William James (1842–1910), American philosopher and psychologist, secured a permanent place in the history of psychology with the publication of The Principles of Psychology (1890), a two-volume treatise that quickly became a basic text. His Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), a pioneering study of the psychology of religion, also became a classic. James possessed a vivacity of style that earned him a broad audience both in America and Europe. His outlook was pluralistic, and his remarkable openness to new experience led him to champion many an academically disreputable subject. More often than not, though, subsequent developments have justified his tolerance.
In his later years James devoted most of his attention to philosophy. His works of that period, which propound a pragmatic conception of truth, may at first seem of merely tangential interest to the social scientist. Yet, in fact, they provide an inchoate system for his earlier psychological writings. Near the end of his career James proposed the doctrine of radical empiricism, which contained a new point of view regarding the mind–body problem. Curiously, this often neglected philosophical theory, together with the pragmatic approach to meaning and truth, may eventually prove more important for social science than his text in psychology.
The household in which William James grew up contained three other exceptionally gifted individuals. Henry James, the father, produced a sizable corpus of writings on religious topics. Popularly regarded as an eccentric, he was a beloved friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thomas Carlyle. William’s brother, Henry, acquired fame as a novelist. His sister Alice, though, was perhaps the most talented member of the family; her literary contributions, unfortunately, were meager, for she suffered throughout her life from a particularly severe form of the neurasthenia that also afflicted her brothers.
Henry James the elder discouraged his sons from making any premature decisions regarding their vocations. The atmosphere of the household was broadly educative, although William James later complained of a lack of formal precollege schooling. Moreover, three times during his childhood he had the opportunity to travel for prolonged periods in Europe. He attended school and was tutored in England, France, Switzerland, and Germany.
At the age of 18, James decided to pursue a career in painting. He had painted since early childhood, and his skill and interest had long been recognized. The results of experimental lessons with a professional artist, however, were unambiguous: he soon realized not only that his talent was less than his standards demanded but also that his desire to paint was far from insatiable. Having rejected a career as an artist, he seldom looked back. His subsequent work always bore the marks of acute sensory perception and aesthetic imagination, but he consistently subordinated his artistic flair to his moral and metaphysical concerns.
James’s university education was marked by doubts about his eventual career and interruptions caused by poor health. When he entered Harvard in 1861, he had decided to become a scientist. After three years as an undergraduate, he convinced himself that he was best suited, not for science in any strict sense, but rather for the broad scientific concerns of medicine. Doubts continued to assail him, however, during his first term at Harvard Medical School.
In March 1865, James interrupted his studies to embark on a field trip to Brazil. Louis Agassiz, the great biologist, led the expedition, and for one year the group investigated the flora and fauna of South America. Returning to Boston in March 1866, James immediately resumed his work at medical school, but the following spring he was again compelled by physical illness and depression to leave Harvard. He departed for Europe and remained there 19 months, eventually receiving his M.D. degree in the spring of 1869.
James’s poor health was to plague him for nearly six years. His condition made prolonged work in a laboratory unendurable. Having become interested in experimental physiology, he selected Germany as the place for convalescing. Physically, James “took the cure” at the baths of Teplitz. Academically, he sought it in Dresden, Berlin, and Heidelberg, where he studied under Emil Du BoisReymond and Hermann von Helmholtz. His spiritual malaise was alleviated at moments by “a sort of inward serenity and joy in living, derived from reading Goethe and Schiller” (quoted in Perry 1935, vol. 1, p. 273).
The years from 1869 to 1872 were to be his worst. A sense of moral impotence constantly tormented him; thoughts of suicide never wholly departed from his mind. On February 1, 1870, James recorded in his diary: “Today I about touched bottom, and perceive plainly that I must face the choice with open eyes: shall I frankly throw the moral business overboard, as one unsuited to my innate aptitudes, or shall I follow it, and it alone, making everything else merely stuff for it? I will give the latter alternative a fair trial. Who knows but the moral interest may become developed” (Perry 1935, vol. 1, p. 322). One of James’s most troubling problems was that of determinism and free will. On April 30, 1870, he recorded :
I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. I finished the first part of [Charles Bernard] Renouvier’s second Essais and see no reason why his definition of free will —“the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts”—need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present—until next year—that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will. (Perry 1935, vol. 1, p. 323)
In Renouvier, James had found comfort, if not an immediate cure for his doubts. Slowly he regained enthusiasm for life in general and for intellectual life in particular. Two events of the 1870s contributed greatly to his recovery. James started teaching at Harvard, and in 1878 he married Alice Howe Gibbens. He viewed the offer of employment from Harvard as a “godsend,” welcoming the stabilizing influence of a regular vocation. His first appointment was to an instructorship in physiology, but from the outset he refused to treat physiology, psychology, and philosophy as distinct and separate disciplines. In his lectures, as in his writings, he sought a synthesis of insights and factual contributions from each of the fields.
By correspondence with his European contemporaries James enhanced the intellectual reputation of the United States even more, perhaps, than through his widely acclaimed lectures in Britain and on the Continent. Such men as Hawthorne, Poe, and Emerson had, of course, attracted the attention of Europeans in an earlier era. But no American developed the close ties with English and Continental thinkers that James’s articulateness and extraordinary friendliness so naturally created. As a mere sample of his friends one might mention Bergson, Ernst Mach, Renouvier, F. H. Bradley, Giovanni Papini, Kipling, Henry Sidgwick, Herbert Spencer, and Carl Stumpf. James’s Letters have, accordingly, received considerable attention as a guide to the era. At Harvard, James influenced many of his students and younger colleagues. Prominent among this group were Josiah Royce, Gertrude Stein, George Santayana, Hugo Münsterberg, and G. Stanley Hall.
Contributions to psychology. James began the first chapters of The Principles of Psychology during the weeks following his marriage. In 1890, 12 years later, he finally completed the book. The work was both a grand summation of previous developments and a portent of the paths psychology would take in the twentieth century. James anticipated most of the major psychological movements of the succeeding seventy years; in many instances a direct line of influence is traceable. He did not achieve this remarkable breadth of coverage without some sacrifice. Not all of his ideas are operationally verifiable, nor did he present them in a rigorously systematic fashion.
Functional psychology. In its basic assumptions concerning the mind The Principles opposed the elementalism of the then current German psychology. James decried the practice of chopping consciousness into “single ideas” with which the investigator could not hope to have immediate acquaintance. Chains, trains, or other compoundings of bits seemed to him inadequate as models. Consciousness is nothing jointed, he argued; it flows. Thus, he preferred such metaphors as “river” or “stream.” Every conscious state, he claimed, is a function of the entire psychophysical context. Mind is cumulative, and experience produces alterations in its structure. The psychophysical context must necessarily change over time, precluding exact recurrence. This denial that a mental state can ever recur in a form identical with a past state anticipated one thesis of gestalt psychology.
For James selectivity was an essential characteristic of consciousness. Only a small portion of the potentially effective stimuli enter into a person’s awareness [seeAttention]. James argued that the choice is made purposively and that the criterion of choice is the relevance of the stimuli to various goals. This concept of relevance is a manifestation of James’s functionalism, anticipating the Würzburg theory of set and determining tendency. It was Darwin’s profound influence upon James that made the utility of consciousness a fundamental issue in his work. James went so far as to speculate that consciousness evolved to regulate a nervous system that had grown too complex to govern itself.
To the functionalist, psychology is the study of mental operations rather than of mental elements. Habit for James was the structural unit of mental life. The acquisition of a habit consisted in developing a new pathway of discharge in the brain [seeLearningarticle onneurophysiological aspects]. James considered habit the great conservative agent of society. He felt that most personal habits, such as vocalization, pronunciation, gesture, and gait, are fixed by the age of 20. The period between 20 and 30, on the other hand, appeared to him as the critical one for the formation of intellectual and professional habits.
James recognized the implications of his theory for the teaching profession. His Talks to Teachers on Psychology (1899) exerted a strong influence upon pedagogical thinkers and contributed to the rapid development of educational psychology in the United States. James emphasized interest and action; he regarded the child as a behaving organism for whom the major task is the formation of sound habits. Transfer of training in memorizing struck him as unlikely. Consequently, he opposed the justification of mechanical drill in one field as a technique for improving retentiveness in another. This rejection of rote memorization had a sharp impact upon American educators. But perhaps more important, as a precursor of the progressive movement, was James’s underlying attitude. He sought to persuade teachers to “conceive, and, if possible, reproduce sympathetically in their imagination, the mental life of their pupil as the sort of active unity which he himself feels it to be” ( 1946, p. x).
Theory of emotions. Perhaps the most famous of James’s specific doctrines is the James–Lange theory of the emotions. Basically, it asserts that an emotion results from the feeling of certain bodily changes that themselves follow directly from a given stimulus [seeEmotion]. This, of course, is an inversion of the common-sense explanation; James argued that we feel sorry because we cry and afraid because we tremble, not vice versa. The nervous system makes various reflex adjustments to emotional stimuli, leading automatically to bodily changes. Our perception of these changes, mostly in the skeletal muscles and viscera, we call an emotion. This theory was greeted with heavy criticism at its initial presentation, and James modified it several times. Although it has been discredited in its extreme form, the theory served to generate much useful research.
The theory is important historically for its behavior-based approach to the emotions: it makes awareness depend upon response. With this doctrine, as elsewhere in The Principles, James achieved a bold anticipation of behaviorism. And, like his behavioristic successors, he recognized the value of controlled, replicable experiments. James himself, however, did not seek detailed experimental corroboration for his theories. Although he was instrumental in establishing one of the first psychology laboratories in the world, he quickly be-came bored with experimental work. Eventually he recruited Münsterberg from Germany to supervise experimentation at Harvard.
Theory of the self. James’s chapter on the self in The Principles stands as one of the classics of psychological literature. In depth, breadth, and in-sight it has few rivals. For several decades after its publication, psychologists took little interest in the self; and although some commentators have attributed the avoidance to the prevailing behavioristic temper, others speculate that no one felt that he could add to the Jamesian treatment of the concept. James began with the distinction between the I, the self as knower or pure ego, and the Me, the self as known or empirical ego. In its widest possible sense, he claimed, a man’s Me is the sum total of everything that he can designate mine. The material Me accordingly includes the body, the attire, the immediate family, and property [seeIdentity, psychosocial; Self concept].
The second constituent of the Me, the social Me, anticipates modern role theory and, in a sense, the theory of object relations. “Properly speaking,” James wrote, “a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind” ( 1962, vol. 1, p. 294). He added, however, that since these various individuals can be divided into groups, a man may be said to have as many different social selves as there are distinct groups of people about whose opinion he cares. James’s conception of the different social selves involved in an individual’s interpersonal relations led him to emphasize the conflicts among the individual’s social selves. In contemporary social science this individual-oriented model of conflict is useful as a counterweight to sociological conceptions of role and role conflict.
The third constituent of the Me, the spiritual Me, designates the entire collection of a person’s states of consciousness and psychic faculties. James distinguished between this aggregation, which he took as an array of concrete entities, and the complementary self as I. The I functions as an agent— a knower rather than merely a collection of things known. The significance of this distinction becomes fully clear, however, only in the context of James’s philosophical work.
Philosophical work . When James took over the concept of pragmatism and made it famous, he scrupulously gave credit to his friend Charles Sanders Peirce for the notion[seePeirce]. The term “pragmatism” derives from the Greek word for action. In 1878, Peirce had introduced the word into philosophy in an article entitled “How to Make Our Ideas Clear.” In discussing pragmatism, he had argued that beliefs are really rules for acting and that the meaning of having a belief can only be discovered by assessing its consequences for action. Yet Peirce felt that James had so greatly changed the term’s meaning that he soon rechristened his own philosophical method “pragmaticism.” This word, he remarked, is so ugly that it should be eternally safe from “kidnappers.”
