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Quotes by William James

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Wikipedia Summary for William James

William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was an American philosopher, historian, and psychologist, and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States.

James is considered to be a leading thinker of the late nineteenth century, one of the most influential philosophers of the United States, and the "Father of American psychology".\n\nAlong with Charles Sanders Peirce, James established the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and is also cited as one of the founders of functional psychology. A Review of General Psychology analysis, published in 2002, ranked James as the 14th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.

A survey published in American Psychologist in 1991 ranked James's reputation in second place,

after Wilhelm Wundt, who is widely regarded as the founder of experimental psychology.

James also developed the philosophical perspective known as radical empiricism. James's work has influenced philosophers and academics such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, Richard Rorty, and Marilynne Robinson.

Born into a wealthy family, James was the son of the Swedenborgian theologian Henry James Sr. and the brother of both the prominent novelist Henry James and the diarist Alice James. James trained as a physician and taught anatomy at Harvard, but never practiced medicine. Instead he pursued his interests in psychology and then philosophy. James wrote widely on many topics, including epistemology, education, metaphysics, psychology, religion, and mysticism. Among his most influential books are The Principles of Psychology, a groundbreaking text in the field of psychology; Essays in Radical Empiricism, an important text in philosophy; and The Varieties of Religious Experience, an investigation of different forms of religious experience, including theories on mind-cure.

Impulse without reason is not enough, and reason without impulse is a poor makeshift.

Most people never run far enough on the first wind to find out they've got a second. Give your dreams all you've got, and you'll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.

What every genuine philosopher (every genuine man, in fact) craves most is praise-although the philosophers generally call it recognition'!

The discovery of the power of our thoughts will prove to be the most important discovery of our time.

Real servants don't try to use God for their purposes. They let God use them for His purposes.

The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature.

Longer Version:

The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour.

The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.

Despair lames most people, but it wakes others fully up.

There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man's lack of faith in his true self.

The real ground for supposing free-will is indeed pragmatic, but it has nothing to do with this contemptible right to punish.

In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important as remembering.

The path to cheerfulness is to sit cheerfully and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there.

To change one's life: start immediately, Do it flamboyantly, no exceptions, no excuses.

It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than
anything else, will affect It's successful outcome.

To leap across an abyss, one is better served by faith than doubt.

Immortality is one of the great spiritual needs of man. The churches have constituted themselves the official guardians of the need, with the result that some of them actually pretend to accord or to withhold it from the individual by their conventional sacraments.

Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

In business for yourself, not by yourself.

The truth remains that, after adolescence has begun, words, words, words, must constitute a large part, and an always larger part as life advances, of what the human being has to learn.

Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain.

An unlearned carpenter of my acquaintance once said in my hearing: There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important. This distinction seems to me to go to the root of the matter.

Equality is attainable as long as you are part of the majority.

Truth is one species of good, and not, as is usually supposed, a category distinct from good, and co-ordinate with it.

All natural goods perish. Riches take wings; fame is a breath; love is a cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish.

One hears of the mechanical equivalent of heat. What we now need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war: something heroic that will speak to men as universally as war does, and yet will be as compatible with their spiritual selves as war has proved itself to be incompatible.

My experience is what I agree to attend to.

The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist.

Longer Version:

The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain points, and higher energies filter in.

Organization and method mean much, but contagious human characters mean more in a university.

The belief in free-will is not in the least incompatible with the belief in Providence, provided you do not restrict the Providence to fulminating nothing but fatal decrees.

Once you accept an idea, it's an idea whose time has come.

If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black, you mustn't seek to show that no crows are; it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.

'Pure experience' is the name I gave to the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories.

My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.

We must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and as carefully guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous.

With mere good intentions hell is proverbially paved.

Language is the most imperfect and expensive means yet discovered for communicating thought.

Our ideas must agree with realities, be such realities concrete or abstract.

A great idea goes through three stages on its way to acceptance: 1) it is dismissed as nonsense, 2) it is acknowledged as true, but insignificant, 3) finally, it is seen to be important, but not really anything new.

A rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those truths were really there, would be an irrational rule.

What was bright and exciting becomes weary, flat, and unprofitable.

The attempt at introspective analysis... is in fact like seizing a spinning top to catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see the darkness.

Instinct leads, logic does but follow.

A winner's attitude: it may be difficult, but it's possible. A loser's attitude: It may be possible, but it's too difficult.

If any one phrase could gather its (religion's) universal message, that phrase would be, -- All is not vanity in this Universe, whatever the appearances may suggest.

Effort is a measure of a Man.

Life feels like a real fight -- as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealities and faithfulnesses, are needed to redeem.

One of the greatest discoveries of our time is that a man can alter the state of their life by altering the state of their mind.

The university most worthy of rational admiration is that one in which your lonely thinker can feel himself lonely, most positively furthered, and most richly fed.

In any project the important factor is your belief. Without belief, there can be no successful outcome.

Man, biologically considered ... is simply the most formidable of all beasts of prey, and, indeed, the only one that preys systematically on its own kind.

The teacher's prime concern should be to ingrain into the pupil that assortment of habits that shall be most useful to him throughout life. Education is for behavior, and habits are the stuff of which behavior consists.

If WE claim only reasonable probability, it will be as much as men who love the truth can ever at any given moment hope to have within their grasp.

If I should now utter piercing shrieks and act like a maniac on this platform, it would make many of you revise your ideas as to the probable worth of my philosophy.

Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible ... faith is the readiness to act in a cause the prosperous issue of which is not certified to us in advance.

Our colleges ought to have lit up in us a lasting relish for a better kind of man, a loss of appetite for mediocrities.

Each of us is in fact what he is almost exclusively by virtue of his imitative-ness.

