Art and Scientific Thought: Historical Studies Towards a Modern Revision of Their Antagonism

By Martin Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 13
Conflicts between the Logical and the Mystical Mind, from Ancient Chinese to Recent Europeans

I

In spite of some subtle similarities, the judgment which we employ in assessing the validity of a scientific theory must differ from our attitude to a work of art with imaginative appeal. Sensitive and exploratory minds for thousands of years have approached the major problems of existence either imaginatively or scientifically; occasionally, as in the Moslem and the Chinese civilisations, there was an unprofitable oscillation between the two attitudes, which is a lasting warning as well as inspiration in the history of culture. Since then there has grown up a recognised antithesis between the mystical and the logical. This antithesis is very similar to that between aesthetic and scientific, and may often be treated by interchangeable terms since the imaginative underlies both mysticism and art. On the one hand there are claims to acquire true knowledge about our environment by an intuition, the chain of mental antecedents to which is untraceable and seemingly a kind of 'short-circuit'. On the other hand are claims based on strictly verifiable proof, the chain of whose antecedents must be traceable and must be agreed upon by all concerned. Systems of religion, claiming ultimately to depend upon the intuitive, have often ceded their vantage by pretending to be supported by the logical: no modern science claims anything but logical support: the arts are as frankly imaginative: but systems of philosophy have often simultaneously made logical claims while utilising the intuition of the mystic, with or without certain shame-faced attempts at concealment.

It seems time that this possibility of dishonesty should be removed, and philosophical speculation judged as having an aesthetic and not solely a logical aspect. But in abandoning claims which belong exclusively to the latter, the former's title to be realistic and

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