Ninth Edition CoverGraziano & Raulin
Research Methods (9th edition)

William James (1842-1910) was an American psychologist and philosopher, who taught psychology at Harvard. In 1875, he presented the first course in the country on experimental psychology, although he was by no means an experimentalist and had never had a formal psychology course. 

James was a man of many paradoxes. For example, his textbooks were important in the continued development of scientific psychology. At the same time, however, he was a believer in clairvoyance, mental telepathy, spiritualism, and communication with the dead. Many colleagues, including Titchener and Cattell, criticized him for his beliefs in such mentalistic and unscientific ideas. Although known primarily as a psychologist, his degree was in medicine, a field he soon decided he did not like. For a while he studied painting, and later worked in biology and zoology, but gave those up. James was dissatisfied, too, with psychology. He eventually left the field, preferring to be known as a writer and philosopher.

The two-volume text by James, Principles of Psychology (1890), had profound effects on the development of psychology, particularly American functionalism. In that text, James set out what became the central idea in the later development of functionalism. He wrote that psychology’s goal is not the understanding of elements of consciousness but, rather, understanding how people adapt to their environments in everyday activities.

 James coined the phrase stream of consciousness for his concept of consciousness as a continual, ever changing flow of ideas. This is a very different concept from that of the structuralists, with their more mechanistic view that consciousness is composed of discreet elements. He also developed an important theory of emotion, and emphasized habit as a major component of human functioning. Those latter two developments were forerunners of behaviorism and learning theories, such as those of Thorndike, Watson, Hull, and Skinner. James’s Principles of Psychology is still read, more than 100 years later, as a model of clarity and superior writing.

Soon after the publication of Principles of Psychology, James abandoned his focus on psychology to pursue his strong interests in philosophy, and by the close of the 19th Century, James was this country’s most prominent philosopher. One of his important, and still widely read, philosophical works is The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

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