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William James Quotes

All our scientific and philosophic ideals are altars to unknown gods.
William James (The Dilemma of Determinism, 1884)
Wherever you are it is your own friends who make your world.
William James (Quoted in The Thought and Character of William James, 1899)
The most any one can do is to confess as candidly as he can the grounds for the faith that is in him, and leave his example to work on others as it may.
William James (The Dilemma of Determinism, 1884)
Let any one try, I will not say to arrest, but to notice or attend to, the present moment of time. One of the most baffling experiences occurs. Where is it, this present? It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 15, 1890)
The stream of thought flows on; but most of its segments fall into the bottomless abyss of oblivion. Of some, no memory survives the instant of their passage. Of others, it is confined to a few moments, hours or days. Others, again, leave vestiges which are indestructible, and by means of which they may be recalled as long as life endures.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 16, 1890)
Every way of classifying a thing is but a way of handling it for some particular purpose.
William James (The Sentiment of Rationality, 1882)
There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 4, 1890)
The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.
William James
Philosophy is at once the most sublime and the most trivial of human pursuits. It works in the minutest crannies and it opens out the widest vistas. It "bakes no bread", as has been said, but it can inspire our souls with courage.
William James (Pragmatism, 1907)
Happiness, like every other emotional state, has blindness and insensibility to opposing facts given it as its instinctive weapon for self-protection against disturbance. When happiness is actually in possession, the thought of evil can no more acquire the feeling of reality than the thought of good can gain reality when melancholy rules. To the man actively happy, from whatever cause, evil simply cannot then and there be believed in. He must ignore it; and to the bystander he may then seem perversely to shut his eyes to it and hush it up.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.
William James
Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being.
William James (Letter to W. Lutoslawski, 1906)
"Facts" are the bounds of human knowledge, set for it, not by it.
William James (On Some Hegelisms, 1882)
Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
With the lover it is the end which is fixed, the path may be modified indefinitely.
William James (The Scope of Psychology)
There is but one indefectibly certain truth, and that is the truth that pyrrhonistic scepticism itself leaves standing, the truth that the present phenomenon of consciousness exists.
William James (The Will to Believe, 1897)
Our self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 10, 1890)
I have often thought that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: "This is the real me!"
William James (Letter to his wife, Alice Gibbons James, 1878)
Our belief at the beginning of a doubtful undertaking is the one thing that ensures the successful outcome of the venture.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
The hell to be endured hereafter, of which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 4, 1890)
We are doomed to cling to a life even while we find it unendurable.
William James (Vacation)
The transition from tenseness, self-responsibility, and worry, to equanimity, receptivity, and peace, is the most wonderful of all those shiftings of inner equilibrium, those changes of personal centre of energy, which I have analyzed so often; and the chief wonder of it is that it so often comes about, not by doing, but by simply relaxing and throwing the burden down.
William James (The Principles of Psychology, 1890)
The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.
William James (The Principles of Psychology, 1890)
Consciousness... does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as "chain" or 'train' do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A"river" or a "stream" are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life.
Source of the expression "stream of consciousness".
William James (The Principles of Psychology, 1890)
There are moments of sentimental and mystical experience... that carry an enormous sense of inner authority and illumination with them when they come. But they come seldom, and they do not come to everyone; and the rest of life makes either no connection with them, or tends to contradict them more than it confirms them.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
Time itself comes in drops.
William James (A Pluralistic Universe)
The only function that one experience can perform is to lead into another experience; and the only fulfillment we can speak of is the reaching of a certain experienced end. When one experience leads to (or can lead to) the same end as another, they agree in function.
William James (Radical Empiricism - A World of Pure Experience, 1912)
Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.
William James (Letter to Carl Stumpf, 1886)
First... a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they themselves discovered it.
William James (Pragmatism, 1907)
The whole drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
There is nothing to make one indignant in the mere fact that life is hard, that men should toil and suffer pain. The planetary conditions once for all are such, and we can stand it.
William James (The Moral Equivalent of War, 1906)
The deepest principle of human nature is the craving to be appreciated. 
