William James on Life as Dangerous, Conditional, and an Adventure

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23 February 2012

Suppose that the world’s author put the case to you before creation, saying: “I am going to make a world not certan to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own “level best.” I offer you the chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through.  It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done.  Will you join the procession?  Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk?

Should you in all seriousness, if participation in such a world were proposed to you, feel bound to reject it as not safe enough? […]

In the end it is our faith and not our logic that decides such questions, and I deny the right of any pretended logic to veto my own faith.  I find myself willing to take the universe to be really dangerous and adventurous, without therefore backing out and crying ‘no play.’ I am willing to think that the prodigal-son attitude, open to us as it is in many vicissitudes, is not the right and final attitude towards the whole of life.  I am willing that there should  be real losses and real losers, and no total preservation of all that is.  I can believe in the ideal as an ultimate, not as an origin, and as an extract, not the whole.  When the cup is poured off, the dregs are left behind for ever, but the possibility of what is poured off is sweet enough to accept.

-from “Pragmatism and Religion”

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