American psychologist and philosopher William James.

William James

(1842 - 1910)

At different times in William James’ thirty-five-year academic career he served as a professor of physiology, psychology, and philosophy, educating, among others, Theodore Roosevelt, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Gertrude Stein. Fascinated by the “altered states of consciousness” that all religions inspired cross culturally, he experimented with hypnosis and nitrous-oxide intoxication for his famous work The Varieties of Religious Experience.

All Writing

How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness is in fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do.

—William James, 1902


A late nineteenth-century concern for the nerve-racking speed of modern life prompted neurologist George Beard to introduce the term neurasthenia for a sickness whose symptoms include headaches, anxiety, impotence, insomnia, and lack of ambition. The condition was so prevalent in the United States that William James—who received the diagnosis along with his sister, Alice—referred to it as Americanitis.


“No concrete test of what is really true has ever been agreed upon,” wrote William James in 1893. “When, indeed, one remembers that the most striking practical application to life of the doctrine of objective certitude has been the conscientious labors of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, one feels less tempted than ever to lend the doctrine a respectful ear.”

Voices In Time

1901 | Edinburgh

Channel of Blood

William James analyzes religious eccentricity.More


Gertrude Stein recalled that on the copy of her final exam for a class taught by William James she wrote, “Dear Professor James, I am so sorry but really I do not feel a bit like an examination paper in philosophy today.” She then left the room. The next day a note arrived from Professor James that said, “Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly how you feel. I often feel like that myself”—and then awarded her the highest mark in the course.

Issues Contributed