William James (To his class at Radcliffe College, 1896)
There is but one unconditional commandment, which is that we should seek incessantly, with fear and trembling, so to vote and to act as to bring about the very largest total universe of good which we can see.
William James (The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life, 1897)
The bottom of being is left logically opaque to us, as something which we simply come upon and find, and about which (if we wish to act) we should pause and wonder as little as possible. 
William James (The Sentiment of Rationality, 1882)
Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 19, 1890)
Dead men tell no tales.
William James (The Moral Equivalent of War, 1906)
The greatest use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
William James (Quoted in the Works of William James)
Pretend what we may, the whole man within us is at work when we form our philosophical opinions.
William James (The Sentiment of Rationality, 1882)
The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use, the gods whose demands on us are reinforcements of our demands on ourselves and on one another.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
There is only one thing a philosopher can be relied upon to do, and that is to contradict other philosophers.
William James
A young woman of twenty reacts with intuitive promptitude and security in all the usual circumstances in which she may be placed. Her likes and dislikes are formed; her opinions, to a great extent, the same that they will be through life. Her character is, in fact, finished in its essentials. How inferior to her is a boy of twenty in all these respects! His character is still gelatinous, uncertain what shape to assume, "trying it on" in every direction. Feeling his power, yet ignorant of the manner in which he shall express it, he is, when compared to his sister, a being of no definite contour.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 10, 1890)
To be "conscious" means not simply to be, but to be reported, known, to have awareness of one's being added to that being.
William James (Radical Empiricism - How Two Minds Can Know the Same Thing, 1912)
Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.
William James
An unlearned carpenter of my acquaintance once said in my hearing: "There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important." This distinction seems to me to go to the root of the matter.
William James (The Importance of Individuals)
Science as such assuredly has no authority, for she can only say what is, not what is not.
William James (Is Life Worth Living? - Chapter IV, 1895)
The attitude of unhappiness is not only painful, it is mean and ugly. What can be more base and unworthy than the pining, puling, mumping mood, no matter by what outward ills it may have been engendered? What is more injurious to others? What less helpful as a way out of the difficulty? It but fastens and perpetuates the trouble which occasioned it, and increases the total evil of the situation. At all costs, then, we ought to reduce the sway of that mood; we ought to scout it in ourselves and others, and never show it tolerance.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
As a rule we disbelieve all the facts and theories for which we have no use.
William James (The Will to Believe)
Man can alter his life by altering his thinking. 
William James
History is a bath of blood.
William James (The Moral Equivalent of War, 1906)
I myself believe that the evidence for God lies primarily in inner personal experiences.
William James (Pragmatism, 1907)
Man needs a rule for his will, and will invent one if one be not given him.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 21, 1890)
We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise anyone who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
If we remembered everything, we should on most occasions be as ill off as if we remembered nothing. It would take us as long to recall a space of time as it took the original time to elapse, and we should never get ahead with our thinking.
William James
Beauty and hideousness, love and cruelty, life and death keep house together in indissoluble partnership; and there gradually steals over us, instead of the old warm notion of a man-loving Deity, that of an awful power that neither hates nor loves, but rolls all things together meaninglessly to a common doom. This is an uncanny, a sinister, a nightmare view of life, and its peculiar poisonousness, lies expressly in our holding two things together which cannot possibly agree.
William James (Is Life Worth Living? - Chapter III, 1895)
A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
There is no worse lie than a truth misunderstood by those who hear it.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
We have to be ready to live today by what truth we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.
William James (Pragmatism, 1907)
The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
The total possible consciousness may be split into parts which co-exist but mutually ignore each other.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 8, 1890)
Nature in her unfathomable designs had mixed us of clay and flame, of brain and mind, that the two things hang indubitably together and determine each other's being but how or why, no mortal may ever know.
William James (Principles of Psychology, 1890)
If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight.
William James (Is Life Worth Living? - Chapter IV, 1895)
I look forward to a future when acts of war shall be formally outlawed as between civilized peoples.
