Reflections on the Principles of Psychology: William James after a Century

Reflections on the Principles of Psychology: William James after a Century

Reflections on the Principles of Psychology: William James after a Century

Reflections on the Principles of Psychology: William James after a Century


This important volume looks back to 1890 and -- 100 years later -- asks some of the same questions William James was asking in his Principles of Psychology. In so doing, it reviews our progress toward their solutions. Among the contemporary concerns of 1990 that the editors consider are: the nature of the self and the will, conscious experience, associationism, the basic acts of cognition, and the nature of perception. Their findings: Although the developments in each of these areas during the last 100 years have been monumental, James' views as presented in the Principles still remain viable and provocative.

To provide a context for understanding James, some chapters are devoted primarily to recent scholarship about James himself -- focusing on the time the Principles was written, relevant intellectual influences, and considerations of his understanding of this "new" science of psychology. The balance of this volume is devoted to specific topics of particular interest to James. One critical theme woven into almost every chapter is the tension between the role of experience (or phenomenological data) within a scientific psychology, and the viability of a materialistic (or biologically reductive) account of mental life. Written for professionals, practitioners, and students of psychology -- in all disciplines.


Tracy B. Henley

Michael G. Johnson

University of Tennessee

William James Principles of Psychology (1890) took 12 years to complete. Before it was done, several chapters had appeared in other forms and locations such as Mind, Scribner's, and Popular Science Monthly. By the time of its completion, some 10 years past due, James referred to it as a rat, and remarked to his publisher Henry Holt that it testified both that "there is no such thing as a science of psychology, and 2nd, that W. J. is an incapable" (Evans, 1981). It has now been 100 years since James published the Principles in 1890, and yet James and his work still offers insights and inquiries into the contemporary concerns of psychology.

Around 1942, marking 100 years since the birth of William James (1842-1910), Blanshard and Schneider (1942) edited the first commemorative anthology with the purpose of reviewing and assessing the continual impact of James's thought. Nearly 25 years later, during the American Psychological Association's 75th Anniversary Convention, a special part of the program was devoted to a discussion of four major themes (the mind-body problem, instinct, consciousness, and the will) considered by James in the Principles. The emphasis was on the progress that psychology had made on these topics, all central to James, and which were of special interest at that time (1966). MacLeod (1969) remembers the occasion:

It consequently seemed appropriate that on the seventy-fifth anniversary we should step back to 1890, ask again some of the questions James was asking, and review our progress toward their solution. The planning of the series was entrusted to a subcommittee: C. W. Bray, E. G. Boring, R. B. MacLeod, and R. L. Solomon. We found it difficult to agree on which of James's questions we should select, because there were so many of them. Should we, for in-

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