On the Value of Mystical and Religious Experience[1]

John Bengson
Department of Philosophy
University of Wyoming
jsteele@uwyo.edu

Abstract: It is regularly assumed that mystical/religious experiences can be valuable if and only if they are veridical. This is because it is thought that the source of value of such experiences is a religious/spiritual (divine) force. James was skeptical of this orthodox view, claiming instead that the value of such experiences is their good effects. I offer non-pragmatic reasons to believe that such skepticism is justified. Against the orthodox view, I revise the so-called Euthyphro dilemma to show that the value of mystical/religious experiences cannot be grounded in a divine force. After arguing that modified versions of the orthodox view cannot adequately respond to the challenge posed herein, I present pragmatic and non-pragmatic reasons to believe that mystical/religious experiences are valuable even if they do not involve a divine force. In effect, the paper supports James' belief that mystical/religious experiences need not be veridical in order to be valuable.

1. Introduction.  Two theses about mystical/religious experiences—experiences that are, to borrow from William James, transient, noetic, ineffable, and passive (as well as private and valuable)[2]—have been defended in the recent past. The first is that mystical/religious experiences are (or can be) veridical.[3]

 [4] It is often assumed that if this is so, then such experiences are valuable in a unique or interesting way. Against this first thesis, many skeptics have argued that mystical/religious experiences are not veridical.[5] This second skeptical thesis is usually accompanied by a naturalistic explanation of such experiences, one that portrays them as mere delusions. Its proponents assume that since mystical/religious experiences are not veridical, they lack value. Defenders of both theses thus assume that mystical/religious experiences can be valuable if and only if they are veridical. This is because it is regularly supposed that the source[6] of value of mystical/religious experiences must be a religious/spiritual force (e.g., God, Brahman, Great Spirit, Life force, etc.).[7]

This supposition appears to be consistent with the claims of mystics, who in extant auto-descriptions often stress that their experiences are valuable because, and only because, they involve a divine force. For instance, some mystics claim that their experiences are valuable because they are experiences of a divine force. Consider the eleventh teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita, in which Arjuna, "filled with amazement, his hair bristling on his flesh", exclaims in the midst of his theophanic vision,

I see the gods
in your body, O God...
I see your boundless form
everywhere...
Lord of All,
I see no end,
or middle or beginning
to your totality.[8]

Alternatively, some mystics claim that their experiences are valuable because they are revelations (or confirmations) of truths of a religious/spiritual nature. An example of this is Pascal's famous experience, in which he gained "absolute certainty" of the existence of God:

From about half past ten in the evening to
About half an hour after midnight.
Fire.
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.
Not the God of philosophers and scholars.
Absolute Certainty: Beyond reason. Joy. Peace.
Forgetfulness of the world and everything but God.
The world has not known thee, but I have known thee.
Joy! joy! joy! tears of joy![9]

Still other mystics claim that their experiences are valuable because they are caused by a divine force. Consider, for example, Saint Theresa of Avila's emphasis on the origin of her vision:

One day, being in orison, it was granted me to perceive in one instant how all things are seen and contained in God. I did not perceive them in their proper form, and nevertheless the view I had of them was of a sovereign clearness, and has remained vividly impressed upon my soul. It is one of the signal of all graces that the Lord has granted me.[10]

What appears common to these and other mystic auto-descriptions is the claim that such experiences are valuable because they involve a divine force. That this claim is made by mystics from assorted times and places has motivated what appears to be the orthodox view of the value of mystical/religious experiences: namely, that the source of their value is a divine force. As a result, it is regularly assumed that mystical/religious experiences can be valuable if and only if they are veridical.

James was skeptical of this orthodox view, claiming instead that the value of mystical/religious experiences is their good effects. Though I do not completely adopt James' alternative view of the source of value of such experiences here, I offer non-pragmatic reasons to believe that his skepticism towards the orthodox view was and is justified. First, I revise the so-called Euthyphro dilemma in order to show that the value of mystical/religious experiences cannot be grounded in, and is instead independent of, a divine force. Then, I argue that modified versions of the orthodox view cannot adequately answer the challenge posed by this dilemma. Finally, I outline a few considerations in favor of the view that mystical/religious experiences can be valuable even if they do not involve a divine force.

2. A Revised Euthyphro Dilemma.  In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates questions Euthyphro about the nature of piety. In response to the latter's claim that "the pious is what all the gods love" (9e), Socrates poses the following question: "Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?" (10a) In other words (and switching the order of the question's parts), Socrates asks Euthyphro if some thing or act is pious because the gods deem it to be pious, or if the gods deem it to be pious because it is pious.

