Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/271

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253
William James

Like other violent opponents of intellectualism, James himself falls into the intellectualistic assumption that we must either wholly believe or wholly disbelieve, just as one must either go to church or stay out. He ignores the scientific attitude of suspended judgment and the fact that men may be compelled to act without being constrained in judgment. We may vote for X or Y and yet know that owing to the absence of adequate in formation our choice has been little more than a blind guess. His interest in vital preferences and his impatience with the emotionally thin air of purely logical argumentation led James, towards the end of his life, to the acceptance of the extreme antilogical view of Bergson that our logical and mathematical ideas are inherently incapable of revealing the real and changing world.

James's interest in philosophy was fundamentally restricted to the psychological aspect of things. He therefore never elaborated any systematic theory of morals, politics, or social organization. His temperamental preference for the novel, the unique, and the colourful re-enforced his traditional American liberalism and made him an extreme individualist. He attached scant value to the organized or fixed channels through which the fitful tides of ordinary human emotion find permanent expression. This shows itself best in his Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). He is interested only in the extreme variations of religious experiences, in the geniuses or aristocrats of the religious life. The religious experience of the great mass, or even of intellectual men like Chief Justice Marshall, who go to church without troubling much about matters of belief, seems to James "second-hand" and does not solicit his attention. Neither does the whole question of ritual or ceremony. He is interested in the beliefs of extraordinary and picturesque individuals. Hence his book on religion tells us almost nothing to explain the spread and the vitality of the great historic religions, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. This extreme individualism, however, is connected with an extraordinary democratic openness and readiness to admit that it is only the blindness in human nature that prevents us from seeing the uniqueness of every individual. Unlike any other philosopher, William James was entirely devoid of the pride of the intellect. He was as willing as Jesus of Nazareth to