August 26 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of William James, a giant in American intellectual history. James was a founder of pragmatic philosophy and of modern psychology. His two greatest works, The Principles of Psychology (1890) and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), are towering achievements, still relevant today in providing insights into why we behave as we do and why we believe what we do.

 

For years, I had little knowledge of William James and was instead an enthusiast of his younger brother Henry. It still mystifies me how two such extraordinary minds could have come from the same family. I first read Henry James in college and was soon a fan of his late work. I loved his complex style and subtle if wrong-headed heroines (with whom I identified).

Only much later did I… More…