James, William

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James, William

William James.

William James was a popular and influential philosopher whose writings and theories influenced various areas of U.S. life, including the movement known as Legal Realism.

James was born in New York City on January 11, 1842, to Henry James Sr. and Mary Walsh James. Comfortably supported by an inheritance, his parents stressed their children's abilities to make independent choices. James's formal schooling was irregular, and he studied frequently in England, France, Switzerland, and Germany. James pursued an enduring interest in the natural sciences, earning a medical degree from Harvard University in 1869, though he never intended to practice medicine. He joined Harvard's faculty in 1872, teaching anatomy and physiology. He was also interested in psychology and philosophy, seeing these as related fields through his grounding in scientific studies. He began teaching those disciplines at Harvard in 1875 and 1879, respectively. He retired from the Harvard faculty in 1907.

In his first major work, Principles in Psychology (1890), James began to articulate a philosophy based on free will and personal experience. In a theory popularized as stream of consciousness, James argued that each person's thought is independent and personal, with the mind free to choose between any number of options. The subjective choices each individual makes are determined by the interconnected string of prior experiences in that person's life. In James's thought, choice and belief are always contingent, with no possibility for some permanent, definitive structure based outside of personal experience. James's Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907) developed further his idea that knowledge, meaning, and truth are essentially the result of each person's understanding of the experiences in her or his life. Mere formalism has no absolute authority; personal experience forms the framework of belief and action for each individual.

These important elements provided the basis for the movement known as legal realism. James's rejection of immutable truths in favor of experience as the mode to interpret reality was picked up by Roscoe Pound, oliver wendell holmes jr., and others in the 1920s and 1930s as a challenge to the prevailing belief that legal principles are based on an absolute structure of truth. Legal realists connected law with social and economic realities, both as legislated and as ruled on by courts. They argued that law is a tool for achieving social and policy goals, rather than the implementation of absolute truth, whether or not it is consciously treated that way. James's empiricism, based on experience as the root of human action, had a corollary within legal realism's use of social science as an analytical tool within law.

Though legal realism as a movement was considered to be played out by the 1940s, the belief that varied forces influence the actors and changes within the legal system has become more standard than the view that legal principles are immutable truths. James provided the philosophical underpinning for this shift in thinking.

"All the higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary. They present themselves far less in the guise of effects of past experience than in that of probable causes of future experience."
—William James

James died on August 26, 1910, in Chocorua, New Hampshire.

Further readings

Allen, Gay Wilson. 1967. William James: A Biography. New York: Viking Press.

Cloud, Morgan. 1993. "Pragmatism, Positivism, and Principles in Fourth Amendment Theory." University of California at Los Angeles Law Review 41 (December).

Feinstein, Howard M. 1999. Becoming William James. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press.

Hackney, James R., Jr. 1995. "The Intellectual Origins of American Strict Products Liability: A Case Study in American Pragmatic Instrumentalism." American Journal of Legal History 39 (October).

Myers, Gerald E. 1986. William James: His Life and Thought. New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press.

Schlegel, John H. 1995. American Legal Realism and Empirical Social Science. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

Simon, Linda. 1999. Genuine Reality: A Life of William James. Chicago, Ill.: Univ. of Chicago Press.



West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The goal of William James and the Transatlantic Conversation is to "use the lens of the 'conversation' to explore James' discussions and dialogues with his contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic and to push the various elements of his thought into conversation with each other" (4).
His great nephew Malcolm Robinson, of Portsmouth, said: "Rifleman Z/1227 William James Robinson, 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade, C Company is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial (face 16B/16C).
William James' daughter, Jacqueline Murphy, and her husband were invited by the Mayor of Brussels as a guest of honour for the celebration marking the capital's liberation from Nazi occupation, part of the wider Liberation of Europe 70th anniversary events.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 28 Josie Wainwright, Clayton West, 16 Kelisha Hogan, Quarmby, 5 WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29 Olivia Mae Calpin, Lindley, 1 THURSDAY, AUGUST 30 Emily Jade Holloway, Australia, 12 William James Digman, Holmfirth, 16 SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1 Ben Lucas Chambers, Marsden, 11 MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 3 Nathan Ian McCann, Kirkburton, 14 Adam Michael Brodie, New Mill, 12 It's easy to join the Sunbeams.
Ring bearers were Nolen Jackson and Anthony Andrews Jr., nephews of the bride; and Pruet James and William James II, nephews of the groom.
- William James Martin contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
LONDON Christie's sale of Victorian and British Impressionist Art including drawings and watercolors on December 15, in London, includes a strong group of 18 works on paper from the Property of a Gentleman a treasure trove of depictions of Middle Eastern views and subjects by Edward Lear (1812-1888), William James Muller (1812-1845), David Roberts, R.A,.
Christie's sale of Victorian and British Impressionist Art Including Drawings & Watercolours on 15 December 2010, in London, includes a strong group of 18 works on paper from the Property of a Gentleman - a treasure trove of depictions of Middle Eastern views and subjects by Edward Lear (1812-1888), William James Muller (1812-1845), David Roberts, R.A.
Schultenover's edited volume, The Reception of Pragmatism in France and the Rise of Roman Catholic Modernism, 1890-1914, illustrates with clarity and specificity the influence of William James's pragmatism on Catholic thought in France.
His name is George William James Howard, he was born February 17, 1912, in Ipswich, Suffolk, England.
Zen Patriarchs, Editor Jonathan Bricklin, William James, and Theodore Flournoy all discuss perception, experience, consciousness, and more in this book for thinkers.