It is possible to formulate Socrates' question in terms of a dilemma. If Euthyphro adopts the first position, he is thrown onto the first horn of this dilemma. For if he accepts that some thing or act is pious because the gods deem it to be so, then he must accept intuitively unacceptable consequences: e.g., if the gods were to deem killing innocent children pious, then it would be so. Insofar as some thing or act is pious if and only if the gods deem it to be so, any thing or act that the gods deem to be pious is (necessarily) pious—even killing innocent children. Now, if killing innocent children is pious, then it is morally praiseworthy. But this is highly counterintuitive, so this first position will not do. The response that the gods would never deem such a horrific act as killing innocent children to be pious forces Euthyphro to say why they would not, pushing him onto the second horn of the dilemma: that the gods deem some thing or act to be pious (or not pious) because it is pious (or not pious). According to this position, the gods would not deem killing innocent children to be pious because killing innocent children just is not pious. Of course, this would commit Euthyphro to the view that the gods are not the source of the piety (or lack thereof) of some thing or act, for it must be pious (or not pious) independently of the gods. Consequently, in posing this dilemma to Euthyphro, Socrates presents an argument against the view that the piety of some thing or act is grounded in a divine force.

With this argument in mind, I want to now show that the orthodox view faces a similar dilemma. Using Socrates' original question as a springboard, let us consider the following question: Are mystical/religious experiences valuable because a divine force makes them valuable, or does a divine force make them valuable because such experiences are valuable?[11]

If one adopts the first of these positions in an attempt to ground value in a divine force, one is, like Euthyphro, thrown onto the first horn of a dilemma. For if certain experiences are valuable because a divine force makes them so, then if a divine force was to make the experience of killing innocent children valuable, then it would be so. This is because on this first position, any experience that a divine force makes valuable is (necessarily) valuable—even the experience of killing innocent children. Now, if the experience of killing innocent children is valuable, then it is a good. But this is highly counterintuitive, so this first position will not do. One might attempt to respond that a divine force would never make the experience of killing innocent children valuable.[12] But then one is forced to say why a divine force would not. One thus encounters the second horn of the dilemma, namely, the position that a divine force makes certain experiences valuable (or not valuable) because they are valuable (or not valuable). According to this position, a divine force would not make the experience of killing innocent children valuable because the experience of killing innocent children just cannot be valuable.Of course, this implies that a divine force is not the source of value (or lack thereof) of an experience, for it is valuable (or not valuable) independently of a divine force. Consequently, this dilemma presents a challenge to the orthodox view that the value of mystical/religious experiences is grounded in a divine force. For it shows that such a force (and its (non)existence) is irrelevant to the value of such experiences.[13]

3. Fine-tuning the Orthodox View.  The argument presented in the last section has general relevance insofar as it challenges the generic orthodox claim that the source of value of mystical/religious experiences is a divine force. In this section, I consider less generic versions of this orthodox claim in order to respond to the objection that the revised Euthyphro dilemma, as it has so far been presented, does not address more fine-tuned versions of the orthodox view.

More precisely, one might object that the revised Euthyphro dilemma misrepresents the orthodox view: mystical/religious experiences are not valuable simply because a divine force makes them so, but, rather, because such experiences have a particular sort of content. This resonates with the claims of many mystics, including Saint John of the Cross, who says that in a mystical/religious experience,

[Our soul] finds no terms, no means, no comparison whereby to render the sublimity of the wisdom and the delicacy of the spiritual feeling with which she is filled...We receive this mystical knowledge of God, clothed in none of the kinds of images [or] sensible representations, which our mind makes use of in other circumstances... [I]n this knowledge...the mysterious and sweet-tasting wisdom comes home so clearly to the inmost parts of our soul.[14]

Other mystics have similarly emphasized the content of their experiences, i.e., what is apprehended in them.[15] In order to respect this emphasis, one might fine-tune the orthodox view to be that the source of value of such experiences is a particular sort of content (and its veridicality). Perhaps this content is inexpressible. Nevertheless, whether this content is a divine force or a truth of a religious/spiritual (i.e., divine) nature, on this version of the orthodox view, mystical/religious experiences are valuable because and only because of their divine content (and veridicality).

