public accessibility argument. (I find Rawls's position difficult to pin down.) Rawls requires, of course, that the principles of justice which should govern basic justice be justified by appeal to “public reason”: “since the exercise of political power itself must be legitimate, the ideal of citizenship imposes a moral, not alegal, duty—the duty of civility—to be able to explain to one another on those fundamental questions how the principles and policies they advocate and vote for can be supported by the political values of public reason.” Rawls, , Political Liberalism at 217 (cited in note 1). On what sorts of premises may we rely when so explaining our principles and policies? Those “plain truths now widely accepted, or available, to citizens generally.” Id at 225. Lawrence Solum appears to agree with this understanding of Rawls's position: “The criterion for public reason is not universal prior acceptance. Rather, public reasons are those that could be widely shared by those who considered them…” Solum, , Novel Public Reasons at 1477 (cited in note 1). For other endorsements of the accessibility requirement, see Barry, Brian, Justice as Impartiality 139 (Oxford U Press, 1995); Macedo, , The Politics of Justification at 281 (cited in note 22); Gutmann, & Thompson, , Moral Conflict and Political Consensus, in Liberalism and the Good at 130 (cited in note 22); Bird, , Mutual Respect at 73 (cited in note 36).

44. But see Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice 142 (Harv U Press, 1971).

45. I realize that this idea raises complicated issues regarding personal identity, but this isn't the place to address those issues.

46. Waldron, , Theoretical Foundations at 135 (emphasis in original) (cited in note 1).

47. Greenawalt, Kent, Grounds for Political Judgment: The Status of Personal Experience and the Autonomy and Generality of Principles of Restraint, 30 San Diego L Rev 647, 656 (1993).

48. Greenawalt, , Private Consciences and Public Reasons at 38 (cited in note 36).

49. Id at 47.

50. I'm not extremely confident of the accuracy of this interpretation. For, in addition to the claim that sense perceptions are replicable, Greenawalt also claims that certain experiences (e.g., witnessing the birth of one's child) can generate publicly accessible normative claims (e.g., having children is a wonderful experience) but that other experiences (for example, death of aloved one) generate only inaccessible normative claims (for example, alife of caring is better than alife of withdrawal). His grounds for denying that the latter experience is replicabie are as follows: “[M]odest changes in circumstances might have made the counsel of withdrawal dominant, and I suppose that for some people it does dominate. I do not think that any simple set of external circumstances will produce in others what I felt and what I feel I understand.” Id at 35-36. I gather that Greenawalt would deny that this is not the case for the experience of childbirth.

First, of what relevance is the fact that simple circumstances would not produce in others what it no doubt took very complex circumstances to produce in me? Second, we determine whether or not some ground is replicable by keeping constant all of the factors relevant to the production of that ground and then determining whether or not other agents in those circumstances would acquire that ground. Postulating modest changes in circumstances throws the whole test out of whack, so long as those circumstances are causally relevant to an agent's having the experience. That John would not experience Mary's perception of the computer on the desk in circumstances similar to those in which Mary had the experience save that John wasn't paying attention to his environment hardly counts against the replicability of Mary's perception. Nor should it count against the replicability of John's experience of the death of aloved one that Mary, with different beliefs' values, personal history, etc. wouldn't react as John does to that experience.

51. Although he expressly rejects skepticism regarding religious belief, Greenawalt lumps mystical perception in with a fairly dubious crowd: putative perceptions of God are placed alongside of hunches about another agent's moral character and gut reactions about abortion. Greenawalt, , Grounds at 649 (cited in note 47). Since forming beliefs about moral character on the basis of hunches or forming beliefs about complicated moral subjects on the basis of gut reactions are not very reliable ways of forming beliefs, it is hard to deny the skeptical implications (whatever Greenawalt's personal convictions) of being relegated to the status of “inaccessible.”

