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William James Quotes


William James
  • Mini Bio
  • Name: William James
  • Born: 11th January 1841, New York City, U.S.
  • Died: 26th August 1910, Tamworth, New Hampshire, U.S.
  • Alma mater: Harvard University
  • Occupation: Psychologist and philosopher
  • Inspired by: African Aleksandrovich Spir, David Hume, Emanuel Swedenborg, F. C. S. Schiller, Jules Lequier and William Kingdon Clifford
  • Influenced: Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, David Émile Durkheim, Edwin Holt, Henry-Louis Bergson, Hilary Whitehall Putnam, Jimmy Carter, John Dewey, Morris Raphael Cohen and W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Nickname: Father of American psychology
  • Notable works: Essays in Radical Empiricism, The Principles of Psychology and The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • Trivia: Ranked highly as one of the most eminent psychologists of the 19th and 20th centuries he is also cited as one of the founders of the philosophical school of pragmatism and of functional psychology
  • Scroll down for full bio and many great quotes

"Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind"

William James

"Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being"

William James

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices"

William James

"Inferiority is always with us, and merciless scorn of it is the keynote of the military temper"

William James

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

William James

"There is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood by those who hear it"

William James

"Different men find their minds more at home in very different fragments of the world"

William James

"Democracy is still upon its trial. The civic genius of our people is its only bulwark"

William James

"The war against war is going to be no holiday excursion or camping party"

William James

"We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone"

William James

"A paradise of inward tranquility seems to be faith's usual result"

William James

"The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook"

William James

"To kill time is not murder, it's suicide"

William James

"Wisdom is learning what to overlook"

William James

"If you can change your mind, you can change your life"

William James

"If you care enough for a result, you will most certainly attain it"

William James

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

William James

"Circumstance does not make me, it reveals me"

William James

"Truth is something that happens to an idea"

William James

"A difference which makes no difference is no difference at all"

William James

"Instinct leads, intelligence does but follow"

William James

"History is a bath of blood"

William James

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William James Biography

William James was born into a wealthy and successful New York family that during his childhood twice crossed the Atlantic which gave the youngster an opportunity to practice and hone his French and German language learning.



James strove for and obtained his degree in medicine at Harvard but the pull of the healing hands profession did not satisfy his longing for intellectual stimulus and he was drawn into the field of psychology.

With no formal training he was quoted as saying about his new profession: "I never had any philosophic instruction, the first lecture on psychology I ever heard being the first I ever gave". The old saying 'if the shoe fits, wear it' rang true as he took to psychology and philosophy like a duck to water.

William's work on the philosophy of pragmatism was ground breaking and he was the first to offer a scientific psychology course to students in America. His work lay the foundations for modern psychology, it evolved somewhat in the 20th century mainly because every budding young philosopher since his day has studied his teachings and used them as a platform for intellectual discussions and improvement of the science behind it.

I have a penchant for philosophers as I find their teaching fascinating, they also make the best one liners, so this is my compilation of 22 of the best William James quotes

Quotes About William James

The neurobiologist Bernard Baars said this of him: "Consider William James' 'self as observer'. It is hard to see anything impossible about it if we think of observers as pattern recognizers"

The philosophical author Will Durant described him by saying: "The manner, if not the substance, of James’s thinking was specifically and uniquely American. The American lust for movement and acquisition fills the sails of his style and thought"

The neuroscientist Francis Crick made this assessment: "The American psychologist William James discussed consciousness at some length. In his monumental work The Principles of Psychology... he described five properties of what he called "thought." Every thought, he wrote, tends to be part of personal consciousness. Thought is always changing, is sensibly continuous, and appears to deal with objects independent of itself .... It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others"

The author William Barrett shared this observation: "Of all the non-European philosophers, William James probably best deserves to be an Existentialist"

The philosopher Edwin Arthur Burtt gave this comparison: "Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, James, Bergson all are united in one earnest attempt, the attempt to reinstate man with his high spiritual claims in a place of importance in the cosmic scheme"


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