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Freshmen are keen, eager, and hungry,” his "The Everlasting Feminine,' that and “the Seniors disillusioned, cynical, any statement whatever made about and fed up"?'
Woman is true. So is any generalizaAnswer. (Concourse of expressive
tion about students and professors. grins from the class; remark from an in- Some Freshmen are indeed wonderfully corrigibly joyous Junior.) “When I was keen and eager; others are an incredible a Freshman and herded with the big miracle of sodden stupidity and indiffirst-year classes, my hunger was main- ference. Some Seniors are flaccid and ly for my dinner or a fight, and I was as unstrung; others are just being keyed kecn and eager as the rest of the bunch up to concert pitch. Some teachers are to jump at the sound of the closing - anything you like; others are everybell. We never allowed any professor thing you do not like. Accordingly, to run over the hour.'
when it comes to students versus teach
ers, or facts versus ideas, or information The courteous innuendo of his con- versus intelligence, or summer versus clusion reminded me that our own gong winter, or food versus fresh air, the diahad sounded forty seconds before, and lectician may well take a cue from the I speedily turned the rascals out, com- canny Ruggles girl, confronted with a mending them to the next dose of choice between hard versus soft sauce, frothy and venomous facts with which and take a little of both, please.' they were being fed up ad nauseam. For in the logical realm there reAnd as I prepared to measure out an- maineth classification, interpretation, other sickening spoonful for my own and discrimination, of parent facts and helpless victims, I thought of Strun progeny ideas; and the greatest of these sky's fallacy-puncturing observation in is discrimination.
WILLIAM JAMES AND HIS LETTERS
BY L. P. JACKS
For William James the facts of chief sense is true of all philosophers, though importance in the universe were per- they are not always aware of it; but sons. He began his thinking from that James knew it and accepted it as one end. Among those who have earned of his guides to the meaning of Truth. the name of philosopher there is none His 'will to believe' is fundamentally whose philosophy is a more sincere and nothing else than the right to be yourcomplete expression of his own person- self, and to express yourself in your own ality. The kites that he flew were all way, without entangling your freedom anchored in himself. His philosophy is, in alliances with those big classificain fact, himself writ large. This in a tions or abstractions which reduce mankind to the dead levels of thought, ac- critical points in the battle of life. His tion, and character. Or, to put it from work, in consequence, has given an imthe other side, the Universe that he in- mense impetus to philosophic study all terprets is just the same kind of high- over the world. What the number of spirited, restless, inconsistent, adven- his actual disciples may be cannot of turous, unaccountable being that each course be said, though it is probably man who has attained to self-knowledge very large; but that he has raised philfinds within his own breast. Against osophic study to a higher level of imthe idea of the Universe as a Big Insti- portance, increased the number of tution, 'governed by a system of in- those who pursue it, and conferred a ‘' a
, violable law, the idea which has be- new zest upon the pursuit, is beyond come so dear to those who are bewitched question. There are few professors of by the catchwords of modern science, the subject who do not owe him a
- James reacted with the strongest heavy debt for redeeming it from the aversion; and the reason for the reac- dullness and futility into which it was tion lay in his temperamental inability otherwise falling. to live in such a world himself, or to And the secret of his influence is unconceive that any free spirit would be mistakable. Long before these letters at home under its cast-iron conditions. appeared, readers of his works were Writing to Theodore Flournoy in 1895, conscious of being in contact with a the year before the publication of mind whose insight was the direct outThe Will to Believe, he says, 'I do hope come of the breadth and depth of its [your daughters) are being educated in human sympathy. That impression is a thoroughly emancipated way, just like now confirmed. Thanks to the admirtrue American girls, with no laws ex- able selection that has been made of the cept those imposed by their own sense letters, and to the unobtrusive skill of fitness. There are those, perhaps, to with which they have been woven towhom a statement such as this will ap- gether, the reader has now a clear appear as heralding a general disrespect prehension of the man whose personalfor the Ten Commandments. The best ity he had dimly felt or imagined in his answer to their fears is the picture of published works. The effect is almost James revealed in these letters. It is as if James's philosophy had been visithe picture of a very perfect gentleman, bly acted on the stage. We see how inof a finely tempered ethical nature, of a separably connected the man and the large and tender heart, and of personal doctrine were. The only doubt that reloyalty raised to the highest power. mains is as to which is the text and Perhaps the greatest service rendered
which the commentary. by James to the spiritual life of his age
· It is not as 'a disinterested spectator is that he makes philosophy interesting of the universe' that James addresses
' to everybody. Whatever the merits of himself to the great problems that conhis doctrine may be, and that is a cern us all. On the contrary, the force question into which the present writer of his appeal springs precisely from the does not propose to enter, — there is profound and living interest that he not a doubt that philosophy in his took in the universe, and especially in hands is always something that ‘makes that part of it which consists of his fela difference,' a vitally important exer- low men. He appears before us, not as cise, which no man who would live a full a ‘spectator' at all, but as an actor in life can afford to neglect. Its problems the drama of life, and we see that his
; are not mere themes for discussion, but philosophy is merely his ‘action' con
tinued and rounded off on a higher to the world. The truth is that, until plane. Disinterestedness is here re- we have explained why individuals are placed by the interest which not only who they are, and not somebody else, discovers truth but embodies it in per- we have explained nothing. All that sonality, thereby endowing it with a we can say of each is, in the last resort, power and vitality which impartial 'by the grace of God he is what he is.'