52. Id at 48.

53. Id at 188 n. 15.

54. Perhaps Greenawalt would pursue a different response: given that agents have such varied reactions to putative perceptions of God, and given that reasonable people diverge quite sharply in their evaluations of the epistemic merits of CMP, it's reasonable to infer that mystical experience is not replicable. Thus, he writes, “If we consider the reasons for Christian belief, we must quickly realize that many highly intelligent people aware of all the arguments in favor of such belief find those arguments wholly unconvincing…. This is a pretty strong basis for doubting that the truth of Christianity can be established by publicly accessible reasons.” Greenawalt, , Religious Convictions and Political Choice at 74 (cited in note 33). (I'm not quite sure how Greenawalt's account of public accessibility in his earlier work, here quoted, articulates with the more recent work in which he cashes out accessibility as replicability.) The assumption seems to be that a type of ground's being replicable is at least roughly correlated with generalized acceptance or, at least, the absence of widespread dispute. (Bird presents essentially the same argument in Bird, , Mutual Respect at 77 [cited in note 36].) I deny that assumption. Given the complexity of the influences on an agent's belief-forming activity, given the varying difficulty of different kinds of judgments, etc., I think that we should expect exactly the contrary: replicable grounds will elicit as violent an opposition as non-replicable grounds. Hence, the inference from dissensus to unreplicibility is objectionable. Just as the inference from “Some claim C is true” to “C will enjoy consensus” is fallacious, so also is the inference from “Some claim C is replicable/accessible,” to “C will enjoy consensus.” See Rescher, Nicholas, Pluralism: Against the Demand for Consensus 50 (Clarendon Press, 1993).

55. It seems to me that this argument is applicable not just to CMP but to religious doxastic practices generally. I leave the application to the reader.

56. Nagel, , Moral Conflict at 232 (cited in note 3). Nagel has since significantly modified his argument, although not his conclusions. Nagel, , Equality and Partiality at 154–68 (cited in note 1). Bruce Brower articulates an account of restraint similar to Nagel's approach in The Limits of Public Reason 91 J Philosophy (1994). Brower proposes that agents be willing to change their political commitments in light of criticism of the grounds for those commitments (which I take to incorporate some of the same constraints as Nagel's requirement that permissible grounds be subject to evaluation in light of critical rationality).

57. Nagel, , Moral Conflict at 231–32 (cited in note 3).

58. Id at 232.

59. Id.

60. One wonders how seriously he means his non-skeptical advocacy of restraint given his claim that conflicts between religious belief amounts to “a bare confrontation of incompatible personal points of view.” Id.

61. Alston, , Perceiving God at 198–99, 268 (cited in note 5); Alston, William P., The Christian Language Game, in Crosson, Frederick J., ed, The Autonomy of Religious Belief: A Critical Inquiry 128, 156 (U Notre Dame Press, 1981). Kierkegaard expresses the general point in his distinctive style:

In the case of a kind of observation where it is requisite that the observer should be in a specific condition, it naturally follows that if he is not in this condition, he will observe nothing. He may, of course, attempt to deceive by saying that he is in this condition without being so; but when fortunately he himself avers that he is not in this condition, he deceives nobody.

Now if Christianity is essentially something objective, it is necessary for the observer to be objective. But if Christianity is essentially subjectivity, it isa mistake for the observer to be objective … it is necessary for the knower to be in a corresoonding condition.

Kierkegaard, Sørin, Concluding Unscientific Postscript 51 (Princeton U Press, Swenson, David F. & Lowrie, Walter, trans, 1941).

That there are such subjective conditions of apprehending reality is also crucial to MacIntyre's rejection of the “Encyclopaedic” understanding of rationality which has clear affinities to liberal advocacy of restraint. See, for example, MacIntyre, Alaisdar, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition 17, 60, 97, 133, 225 (U of Notre Dame Press, 1990); and MacIntyre, Alasdair, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 110 (U of Notre Dame Press, 1988).

