William James’s Pragmatism and Some Aspects of Roman Catholic Teaching





Document Type

Book Chapter


modern philosophy, Kantianism, pragmatism, transcendental Thomism, Second Vatical Council, Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, William James, Étienne Gilson, Karl Rahner




The Catholic Church, from its earliest times, attempted to synthesize religious faith and human reason by appropriating the insights of Greek philosophy. Thereby, it hoped to root its teachings in the objective order of the universe. However, modern philosophy called into question the degree to which there is an objective, knowable order. In the face of this challenge, William James argued that one should focus directly on religious experience itself, rather than on doctrine, which, he believed, one could not rationally argue in a compelling way. In contrast, the leadership of the Catholic Church responded to the challenge by reasserting the classic synthesis of faith and reason, especially as found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas. However, innovative Catholic thinkers, like Karl Rahner, tried to engage creatively the challenge of modern philosophy by giving more room, in their philosophy and theology, to religious experience. The efforts of theologians like Rahner have somewhat influenced the formal teachings of the Catholic Church. This, in turn, has positive ramifications for issues such as interreligious dialogue.

Published in

Pragmatism, Spirituality and Society

Citation/Other Information

Edward T. Ulrich. “William James’s Pragmatism and Some Aspects of Roman Catholic Teaching.” In Pragmatism, Spirituality and Society, 247–262, 2020.