In modern eyes, precious though wars may be they must not be waged solely for the sake of the ideal harvest. Only when forced upon one, is a war now thought permissible.

A man with no philosophy in him is the most inauspicious and unprofitable of all possible social mates.

Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits.

Longer Version:

Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits. It works in the minutest crannies and it opens outthe widest vistas. It 'bakes no bread', as has been said, but it can inspire our souls with courage.

There is a stream, a succession of states, or waves, or fields (or whatever you please to call them), of knowledge, of feeling, of desire, of deliberation, etc., that constantly pass and repass, and that constitute our inner life.

Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void.

Longer Version:

Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void. Not the Jews of the captivity, but those of the days of Solomon 's glory are those from whom the pessimistic utterances in our Bible come.

In order to disprove the assertion that all crows are black, one white crow is sufficient.

As Charles Lamb says, there is nothing so nice as doing good by stealth and being found out by accident, so I now say it is even nicer to make heroic decisions and to be prevented by 'circumstances beyond your control' from ever trying to execute them.

Invention, using the term most broadly, and imitation, are the two legs, so to call them, on which the human race historically has walked.

Nature in her unfathomable designs had mixed us of clay and flame, of brain and mind, that the two things hang indubitably together and determine each other's being but how or why, no mortal may ever know.

No more fiendish punishment could be devised, were such a thing physically possible, than that one should be turned loose in society and remain absolutely unnoticed.

True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot.

First... a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.

Evil is a disease; and worry over disease is itself an additional form of disease, which only adds to the original complaint.

We must be careful not to confuse data with the abstractions we use to analyse them.

Procrastination is attitude's natural assassin. There's nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task.

Each of us literally chooses, by his way of attending to things, what sort of universe he shall appear to himself to inhabit.

There is no being capable of a spiritual life who does not have within him a jungle. Where the wolf constantly HOWLS and the OBSCENE bird of night chatters endlessly.

Science must constantly be reminded that her purposes are not the only purposes and that the order of uniform causation which she has use for, and is therefore right in postulating, may be enveloped in a wider order, on which she has no claim at all.

Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with, but where on this moonlit and dream-visited planet are they found?

To give the theory plenty of 'rope' and see if it hangs itself eventually is better tactics than to choke it off at the outset b abstract accusations of self-contradiction.

Our intelligence cannot wall itself up alive, like a pupa in a chrysalis. It must at any cost keep on speaking terms with the universe that engendered it.

Life is one long struggle between conclusions based on abstract ways of conceiving cases, and opposite conclusions prompted by our instinctive perception of them.

What a magnificent land and race is this Britain! Everything about them is of better quality than the corresponding thing in the U.S.... Yet I believe (or suspect) that ours is eventually the bigger destiny, if we can only succeed in living up to it.

Earnestness means willingness to live with energy, though energy bring pain.

Truth, as any dictionary will tell you, is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their agreement, as falsity means their disagreement, with reality.

Strength is a facade for the proud, weakness is a mask for the lazy.

Tension is a habit. Relaxing is a habit. Bad habits can be broken, good habits formed.

Touch is the alpha and omega of affection.

Asceticism may be a mere expression of organic hardihood, disgusted with too much ease.

Every time a resolve or a fine glow of feeling evaporates without bearing practical fruit is worse than a chance lost; it works so as positively to hinder future resolutions and emotions from taking the normal path of discharge.

Longer Version:

Every time a resolve or a fine glow of feeling evaporates without bearing practical fruit is worse than a chance lost; it works to hinder future resolutions and emotions from taking the normal path of discharge. There is no more contemptible type of human character than that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly concrete deed.

Focus on increasing service. Becoming great where you are. Pile in the wood. The heat will follow.

Experience, as we know, has a way of boiling over, and making us correct our present formulas.

The desire to gain wealth and the fear to lose it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption.

All the qualities of a man acquire dignity when he knows that the service of the collectivity that owns him needs them. If proud of the collectivity, his own pride rises in proportion. No collectivity is like an army for nourishing such pride.

Every way of classifying a thing is but a way of handling it for some particular purpose.

Our volitional habits depend, then, first, on what the stock of ideas is which we have; and, second, on the habitual coupling of the several ideas with action or inaction respectively.

All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.

We want all our friends to tell us our bad qualities; it is only the particular ass that does so whom we can't tolerate.

Marvelous as may be the power of my dog to understand my moods, deathless as his affection and fidelity, his mental state is as unsolved a mystery to me as it was to my remotest ancestor.

I am tired of the position of the dried-up critic and doubter. The believer is the true full man. (from a biography of James by Robert D. Richardson).

I don't see how an epigram, being a bolt from the blue, with no introduction or cue, ever gets itself writ.

Fear of life in one form or another is the great thing to exorcise.

O my Bergson, you are a magician, and your book is a marvel, a real wonder in the history of philosophy ... In finishing it I found ... such a flavor of persistent euphony, as of a rich river that never foamed or ran thin, but steadily and firmly proceeded with its banks full to the brim.

Footnotes -- little dogs yapping at the heels of the text.

In its broadest term, religion says that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in rightful relations to it.

Most men have a good memory for facts connected with their own pursuits.

An enormous mass of experience, both of homeopathic doctors and their patients, is invoked in favor of the efficacy of these remedies and doses.

For I had often said that the best argument I knew for an immortal life was the existence of a man who deserved one as well as Child did.

The function of ignoring, of inattention, is as vital a factor in mental progress as the function of attention itself.

We are stereotyped creatures, imitators and copiers of our past selves.

From all these facts there emerges a very simple abstract program for the teacher to follow in keeping the attention of the child: Begin with the line of his native interests, and offer him objects that have some immediate connection with these.

The intellect, everywhere invasive, shows everywhere its shallowing effect.

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