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Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Watson, John, 1847-1939.

The interpretation of religious experience.

Reprint of the 1912 ed. published by J. Maclehose,
Glasgow; which was issued as the Gifford lectures,

Includes index.

1. Religion-Philosophy. 2. Experience (Religion)
I. Title. II. Series.
BL51.W35 1979 200'.1 77-27216
ISBN 0-404-60510-9

First AMS edition published in 1979.

Reprinted from the edition of 1912, Glasgow. Text area and trim
size have been altered in this edition. (Original text area: 9 x 15.2
cm; original trim size 13.5 x 20.8 cm.]

International Standard Book Number:
Complete Set: 0-404-60510-9

Volume 1: 0-404-60511-7


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ANYONE who attempts to construct a philosophy of religion at the present time is met by two difficulties : he finds, on the one hand, that popular theology contains many ideas that have not been subjected to criticism, and, on the other hand, that there is no recognized philosophy which he can apply in criticism of them. These difficulties seem less formidable, however, when we reflect that our ideas have come to us as the result of a long process of development, and that, if we have faith in the essential rationality of man, we must conclude that neither in his ordinary religious consciousness nor in his reflective formulation of its contents can he have fallen into absolute

It would thus seem that any attempt to interpret our religious experience must be based upon a critical estimate of the results of experience, both in its direct and in its reflective forms. To ignore the process by which ideas have come to be what they are, must result in an abstract and one-sided theory. No doubt one may have made an historical study of the development of experience, and, having in this way reached conclusions satisfactory to himself, he may not think it necessary to trouble the reader with an account of the process through which he has himself passed; but this method, while it may be satisfactory to oneself, can hardly be convincing to others. In any case a neglect of the historical method


seems to me to explain to some extent the inadequate results reached by some recent thinkers. Instead of adopting and consistently following out an evolutionist point of view, a number of discordant facts of the religious consciousness are gathered together, without any attempt being made to consider them in the light of the stage of historical evolution in which they appear. It is therefore not surprising that anything like a system of theology is held to be beyond our reach. The same method is also applied to the study of philosophy itself. The speculations of Plato and Aristotle, of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibnitz, of Locke, Berkeley and Hume, of Kant and Hegel, are ignored, and an attempt is made to begin from immediate experience-as if there were any element of our experience that is not saturated with the thought of the past. Convinced that no fruitful results can in this way be secured, I have endeavoured to follow with a critical eye the main current of reflection upon religion, and especially upon Christianity, with the idea that in this way some assured result might be obtained. It will of course be evident to anyone familiar with the subject that in the constructive part of the undertaking I have found in Hegel, and in his English exponents, the most suggestive ideas for my purpose; but I think it well to add that I do not accept the doctrine presented as Hegelian in the works of some English and German exponents and critics. If the philosophy of Hegel, as Lotze holds, is simply a pan-logism; or if its fundamental principle is an abstract and indeterminate Absolute; or if it denies all freedom to man, and regards him as but the passive organ of an underlying Something-not-ourselves; then anyone who reads the following pages will see that it is widely different from the view I have tried to express. But this is not my reading of Hegel, as I have explained in various parts of this book,

and more particularly in the ninth and tenth lectures; on the contrary, what seems to me most valuable in him is his insistence upon the essentially concrete character of the Absolute, as summing up and manifesting, but never abolishing, all that we mean by self-conscious reason. No doubt Hegel denies such one-sided doctrines as that of Lotze and his followers ; but he does so, I conceive, because the separation of the world, man and God from one another must result in the logical annihilation of all three. Hegel was perhaps too ready to claim for his philosophy the support of popular theology; but I think he was right in maintaining that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit constitutes the essence of Christian theology; and that doctrine recognizes that without the response of the human soul to the spirit of God, as actually operative in it, and not beyond it, there can be no religion. Not to recognize the importance of this principle seems to me the main defect in much recent theological speculation. Nor does the claim to superior originality, advanced by the exponents of Radical Empiricism, the New Realism and Personal Idealism, seem to me justified. Radical Empiricism is still infected with the vice of the older Empiricism, the vice of denying the real identity of the mind and therefore logically resolving it into fragments; while I am unable to see that the New Realism has added anything essential to the principles of Locke, or Personal Idealism to those of Berkeley and Leibnitz. The form of Idealism for which I contend may be untenable, but it is not fairly open to the objection that it has been superseded by systems which in principle belong to an earlier stage of thought. With the Absolutism of Dr. Bradley, as I need hardly say, I have the greatest sympathy; but I do not think that it successfully avoids in all cases the vice of Spinozism -though, in insisting upon the idea of " degrees of

reality,” it seems to me to come very near to an abandonment of the abstract Absolutism elsewhere apparently contended for.

I am unable to say how far my discussion of theological and philosophical writers in the first course of lectures has been coloured by the various books read by me in the course of their preparation. I may, however, make special reference to Edward Caird's Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers, Dr. Karl Marti's Geschichte der Israelitischen Religion, Loofs' Leitfaden der Dogmengeschichte, Harnack's Lehrbuch der Dogmengeschichte, Mr. T. R. Glover's Conflict of Religions in the Roman Empire, Dr. Bigg's The Christian Platonists of Alexandria, Dean Inge's Christian Mysticism, and Leslie Stephen's English Thought in the Eighteenth Century. In preparing the second course of lectures I have received much assistance from the late Principal Caird's Fundamental Ideas of Christianity, Professor J. B. Baillie's Idealistic Construction of Experience, Dr. R. Otto's Naturalism and Religion, Signor Varisco's I Massimi Problemi, M. Henri Bergson's Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience and L’Évolution créatrice, Dr. W. McDougall’s Body and Mind, the late Professor W. Wallace's Life of Schopenhauer, Professor J. Ward's Naturalism and Agnosticism, and his Gifford Lectures on The Realm of Ends. I am also indebted to Mr. H. H. Joachim's The Nature of Truth and Dr. Hastings Rashdall's Philosophy and Religion, and to articles by Professor J. Arthur Thomson, Dr. F. H. Bradley, Mr. H. W. B. Josephs, and Professors J. S. Mackenzie, Sir Henry Jones and J. H. Muirhead, which appeared in Mind, The Philosophical Review, The International Journal of Ethics and The Hibbert Journal. Dr. Bosanquet's Essays and Reviews I also found suggestive, but I have not been able to profit sufficiently by his recent very important work on

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