Biography William James

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William James was an American philosopher and psychologist whose footmarks and influence will be remembered forever.

Early life and Career

He was born on January 11, 1842 in New York. His father loved theology and philosophy so much that he strove to provide his kids with the best education they could. James Sr.'s children traveled a lot and attended the best schools. His father's determination paid off handsomely - William James became one of the best philosopher ever while his brother Henry James became a renowned American novelist.

Earlier in life William had expressed an interest in painting which was dismissed by his father who wanted him to study science or philosophy. William persisted a lot to pursue a career in painting and his father had no choice but to let him. He pursued painting for one year under leadership of William Hunt an American religious painter but later abandoned it and enrolled at Harvard to pursue chemistry.

He shifted from chemistry to Anatomy and finally to Human medicine. His studies were interrupted when he opted to accompany Louis Agassiz (an eminent botanist ) on an expedition in Amazon.

His health deteriorated and he had to get back to the medical school. He continued with his studies for another short period before eloping to Germany with the physicist Hermann Von Helmholtz. His stay with this physiologist influenced his career so much. He ailed a lot during his stay in Germany and was always on depression. The depression persisted to a point that he planned to commit suicide. He returned to New York after 18 months in Germany and proceeded with his studies. In 1869, he graduated with an M.D degree from Harvard school of Medicine.

He was unable to enter into practice due to health and emotional problems he suffered from. He was in a state of in-activity for a period of time which he spent at his fathers house doing nothing but reading and writing reviews.

Interest in psychology and religion

In 1872, He was appointed as a physiology instructor at Harvard college where he taught for 35 years. He had a great passion in physiological psychology that he established the first psychology laboratories in United States. To him psychology had shifted from being mental philosophy to being laboratory science with methodological inventions and discoveries.

His marriage to Alice Gibbets in 1878 transformed everything. A new zeal and zest was seen in him and a life as an originative thinker had began. The fruits of this transformation was seen in 1890 when The principles of psychology textbook was published. This book was definitive and innovative and established a focal point in psychology. It treated thinking and knowledge as basic tools for human survival. After publishing this book, his interests deviated to study of free observation and reflection. His interests focused much on nature and existence of God and the religious paradigms. He got involved in research about the nature of God,survival of the soul after death and belief in free will and determination.

On divinity he concluded that its established on record of religious experience and oneness. On freedom he concluded that the future is not determined by the past history and on life after death he concluded as unproved. All these findings were given out through publications and numerous lectures he gave.


Based on various philosophical concepts he had and the practical results he got,William invented various theories based on his findings. These includes:theory of pragmatism,theory of functionalism and theory of Emotion.

Theory of pragmatism

This a theory of method that originated from analysis of logic science. He wrote a lot on pragmatism and concluded that the truth of an idea can never be proved thus we should focus on the benefits or the value of this idea

Theory of Functionalism

He opposed the focus on structuralism and breaking down of mental events into small elements and focused on taking the wholeness of an event and the impacts of environment on behavior.

Theory of Emotion

This theory proposes that physiological reactions are triggered by events thus emotions are caused by the interpretations of these reactions.

 Influence in Physiology

William's worked is dated due to its originative matrix of varieties of natural developments. In the world of philosophy his work is said to be prophetic as most of his arguments have been reflected in the new form of physics. William James was an anti-imperialist and a defender of the weak. His philosophy is viable and too practical that it has become a dogma in school. William James died on August 10, 1910. A true legend he was and will forever be.

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