Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

William James

American Philosopher, Psychologist, Physician and Teacher

"When you have broken the reality into concepts you never can reconstruct it in its wholeness."

"Whenever two men meet there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man was the other sees him, and each man as he really is."

"Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude."

"Where ever you are it is your own friends who make your world."

"Where quality is the thing sought after, the thing of supreme quality is cheap, whatever the price one has to pay for it."

"Wherever you are it is your own friends who make your world."

"Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger part) always comes out of our own mind."

"Who does not see that we are likely to ascertain the distinctive significance of religious melancholy and happiness, or of religious trances, far better by comparing them as conscientiously as we can with other varieties of melancholy, happiness, and trance, than by refusing to consider their place in any more general series, and treating them as if they were outside of nature's order altogether?"

"Why may we not be in the universe, as our dogs and cats are in our drawingrooms and libraries?"

"Why should we think upon things that are lovely? Because thinking determines life. It is a common habit to blame life upon the environment. Environment modifies life but does not govern life. The soul is stronger than its surroundings."

"Wisdom is learning what to overlook."

"Wisdom is seeing something in a non-habitual manner."

"With mere good intentions hell is proverbially paved."

"With no attempt there can be no failure; with no failure, no humiliation. So our self-feeling in this world depends entirely on what we back ourselves to be and do. . . ."

"With the lover it is the end which is fixed, the path may be modified indefinitely."

"Without risks or prizes for the darer, history would be insipid indeed; and there is a type of military character which everyone feels that the race should never cease to breed, for everyone is sensitive to its superiority. The duty is incumbent on mankind, of keeping military character in stock — if keeping them, if not for use, then as ends in themselves and as pure pieces of perfection, — so that Roosevelt's weaklings and mollycoddles may not end by making everything else disappear from the face of nature."

"Yes to everything good."

"You cannot fly like an eagle with wings of a wren."

"You have enormous untapped power you'll probably never tap, because most people never run far enough on their first wind to ever find they have a second."

"Attention ? is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought, localization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatter brained state which in French is calledÿdistraction, andÿZerstreutheitÿin German."

"Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have noÿinterestÿfor me.ÿMy experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which Iÿnoticeÿshape my mind without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground intelligible perspective, in a word. It varies in every creature, but without it the consciousness of every creature would be a gray chaotic indiscriminateness, impossible for us even to conceive."

"Most people probably fall several times a day into a fit of something like this: The eyes are fixed on vacancy, the sounds of the world melt into confused unity, the attention is dispersed so that the whole body is felt, as it were, at once, and the foreground of consciousness is filled, if by anything, by a sort of solemn sense of surrender to the empty passing of time. In the dim background of our mind we know meanwhile what we ought to be doing: getting up, dressing ourselves, answering the person who has spoken to us, trying to make the next step in our reasoning? Every moment we expect the spell to break, for we know no reason why it should continue. But it does continue, pulse after pulse, and we float with it, until also without reason that we can discover an energy is given, something we know not what enables us to gather ourselves together, we wink our eyes, we shake our heads, the background-ideas become effective, and the wheels of life go round again? The abolition of this condition is what we call the awakening of the attention."

"Not easily more than one, unless the processes are very habitual; but then two, or even three, without very much oscillation of the attention. Where, however, the processes are less automatic ? there must be a rapid oscillation of the mind from one to the next, and no consequent gain of time."

"Sustained attention is the easier, the richer in acquisitions and the fresher and more original the mind. In such minds, subjects bud and sprout and grow. At every moment, they please by a new consequence and rivet the attention afresh. But an intellect unfurnished with materials, stagnant, unoriginal, will hardly be likely to consider any subject long. A glance exhausts its possibilities of interest. Geniuses are commonly believed to excel other men in their power of sustained attention? Their ideas coruscate, every subject branches infinitely before their fertile minds, and so for hours they may be rapt."

"When expectant attention is concentrated upon one of two sensations, that the other one is apt to be displaced from consciousness for a moment and to appear subsequent; although in reality the two may have been contemporaneous events."

"When we come down to the root of the matter, we see that [geniuses] differ from ordinary men less in the character of their attention than in the nature of the objects upon which it is successively bestowed."