1. Philosophical Introduction

The study of mysticism is the study of particular ontological, epistemological, and ethical questions. The mystical experience is a particularly interesting testing ground for a whole collection of these questions, because of the claims mystics make. They claim to have direct access to true reality -- philosophers have long wondered if such a thing is even possible. Many doubt it; many doubt that there is such a thing as true reality. They have certainty about a set of beliefs, and they claim their certainty is more than just psychological. They claim they have justification for it, of a higher sort than normal claims about knowledge will allow.

Not only are there philosophical questions raised by mystical experience, there are also philosophical questions about mystical experience. Is it knowledge? Is it revelation from a greater reality? Does the mystic give us a glimpse into another way of seeing or even another reality?

But there is more than this topical philosophy at stake here. Many philosophers have drawn on mystical writings to inform their own philosophical theories. Some philosophers have dabbled in mysticism. The connection between mystics and philosophers is an interesting one, and one worth studying. Some philosophers, like Hegel and Schelling, explicitly look back to mystics as inspiration.

The question of influence is not the end, either. Much mysticism comes in the context of philosophical thought. Plotinus draws on Plato and Aristotle, Augustine on Plotinus, and most mystics in the High Middle Ages at least give a nodding acquiescence to Augustine. Furthermore, many of these mystics are in a kind of dialectical conversation with the philosophical realities of the day. Hildegard, Bonaventure, and Eckhart are all good examples of this. This means that it is difficult to understand many of the basic concepts of mysticism without some familiarity with philosophical realities of the time. Much mysticism, either explicitly or implicitly, has been in conversation with philosophy, and that conversation has often counted as good philosophy in its own right. The tie between mysticism and philosophy, then, is well established, and essential to understanding the currents of mysticism.