James, William

  Poetry & Prose    Books / People

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

— Does it?

Psychologist and philosopher William James is often referred to as the father of American psychology. His 1200-page text, “The Principles of Psychology,” became a classic on the subject and his teachings and writings helped establish psychology as a science.

In addition, James contributed to functionalism, pragmatism, and influenced many students of psychology during his 35-year teaching career.

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.

— Can they?

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.

— How though?

“There can be no difference that doesn’t make a difference.”

— Pragmatism (1907), p. 45

His contribution to psychology, The Principles of Psychology (1890), has become a classic in the field. James early became the most popular spokesman of the American philosophical movement pragmatism. Among his other important philosophical works are: The Will to Believe, and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907).

A “101” on W. James (Editable PDF).

Varieties of Religious Experience, A Study in Human Nature

To write a masterly book on the contentious subject of religion without taking a partisan position is a remarkable achievement. William James, the philosopher, scientist, psychologist, brought it off with a lambent lucidity in 1901-02, when he delivered the Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion in Edinburgh and later published them under the title “Varieties of Religious Experience, A Study in Human Nature” (1902).

“There can be no difference that doesn’t make a difference.”

Standing at the crossroads of psychology and religion, this catalysing work applied the scientific method to a field abounding in abstract theory. William James believed that individual religious experiences, rather than the precepts of organized religions, were the backbone of the world’s religious life. His discussions of conversion, repentance, mysticism and saintliness, and his observations on actual, personal religious experiences – all support this thesis. In his introduction, Martin E. Marty discusses how James’s pluralistic view of religion led to his remarkable tolerance of extreme forms of religious behaviour, his challenging, highly original theories, and his welcome lack of pretension in all of his observations on the individual and the divine.


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