62. Alston, , Perceiving God at 198–99 (cited in note 5).

63. Nagel, , Moral Conflict at 232 (cited in note 3).

64. The claim I make in this paragraph is just an application to political theoiy of Alston's strategy for defending the positive epistemic status of CMP.

65. Alston, addresses this objection in Perceiving God at 209222 and in Christian Experience and Christian Belief at 122 and in Platinga, Alvin & Wolterstorff, Nicholas, eds, Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (U Notre Dame Press, 1983). For an explication of the objection, see Martin, C.B., Religious Belief 6494 (Cornell U Press, 1959); Gale, Richard M., On the Nature and Existence of God 285343 (Cambridge U Press, 1991); Gale, Richard M., Swinburne's Argument from Religious Experience, in Padgett, Alan G., ed, Reason and the Christian Religion: Essays in Honour of Richard Swinburne 39 (Clarendon Press, 1994); O'Hear, Anthony, Experience, Explanation and Faith: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion 2555 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984); Levine, Michael P., Mystical Experience and Non-Basically Justified Belief, 25 Relig Studies 335 (1989); Fales, Evan, Mystical Experience as Evidence 40 Intl J Phil Rel 19 (1996).

66. Fales, , Mystical Experience as Evidence at 28 (cited in note 65).

67. Those who engage in CMP have every reason to deny that whenever God is present to an agent, God initiates multiple causal chains. Why? The answer hinges on crucial differences between God's nature and the nature of the objects of sense perceptual beliefs. Ordinary physical objects are enmeshed in a space-time receptacle which is governed by physical laws to which they are unavoidably subject. As a consequence, the objects of sense perceptual beliefs are entwined in a variety of causal chains. But God has no spatial location and is subject to no physical laws. Hence, God is not entwined in the numerous causal chains that physical objects are. God can therefore decide—and apparently has decided if the understanding of God internal to CMP is accurate—to initiate only a single causal chain when present to perceiving agents.

Of course, God could have worked matters out so that every time God is present to an agent, God sets in motion various other causal chains those of us not privy to a given divine presentation could follow up. But God has not, if members of CMP are right, so decreed. Why God hasn't is another matter, of course, one to be taken up by those interested in the problem of evil.

68. Fales seems to assume that, if he can show that CMP does not enjoy roughly the same epistemic status as SP, then CMP enjoys no positive epistemic status whatsoever. Fales, , Mystical Experience as Evidence at 19, 41 (cited in note 65). He thinks he can show that CMP does not enjoy even rough parity with SP by showing that CMP lacks anything like SP's overrider system; it will emerge that there is a quite general difference between the domains of SP and CMP which hamstrings cross-checking in CMP and precludes any parity with SP. Id at 25. But the former claim is false. From the fact that CMP has even a significantly lower epistemic status than SP, it does not follow that CMP lacks positive epistemic status altogether. That SP is more reliable than CMP does not entail that CMP is unreliable (or that SP is reliable, for that matter). SP could be extremely reliable, whereas CMP could be moderately reliable, and an agent could still discharge her obligation to the truth by engaging in both practices. See Alston, , Perceiving God at 220 (cited in note 5).

69. Greenawalt, , Grounds for Political Judgment at 649 (cited in note 47).

70. It's revealing, I think, that both Bird and Greenawalt place the contrast between mystical experience and sense perception at the center of their explication of the distinction between grounds inadmissible in political discourse and those inadmissible in political discourse. Thus, after briefly articulating the way we evaluate mathematical, scientific and sense perceptual claims. Bird writes “The clue to the existence of the category of beliefs whose grounds of dispute are opaque is provided by religious conversion experiences.” Bird, , Mutual Respect at 72 (cited in note 36).

71. Greenawalt, , Private Consciences and Public Reasons at 27 (cited in note 36).

72. I realize that application of the principle of universalization is not the only test we are able to apply to evaluate moral belief. As Charles Taylor has argued, the moral claims to which a given agent may explicitly adhere may not adequately reflect what she would regard as the moral truth on deeper reflection. Thus a deeper probing of an agent's convictions may reveal distortions which reflective analysis of those beliefs can eliminate. See Taylor, Charles, Philosophical Arguments 34 (Harvard U Press, 1995). But nothing in Taylor's account of moral reasoning provides us with grounds for differentiating between moral and M-beliefs.

