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Quote 20: William James Quotes

In Balanced Achievement’s ‘Quote 20’ series, we illuminate 20 quotes about a particular topic or 20 quotes said by a prominent individual, all of which are chosen with hopes of increasing readers levels of inspiration and motivation. In this article, we turn our attention to the wise words of the man many consider to be the ‘Father of American Psychology’ by looking at 20 William James quotes.

An image shows the immortalized James Brothers. While Henry James was being celebrated as an author, William James became the Father of American Psychology.

William James (right) with his brother Henry who was a celebrated English novelist.

When examining the history of psychology within the United States, it’s nearly impossible to find a single individual whose contributions match those of the late great William James (1842-1910). In addition to offering the very first psychology course at an American university and also introducing prominent American thinkers to the concept of a psychological laboratory, James presented a variety of important philosophical and psychological theories that still hold weight today. While he is most widely recognized for his views related to pragmatism, functionalism and emotional reaction, the immortalized psychologist also had a wealth of insight to offer on topics such as metaphysics, religion, morality and free will.

Additionally, James was a vigorous writer who published numerous books throughout his lifetime, with his most celebrated titles being The Principles of Psychology, The Varieties of Religious Experience, and Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. Due to the many contributions he made during his career, many consider William James to be the ‘Father of American Psychology’ and one of the most important psychological figures to ever grace the earth. With that being said, let’s now move onto illuminating his insightful wisdom by exploring 20 William James quotes:

“We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort.”

“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.”

“Why should we think upon things that are lovely? Because thinking determines life. It is a common habit to blame life upon the environment. Environment modifies life but does not govern life. The soul is stronger than its surroundings.”

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”

“Most people live, whether physically, intellectually or morally, in a very restricted circle of their potential being. They make use of a very small portion of their possible consciousness, and of their soul’s resources in general, much like a man who, out of his whole bodily organism, should get into a habit of using and moving only his little finger. Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.”

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

“Every perception is an acquired perception.”

“The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.”

“Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact.”

“Science can tell us what exists; but to compare the worths, both of what exists and of what does not exist, we must consult not science, but what Pascal calls our heart.”

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”

“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me,’ and when you have found that attitude, follow it.” 

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

“The eduction of attention would be an education par excellence.”

“For the philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means. It is only partly got from books; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling the total push and pressure of the cosmos.”

“Instinct leads, intelligence does but follow.”

“Your hopes, dreams and aspirations are legitimate. They are trying to take you airborne, above the clouds, above the storms, if you only let them.”

“A difference which makes no difference is no difference at all.”

“Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone.”


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