William James Quotes
A collection of quotes by William James.
William James (1842-1910) was an influential American philosopher and psychologist known for his contributions to the fields of psychology, pragmatism, and philosophy of religion. Born in New York City into a prominent intellectual family, James received a diverse education and was exposed to various philosophical and religious ideas from a young age. He attended Harvard Medical School and eventually became a professor of psychology and philosophy at Harvard University.
James made significant contributions to the burgeoning field of psychology, particularly in the areas of theories of emotion and the study of consciousness. His groundbreaking work, "The Principles of Psychology," published in 1890, remains a seminal piece in the field. James emphasized the importance of studying individual experiences and their subjective qualities, diverging from the prevailing emphasis on introspection at the time.
Recognized as one of the founders of pragmatism, James advocated for a practical approach to knowledge and truth, focusing on the practical consequences of beliefs. He argued that truth should be judged based on its usefulness rather than its correspondence to an objective reality. This pragmatic perspective heavily influenced American philosophy and shaped disciplines beyond philosophy, including education and social sciences.
Additionally, James had a deep interest in philosophy of religion and explored the connections between religious experiences and psychological phenomena. His lectures on the subject were later compiled into the book "The Varieties of Religious Experience," which delves into the diverse nature of religious beliefs and the impact of religious experiences on individuals' lives.
William James's writings continue to be widely read and studied, making him one of the most significant figures in American intellectual history. His interdisciplinary approach and emphasis on the practical, subjective aspects of human experience have had a lasting impact on psychology, philosophy, and broader cultural discourse.
Metaphysics means nothing but an unusually obstinate effort to think clearly. The fundamental conceptions of psychology are practically very clear to us, but theoretically they are very confused, and one easily makes the obscurest assumptions in this science without realizing, until challenged, what internal difficulties they involve.
Hardly ever can a youth transferred to the society of his betters unlearn the nasality and other vices of speech bred in him by the associations of his growing years. Hardly ever, indeed, no matter how much money there be in his pocket, can he ever learn to dress like a gentleman-born. The merchants offer their wares as eagerly to him as to the veriest swell, but he simply cannot buy the right things.
I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, and yet rending the hardest monuments of mans pride, if you give them time. The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, under-dogs always, till history comes, after they are long dead, and puts them on top. You need take no notice of these ebullitions of spleen, which are probably quite unintelligible to anyone but myself.
The most violent revolutions in an individuals beliefs leave most of his old order standing. Time and space, cause and effect, nature and history, and ones own biography remain untouched. New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions. It marries old opinion to new fact so as ever to show a minimum of jolt, a maximum of continuity.