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William James

William James: His Life and Thought

Copyright Date: 1986
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 672
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  • Book Info
    William James
    Book Description:

    The first comprehensive interpretive and critical biography of one of America's foremost philosophers and psychologists.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15804-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
    (pp. xix-xxiv)
    (pp. 1-53)

    When William James died on 26 August 1910 in his summer home in Chocorua, New Hampshire, the tributes paid him were as varied as his contributions. John Dewey wrote: “By common consent he was far and away the greatest of American psychologists—it was a case of James first and no second. Were it not for the unreasoned admiration of men and things German, there would be no question, I think, that he was the greatest psychologist of his time in any country—perhaps of any time.”¹ The ParisTempscalled him “the most famous American philosopher since Emerson,” a...

    (pp. 54-80)

    James has often been called an introspective psychologist, but he was also a representative of physiological psychology, which had been developing rapidly in Europe. The movement of psychology away from philosophy and toward the laboratory resulted from its new alliance with physiology, which promised to illuminate the study of perception, emotion, thought, memory, attention, will, and association through discoveries about functions of the central nervous system. A striking feature of James’sPrinciples of Psychologyis its abundant references to continental and British research in human physiology; as a result, the book continues to be the classic—and most interesting—source...

    (pp. 81-113)

    Despite the priority that sensation, as a special mode of consciousness, enjoyed in traditional psychology, James waited until chapter 17, the beginning of the second volume ofPrinciples, to give it special attention. This discussion follows chapters that treat such concepts as memory, time, association, discrimination, attention, and conception; it begins: “After inner perception, outer perception!” This declaration may puzzle the reader who has noticed that James has already said much about sensation and that outer and inner perception are both prominent concerns in the first volume. But James explained at length that he chose not to beginPrincipleswith...

  9. 4 SPACE
    (pp. 114-143)

    One of James’s earliest articles is “The Spatial Quale” (1879), which announced a theory of space-perception that was later amplified in various essays and in the longest chapter ofThe Principles of Psychology.¹ Some contemporary thinkers, however, may subscribe to Josiah Royce’s reaction to the 1879 essay. Calling the topic of space the most puzzling of all, Royce wrote to James:

    But the space problem, who shall master it? What is needed is, I think, this:— Some one must master the whole science of geometry in its latest forms as well as in its long history. Then this same man...

  10. 5 TIME
    (pp. 144-160)

    James’s theory of time-perception is essentially a theory about the specious present.¹ He begins by considering how the present or the present moment is to be understood. If we mean by such expressions an instant without duration, an instantaneous point in time, then there is nothing to match this concept in our experience. No such strict present can be perceived; to be identified, any temporal moment, no matter how brief, must endure for some time. When we try, James said, to attend to the present moment, “one of the most baffling experiences occurs. Where is it, this present? It has...

  11. 6 MEMORY
    (pp. 161-180)

    The chapter on time-perception inPrinciplesis followed by one on memory, for James saw an important connection between the two psychological processes. Some writers had spoken of the just-past, or the most recent moments of the specious present, as objects of primary memory, but James thought this an odd use of the termmemory; we do not usually describe someone asrememberingsomething that occurred only a second ago. Although the occurrence is a past event, it is, according to the theory of the specious present, part of a single, continuing act of attention that is still occurring. James...

    (pp. 181-214)

    In discussing memory, James said that attention to something will facilitate recollection of it. But what isattention?He thought that the British empiricists—Locke, Hume, Hartley, the Mills, and Spencer—had largely ignored this question, because they were committed to explaining higher mental functions, including attention, as derivative of more primitive, experiential data. One therefore had to turn to German psychology for information about what occurs when a person selectively attends to something. James’s complaint that attention had been ignored by psychologists has been reiterated in our own time. As introspective psychology declined and a combination of behaviorism and...

