Monday, December 31, 2007

"Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his 'Banquet,' "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is."

--William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

I woke up this past Thursday morning feeling unmotivated and lazy, but I read a few lectures in The Varieties and felt a lot more creative and positive afterwards. Hard to say why. I think it's as simple as saying that in James I see somebody with a true gift for articulating ideas that generally defy description. If you think about it, a shitload of experiences are too complicated for an average person to describe. Maybe only a small fraction of the things we experience can be adequately described, with the rest being a sort of "dark matter" of observations, feelings, and ideas. William James seems to just camp out in the dark matter, explaining with unbiased lucidity how the general human condition translates into religion. I just feel elevated reading him.