our “most important function”

The “cryptic James quote” Weiner’s epigraph reminds me of, in which James commits to the “task” of defending experience against philosophy as his “religious act”:

Although all the special manifestations of religion may have been absurd (I mean its creeds and theories), yet the life of it as a whole is mankind’s most important function.

And what I once wrote of it: James’s “religious act” is, in essence, his formulation and dogged advocacy of a naturalistic creed that can permit itself to take seriously the experience of the private imagination and lonely heart in its struggle for release from isolation and despair and its striving for the vindication of hopefulness.

I still don’t understand precisely what James meant, but I know he meant to support the Lonely Hearts and passionate believers of the world.  Like Jennifer Hecht, he found belief one of our best muscles. He believed in believing, in the action and “experience” it sponsors and sustains. He aimed, he said, to “defend experience against philosophy.”

The problem I have set myself is a hard one: first, to defend (against all the prejudices of my “class”) “experience” against “philosophy” as being the real backbone of the world’s religious life-I mean prayer, guidance, and all that sort of thing immediately and privately felt, as against high and noble general views of our destiny and the world’s meaning.

He’s quite right, the class of professional academic philosophers looks askance at such a “well-nigh impossible” project. And maybe they should. Is immediate private feeling what we need more of, to grasp our “most important function”? Or do we need more experience in thinking?

Yes. Some days and nights we need more of the one, some more of the other. This morning I’m feeling the need for both. E pluribus unum.


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