William James


William James Essay, Research Paper

An admitted ?Moral Psychologist?, James?s philosophies coincide with today?s

fields of Humanistic Psychology, Behavioral Psychology, and Transpersonal Psychology.

He, like Jung, dared to look outside the ?normal? experiences of the mind and expand the

concepts of consciousness. More particularly, William James attempted to describe the

processes of the conscious rather than the definition of the conscious. He was the first to

introduce our nation to psychology as a standard educational course and the founder of

pragmatism which emphasizes the elimination of unnecessary thinking and finding truth

only if it is practically applicable. Practicality, James defines, as those ideas that can be

verified, collaborated, validated, and assimilated.

He believed consciousness to be exclusive, personal, and selective, a constant

?decision maker? subject to a sea of information and perceptions specific to each

individual. Every decision or choice is unique in that James believes that the process of

thinking is linear. Each thought, according to James, proceeds and influences the next

which he called the stream of consciousness. Because of the infinite number of ?streams?

it is inevitable that each choice is totally original in it?s creation.

Within the process of selection lies the influences of the fringe, or the context that

gives meaning to the content (it is vague), and the nucleus (it is definite). Additionally,

James explains that without attention to a matter a decision can not be made, and that

habits are seemingly automatic responses to our experiences that often dictate our

decisions. Both must incorporate will which is described by James as the process that

holds one choice among the alternatives long enough to allow that choice to occur. The

rationale of choice involves two levels of knowing – knowledge of acquaintance (an

intuitive, sensory knowing) and knowledge about (intellectual, evaluative and factual


James was particularly interested in the habits of learning. He believed strongly

that successful education was dependent upon the establishment of healthy habits. Stages

involved in establishing good personal habits include: 1) a need or desire 2) information 3)

repetition. Of course will is essential in establishing good habits (or breaking bad habits)

so the training and strengthening of will were of major concern for James. He proposed

that individuals accomplish this by practicing a useless task daily in order to train and

proof themselves capable of willing themselves into any activity. Desired habits can be

established with repetition. He does however recognize the occasional need to surrender

the will and allow events to occur naturally. This, he believes, may induce a state of

complete unification, or total oneness of self, and may require or lead to a transcendent

state of mind.

?Self? is defined by James as the place from which all our mental processes

originate and through which all our experiences are perceived. The layers of self include

the Material Self (the part of us that defines and identifies ourselves via material goods

and relationships), the Social Self (similar to Jung?s persona, is the self we play in social

encounters) and the Spiritual Self (the feeling, sensing, and subjective layer).

His theory of emotions is fascinating and has lead to further research. Emotions

in James?s mind are dependent upon feedback from ones body and are a result of physical

manifestations (rather than the common believe the emotions cause physical

manifestations). This is the basis for his belief in nonattachment to emotional feelings and

the open release of emotions as they are irrelevant in that they are only indicators of your

physical state. He believed that unexpressed emotions may lead to physical and mental

illness. He also advocated that one should maintain healthy-mindedness by choosing to

act positive and believe in a sense of wellness.

Supporting his believe in the physical effects of our emotions and his conclusions

of conscious processes are studies in: Biofeedback (a means of monitoring a biological

feedback used to train the participant to control their own ?automatic? nervous system

through thought), Psychedelic Research (used to decipher the personal perception of self

in an altered state), Meditation (which is proving physiologically effective), Hypnosis

(being used as a tool to measure altered states and ultimately consciousness), and Multiple

Personality Disorders (how the ?mind? splits creating entirely different personalities).

William James, lost among many prominent psychologists, has unfortunately

remained an often unappreciated theorist. However, those that are introduced to James

can not deny his significant educational and psychological contributions. Much of modern

psychology owes gratitude and respect to William James.


I got most of the information from books and information from notebooks in college.

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