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Thursday, March 29, 2018

William James and the philosophy of thought


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Notman Studios


William James (1842-1910) was an American philosopher and psychologist best known for his contributions to Pragmatism. Philosopher George Santayana said,


"Philosophy to [James] was rather like a maze in which he happened to find himself wandering, an what he was looking for was the way out." (Character and Opinion in the United States, 1920)


Biologist Francis Crick said,


"In his monumental work, The Principles f Psychology... he described five properties of what he called 'thought'. Every thought, he wrote, tends to be part of personal consciousness. Thought is always changing, is sensibly continuous, and appears to deal with objects independent of itself." (Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for Soul, 1994)


The rest of this post is some quotes from James.




"The most violent revolutions in an individual's belief leave most of his old order standing. Time and space, cause and effect, nature and history, and one's own biography remain untouched." (What Pragmatism Means, Lectures at the Lowell Institute and Columbia University)


"Abstract rules indeed can help; but they help the less in proportion as our intuitions are more piercing, and our vocation is the stronger for the moral life. For every real dilemma is in literal strictness a unique situation..." (The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, 1897)


"The bigger the unit of deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed." (Letter to Henry Whitman, 1899)


"No philosophy can ever be anything but a summary sketch, a picture of the world in abridgment, a foreshadowed bird's eye view of the perspective of events." (A Pluralistic Universe, 1909)


"Reduced to their most pregnant difference, empiricism means the habit of explaining wholes by parts, and rationalism means the habit of explaining parts by wholes." (A Pluralistic Universe, 1909)




"There is but one indefectible certain truth, an that is the truth that Pyrrhonistic skepticism itself leaves standing - the truth that the present phenomenon of consciousness exists." (The Will to Believe, 1897)


"Consciousness, then, does not appear to itself chopped up in bits... 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." (The Principles of Psychology, 1890)


"As we take, in fact, a general view of the wonderful stream of out consciousness, what strikes us first is this different pace of it's parts. Like a bird's life, it seems to be made of an alteration of flights and perching." (The Principles of Psychology, 1890)