' cold bloodedness is doomed forever to And we say it with peculiar emphasis miss. This is as it should be. All doc- and fervor when William James is the trines that have moved the world have name before us. originated in the same way.
The philosophy of William James took
its rise in the question raised by the II
last paragraph. He was himself, if one
may say so, flagrantly unique, and his Philosophers who believe they can uniqueness was manifest in nothing so explain the universe should first read much as in the power he possessed of disthese letters, and then ask themselves cerning the disguised or hidden uniqueif they can explain that particular item ness of other people, and, indeed, of evof the universe which went, while he ery single thing, great and small, which lived among us, and which still lives on, the universe contains. He was intensely under the name of William James. Of alive to the queerness of things, and to course, all of us who have been trained those inalienable qualities in men and in philosophy, or even have dabbled in women which make each one of them it, think we can explain why 'individu- an astonishment and a portent. Once, als' must exist, or (to use a phrase of speaking to him of the men who were the schools) why 'the One must differ- going into a certain profession, I said, entiate itself into a Many.' But if any- “They all appear to be lopsided men.' body asks us how many a self-respecting His answer was: 'My dear fellow, did
‘ One should differentiate itself into, we you ever meet a man who was not lopare sadly at a loss. For some reason sided?' This uniqueness of the man, that is very obscure to us, the 'One' displaying itself most of all in his recthat is revealed in human life has dif- ognition of uniqueness in everybody ferentiated itself into about two thou- else, is what makes these letters of sand million individual souls. But why James an admirable introduction to his so many, no more and no less? Would philosophy. His problem, so to speak,
, not the One have got through this busi- is incarnate in his own person, and it is ness of differentiating itself into indi- suggested by his attitude to his corvidual men and women just as success- respondents. fully, if the number of them had been Deeply interesting it is to observe half as large, or even if there had been the wide variations in the tone, the no more than ten or a dozen of us all style, the matter of the letters, accordtold? Nor would our difficulties be at ing to the correspondent whom James an end, even if we got the two thousand is addressing. Among collections of millions satisfactorily accounted for. letters recently published several could For we should then have to explain why be named off-hand which serve only to William James happened to be one of reveal the uniformity of the writer's them. Anybody else might have taken own personality. But these letters rehis place without making any difference veal also the personalities of those to to the total, or to the theory. But a whom they are addressed. They introgreat difference would have been made duce us effectively, not only to William
James, but to his circle of friends. man spirit, and deriving enrichment of After a little practice you can put your meaning from its contact with the hand over the name at the head of the others. Behind them all he saw the letter and, reading a few sentences, 'will to believe,' or the will to disbemake a shrewd guess as to the man, lieve, as the case might be; and, though or woman, he is addressing. And, of his perception of this often irritated opcourse, in revealing his correspondent, ponents in their attitude toward him,
, James reveals himself far more clearly its effect upon his attitude toward than if he wrote from the egocentric them was to raise his toleration to the position. Unconsciously he acted in his point of positive sympathy. correspondence on the principle, which 'It's a will-to-believe on both sides,' is the rule of all fine and chivalrous he wrote to Charles H. Strong in 1907. spirits, of ‘so helping others to affirm 'I am perfectly willing that others their personalities as to affirm one's should disbelieve: why should not you own at the same time.'
