|Abstract: ||William James is one of the greatest American philosophers. His role and
influence on the 20th century philosophy is difficult to overestimate. However, he
is mainly known as the creator of pragmatism and a controversial pragmatic
conception of truth. The main thesis of this book is the statement that studies
on James’ philosophy have to be conducted with the transfer of emphasis from
James as a creator of pragmatism to James as a researcher of a religious experience.
It focuses primarily on the last period of his writings, that started publication
in 1902 — The Varieties of Religious Experience — still up-to-date work on
which the psychology of religion is founded. Earlier works by James are recalled
only occasionally to prove the continuity of his thought. The subtitle The Varieties
of Religious Experience is: A Study in Human Nature. It points to the central issue
of James’ philosophy of religion raised in the book that is — showing the relations
between a religious experience and a human nature. James is above all interested
in the religious experience of man. He does not deal with institutions
and religious doctrines, treating them as secondary forms in relation to experience.
His interest in religious experience, not the doctrines of religion, derives directly
from his empiricism. Religious experience is for James not only an expression
of human contact with the transcendence, is also a way of expression of
human nature. Thanks to it, studying a diversity of religious experiences, there
is the possibility of closer examination of human nature. According to James,
the root of religious experience is the mystical experience. In the mystical experience
we deal with a manifestation of the deepest reserves of human nature. This
means that the image of the world the mystics give us, is an image that is somehow
“filtered” through the deepest layers of human nature and expresses it. The
answer given by the mystics, in response to their experiences is at the same time
an expression of how they perceive the sacrum and how they perceive the role of
man in relation to it. Metaphysical architectonics of reality deriving from mystics’
reports is at the same time the archeology of depths of human nature.
The first chapter discusses the basic philosophical problems dealt with in The
Varieties of Religious Experience and consequently developed by James in his next works. The most important of these issues is pragmatic verification of the truthfulness
of the religious experience and James’ philosophy of mysticism discussed
in the context of a contemporary constructivist and universalistic approach. The
analysis in this chapter are based on the latest studies on James’ philosophy, conducted
especially during the last 25 years by such researchers as G.W. Bernard,
Ch. Lamberth, H.S. Levison, E.K. Suckiel, and J. Smith. The next chapters take
the issues, outlining the role of a pragmatic conception of truth and metaphysics
of a pluralistic panpsychism respectively in the analysis of a religious subject-
matter. Late James is thus the thinker who developed the original concept of
metaphysics called the radical empiricism. He set itself the goal of developing
a holistic metaphysical system which would take into consideration the philosophical
study on man, his physical and mental nature on the one hand, and would
leave open a possibility of the recognition of the existence of God and religious interpretations
of reality on the other. The third chapter shows how the texts collected
in the posthumously published volume of Essays in Radical Empiricism and
the analyses of pure experience conducted there by James can be used to interpret
the mystical experience.
A Pluralistic Universe, the last text published during the lifetime of James,
outlines a philosophical program, which aim was to conduct such a philosophical
interpretation of an empirical reality, within the frame of which it will be possible
to experience the world in a homo religiosus way, and, at the same time, in accordance
with the modern scientific approach.
James understands religion as a necessary fact of the human experience of
the world. Analysis of this work is made in chapter four. It portrays James as a religious
thinker who takes reflection on fundamental issues of human nature in
a metaphysical perspective, inspired by the work of G. Fechner. The basic categories
for James’ philosophy of religion: pluralism, intimate universe, compounding
of consciousness, and finiteness of God are discussed there — by interpreting it in
the perspective of the concept of E. Fontinell.
The study presented is not a reconstruction of James’ philosophy of religion.
Such a system has never been created and remained always just an outline. Rather
the subsequent problems of philosophy of religion, raised by James whether in
the psychological or metaphysical perspective are discussed here.
The aim was to show inspirations one can derive from the thought of James.
The ending paragraphs of the chapter third and fourth, point to certain possibilities
for further interpretations and research applications of his philosophy of religion.
That is why there is a reference to the conceptions related to Buddhist philosophy.
The application of certain elements of James’ metaphysics in the analysis of
mystical experience, especially in the circle of the Eastern religions, which James
did not know well, most visibly demonstrates the potential of his thought. The intention
of the text was to show that James thought, despite the passage of over
a hundred years after his death, is still up-to-date and can serve to the currently
conducted studies on mystical experience.
James’ analyses are though characterized by the depth of philosophical
approach combined with an openness to empirical and psychological study of religious