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William James and Depth Psychology

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Abstract:

William James is best known for his Pragmatism (1907), his Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), and his Principles of Psychology (1890), but little is known about his excursions into depth psychology, meaning a dynamic psychology of inner experience, despite the fact that he claimed in The Varieties that the subconscious was the primary avenue through which ultimately transforming mystical experiences occur. A survey of James's evolving conceptions of consciousness thorough the stages of his career reveals that his theories about the subconscious emerged in the 1890s and became crystallized in his 1896 Lowell Lectures on Exceptional Mental States. While these lectures were never published, their content found a major place in various chapters in The Varieties, in addition to launching the so-called Boston School of Psychotherapy, experimental psychopathology at Harvard, and the popular era of psychotherapeutics that followed. As such, the Exceptional Mental States Lectures can be considered a bridge between the cognitive psychology in James's Principles (1890) and his emphasis on the primacy of the mystical experience in The Varieties (1902). Finally, some of the more important implications of James's metaphysics of pure experience are broached for current directions in neuroscience today, regarding just what constitutes an adequate science of consciousness in light of what James had to say about depth psychology.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Saybrooke Institute and Harvard Medical School, 98 Clifton Street, Cambridge, MA 02140, USA. Email:etaylor@igc.org

Publication date: 2002-01-01

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