Scepticism and belief : some aspects of T.S. Eliot's development and its intellectual context, 1911-1922
The thesis attempts to trace the evolution of some of T.S. Eliot's intellectual and religious preoccupations from 1911 to 1922. Eliot's unpublished philosophy notes and graduate papers from about 1911 to 1914, and his uncollected reviews on philosophy, sociology, and anthropology from 1916 to 1922, taken in conjunction with his literary interests, throw light on his state of mind as he worked his way towards defining his convictions. Eliot's explorations are to a large extent explicable in terms of his attempts to find a viable alternative between the extremes of rationalism and anti-rationalism. The works of such philosophers as William James, Henri Bergson, and F.H. Bradley, and of social scientists such as Lévy-Bruhl, represented for Eliot an important nexus of ideas, particularly in their implications for anti-rationalism, which he felt compelled to reject, but which nonetheless heightened his perception of mental processes and opened up new areas of experience. At the same time, he was distrustful of rational and scientific explanations of religious and mystical experience. Eliot's speculations are considered first in relation to his Unitarian background, and the efforts made by the Harvard philosophers to reconcile science and religion when he was a graduate student there. It is within the parameters of discussion set by the Harvard Philosophy Department that Eliot, as a graduate student, questioned the attempts of anthropologists and sociologists to establish a scientific basis for the study of religion, and the claims of psychology to explain mystical and visionary experience. Later, from 1916, the configuration of the ideas of Irving Babbitt, T.E. Hulme, and F.H. Bradley provides an important context for Eliot's speculations, as he tested different lines of thought in his critical journalism in search of a defining belief, in the years prior to the publication of The Waste Land.