Monday, July 27, 2015

The real me

More full of life James letters:
To (wife) Alice James (1878)-
...I have often thought that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: "This is the real me!" And afterwards, considering the circumstances in which the man is placed, and noting how some of them are fitted to evoke this attitude, whilst others do not call for it, an outside observer may be able to prophesy where the man may fail, where succeed, where be happy and where miserable. Now as well as I can describe it, this characteristic attitude in me always involves an element of active tension, of holding my own, as it were, and trusting outward things to perform their part so as to make it a full harmony, but without any guaranty that they will. Make it a guaranty—and the attitude immediately becomes to my consciousness stagnant and stingless. Take away the guaranty, and I feel (provided I am �berhaupt in vigorous condition) a sort of deep enthusiastic bliss, of bitter willingness to do and suffer anything, which translates itself physically by a kind of stinging pain inside my breast-bone (don't smile at this—it is to me an essential element of the whole thing!), and which, although it is a mere mood or emotion to which I can give no form in words, authenticates itself to me as the deepest principle of all active and theoretic determination which I possess....
To Shadworth H. Hodgson
NEWPORT, Dec. 30, 1885.
My dear Hodgson,—I have just read your "Philosophy and Experience" address, and re-read with much care your "Dialogue on Free Will" in the last "Mind." I thank you kindly for the address. But isn't philosophy a sad mistress, estranging the more intimately those who in all other respects are most intimately united...

As for the Free Will article, I have very little to say, for it leaves entirely untouched what seems to me the only living issue involved. The paper is an exquisite piece of literary goldsmith's work,—nothing like it in that respect since Berkeley,—but it hangs in the air of speculation and touches not the earth of life, and the beautiful distinctions it keeps making gratify only the understanding which has no end in view but to exercise its eyes by the way. The distinctions between vis impressa and vis insita, and compulsion and "reaction" mean nothing in a monistic world; and any world is a monism in which the parts to come are, as they are in your world, absolutely involved and presupposed in the parts that are already given. Were such a monism a palpable optimism, no man would be so foolish as to care whether it was predetermined or not, or to ask whether he was or was not what you call a "real agent." He would acquiesce in the flow and drift of things, of which he found himself a part, and rejoice that it was such a whole. The question of free will owes its entire being to a difficulty you disdain to notice, namely that we cannot rejoice in such a whole, for it is not a palpable optimism, and yet, if it be predetermined, we must treat it as a whole. Indeterminism is the only way to break the world into good parts and into bad, and to stand by the former as against the latter.

I can understand the determinism of the mere mechanical intellect which will not hear of a moral dimension to existence. I can understand that of mystical monism shutting its eyes on the concretes of life, for the sake of its abstract rapture. I can understand that of mental defeat and despair saying, "it's all a muddle, and here I go, along with it." I can not understand a determinism like yours, which rejoices in clearness and distinctions, and which is at the same time alive to moral ones—unless it be that the latter are purely speculative for it, and have little to do with its real feeling of the way life is made up.

For life is evil. Two souls are in my breast; I see the better, and in the very act of seeing it I do the worse. To say that the molecules of the nebula implied this and shall have implied it to all eternity, so often as it recurs, is to condemn me to that "dilemma" of pessimism or subjectivism of which I once wrote, and which seems to have so little urgency to you, and to which all talk about abstractions erected into entities; and compulsion vs. "freedom" are simply irrelevant. What living man cares for such niceties, when the real problem stares him in the face of how practically to meet a world foredone, with no possibilities left in it?

What a mockery then seems your distinction between determination and compulsion, between passivity and an "activity" every minutest feature of which is preappointed, both as to its whatness and as to its thatness, by what went before! What an insignificant difference then the difference between "impediments from within" and "impediments from without"!—between being fated to do the thing willingly or not! The point is not as to how it is done, but as to its being done at all. It seems a wrong complement to the rest of life, which rest of life (according to your precious "free-will determinism," as to any other fatalism), whilst shrieking aloud at its whatness, nevertheless exacts rigorously its thatness then and there. Is that a reasonable world from the moral point of view? And is it made more reasonable by the fact that when I brought about the thatness of the evil whatness decreed to come by the thatness of all else beside, I did so consentingly and aware of no "impediments outside of my own nature"? With what can I side in such a world as this? this monstrous indifferentism which brings forth everything eodem jure? Our nature demands something objective to take sides with. If the world is a Unit of this sort there are no sides—there's the moral rub! And you don't see it!

Ah, Hodgson! Hodgson mio! from whom I hoped so much! ...If you want to reconcile us rationally to Determinism, write a Theodicy, reconcile us to Evil, but don't talk of the distinction between impediments from within and without when the within and the without of which you speak are both within that Whole which is the only real agent in your philosophy. There is no such superstition as the idolatry of the Whole...

To (brother) Henry James
CHOCORUA, June 4, 1890.
My dear Harry, ...The great event for me is the completion at last of my tedious book. I have been at my desk with it every day since I got back from Europe, and up at four in the morning with it for many a day of the last month. I have written every page four or five times over, and carried it "on my mind" for nine years past, so you may imagine the relief. Besides, I am glad to appear at last as a man who has done something more than make phrases and projects. I will send you a copy, in the fall, I trust, though [the printer] is so inert about starting the proofs that we may not get through till midwinter or later. As "Psychologies" go, it is a good one, but psychology is in such an ante-scientific condition that the whole present generation of them is predestined to become unreadable old medieval lumber, as soon as the first genuine tracks of insight are made. The sooner the better, for me!...

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