William James

James was remembered as one of America's representative thinkers, psychologist, and philosopher. William James was also one of the most influential writers on religion, psychical research, and self-help. He was told to have a few disciples that followed his writing since they were inspired and enriched by his research.

The most ancient parts of truth … also once were plastic. They also were called true for human reasons. They also mediated between still earlier truths and what in those days were novel observations. Purely objective truth, truth in whose establishment the function of giving human satisfaction in marrying previous parts of experience with newer parts played no role whatsoever, is nowhere to be found. The reasons why we call things true is the reason why they are true, for 'to be true' means only to perform this marriage-function.

Truths emerge from facts, but they dip forward into facts again and add to them; which facts again create or reveal new truth (the word is indifferent) and so on indefinitely. The 'facts' themselves meanwhile are not true. They simply are. Truth is the function of the beliefs that start and terminate among them.

A live squirrel supposed to be clinging on one side of a tree-trunk; while over against the tree's opposite side a human being was imagined to stand. This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly round the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the squirrel moves as fast in the opposite direction, and always keeps the tree between himself and the man, so that never a glimpse of him is caught. The resultant metaphysical problem now is this: Does the man go round the squirrel or not?

When he said that the whole meaning of a (clear) conception consists in the entire set of its practical consequences, he had in mind that a meaningful conception must have some sort of experiential "cash value," must somehow be capable of being related to some sort of collection of possible empirical observations under specifiable conditions.

From this, we also know that "new" truths must also correspond to already existent truths as well.

James went on to apply the pragmatic method to the epistemological problem of truth. He would seek the meaning of "true" by examining how the idea functioned in our lives. A belief was true, he said, if it worked for all of us, and guided us expeditiously through our semihospitable world. James was anxious to uncover what true beliefs amounted to in human life, what their "cash value" was, and what consequences they led to. A belief was not a mental entity which somehow mysteriously corresponded to an external reality if the belief were true. Beliefs were ways of acting with reference to a precarious environment, and to say they were true was to say they were efficacious in this environment. In this sense the pragmatic theory of truth applied Darwinian ideas in philosophy; it made survival the test of intellectual as well as biological fitness.

If theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true, for pragmatism, in the sense of being good for so much. For how much more they are true, will depend entirely on their relations to the other truths that also have to be Acknowledged.

According to James's pragmatic approach to belief, knowledge is commonly viewed as a justified and true belief. James will accept a view if its conception of truth is analyzed and justified through interpretation, pragmatically. As a matter of fact, James's whole philosophy is of productive beliefs.

In contrast, the weak side to pragmatism is that the best justification for a claim is whether it works. However, a claim that does not have outcomes cannot be justified, or unjustified, because it will not make a difference.

Chance is the 'free element,' that part of the model we have no control over. James says that in the sequence of the model, chance comes before choice. In the moment of decision we are given the chance to make a decision and then the choice is what we do (or do not do) regarding the decision.

A supply of ideas of the various movements that are … left in the memory by experiences of their involuntary performance is thus the first prerequisite of the voluntary life.

What James describes is that once you've made a decision in the past, the experience is stockpiled into your memory where it can be referenced the next time a decision must be made and will be drawn from as a positive solution. However, in his development of the design, James also struggled with being able to prove that free will is actually free or predetermined.

I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. I finished the first part of Renouvier's second Essais and see no reason why his definition of free will—"the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts"—need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present—until next year—that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will.

The stronghold of the determinist argument is the antipathy to the idea of chance ... This notion of alternative possibility, this admission that any one of several things may come to pass is, after all, only a roundabout name for chance.

What is meant by saying that my choice of which way to walk home after the lecture is ambiguous and matter of chance? ... It means that both Divinity Avenue and Oxford Street are called but only one, and that one either one, shall be chosen.

James's preference was to focus on human experience, leading to his research of the subconscious. This was the entryway for the awakening transformation of mystical states. Mystical states represent the peak of religious experience. This helped open James's inner process to self-discovery.

Why do we run away if we notice that we are in danger? Because we are afraid of what will happen if we don't. This obvious answer to a seemingly trivial question has been the central concern of a century-old debate about the nature of our emotions.

James set out to answer his question by asking another: do we run from a bear because we are afraid or are we afraid because we run? He proposed that the obvious answer, that we run because we are afraid, was wrong, and instead argued that we are afraid because we run:

Our natural way of thinking about … emotions is that the mental perception of some fact excites the mental affection called emotion, and that this latter state of mind gives rise to the bodily expression. My theory, on the contrary, is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur IS the emotion (called 'feeling' by Damasio).

One of the long-standing schisms in the philosophy of history concerns the role of individuals in social change.

Psychology: Briefer Course (rev. and condensed Principles of Psychology), The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, Talks to Teachers and Students, Essays (nine others)
The Varieties of Religious Experience, Pragmatism, A Pluralistic Universe, The Meaning of Truth, Some Problems of Philosophy, Essays
Pragmatism, Essays in Radical Empiricism, and A Pluralistic Universe complete; plus selections from other works