October 19, 2010

William James: A Man for Our Season

Mark Vernon, The Guardian


AP Photo

One of the many spiritual confessions that William James records in The Varieties of Religious Experience stands out. It comes in the lectures on the "sick soul". James explains that he includes it because it has the "merit of extreme simplicity". Is that code for, evidence that well fits my case?

It turns out that this particular account of existential collapse, though anonymous, was actually written by James himself. It describes one of the depressive episodes to which he was prone. (He confessed the fact a couple of years after the publication of Varieties, the book version of his Gifford Lectures of 1901.) The incident provides us with a window into...

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