The following argument is valid:
- Every phenomenal species of experiences has a veridical member. (Premise)
- Mystical experiences are a phenomenal species of experiences. (Premise)
- A mystical experience is veridical only if something is numinous. (Premise)
- Therefore, something is numinous. (By 1-3)
If we like, we might add:
- If naturalism holds, nothing is numinous. (Premise)
- Therefore, naturalism is false. (By 4 and 5)
There are two versions of this argument. On one version, “mystical experience”
is left undefined, and then (3) is substantive. On the other version, a
mystical experience is defined as an experience that is in part about
something being numinous, in which case (3) is trivial.
The phrase “phenomenal species of experiences” needs explanation.
Paradigmatic phenomenal species of experiences are things like visual experiences,
experiences of change, olfactory experiences, etc. (Note
that phenomenal species can overlap: something can be simultaneously a visual
experience and an experience of change.) Different phenomenal species of
experiences feel differently–their qualia are different
in kind. I don’t know whether I want to fully stand by the following
characterization, but it is plausible:
A set S of possible experiences constitutes a phenomenal species of
experiences provided it is not possible to know what it is like to have
an experience from S without either having had some experience from S
or having an apparent memory of an experience from S. Plausibly,
know what it is like to smell something without having smelled something
or at least having an implanted apparent memory of smelling something.
On the other hand,
visual experiences of pink elephants are not a phenomenal species of
experiences, because it is possible to know what it is like to have a
visual experience of a pink elephant by having visual experiences of a
pink teddy bear and a gray elephant. Likewise, if Hume’s missing shade of
blue argument holds, then visual experiences of a precise shade of blue
are not a phenomenal species of experiences, though visual experiences
of blue things are.
If you think that there are non-intentional experiences (maybe you think boredoms, itches and pains are like that–I don’t), I will clarify that “experience” here is “intentional experience”.
The most controversial premise is (1). The idea here is that it would be odd indeed for us to have an experiential mechanism that was never veridical. There are several considerations here. First, once we admit that a whole phenomenal species of experiences could be non-veridical, we open ourselves up to a lot of scepticism. Second, one might wonder about the concept of such intentional experiences. For instance, one might think, e.g., with Sellars, that we gain the concept of an experience as of an F through first having experiences that are actually, veridically of Fs. Third, “nature does nothing in vain”: (1) is at least presumptively true in any particular case (in which case the argument yields the presumption that there is something numinous).
What is the numinous? Well, it is something to which it is appropriate to react with mystification, awe and fascinated attraction.