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Theosophical Encyclopedia

James, William

(1842-1910). American psychologist and philosopher who was born in New York City January 11, 1842. He joined the Theosophical Society and was a keen student of Helena P. Blavatsky’s The Voice of the Silence; in his Gifford Lectures he repeatedly quotes from that work (The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 406; William Collins Sons, Glasgow, 1977).

James studied medicine at Harvard University and also in Germany and eventually specialized in psychology. In 1872 he was appointed lecturer in physiology at Harvard College, but in 1876 moved to his real interest and taught psychology. It is interesting to note that in spite of his leaning toward metaphysics James emphasized the physiological approach to psychology, contrary to the general methodology at US universities of the time which inclined toward the mental.

In 1878 James married Alice H. Gibbens and entered a new phase in his life which resulted, in 1890, of the publication of his monumental The Principles of Psychology. After the publication of this work he seemed to lose interest in formal psychology and turned instead to the mystical. This change is illustrated by the books he wrote during this period which included Human Immortality (1898) and the work cited above.

James served as President of three organizations: the American Society of Psychical Research; the American Association of Psychologists and the American Philosophical Association. He died on August 26, 1910, at his home in Chocorua, New Hampshire.

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