William James Psychologist Biography

william james

Dating backing almost 150 years, psychology as a profession has turned out many pragmatic and hardworking individuals who have contributed immensely to the field. It is important to learn about the lives and works of such individuals to get a better understanding of their ideas about human psychology and helping yourself form new ones at the same time.

William James, widely recognized by academics as the “father of American-psychology”, played a massive role in bringing the subject of psychology to American classrooms. Here we will try to walk through his life briefly, shed light on his career and try to analyze some of his most important contributions.

His Early Life

William James belonged to a wealthy American household. His liberal father’s interest in education helped him attain an eclectic higher education from Europe, where his family travelled quite frequently attending the most prestigious schools. Due to his trans-Atlantic tours, James was fluent in both German and French while developing a deep interest in Europe’s culture, arts and philosophy.

His initial fascination with arts and painting affected his father’s aspirations for him to become a man of science and philosophy. He studied painting for more than a year from his mentor and renowned artist William Morris Hunt. After frequent shifts between several fields, James finally graduatedfrom Harvard Medical School in 1869. He never practiced with his MD degree and developed an attraction towards psychology and philosophy.

Career of William James

William James graduated from Harvard when he was 27. A few years later, the president of Harvard appointed him as an instructor in comparative physiology for the spring term of 1873 class. He spent his entire educational career at Harvard University and excelled as an acclaimed intellectual of philosophy and psychology.

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James was drawn to human psychology when it was still in its formative phase of becoming a proper science. In the academic year 1875-1876, James succeeded in teaching his first experimental psychology class.

After a successful career at Harvard, James retired from academics in 1907 and spent most of his time writing and publishing his works like Pragmatism, Meaning of Truth and A Pluralistic Universe, along with Some Problems in Philosophy, an unfinished book published posthumously.

3 James’ theoretical contributions to psychology

  1. James-Lange Theory of Emotion:
    According to the theory of emotion brought forward by both Lange and James independently, events trigger psychological responses, which are discerned by us later. How we interpret these responses determine our emotions and sentiments towards an event.
  2.  Functionalism:
    James was a proponent of focusing on the wholeness of an event, including the complete influence of surrounding environment on behavior. Concentrating on introspection and classifying every detail of mental events in a structured manner was wrong, according to his theory.
  3.  Pragmatism:
    Pragmatism is one of the topics that James has most extensively discussed and written about in his publications. It is impossible to prove the reality of an idea completely, according to the pragmatic approach. What James instead proposed is that we should lay more emphasis on the usefulness or productivity of an idea rather than its truth.

William James and the Sick Soul

William James Quotes

Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude. William James

Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity successful men act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon it becomes a reality. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results. William James.


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