Persons [ ] We are Half Awake | William James, 1842 – 1910

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William James, Self-portrait, c 1866

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.”

“Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.”

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

“Man lives for science as well as bread.”

“Belief creates the actual fact.”

“Religion is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism.”

“Philosophy is an unusually stubborn attempt to think clearly.”

“Psychology is the science of mental life.”

“The means have murdered the end.”

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

“To study the abnormal is the best way of understanding the normal.”

“The union of the mathematician with the poet, fervor with measure,
passion with correctness, this surely is the ideal.”

“There is no more miserable human being than one
in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”

“If you care enough for a result, you will most certainly attain it.”

“A sense of humor is just common sense dancing.”

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.”

“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”

“I don’t sing because I’m happy; I’m happy because I sing.”

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”

“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

“In business for yourself, not by yourself.”

“Truth is what works.”

“Time itself comes in drops.”

“None of us are ever who we were yesterday.”

“Our view of the world is truly shaped by what we decide to hear.”

“Compared to what we ought to be, we are half awake.”

“Damn the Absolute!”

William James 1842-1910



John La Farge, Portrait of William James, c 1859

William James (1842-1910) an American philosopher and psychologist who was also trained as a physician. The first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. W. James work has influenced intellectuals such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Hilary Putnam.

William James had toyed with the idea of becoming a painter, and took lessons in the studio of William Morris Hunt in Newport, Rhode Island, but he switched in 1861 to scientific studies at the Lawrence Scientific School of Harvard University. He took up medical studies at Harvard Medical School in 1864 (according to his brother Henry James). James finally earned his M.D. degree in June 1869 but he never practiced medicine. W. James in 1902 he would write: “I originally studied medicine in order to be a physiologist, but I drifted into psychology and philosophy from a sort of fatality.”

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