William James is hands down my favorite philosopher, and Jacques Barzun, the author of A Stroll with William James would seem to agree; indeed, he describes the book as the payment of an "intellectual debt." One can tell Barzun has led a long life because he occasionally slips into curmudgeon mode, sometimes endearingly, sometimes obnoxiously. In any case, Barzun clearly understands and admires James, and the book is an excellent introduction to William James's life and thought.
The best philosophers always seem to be something besides philosophers. Good examples of this phenomenon are William's friend, Charles S. Peirce, who, in addition to being a philosopher, was a mathematician and logician, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who in addition to being a philosopher, was a raving lunatic. As for William James himself, he
was successively: assistant professor of physiology [at Harvard] after teaching psychology for two years; assistant professor of philosophy two years after undertaking to write The Principles of Psychology and establishing the first psychological laboratory in the country; and full professor of philosophy five years before the Psychology appeared and seven before he handed over the direction of the laboratory. But of course he had begun teaching Philosophy 3 thirteen years earlier, while he was still in the department of physiology!
I could go on at further length but instead I'll just leave you with these facts to explain why William James is so awesome:
- The Principles of Psychology are really just the notes William James made when he invented the brain.
- William James's stare is The Moral Equivalent of War.
- William James doesn't write books, he stares down his brother Henry until Henry takes dictation.
- Anytime you experience anything, William James experiences it, too.
- William James's fists cure stupidity, too bad he's a pacifist.