William James, 1842 - 1910
Portrait by Ellen Emmet Rand
Born: 11 January 1842, New York City
Died: 26 August 1910, Chocorua, New Hampshire
The home of Henry James, Sr, a Swedenborgian theologian, was noted for its intellectual activity. A host of literary figures visited, Ralph Waldo Emerson was William' godfather. Henry Junior, who would become a well-known novelist, was born the following year and the two boys were largely educated together. Henry Senior seemed to be regularly unhappy with their education, rarely leaving them in one school for more than a year, much of their education was in Europe. William trained as an artist but entered Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School in 1861, then switched to medicine in 1864. Between illness and European travel, he didn't earn his M.D. degree until 1869, never practiced, and at thirty was still living at home. The president of Harvard, a family friend, secured him a position as an instructor in physiology (1872) and the classroom finally fired some interest for him. He was named assistant professor of psychology in 1876, assistant professor of philosophy in 1881, full professor in 1886, back to psychology with an endowed chair in 1889, then back to philosophy again in 1897. He was frequently ill with various physical complaints and neurasthenia, so his actual teaching was interrupted numerous times, including great depressions resulting from criticism of each of his books. By all accounts his classes were highly regarded and his students included a long list of notables, including Theodore Roosevelt and George Santayana. After retiring from Harvard in 1907 (his final class was standing room only), he developed heart problems, went one more time to Europe in hope of finding a cure, and returned to his New Hampshire home where he died. The autopsy revealed an enlarged heart.
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William James quotes:
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- A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain. permalink
- A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. permalink
- A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him. permalink
- A paradise of inward tranquility seems to be faith's usual result. permalink
William James - Lectures XI, XII, and XIII, "Saintliness", The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
- A thing is important if anyone think it important. permalink
William James - Principles of Psychology (1890)
- Acceptance of what happened is the first step to overcoming the consequence of any misfortune. permalink
- Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does. permalink
- Action may not bring happiness but there is no happiness without action. permalink
- Alexander's career was piracy pure and simple, nothing but an orgy of power and plunder, made romantic by the character of the hero. There was no rational purpose in it, and the moment he died his generals and governors attacked one another. permalink
William James - The Moral Equivalent of War (1906)
- All natural goods perish. Riches take wings; fame is a breath; love is a cheat; youth and health and pleasure vanish. permalink
- All our scientific and philosophic ideals are altars to unknown gods. permalink
William James - "The Dilemma of Determinism" (1884)
- 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. permalink
William James - "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life", The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897)
- An act has no ethical quality whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible. permalink
William James - Principles of Psychology (1890)
- An idea, to be suggestive, must come to the individual with the force of revelation. permalink
- 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. permalink
William James - "The Importance of Individuals", The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897)
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