Differences of temperament among philosophers greatly interested James. Indeed, he viewed pragmatism as a method for mediating between contradictory philosophical styles. The history of philosophy, he believed, can be seen as an interminable battle between the “tender-minded” and the “tough-minded” types of thinker Of the numerous Jamesian dichotomies, this is the most famous ( 1949, pp. 9–20):
To James, a man’s attitudes in philosophy owe their origin to the balance in him of “two cravings.” The first is the sentiment of rationality, the passion for simplicity and labor-saving theoretical formulations (tender–mindedness). The second, called the passion for distinguishing, stresses loyalty to the facts of perception and to principles of clarity and precision (tough-mindedness). James asserted that no system of philosophy can have a chance of universal acceptance if it neglects either craving or if it greatly subordinates one to the other. By referring to sentiment, James brought the individual philosopher’s needs into the field of criticism. Like the psychoanalyst, he demanded that an individual’s behavior and beliefs be scrutinized within the context of his total life history.
James insisted that we specify what concrete difference the truth or falsity of an idea will make to anyone’s life. This theory of truth is contextualist: the final test of an idea’s validity is its coherence with the rest of one’s experience. The rationalist asserts that ideas are true if they agree with the facts. James accepted this proposition too, but he questioned its fruitfulness. What are the “facts,” he asked, with which the ideas agree? Does not our conception of what constitutes the facts in a situation change as our understanding increases? James vigorously condemned both the assumption that truth is an inert, static relation between fact and idea and the doctrine that true ideas merely copy reality. “Truth happens to an idea,” he said ( 1949, p. 201). Validation is a process—a gradual elucidation of interrelationships and consequences. To the extent that these consequences are desirable, or useful, or good, the idea may be considered valid.
By baldly inserting words like “good” and “desirable” into his descriptions, James sought to stress that true ideas serve as indispensable instruments for effective action. Indeed, he remarked that the quest for truth could hardly stand in such high esteem if truth were not worthwhile, desirable— good for something. A belief is “true” if its consequences—taken in their totality—are good, and the belief must therefore be judged in its total context, as coherent or incoherent with the rest of reality. Of course, James recognized the practical impossibility of assessing all the consequences of a belief; that is why for him verification seemed necessarily a perpetually ongoing process.
James fought against the acceptance of custom and established routine when he felt it restricted the possibilities for satisfaction—for value—in direct personal experience. His theory of truth is, in the widest sense, moral, for it rests ultimately on the proposition that the only legitimate purpose of belief and action is the maximization of good. Thus, the pragmatic principle of verification seemed to James a commandment requiring total commitment and not, as some critics have alleged, a license for selfishness and opportunism.
Radical empiricism. Toward the end of his life James developed the doctrine of “radical empiricism.” He came to regard it as more fundamental and more important than pragmatism. Although he viewed radical empiricism as logically independent of pragmatism, he considered the establishment of a pragmatic theory of truth to be of prime importance for achieving the general acceptance of radical empiricism.
It is for its theory of relations that James’s doctrine receives the title “radical”: relations have the same status in his scheme of reality as do entities. An on-top-of relation (e.g., of a book to a table) is as real for James as the book and the table. With his theory of relations, James argued, the undue stress upon disjunction in classical empiricism has been corrected. Rationalists, of course, have traditionally employed trans-experiential concepts to provide the unity and coherence that the empiricist world picture lacked. James adamantly rejected such concepts, claiming that they permit the dogmatic affirmation of all manner of nonsense. In contrast to both rationalism and empiricism, radical empiricism represents the world as a collection, some parts of which are disjunctively and others conjunctively related. This hanging together, or concatenated union, bears little resemblance to the “each in all and all in each” form of union characteristic of monistic rationalism.
James’s radical-empiricist orientation enabled him to approach the mind–body problem in an original and highly suggestive way. The question “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?” (1904), the title of one of his essays, receives an ironic, negative answer. James really was denying that the word “consciousness” stands for an entity. As his initial supposition, James stated simply that there is one primal material in the world, of which everything is composed. He called it “pure experience.” If this is granted, one can readily explain knowing as “a particular sort of relation towards one another into which portions of pure experience may enter” ( 1912, p. 4). One of the terms of the relation becomes the knower, while the other becomes the object known. Thus, this scheme of presentation rejects the doctrine of the ultimate duality of experience. In one context a portion of pure experience plays the part of the knower. But with another set of associates it can act as a thing known, an objective content.
The present, as an instantaneous field, constituted “pure experience” for James. “It is only virtually or potentially either object or subject as yet. For the time being, it is plain, unqualified actuality, or existence, a simple that” ( 1912, p. 23). For persons who argue that they apprehend the immediate present as “consciousness” (the experience of distinct self) and who claim to feel the free flow of thought within them as sharply distinct from objective reality, James had a surprising answer. He declared that the sense of such a person’s thinking, when carefully examined, turned out to consist chiefly of the perception of the regular rhythm of his breathing. James implied that the self is therefore not an ultimate given but a secondary construct.
In the course of his argument James consigned many respectable terms such as “mental,” “physical,” “subjective,” “objective,” and even “self,” to a derived or secondary status. But a place must be found for such entities elsewhere in a system. It is here that James the pragmatist furnished great aid to James the radical empiricist. For pragmatists, the “reality” of secondary concepts depends upon their capacity to satisfy—to put us on more satisfactory terms with our immediate experience. Unless an “abstraction” fulfills this intensely personal function it is not worthy of acceptance. Each individual by a process of continuous selection and rejection builds from the “blooming, buzzing con-fusion” of immediate experience his own distinctive Weltanschauung. The criterion of its reality is its total utility for his life.
“Varieties of Religious Experience.” Characteristically individualistic in his religious interests, James disregarded institutions and focused his attention upon personal religious experience [seeReligion]. His major work in this field was The Varieties of Religious Experience, originally delivered as the Gifford lectures of 1901–1902 at Edinburgh. In the introduction to The Varieties he admitted that the incidence of abnormal psychical conditions among religious leaders had been high. He even granted that the “pathological” aspects of their personalities had contributed greatly to their prestige and authority. Nonetheless, James insisted that the prevalence of such traits and tendencies does not constitute a refutation of their teachings: “By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.”
Just as James divided thinkers into the tough-minded and the tender-minded, he categorized religious believers as healthy-minded or sick-souled. Sick-souledness, he wrote, appears to encompass a wider range of experience.
The method of averting one’s attention from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it will work. .. . It breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and even though one be quite free from melancholy one’s self, there is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses positively to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth. ( 1963, p. 163).
Regeneration by the conversion experience, James felt, is what enables the sick-souled individual to escape from the dark night of his soul. The theory of subconscious mental processes, which had recently been proposed, appealed to him as highly useful for understanding the sudden shifts in character that often attend conversion experiences. A person with a strongly developed, intrusive subliminal region, James argued, will have a proclivity for hallucinations, obsessive ideas, and automatic actions that seem unaccountable by ordinary experience. As illustrations he cited the phenomenon of posthypnotic suggestion and the findings of Freud, Pierre Janet, and Morton Prince on hysteria. Although James regarded this research as marking the most important advance in psychology during his lifetime, he refused to employ it merely to “explain away” conversion.
From personal experimentation with nitrous oxide James received what he emphatically believed to be a form of mystical experience. Trances and other exceptional mental states occupied his attention for many years. The so-called rational consciousness, he felt, is only one special kind of consciousness, “whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different” ( 1963, p. 388). Though one can live an entire lifetime without knowing about these forms, James wrote, the proper drug or other stimulus will promptly make them accessible.
For James a basic concern was always the whole personality in its functional relationship with its environment. In The Varieties he therefore presented many individual case histories. Nothing bears truer witness to his compassion and tolerance than these skillfully rendered descriptions. And nothing provides a better indication of the ultimate aim of his inquiry: transcendence of one’s own limitations through familiarity with the entire spectrum of human experience.
Views on war . James’s now famous essay “The Moral Equivalent of War” (1910) gained the approval of pacifists and military men alike. In this widely circulated article he did not hesitate to praise the martial ideals of hardihood, daring, and discipline. But he deplored the brutality of war and strove to develop methods for sublimating the urge to fight. One proposal recommended the conscription of youth for work on land development and reclamation projects.
Interest in psychical research . Probably James’s most persistent “cause” was his effort to make psychic research scientifically respectable [seeParapsychology]. He served as president of the Society for Psychical Research for two years and maintained his membership from 1884 until his death. Despite a remarkable ability to scent out quacks and frauds, James never lost his conviction that some of the bizarre phenomena were genuine. Scientists who rejected the data because they failed to conform to prevailing psychological theories lost his professional respect. James’s own commitments to empiricism would not permit the discounting of raw data simply to preserve established ideas. More-over, research—including studies of faith healers —appealed to him on humanitarian grounds. Every possible technique for alleviating suffering deserved investigation, he felt, no matter how un-scientific or cranky the claimant.
It is James’s perpetual concern with improving the lot of the individual human being that makes him so apt a symbol of American social thought in his era. He denounced not only the attempts of idealists to explain away evil but also the gloomy pessimism of such philosophers as Schopenhauer. For James, meliorism was the only tenable position. Too sensitive not to be acutely aware of social injustice, he nevertheless remained ever uncynical, convinced that sustained, intelligent effort would produce improvement.
As James’s work in psychology cleared the way for behaviorism, so his pragmatism, interpreted in a narrow manner and applied to scientific methodology, facilitated the emergence of logical positivism and operationalism. Hard-headed respect for facts and suspicion of rationalistic theorizing in the grand style unquestionably represent one strain in his thought. But he was a nonconformist and clever strategist. Thus, in an era that has witnessed the triumph of rigorous experimentalism, James would surely have directed his polemical skills toward other goals. Individualism, pluralism, and the importance of immediate experience would undoubtedly have received prime stress.
James’s high tolerance for ambiguity and his desire to mediate between intellectually opposing temperaments have led to charges of contradiction and betrayal by both sides. Yet constant striving for balance struck him as necessary for the achievement of his fundamental objective: the improvement of the quality of experience of the individual human being. This paramount aim, this humanistic orientation, determined his thinking in meta-physics as well as in religion, in epistemology as on social problems. James was above all a humanitarian and only secondarily a psychologist, philosopher, and gifted man of letters.
William D. Phelan, Jr.
[See alsoEmotion; Identity, psychosocial; Religion; Self concept. Other relevant material may be found in the biographies ofCohen; Cooley; Dewey; Hall; Holt; Janet; Meyer; Münster-berg; Park; Tltchener.]
(1879–1907) 1948 Essays in Pragmatism. Edited with an introduction by Alburey Castell. New York: Hafner. → A paperback edition of several of James’s most important essays.
(1884–1906) 1912 Essays in Radical Empiricism. New York: Longmans.
(1890) 1962 The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. New York: Smith.
(1892) 1948 Psychology: The Briefer Course. Cleveland,
Ohio: World. → Gordon Allport edited a paperback version, published in 1961 by Harper.
(1896–1910) 1911 Memories and Studies. New York Longmans.
(1897) 1956 The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy and Human Immortality. New York: Dover.
(1899) 1946 Talks to Teachers on Psychology. New edition with an introduction by John Dewey and William H. Kilpatrick. New York: Holt.
(1902) 1963 The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature. Enlarged edition with appendices and introduction by Joseph Ratner. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books.
(1904) 1912 Does “Consciousness” Exist? Pages 1–38 in William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism. New York: Longmans.
(1907) 1949 Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York: Longmans. → A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Washington Square Press.
1909 A Pluralistic Universe. New York: Longmans.
(1910) 1911 The Moral Equivalent of War. Pages 265–296 in William James, Memories and Studies. New York: Longmans.
(1911) 1928 Some Problems of Philosophy: A Beginning of an Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Longmans.
The Letters of William James. Edited by Henry James, Jr. 2 vols. Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1920.
William James on Psychical Research. Compiled and edited by Gardner Murphy and Robert O. Ballou. New York: Viking, 1960.
James, Henry 1913 A Small Boy and Others. New York: Scribner.
James, Henry 1914 Notes of a Son and Brother. New York: Scribner.
Perry, Ralph B. 1920 Annotated Bibliography of the Writings of William James. New York: Longmans.
Perry, Ralph B. 1935 The Thought and Character of William James, as Revealed in Unpublished Correspondence and Notes, Together With His Published
Writings. 2 vols. Boston: Little. → Volume 1: Inheritance and Vocation. Volume 2: Philosophy and Psychology.
