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William James: the father of American Psychology

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posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 02:34 PM
I bet you didn't think that the father of American Psychology would be the novelist Henry James' elder brother, William. Especially since William believed in God and religious experiences. While at Harvard, he focused on psychology, religion, and philosophy and published books and essays in all three disparate fields. He was a licensed psychologist. But he refused to be contained by a single discipline. The APA named him the father of American Psychology on their diamond anniversary in 1977. He is best-known for his Principles of Psychology (1890).

James was disturbed by scientific materialism. Physiological materialism states that the physical is reality and the mind and consciousness are illusions, and biological materialism of TH Huxley and John Tyndall. Materialism logically requires determinism: body determines the mind.

He suffered a great deal until he came across writings by Charles Renouvier who reasoned the defense that human freedom was central to thinking.

James said that his "first act of free will shall be to believe in free will". He refused to believe that the world was meaningless or an illusion because all he wanted to do with his life was to "do some good". And I think that he did.

James explained that there is one common and traditional idea that modern scientific psychology cannot accept: it rejects the notion that humans are a body and a soul (material + immaterial) whereas science sees them as interwoven (the soul as a process, not a thing). James realized that materialist principle is needed for scientific explanation and cannot be ignored. He saw that we must endorse free will even when science seems to oppose it.

The ties between freedom, morality, and religion are representative of different kinds of moral action. Faith in divine order can inspire people to lives of great sacrifice and love to such a degree that no other human resource can do the same.

James asserted that religious experiences have a noetic component--noetic being Greek for "knowledge". Religious experiences convey knowledge without the help of concepts supplied by intellect. He saw the mind as "a wonderful stream of consciousness". The interwoven nature of the self offers advantages to psychologists who must explore the subtle interplay between the mental and the physical.

In 1897, he published "The Will to Believe"--as a justification of religious faith.
James details that it is "a defense of our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, in spite of the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced".

In any circumstance where we have the choice to accept or reject a belief, three things naturally affect the decision:

  1. 1. "living or dead"
  2. 2. "forced or avoidable"
  3. 3. "momentous or trivial"

Those influenced by science adhere to the ethic of belief. Moral obligation to not just believe what we want, but for those beliefs to have rational support. Belief is no more "passional" and no less rational than disbelief.

James readily acknowledged the similarity of his reasoning to Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the brilliant and devoutly Catholic mathematician-physicist who formed the famous wager argument belief in God:

If God exists, it brings infinite gain to believers and incredible loss to nonbelievers; if God does not exist, the wager brings limited loss.

Thus, it is more logical and rational to believe in God than to not believe in God.
Basically, we need to examine religion scientifically and let the evidence speak for itself.

James was invited by The Gifford Trust to give the prestigious Gifford Lectures which required a treatment of religion that appealed to natural evidence not supernatural revelation--which gave James the opportunity to work scientifically and empirically. It was a 2-part project:

  1. 1. assemble evidence: testimonies from all types of people who had encountered the divine in some powerful, life-affecting form.
  2. 2. with substantial evidence, this would offer a wider philosophical assessment of beliefs, issues, and questions raised by those experiences

"In the natural sciences and industrial arts, it never occurs to anyone to try to refute opinions by showing up their author's neurotic composition. Opinions here are invariably tested by logic and experiment, no matter what their author's neurological type. It should be no otherwise with religious opinions".
--Thus, we should judge religious opinions on their own terms: "immediate luminousness, philosophical reasonableness, and moral helpfulness...only available criteria". We cannot judge religious opinions based on scientific terms just as we cannot judge science based on religion alone.

James believed that each person has a limited perspective rather than a complete view of reality. Any comprehensive system of thought involves OVERBELIEF. There can never be enough evidence to fully support a comprehensive worldview, so we must take that intellectual "leap of faith".

Now, I find it VERY INTERESTING that the fact that this religious man is the father of American Psychology escapes the notice of psychologists and students of psychology. In fact, the only reason that I know this is because I took an introduction to religion class. I haven't heard of William James in any other class for my major. My therapist has never heard of William James. I think that that's very strange, considering the APA is the standard that all psychologists in America abide by.