  13. 8 EMOTION
    (pp. 215-241)

    No theory of the will or of motivation is complete without an account of emotion, since it is a common assumption that emotions motivate action and incline the will; indeed, James’s chapter on emotions is placed between those on instinct and on the will inPrinciples. This chapter developed ideas originally presented in 1884 in the essay “What Is an Emotion?” James made a third statement in 1894 in the essay “The Physical Basis of Emotion.”¹ James remarked in an 1888 letter to Renouvier that “What the Will Effects” had provoked more response than all of his other articles together.²...

  14. 9 THOUGHT
    (pp. 242-271)

    We can move from emotion to thought either by contrasting them, citing the adage that heart and head collide, or by likening them, arguing that emotion is cognitive and cognition emotive. James did both. He urged the submission of emotion to sober thought when required by moral and rational constraints, but he also asserted the need of reason to surrender to emotion on the unusual occasions when to do so is the rational and moral alternative. We may do better, for instance, by following the emotion of our will to live than by accepting the doctor’s diagnosis of terminal illness;...

  15. 10 KNOWLEDGE
    (pp. 272-306)

    James’s pragmatism answered a question raised inPrinciples, one which he thought was unanswerable by empirical psychology and thus had to be delivered to philosophy: What is cognition, what is it to know something? This question may seem like a problem for empirical psychology ifknowingdesignates a state of consciousness somehow related to the thing known, but James thought that for psychology “therelation of knowingis the most mysterious thing in the world.”¹ This mystery results from the dualism between mind and body, between knower and known, espoused by psychologists; when subject and object are radically distinguished, any...

  16. 11 REALITY
    (pp. 307-343)

    The last decade of James’s life was remarkably productive. In addition toThe Varieties of Religious Experience, he wrote the essays that were published asPragmatismand its sequel,The Meaning of Truth, as well as the articles on metaphysical subjects collected asA Pluralistic Universeand the posthumously publishedSome Problems of PhilosophyandEssays in Radical Empiricism. The last three are the primary sources for a discussion of James’s concepts of reality and pure experience; beginning in 1904 with “Does ‘Consciousness” Exist?” (the first essay in the series on radical empiricism), he elaborated these ideas, moving toward a...

  17. 12 SELF
    (pp. 344-386)

    If a topic interested James, he discussed it in essay upon essay; many of the chapters inPrinciples, for instance, are elaborations of earlier articles or are elaborated in later ones. But the concept of self, while a profound concern of his, is treated almost exclusively in “The Consciousness of Self.”¹ The concept is implicit in his discussions of mind and body, consciousness, psychical research, and abnormal psychology, but we expect further studies of issues about the self. He may have judged that his ideas about the self beyond the context of the psychology of self-consciousness or of the mind-body...

  18. 13 MORALITY
    (pp. 387-445)

    In his first philosophical statement, the letter written at age sixteen to Edgar Van Winkle, James pondered possible careers; he felt strongly that his eventual vocation must be morally defensible. “What ought to be everyone’s object in life? To be as much use as possible.”¹ James’s moral earnestness as a teenager, revealed in the correspondence with Van Winkle, may be traceable to his family’s Calvinistic heritage and to his father’s habit of daily subjecting the cosmos to an idiosyncratic moral assessment. Henry James, Sr., was a literary Zeus hurling moral thunderbolts that kept the family atmosphere in a steady state...

  19. 14 RELIGION
    (pp. 446-480)

    Because ethics is logically independent of religion, James believed that one can be moral without being religious. Morality is not only a matter of deed, he thought, but also one of mood and motivation; it can be easygoing (an evasion of present ills) or strenuous (a concern for ideals that transcend the present and its problems). Strenuous morality is rarer and requires “wilder passions,” “big fears, loves, and indignations,” and a strong commitment to some issue of justice or freedom.¹ It is a mood in which one conceives ordinary morality as all too human and rejects, for instance, the suggestion...

    (pp. 481-482)
  21. NOTES
    (pp. 483-614)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 615-628)