The Psychology of the Mysterian

There are not many mysterians in the world, at least visible out-of-the-closet mysterians, but the following four people clearly qualify: me, Chomsky, Fodor, and Pinker. This is a large enough sample to inquire what the mysterian psychology is like–what do the four of us have in common? It might be supposed that a mysterian is apt to be theoretically timid, reluctant to stick his neck out: he is always warning others about their theoretical recklessness, urging caution. He is a nay-sayer, a conservative, a coward of the intellect. He thinks theories are for the birds–hubristic folly. But actually the four people on my list are the very opposite–they are all theoretical adventurers, their necks fully extended. They love theories, the more adventurous the better. They are indeed frequently criticized for their theoretical excesses. They are not timid but bold. This suggests another account of their mysterian tendencies: they know what a good theory looks like and what it takes to establish one, and they can see that nothing of this kind is available in the domain in which they sense mystery. They are disappointed theorists, not overly cautious anti-theorists.

5 replies
  1. Filippo Contesi
    Filippo Contesi says:

    This account reminds me of Kant’s disappointed love for metaphysics. Perhaps it is appropriate to consider him a mysterian ante litteram.

    • Rick Padua
      Rick Padua says:

      SS 9. General Remarks on Transcendental Aesthetic.

      I. In order to prevent any misunderstanding, it will be requisite, in the first place, to recapitulate, as clearly as possible, what our opinion is with respect to the fundamental nature of our sensuous cognition in general. We have intended, then, to say that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of phenomena; that the things which we intuite, are not in themselves the same as our
      representations of them in intuition, nor are their relations in themselves so constituted as they appear to us; and that if we take away the subject, or even only the subjective constitution of our senses in general, then not only the nature and relations of objects in space and time, but even space and time themselves disappear; and that these, as phenomena, cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the nature of objects considered as things in themselves and without reference to the receptivity of our sensibility is quite unknown to us.

  2. Filippo Contesi
    Filippo Contesi says:

    Also probably many theistic philosophers, before, during and after the Middle Ages, would count as mysterians, in that they will consider some of what God knows as in principle epistemically inaccessible to us, at least in this world. Some of these philosophers will be, like Kant, not theoretically shy, though others will be different.


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