Boring, Edwin G. (1929) 1950 A History of Experimental Psychology. 2d ed. New York: Appleton.
Dewey, John 1934 Art as Experience. New York: Putnam. → A paperback edition was published in 1959.
Moore, E. C. 1961 American Pragmatism: Peirce, James, and Dewey. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Peirce, Charles S. (1878) 1955 How to Make Our Ideas Clear. Pages 23–41 in Charles S. Peirce, Philosophical Writings of Peirce. Selected and edited with an introduction by Justus Buchler. New York: Dover.
Wiener, Philip P. 1949 Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.
"James, William." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000614.html
"James, William." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1968. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045000614.html
James, William (1842–1910)
JAMES, WILLIAM (1842–1910)
William James was the American philosopher whose work in psychology established that science as an important element in the revision of social and philosophical doctrines at the turn of the nineteenth century. Thereafter it was no longer possible to erect systems in purely deductive fashion. All thought must take account of the deliverances of current natural science, and particularly the branch relating to man's mind. This respect for the organized experience of the laboratory inevitably influenced educational theory and practice, then still known by their proper name of pedagogy.
But James was not merely a scientist in psychology and a proponent of scientific rigor in moral philosophy, including education. He was a philosophical genius–the greatest that America has produced–who touched upon every department of life and culture and who ranks as a chief architect of the reconstruction in Western thought that took place in the 1890s. In the company of Nietzsche, Dilthey, Renouvier, Bergson, Mach, Vaihinger, and Samuel Butler, he led the revolt against orthodox scientism, Spencerism, and materialism and contributed to that enlargement of outlook that affected the whole range of feeling and opinion and has since earned the name of Neo-Romanticism. Every academic discipline and every art was involved in the change; and, in each, thinkers of uncommon scope laid the foundation for the new systems of ideas on which the twentieth century still lives.
William James was in a favored position for adding something unique to the movement: He possessed the American experience as his birth-right and was early acclimated to European ways, British and Continental. He studied in Germany and was fluent in both German and French, and his family circumstances were propitious. He was the eldest son of Henry James Sr., son of the original William James who had emigrated from Ireland to this country and made a fortune. Henry Sr. could devote himself to study and did so. His original ideas on religion and society won no acceptance in his day, but they have been found important by modern scholars, and they certainly influenced the two geniuses who were his sons, William the philosopher and Henry the novelist.
William James's own intellectual career is marked by his father's easy unconventionality, which as will be seen permitted long exploration before "settling down." Every shift in his own development is caught up in, and contributory to, his mature work. James wanted at first to become a painter, but he had the critical sense to see that his talent was insufficient. Next he took up chemistry at Harvard, went on to study physiology in response to his interest in living things, and wound up preparing for a medical degree. He interrupted his course to spend a highly formative year as one of Louis Agassiz's assistants in the Thayer expedition to Brazil. He then went abroad, where he read literature, attended university lectures, and became acquainted with the new psychology, which the Germans had made experimental and exact. He returned to take his Harvard M.D. in 1869 and after further study abroad began to teach anatomy and physiology.
It was not long before his inquiring spirit led him to offer courses in the relations of psychology to physiology, for which he soon established the first psychology laboratory in America. After the publication of his great book, The Principles of Psychology, in 1890, James's work exhibited the flowering of an intellect that had from the beginning been haunted by the enigmas of life and mind: He gave himself exclusively to metaphysics, morals, and religion.
By an oddity of academic arrangements, James was a professor of philosophy four years before he was made a professor of psychology, but nomenclature is irrelevant: His beginnings in the psychology laboratory were very soon followed by his offering of a course in philosophy. In other words, the subjects for him commingled and he was always a philosophical writer and teacher. Those were the great days of the Harvard department of philosophy, and during his thirty-five years of teaching James's direct influence spread over a wide range of students, as disparate as George Santayana and Gertrude Stein.
To the end of the century James, despite his new goals, continued to write and lecture on the subject that had first brought him fame. He pursued his research on the newest topics of abnormal psychology, he read Freud and helped bring him over for a lectureship at Clark University. And what is more to the point of the present entry, between 1892 and 1899, James delivered at a number of places the Talks to Teachers, which were an offshoot of the Psychology and which constitute his important contribution to educational theory.
In any such theory, the assumptions made about the human mind are fundamental and decisive. If "the mind"–which for this most practical of purposes is the pupil's mind–is imagined as a sensitive plate merely, then teaching can take the simple form of making desired impressions on the plate by attending chiefly to the choice and form of those impressions. The rest is done by setting the child to take these in by rote, by repeating rules, by watching and remembering contrived experiments. In other words, the teacher points the camera and pushes the button for a snapshot or time exposure.
No pedagogy has ever been quite so simple, of course, for the least gifted or attentive teacher is aware that the child must exert some effort, be in some way active and not photographically passive, before he can learn the set verses or the multiplication table. So, to start the machinery, a system of rewards and punishments is established, which will by mechanical association strengthen the useful acts of mind or hand and discourage the useless or harmful. In this primitive pedagogy, the pupil's acquirements are deemed a resultant of essentially mechanical forces, and the teacher serves as the manipulator of a wholly environmentalist scheme.
It is unlikely that any good teacher has ever adhered strictly to that role or thought of himself or herself as operating that sort of invisible keyboard. If it were so, no child would ever have learned much of value from any schooling whatever. But it is also true that educational practice always tends toward the crude mechanics just described. And the reasons are obvious: sheer incompetence in many teachers and weariness in the rest. For the two great limitations on classroom performance under any theory are (1) the scarcity of born teachers; and (2) the strenuousness of able and active teaching (which means that even the best teachers can sustain the effort for only a given number of hours at a time).
The state of affairs which James and other school reformers of the 1890s found and sought to remedy was a result of these several deficiencies. The movement of Western nations toward providing free, public, and compulsory education was, it must be remembered, an innovation of the nineteenth century. The inherent difficulties of this new social and cultural goal were great. It made unprecedented demands–on children, parents, administrative systems, and (most important) on the national resources of teaching talent, which are not expandable at will. Theory, too, was wanting for the supervision and teaching of teachers themselves. The confusion that ensued was therefore to be expected. Only a few points were clear: the older pedagogies were too mechanical in their view of the mind; the number of inadequate teachers was excessive; and the exploitive use of the good ones was a danger to the trying-out of mass education.
It was high time, therefore, that psychology put in its word on the subject it supposedly knew all about–the mind. Unfortunately, the mechanical view of the mind existed in two forms–one, as the view natural to ignorant or indifferent persons and, two, as the view that the prevailing scientific metaphor of the time seemed to justify. The universe, according to the Darwin-Spencer philosophy, was a vast machine, and its elements, living or dead, were also moved by the great push-pull of matter like the parts of a machine. The prophets of science–T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, John Fiske–held audiences spellbound with illustrations of this principle, which everyone was sure could be demonstrated in the laboratory. The newest science, German born and bred, was psychophysics, a name which alone was enough to show that the operations of the mind bore the universal character of mechanism. Man was no exception to the law exemplified by the collision of billiard balls or (in more refined form) by the effect of light on a photographic plate.
To be sure, these scientific interpreters of nature would not have subscribed to a simplistic pedagogy if they had ever turned the full force of their minds on the problem of teaching. One of them, Herbert Spencer, did write a fairly sensible tract on education. And the psychophysicists did not entirely blot out the influence of earlier and richer pedagogies, notably that of the German psychologist Johann Herbart, who died in 1841. But on the whole the situation of the schools in the decades of the nineteenth century was critical, and the strictures and exhortations of the reformers tell us very precisely in what ways.
James, with his encyclopedic knowledge of psychology, theoretical and experimental, his mastery of the art of teaching, and his genius for diagnosis in the study of human feeling, was in an ideal position for showing up the false principles, old and new, and propounding the true ones. The root of the matter was to consider the pupil as an active being–not merely a mind to be filled, but complex and growing organism, of which the mind was but one feature. That feature, in turn, was not a receptacle, but an agent with interests, drives, powers, resistances, and peculiarities which together defined a unique person. Nothing can be imagined farther removed from this than a machine built to a pattern and responding passively to external prods and prizes.
Rather, as one marks the difference, the familiar outline appears of the child who presides over the child-centered school of the Progressives–the men and women who came to dominate theory and practice thirty years after James. But it is only the outline of that child, for James was much too wise a philosopher to suppose that doing the opposite of whatever is done will correct present abuses. His Talks to Teachers (1899) fill but a small volume, yet they contain an extremely subtle and complex set of precepts–precepts, not commandments. To follow the precepts one must–alas–use intelligence and judgment, not because James is not clear and definite, but because the teaching situation is infinitely variable–like its object, the child.
To begin with, James does not reject the associationist principle that was the mainstay of the earlier pedagogy. It is a sound principle, but it is not simple or automatic as was once thought. Associations impress the mind not in a one-to-one arrangement, but in groups or constellations, some members of which fight or inhibit each other. Moreover, the structure of the particular mind favors or excludes certain kinds and ranges of associations. It follows that to reach–and teach–any mind, the teacher must multiply the number of cues that will bring to full consciousness in the pupil the points he should retain or remember. The reason for this method, which is in fact less a method than a call to exert the imagination, is that the same reality can be cognized by any number of psychic states. It is accordingly a field theory of thought that James substitutes for the linear-mechanical and would have the teacher act upon.
Throughout his chapters, James moves back and forth from the schoolroom to the world, where the habits and powers of great minds and dull ones can be observed and turned into examples. The point of the shuttling is that there is or should be no difference in kind between what the child is asked to imagine, perform, remember, or reason out and what the grown man does or fails to do. This soon becomes an important criterion. Meanwhile the difference is in degree, which means that the teacher must be aware of differences in development–crudely measured by the age of the child, more closely measured by his rate of maturing, most delicately marked by what is called native ability.
Any teacher starts with the pupil as a lively bouncing creature in which the body and its needs predominate. The curiosity of the child is indeed a sign that mind is present also, but James knows that the "native interests of children lie altogether in the sphere of sensation" (1899, p. 92). Hence James recommends that until artificial interests develop, children be taught through objects, things that move, events of dramatic quality, anecdotes in place of propositions. Stressing also the link between instinct (which rules these early interests) and action, James strongly favors letting the child handle the means of instruction, build, take apart, try out, do.
In this commonsense view that instruction should begin by exploiting native interests (which turn out to be physical and active), James is a fore-runner of the Chicago School, of which John Dewey was the instigator and later the idol. But neither James nor Dewey was an innovator in the desert. The European kindergarten movement, the early, scattered elements of the Montessori method, and numerous other reforms of school and preschool instruction were in full swing even before James. Indeed, Rabelais and Rousseau had long since made the identical point about the value for education of having the naturally restless child learn by playing, both because playing is congenial and because it is the fundamental form of learning: trial and error.
That point evidently has to be made over and over again in history. But each time history gives it a special coloring. It was natural that in the period immediately after Darwin, which saw the popular triumph of science, the reminder about the child's activism should be seen as the root of the scientific march of mind; for if play is the germ of trial and error, trial and error is the germ of experimentation. It is this plausible linkage that set Dewey and the Progressives to pursue the scientific analogy to an extreme. For them–at least as educators–the mind is forever facing problems and seeking solutions. Teaching school therefore becomes the art of devising situations that will challenge the problem-solving mind and build up in its child-owner a stronger and stronger capacity to size up, ascertain, verify, and solve.
William James never had to confront this hypothesis head on, but it is clear what form his refutation would have taken. In the first place, not every adult is a scientist, and though it is true that adults who are not scientists encounter problems and resolve them, that activity is but one of many forms that cerebration takes. The poet, the painter, the mystic, the housewife, the salesman, the rabble-rouser, each performs his task differently, even if at times they all resort to "situation analysis" and "problem-solving." We must remember James's assertion that the mind is continuous: it stretches from the kindergarten, where it learns, to the laboratory, where James studies it, just as it stretches from Plato's garden to the London Stock Exchange; which is to say that within the unity of the human mind reigns a great diversity, not reducible to the very special, historically late, and purposely artificial form of scientific reasoning.
