William James – Father of American Psychology

Day 111 of Colourisation Project – August 26

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Today’s subject for colourisation is American philosopher and psychologist, William James, who died on this day, August 26, 1910. James is widely acknowledged as one of the leading thinkers of his generation and possibly one of the most influential philosophers of the United States.

William James

Photo: Notman Studios – William James 1903 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

James was born in 1842 into a wealthy household of great intellect; his father, Henry James Snr. was a theologian and philosopher, his brother, Henry James, was the prominent 19th century novelist, and his sister Alice James was a diarist.

Dubbed the ‘Father of American Psychology,’ he was one of the founders of functional psychology and the first educator to offer a psychology course in the United States. He also developed a philosophical pragmatist doctrine, known as radical empiricism.  James’ work in both philosophy and psychology has influenced many intellectuals including heavyweights such as Émile Durkheim, W. E. B. Du Bois, Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Hilary Putnam, and Richard Rorty.

James wrote prolifically on many topics, including epistemology, education, metaphysics, psychology, religion, and mysticism. Among his most influential books are his twelve-hundred page masterwork, The Principles of Psychology (1890), which was a ground-breaking text in the field of psychology, the literary piece The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), The Varieties of Religious Experience, (1902) which explored different forms of religious experience, Pragmatism (1907) which further explored his philosophical beliefs, A Plural Universe (1909), his last major work to be published during his lifetime and Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912), an important text in philosophy published posthumously.

He died of heart failure at his home in New Hampshire on August 26, 1910 at the age of 68 leaving behind a considerable legacy in the sphere of psychology and philosophy through his voluminous written works and collections of essays.


“Pretend what we may, the whole man within us is at work when we form our philosophical opinions. Intellect, will, taste, and passion co-operate just as they do in practical affairs; and lucky it is if the passion be not something as petty as a love of personal conquest over the philosopher across the way.”  –  William James – The Sentiment of Rationality (1882)

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