William James's "Is Life Worth Living"; published by S. Burns Weston, Philadelphia, 1896.
In this little book, originally an address given before the Young Men's Christian Association of Harvard University in May, 1895, Professor James answers the question on the title page-Mr. Wallock in his book of the same title made the jocose answer that "it depends on the liver." Professor James reaches the same conclusion as Mr. Wallock, but in a very different sense.
Professor James gets at the heart of his theme by an imaginary reasoning with a fellow-mortal who is on such terms with life that the only comfort left him is to brood on the assurance "you may end it when you will." Ordinary Christians reasoning with would-be suicides, have little to offer them beyond the usual negative "thou shalt not." Professor James goes on to show the means whereby the suicide may actually be made to see that in spite of adverse circumstances life is worth living still; and his final appeal is to nothing more recondite than religious faith.
Pessimism is essentially a religious disease, for which there are two stages of recovery. The first of these is the belief that behind nature there is a spirit whose expression nature is. The second is the more complete and joyous, and corresponds to the freer exercise of religious trust and fancy. The craving to know nature has resulted in the progress of science. But our science is a drop, our ignorance a sea. The world of our present natural knowledge is a show-world; it is enveloped in a larger world of some sort, about which we mortals can frame no positive idea. As Kant pointed out, of this unknowable world we are morally bound to postulate a Divine Moral Order. Because it is our duty to treat the unknown world as if it were divine and moral, we practically know for certain that it is divine and moral. The inner need of believing that the world of nature is a sign of something more spiritual and eternal than itself is just as strong and authoritative in those who feel it as the inner need of uniform laws of causation ever can be in a professionally scientific head. The toil of many generations has proved the latter need prophetic. Why may not the former one be prophetic, too?
Our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is often the only thing that makes the result come true. Believe that you can make a dangerous leap, and your feet are nerved to the accomplishment; but mistrust yourself and you are lost. Refuse to believe and you shall indeed be right, for you shall irretrievably perish. But believe, and again you shall be right, for you shall save yourself. This is why life depends on the liver. Life is worth living, since it is what we make it. Pessimism, completed by your act, is true beyond a doubt, so far as your world goes. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief creates the fact for you.