According to James, good teaching, therefore, cannot follow a set form; it is not the curing of a weakness, such as the replacement of unreason by reason and superstition by science. Rather, it is the interaction of a practiced or well-filled mind with one on its way to the same state. The contents of any mind at any moment–that which James first called "the stream of consciousness"–is an ever-flowing rush of objects, feelings, and impulsive tendencies. The art of teaching consists in helping to develop in the child the power to control this stream, to sort out its objects, classify their kinds, observe their relationships, and then multiply their significant associations.
In the abstract, this work may be called attending; the power generated is Attention. James is particularly valuable on this faculty. He points out that if passive attention is sustained by making subject matter continuously interesting, active attention will not develop. He knows that a good part of any subject for any learner of whatever age is bound to be dull; mastering it is drudgery. Therefore, while he encourages the teacher to arouse the pupil's interest in the dull parts of the work by associating them closely with the more interesting through showing unsuspected facets, by challenging pugnacity to overcome difficulty, by dwelling on the concrete effects of the abstract, and by any other means that ingenuity can supply, he does not lose sight of the goal. All this effort at building up enticing associations is to "lend to the subject…an interest sufficient tolet loose the effort" of deliberate attention (1899, p.110).
Not the precept alone but its pattern has significance. Throughout his educational doctrine, James is at pains to counteract what he calls the "softer pedagogy" by qualifying its blind zeal. The softer pedagogy is that which, having seized on a good teaching principle, such as "make the work interesting," forgets that it is only a device and reduces the end of education to its means: What we can't make interesting we won't teach–or at least not require; there is a good reason for the pupil's not learning it: it's not interesting. On the contrary, says James, education that works for voluntary attention is "the education par excellence" (1890, p. 424).
The Jamesian correctives spring from a sense of the original complexity of the human mind. It is not a machine that mysteriously gets more complicated. Thus, when James recommends the use of objects, the indulgence of childish touching, building, and trying out, it is not in order to ingrain a habit of fiddling, but in order to develop mental powers that transcend the tangible and even the visual. Again, he refuses to give objects primacy over words or to deride the utility of abstraction: "…words…are the handiest mental elements we have. Not only are they very rapidly revivable, but they are revivable as actual sensations more easily than any other items of our experience" (1890, p. 266). And he goes on to remark that the older men are and the more effective as thinkers, the less they depend on visualization. The implications for educational method, when we consider its evolution since 1890 and are aware that the abandonment of teaching to read has lately been urged on the strength of the visual substitutes at our disposal, deserve our closest attention.
The retreat from the word was already beginning in James's time and he warned against its dangers. He bore incessant witness to the important connection between words and memory and its role in making knowledge secure. "I should say therefore, that constant exercise in verbal memorizing must still be an indispensable feature in all sound education. Nothing is more deplorable than that inarticulate and helpless sort of mind that is reminded by everything of some quotation, case, or anecdote, which it cannot now exactly recollect" (1899, pp. 131–132). The description seems to fit the student mind that does best at "objective" examinations, where the case or quotation is helpfully supplied. To summon it up unaided requires a more athletic type of mind, developed by training in verbal memory.
It is clear that James's standard of performance, for both teacher and pupil, was quite simply the bestmind. He was in that sense a thorough educational democrat, unwilling to classify and mark down intelligences ahead of time, on the basis of their background or their probable future. Everybody had a chance to rival the greatest; education was the means of finding out who could succeed, while helping all equally in the effort. This assumption and the attitude it dictates is the opposite of competing with oneself alone, setting one's own standards, and pursuing only one's own "needs"–which boil down to one's own momentary wants.
All these limiting, hierarchical ideas were in the air when James wrote and lectured, and he put his finger on their unfortunate cause: "Our modern reformers…write too exclusively of the earliest years of the pupil. These lend themselves better to explicit treatment;…Yet away back in childhood we find the beginnings of purely intellectual curiosity, and the intelligence of abstract terms" (1899, p.151). The implication here–and experience justifies it–is that the pupils are often brighter than their teachers: "Too many school children 'see'…'through' the namby-pamby attempts of the softer pedagogy to lubricate things for them." The absurdity of believing that geography begins and ends with "the school-yard and neighboring hill" is a case in point. The child soon comes to think of all schooling as contemptible make-believe–and James with prophetic vision denounces the Dick-and-Jane reading books as yet unheard of: "School children can enjoy abstractions, provided they be of the proper order; and it is a poor compliment to their rational appetite to think that anecdotes about little Tommies and little Jennies are the only kind of things their minds can digest" (1899, pp. 151–152).
A principal cause of James's impatience with spoon-feeding methods, with educational research and statistics ("those unreal experimental tests, those pedantic elementary measurements"), with theoretical advice, including his own ("a perceptive teacher…will be of much more value"), is his awareness of the deadly grip of habit (1899, p. 136). "Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state" (1899, p. 77).
If this is true, how much more to blame are the teachers whose "method" in instruction becomes the mold of a habit imposed on the young mind. For James, a right education is precisely the power to sidestep ruts, to link ideas freely over a wide range, to exert voluntary attention, to be rich in suggestion and invention, and to be prompt in receptivity. He repeatedly contrasts the dry, prosaic mind with the witty and imaginative. And since knowledge and experience alike tell him that this balance of freedom and control which he disiderates depends on a well-furnished and strenuously trained mind, he wants teachers capable of arousing passion in their charges–the "whole mind working together." Native deficiencies in this or that faculty can be over-come or ignored: "In almost any subject your passion for the subject will save you." And at the same time he shows a warm understanding of the non-academic type. The student who cuts a poor figure in examinations may in the end do better than "the glib and ready reproducer," just because of deeper passions and of "combining power less commonplace" (1899, pp. 137, 143).
It comes as no surprise, then, that James ends by defining education not in intellectual terms–though his whole impetus is toward intellect–but in terms that unite emotion and action: education is "the organization of acquired habits of conduct and tendencies to behavior…. To think is the moral act:" it "is the secret of will,…it is the secret of memory…. Thus are your pupils to besaved: first, by the stock of ideas with which you furnish them; second, by the amount of voluntary attention that they can exert in holding to the right ones…. ; and, third, by the several habits of acting definitely on these latter to which they have been successfully trained" (1899, pp. 29, 186–188).
The "saving" is of course from the blind compulsion of determinism reinforced by bad habit. James's pronouncements about education rest upon a mass of physiological and psychological facts and are abundantly illustrated by reference to them. The reflex arc is as much a condition of learning as the stream of thought; the individual type of memory (visual, auditory, muscular) as determinative as the hereditary constitution of the neural synapses. But James is not a materialist, for he can find no evidence that these factors which limit or condition thought also produce it. And at the same time he finds in man's power of fixing the mind upon an idea–the power of thinking–a range of freedom to be exploited.
These considerations and conclusions bring us back to the starting point. If the nascent mind to be taught in the schoolroom is not a machine, if it is continuous and unified in kind, but diversified in quality and degree, if its operations are not exclusively analytic and directed at problem-solving, what sort of mind is it, in a single word? And what sort of educational theory will suit its needs? To answer the second question first, psychology can and ought to give the teacher help, but it is a great mistake to think that "the science of the mind's laws" can serve to define "programmes and schemes and methods of instruction for immediate schoolroom use. Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves. An intermediary inventive mind must make the application, by using its originality" (1899, pp. 7–8).
In short, no matter which way we turn, we cannot in education get away from the work of the mind or substitute for it an ingenious abstraction. How then does the mind work? The scientific way, we saw, was but a special form of its activity; what is the inclusive mode, or as we just asked, what sort of mind? It is, so to put it, an artistic mind: it is by a kind of artistry that we perceive reality, which is the mind's most inclusive task. True, sensations hold a controlling position commanding our belief in what is real, but not all sensations are "deemed equally real. The more practically important ones, the more permanent ones, and the more aesthetically apprehensible ones are selected from the mass, to be believed in most of all; the others are degraded to the position of mere signs and suggestions of these" (1890, p. 305). This description of the mind's seizing upon reality fairly parallels the operations of the artist upon his materials for the creation of another kind of reality: it is the pragmatic method, which only means human impulse seeking convenience and delight, seeking the permanent and the recognizable, the orderly and the satisfying. All education therefore aims at preparing the mind to fulfill its native tendencies and thereby to grasp and enjoy an enlarged order of multifarious reality.
See also: Educational Psychology; Philosophy of Education.
Allen, Gay Wilson. 1967. William James: A Biography. New York: Viking Press.
Bakewell, Charles M., ed. 1917. Selected Papers on Philosophy by William James. Everyman's Library. New York: Dutton.
Barzun, Jacques. 1956. "William James and the Clue to Art." In The Energies of Art: Studies of Authors, Classic and Modern. New York: Harper.
Blanshard, Brand, and Schneider, Herbert W., eds. 1942. In Commemoration of William James, 1842–1942. New York: Columbia University Press.
Cremin, Lawrence A. 1961. The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876–1957. New York: Knopf.
Dewey, John. 1910. How We Think. New York: Heath.
Hechinger, Grace, and Hechinger, Fred M. 1963. Teenage Tyranny. New York: Morrow.
James, William. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. American Science Series. Advanced Course. 2 Vols. New York: Holt.
James, William. 1892. Psychology. American Science Series. Briefer Course. New York: Holt.
James, William. 1916. Talks to Teachers on Psychology, and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals (1899). New York: Holt.
Kallen, Horace M., ed. 1953. The Philosophy of William James. Selected from his chief works. With an introduction by Horace M. Kallen. New York: Modern Library.
Key, Ellen K. 1909. The Century of the Child. New York and London: Putnam.
Perry, Ralph Barton. 1948. The Thought and Character of William James. Briefer Version. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
BARZUN, JACQUES. "James, William (1842–1910)." Encyclopedia of Education. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403200341.html
BARZUN, JACQUES. "James, William (1842–1910)." Encyclopedia of Education. 2002. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403200341.html
(b. New York, New York, 11 January 1842; d. Chocorua, New Hampshire, 26 August 1910),
psychology, philosophy. For the original article on James see DSB, vol. 7.
James is widely known as the father of American psychology, and he is fondly remembered as a public intellectual with the clarity and insight to create usable popularizations of complex academic and scientific work. His major professional contribution to psychology was to remind his fellows in the field of the worlds of mind and behavior that lie beyond the grasp of even the most elegant theories. His chief philosophical contribution was his unblinking attention to the concreteness of experience in psychological events and feelings, religious beliefs, scientific inquiry, and the philosophy of empiricism itself. Although he had often been dismissed as a mere popularizer in the decades after his death in 1910, recent work on James has stimulated a steadily growing appreciation for his substantial contributions. Clarity has been no vice as he helped to shape humanistic orientations, process thinking, and phenomenology in psychology, philosophy, and religious studies. In fact, in the early twenty-first century there is wide recognition of his transdisciplinary significance for his pioneering critique of overreliance on scientific authority, for his anticipations of neuroscience, for his rhetorical gifts, for his spirituality, and for his prophetic warnings about a culture dominated by corporate institutions and commodified values.
Background and Upbringing . William James’s upbringing, in the household of a Swedenborgian radical and in the context of growing scientific authority in the middle-to-late nineteenth century, shaped his life, temperament, and work. He taught, wrote, and lectured on the borderland of science and religion, gravitating toward mediation of these fields, with all their kindred associations, in his psychology, philosophy, and religious thought.
Because the spirituality of his father, the elder Henry James (to distinguish him from his second son, the novelist), included endorsement of the empirical spirituality of Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century mystic popular in Romantic cultural circles, the religious training that the oldest son, William, received was open to the study of nature. By age nineteen, with his father’s encouragement, he went to the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University, where he met a brand of science shaped by the professional demands for rigorous empiricism. He studied chemistry, anatomy, and physiology before transferring to the Harvard Medical School; this succession of studies reflected his temperamental ambivalence and contributed to his vocational indecision. These and related troubles with depression, eye and back ailments, philosophical uncertainty, and hesitancy to marry—precisely because he dreaded passing on his troubles to a next generation— plunged him into a period of indecision and personal crisis, which prolonged his formative years and postponed the beginning of his working life.
