Metaphysical Intimacy and the Moral Life: The Ethical Project of The Varieties of Religious Experience

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 43 (1):116-153 (2007)
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Abstract

This essay seeks to contribute to our understanding of William James's ethics by reexamining a classic text— The Varieties of Religious Experience—that is not usually read in an ethical light. It shows that James develops an ethics of human flourishing in Varieties, which he grounds in a "piecemeal supernaturalist" cosmology and account of human nature. It also shows that, under the terms of James's view, religious and ethical issues are fundamentally interconnected, and leading a religious life is a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition of maximal human flourishing. Overall, I show that for James the highest degree of human flourishing can be achieved only through the experience of metaphysical intimacy, or the self's harmonious relationship or unification with "a wider self."

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