Is Life Worth Living Journal

IS LIFE WORTH LIVING?

Now, it appears to me that the question whether life is worth
living is subject to conditions logically much like these. It
does, indeed, depend on you the liver. If you surrender to
the nightmare view and crown the evil edifice by your own
suicide, you have indeed made a picture totally black. Pessimism,
completed by your act, is true beyond a doubt, so far
as your world goes. Your mistrust of life has removed whatever
worth your own enduring existence might have given to
it; and now, throughout the whole sphere of possible influence
of that existence, the mistrust has proved itself to have had
divining power. But suppose, on the other hand, that instead
of giving way to the nightmare view you cling to it that this
world is not the ultimatum. Suppose you find yourself a
very well-spring, as Wordsworth says, of
“Zeal, and the virtue to exist by faith
As soldiers live by courage; as, by strength
Of heart, the sailor fights with roaring seas.”
Suppose, however thickly evils crowd upon you, that your
unconquerable subjectivity proves to be their match, and that
you find a more wonderful joy than any passive pleasure can
bring in trusting ever in the larger whole. Have you not now
made life worth living on these terms? What sort of a thing
would life really be, with your qualities ready for a tussle with
it, if it only brought fair weather and gave these higher faculties
of yours no scope? Please remember that optimism and
pessimism are definitions of the world, and that our own reactions
on the world, small as they are in bulk, are parts of it,
and necessarily help to determine the definition. They may
be the decisive elements in determining the definition. A
large mass can have its unstable equilibrium overturned by
the addition of a feather’s weight. A long phrase may have
its sense reversed by the addition of the three letters n, o, t.
This life is worth living, we can say, since it is what we make
it, from the moral point of view, and we are bound to make
it from that point of view, so far as we have anything to do
with it, a success.
Now, in this description of faiths that verify themselves
Is Life Worth Living? 23
I have assumed that our faith in an invisible order is what
inspires those efforts and that patience of ours that make
this visible order good for moral men. Our faith in the seen
world’s goodness (goodness now meaning fitness for successful
moral and religious life) has verified itself by leaning on our
faith in the unseen world. But will our faith in the unseen
world similarly verify itself? Who knows?
Once more it is a case of maybe. And once more maybes
are the essence of the situation. I confess that I do not see
why the very existence of an invisible world may not in part
depend on the personal response which any one of us may make
to the religious appeal. God himself, in short, may draw
vital strength and increase of very being from our fidelity.
For my own part, I do not know what the sweat and blood
and tragedy of this life mean, if they mean anything short of
this. If this life be not a real fight, in which something is
eternally gained for the Universe by success, it is no better
than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw
at will. But it feels like a real fight; as if there were
something really wild in the Universe which we, with all our
idealities and faithfulnesses, are needed to redeem. And first
of all to redeem our own hearts from atheisms and fears. For
such a half-wild, half-saved universe our nature is adapted.
The deepest thing in our nature is this Binnenleben (as a German
doctor lately has called it), this dumb region of the heart
in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and unwillingnesses,
our faiths and fears. As through the cracks and
crannies of subterranean caverns the earth’s-bosom exudes its
waters, which then form the fountain-heads of springs, so in
these crepuscular depths of personality the sources of all our
outer deeds and decisions take their rise. Here is our deepest
organ of communication with the nature of things; and compared
with these concrete movements of our soul all abstract
statements and scientific arguments, the veto, for example,
which the strict positivist pronounces upon our faith, sound
to us like mere chatterings of the teeth. For here possibilities,
not finished facts, are the realities that we encounter;
and to quote my friend William Salter, of the Philadelphia
Ethical Society, ” as the essence of courage is to stake one’s
life on a possibility, so the essence of faith is to believe that
the possibility exists.”
These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of
life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help
create the fact. The ” scientific proof ” that you are right may
not be clear before the day of judgment (or some stage of
Being which that expression may serve to symbolize) is
reached. But the faithful fighters of this hour, or the beings
that then and there will represent them, may then turn to the
faint-hearted, who here decline to go on, with words like those
with which Henry IV. greeted the tardy Crillon after a great
victory had been gained: ” Hang yourself, Crillon! we fought
at Arques, and you were not there.”
WILLIAM JAMES.
HARVARD UNIVERSITY REFORM IN EDUCATION.*
IT is with difficulty that a writer on this subject refrains from
beginning with an apology. He cannot add to the list of defects
that every one finds in English education, and he cannot
have the heart to increase the list of remedies. In the present
case the interesting condition in which the reform of secondary
education finds itself gives him some excuse, but he relies
mainly on a hope that the policy which he is to argue has
special interest for the readers of the JOURNAL- OF ETHICS,-
both for those who are more expressly concerned with practical
questions, and for those who are concerned about philosophy.

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