Crisis and Construction of Worldview . James is perhaps as famous for this period of crisis as for his mature theories, in part because many of those ideas first began to emerge in his youthful drama of pain and recovery. The very paths he took while struggling in his youth showed not only the first stirrings of his mature ideas, but also their roots in the scientific and religious commitments of his early adulthood. While he found it difficult to accept his father’s ideas directly, he gravitated toward theories and cultural experiences that, similarly, expressed the immaterial factors of life (including spirituality and consciousness) within the natural world rather than in orthodox references to incomprehensible factors or another world. In particular, he was attracted to the pre-Christian ancients, sectarian medicine, humanistic psychology, and voluntaristic philosophy. Just as Henry Sr. approached nature “as if it had some life in it” (in William’s words), so the son, now on a professional path in his thirties, inquired into the experiences of the natural world and human nature, noticing the role of immaterial factors to
complement the emerging understanding of nature in terms of physics and chemistry as assumed by most modern professional science (Correspondence, vol. 4, p. 227). William endorsed the work of modern science, benefiting deeply from the latest research in his own profession, most notably in his landmark Principles of Psychology (1890). However, he maintained an impulse to pull his profession toward a “program of the future of science” that would be less wedded to a materialistic philosophy, such as the automaton theory of consciousness, which he noticed to be a frequent accompaniment of professional science but an unnecessary stowaway on the path of inquiry. He offered wry praise for the scientific enthusiasm of his times as “a temporarily useful excentricity” (1902, p. 395).
A Psychology of Philosophizing . Despite materialist and positivist enthusiasms for Darwinism swiftly spreading in influence from the 1860s, when James first studied science, he noticed its hypothetical and probabilistic qualities. This type of thinking shaped his theory of “The Sentiment of Rationality” (1879), in which he proposed that the motivation to philosophize stemmed from the craving for explanatory sufficiency in clarity or simplicity that shaped human thinking in general, even in science.
Openness to experience unconstrained by the abstractions of theory—whether scientific, philosophical, or religious—took his work out of the mainstream profession of scientific psychology and into philosophical and religious studies. He was also concerned about the overreliance on experimental method in the psychological laboratory. In Pragmatism (1907) he emphasized the usefulness of theories as instruments of inquiry, but he also insisted that we should not confuse these directional tools for the whole forest of experience. In “The Will to Believe” (1895) he proposed that when evaluating a belief—in science or religion—it is more important to pursue the prospective possibilities in experience itself rather than remain in fear of crossing abstract boundaries of prior theory formation. This essay, and his many accompanying “essays in popular philosophy,” never called for rejection of scientific inquiry, but for a continuation of its methods into religion and other spheres conventionally segregated from science. He even called his research into Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) a “science of religions” with which he explored personal religious experiences that generally underlie institutional structures; finding evidence of “the more” in human psychology, he proposed that it served as the basis for orthodox religious affiliations. Toward the end of his life, James called his emphasis on pure experience unadorned by abstraction “radical empiricism,” and his essays in elaboration of this philosophy were collected posthumously.
James was not particularly concerned with the specialized discourses of psychology, philosophy, religious studies, and science studies that today claim pieces of his corpus. He contributed to each of these fields as they now stand, but his own personal and intellectual motivations were more broadly based. Of course, he lived in a time when educational institutions were only beginning to specialize; in fact, he remarked that the first lecture he ever heard in psychology was his own. In addition, the very indecisiveness that troubled him, and that has encouraged much of the psychological scrutiny of James himself, actually contributed to his appetite to work in all these fields. He knew the pain of choice, and its necessity when selecting paths forward, but he was also attentive to the tyranny of choices that ruled out other important factors in life, hence his insistence on recognizing the “ever not quite” factors in our knowledge of all fields.
Meliorism, a Hope in the Making . His hopes were hard won, and this lent his philosophy an authentic and experience-chastened quality that catapulted his work onto a public stage, where he became popular beyond the appeal of most academics. Perhaps his most alluring mediation was between pessimism and optimism. Why endorse an outlook that is explicitly against one’s own good? Yet at the same time, how turn away from the truly tragic and burdensome facts of life? His answer was to adopt neither, but instead to endorse what he called “meliorism,” the commitment to hoping and working for the best. This gritty buoyancy is at the heart of James’s commitment and a reason for the enduring appeal of his words even decades after his death in 1910. Characteristically, he was scientific enough to doubt the orthodox claims for an afterlife, but he was religious enough to notice their power to motivate and their plausibility in the depths of “psychic experiences.” Besides, after decades of committed search into the natural world and human psyche, and with a sharp sense that human experience involved both bodily and mental factors, he faced death with the wistful realization that “I’m just getting fit to live” (Letters, vol. 2, p. 214).
WORKS BY JAMES
The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: Longman, Green, 1902.
The Works of William James. Edited by Fredson Bowers and
Frederick H. Burkhardt. 19 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975–1988. There are many editions of James’s writings; this collection and the Correspondence below are the most authoritative. Works includes all of James’s published books and collections of many of his unpublished notes, lectures, and essays thoroughly annotated and contextualized.
The Correspondence of William James. Edited by Ignas K.
Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M. Berkeley. 12 vols.
Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992–2004. A collection of correspondence to and from James, including 70 percent of the 9,300 known letters that he wrote in his lifetime, with the remaining calendared for ease of reference.
Bjork, Daniel. William James: The Center of His Vision. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988. Provides a detailed account of James’s life, especially in his relations with his wife, Alice Howe Gibbens James, and emphasizes William James’s exuberant, distinctive genius in dealing with knotty psychological and philosophical questions.
Cotkin, George. William James, Public Philosopher. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990. A historical account of the cultural and political position of James, especially in his adult life.
Croce, Paul Jerome. Science and Religion in the Era of William James. 2 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995 (Vol. 1) and forthcoming (Vol. 2). Sets James in his personal and cultural contexts and emphasizes the intermingling of mind and body in his work.
Donnelly, Margaret E., ed. Reinterpreting the Legacy of William James. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1992. A collection of essays by psychologists in evaluation of the meaning and legacy of James’s psychological theories, written from the perspective of pluralism, phenomenology, evolutionary biology, and history and with attention to theories of the self, emotions, clinical work, free will, and parapsychology.
Feinstein, Howard M. Becoming William James. Ithaca, NY:
Cornell University Press, 1984. A psychobiography that evaluates the young man in relation to family dynamics.
Levinson, Henry Samuel. The Religious Investigations of William James. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981.
A religious studies evaluation of his development of a science of religions.
Menand, Louis. The Metaphysical Club. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001. A highly readable narrative synthesis of recent scholarship on James in relation to other founders of pragmatism—Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey—and in the context of countless stories of American social and cultural history.
Myers, Gerald E. William James: His Life and Thought. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986. Covers much more thought than life, with an emphasis on his philosophical psychology.
Seigfried, Charlene Haddock. William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990. Presents James’s philosophical development toward a postmodern view of the constructed character of knowledge.
Simon, Linda. Genuine Reality: A Life of William James. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1999. Offers a biographical overview with more attention to social context and personal issues than to theory formation.
Taylor, Eugene. William James on Consciousness beyond the Margin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. Challenges the conventions in the history of psychology that James abandoned psychology after 1890 with evidence that his experimental psychopathology was directed toward an alternative psychology.
Townsend, Kim. Manhood at Harvard: William James and Others. New York: Norton, 1996. Examines James’s ambivalence in terms of gender and finds the popular philosopher both subject to a strong and brittle masculinity and intelligently rising above it.
Paul Jerome Croce
"James, William." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830905792.html
"James, William." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830905792.html
The American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842-1910) is considered America's major philosopher and one of the great psychologists of all times.
Member of an illustrious family which included his younger brother, the novelist Henry James, William James was born in New York and reared there and in Europe by adoring parents. The family went repeatedly for long and intimate visits to the great cultural centers of England, France, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. William's cosmopolitanism went deep; when in Europe he always felt eager to be home again, and when in America he was homesick for Europe.
James was equally interested in art (he almost became a painter), in literature, in philosophy, and in science (he made a visit as a field naturalist under Louis Agassiz to the Amazon and achieved broad science training and a medical degree at Harvard in 1869). In these same years he was studying philosophy and physiology, notably in Germany, where he attended lectures and saw the laboratory work of such great leaders as Hermann von Helmholtz and Rudolf Virchow. But James was also drawn very vigorously into the pioneering intellectual adventures of the America of the mid-19th century, notably its new religious movement.
As an ardent evolutionist, William James saw many ways in which the mind could be fruitfully regarded as the organ of primary adaptation to the environment, in a full Darwinian sense, and how all its functions—whether cognitive, emotional, or impulsive—could be viewed in evolutionary terms. This conception drew him to a philosophy which later he was to call pragmatism; it constitutes one of the major bridges between his psychology and his philosophy.
Despite his eager and strenuous ways, as shown in his mountain rambles with his brother Henry, James was not strong, and in the 1860s and early 1870s he was subject to ill health, which included much depression and doubt of his own worth. During this period, however, he read the French philosopher Charles Bernard Renouvier on the problem of the freedom of the will and came suddenly and firmly to the conviction that he could, by his own act of free will, make himself a well man. His own life and the testimony of the family bear out the profundity of this experience.
James's appointment to a junior teaching position at Harvard in 1872 set him on a new professional track. He was to teach anatomy and physiology to undergraduate students, and he soon set up a small psychological laboratory, emphasizing the fact that it was not a classical "mental philosophy" that he was to teach but a physiological and experimental science. It is plain from his letters to his brother that he was already thinking of himself as committed to the new laboratory approach to psychology. This does not, however, mean that he was willing to relinquish any of his other manifold interests. He was soon publishing original and brilliant articles in the professional journals of psychology and philosophy. He married Alice Gibbens in 1878.
Principles of Psychology
Also in 1878 James began writing a comprehensive treatise and textbook, Principles of Psychology, the two volumes of which, intended for 1880, finally appeared in 1890. This extraordinary treatise brought him worldwide response and has continued everywhere to be regarded as one of the few great comprehensive treatises that modern psychology has produced.
Five of the chapters are worthy of special note: (1) The chapter dealing with "habit," considered as a prime factor so deeply organized within one as to make each one the creature of a system of inbuilt ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. (2) "Emotion," the subjective or inner aspect of the "coarser" organic physiological responses to stress situations, such as fear and rage, with a place also provided for the subtler emotions, entering into the intellectual and esthetic life. (3) The "consciousness of self," the various ways in which one knows one's self and the aspects of one's own individuality that are most precious to one. (4) The "stream of thought," the complex, dynamic, ever-changing world of subjectivity in which there is no firmly fixed invariant part, no unalterable unit, except that each person is always aware that it is his own continuous past, present, and anticipated future. (5) The "will." The very long and rich chapter on the will provides for many "types of decision" and for the experience of effort when "we ourselves incline the beam." An empirical psychology must accept as a reality the experience of making an effortful decision; this leaves the ultimate philosophical question of the nature of such freedom as a problem beyond the scope of scientific psychology as such.
James's treatment indeed is embedded in the context of a lifetime preoccupation with the nature of freedom. James recurred to this problem in other writings again and again. In his lecture "The Will to Believe," he argued that spontaneous and free decisions may initiate a new path through life, and the will does, in fact, implement beliefs; the "will to believe," instead of being intellectually disreputable, may engender beliefs which are creative. He made clear the basic differentiation to be made between "hard determinism," or fatalism, and "soft determinism," in which persons are part of the causal texture of reality, products of real forces, and in turn forces which create new realities. Soft determinism is still determinism, but it gives the freedom to act in terms of what one is. This is still to be distinguished from the kind of freedom represented by a belief in undetermined action.
Not only was the Principles of Psychology universally acclaimed, but James, as teacher, dynamically taught a generation concerned with psychology and its relation to life. The playwright and poet Gertrude Stein, for example, was a Radcliffe-Harvard student of James, who put the notion of the "stream of thought" or "stream of consciousness" to work in American letters. Many of his lectures, both at Harvard and elsewhere, became landmarks of the era of social confrontation, notably "The Moral Equivalent of War," in which he pleaded for warlike intensities in devotion to nonwar like social struggles.
