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The Interpretation of Religious Experience, vol. 2

1910 to 1912
University of Glasgow

Watson continues his lecture series with another course of 13 lectures.

Lecture 1, “Faith, Knowledge, and Mythology,” reflects on the Christianity based upon faith as distinguished from knowledge, a basis which finds some justification in modern historical criticism. The origin of the idea of the Kingdom of God and its use in the teaching of Jesus is discussed. Watson's conclusion out of this historical reconstruction is the apparent necessity for a philosophy of religion. After this introduction he continues the first lecture with an examination both of faith, understood as an act of will with an intellectual element, and also of knowledge. He states that religion is not based upon mythology. He sheds light on the sense in which faith transcends knowledge. Watson concludes the first lecture with the thesis that the creeds of the Church must not be taken out of their historical setting. The absolute opposition of faith and knowledge is one that cannot from any point of view be legitimately maintained.

Lecture 2, “The Fallacy of Radical Empiricism,” discusses the first principles of a philosophy of religion, which are: (1) the universe is rational; and (2) it is capable of being comprehended in its essential nature by us. Watson holds that the human intelligence is not limited by the conditions of knowledge. He discusses the character of the universe, criticising radical empiricism which denies that any single principle can be established, and develops the thesis is that a rational universe must be one, self-differentiated and coherent.

The interpretation of religious ideas is continued in lecture 3, “Realistic View of the World,” with a discussion of the main problem of a philosophy of religion: Can the three features of a rational universe be shown to be inferences necessitated by the character of our experience considered in its totality? Watson gives a general characterization of the three main ways of conceiving existence or reality, and discusses the rationality and intelligibility of the universe, the basis of a philosophy of religion.

This examination of realism is followed by lecture 4, “The Perceptive Stage of Knowledge,” in which perception is presented as the apprehension of groups of properties. Subjective idealism is examined. Watson concludes that perception deals with universals of sense, but its objects are arbitrary, contingent and transitory.

Lecture 5, “The Scientific View of the World,” discusses the contrast between essential and unessential which leads to the opposition of appearance and reality. Watson sheds light on Kant's thesis that our knowledge is of a system of objects which are in reciprocal activity arbitrary. The inorganic world, the organic world and the world of conscious subjects are examined. Watson defends the thesis that there is no contrast in principle between the natural and the spiritual life.

Lecture 6, “The Religious Consciousness and Deism,” concludes that the ordinary deistic or dualistic view of the relations of nature, man and God, must be replaced by a doctrine which maintains that they are so intimately connected as to be unintelligible apart from one another.

Lecture 7 on “Naturalism and Evolution” discusses various ways of securing the unity of nature, man and God. Goethe's protest against the mechanical conception of the universe and the two main forms of the mechanical theory of evolution are examined in the light of Bergson's philosophy.

Lecture 8, “Creation, Evolution and the Distinction of Body and Mind,” gives a summary of that form of idealism which has been called personal idealism. It is followed by lecture 9, “Personal and Absolute Idealism.” Here Watson endeavours to show the inadequacy of personal idealism as an explanation of the spiritual life of man, of the nature of God, and of the relation between man and God.

Lecture 10, “Hypothetical Theism, Absolutism and Mysticism,” is followed by lecture 11, “The Problem of Evil,” which discusses the fundamental difficulty in regard to evil, namely its presence in a world which is the manifestation of infinite goodness.

The examination of this problem is continued in lecture 12, “Evil and Atonement.” Watson suggests that evil marks the transition by which man advances to good, thus it is a necessary condition of good.

In the final lecture 13, “The Invisible Church and Immortality,” Watson examines the invisible church, the spirit of goodness in all forms of social organization, and the concept of immortality as adequate to the complete development of knowledge, art and morality. The lecture closes with a summary of results and answers to objections.

  • Benedikt Bock, University of Glasgow