The Healthy-Minded and the Morbid-Minded

Cabrera, Jaena Rae
Midterm Prompt #2
March 10, 2009

William James discusses the distinction between the healthy-minded and the morbid-minded at great length in his “Varieties of Religious Experience.” Both are ways in which people may seek happiness in life. A healthy-minded individual is considered once-born. He or she is born and the world is adequate for them. There are two types of healthy-minded individuals. The involuntary healthy-minded person doesn’t know that there is evil, or refuses to acknowledge that there is evil in the world. For them, it is effortless to see the world as a good place. The systematic healthy-minded individual is aware that there is evil in the world, but endeavors to ignore it. As James writes, “[evil] can often be converted into a bracing and good tonic by simple change of the sufferer’s inner attitude from one of fear to one of fight… (88).” The evil that James speaks of is not demonic; he refers more to the fact that bad things happen in the world, such as heartache or bankruptcy, or illness. The systematic healthy-minded person turns her back on the negative or evil aspects of life.

In direct contrast, a twice-born individual is a morbid-minded individual. This person continually struggles with life. Although she is born into this world, her relationship with a greater meaning is always a matter of consideration. A second “birth” is necessary to reconcile this world of struggle for the morbid-minded. Many spend the duration of their lives trying to make the apparent darkness of the world into a pathway of meaning. There are also two types of morbid-minded people: passive and active. A morbid-active person only sees the world as terrible. He projects negativity into his world. James believes that it is difficult for these types of people to have a religious experience. It is hard to take meaning from, or to build a religion around a black world. The morbid-passive individual is obliged to take stock of the world they see, and realize that their own attitudes are not necessarily a reflection of the world. They come to understand that facts and their dispositions are wholly disconnected. For these people, a shift in attitude can very suddenly change their worlds.

James writes that to the morbid-minded, “healthy-mindedness pure and simple seems unspeakably blind and shallow. To the healthy-minded… the way of the sick soul seems unmanly and diseased. …there is something almost obscene about these children of wrath and cravers of a second birth (159).” When he writes that morbid-mindedness “ranges over the wider scene of experience,” James is referring to the fact that it encompasses both the light and the dark. The morbid-minded is not naïve or blind to the nature of reality. Unless you are a morbid-active person, morbid-mindedness could be considered a more realistic perspective of reality. Healthy-mindedness is all well and good until the evil of the world rears its ugly head. That is, when it becomes apparent that evil is a “genuine portion of reality.” The advent of death is usually when healthy-mindedness will fail.

For the morbid-minded, it is easy to distinguish between the two lives of an individual: the natural and the spiritual. James writes “we must lose the one before we can participate in the other (163).” This realization of the duality of human nature is the key to cultivating a spiritual life. “The psychological basis of the twice-born character seems to be a certain discordancy or heterogeneity in the native temperament of the subject, an incompletely unified moral and intellectual constitution (164).” This discordancy causes unhappiness, and unhappiness “will take the form of moral remorse and compunction.” The morbid-minded, or the “sick soul,” soon realizes that the pursuit of the natural world (fears, friends, career) does not meet our final needs. Such needs will only eventually lead the sick soul to the spiritual self. Reconciling the discordancy between the natural and spiritual lives may lead the individual to happiness.

This understanding of the duality of human nature provides the morbid-minded individual with a richer perspective on life. I do not believe that the healthy-minded has a particularly realistic grasp of reality, which may leave them unprepared for the problem of evil, as James puts it. The problem of evil is a part of life, and ignoring it or bypassing it does not necessarily mean one is dealing with it. The morbid-minded have a better foundation upon which to stand when evil things occur.

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