During the last decade of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, James was plainly moving away from the new "experimental psychology" of the university laboratories to the world of personal, subjective, philosophically challenging problems, such as the perennial problem of whether there is really any truth independent of the working principles which are known to be effective in one's own action (pragmatism). These questions were being raised in new form by many, notably Charles Peirce, and James himself offered the term pragmatism as "a new name for some old ways of thinking." During the last years of his life he was constantly asked to explain and develop pragmatism, and it became a major American way of thinking.
Lectures on Philosophy
Very great indeed was the impact of James's extraordinary lectures delivered at Edinburgh in 1901 under the title "The Varieties of Religious Experience." This is regarded by many as the first great, insightful application of psychology to the study of the religious life. Insisting that the religious experience of "individual men in their solitude" must be studied independently of medical preconceptions, he distinguished between the "religion of healthymindedness" and the "sick soul." James showed how a wider and deeper range of sensitivity, often shown by the sick soul, may lead to meaningful experiences of deep change or conversion and to states of ecstasy and self-renewal.
The concluding lectures were given to the psychology of mystical experience as represented in the mystical tradition of such men as Plotinus and of modern men, Eastern and Western, who were speaking and writing of "cosmic consciousness." To James it appeared that the message of mystical experience, the "windows" into experience which it offered, could well be absolute and compelling for the individual, though, of course, not compelling to the outside observer or analyst who has not had such experiences. Here he stressed the importance of many "altered states of consciousness." (He himself studied nitrous oxide intoxication and was keenly interested in the new drug experiences of the day as well as in a variety of trance and hypnotic states: a person's present mode of consciousness is only one from among many "states of consciousness that exist.")
James strongly supported "mental healing." He went to the Boston State House to protest the attempt of many physicians to require non medical practitioners to take a type of medical examination as a qualification for practice; he insisted that no one can really tell by what means the sick are healed. He had himself, shortly before that time, sought help from a "healer" and remained entirely empirical regarding the question of gains in health due to unorthodox sources.
In the same empirical spirit James pursued throughout his life many types of psychological phenomena rejected by official science, such as apparitions, hauntings, and spiritualist trance mediumship. In 1884 he discovered Mrs. L. E. Piper, who, in the sittings given to his wife and his wife's mother, had referred to information which they were positive Piper could not have acquired through any normal channel. In his own sittings, equally convincing evidence was given, and many of James's professional friends, both in the United States and in Britain, had similar experiences which entirely convinced them of the reality of her powers, which, at the very least, included telepathy from distant persons. He took the initiative in organizing an American counterpart to the Society for Psychical Research, which had just been launched in London in 1882. He made firsthand studies of the powers of other clairvoyants whose work was drawn to his attention. In a much-quoted essay, "What Psychical Research Has Accomplished," he asserted that telepathy, as represented by Piper's experiences, constituted a true breakthrough into a world of vast scientific importance. Her powers pointed to a new kind of reality. Regarding the spiritualist conviction that survival of death was established through such research, he remained uncertain.
James was also profoundly impressed by the current French studies of "subconscious ideas." Pierre Janet, for example, had apparently shown that in deep hypnotic trance a man may act upon ideas which have been planted in his mind, though he is plainly not conscious at the time. He gave much attention likewise to dreaming, to hypnotic consciousness, and to multiple personality. He felt that Sigmund Freud was one of those to whom the future belonged. In his last years his emphasis was not on rounding out a system of ideas but in gaining new varieties of experience. His expression "radical empiricism" is his fortunate summary of a whole approach to life. He was empirical in the sense of looking always for the quality of immediate experience and remaining loyal to this first reality, as against the abstractions which seek an "absolute," an approach characteristic of much of the German, British, and American philosophy of his era. He was radical in the sense that he wanted to find the very roots of reality in the nature of experience itself. Faith healing, psychical research, and the stream of consciousness were all to be embraced for the same reason: they offered realities which were incapable of being rationally ruled out of their right to exist. So, too, the "pluralistic universe" of which he wrote in the last years, when pragmatism was everywhere being discussed, was a loosely articulated collection of separate parts, each aspect of which must be respected although a philosophically unified system cannot be created from it.
James's correspondence was edited by his son, Henry James, The Letters of William James (1920). Robert C. LeClair edited The Letters of William James and Theodore Flournoy (1966). The two indispensable works for studying James are Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (2 vols., 1935), and Gay Wilson Allen, William James: A Biography (1967). Also useful are Edward C. Moore, William James (1965), and Bernard P. Brennan, William James (1968). For a discussion of William, his brother Henry, and his father Henry, Sr., see C. Hartley Grattan, The Three Jameses: A Family of Minds (1932).
Bjork, Daniel W., The compromised scientist: William James in the Development of American psychology, New York: Columbia University Press, 1983.
Bjork, Daniel W., William James: the center of his vision, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Feinstein, Howard M., Becoming William James, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984.
Lewis, R. W. B. (Richard Warrington Baldwin), The Jameses: a family narrative, New York: Anchor Books, 1993.
Weissbourd, Katherine, Growing up in the James family: Henry James, Sr., as son and father, Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1985.
William James remembered, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1996. □
"William James." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404703275.html
"William James." Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2004. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3404703275.html
(b. New York, N. Y., 11 January 1842; d. Chocorua, New Hampshire, 26 August 1910)
James was the first of five children of Mary Robertson Walsh and Henry James, Sr.; their second was the novelist Henry James. Although he studied with tutors and in schools in the United States and throughout Europe, James may most properly be said to have received his early education at the family dinner table. The elder Henry James was a man of private means who had turned to travel and Swedenborgianism as perhaps the ultimate result of a childhood accident by which he had lost a leg. Having found the consolations of intellect and philosophy, he encouraged his children in critical investigation and discussion; it is probably significant that William James’s first published book (1885) was his edition of The Literary Remains of Henry James, a work which rises above mere filial piety in containing, in the introduction, an early statement of some of his own religious views. The Remains themselves show their author to have been something rather more than the usual nineteenth-century American religious crank, and certainly his sons seem to have benefited from his tutelage.
James’s first ambition was to become an artist, and in 1860 the entire family relocated from Paris to the United States, so that he could study painting with William Morris Hunt in Newport, Rhode Island. John La Farge, a fellow student, noticed his talent, but James soon changed his mind about his vocation and took up the study of chemistry, enrolling in the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard in 1861. At Lawrence, James attended Agassiz’s lectures, which led him from chemistry into the biological sciences. In 1864 he entered the Harvard Medical School, which he left in April 1865 to join Agassiz on an expedition up the Amazon. It was not a happy journey. James found that he had no skill as a field naturalist—indeed, he recorded that he hated collecting—and he became ill. He resumed his medical studies in 1866, but discontinued them again shortly thereafter because of lingering poor health. The following year he went to Germany to take a course of water cures and to study the physiology of the nervous system. He returned after two years, still sick, but able to take the M.D. from Harvard in 1869.
James never practiced medicine. The three years immediately following the award of his degree he remained at home, too unwell for regular employment, reading, writing occasional literary reviews, and apparently undergoing the shattering spiritual experience that he later described in “The Sick Soul” in The Varieties of Religious Experience. His recovery came in part through his reading of the Essais de critique generale of Charles Renouvier, from which he formulated the belief in volitional free will that shook him from his moral lethargy. By 1873 he was well enough to accept enthusiastically an appointment as instructor in anatomy and physiology at Harvard, where he was subsequently assistant professor of physiology (1876), assistant professor of philosophy (1880), and professor of philosophy (1885).
In 1878 James married Alice Howe Gibbens, of Cambridge; the four of their five children who lived past infancy were brought up in the Jamesian tradition of travel, familial affection, and abstract discussion. In the same year he contracted to write a textbook of psychology, to be brought out in two years’ time. The book was published only in 1890, but it was definitive—The Principles of Psychology.
The intent of the Principles was descriptive and antimetaphysical; it marks one of the earliest attempts to treat psychology as a natural science James conceived of the mind as being subject to both Darwinian evolutionary principles and to acts of the will. Consciousness exists for practical results, and its characteristics are conditioned by such result; it flows—“the stream of consciousness” is one of James’s many felicitous phrases—and the perception of a fact is represented as a brief halt in the flow. An innovation is James’s recognition of the significance of transitive as well as substantive processes; he includes the fringe areas of though, dimly if at all perceived, as “the free water of consciousness.” He further treated of the will, defining it as the relation of the mind to concepts, or attention, and described pathological states of mind, drawing on the work of the European psychologists Charcot, Janet, and Binet. (That James was working along the same lines as European scientists is further shown by the James- Lange theory of the physiological bases of the emotions, formulated at about this time, independently and almost simultaneously, by James and the Danish physiologist C. G. Lange.) The Principle was an immediate success, and an abridgment of the original two-volume work, the Briefer Course, was published in 1892.
James’s next book, The Will to Believe and Other Essays on Popular Philosophy (1897), contains his dedication to C. S. Peirce,“To whose philosophic comradeship in old times and to whose writings in more recent years I owe more incitement and help than I can express or repay.”The first four essays are concerned with what James called“the legitimacy of religious faith,” while others take up determinism, the moral life, great men (including a discussion of their place in Darwinian theory), individuality, Hegel, and paychic research (James was a member of an association for that purpose).To these religious arguments he added, in 1898, the Ingersoll lecture, given at Harvard, Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine, in which he held the compatibility of immortality with “our present mundane consciousness” None of these essays gives any sort of metaphysical formula; all suggest cheerfully that belief is probably not a bad thing.
In the summer of 1898 James sustained an irreparable heart lesion while on a strenuous hike in the New Hampshire mountains. He continued to philosophize and write, however: Talks to Teachers on Psychology: and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals was published in 1899, while 1902 saw the publication of his major work of descriptive psychology, The Varieties of Religious Experience, being the Gifford lectures on natural religion delivered at the University of Edinburgh. In the Varieties, James approached the religious impulse in man largely through individual documents, presenting a full panoply of its forms. In a postscript he posited the necessity of such pluralism, and set out a brief statement of the pragmatic value of religion. Although the book contains no notable synthesis, its wit and style give it a special place in American letters.
In 1906 James lectured at Stanford University for a half term (a tenure that was cut short by the San Francisco earthquake, which largely destroyed the campus). In 1907 he gave the Lowell Institute lectures, choosing as his subject“Pragmatism,”the theory with which his name is most closely linked. These lectures gave a system to ideas apparent in all of his previously published work and were themselves published in 1907 as Pragmatism:A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. James gave credit for the invention of pragmatism as an entity to Peirce, although it may more accurately ne said to have grown out of their association in the Metaphysical Club that they had founded in Cambridge in the 1870‘s. James extended Peirce’ notion of pragmatism and, indeed, refashioned it. Peirce was concerned with practical results as an empirical tool; James moved them into the moral realm of the good and the true. Thus, he was able to define good as the plurality of practical results beneficial to conduct and could state that a theory is true insofar as it “works”(thereby leaving his own theory open to the ready criticism that it is self-justifying). He insisted that the same flexibility must be granted to metaphysics. Such extensions would seem to have appalled Peirce, but James’s book became startlingly popular and influential in the United States, perhaps because of its essential Americanness.
James resigned from all teaching duties at Harvard in 1907. In 1908 he gave the Hibbert lectures at Manchester College, Oxford, which were collected as A Pluralist Universe (1909).These, in effect, develop the idea of a multiplicity of standards of truth and rationality that is suggested in the postscript to The Varieties of Religious Experience. He died at his summer house in New Hampshire, leaving incomplete Some Problems of Philosophy: A Beginning of an Introduction to Philosophy, which work nevertheless contains some important which work never-theless contains some important formulations of his ideas, in particular those regarding perception. Another especially significant work, the essay“Does Consciousness Exist?, “was also published posthu-mously. In it, James speculates on a single primal material, which he calls “pure experience.”.The essay was published in Essays in Radical Empiricism, a term James had invented and used in the preface of The Will to Believe
James is buried in Cambridge Cemetery, next to his novelist brother Henry—with whom his lifelong relationship had been complex, mutually and advantageously critical, affectionate, and epistolary—and near his novelist friend William Dean Howells.
