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A collection of quotes from William James that all could’ve come from . . . Bill James!

From a few years ago, some quotes from the classic psychologist that fit within the worldview of the classic sabermetrician:

Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is theoretically possible.

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him.

Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.

An act has no ethical quality whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible.

Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.

Belief creates the actual fact.

Compared to what we ought to be, we are half awake.

Do something everyday for no other reason than you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.

Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.

Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.

If any organism fails to fulfill its potentialities, it becomes sick.

If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.

In the dim background of mind we know what we ought to be doing but somehow we cannot start.

Individuality is founded in feeling; and the recesses of feeling, the darker, blinder strata of character, are the only places in the world in which we catch real fact in the making, and directly perceive how events happen, and how work is actually done.

It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all. And often enough our faith beforehand in an uncertified result is the only thing that makes the result come true.

It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one has not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.

Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.

Some are more Bill-James-like than others, but, as a whole, this list is kind of amazing.

14 Comments

  1. They also sound like they could be fortunes inside the cookies from our local Chinese restaurant. Or loosely translated, quotes about LeBron James (American basketball player) from ESPN (an American sports TV network).

    A. It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome
    B. It’s the players’ attitudes at the begnning of a playoff game which, more than anyting else, will affect their chances.

    A. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and life is after all a chain.
    B. A team is no stronger than its weakest player, and basketball is after all a team sport.

    A. If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.
    B. If you want to win, act like winners.

    A. Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed.
    B. Clutch situations and tense moments show us how much deeper their bench is than anyone imagined at the beginning of the series.

    A. Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.
    B. Nothing is so fatiguing as a second overtime.

    Just saying.

  2. zbicyclist says:

    “An act has no ethical quality whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible.”

    Equally possible? James was before Claude Shannon, and surely would today have modified this to measure bits of ethical quality. :)

  3. Sean Matthews says:

    > It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

    Ah, that was William Clifford (The Ethics of Belief). Most definitely _not_ William James.

  4. Rob says:

    What is the best Bill James book I should read?

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