William James – One of the founders of Functional psychology

William James
(January 11, 1842, New York City, New York, USA – August 26, 1910, Chokorua, New Hampshire) (aged 68)
Nationality: United States of America
Category: Scientists,
Occupation:  Psychologists, Philosophers
Specification: Functional Psychology
Unique distinction: One of the eminent psychologists and philosopher, the most influential American thinker of his day. The father of American psychology.
Gender: Male

Quotes: 1. Genius… means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way. 2. The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes. 3. We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh. 4. If you want a quality, act as if you already had it. Belief creates the actual fact. 5. Begin to be now what you will be hereafter. 7. If any organism fails to fulfill its potentialities, it becomes sick. 8. Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact. 9. The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another. 10. Truth is what works. 11. Anything you may hold firmly in your imagination can be yours. 12. If you care enough for a result, you will most certainly attain it. 13. It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome. 14. There is but one cause of human failure. And that is man’s lack of faith in his true Self.


Social and professional position: American psychologist and philosopher.
The main contribution to (what is known): One of the founders of functional psychology and philosophy of pragmatism, predecessor of transcendental psychology. One of the eminent psychologists and the most influential American thinker of his day. The father of American psychology.
1. Father of American psychology. James is acknowledged as the father of American psychology: he wrote the first text book on psychology; he was the first professor of psychology in American universities (began teaching psychology in 1875), thus he wrote: “The first lecture in psychology that I ever heard was the first I ever gave'”; he founded first psychology laboratories in the USA (in 1875), but this lab was ill equipped and used for teaching demonstrations. That is why traditionally it is believed that the first experimental psychology lab was founded in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt in Germany and in 1883 by G. Stanley Hall in the USA, and again by W. James in 1891.
2. Functionalism. As an ardent evolutionist and strong proponent of the functionalism he stated that the mind, with all its functions, should be regarded as the organ of primary adaptation to the environment and stressed the importance of looking at process and functions rather than content and structure of consciousness. He considered habit as the“ bottom a physical principle”.
3. Methods of psychology: he used introspection, study of mind’s creations and products, study of anatomy and physiology.
4. Consciousness. He proposed that mental life is a unity that flows and changes. He construes consciousness as essentially adaptive, active, selective, interested, teleological. He introduced the term a “stream of consciousness”, which had a significant impact on modernist literature and art.
5. Will. James argued that will is thus primary and knowledge is instrumental, that will does implement beliefs and the mind free to choose between any number of options.
6. Emotion. James in 1884 and Lange in 1885, independently proposed the James-Lange theory of emotion, which holds that emotions are primarily influenced by our physiological expressions and so we feel sorry because we cry or we see a bear and then we run, and that is why we are afraid.
7. Еducational psychology. His series of lectures to Cambridge professors Talks to Teachers on Psychology (1899) is regarded as the first educational psychology textbook.
8. Psychology of religious experience.
In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) he stressed the importance of many “altered states of consciousness”, stated the a wider and deeper range of sensitivity may lead to states of ecstasy and self-renewal or Faith healing. He also interested in mysticism, spiritualism, telepathy, clairvoyance.
9. Theory of Genius. In his lectures ‘Great Men and Their Environment’, he stated that что гении надо воспринимать как «спонтанные мутации» по аналогии с теорией Дарвина. He introduced the term “receptivities of the moment” and said that “Genius is nothing but a power of sustained attention”.
10. His philosophy has three aspects—voluntarism, which asserted the ideas of free will and ‘soft determinism’; pragmatism, which became a major American way of thinking and “radical empiricism.”
James stated that we can never prove the truth of an idea, instead we should be looking to how useful an idea is, what he called the “cash value,” or usefulness, of an idea.
Major works:  The Principles of Psychology (1890),The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine (1898), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), Pragmatism (1907), A Pluralistic Universe (1909), The Meaning of Truth (1909), Some Problems in Philosophy (1911), and Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912).


Origin: William James was born at the Astor House in New York City. James was the first child of the independently wealthy Swedenborgian theologian Henry James and Mary Walsh. He was the brother of both the prominent novelist Henry James, and the diarist Alice James.
Education: James educated by tutors and at private schools in New York. In Europe William attends school in Geneva, Paris, and Boulogne-sur-Mer. He studied in the studio of William Morris Hunt in Newport, Rhode Island and scientific studies at the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University.He took up medical studies at Harvard Medical School in 1864 . He taught his first experimental psychology course at Harvard in the 1875–1876 academic year.
Career highlights:  He earned at Harvard his M.D. degree in 1869, but never practiced medicine. In 1872 James was appointed instructor in physiology at Harvard College,
James spent his entire academic career at Harvard University (1873- 1907) (as instructor in anatomy and physiology and professor of psychology and philosophy).
Students: luminaries – Boris Sidis, Theodore Roosevelt, George Santayana, Gertrude Stein and psychologists – Mary Whiton Calkins, Edward Thorndike, G. Stanley Hall and John Dewey.
He did meet Sigmund Freud when he came to visit Boston in 1909.
He was twice elected president of the American Psychological Association, once in 1894 and again in 1904.
Personal life:  In 1855 his family moves to Europe. In 1859 –1860 his family settles in Geneva, where William studies science at Geneva Academy. In 1861 William returned to USA and entered Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard.
James suffered from a variety of physical ailments, including those of the eyes, back, stomach,  skin and tone deaf. He was subject to a variety of psychological symptoms (as he he called it “soul-sickness”),  which were diagnosed  as neurasthenia, and which included periods of depression.
He interested in art (at age 18, he decided to become a painter), in literature, in philosophy, and in science.
In 1878, at age 36, he married Alice Gibbens Howe a Boston school teacher, they had five children. After his marriage the old neurasthenia practically disappeared.