This post is a reference point for future discussions.
I keep running into the issue of those unspoke assumptions which show up in debates. It’s bad enough when propagandists are trying to avoid stating rather obvious assumptions, but when no one is willing to discuss more fundamental presuppositions about reality itself, we simply cannot proceed until that’s out in the open. All the more so when the whole point is the very difference in presuppositions.
epistemology: the philosophical discussion of what is and isn’t real, of what we can claim to know
More to the point, epistemology is the study of things we can claim to know as true such that we can act on that knowledge. Naturally, Aristotle dealt with this question openly. That’s because he was proposing an epistemology which was novel, different from what the rest of the whole human race held at that time.
The whole world believed there were things you could not sense. Aristotle acknowledged as much, but insisted it at least had to be something man could wrestle with in terms of logic. The rest of the world presumed there was a spirit realm utterly separate from this realm of existence, but Aristotle insisted it was all one thing. In case you didn’t notice, the whole of Greek culture at that time was man-centered. Thus, for Aristotle intellectually, man was the measure of all things. If man could not figure it out, it could not be “true” in the sense we could act on it.
The whole realm of phenomena which simply was not fully understood was either explained (mostly explained away) or dismissed as superstition. There was room for further inquiry, but dismissal was the default. In Aristotle’s mind, there could well be powers above human, but they were of the same type. Remember how the Greek gods were little more than extra-powerful people? It was a continuum and nothing was actually outside the universe, it was simply not entirely perceptible to our senses. Still, it fit logically, so we could “know” it, even if there was little we could do about it. It was the birth of conscious agnosticism. I note here yet again, Aristotle was fully aware of how novel this was in his time, and fully aware of how it was different from the rest of the world. For example, he was personally acquainted with Jewish scholars who held an entirely different viewpoint, and discussed it with them.
For Christians, I’ll restate that more bluntly: The entire Bible was written from the Hebrew epistemology, not from Aristotle’s. If you stick with Aristotle, you cannot understand the Bible properly.
For Westerners, Aristotle is the presupposition to everything you think. So tightly wound is the entire Western Civilization in Aristotle, most of you can’t imagine a different approach. Without a decent education which addresses thinking itself, this whole thing simply passes right over your head.
I realize I’m trying to summarize whole books and courses in philosophy here, but I keep running into people with apparently decent educations, but seeming to have utterly forgotten this part, if they ever got it. But it seems necessary to point out to people Aristotle and his epistemology is not the original, nor the only game in town. I adhere to that much older version which was pretty much universal before Aristotle was born, and remains numerically dominant despite how much of the world seems to embrace him. Most of the world is aware of Aristotle’s version, and accept it for certain things, but remain convinced his approach cannot account for everything. This is how I do things, myself.
I know where Westerners are coming from; I’m painfully conscious of it. I am aware my approach is different, and how it leads to different answers. I fully understand the logical consequences of choosing one or the other, but here’s what most people don’t realize: If you embrace Aristotle’s approach to what we can know and act on, you cannot possibly accept any part of God’s revelation. Aristotle’s epistemology pointedly rejects revelation before the discussion starts. If you want to discuss revelation and the resulting religious ideas, you’ll have to discard — or at least recognize the limits of — Aristotle.
The primary definition of mysticism is simply holding a non-Aristotelian epistemology. What I write here on this blog presupposes mysticism as valid. To argue specific points without referencing that difference in presuppositions might still get you some few answers from me if I can find them in your probable frame of reference, but if you press the case, you’ll be directed here.