I. Original Works. Ralph Bartoy, Annotated Bibliography of the Writings of William James (New York, 1920), lists more than 300 items and may be considered definitive. See also his son Henry James, ed., The Letters of William James, 2 vols.(Boston, 1920); and F. O. Matthiessen, The James Family, Including Selections from the Writings of Henry James, Senior, William, Henry, and Alice James (New York, 1947), passim.
II. Secondary Literature. Charming personal recollections may be found in the autobiographical sketches of Henry James, A Samll Boy and Others (New York, 1913); and Notes of a Son and Brother (New York, 1914). Although a good short treatment, especially of James as a teacher, is Lloyd Morris, William James. The Message of a Modern Mind (New York-London, 1950), the best formal biography remains Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, 2 vols.(Boston, 1935).
For a brief general discussion of pragmatism, its beginnings, its influence, and James’s part in it, see Philip P. Wiener, “Pragmatism,” in Dictionary of the History of Ideas (New York, 1973), which includes a useful bibliography.
"James, William." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830902165.html
"James, William." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. 2008. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2830902165.html
James, William 1842-1910
William James was born in New York City on January 11, 1842, and died in Chocurua, New Hampshire, on August 26, 1910. He was one of the most important and influential American thinkers of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century and is particularly known for his contributions to the growth of psychology as a scientific field of study and to the school of philosophy known as pragmatism.
James came from a distinguished family. His father, Henry James Sr. (1811–1882), was a philosopher and author in his own right and a close friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). His younger brother, Henry James Jr. (1843–1916), became a highly regarded novelist and literary figure. In his early years William James experienced a crisis in deciding on a career. He briefly studied art and painting but was convinced by his father to pursue scientific studies instead. While attending Harvard Medical School in the mid-1860s, James spent a year traveling and studying in Germany, and it was during this time that he was exposed to the research being done in that country on the relationship between physiology and psychology, a direction that would lay the groundwork for the emergence of psychology as a scientific discipline.
After returning to Harvard and completing his medical degree, James joined the Harvard faculty in the early 1870s. He served first as an instructor of anatomy and physiology, and then in 1875 began offering a course in psychology based on the ideas he had encountered in Germany. In the same year he established at Boylston Hall one of the first experimental laboratories for psychological research. Among his important early contributions to the field of psychology was his formulation, simultaneous with that of the Danish psychologist Carl Lange (1834–1900), of the James-Lange theory of emotion, which argues that emotion follows, rather than precedes, physiological stimulus. He continued to focus on the study of psychology throughout the 1880s and in 1890 published his great, two-volume work The Principles of Psychology. The work, which had taken him twelve years to write, gained him an international reputation and stands as a landmark in the development of psychology as a scientific field of study.
James’s approach to psychology was based on what he later called (in the preface to The Will to Believe, 1897) “radical empiricism.” In this view, human consciousness resembles a flowing stream of undifferentiated objects or data out of which the mind selects specific items, by virtue of personal interest or need, on which to focus its attention. This theory of the mind, and especially its epistemological implications, led James increasingly to the study of philosophy, in which he first offered courses at Harvard in the 1880s, and in particular to the philosophical ideas of pragmatism.
During his earliest days as a teacher at Harvard, James had been part of a group known as the Metaphysical Club that included among its members Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914), considered to be the founder of pragmatic philosophy. After the publication of Principles of Psychology in 1890, as James turned more to the investigation of philosophical and epistemological questions in his work, Peirce’s ideas influenced his direction. The root assumption of pragmatic epistemology is that theoretical ideas ought to be judged in terms of their practical consequences—if some real benefit accrues from holding a particular idea, then it is valuable; if there is no discernable benefit, it can be discarded. In this view, truth should never be viewed as wholly complete or absolute, because one must be prepared to adjust it to accommodate new information and new understandings.
Although James’s best-known discussion of pragmatism appears in the essay collection Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907), an earlier collection, The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), also offers a good expression of his thought. As these titles suggest, James was by no means strictly an academic philosopher but instead sought to make his ideas accessible to a general audience. To this end his essays, often written originally as public lectures, are both interesting and highly readable, and he demonstrates a particular skill in using examples drawn from everyday life. In one of his best known short essays, “What Pragmatism Means” (in Pragmatism ), he begins with a story about a group of individuals on a camping trip arguing over the position of a squirrel on a tree and then uses this incident as a way to discuss the pragmatic approach to truth. James also felt strongly that philosophy ought to address the significant social and moral issues of the times. In his essay “The Moral Equivalent of War,” based on a talk he gave at Stanford University in 1906, James argued for a form of organized national service that anticipated the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s as well as later programs such as VISTA and AmeriCorps.
Pragmatism is sometimes seen as a philosophy that destroys any hope of discovering absolute truth and that leads, through its emphasis on “usefulness” as a primary criterion for establishing truth, to moral relativism. James to some degree anticipated these concerns in his work. Pragmatic epistemology, in his view, remains open to the introduction of new information, especially information resulting from new scientific discoveries, and his application of pragmatic principles to the questions of ethics and even to religion led him to hold highly traditional views on both. In essays such as “The Will to Believe” and “Reflex Action and Theism” (in The Will to Believe ) and “Pragmatism and Religion” (in Pragmatism ) he set forth the reasons for believing in a theistic God. In fact the study of religion was a matter of considerable importance to James, and his wide-ranging study of religious experience, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), made a significant contribution to the study of comparative religion.
James’s ideas were extremely significant. They influenced a generation of thinkers who followed him, most notably the great philosopher-educator John Dewey (1859–1952), and they played a role in forming the underlying mind-set—of social experimentation and reform—that characterized the Progressive (1900–1917) and New Deal (1933–1939) periods in U.S. history.
SEE ALSO Emotion; Empiricism; Epistemology; Functionalism; National Service Programs; New Deal, The; Philosophy; Pragmatism; Progressive Movement; Psychology; Religion; Stream of Consciousness; Theory of Mind
James, William. 1890. The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. New York: Henry Holt.
James, William. 1897. The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy. New York: Longmans, Green.
James, William. 1902. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. New York: Modern Library.
James, William. 1907. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. New York: Longmans, Green.
Cotkin, George. 1990. William James, Public Philosopher. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Crunden, Robert M. 1994. From Anti-Social Darwinism to Pragmatism, 1865–1917. In A Brief History of American Culture, vol. 8, 144–158. New York: Paragon House.
Donnelly, Margaret E., ed. 1992. Reinterpreting the Legacy of William James. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Putnam, Ruth Anna, ed. 1997. The Cambridge Companion to William James. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Simon, Linda. 1998. Genuine Reality: A Life of William James. New York: Harcourt Brace.
"James, William." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045301203.html
"James, William." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3045301203.html
James, William (1842-1910)
James, William (1842-1910)
Professor of psychology at Harvard University and one of the founders of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR). James was born in New York City on January 11, 1842, and obtained his M.D. in 1870 from Harvard Medical School. In 1872 he was appointed instructor in anatomy and physiology at Harvard College. He went on to study psychology and hygiene and in 1890 published his famous work The Principles of Psychology. In 1897 James became professor of philosophy at Harvard and lectured at universities in the United States and Britain. He developed the doctrine of pragmatism, and one of his most important philosophical books is The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), which has been an influential work in the attempt to reconcile science and religion.
The first case that piqued James's interest in psychic phenomena is reported in the Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research (vol. 1, part 2, pp. 221-31). It is the case of a drowned girl whose body was seen by a Mrs. Titus of Lebanon, New Hampshire, in a dream. The girl's head was under the timber trussing of a bridge at Enfield. Divers had searched for the girl's body in vain, but following Titus's vision they found it.
The discovery of Leonora Piper 's mediumship for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was attributed to James. His mother-in-law, led by curiosity, paid a visit to Piper in 1885. She returned with a perplexing story. Seeking a simple explanation for the supernatural nature of the facts related to him, James took a rationalist view. Then a few days later, with his wife, he went to get a direct personal impression. The Jameses arrived unannounced, and they were careful not to make any reference to a relative who had preceded them. James later noted:
"My impression after this first visit was that Mrs. P. was either possessed of supernormal powers or knew the members of my wife's family by sight and had by some lucky coincidence become acquainted with such a multitude of their domestic circumstances as to produce the startling impression which she did. My later knowledge of her sittings and personal acquaintance with her has led me to absolutely reject the latter explanation, and to believe that she has supernormal powers."
For 18 months after his first experiments, James was virtually in charge of all arrangements for Piper's séances. When, because of other duties, he dropped his inquiries for a period of two years, he wrote to the SPR (London) and induced them to engage Piper for experiments. "The result," he wrote of his personal investigations, "is to make me feel as absolutely certain as I am of any personal fact in the world that she knows things in her trances which she cannot possibly have heard in her waking state." He admitted there was a strong case in favor of survival when the following message, obtained while a Ms. Robbins had a sitting with Piper, was submitted to him: "There is a person named Child, who has suddenly come and sends his love to William and to his own wife who is living. He says L …" Neither Robbins nor Piper knew Child, who was an intimate friend of James and whose Christian name began with L.
In the autumn of 1899 Piper visited James at his country house in New Hampshire. There he came to know her personally better than ever before. "It was in great measure," wrote Alta L. Piper in her biography of the medium, "due to his sympathetic encouragement and understanding of the many difficulties, with which she found herself confronted in the early days of her career, that my mother was able to adhere unfalteringly to the onerous course which she had set herself to follow."
In an often quoted lecture in 1890 James declared:
"To upset the conclusion that all crows are black, there is no need to seek demonstration that no crow is black; it is sufficient to produce one white crow; a single one is sufficient." Since his proclamation of Piper as his "one white crow," the concept of the single "white crow" has become a cliché in psychical research.
James published several papers in the Proceedings of the SPR and an important essay on psychical research in his book The Will to Believe (1902). In a lecture at Oxford in 1909 he announced his firm conviction that "most of the phenomena of psychical research are rooted in reality." Shortly before his death he stated in the American Magazine that, after 25 years of psychical research, he held the spiritistic hypothesis unproven and was inclined "to picture the situation as an interaction between slumbering faculties in the automatist's mind and a cosmic environment of other consciousness of some sort which is able to work upon them."
James served as president of the SPR, London, from 1894 to 1895 and as vice president from 1896 to 1910. His name and prestige and his open espousal of the cause of psychical research were a great benefit to the nascent science. He died at Chocorua, New Hampshire, August 26, 1910. His alleged return after death is discussed in a long chapter in James Hyslop 's Contact with the Other World (1919).
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.
James, William. Essays in Psychical Research. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986.
——. Letters of William James and Theodore Flournoy. Edited by R. C. Le Clair. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.
——. William James on Psychical Research. Edited by Gardner Murphy and Robert O. Ballou. New York: Viking Press, 1960.
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.
"James, William (1842-1910)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403802451.html
"James, William (1842-1910)." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. 2001. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403802451.html
American philosopher and psychologist who was the principal figure in the establishment and development of functionalism.
William James was born in New York City to a wealthy, educated family that included the future novelist, Henry James, his younger brother. The family traveled extensively in Europe and America in James's youth. James studied chemistry, physiology, and medicine at Harvard College, but was unable to settle on a career, his indecision intensified by physical ailments and depression . In 1872, at the invitation of Harvard's president, Charles Eliot, James began teaching physiology at Harvard and achieved a reputation as a committed and inspiring instructor. Throughout the 1870s, his interest in psychology—initially sparked by an article by the German physiologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)—grew. In 1875, James taught the first psychology course offered at an American university and in the same year received funding for the first psychological laboratory in the United States.