73. This is not, of course, an uncommon claim; many have leveled it.

74. The position I am taking here is somewhat similar to, but importantly different from, aspects of Kent Greenawalt's nuanced account of restraint. Greenawalt, having distinguished between publicly accessible and publicly inaccessible grounds, puzzles over whether or not there are any differences between inaccessible religious and inaccessible non-religious pounds (particularly certain types of “subjective” normative claims) relevant to the issue of restraint. He concludes that there are none, which enables him to argue that, when publicly accessible grounds fail to resolve a dispute over coercive policy, agents may resolve the issue by appeal both to inaccessible religious and to inaccessible non-religious grounds. I think that he is right about that. But he provides no principled basis for distinguishing between inaccessible and accessible normative claims, other than an appeal to “shared” belief. I deny that there is anything to that distinction other than a popularity contest: some moral claims (often repugnant) are more widely accepted than others, if there is no relevant distinction between the two, then Greenawalt's position should be the same as mine, viz., that religious belief and moral belief are included in, or excluded from, political discourse together, Greenawalt, , Religious Convictions and Political Choice at 156–62 (cited in note 33).

75. It is not uncommon in discussions of restraint for liberals to distinguish between “personal” and “shared” moral convictions. See, for example, Greenawalt, , Religious Convictions and Political Choice at 64 (cited in note 33); and Greenawalt, , Private Consciences and Public Reasons at 2630 (cited in note 36); Nagel, , Moral Conflict at 233 (cited in note 3); Bird, , Mutual Respect at 73 (cited in note 36). I find that distinction highly suspicious. As a sociological matter, there is a distinction between beliefs to which most of the members of a given society adhere and beliefs to which only a minority of citizens adhere. Thus, in the ante-bellum South, it was no doubt a personal conviction that black people enjoy full political and civil rights and a shared belief that they don't. But that sociological distinction seems irrelevant to the issue at hando Shared beliek may be both morally repugnant and unreliably formed; personal bdiefe the opposite. What we need is some epistemic distinction between personal and shared moral convictions, and I see no way of making that distinction.

76. See Two Types of Foundationalismt Has Foundationalism Been Refuted?, and What's Wrong with Immediate Knowledge? in Alston, William, Epistemic Justification: Essays in the Theory of Knowledge (Cornell U Press, 1989).

77. The proposal that a given ground is admissible in political discourse only if it is publicly intelligible.

78. The proposal that a given ground is admissible in political discourse only if it is publicly accessible.

79. The proposal that a given ground is admissible in political discourse only if it is in principle publicly accessible.

80. The proposal that a given ground is admissible in political discourse only if it is subject to critical scrutiny.

81. The proposal that a given ground is admissible in political discourse only if it is amenable of independent confirmation.

82. Thus, Kent Greenawalt says, “A person is born and raised in a particular religious tradition. She believes that she is fortunate to be within the tradition whose religious understanding most closely approximates truth. But, she does not think that there are generally accessible arguments sufficient to persuade those outside the tradition of the validity of its understanding.” Greenawalt, , Grounds for Political Judgment at 650 (cited in note 47). Here the emphasis is not, as it was in the prior discussion of Greenawalt's position, on the accessibility of a given ground, but on the ability of a given agent to present arguments for the reliability of a whole practice.

83. It's often difficult to distinguish between proposals in the (8) family from those in the (9) family, since they are often formulated similarly. Thus, if we claim that some belief B is admissible in public deliberation only if the agent can show that B has been reliably formed, we can understand that as requiring either that, according to the standards internal to some doxastic practice, we have corroboratory evidence for B (for example, the triangulation method I mentioned earlier) or that we have shown that the practice which generates B is reliable. The former is a claim about overrider systems, the latter about a whole practice.