William James (The Moral Equivalent of War, 1906)
Our minds thus grow in spots; and like grease-spots, the spots spread. But we let them spread as little as possible: we keep unaltered as much of our old knowledge, as many of our old prejudices and beliefs, as we can. We patch and tinker more than we renew. The novelty soaks in; it stains the ancient mass; but it is also tinged by what absorbs it.
William James (Pragmatism, 1907)
That nature will follow to-morrow the same laws that she follows to-day is, they all admit, a truth which no man can know; but in the interests of cognition as well as of action we must postulate or assume it.
William James (The Sentiment of Rationality, 1882)
In the deepest heart of all of us there is a corner in which the ultimate mystery of things works sadly.
William James (Is Life Worth Living? - Prologue, 1895)
A thing is important if anyone think it important.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 8, 1890)
The mind, in short, works on the data it receives very much as a sculptor works on his block of stone. In a sense the statue stood there from eternity. But there were a thousand different ones beside it, and the sculptor alone is to thank for having extricated this one from the rest.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 9, 1890)
Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.
William James (Pragmatism, 1907)
If merely "feeling good" could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervor with measure, passion with correctness, this surely is the ideal.
William James
The impulse to take life strivingly is indestructible in the race.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 21, 1890)
Fatalism, whose solving word in all crises of behavior is "All striving is vain," will never reign supreme, for the impulse to take life strivingly is indestructible in the race. Moral creeds which speak to that impulse will be widely successful in spite of inconsistency, vagueness, and shadowy determination of expectancy. Man needs a rule for his will, and will invent one if one be not given him.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 21, 1890)
Creatures extremely low in the intellectual scale may have conception. All that is required is that they should recognize the same experience again.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 12, 1890)
All the higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary.
William James (The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life, 1897)
Religion...is a man's total reaction upon life.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing to endure.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That - with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success, is our national disease.
William James (Letter to H. G. Wells, 1906)
We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar. ...Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 4, 1890)
Properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognise him.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 10, 1890)
In youth we may have an absolutely new experience, subjective or objective, every hour of the day. Apprehension is vivid, retentiveness strong, and our recollections of that time, like those in a time spent in rapid and interesting travel, are of something intricate, multitudinous, and long-drawn-out. But as each passing year converts some of this experience into automatic routine which we hardly note at all, the days and the weeks smooth themselves out in recollection to a contentless unit, and the years grow hollow and collapse.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 11, 1890)
When you have broken the reality into concepts you never can reconstruct it in its wholeness.
William James (A Pluralistic Universe)
Tell him to live by yes and no.
Yes to everything good,
No to everything bad.
William James (Quoted in The Thought and Character of William James, 1899)
It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true.
William James (Is Life Worth Living? - Chapter IV, 1895)
My thinking is first and last and always for the sake of my doing.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 22, 1890)
Metaphysics means nothing but an unusually obstinate effort to think clearly.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 6, 1890)
Real culture lives by sympathies and admirations, not by dislikes and disdain - under all misleading wrappings it pounces unerringly upon the human core.
William James (Memories and Studies, 1911)
Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 4, 1890)
The divine shall mean for us only such a primal reality as the individual feels impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely, and neither by a curse nor a jest.
William James (The Varieties of Religious Experiences, 1902)
Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.
William James (Is Life Worth Living? - Closing Remarks, 1895)
The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.
William James (Principles of Psychology - Chapter 22, 1890)
The function of ignoring, of inattention, is as vital a factor in mental progress as the function of attention itself. 
William James (Principles of Psychology, 1890)
I cannot understand the willingness to act, no matter how we feel, without the belief that acts are really good and bad.
William James (The Dilemma of Determinism, 1884)
William James Biography

Born: January 11, 1842
Died: August 26, 1910

William James was an American psychologist and philosopher. He had a very major role in the scientific field of psychology during his time and was a major influence with his book on the field.

Notable Works
Principles of Psychology (1890)
Varieties of Religious Experiences (1902)
The Moral Equivalent of War
(1906)
Pragmatism
(1907)
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