W. T. Stace, fully Walter Terence Stace

W. T.
Stace, fully Walter Terence Stace
1886
1967

British Civil Servant, Educator, Philosopher and Epistemologist, Philosophy Professor at Princeton University

Author Quotes

The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose. The world is run by causes, not by purposes.

Religion is the hunger of the soul for the impossible, the unattainable, the inconceivable… This is its essence and this is its glory. This is what religion means. Anything which is less than is not religion.

Now the arguments of the relativist would be that it is impossible to find any basis for a universally binding moral law; but that it is quite easy to discover a basis for morality if moral codes are admitted to be variable, ephemeral, and relative to time, place, and circumstance.

The relativist says that the facts are to be explained by the nonexistence of any absolute moral standard. The absolutist says that they are to be explained by human ignorance of what the absolute moral standard is.

His point [the absolutist] is that although what people think right varies in different countries and period, yet what actually is right is everywhere and always the same.

The mystical theory of ethics is logically forced into the position of maintaining that all love (though not necessarily all kinds of appetition), whether in men or in animals, arises out of mystical experience either explicit or latent. The mystical theory can thus only maintain itself by supposing that mystical experience is latent in all living beings, but that in most men and in all animals it is profoundly submerged in the subconscious; and that it throws up influences above the threshold in the form of feelings of sympathy and love. To say that I love or sympathize with another living being is to say that I feel his feelings -- for instance that I suffer when he suffers or rejoice when he rejoices. The mystical theory will allege that this phenomenon is an incipient and partial breaking down of the barriers and partitions which separate the two individual selves; and if this breakdown were completed, it would lead to an actual identity of the “I” and the “he.” Love is thus a dim groping towards that disappearance of individuality in the Universal Self which is part of the essence of mysticism.

If in spite of these facts we wish to maintain that mysticism is ultimately the source and essence of all religion, we shall have on our hands a set of problems very similar to those which beset the mystical theory of ethics. We shall have to maintain that mystical consciousness is latent in all men but is in most men submerged below the surface of consciousness. Just as it throws up into the upper consciousness influences which appear in the form of ethical feelings, so must its influences appear there in the form of religious impulses. And these in turn will give rise to the intellectual constructions which are the various creeds... The general conclusion regarding the relations between mysticism on the one hand and the area of organized religions (Christian, Buddhist, etc.) on the other is that mysticism is independent of all of them in the sense that it can exist without any of them. But mysticism and organized religion tend to be associated with each other and to become linked together because both look beyond earthly horizons to the Infinite and Eternal, and because both share the emotions appropriate to the sacred and the holy.

The essential character of Neo-Platonism comes out in its theory of the mystical exaltation of the subject to God. It is the extremity of subjectivism, the forcing of the individual subject to the centre of the universe, to the position of the Absolute Being. And it follows naturally upon the heels of Scepticism. In the Sceptics all faith in the power of thought and reason had finally died out. They {377} took as their watchword the utter impotence of reason to reach the truth. From this it was but a step to the position that, if we cannot attain truth by the natural means of thought, we will do so by a miracle. If ordinary consciousness will not suffice, we will pass beyond ordinary consciousness altogether. Neo-Platonism is founded upon despair, the despair of reason. It is the last frantic struggle of the Greek spirit to reach, by desperate means, by force, the point which it felt it had failed to reach by reason. It seeks to take the Absolute by storm. It feels that where sobriety has failed, the violence of spiritual intoxication may succeed.

It was natural that philosophy should end here. For philosophy is founded upon reason. It is the effort to comprehend, to understand, to grasp the reality of things intellectually. Therefore it cannot admit anything higher than reason. To exalt intuition, ecstasy, or rapture, above thought--this is death to philosophy. Philosophy in making such an admission, lets out its own life-blood, which is thought. In Neo-Platonism, therefore, ancient philosophy commits suicide. This is the end. The place of philosophy is taken henceforth by religion. Christianity triumphs, and sweeps away all independent thought from its path. There is no more philosophy now till a new spirit of enquiry and wonder is breathed into man at the Renaissance and the Reformation. Then the new era begins, and gives birth to a new philosophic impulse, under the influence of which we are still living. But to reach that new era of philosophy, the human spirit had first to pass through the arid wastes of Scholasticism.

