SAAP 2002 Panel Discussion Proposal

(sponsored by the William James Society in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Varieties of Religious Experience)

The William James Society (WJS) would like to propose a panel that captures the theme of the 2002 SAAP conference through the thoughts of William James.† His work, maybe more than any American Philosopher, directly addresses the place of emotions in philosophy and life.† Further, 2002 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Jamesís Gifford Lectures in Natural Religion which he entitled, The Varieties of Religious Experience.† This is quite fortuitous since this work contains a great deal of insight and analysis of the role and status of emotions.† Combining theme and anniversary, WJS wishes to sponsor a panel consisting of three panelists (two with presentations and one as a respondent) as well as a chair with latitude to respond to the presentations.† All four persons have agreed to participate should the proposal be accepted.† Abstracts of the two presentations are included below.

William Jamesís Varieties:† Emotions as/in Religious Experience

(Two presentations with one respondent and one chair/respondent)

"Varieties of Emotional Experience: James's Radical Turn"

Phil Oliver (author of William James's Springs of Delight:† The Return to Life)

"Embodied Emotion:† The Centrality of Caritas in William Jamesís Varieties"

Lynn Claire Bridgers (Emory Univ., Graduate Division of Religionótheology and psychology)

"No Title Yet"

John K. Roth (Claremont McKenna College; author of Freedom and the Moral Life; the Ethics of William James)


David C. Lamberth (Harvard Divinity; author of William James & the Metaphysics of Experience)


William J. Gavin (Univ. of So. Maine; author of William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague)



1.† Varieties of Emotional Experience:† James's Radical Turn

Individuality is founded in feeling; and the recesses of feeling, the darker, blinder strata of character, are the only places in the world in which we catch real fact in the making, and directly perceive how events happen, and how work is actually done.† óThe Varieties of Religious Experience

The centenary of William James's epochal Varieties of Religious Experience, coinciding as it does with the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy's conference theme focusing this year on the emotions, affords an auspicious opportunity for fresh perspective on that remarkable book.† On my reading, and as my title insinuates, it might as aptly have been called The Varieties of Emotional Experience.† It signaled a crucial turn in James's thinking about the philosophical importance of emotion, not so much a turn away from anything but towards a more explicit grasp of what was entailed in the view he would come to call radical empiricism.† In this essay I contend that his incipient later view brought James to reframe his account of the emotions, and to recognize in them a kind of "fact in the making."† In his final decade William James boldly trumpeted the view that our emotions are original creators of "real fact."† The James of "What is an Emotion?" (1884) was evidently more concerned to establish "the priority of† the bodily symptoms to the felt emotion" and so to block the airy abstraction† of "a purely disembodied human emotion."† I do not here allege any compatibility problem between these successive phases of emphasis in an extraordinarily rich intellectual odyssey.† But the later James is different, focusing on "the felt emotion" as a fount of constructive personal energy and engagement with the world.† James the empirical psychologist quietly acknowledged what James the radical empiricist philosopher would later proclaim loudly:† "the merely descriptive literature of the emotions is one of the most tedious parts of psychology."† But he always deplored the reductive sterility of any "scientific psychology of the emotions" that would claim completeness in its generality.† Emotions do their work in particular, person by person.

2.† Embodied Emotion:† The Centrality of Caritas in William Jamesís Varieties

This paper begins with a reminder that for almost a century William Jamesís theories of emotion have been undervalued.† For many, the critique leveled by Walter Cannon in 1927 had clearly discredited Jamesís theories of the bodily origin of emotional responses.† But new models of information exchange and the emerging understanding of the role of neurotransmitters now recognize that receptor sites extend throughout the body in a psychosomatic network.† As the work of neurologist Antonio Damasio and neuroscientist Candace Pert demonstrate, both James and Cannon were correct.† The consistency between Jamesís theories of affect and his emphasis on the moral fruits of religion, conversion and saintliness in The Varieties of Religious Experience can now become apparent.† The embodied emotionality of Jamesís theory of the origin of emotion finds fullest expression in spiritual fruits.† The profound emotions associated with conversion may be invisible, but as Jamesís concludes in the Varieties, "the evidence is dynamic; the God or spirit moves the very organs of their body" (478).† James charitable vision means God opens the door for human participation in the creation and transformation of the world.† This return to the Catholic doctrine of the ordo caritatis stands as a simultaneous challenge and critique of dominant Protestant theological perspectives that emphasize passive receptivity in the human relationship to the Divine and reflects pragmatismís challenge to the ultimacy of logical abstraction.