Although this fine-tuned version of the orthodox view resonates with the claims of many mystics, it is problematic. This is because such a view neglects the origin (i.e., cause) of mystical experiences, leaving it open to the following objection: if an orthodox mystic knew that her experiences of a divine force were caused by Satan or a mad scientist, then she would probably not consider those experiences valuable. We can imagine that if Saint Theresa of Avila, for example, had by some course of events become convinced (assuming that she could have become convinced) that it was not God that had caused her experiences but Satan or a mad scientist, she most likely would have felt that her experiences were not as profound, and thus not as valuable, as she had initially supposed.[16]

To be sure, Saint Theresa was not unaware of this quandary; she addressed precisely this issue in her writings. To those who claimed that her visions were "the work of the enemy of mankind and the sport of [her] imagination", she writes,

I showed them the jewels which the divine hand had left with me:—they were my actual dispositions. All those who knew me saw that I was changed; my confessor bore witness to the fact; this improvement, palpable in all respects, far from being hidden, was brilliantly evident to all men. As for myself, it was impossible to believe that if the demon were its author, he could have used, in order to lose me and lead me to hell, an expedient so contrary to his own interests as that of uprooting my vices, and filling me with masculine courage and other virtues instead...[17]

Saint Theresa is claiming that the fact that her visions had publicly observable good effects is evidence that her visions came from God. However, Saint Theresa provides only pragmatic (not epistemic) reasons for believing that God was the cause of her experiences. Whether or not it is "impossible" for her to believe that God was not the cause of her experiences, we must acknowledge the possibility—or, as some have argued, the likelihood[18]—that her experiences, and other mystical/religious experiences like hers, were not caused by God. This is important, for good effects do not appear to be enough to ensure that even if one's mystical/religious experiences are not caused by a divine force, but rather by Satan or a mad scientist, a proponent of the orthodox view would consider them valuable nevertheless. This suggests that on the orthodox view, the value of mystical/religious experiences depends in some way on their origin.[19]

But origin alone cannot be the source of value of mystical/religious experiences. Consider: even if God was the cause of an experience whose content was (say) an oasis, that experience could not be properly labeled 'mystical/religious'. This is because it could not be valuable in the unique or interesting way that mystical/religious experiences are thought to be valuable. By itself, an experience of an oasis could be transient, noetic, ineffable, passive, and private; but surely it could not, by itself, be valuable.

With this in mind, a proponent of the orthodox view might argue that origin and content are equally important to the value of mystical/religious experiences. The orthodox view would then be that a particular sort of origin and a particular sort of content together serve as the source of value of mystical/religious experiences; in other words, the value of such experiences lies in the fact that they have both divine content and a divine origin. However, this is basically the generic view that mystical/religious experiences are valuable simply because a divine force makes them so, a view which the revised Euthyphro dilemma has exposed as unacceptable. To see this, consider again the experience of killing innocent children. If a divine content was present in, or revealed by, the experience of killing innocent children, and the experience was caused by a divine force (in the right way),[20] then it would have both divine content and a divine origin and, as a result, would be valuable. So, on the generic version of the orthodox view, the experience of killing innocent children could be valuable, in which case it would be a good. That this is highly counterintuitive indicates that we are not justified in accepting such a view. Consequently, I suggest we look elsewhere than a divine force for the source of value of mystical/religious experiences.

4. The Value of Mystical/Religious Experiences.  One may object at this point that if the arguments presented in sections two and three are sound, it is not obvious that mystical/religious experiences are valuable. Or, more strongly, if they are not valuable because a divine force makes them so, then they cannot be valuable at all.

There are reasons to think that mystical/religious experiences are valuable, and that they are so even if they do not involve a divine force (and, accordingly, even if they are not veridical). First, it is often recognized that such experiences have extrinsic (perhaps instrumental) value insofar as they can inspire compassionate and/or altruistic behavior. Recall the good effects that Saint Theresa of Avila took to be indications that her experiences were caused by God. Mystical/religious experiences may produce effects that involve lasting changes in one's character (changes that could remain even if one learned that one's experiences were not caused by a divine force)[21], and are all the more valuable for it. In this way, such experiences appear to possess value irrespective of their allegedly divine content (and its veridicality).

