1902 Encyclopedia > Psychology > Conduct

(Part 89)

(K) Presentation of Self, Self Consciousness, and Conduct (cont.)


The growth of intellection and self-consciousness reacts powerfully upon the emotional and active side of mind. To describe the various sources of feeling and of desire that thus arise – aesthetic, social and religious sentiments, pride, ambition, selfishness, sympathy, &c., -- is beyond the limits of an article like the present. [85-2] But at least a genera résumé of the characteristics of activity on this highest or rational level is indispensable. If we are to gain any oversight in a matter of such complexity it is of the first importance t keep steadily in view, as a fundamental principle, that as the causes of feeling become more complex, internal, and representative the consequent actions change in like manner. We have noted this connexion already in the case of the emergence of desires, and seen that desire in prompting to the search for means to its end is the primum movens of intellection (pp. 73-75). But intellect does much more than devise and contrive in unquestioning subservience to the impulse of the moment, like some demon of Eastern fable; even the brutes, whose cunning is on the whole of this sort, are not without traces of self-control. As motives conflict and the evils of hasty action recur to mind, deliberation succeeds to mere invention and design. In moments of leisure, the more imperious cravings being stilled, besides the rehearsal of failures or successes in the past, come longer and longer flights of imagination into the future. Both furnish material for intellectual rumination, and so we have at length (1) conceptions of general and distant ends, as wealth, power, knowledge, and self-consciousness having arisen – the conception also of the happiness or perfection of self, and (2) maxims or practical generalizations as to the best means to these ends. Instead of actions determined by the vis a tergo of blind passion we have conduct shaped by what is literally prudence or foresight, the pursuit of ends that are esteemed desirable till they are judged to be good. The good, it is truly urged, is not to be identified with the pleasant, for one implies a standard and a judgment and the other nothing but a bare fact of feeling; thus the good is often not pleasant and the pleasant not good; in talking of the good, in short, we are passing out of the region of nature into that of character. It is so, and yet this progress is itself so far natural as to admit of psychological explication. As already urged (p. 72), the causes of feeling change as the constituents of consciousness change and depend more upon the form of that consciousness as that increases in complexity. When we can deliberately range to and fro in time and circumstances, the good that is not directly pleasant may indeed be preferred to what is only pleasant while attention is confined to the seen and sensible; but then the choice of such good is itself pleasant, -- pleasanter than its rejection would have been. Freedom of will in the sense of absolute arbitrariness of "causeless volition," then, is at least without support from experience. The immediate affirmation of self-consciousness that in the moment of action we are free must be admitted indeed, but it does not prove what it is supposed to prove – the existence of a liberum arbitrium indifferentiae – but only that the relation of the end approved to the empirical self as then presented was the determining motive. This freedom of this empirical self is in all cases a relative freedom; hence at a later time we often come to see that in some past act of choice we were not our true selves, not really free. Or perhaps we hold that we were free and could have acted otherwise; and this also is true if we suppose the place of the purely formal and abstract conception of self had been occupied by some other mood of that empirical self which is continuously, but at no one moment completely, presented. It must, however, be admitted that psychological analysis in such necessarily always remain so; and that for the simple reason that all we discern by reflexion must ever be less than all we are. That empirical self that the subject sees and even fashions is after all only its object and workmanship, not itself. If this be so, the indeterminist position, that particular acts are not fully determined by aught in consciousness, can neither be certainly established nor finally overthrown on scientific grounds; but the presumption is against it. In another sense, however, it may be allowed that freedom is possible, if not actual, viz., as synonymous with self-rule or autonomy. Freedom applied not to the ultimate source of an activity but to execution; that man is free "externally" who can do what he pleases, and when we talk of internal freedom the same meaning holds. [85-3]


85-2 The psychology of a century or so ago, like the biology of the same period, was largely of the "natural history" type and was much occupied with such descriptions; writers like Dugald Stewart, Brown, and Abercrombie, e.g., draw freely from biography (and even from fiction) illustrations of the popularly received mental faculties and affections. A very complete and competent handling of the various emotions and springs of action will be found in Bain, The Emotions and the Will; Nahiowsky, Das Gefühlsleben, 2nd ed., 1884, is also good.

85-3 See ETHICS, to which these questions more fitly belong.

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