William James

From the diaries of William James, 30 April 1870

I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. I finished the first part of Renouvier’s second “Essais” and see no reason why his definition of Free Will—”the sustaining of a thought because I choose to when I might have other thoughts”—need be the definition of an illusion. At any rate, I will assume for the present—until next year—that it is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will. For the remainder of the year, I will abstain from the mere speculation and contemplative Grü belie in which my nature takes most delight, and voluntarily cultivate the feeling of moral freedom, by reading books favorable to it, as well as by acting.   (Etc.)
(p. 6)

Editors G. Murphy and Robert Ballou.
New York : Viking 1960, p. 6.



From Henry James (father) to Henry James, Jr., 18 March 1873

[William] said several things : the reading of Renouvier (particularly his vindication of the freedom of the will) and of Wordsworth, whom he has been feeding on now for a good while; but more than anything else, his having given up the notion that all mental disorder requires to have a physical basis. This had become perfectly untrue to him. He saw the mind does irrespectively of material coercion, and could be dealt with therefore at first hand, and this was health to his bones. It was a splendid declaration, and though I had known from unerring signs of the fact of the change, I never had been more delighted than by hearing of it so unreservedly from his own lips.   (Etc.)*

* The Letters of William James, edited by his son, Henry James (Boston : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1920), Vol. I, p. 147-78.

Editors G. Murphy and Robert Ballou.
New York : Viking 1960, p. 7.


From Preface, The Varieties of Religious Experience, 1902 by William James

My thanks for help in writing these lectures are due to Edwin D. Starbuck, of Stanford University, who made over to me his large collection of manuscript material ; to Henry W. Rankin, of East Northfield, a friend unseen but proved, to whom I owe precious information ; to Theodore Flourney, of Geneva, to Canning Schiller of Oxford, and to my colleague Benjamin Rand, for documents ; to my colleague Dickinson S. Miller, and to my friends, Thomas Wren Ward, of New York, and Wincenty Lutosławski, late of Cracow, for important suggestions and advice. Finally, to conversations with the lamented Thomas Davidson and to the use of his books, at Glenmore, above Keene Valley, I owe more obligations than I can well express. [Harvard University, March, 1902.]

New York : Modern Library 1929, p. xviii.



From an Introduction (1960) by Gardner Murphy

The question has often been debated as to what factors, other than his marriage and his steady work at Harvard, had turned the semi-invalid [William James] into a productive and effective teacher and writer. The answer which he himself apparently emphasized most was that the restitution of his health came from the study of the evolutionary philosophy of the French philosopher Renouvier, who taught that spontaneity, genuine freedom, is available to the individual who strikes out on a new path for himself. He can creatively remake his personal life, including his health as well as his intellectual and spiritual goals. Evidently James’s long sufferings, his backaches, his eye-aches, his periods of semi-invalidism, his pathetic and futile journeys to the mud-baths in Bohemia, all of which left him still an invalid, were things of the past when once he realized, in the language of Renouvier, that he could spontaneously, arbitrarily re-create his own life. Though he never became really rugged, his physical and intellectual vitality were in some measure a response to this new conviction.

Editors G. Murphy and Robert Ballou.
New York : Viking 1960, pp. 5-6.


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