The Varieties of Religious Experience Characters


Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius (121–180 A.D.) was a Roman emperor and renown stoic who wrote a famous book on how to live. James quotes from Aurelius’s writing to demonstrate his stoic nature, which agrees to the circumstances of life but not necessarily with them.

Jonathan Edwards
Theologian and metaphysician Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) was born in Connecticut, the only son of eleven children. He graduated from Yale at the age of seventeen and became a minister, as his father and grandfather were before him. James quotes Edwards throughout his lectures but in particular in his first lecture: ‘‘by their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.’’ Man’s roots, James expounds, are inaccessible. Only by the empirical evidence of the fruit is something known. This is one of James’s basic tenets. Only by the results of a practice does one know if it is true.

George Fox
Founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers), George Fox (1624–1691) was born in England and traveled around Europe and the New World promoting his religious views. James often uses Fox as an example of a person using his or her pathological features (such as ‘‘nervous instability’’) to help give him or her ‘‘religious authority and influence.’’ James states that no one of any reputation would state that Fox’s mind was unsound, despite the fact that his published journal abounds in entries that make Fox sound like a ‘‘psychopath.’’ Fox often had visions that would direct him to do strange things, such as pulling off his shoes and walking barefoot in winter and crying out that people he met should repent.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Georg Hegel (1770–1831) was the central philosophical influence on Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. James refers to Hegel’s theories in his lecture on philosophy. He mentions two Hegelian school principles. The first is that ‘‘the fullness of life can be construed to thought only by recognizing that every object which our thought may propose to itself involves the notion of some other object which seems at first to negate the first one.’’ The second principle states that if a person is conscious of a negation, that person is ‘‘virtually to be beyond it.’’ In other words, the concept of the finite, James writes, somehow already acknowledges the infinite.

Immanuel Kant
German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) had a strong influence on the study of metaphysics and ethics, and spent most of his life attempting to answer the question, ‘‘What do we know?’’ In his lecture ‘‘The Reality of the Unseen,’’ James calls upon some of Kant’s thoughts about the nature of God and soul. James paraphrases Kant, who believed that since these concepts ‘‘cover no distinctive sense-content,’’ theoretically they are ‘‘devoid of any significance.’’ However, Kant did concede that the concept of God and soul hold meaning in practice of life and that people have the right to act as if they held substance. In other words, people can live their lives as if there is a God.


(The entire section is 1305 words.)