The real turning point between the medieval age of faith and the modern age of unfaith came when the scientists of the seventeenth century turned their backs upon what used to be called 'final causes' ... [belief in which] was not the invention of Christianity [but] was basic to the whole of Western civilization, whether in the ancient pagan world or in Christendom, from the time of Socrates to the rise of science in the seventeenth century. ... They did this on the ground that inquiry into purposes is useless for what science aims at: namely, the predication and control of events. ... The conception of purpose in the world was ignored and frowned upon. This, though silent and almost unnoticed, was the greatest revolution in human history, far outweighing in importance any of the political revolutions whose thunder has reverberated through the world. ... The world, according to this new picture, is purposeless, senseless, meaningless. Nature is nothing but matter in motion. The motions of matter are governed not by any purpose, but by blind forces and laws. ... [But] if the scheme of things is purposeless and meaningless, then the life of man is purposeless and meaningless too. Everything is futile, all effort is in the end worthless. A man may, of course, still pursue disconnected ends, money, fame, art, science, and may gain pleasure from them. But his life is hollow at the center. Hence, the dissatisfied, restless, spirit of modern man. ... Along with the ruin of the religious vision there went the ruin of moral principles and indeed of all values. ... If our moral rules do not proceed from something outside us in the nature of the universe--whether we say it is God or simply the universe itself--then they must be our own inventions. Thus it came to be believed that moral rules must be merely an expression of our own likes and dislikes. But likes and dislikes are notoriously variable. What pleases one man, people or culture, displeases another. Therefore, morals are wholly relative.

The most important, the central characteristic in which all fully developed mystical experiences agree, and which in the last analysis is definitive of them and serves to mark them off from other kinds of experiences, is that they involve the apprehension of an ultimate nonsensuous unity in all things, a oneness or a One to which neither the senses nor the reason can penetrate. In other words, it entirely transcends our sensory-intellectual consciousness.
It should be carefully noted that only fully developed mystical experiences are necessarily apprehensive of the One. Many experiences have been recorded which lack this central feature but yet possess other mystical characteristics. These are borderline cases, which may be said to shade off from the central core of cases. They have to the central core the relation which some philosophers like to call "family resemblance."

By the word "mystic" I shall always mean a person who himself has had mystical experience. Often the word is used in a much wider and looser way. Anyone who is sympathetic to mysticism is apt to be labeled a mystic. But I shall use the word always in a stricter sense. However sympathetic toward mysticism a man may be, however deeply interested, involved, enthusiastic, or learned in the subject, he will not be called a mystic unless he has, or has had, mystical experience.

No civilization can live without ideals, or to put it another way, without a firm faith in moral ideas.

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.

Certainly, if we believe that any one moral standard is as good as any other, we are likely to be more tolerant. We shall tolerate widow-burning, human sacrifice, cannibalism, slavery, infliction of physical torture, or any of the thousand and one abominations which are or have been from time to time, approved by one moral code or another. But this is not the kind of toleration we want or would accept.

In music, sometimes a man will feel that he comes to the edge of breaking out from prison bars of existence, breaking out from the universe altogether. There is a sense that the goal is at hand; that the boundary wall of the universe is crumbling and will be breached at the next moment, when the soul will pass out free into the infinite.

In the end we shall have to say that there is no solution of an intellectual kind and that it is part of the general mystical paradox that the mystical revelation transcends the intellect.

Author Picture
First Name
W. T.
Last Name
Stace, fully Walter Terence Stace
Birth Date
1886
Death Date
1967
Bio

British Civil Servant, Educator, Philosopher and Epistemologist, Philosophy Professor at Princeton University