James began writing The Principles of Psychology in 1878 and published it in 1890. It had been intended as a textbook, but the original version, over 1,000 pages in length, was unsuitable for this purpose (James wrote an abridged version shortly afterwards). Nevertheless, the original text became a seminal work in the field, lauded for James's influential ideas and accessible writing style. James believed that psychology should be seen as closely linked to physiology and other biological sciences. He was among the earliest to argue that mental activity should be understood as dynamic functional processes rather than discrete structural states. The overall name generally associated with this outlook is functionalism , and it contrasts with the structural division of consciousness into separate elements that was the practice among early German psychologists, including Wundt, whose ideas James eventually
came to reject. Influenced by Charles Darwin 's theories of evolution in On the Origin of Species, the functionalist view held that the true goal of psychology was the study of how consciousness functions to aid human beings in adapting to their environment .
Probably the most well-known individual topic treated in Principles of Psychology is the concept of thought as an unbroken but constantly changing stream, which added the phrase "stream of consciousness" to the English language. Following in the footsteps of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, James argues that the exact same sensation or idea can never occur twice, and that all experiences are molded by the ones that precede them. He also emphasized the continuous quality of consciousness, even when interrupted by such phenomena as seizures or sleep . In contrast, scientific attempts to "break up" or "freeze" consciousness in order to study its disparate elements, such as those of Wundt or Edward Titchener (1867-1927), seemed misguided to James. Also treated prominently in Principles of Psychology is the importance and power of habits, as a force either to resist or cultivate, depending on the circumstances.
An especially influential part of James's book is the chapter on emotion , which expresses a principle that became known as the James-Lange Theory because the Danish physiologist Carl Lange published similar views at about the same time as James. The theory states that physical responses to stimuli precede emotional ones. In other words, James posited that emotions actually result from rather than cause physical changes. Based on this conclusion, James argued that a person's emotional state could be improved by changing his or her physical activities or attitudes.
Related to this observation about emotion were James's theories of the human will, which were also central to Principles of Psychology and contained the germ of his later philosophy of pragmatism. His emphasis on the will had its roots in his personal life: while in his twenties, an essay on free will by the French philosopher Charles-Bernard Renouvier (1815-1903) had inspired him to overcome his emotional problems. James rejected the idea of human beings responding passively to outside influences without power over their circumstances. Having himself triumphed by a strenuous exertion of the will, he recommended this course for others as well, defining an act of will as one characterized by focusing one's attention strongly on the object to be attained.
James served as president of the American Psychological Association in 1894 and 1904. He applied some of his psychological theories to his other studies, including education and religion. In 1909, the year before his death, James traveled to Clark University to meet Sigmund Freud , the founder of psychoanalysis , during the latter's only visit to the United States. In addition to Principles of Psychology and his other books, James had a great impact on psychology in America through his teaching. The work of his student G. Stanley Hall (1844-1924) provided a link between James's psychological theories and the functionalist school of psychology that flourished during the 1920s. James's other books include The Will to Believe and Other Essays (1897), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), Pragmatism (1907), A Pluralistic Universe (1909), The Meaning of Truth (1909), and Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912).
Toward the end of his career, James concentrated his work in the area of philosophy and maintained few ties to the field of psychology.
Perry, Ralph B. The Thought and Character of William James. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1948.
"James, William." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2001. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406000353.html
"James, William." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. 2001. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3406000353.html
James, William (1842-1910)
William James (1842-1910)
The Education of a Scientist. The elder brother of novelist Henry James, William James entered the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University in 1861 and transferred to Harvard Medical School in 1864 without having first obtained an undergraduate degree. In 1865-1866 he accompanied Harvard biology professor Louis Agassiz on the Thayer Expedition to Brazil, where he collected fish specimens. While there he contracted a severe physical ailment that apparently left him in a weakened condition for the rest of his life. Like so many other American scientists of his generation, James studied in Germany to perfect his laboratory technique and to become acquainted with the latest ideas in experimental physiology. In 1867-1868 he attended the University of Berlin, where he was enrolled in Emil Du Bois-Reymond’s physiology course. Listening to this great physiologist convinced James that psychology—then a branch of philosophy—had to be recast in the mold of experimental physiology. Returning to the United States, he received an M.D. degree from Harvard in 1869.
Professor at Harvard. Joining the Harvard faculty as a lecturer on anatomy and physiology in 1872, James began teaching a course on the relations between physiology and psychology in 1875. As psychologist G. Stanley Hall later recalled, in 1876 James organized a rudimentary laboratory, later called the Laboratory for Psychophysics, “in a tiny room under the stairway of the Agassiz Museum,” in which he had “a metronome, a device for whirling a frog, a horopter chart and one or two bits of apparatus.” James taught his first philosophy course in 1879, and the following year he moved to the Department of Psychology and Philosophy, where he began to develop the philosophical ideas that he would later label “pragmatism” and worked on a psychology textbook. James complained that he lacked a theory of cognition—how people know what they know—and that he did not see how he could write a comprehensive text without one. He finally concluded that he should omit metaphysical questions and treat psychology as if it were a natural science. The core of his approach was to describe the nervous system as if it were a kind of electrical network that receives stimuli and transmits them to the brain. He concluded that this process had been perfected through Darwinian natural selection, in which the mind develops in such a way as to aid organisms in adapting to their environments.
The Standard Psychology Text. James’s great textbook, Principles of Psychology, was finally published in 1890 and remained the standard psychology text well into the twentieth century. The final product mixed physiological determinism with more subjective and creative observations on how the mind functions. James dissented from prior, mainly philosophical, commentators such as David Hume and Immanuel Kant who denied that the mind was capable of perceiving real time and space, both of which were abstract categories. According to James, human beings can feel duration and perceive through their senses the three dimensions of space. To describe this process James devised the famous metaphor “stream of consciousness,” whereby human beings cumulatively build on their experience of the passage of time. His emphasis on experience linked him with the tradition of British empiricism, which held that observation was at the core of science. James broadened the concept to include the personal, subjective experiences of each individual.
Pragmatism. The philosophical school known as pragmatism has its origins in the Metaphysical Club, whose members, including James and Charles Sanders Peirce, met in Cambridge during the 1870s. The term itself was coined by Peirce. As later reformulated by James, pragmatism is a general philosophy that builds on his psychological concept of experience and restores the metaphysical dimension that he pruned from his Principles of Psychology. Truth, James believed, was not something to be discovered; rather it is invented from one’s own experience.
Gay Wilson Allen, William James: A Biography (New York: Viking, 1967);
Kim Townsend, Manhood at Harvard: William James and Others (New York: Norton, 1996).
"James, William (1842-1910)." American Eras. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536601747.html
"James, William (1842-1910)." American Eras. 1997. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536601747.html
William James was a popular and influential philosopher whose writings and theories influenced various areas of U.S. life, including the movement known as legal realism.
James was born in New York City on January 11, 1842, to Henry James Sr. and Mary Walsh James. Comfortably supported by an inheritance, his parents stressed their children's abilities to make independent choices. James's formal schooling was irregular, and he studied frequently in England, France, Switzerland, and Germany. James pursued an enduring interest in the natural sciences, earning a medical degree from Harvard University in 1869, though he never intended to practice medicine. He joined Harvard's faculty in 1872, teaching anatomy and physiology. He was also interested in psychology and philosophy, seeing these as related fields through his grounding in scientific studies. He began teaching those disciplines at Harvard in 1875 and 1879, respectively. He retired from the Harvard faculty in 1907.
In his first major work, Principles in Psychology (1890), James began to articulate a philosophy based on free will and personal experience. In a theory popularized as stream of consciousness, James argued that each person's thought is independent and personal, with the mind free to choose between any number of options. The subjective choices each individual makes are determined by the interconnected string of prior experiences in that person's life. In James's thought, choice and belief are always contingent, with no possibility for some permanent, definitive structure based outside of personal experience.
James's Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907) developed further his idea that knowledge, meaning, and truth are essentially the result of each person's understanding of the experiences in her or his life. Mere formalism has no absolute authority; personal experience forms the framework of belief and action for each individual.
These important elements provided the basis for the movement known as legal realism. James's rejection of immutable truths in favor of experience as the mode to interpret reality was picked up by roscoe pound, oliver wendell holmes jr., and others in the 1920s and 1930s as a challenge to the prevailing belief that legal principles are based on an absolute structure of truth. Legal realists connected law with social and economic realities, both as legislated and as ruled on by courts. They argued that law is a tool for achieving social and policy goals, rather than the implementation of absolute truth, whether or not it is consciously treated that way. James's empiricism, based on experience as the root of human action, had a corollary within legal realism's use of social science as an analytical tool within law.
Though legal realism as a movement was considered to be played out by the 1940s, the belief that varied forces influence the actors and changes within the legal system has become more standard than the view that legal principles are immutable truths. James provided the philosophical underpinning for this shift in thinking.
"All the higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary. They present themselves far less in the guise of effects of past experience than in that of probable causes of future experience."
James died on August 26, 1910, in Chocorua, New Hampshire.
Allen, Gay Wilson. 1967. William James: A Biography. New York: Viking Press.
Cloud, Morgan. 1993. "Pragmatism, Positivism, and Principles in Fourth Amendment Theory." University of California at Los Angeles Law Review 41 (December).
Feinstein, Howard M. 1999. Becoming William James. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.
Hackney, James R., Jr. 1995. "The Intellectual Origins of American Strict Products Liability: A Case Study in American Pragmatic Instrumentalism." American Journal of Legal History 39 (October).
Myers, Gerald E. 1986. William James: His Life and Thought. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press.
Schlegel, John H. 1995. American Legal Realism and Empirical Social Science. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press.
Simon, Linda. 1999. Genuine Reality: A Life of William James. Chicago, Ill.: Univ. of Chicago Press.
"James, William." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437702425.html
"James, William." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3437702425.html
William James, 1842–1910, American philosopher, b. New York City, M.D. Harvard, 1869; son of the Swedenborgian theologian Henry James and brother of the novelist Henry James. In 1872 he joined the Harvard faculty as lecturer on anatomy and physiology, continuing to teach until 1907, after 1880 in the department of psychology and philosophy. In 1890 he published his brilliant and epoch-making Principles of Psychology, in which the seeds of his philosophy are already discernible. James's fascinating style and his broad culture and cosmopolitan outlook made him the most influential American thinker of his day.
His philosophy has three principal aspects—voluntarism, pragmatism, and "radical empiricism." He construes consciousness as essentially active, selective, interested, teleological. We "carve out" our world from "the jointless continuity of space." Will and interest are thus primary; knowledge is instrumental. The true is "only the expedient in our way of thinking." Ideas do not reproduce objects, but prepare for, or lead the way to, them. The function of an idea is to indicate "what conceivable effects of a practical kind the object may involve—what sensations we are to expect from it and what reactions we must prepare." This theory of knowledge James called pragmatism, a term already used by Charles S. Peirce. James's "radical empiricism" is a philosophy of "pure experience," which rejects all transcendent principles and finds experience organized by means of "conjunctive relations" that are as much a matter of direct experience as things themselves. Moreover, James regards consciousness as only one type of conjunctive relation within experience, not as an entity above, or distinct from, its experience. James's other philosophical writings include The Will to Believe (1897), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), Pragmatism (1907), A Pluralistic Universe (1909), The Meaning of Truth (1909), Some Problems in Philosophy (1911), and Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912).
See his letters (ed. by his son Henry James, 1920); the Harvard Univ. Press edition of The Works of William James (17 vol., 1975–88); biographies by E. C. Moore (1965), G. W. Allen (1967), L. Simon (1998), and R. Richardson (2006); R. B. Perry, The Thought and Character of William James (2 vol. 1935, abr. ed. 1948) and In the Spirit of William James (1938, repr. 1958); studies by B. P. Brennan (1968), J. Wild (1969), P. K. Dooley (1974), and H. S. Levinson (1981); J. Barzun, A Stroll with William James (1984). See also studies of the James family by F. O. Matthiessen (1947), R. W. B. Lewis (1991), and P. Fisher (2008).
"James, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-JamesWi.html
"James, William." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2016. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-JamesWi.html
JOHN BOWKER. "James, William." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. 1997. Encyclopedia.com. (May 27, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O101-JamesWilliam.html
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"James, William." World Encyclopedia. 2005. Retrieved May 27, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O142-JamesWilliam.html