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American psychologist and philosopher (1842-1910)

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

WILLIAM JAMES, The Principles of Psychology

The states of consciousness are all that psychology needs to do her work with. Metaphysics or theology may prove the Soul to exist; but for psychology the hypothesis of such a substantial principle of unity is superfluous.

WILLIAM JAMES, Psychology: The Briefer Course

Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.

WILLIAM JAMES, Talks to Teachers on Psychology

How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience

All natural happiness thus seems infected with a contradiction. The breath of the sepulchre surrounds it.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience

Happiness, like every other emotional state, has blindness and insensibility to opposing facts given it as its instinctive weapon for self-protection against disturbance. When happiness is actually in possession, the thought of evil can no more acquire the feeling of reality than the thought of good can gain reality when melancholy rules. To the man actively happy, from whatever cause, evil simply cannot then and there be believed in. He must ignore it; and to the bystander he may then seem perversely to shut his eyes to it and hush it up.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience

Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing that ensures the successful outcome of the venture.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience

All our scientific and philosophic ideals are altars to unknown gods.

WILLIAM JAMES, "The Dilemma of Determinism"

What the whole community comes to believe in grasps the individual as in a vise.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Moral Equivalent of War

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

WILLIAM JAMES, "Is Life Worth Living?", The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy

The squalid cash interpretation put on the word success — is our national disease.

WILLIAM JAMES, letter to H. G. Wells, Sep. 11, 1906

Science, like life, feeds on its own decay. New facts burst old rules; then newly divined conceptions bind old and new together into a reconciling law.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy

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

WILLIAM JAMES, Lectures XIV and XV, "The Value of Saintliness," The Varieties of Religious Experience

The most violent revolutions in an individual’s beliefs leave most of his old order standing. Time and space, cause and effect, nature and history, and one’s own biography remain untouched. New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions. It marries old opinion to new fact so as ever to show a minimum of jolt, a maximum of continuity.

WILLIAM JAMES, "What Pragmatism Means," Pragmatism

Let any one try, I will not say to arrest, but to notice or attend to, the present moment of time. One of the most baffling experiences occurs. Where is it, this present? It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.

WILLIAM JAMES, Principles of Psychology

Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience

The lunatic's visions of horror are all drawn from the material of daily fact.

WILLIAM JAMES, Lectures VI and VII, "The Sick Soul," The Varieties of Religious Experience

It makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference to one whether one accepts the universe in the drab discolored way of stoic resignation to necessity, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints.

WILLIAM JAMES, Lecture II, "Circumscription of the Topic," The Varieties of Religious Experience

The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual; the impulse dies away without the sympathy of the community.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy

Habit is thus the enormous fly-wheel of society, its most precious conservative agent. It alone is what keeps us all within the bounds of ordinance.

WILLIAM JAMES, Principles of Psychology

Wherever you are it is your own friends who make your world.

WILLIAM JAMES, attributed, The Thought and Character of William James

The most any one can do is to confess as candidly as he can the grounds for the faith that is in him, and leave his example to work on others as it may.

WILLIAM JAMES, "The Dilemma of Determinism"

The God whom science recognizes must be a God of universal laws exclusively, a God who does a wholesale, not a retail business. He cannot accommodate his processes to the convenience of individuals.

WILLIAM JAMES, Lecture XX, "Conclusions," The Varieties of Religious Experience

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

WILLIAM JAMES, Talks to Teachers on Psychology and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals

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

WILLIAM JAMES, Principles of Psychology

The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck.

WILLIAM JAMES, Lecture II, "Circumscription of the Topic," The Varieties of Religious Experience

First, you know, 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.

WILLIAM JAMES, Lecture VI, "Pragmatism's Conception of Truth," Pragmatism

Philosophy, beginning in wonder, as Plato and Aristotle said, is able to fancy everything different from what it is. It sees the familiar as if it were strange, and the strange as if it were familiar. It can take things up and lay them down again. It rouses us from our native dogmatic slumber and breaks up our caked prejudices.

WILLIAM JAMES, Some Problems of Philosophy

The difference between the first- and second-best things in art absolutely seems to escape verbal definition — it is a matter of a hair, a shade, an inward quiver of some kind — yet what miles away in the point of preciousness!

WILLIAM JAMES, letter to Henry Rutgers Marshall, Feb. 7, 1899

I devoutly believe in the reign of peace and in the gradual advent of some sort of socialistic equilibrium. The fatalistic view of the war function is to me nonsense, for I know that war-making is due to definite motives and subject to prudential checks and reasonable criticisms, just like any other form of enterprise. And when whole nations are the armies, and the science of destruction vies in intellectual refinement with the science of production, I see that war becomes absurd and impossible from its own monstrosity. Extravagant ambitions will have to be replaced by reasonable claims, and nations must make common cause against them.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Moral Equivalent of War

An act has no ethical quality whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible.

WILLIAM JAMES, Principles of Psychology

Good-humor is a philosophic state of mind; it seems to say to Nature that we take her no more seriously than she takes us. I maintain that one should always talk of philosophy with a smile.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience

So far, war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community, and until an equivalent discipline is organized, I believe that war must have its way.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Moral Equivalent of War

Religions have approved themselves; they have ministered to sundry vital needs which they found reigning. When they violated other needs too strongly, or when other faiths came which served the same needs better, the first religions were supplanted.

WILLIAM JAMES, Lectures XIV and XV, "The Value of Saintliness," The Varieties of Religious Experience

Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again.

WILLIAM JAMES, The Principles of Psychology

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.

WILLIAM JAMES, letter to Carl Stumpf, Jan. 1, 1886

The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their borders. And from these internal enemies civilization is always in need of being saved. The nation blest above all nations is she in whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external picturesqueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably; by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them, and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.

WILLIAM JAMES, "Robert Gould Shaw: Oration Upon the Unveiling of the Shaw Monument," Memories and Studies

I myself believe that the evidence for God lies primarily in inner personal experiences.

WILLIAM JAMES, Lecture III, "Some Metaphysical Problems Pragmatically Considered," Pragmatism

There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.

WILLIAM JAMES, Principles of Psychology

Romeo wants Juliet as the filings want the magnet; and if no obstacles intervene he moves towards her by as straight a line as they. But Romeo and Juliet, if a wall be built between them, do not remain idiotically pressing their faces against its opposite sides like the magnet and the filings with the card. Romeo soon finds a circuitous way, by scaling the wall or otherwise, of touching Juliet's lips directly. With the filings the path is fixed; whether it reaches the end depends on accidents. With the lover it is the end which is fixed, the path may be modified indefinitely.

WILLIAM JAMES, "The Scope of Psychology"

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

WILLIAM JAMES, attributed, Wisdom for the Soul


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