W.T. Stace

Mysticism and Philosophy

Review by Tim Knepper, 2001

Stace, Walter T. Mysticism and Philosophy. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960.

The following review of W.T. Stace’s Mysticism and Philosophy focuses almost exclusively upon Stace’s characterization of two basic types of mystical experience located within chapter two, “The Problem of the Universal Core.”  In this chapter Stace sets off searching for a set of characteristics common to all mystical experiences (yet different from other types of experience) that constitutes the universal core of mystical experience.  (The putative payoff of such a project should be noted: Stace claims the presence of a common, universal core is necessary grounds to establish the objective validity of mysticism.) 

Stace begins by excluding two types of mystical phenomena: (1) visions and voices (because mysticism is non-sensuous); (2) raptures, trances and hyperemotionalism (because such phenomena are merely accidental accompaniments).  (Note: Is not Stace thereby excluding a significant portion of mystical phenomena?  Is he not determining a priori that which constitutes mystical experience?)  Stace moves on to bifurcate mystical experience: While “extrovertive mysticism” perceives the undifferentiated unity of the world (the totality of external objects as imbued with the “One”), “introvertive mysticism” perceives the undifferentiated unity of the self (the unitary consciousness of the self as identical with the “One”).  (Note: Stace uses the term “One” as if it is manifestly obvious to what this term refers, as if this term functions similarly in all religious and philosophical contexts.)  Stace describes seven characteristics of each type of mystical experience as follows: 

  Extrovertive Mysticism (p. 79) Introvertive Mysticism (pp. 110-111)
1 The unifying vision, expressed abstractly by the formula “All is One.”  The One is, in extrovertive mysticism, perceived through the physical senses, in or through the multiplicity of objects. The Unitary Consciousness, from which all the multiplicity of sensuous or conceptual or other empirical content has been excluded, so that there remains only a void and empty unity.  This is the one basic, essential, nuclear characteristic, from which most of the others inevitably follow.
2 The more concrete apprehension of the One as being an inner subjectivity in all things, described variously as life, or consciousness, or a living Presence.  The discovery that nothing is “really” dead. Being nonspatial and nontemporal.  This of course follows from the nuclear characteristic just listed.
3 Sense of objectivity or reality. Sense of objectivity or reality.
4 Feeling of blessedness, joy, happiness, satisfaction, etc. Feelings of blessedness, joy, peace, happiness, etc.
5 Feeling that what is apprehended is holy, or sacred, or divine.  This is the quality which gives rise to the interpretation of the experience as being an experience of “God.”  It is the specifically religious element in the experience.  It is closely intertwined with, but not identical with, the previously listed characteristic of blessedness and joy. Feeling that what is apprehended is holy, sacred, or divine. […]  Perhaps is should be added that this feeling seems less strong in Buddhist mystics than in others, though it is not wholly absent and appears at least in the form of deep reverence for an enlightenment which is regarded as supremely noble.  No doubt this is what explains the “atheistic” character of the Hinayana. […]
6 Paradoxicality Paradoxicality
7 Alleged by mystics to be ineffable, incapable of being described in words, etc. Alleged by mystics to be ineffable.

Calling extrovertive and introvertive mysticism “species” of a single “genus,” Stace claims both types of mystical experience share a common core – viz., they both “culminate in the perception of, and union with, Unity or One” (62).  In fact extrovertive mysticism constitutes a lower-level mystical experience, one that finds its completion in introvertive mysticism.

Analysis: While Stace’s characterization of mystical experience is overly simplistic, reducing the vast diversity of mystical experience to that which fits his preconceived notion of mysticism as an experience of undifferentiated unity, and rejecting all dualistic descriptions of mystical experience as either philosophically immature or ecclesiastically coerced, Mysticism and Philosophy was ahead of its times insofar as it offered the first real attempt at a comprehensive phenomenology of mystical experience.