be tolerantly interested in the spectacle In this way the letters become an of my belief? . . . Meanwhile, I take introduction, not only to James's delight, or shall take delight, in any efPragmatism, but to his ethics and to his forts you may make to negate all superreligion: for in spite of his own hesita- human consciousness, for only by these tions on the point, or perhaps in conse- attempts can a satisfactory modus viquence of them, there can be no doubt, vendi be established.' Here, no doubt, save to those whose minds are obsessed the severe logician will detect an inby narrow definitions, that he was a consistency. Why should the thinker profoundly religious man. To recognize who desires his own work to prevail exthe uniqueness of one's neighbor, and tend a warm welcome to another thinkto concede him his rights as a unique er who says the flat opposite? Only a individual, is at the same time to pro- sportsman can answer the question, claim the doctrine of Free Will by put- though his answer, when given, will be ting it into action as the law of our quite unintelligible to the mere logician. human relationships — the one form in The sportsman desires to win, but if he which freedom can never be over- is a true sportsman, he will be glad thrown.
rather than sorry when the crew that In this connection, it is not without steps into the competing boat is as significance that one of the closest highly trained as his own. This, too, is friendships revealed by these letters is inconsistent. By no device of logical in
. that which subsisted between James and genuity can you reconcile your desire to the most formidable of his philosoph- win with your preference for an oppoical opponents — Josiah Royce. One nent who has a fair chance of beating has only to look at the photograph in you. It is a paradox which James diswhich they are presented together, to covered in philosophy, and which he realize that these two high-souled an- thoroughly enjoyed. He was a great tagonists welcomed each other's pres- master in things appertaining to the ence in the universe. In the view of sportsmanship of the Spirit. James, the form of philosophy was es- 'He looks more like a sportsman than sentially dramatic — no monologue of a professor,' said one of his pupils. To a solitary sage, but a partnership of which we may add that he looked what reciprocally interacting minds, each he was, and that it would be good bringing its own contribution in re- for philosophy if more of its professors sponse to some definite need of the hu- looked like him.
till history comes, after they are long
dead, and puts them on the top.' Both from the tone and from the sub- Had James lived ten years longer and stance of these letters it is abundant- witnessed the war, and the hideous conly evident that for James the critical fusion sequent upon it to which the things of life were the personal relations. blundering blindness of the 'big organMore than once he says so, totidem ver- izations' has brought the world, he bis. 'Ideality is only to be found in the would not have found it necessary to personal relations. The best things in add, as he does, that his words on this life are its friendships. One can imag- subject would probably be quite unine him subscribing without much hesi- intelligible to anybody but myself.' tation to the saying of William Blake: The truth they tell is precisely what the “The general good is the plea of the war and its after-effects have made inscoundrel, the hypocrite and the flat- telligible to everybody. We see, on the terer. He who would do good, let him one hand, the big organizations, 'espedo it in minute particulars. From this cially the national ones,' everywhere saying the distance is not great to the confronted by problems with which following sentences from a letter to they are wholly incapable of coping; atMrs. Henry Whitman: 'Let us all be as tempting to govern the action of forces we are, save when we want to reform which are intrinsically beyond human ourselves. The only unpardonable control both in their vastness and in crime is that of wanting to reform one their infinite complexity; while, on the another.' His rejection of the concep- other hand, the pretense of coping with tual mode of arriving at truth is here them surrounds the whole operation reflected in his distrust of regimenta- with an atmosphere of make-believe tion as a means of arriving at good con- and mendacity, which not only disduct. For a striking passage, which re- credits government as such, but deveals his inner mind on this subject, moralizes the character of the politician take the following from another letter and of the citizen who follows him. In to the last-named correspondent:- the attempt to keep up this fiction, on
“As for me, my bed is made: I am which the very life of the big organizaagainst bigness and greatness in all tions depends, the politics of the world, their forms, and with the invisible mo- both national and international, belecular forces that work from individual come, for the most part, a mere struggle to individual, stealing in through the for power among those who are ambicrannies of the world like so many soft tious to sit in the seats of the mighty; rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of and to this struggle the real interests of water, and yet rending the hardest mankind, which government is supmonuments of man's pride if you give posed to serve, are sacrificed wholesale. them time. The bigger the unit you Against the regimental mode of deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, thought which, beginning in the realms the more mendacious, is the life dis- of speculative philosophy, ends by played. So I am against all the big or- staging this fatal force on the boards ganizations as such, national ones first of history, William James was, by both and foremost; against all big successes temperament and conviction, a rebel. and big results; and in favor of the For ages past our civilization has been eternal forces of truth which always obsessed by the notion that man is a work in the individual and immediately being whose first and outstanding need unsuccessful way — under-dogs always, is the need to be governed. But we have