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William James - Father of American Psychology

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Known as the "Father of American Psychology" William James was more than just a typical psychologist. He was the influential beginning of a new view of the consciousness of us as humans. He taught the first psychology class ever at Harvard in 1876, and this led to one of the most popular classes taken in educational institutions today. But just as any other influential person, he himself was also influenced to become this respected person. In doing my research on William James's life there were certain points that stuck out to me as contributing factors to becoming a leading psychologist. The first point I will discuss will be the influences of James's family and his relationships with them throughout his life. Next I will be discussing James's persona and why his own personal battles contributed to his interest in psychology. Lastly I believe that the current events of his time and generation

definitely influenced him in his ideas and career.

One of the most influential parts of someone's life is their family. William James was born in 1842, the oldest of five children, to Henry James Sr. and Mary James. He was born into a wealthy and cultivated Irish-American family that did everything together and liked to keep their children close. His father Henry Sr. was a very spiritual person which began when he lost his leg at the age of 13. He believed in the mystic religion of Swedenborg, a branch of Christianity. He had what he called a "vastation" or spiritual encounter when William was two years old. Henry Sr. did not believe in his children going to public schools, so he sent them to different private schools. He moved them from NY to Europe where they lived in multiple countries, exposing them to the Old World. Henry Sr. was very attached to his eldest son William and seemed to always want

the best for him, trying to sway him toward his own ideas. William's own relationship with his father could have influenced him his acceptance of the idea of dualism; that there are physical events and mental events.

James was one of those people never fully satisfied with the things he was doing in his life. He was constantly needing to be stimulated by something new; people, books, art, or ideas to study. He struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide. When he lived in Cambridge he started to have of thoughts taking his own life.

"All last winter [1866-1867], for instance, when I was on the verge of suicide it used to amuse me to hear you chaff my animal contentment," he wrote to Tom Ward. He lamented that "sickness and solitude make a man into a mere lump of egotism without eyes or ears for anything external, and I think notwithstanding the stimulus of the new languages etc. that I have rarely passed such an empty four months as the last." (p.76-77)

While on an extended stay in Germany where he believed the difference in environment would not only help his back problems but also further his education, James became extremely depressed and again had thoughts of taking his own life. Soon after this he went Berlin to study the nervous system and Psychology. It is said that William's

indecision about the future of his life and career also added to his depression. I believe that his own battles with depression encouraged his interest in psychology. The fact that people's own thoughts could turn against them and make them so unhappy was something worth studying in his opinion.

Along with his depression William also had episodes of hypochondria. He always felt that there was some unexplained reasoning for why his health was never good. He believed that in a way he was always sick but no one had been able to understand or catch exactly what was wrong with him. Ironically, though William died from a heart condition, at the time the doctors had really no idea what it was or how to treat his


William James grew up during a time similar to mine. There was a war going on and the economy also kept rising and falling. During that time William experienced many cultural differences, financial changes, and also changes in the people that he cared for the most including his brothers who fought in the war. Because William like his father had a very intuitive and wondering mind, these situations pushed him to think about how these life changes could affect one's mind and change their character. During the time of war there is a lot of death, fear, uncertainties about the outcome of the war, and how people's lives will change. These are situations that intuitive people such as James wanted to study, to understand how the mind works in connection to what



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