Open main menu


James, William.  He was born in New York City in 1842, the son of Henry James, the theologian and follower of Swedenborg, and the brother of Henry James, the well-known novelist.  After an education in private schools and by private tutors in America and Europe, he attended Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard, and received his M. D. from that university in 1870.  Since then he has received the LL.D. from Princeton University.  In 1872 he was appointed instructor of anatomy and physiology in Harvard University; but soon changed to philosophy and then to psychology.  It is in the last field that he has made a permanent name.  Recently he has turned his attention chiefly to philosophy, and is the exponent of what is known as pragmatism, the theory that every doctrine must be interpreted and judged in terms of the effect its adoption has upon the action of individuals.  In his psychological work his most notable contribution is the so-called James-Lang theory of the emotions, which maintains that emotions must be regarded as the result of those instinctive bodily movements which are commonly regarded as the expression and result of the emotions.  He is distinguished among scientific writers for his bright and pleasant style and for the many forceful, picturesque expressions he has coined.  It has been said that Henry writes fiction as if it were psychology, and William writes psychology as if it were fiction.  His works are The Principles of Psychology, an epoch-making work; The Will to Believe; Human Immortality; Talks to Teachers on Psychology; Varieties of Religious Experience, a work that opens a new era of thinking in its line; and Pragmatism, an account of his philosophical doctrine.  Died Aug. 26, 1910.