The question of the importance of religion has been one that has been debated for centuries. The argument has been taken from the side of the empiricist, who desires quantitative proof and the pragmatist who fights that it is religions qualitative proofs that hold greater weight. In the Varieties of Religious Experience, William James sets forth that the argument of the pragmatist, stating that it is not the origin of religion that is of greatest importance but rather the results or fruits that have come from religious belief that are the true basis for the judgement of religion. In stark contrast, Sigmund Freud in his Civilization, Society and Religion, argues that the origins of religion are indeed of great importance due to the fact that they are infantile and provide for an illusionary existence if their beliefs are held as fact. However, Freud's argument that religion is illusionary never truly makes it's case for religion being harmful to humanity, but instead states what the necessity for a higher being fulfills in one's psyche and not what the result of that influence is. James provides the stronger of the two arguments, as not only recognizes that there is an inherent need to understand the origins of religions, but most importantly that it is the fruits and not the roots of religion that are of greater importance to humanity in understanding the need for religion. .
William James begins his work by setting aside the argument that by explaining the origins of something we have also provided an explanation for it's origins. The value of something is be judged by its effects, not by its origin. .
All questions of value, according to James, can be answered in knowledge gained through experience. James states that the term "religion" must deny any one experience, but states that the name is a collective term for a number of varying experiences. The qualitative differences seen in these experiences are dependant upon whether we recall them later and if they will bring us beneficial results or the fruits of life, as James puts it.