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James, William (1842–1910)

Subject Philosophy

People James, William

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


American pragmatist philosopher and psychologist, born in New York City and taught mainly at Harvard. James developed pragmatism from Peirce's theory of meaning to become a metaphysics of truth and meaning. He sought to determine what it means to believe and what it means for an idea to be meaningful and true. His account of the “will to believe” held that where we lack a rational basis to choose between alternatives, our belief can legitimately be decided by emotional consequences. An idea is true if the results of accepting the idea are good. Truth is made rather than discovered, although the invention of truth is conventional rather than arbitrary. Philosophy involves temperament and personal attitudes toward the world and is not merely a logic for seeking solutions to a set of problems. He saw the history of philosophy as a battle between tough-minded philosophers (who reject everything aside from facts as false) and the tender-minded ones (who value certain principles more than facts), although James sought to reconcile these approaches in his own work. His accounts of the “stream of consciousness” and of emotion have had great influence. His major works include The Principles of Psychology (1890), The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), Pragmatism (1907), A Pluralistic Universe (1909), The ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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