Psychology is usually seen as anti-religion--but is that really true? Isn't it only the religion of the mind?

William James opened a door for me and for many others. Currently, functional brain imaging captures the brains of people who are undergoing religious experiences from all types of faiths: from Buddhism to Christianity to psychedelics. And the evidence is there. What is really odd about that is that for people who speak in tongues, their frontal lobes (which are essential for language processing) shut down when they're speaking in tongues. Which brings up so many other questions.

Psychology has tried to move away from God to explain mental illness because not all mental illness is spiritual--many have distinct physical causes that are documented on scans. But what about others that have no such evidence? Is that why some people never seem to get any better--because we are treating something physical when the real issue is spiritual?

What are your thoughts? Is this yet another example of how society has attempted to rewrite history?
edit on 7-4-2016 by rukia because: free will

posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 03:05 PM
a reply to: rukia

Interestingly enough it was my studies in psychology and philosophy which took me away from religious thought and exploration. Now, fifteen years on I am finding a certain religion again.

I think I'll look the William James up.

It always struck me as illogical that when becoming a psychologist one had to choose from one of the five areas of psychology to specialise and pursue.

posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 03:16 PM
a reply to: and14263

Great! Check out the book, Nine Theories of Religion by Daniel L. Pals. That's where I learned all of this
It's a very interesting read. Now, while I work on finishing my degree, I feel more empowered because of William James. I'd like to do some good, too. That's all I've ever wanted to do. When reading about him, I identified with him a lot. Made me cry, actually
I'm such a sap. Anyway--

People have so many interests and passions it is crazy to try to restrict oneself to one field, alone. I think that if I do end up going into psychology, I'd want to do something that also involves religion. Something experimental--since I think that I'd be a terrible therapist, despite my intuitiveness. I'm far too mean and impatient
I didn't even realize that people were continuing James' studies. I'd like to try to finish his work. Or at least add to it. But who knows?
edit on 7-4-2016 by rukia because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 03:25 PM
a reply to: rukia

That's what I believe religion is... Doing good. Not worshipping a god. I think the waters of religion have been muddied so it can be used as a tool of control by the evil people in this world. Go(o)d vs (d)evil. When reading the bible, mixed in with all the mud is an underlying message to do good to others and spread love. That is something almost all of us have lost, even religious types.

Im starting to realise that the biggest conspiracy is evil. That goodness is being buried because the evil people cannot prosper with good around. Buried by materialism to begin with.

It's hard for me to understand it all, I'm at the start of a very long road. A road which when I discuss it people assume I am losing my mind. But why am I losing my mind if I just want to be good and spread goodness?
edit on 7-4-2016 by and14263 because: (no reason given)

edit on 7-4-2016 by and14263 because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 03:43 PM
a reply to: and14263

Yes! I think that you're absolutely correct. Evil is the only real conspiracy--and it is at the root of all of humanity's ills.We all have evil within us. And no matter how hard you try, you're still going to do bad things. It's inevitable. Try going a single day without feeling any pain of any kind. It's impossible. And it's proof of the reality of evil in the world.

The only thing that saves you from evil is Jesus, though. Keep that in mind. Doing good is definitely good, but ultimately it is Jesus that has power over evil. Evil runs from the blood of Jesus. I think that you feel like you're losing your mind sometimes because evil doesn't like it when people notice it. I think it might be a form of oppression. I experience similar feelings quite frequently. It's spiritual warfare.

William James talked about two kinds of people: the healthy souls and the sick souls. I think that you and I fall into the second camp. As you said, those with healthy souls are often easily misled by evil because they choose to ignore it. Ignoring evil is the death of many. Seeing it for what it is brings sorrow and fear, but ultimately it brings self-actualization.

I don't understand how people don't believe in evil. Everyone has had bad things happen to them or mean things said to them--what is that if not evil? It sure isn't good. I don't understand how they rationalize it and pretend that it doesn't exist. Ignorance is only bliss until it comes to bite you in the grass.