Second, auto-descriptions of mystical/religious experiences from assorted times and places bear witness to the capacity of such experiences to be sources of personal ethical guidance and existential meaning. It appears to be central to such experiences that they concern what is ultimate or basic in human life. This is because insofar as they appear to take one "beyond" ordinary experience, they somehow reveal or confirm existentially significant truths that involve a larger picture of life, so to speak. In so doing, they present or authenticate what can be called a 'fundamental sense of life', a sense of what life, particularly one's own life, means. In effect, the value of mystical/religious experiences largely consists in their ability to orient one in life, to provide one with a unique perspective on, or insight into, what one's life is about or amounts to.[22]

Importantly, such insights do not depend upon a divine force, for they may be existentially significant without thereby being theologically grounded. Like good effects, existentially significant truths by themselves do not necessarily rely on the truth of any religious/spiritual claims. So, although the considerations outlined here do not establish that such experiences are in fact valuable, they do show that the alleged value of mystical/religious experiences could be grounded in something other than a divine force.[23], [24]

5. Conclusion.  James claimed that "the religious life ought to be judged by its results exclusively";[25] consequently, he studied mystical/religious experiences with an eye to their pragmatic value. James adopted this strategy because he thought, contra the orthodox view, that the source of value of such experiences is not a divine force but their good effects, as evidenced in the life of the individual. By showing that mystical/religious experiences are valuable independently of a divine force (and its (non)existence), I have offered non-pragmatic (epistemic) reasons that support James' pragmatically-grounded skepticism towards the orthodox view.[26] Because the source of value of such experiences cannot be a divine force, James appears to have been correct in thinking that, contrary to the assumption of defenders of the two theses about the (non)veridicality of mystical/religious experiences noted at the outset, mystical/religious experiences need not be veridical in order to be valuable. In light of this, if we are interested in mystical/religious experiences because they are (allegedly) valuable—and it seems that we are, then it would appear that philosophical discussion ought to be less concerned with the authenticity of such experiences and more concerned with questions regarding the actual or potential source(s) of their value.[27]

Bibliography

Alper, Matthew. 2001. The "God" Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Rogue Press.

Alston, William P. 1991. Perceiving God: The Epistemology of Religious Experience. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

d'Aquila, Eugene and Newberg, Andrew B. 1999. The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Mystical Experience. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Davis, Caroline Frank. 1989. The Evidential Force of Religious Experience. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dancy, Jonathan. 2004. Ethics without Principles. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Everitt, Nicholas. 2004. The Nonexistence of God. London: Routledge Press.

Flew, Antony. 1966. God and Philosophy. London: Hutchinson Press.

Freud, Sigmund. 1950. Totem and Taboo. Tr. James Strachey. London: Routledge Press.

--------. 1962. The Future of an Illusion. Tr. W.D. Robson-Scott. London: Hogarth Press.

Gale, Richard. 1991. On the Nature and Existence of God. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

James, William. 1902. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. NY: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Jordan, Jeff. 1994. "Religious Experiences and Naturalistic Explanations". Sophia, 33:60-73.

Mackie, John L. 1982. The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and Against the Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Matt, Daniel C., tr. 1995. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. NY: Quality Paperback Book Club.

Miller, Barbara Stoler, tr. 1986. Bhagavad-Gita. NY: Quality Paperback Book Club.

McGinn, Bernard, ed. 1981. Meister Eckhart: The essential sermons, commentaries, treatises, and defense. Trs. Edmund Colledge, O.S.A. and Bernard McGinn. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Plato. 2002. Euthyphro. Tr. G.M.A. Grube. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Pulishing Company.

Proudfoot, Wayne. 1985. Religious Experience. Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press.

Ramachandran, V. S. and Blakeslee, Sandra. 1998. Phantoms in the Brain. NY: Quill.

Stace, Walter T. 1998. "The Nature of Mysticism." In Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings (third edition). Eds. William L. Rowe and William J. Wainwright. Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Swinburne, Richard. 1979. The Existence of God. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wainwright, William J. 1981. Mysticism: A Study of its Nature, Cognitive Value, and Moral Implications. Madison, Wisc.: University of Wisconsin Press.

--------. 1999. Philosophy of Religion. Toronto, Canada: Wadsworth.

[1] This is a draft. As always, comments are welcome, but please do not quote or cite without permission.

[2] James (1902) provides the first four of these marks of mystical/religious experiences in his classic study of mysticism. I have added the latter two marks (in parentheses) in order to exclude miracles and other public mystical/ religious phenomena and to emphasize that a characteristic feature of mystical/religious experiences is their value. (Note: By 'value', I don't mean epistemic (e.g., cognitive or evidential) value, but non-epistemic value. I use 'authenticity' or some other term instead of 'epistemic', 'evidential', or 'cognitive' value throughout in order to reserve the use of the term value for the unique and interesting sort of non-epistemic value allegedly possessed by mystical and religious experiences.)