84. Smolin, David, Regulating Religious and Cultural Conflict in a Postmodern America, 76 Iowa L Rev 1067, 1085 (1991).

85. Otherwise put, the problem with appeal to sacred texts, and to the Bible in particular, is that confidence in the Bible as a reliable source of knowledge depends on an act of faith which many reasonable people fail to perform. Thus, Peter Wenz claims that religious beliefs:

are those that cannot be established by appeal merely to secular premises and methodologies. Secular premises and methodologies include what passes for common-sense knowledge in our society, … the scientific beliefs that underlie our technology, … the methodology accepted in our society for the generation of scientific and technological knowledge, … and the values considered essential to society …

Wenz, Peter, Abortion Rights as Religious Freedom 112 (Temple U Press, 1992).

The problem with Wenz's claim is that, if Alston is correct that neither SP nor CMP are amenable of non-circular justification, the claim that SP is reliable is a religious belief. Both CMP and SP rely on commitments for which we can provide no “proof” of the sort Wenz desires.

86. See Alston, William P., The Reliability of Sense Perception (Cornell U Press, 1993) and Alston, , Perceiving God at 102–45 (cited in note 5).

87. Id at 248.

88. Id at 199.

89. This is consistent with believing that CMP is unreliable: we can believe that CMP has various characteristics which render it epistemically acceptable but believe, on independent grounds, say the problem of evil, that the object of mystical perception fails to exist.

90. Alexander, Larry, Liberalism, Religion, and the Unity of Epistemology, 30 San Diego L Rev 763, 769 (1993).

91. Id.

92. See section 3.2.4, for example.

93. I should note that Alexander's argument does contain an appreciation for the point I'm trying to make here, although I don't think it receives the attention it deserves. Alexander, , Liberalism, Religion, and the Unity of Epistemology at 774 (cited in note 90).

94. To be clear about this, I recognize that I have provided no argument in support of the claim that the case for restraint rests uneliminably on epistemic claims; I have assumed that to be the case because I can think of no plausible account of restraint which does not rest on epistemic claims.

95. Michael J. Perry first clued me in to skepticism about the existence of agents who make political commitments on the basis of their M-beliefs. On surveying others, I have found general, though not unanimous, agreement with his point.

96. On the continuing relevance of religion to modern public discourse, see Casanova, José, Public Religion in the Modern World (U of Chicago Press, 1994).

97. Interestingly, one critic of CMP claims that appeals to mystical perception typically have either political implications or determinate political content Moreover, he attempts to undermine CMP's claim to reliability with an explanatory argument a central feature of which is the political usefulness of claims to mystical perception. See Fales, Evan, Scientific Explanations of Mystical Experiences, 32 Religious Studies 297313 (1996).

98. For some literature on the relations between enthusiasm and politics, and in particular, on the threat to the established order by enthusiasm, see Hill, Christopher, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Viking Press, 1972); and Heyd, Michael, Be Sober and Reasonable: The Critique of Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Brill, 1995).

99. Alston addresses the place of mystical perception in an agent's total grounds for belief in the final chapter of Perceiving God at 286 (cited in note 5).

100. Actually, even this list is too restrictive. In addition to the religious doxastic practices on which a given citizen relies, she will also appeal to “secular” moral considerations in deciding which political policies to support. Of course, since secular moral considerations might still under determine her political commitments, the information generated by her religious doxastic practices, and thus, mystical perception, can still play an uneliminable role in her deliberations.

101. It seems to me that many evangelicals and fundamentalists fit this characterization.

Department of Philosophy, Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois. I thank Bruce Aune, Kraig Beyerlein, David Jacobson, Mickey Mattox, Tony Oncken, Michael Perry, Jon Weidler, and Robert Paul Wolff for aid and comfort in the writing of this essay, which was partially funded by the Pew Faculty Summer Scholarship Program.

Liberalism and Mysticism

  • Christopher J. Eberle


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