The Varieties Of Religious Experience (Melancholy)

There is an antagonism that arises between the healthy-minded way of viewing life and the way of viewing life that holds evil is a reality. To the person who knows evil exists healthy-mindedness is unspeakably blind and shallow. To the healthy-minded person the melancholy person seems diseased.

The method of averting one’s attention from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it will work. It will work with many persons; it will work far more generally than most are ready to suppose; and within the sphere of its successful operation there is nothing to be said against it as a religious solution.

But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and even though one be free from melancholy one’s self, there is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses to account for are genuine; and may be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the openers to the deepest levels of truth.

Since evil is as genuine part of nature as good, the philosophic presumption should be that evil has some rational significance, and that healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord to sorrow, pain, and death any positive and active attention whatever, is less complete than systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope.

William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience (1902)(edited by PAT).

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