J

the brain and central nervous system, an axiom
central to modern psychology.
In harmony with his parallelism and modern
evolutionary theory, Jamess psychology is pre
dicated upon psychological functionalism, which
asserts that the mind, consciousness, memory,
and cognition are evolved traits that exist because
they promote human survival. According to this
paradigm, consciousness and the self awareness it
facilitates are made possible by the central ner
vous system and exist because of theiradaptive
value.
James describes the central nervous system
as a biological machine that receives sense
impressions and discharges reactions that pro
mote survival of the organism. The biological
principle that drives this process is homeostasis,
the tendency of organisms to seek stability and
respond in ways that will promote survival.
In accord with this principle, humans are direc
ted by sensations registered in the central ner
vous system. Accordingly, human behavior will
tend toward those activities that are pleasur
able and avoid those that are painful, because
they promote survival. However, according to
James, humans are not merely reactive organ
isms directed by biological instincts and drives.
In humans, responses and interactions between
the individual and the environment are medi
ated by consciousness.
According to Jamess concept of conscious
ness, early in childhood and forever after, many
of the sense impressions that guide human con
duct are mediated by and attached to signs and
symbols that, as categories of thought, can
be stored in memory and called to the fore
front of consciousness. Through learning, peo
ple acquire these categories from society. In
cognition, through the processes of association
and disassociation, these categories facilitate
discrimination, whereby people can categorize
and differentiate between different objects and

James, William
(18421910)

Frank J. Page

William James was the son of a theologian and
brother of the novelist Henry James. He taught
psychology and philosophy at Harvard Univer
sity. His Principles of Psychology (1890) is the
foundation of modern psychology. An anno
tated version, On Psychology: Briefer Course,
was published in 1892. Other major works
include The Will to Believe (1897), Human
Immortality (1898), The Varieties of Religious
Experience (1902), Pragmatism (1907), and The
Meaning of Truth (1909). Along with Charles S.
Peirce, Charles H. Cooley, and John Dewey, he
was instrumental in establishing American
pragmatism. This intellectual tradition has been
an influential framework for symbolic interac
tionism, US educational practices, and many
epistemological issues. Jamess conceptions of
psychology, consciousness, cognition, self, self
esteem, stream of consciousness, and habit have
a profound relevance for many sociological
assumptions regarding the nature of society
and its influence on human conduct.
As defined by James, psychology deals with
consciousness, cognition, emotion, motivation,
and conduct, all of which must be understood
within the context of nature and evolution. His
psychology rejects dualism, an ancient and pre
valent assumption that asserts that mind (cog
nition and soul) and body are distinct and
separate entities. James replaces dualism with
parallelism, which posits that mind and body
are linked through the central nervous system,
and that there is a uniform correlation between
thought and underlying physiological pro
cesses. In effect, cognition is made possible by