Nowadays, among people who are interested in being spiritual, there is often an attitude that intellectuality and being concerned with intellectual matters interferes with being spiritual. Sometimes that is obviously true: if you have a divine intuition or an insistent deep feeling telling you to do something that seems impractical, your practical mind, influenced by the modern scientific paradigm, may insist you ignore your intuition. In order to be receptive to their intuitions, feelings and other spiritual things, many modern people turn against intellectuality and their mind.
That often leads many modern spiritual people to see Western culture as dominated purely by scientific secular thinking while romanticizing Indian and Chinese culture as being more spiritual and intuitive.
I was not able to do this as my first exposure to spirituality came from Socrates and Plato and I knew how absolutely central they were to Western philosophy. I also knew that the Neoplatonic philosophy tradition was the dominant cultural paradigm in the Renassiance. I wondered if the spiritual paradigm was so great, why was it not kept in the West? An individual’s worldview often changes for good reasons, so I thought that I should treat Western culture as like an individual and think about what good reasons it had for dropping a spiritual paradigm. If this paradigm was so wonderful and adequate for all purposes, then it seemed obvious Western culture would never have dropped this spiritual paradigm.
This attitude led me into a much deeper studying of the Western spiritual philosophy tradition. I found this tradition to be much more richer and interesting than modern spiritual people or modern scholars think it is.
Western philosophy n the English speaking world in the last fifty years has been almost exclusively concerned with language games, epistemology, logical problems, arcane metaphysics, and other concerns far removed from ordinary people’s daily life. This kind of analytical philosophy sees itself as following the lead of science, and philosophers often sneer at spiritually-oriented world views. But Western philosophy used to be something considerably different: it was Socrates dying instead of giving up his God-given mission to examine people, it was Pythagoras combining reincarnation with number mysticism, it was Epictetus preaching how we can always be happy if we follow God’s will or it was Francis Hutcheson building the philosophical foundations of Utilitarianism on God’s providential care for us. Until the end of the eighteenth century, Western philosophers were almost always very spiritually oriented people.
Western philosophy has a long tradition of rational spirituality. This tradition is rational because it honors reason, not authority or faith. This tradition is spiritual because it emphasizes personal experience of the sacred without any need for religious institutions. Rather than having any set beliefs or rituals, this tradition is based on a respect for reason as well as an individual experience of the divine. This kind of spirituality is a middle path between scientific secularism which sees science and empiricism as the only reliable guide to understanding reality and religions which preach faith in religious orthodoxy and rituals.
Almost all of the important Greek and Roman philosophers were part of this tradition because they harmoniously combined a passion for reason, science, and math with a deep concern for spirituality. These philosophers thought reason and spirituality, instead of being antagonistic, actually reinforced each other. The best known ancient proponents of this tradition were Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, and the Stoics. This tradition continued in the Enlightenment period with Hutcheson, Voltaire, Smith, and the Deists being part of it.
Our culture would be much better off if there was a rebirth of this tradition and any alternative spirituality in the West needs to connect with this tradition if it wants to survive and have a permanent influence on our culture.
These papers and manuscripts are academic writings. That means they are tightly focused on the topic, heavily footnoted and assume basic prior knowledge of the subject and its importance in the history of ideas. These writings are not meant to be an introduction to any of these topics. Some of these papers were presented at academic settings, one was my Ph. D. dissertation, and the ones on Socrates were written for graduate school courses.
Socrates is often considered the founder of Western philosophy. He was known for questioning everything and using his reason to analyze everything. He also got divine voices and unquestioning folllowed them. The Socrates section has three papers written about his voices and the relationship of them to his skepticism and his use of reason.
Some important Greek philosophers traveled with Alexander the Great’s army to India and were very impressed by Indian monks. A major question in Hellenistic philosophy is how much these philosophers were influenced by Indian philosophy. This paper, Indian Influence on Hellenistic Philosophy, argues that Hellenistic ethics and skepticism was tremendously influenced by Buddhist and Jain monks.
The Stoics and other Hellenistic philosophers thought the sage, a wise person who was following God’s will, would always be perfectly happy no matter what external things happened to him. These philosophers said the sage would be totally happy even if tortured. I wrote my Ph. D. dissertation, titled The Joy of Torture, on these ideas. I also investigated whether the Greek philosophers were influenced by Indian philosophers who had a similar idea. Bringing modern ideas of pain research and happiness and meditation, I argued the Hellenistic philosophers were right in thinking the sage would always be happy even if tortured. I also argue that the Stoics have an extremely sophisticated view of emotions and how to deal with practical problems, and a great argument on why a person should never get angry.
The last time a spiritually-oriented non-Christian philosophy dominated Western culture was in the Renaissance. This philosophy—Hermeticism—believed in many things now popular among New Agers. This paper, Hermeticism and the Rise of Modern Science, looks at the transition from Hermeticism to the experimental scientific method of Francis Bacon. It explores the contributions of Hermeticism to Bacon’s scientific method and the modifications Bacon made to that tradition and the reasons why he modified the tradition. This paper shows some of the limitations of spiritual philosophy and why Western culture rejected it for a different paradigm.
The Enlightenment is usually considered the Age of Reason and the first major development of a scientific secular worldview. This is a misconception. The Enlightenment is better seen as a rebellion against a Christian conception of an unfair tyrannical God who had the right to treat people however he wanted to. The Enlightenment thinkers were very spiritual people with a God who was very involved in the world and in their lives. The Enlightenment thinkers said God dispensed his loving care to people not through the Catholic Church (as the Catholics thought) or through the Christian Bible (as the Protestants thought) but through Nature. All the ideas usually associated with the Enlightenment—science, equality, criticism, worldliness—derive from their prior view of God and God’s providential care for people through Nature. This section has a paper on how the significant majority of English Deists believed in miracles. It also has a paper on how the vast majority of Enlightenment thinkers believed in miracles. It also has a manuscript on the Enlightenment’s real spirituality which is based on a new conception of God which emphasized his fairness and benevolence, unlike previous Christians who mostly emphasized God’s sovereignty and power.
The New Age movement is usually seen as the Age of Aquarius, a paradigm shift or the return of Theosophy or Spiritualism. This long manuscript argues that it is best viewed as a cultural movement like the Enlightenment and Romanticism and shows how many New Age ideas are based on the ideas of these two movements.
Modern Western philosophy in the last one hundred years has been dominated in the Anglo-Saxon world by analytical philosophy. Analytical philosophy emphasizes logic, critical thinking and having a firm grasp on what a person is talking about. Placing this movement in its historical context helps one to understand why it so vehemently rejects any talk of spirituality. This paper, Spiritual Empiricism, argues that there can be no place for spirituality in the analytical philosophy tradition as long as empiricism is seen as being based purely on sensory experience. Once, however, experience is opened up to include other kinds of non-sensory experience such as experience of divine messages or intuitions, then there can be a philosophy based on spiritual empiricism that also values logic, critical thinking and having a firm grasp on what you are talking about.