Now, these may not be necessary and sufficient conditions, but they at least gesture at a "family resemblance". In any event, we typically have enough practical wisdom to reliably identify mystical/religious experiences as such.

One further note about terminology: I speak of 'mystical/religious experiences' because just as an experience need not be (but nevertheless could be) religious in order to be properly labeled 'mystical', an experience need not be (but nevertheless could be) mystical in order to be properly labeled 'religious'. It is on that broad class of experiences that are mystical or religious or both that the following discussion is focused.

[3] Or that such experiences are authentic, evidential, or have presumptive validity. This line of thought is defended in various ways in Swinburne (1979), Alston (1991), Wainwright (1981), Davis (1989), and elsewhere.

[4] I should mention upfront that it is unclear whether or not the notion of (non)veridicality applies to all mystical/religious experiences, for it seems unclear whether all mystical/religious experiences are contentful—mystical ecstasy, for instance, may lack content (but see the quote from ecstatic mystic Meister Eckhart in footnote 15 below), in which case the notion of (non)veridicality may not apply. In order to avoid unnecessary complications, I will focus solely on contentful mystical/religious experiences. So, if you are inclined to think that the proper analysis of mystical/religious experiences holds that they are contentful, then you will see this paper as addressing all such experiences. If you are inclined to think that not all such experiences are contentful, then you will see this paper as concerned solely with a prominent group of such experiences.

[5] Or, again, that such experiences are not authentic, not evidential, or do not have presumptive validity. This line of thought is defended in various ways in Freud (1950 & 1962), Mackie (1982), Gale (1991), Everitt (2004), and elsewhere.

[6] I shall use 'source' and 'ground' interchangeably to refer to what Dancy (2004) describes as that "in virtue of which the thing is good, [that which] 'make[s] it' good" (170). For an explanation of this use of the term 'makes', see footnote 11 below. I have decided to use both 'source' and 'ground' for stylistic reasons alone.

[7] For the sake of brevity, I will hereafter call this religious/spiritual force a 'divine force'.

[8] Miller (1986, 99).

[9] Quoted in Davis (1989, 53).

[10] Quoted in James (1902, 411); emphasis added.

[11] The orthodox view appears to remain silent about the will or intentions of the divine (but see Wainwright (1999, 135)), so it seems we ought to adopt the non-intentional sense of 'makes', as in "makes it such that...". Accordingly, 'makes' should be understood merely as shorthand for the relation between a divine force and mystical/religious experiences that the orthodox view claims to enable the former to serve as the source, or ground, of the latter's value. This sense of 'makes' is similar to that invoked in the notion of a 'truth-maker' (or, as Dancy (2004, 170), notes, the notion of 'favouring', which is employed in the theory of reasons). So, on the orthodox view, 'makes' indicates that a divine force is the value-maker of mystical/religious experiences: to say that a divine force makes φ valuable is just to say that a divine force is φ's value-maker.

[12] It seems fair to say that this would be the theist's response. Compare, for instance, the alleged mystical experiences of the Yorkshire Ripper, who claimed to have experienced the voice of God commanding him to kill. Theists typically reject this claim, presumably because it is so counterintuitive. See Davis (1989, 134).

[13] Six features of this revised Euthyphro dilemma are worth noting because they illuminate its neutrality with respect to most controversial issues in contemporary philosophy of religion. First, as noted in the text, the dilemma presupposes neither the existence nor the nonexistence of a divine force. Second, it does not rely on the claim that mystical/religious experiences are (or even can be) veridical (see footnotes two and three above). Third, it does not rely on the claim that all mystical/religious experiences necessarily involve interpretation (see, e.g., Flew (1966), Proudfoot (1985), and Stace (1998)); though, to be sure, it is not inconsistent with such a claim. Fourth, it does not presuppose that prima facie dissimilar mystical/religious experiences have a common core content, such as the 'One' (see, e.g., Davis (1989) and Stace (1998)). Fifth, it does not depend on a reductionist account of mystical/religious experiences (see, e.g., Mackie (1982) and Freud (1950 & 1962)). Sixth, it does not commit the orthodox view to either an interventionist or non-interventionist position, for it makes no difference to the argument whether the orthodox view supposes that a divine force causes mystical/religious experiences directly or indirectly via natural laws (see, e.g., Swinburne (1979) and Davis (1989) for discussions of this issue). The dilemma simply exploits an ambiguity in the orthodox view and consequently exposing it as either highly counterintuitive (and thus worthy of abandonment) or patently false.

