William James

Psychologist 1842-1910

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

Best Known For:

  • Pragmatism: James wrote considerably on the concept of pragmatism. According to pragmatism, the truth of an idea can never be proven. James proposed we instead focus on what he called the "cash value," or usefulness, of an idea.

  • Functionalism: James opposed the structuralist focus on introspection and breaking down mental events to the smallest elements. Instead, James focused on the wholeness of an event, taking into the impact of the environment on behavior.

  • James-Lange Theory of Emotion: The James-Lange theory of emotion proposes that an event triggers a physiological reaction, which we then interpret. According to this theory, emotions are caused by our interpretations of these physiological reactions.

Other Facts:

  • William James wrote the first psychology textbook, Principles of Psychology

  • In 1869, William received his M.D. from Harvard, and in 1875, he began teaching psychology at Harvard

  • James is often referred to as the "Father of American Psychology"

  • As children, his siblings and he himself often traveled to Europe frequently, attended the best possible schools, and were immersed in culture and art, which paid off for all of them

  • William conducted extensive experiments on the mechanism of dizziness, also known as the sixth sense
  • James was as interested in and knowledgeable about the phenomena of psychopathology and exceptional mental states as he was in those of normal consciousness