Like you said, ignoring evil only serves to perpetuate it. That's why the world is becoming more and more frightening every day. But there is hope in God. So stay awake and fight the good fight

edit on 7-4-2016 by rukia because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 04:06 PM
a reply to: rukia

Thanks for the write-up. James is also the father of pragmatism.

Free ebooks:

The Variaties of Religious Experience

posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 08:11 PM
a reply to: and14263

You have the essence of it right there.

Religion is an attempt to codify "doing good" in a way that ungentrified people will grasp.

The core of it all is summed up in The Golden Rule. Along with a bunch of dogmatic nonsense added as fluff. Since you can't really make an institution/power structure by just teaching The Golden Rule.

posted on Apr, 7 2016 @ 08:19 PM
I have read a lot of books that quote and reference him. Not able to bring one up in my mind right now. He's probably influenced me, by proxy, more than anyone else, even though I've never read or studied him.
edit on 7-4-2016 by amazing because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 8 2016 @ 01:57 AM
a reply to: bigfatfurrytexan

The motto of my school was 'gratis aceptis gratis date' (or similar - can't quite remember), which we were told meant 'do unto others as you would have those do to you'. Yet we all flew through life being bad to one another and taking advantage of those less fortunate, as many school kids do.

Only now am I really believing this is the key.

Thanks for the Golden Rule direction.

posted on Apr, 8 2016 @ 10:19 AM
a reply to: and14263

A college near me has what they call the Silver Rule: do unto others as they want you to do to them. It's supposed to increase respect of others with different views and stuff. I think it's pretty pragmatic.

posted on Apr, 8 2016 @ 01:00 PM

originally posted by: and14263
a reply to: rukia

It's hard for me to understand it all, I'm at the start of a very long road. A road which when I discuss it people assume I am losing my mind. But why am I losing my mind if I just want to be good and spread goodness?

Sometimes we can get too analytical with life. It can be as simple or complicated as we make it. Is one any more good because they are an educated and very literate Psychiatrist who counsels the severe mentally ill vs. an uneducated who hands out PB&J's to hungry children and brings a shoulder to cry on and a voice of reason in a chaotic environment, understanding simply that positive words and feeding the hungry is good? Good comes in all shapes and sizes as does evil. The 'understanding' isn't necessary to do either.

That being said, I studied psychology in college and I've NEVER heard of William James. But when I Google searched "Sigmund Freud, father of psychology" this is the very first result:

Who Is the Father of Psychology? - › ... › Psychology › History of Psychology
William James: The Father of American Psychology; he helped establish psychology in the U.S. and his book, The Principles of Psychology, became an instant classic. Sigmund Freud: The Father of Psychoanalysis; his theories and work established psychoanalysis as a major school of thought in psychology.

I'm sure there are a lot of Freudians going WTF?
edit on 8-4-2016 by StoutBroux because: (no reason given)

posted on Apr, 8 2016 @ 01:29 PM
a reply to: StoutBroux

LOL I hope so! Though, I like Freud. He had some interesting theories. But he was literally high for most of what he wrote, so no wonder some of it is so funky and sped-out.

Seriously, why aren't we taught about James? I can't get over how weird that is. I feel like it should definitely be in the curriculum. Especially considering so many people do have religious beliefs--how are psychologists supposed to understand that if not for James? I mean, they've already acknowledged that people who have faith in something have better prognosis rates...So, I think it compromises the integrity of psychology to totally ignore aspects of important history. Why is history all broken up and scattered everywhere? What, so nobody picks up the pieces? *dons tinfoil hat*

posted on Apr, 8 2016 @ 01:56 PM
a reply to: rukia

I don't know, especially as I was attending a private Christian university at the time. Seems like it would have been perfect timing to introduce him. But this was many years ago so who knows. My professor was a little out there, but then again, aren't all Psych professors? LOL

posted on Apr, 8 2016 @ 02:25 PM
a reply to: StoutBroux

Indeed! Oddly enough, I'm at a public school for this semester. Curious and curiouser haha

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