Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/267

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249
William James

list of philosophers. Mastery in logic is the cardinal test of the true philosopher, and neither Emerson nor James possessed it. Both, on the contrary, did their best to discredit it.[1]

As a criticism this is hardly fair. James certainly elaborated definite doctrines as to the nature of mind, truth, and reality. In his Radical Empiricism and in The Meaning of Truth he even showed considerable dialectic skill. Moreover, it may well be maintained that he did not seek to discredit logic in general, but only the logic of "vicious intellectualism." Nevertheless, Howison's opinion is significant in calling attention to the distinction between philosophy as technique and philosophy as vision. From the professional point of view it is not sufficient that a man should believe in free will, absolute chance, or the survival of consciousness beyond death. To be worthy of being called a philosopher, one must have a logically reasoned basis for his belief. James was aware of the importance of technique, and was, in fact, extraordinarily well informed as to the substance and main tendencies of all the diverse technical schools. But he was wholly interested in philosophy as a religious vision of life, and he had the cultivated gentleman's aversion for pedantry. His thoughts ran in vivid pictures, and he could not trust logical demonstration as much as his intuitive suggestions. Hence his philosophic writings are extremely rich in the variety of concrete factual insight, but not in effective answers to the searching criticisms of men like Royce, Russell, and Bradley. James was aware of this and asked that his philosophy be judged generously in its large outlines; the elaboration of details might well be left to the future.

The originality of William James, says one of his European admirers, "does not appear so much in his cardinal beliefs, which he took from the general current of Christian thought, as in the novel and audacious method by which he defended them against the learned philosophies of his day."[2] This, also, is not true without qualification. James took almost nothing from current Christian philosophy. Nor do any of the great historic Christian doctrines of sin and atonement or salvation find any echo in his thought. Orthodox Christianity would condemn James as a confessed pantheist who denied the omnipotence of

  1. Philosophical Review, vol. XXV, p. 241, May, 1916.
  2. Flournoy, William James, p. 16.