Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

William James

American Philosopher, Psychologist, Physician and Teacher

"A man’s Self is the sum-total of all that he can call his, not only his body, and his psychic powers, but this clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his land and horse and yacht and bank account."

"A new position of responsibility will usually show a man to be a far stronger creature than was supposed."

"A thing is important if anyone think it important."

"An idea, to be suggestive, must come to the individual with the force of a revelation."

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

"Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune."

"By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots."

"Consciousness... does not appear to itself chopped up in bits. Such words as “chain” or “train” do not describe it fitly as it presents itself in the first instance. It is nothing jointed; it flows. A “river” or a “stream” is the metaphor by which it is most naturally described."

"Everybody ought to do at least two things each day that he hates to do, just for practice."

"Faith is one of the forces by which men live, and the total absence of it means collapse."

"Fear of life is one form or other is the great thing to exorcise; but it isn’t reason that will ever do it. Impulse without reason is enough, and reason without impulse is a poor makeshift. I take it that no man is educated who has never dallied with the thought of suicide."

"Freedom’s first deed should be to affirm itself."

"I [have] often said that the best argument I knew for an immortal life was the existence of a man who deserved one."

"If we remembered everything, we should on most occasions be as badly off as if we remembered nothing."

"If you want a quality, act as if you already had it. Try the "as if" technique."

"In any project the important factor is your belief. Without belief there can be no successful outcome."

"In civilized life... it has at last become possible for large numbers of people to pass from the cradle to the grave without ever having had a pang of genuine fear. Man of us need an attack of mental disease to teach us the meaning of the word. Hence the possibility of so much blindly optimistic philosophy and religion."

"In ethical, psychological and aesthetic matters, to give a clear reason for one’s judgment is universally recognized as a mark of rare genius. The helplessness of uneducated people account for their likes and dislikes is often ludicrous."

"In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important as remembering... A great many people think they are thinking when they are rearranging their prejudices... the difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of cause."

"Instinctive reactions and emotional expressions thus shade imperceptibly into each other. Every object that excites an instinct excites an emotion as well."

"Lives based on having are less free than lives based either on doing or on being."

"Men habitually use only a small part of the power they possess and which they might use under appropriate circumstances."

"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."

"My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind - without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos."

"Nature... is frugal in her operations and will not be at the expense of a particular instinct to give us that knowledge which experience and habit will soon produce. Reproduced sights and contacts tied together with the present sensation in the unity of a thing with a name, these are complex objective stuff out of which my actually perceived table is made. Infants must go through a long education of the eye and ear before they can perceive the realities which adults perceive. Every perception is an acquired perception."

"Our belief in truth itself.. that there is a truth, and that our minds and it are made for each other, what is it but a passionate affirmation of desire, in which our social system backs us up? We want to have a truth; we want to believe that our experiments and studies and discussions must put us in a continually better and better position towards it; and on this line we agree to fight out our thinking lives."

"Our faith is faith in someone else’s faith, and in the greatest matters this most the case."

"Our thought, incessantly deciding, among many things of a kind, which ones for it shall be realities, here chooses one of many possible selves or characters, and forthwith reckons it no shame to fail in any of those not adopted expressly as its own."

"Poverty indeed is the strenuous life, without brass bands or uniforms or hysteric popular applause or lies or circumlocutions."

"So far as man stands for anything, and is productive or originative at all, his entire vital function may be said to have to deal with maybes. Not a victory is gained, not a deed of faithfulness or courage is done, except upon a maybe; not a service, not a sally of generosity, not a scientific exploration or experiment or textbook, that may not be a mistake. It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true."

"Tell him to live by yes and no - yes to everything good, not to everything bad."

"The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook."

"The blindness in human beings... is the blindness with which we all are afflicted in regard to the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves."

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

"The first thing to learn in intercourse with others is noninterference with their own peculiar ways of being happy, provided those ways do not assume to interfere by violence with ours."

"The great revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives."

"The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes."

"The highest flights of charity, devotion, trust, patience, bravery to which the wings of human nature have spread themselves have been flown for religious ideals."

"The instinct of ownership is fundamental in man’s nature."

"The mind is at every stage a theater of simultaneous possibilities. Consciousness consists in the comparison of these with each other, the selection of some, and the suppression of the rest by the reinforcing and inhibiting agency of attention. The highest and most elaborated mental products are filtered from the data chosen by the faculty next beneath, out of the mass offered by the faculty below that, which mass in turn was sifted from a still larger amount of yet simpler material, and so on."

"The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That - with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success - is our national disease."

"The problem with the man is less what act he shall now choose to do, than what being he shall now resolve to become."

"The ultimate test for us of what a truth means is the conduct it dictates or inspires."

"The exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess Success is our national disease."

"There is an everlasting struggle in every mind between the tendency to keep unchanged, and the tendency to renovate, its ideas. Our education is a ceaseless compromise between the conservative and the progressive factors... Most of us grow more and more enslaved to the stock conceptions with which we have once become familiar, and less and less capable of assimilating impressions in any but the old ways... Genius, in truth, means little more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way."

"There is an organic affinity between joyousness and tenderness. Religious rapture, moral enthusiasm, ontological wonder, cosmic emotion, are all unifying states of mind, in which the sand and grit of selfhood incline to disappear, and tenderness to rule."

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

"There is no proof that the same bodily sensation is ever got by us twice."

"To change one's life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions."

"We are ready to be savage in some cause. The difference between a good man and a bad one is the choice of the cause."