[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next]

Thesis vs. Hypotheses

Dec 21, 1996 07:44 AM
by K. Paul Johnson

There seems to be some confusion about the difference between
the overall thesis of a book and the specific hypotheses it
offers.  Since the topic has found its way onto this list, I'll
answer here, with apologies to those who would rather not see
such discussion.

Paraphrasing what I wrote in response to John Algeo's review of
The Masters Revealed in Theosophical History, the thesis of a
book is its general argument that is sustained throughout.
The thesis of TMR was that Theosophy was genuinely derived from HPB's
encounters with adepts in many spiritual traditions, but her depiction
of them was fictionalized in order to conceal their identities.  The book
names 32 individual acquaintances of HPB (or likely
acquaintances) who are hypothesized to match either
general comments she made about her Masters (e.g., Oriental
Rosicrucians, Brotherhood of Luxor) or specific statements
about particular Masters.  One thesis, 32 hypotheses.  Dr. Algeo
identified the book's thesis as that "Johnson has succeeded in
identifying HPB's Masters [by which he means the characters in Theosophical
literature named as such] with historical persons."  In fact,
the thesis, if stated in parallel language, would be "Johnson
has succeeded in establishing that the Masters as presented by
HPB are neither totally fictional, as non-Theosophical writers
have always assumed, or totally factual, as Theosophical writers
have always assumed, but a very complicated mixture of fact and

Although my hypotheses about particular cases have been attacked
and defended, as in the cases of M. and K.H. in my exchange
with Mr. Caldwell, my thesis has not really been the focus of
discussion thus far.  It is far more secure than any of the individual
hypotheses.  Indeed, it would be surprising if any future
scholarly work on the subject failed to accept it.  The
position that HPB never lied about the Masters is absolutely
untenable, as is the position that she never told the truth
about them.  Yet those two positions have dominated the entire
literature about her until my books came along.  What is
interesting now is not whether my thesis is well established--
it is-- but what particular mixture of fact and fiction
will be discovered as other researchers probe deeper into these
mysteries.  All I claim is to have made a significant beginning
in that direction.

So Mr. Caldwell's subtitle is in error when it refers to a
"thesis" about M. and K.H.  That Ranbir Singh and Thakar Singh
are their primary prototypes are two hypotheses.  The thesis is
about all HPB's Masters.

[Back to Top]

Theosophy World: Dedicated to the Theosophical Philosophy and its Practical Application