Monday, March 9, 2015

Existential and Spiritual Judgement

The question, What are the religious propensities? and the question, What is their philosophic significance? are two entirely different orders of question from the logical point of view; and, as a failure to recognize this fact distinctly may breed confusion, I wish to insist upon the point a little….

In recent books on logic, the distinction is made between two orders of inquiry concerning anything. First, what is the nature of it? how did it come about? what is its constitution, origin, and history? And second, What is its importance, meaning, or significance, now that it is once here? The answer to the one question is given in an existential judgement or proposition. The answer to the other is a proposition of value, what the Germans call a Werturteil, or what we may, if we like, denominate a spiritual judgement. Neither judgement can be deduced immediately from the other. They proceed from diverse intellectual preoccupations, and the mind combines them only by making them first separately, and then adding them together.
     [William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture 1]

I read this paragraph the first time ever on my first day in college—while waiting for the opening ceremony of our Freshman year to begin. I understood it, no doubt about it, but not the way I do now. Here is the methodological answer to many puzzles that involve matter and mind, body and soul, and so on. There is experience, and who can deny it. Then there is a judgement made of its meaning. And the “examined life” is a fusion of these two.

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