[14] Quoted in James (1902, 407).

[15] There are many examples of this in mystical/religious literature. In the Kabbalah, it is written, "I, Rabbi Isaac of Akko, was contemplating, according to the method I received from the great one of his generation—great in humility, the wisdom of Kabbalah, philosophy, and the science of permutation of letters. He insisted that I set the ten sefirot in front of me, as it is written: "I set YHVH before me always." I saw them today above my head like a pillar, with their feet on my head and their heads high above, beyond all the four worlds: emanation, creation, formation, and actualization. As long as I was contemplating this ladder—the name of the Blessed Holy One—I saw my soul cleaving to Ein Sof" (Matt (1995, 121)). Similarly, Meister Eckhart wrote that in his ecstasy he apprehended important truths about God's nature: "There is no distinction in God's nature or in the Persons, according to the unity of the nature. The divine nature is one, and each Person is also one, and it is the same one the nature is. Distinction between being and essence is apprehended as one and is one" (McGinn (1981, 244)). See the quotes from the Bhagavad-Gita and Pascal in section one above for further examples.

[16] There may be another reason to think that origin cannot be ignored: if a divine force did not cause a mystical/religious experience in the right way, then it could not be veridical. Many think that an experience of φ is veridical if and only if it is caused by φ in the right way. If this is correct, then origin is of crucial importance insofar as veridicality requires a divine origin. See Jordan (1994). Compare Wainwright (1999, 135), who claims that this principle is compatible with traditional theism and thus one the traditional theist can accept.

[17] Quoted in James (1902, 21).

[18] See, e.g., Ramachandran and Blakeslee (1998), d'Aquila and Newberg (1999), and Alper (2001). Compare Freud (1950 & 1962).

[19] Even Theresa appears to have placed importance on the origin of her experiences. Recall the passage quoted in the introduction (section one above), where Saint Theresa explicitly claims that the cause of her vision was God.

[20] Incidentally, it would seem that whether it was caused through interventionist or non-interventionist means is not relevant.

[21] Of course, an orthodox mystic, like Saint Theresa, would not allow that her mystical/religious experiences could be valuable even if they weren't caused by a divine force. So, character changes produced by her experiences might not remain due to her prior theoretical commitments, which unjustifiably override the experiences' good effects.

[22] Such value would not be instrumental, but, rather, consequential or resultant, as all value is. Incidentally, neither would such value be hedonic nor aesthetic—though it seems that mystical/religious experiences could possess aesthetic value (especially on a reading of 'aesthetic' in which the beautiful and the good are one). Perhaps the best way to describe the sort of (intrinsic) value that I have in mind here is to say that it is existential.

[23] Again, orthodox mystics may not recognize this fact about mystical/religious experiences, for they may mistakenly think that their experiences can be valuable if and only if they are veridical. But that such mystics would not acknowledge the existential value of their experiences if they were convinced that their experiences were not veridical seems to be just an indication of the falsity of their prior theoretical commitments, which unjustifiably ignore the experiences' existential value. Thanks are due to Evan Fales for calling my attention to this point.

[24] In Dancy's (2004) terminology, there may be a non-divine 'ground' for the value of mystical/religious experiences. I have suggested a few possibilities for this ground and gestured at its 'enabling features', "those required for the ground to be able to play its grounding role, but which are not playing that role themselves" (170).

[25] James (1902: 21). It is worth noting that James includes the quote from Saint Theresa cited in section three above in order to support this claim. However, in taking this quote to indicate that Saint Theresa thought that the good effects of her experiences were the source of their value, it would appear that James neglected the fact that she actually seems to have considered these good effects to be evidence that her experiences are veridical, and that, in line with the central tenet of the orthodox view, it is this veridicality that is the source of their value (rather than their good effects).

[26] Of course, the view outlined here differs from James' in (at least) one respect: in section four, I outlined some considerations in favor of the possibility that the source of value of mystical/religious experiences lies in their ability to inspire good effects and convey existentially significant truths. Such truths are not merely pragmatic. They may sometimes (or even always) lead to good effects; but even if they do, this is not the reason why such truths are existentially significant—in part, because they are prior to, not resultant from, such effects—and so is not the reason why they are a source of value.

[27] Thanks are due to Evan Fales, James Forrester, Marc Moffett, and especially Jennifer Wright for helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this paper.