William James  

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"A succession of feelings, in and of itself, is not a feeling of succession." --The Principles of Psychology

"The trail of the human serpent is thus over everything." --Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907) by William James

"It all depends on how sensitive the soul may become to discords. “The trouble with me is that I believe too much in common happiness and goodness,” said a friend of mine whose consciousness was of this sort, “and nothing can console me for their transiency. I am appalled and disconcerted at its being possible.” And so with most of us: a little cooling down of animal excitability and instinct, a little loss of animal toughness, a little irritable weakness and descent of the pain-threshold, will bring the worm at the core of all our usual springs of delight into full view, and turn us into melancholy metaphysicians. The pride of life and glory of the world will shrivel. It is after all but the standing quarrel of hot youth and hoary eld. Old age has the last word: the purely naturalistic look at life, however enthusiastically it may begin, is sure to end in sadness."--The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) by William James

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William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was an American philosopher and psychologist who was also trained as a physician. The first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States, James was one of the leading thinkers of the late nineteenth century and is believed by many to be one of the most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced, while others have labeled him the "Father of American psychology".

Along with Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey, James is considered to be one of the major figures associated with the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and is also cited as one of the founders of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology analysis, published in 2002, ranked James as the 14th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century. He also developed the philosophical perspective known as radical empiricism. James' work has influenced intellectuals such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty, and has even influenced Presidents, such as Jimmy Carter.

Born into a wealthy family, James was the son of the Swedenborgian theologian Henry James Sr. and the brother of both the prominent novelist Henry James, and the diarist Alice James. James wrote widely on many topics, including epistemology, education, metaphysics, psychology, religion, and mysticism. Among his most influential books are The Principles of Psychology, which was a groundbreaking text in the field of psychology, Essays in Radical Empiricism, an important text in philosophy, and The Varieties of Religious Experience, which investigated different forms of religious experience, which also included the then theories on mind-cure.



James interacted with a wide array of writers and scholars throughout his life, including his godfather Ralph Waldo Emerson, Horace Greeley, William Cullen Bryant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Peirce, Josiah Royce, George Santayana, Ernst Mach, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Helen Keller, Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, Jr., James George Frazer, Henri Bergson, H. G. Wells, G. K. Chesterton, Sigmund Freud, Gertrude Stein, and Carl Jung.


Works by James

Works by others

  • Essays Philosophical and Psychological in Honor of William James, by his Colleagues at Columbia University (London, 1908)
  • Flournoy, La Philosophie de William James (Saint-Blaise, 1911)
  • Josiah Royce, William James and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Life (New York, 1911)
  • Ménard, Analyse et critique des principes de la psychologie de W. James (Paris, 1911)
  • K. A. Busch, William James als Religionsphilosoph (Göttingen, 1911)
  • Boutroux, William James (New York, 1912)
  • R. B. Perry, Present Philosophical Tendencies (New York, 1912)
  • James Huneker, "A Philosophy for Philistines" in his The Pathos of Distance (New York, 1913)
  • Werner Bloch, Der Pragmatismus von James und Schiller nebst Exkursen über Weltanschauung und über die Hypothese (Leipzig, 1913)
  • H. V. Knox, Philosophy of William James (London, 1914)
  • Henry James's A Small Boy and Others (1913) and Notes of a Son and Brother (1914)
  • Roberts, Jane, The Afterdeath Journal of William James, ISBN 0-13-01815-9


Psychology: Briefer Course (rev. and condensed Principles of Psychology), The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, Talks to Teachers and Students, Essays (nine others)
The Varieties of Religious Experience, Pragmatism, A Pluralistic Universe, The Meaning of Truth, Some Problems of Philosophy, Essays
  • The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition, (1978). University of Chicago Press, 912 p., ISBN 0-226-39188-4
Pragmatism, Essays in Radical Empiricism, and A Pluralistic Universe complete; plus selections from other works
  • In 1975, Harvard University Press began publication of a standard edition of The Works of William James.

Secondary works

  • Jacques Barzun. A Stroll with William James (1983). Harper and Row: ISBN 0-226-03869-6
  • Deborah Blum. Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death (2006). Penguin Press, ISBN 1-59420-090-4
  • Wesley Cooper. The Unity of William James's Thought (2002). Vanderbilt University Press, ISBN 0-8265-1387-5
  • Howard M. Feinstein. Becoming William James (1984). Cornell University Press, ISBN 978-0801486425
  • Louis Menand. The Metaphysical Club (2001). Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, ISBN 0-374-52849-7. analyzes the lives and relationship between James, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Charles Sanders Pierce, and John Dewey.
  • Gerald E. Myers. William James: His Life and Thought (1986). Yale University Press 2001 paperback: ISBN 0-300-08917-1. focuses on his psychology, includes 230 pages of notes.
  • James Pawelski. The Dynamic Individualism of William James (2007). SUNY press, ISBN 0-7914-7239-6.
  • Robert D. Richardson. William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (2006). Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-618-43325-2
  • Robert D. Richardson, ed. "The Heart of William James" (2010). Harvard U. Press, ISBN 978-0674-05561-2
  • Linda Simon. Genuine Reality: A Life of William James (1998). Harcourt Brace & Company, ISBN 0-226-75859-1


  • Richard Liebmann-Smith. The James Boys: A Novel Account of Four Desperate Brothers (2008) posits Jesse and Frank are noms de outlaw used by William and Henry James's two younger brothers who went West and fought in the Civil War. Written somewhat in the style of Henry James.

See also

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