A Collection of Wisdom

William James

William James (1842-1910) was an American philosopher, psychologist, writer, and lecturer. He is considered one of the most innovative people ever in the history of psychology and philosophy.

William expressed many ideas concerning topics such as human thought, free will, themes of the universe, and spiritualism. He is most known for roles in a philosophical movement called Pragmatism, and a psychological movement called functionalism.

In accordance with the ideas of pragmatism, William’s style was about using free observation and reflection, and not getting caught up in arguing preconceived conclusions.


William was a leader of pragmatism, which is a philosophical movement based on experience, and used to apply to experience. He wrote a book called Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.

Themes and Outline of Pragmatism:

People should identify and investigate truth through their experiences. They can use this truth to improve experiences, and to gain practical knowledge.

Truth and practical knowledge come from:

Truth and practical knowledge do not come from:

Truth is:

Truth is equivalent to (or is found in):

Our idea of anything is our idea of its observable effects.

True ideas:

True ideas can be based on what is without physical presence, as long as they fit the criteria for truth.

False ideas:

The possible (or a possibility):

Emphasis should be placed on the particular instead of the universal

To understand experience, look at the world’s totality (i.e. the world’s unity as well as its disunity.) See the unity in the world, but don’t rely on a philosophy where everything in life can be described by a single concept or system.


William also played a prominent role in the psychological movement of functionalism, which is concerned with the function of mental processes, and how they help an organism adapt and thrive in its environment.

Functionalism was unique when it was introduced because it studied the processes of the mind and how the mind operates, rather than only studying the structure of the mind.

In his groundbreaking book Principles of Psychology, William expressed ideas about such subjects as consciousness, attention, memory, habits, and emotions. The ideas of functionalism are now part of mainstream psychology.

William James Quotes