ND   Jacques Maritain Center : Psychology / by Michael Maher, S.J.



Feeling. -- A large portion of modern works on Psychology is usually devoted to the treatment of the phenomena allotted to the Faculty of Feeling. The words, emotion, passion, affection, sentiment, and the like, are employed to denote the acts of this third mental power. We have deemed it on the whole convenient to retain the term in common use, though we deny the necessity of assuming the existence of another ultimate faculty generically distinct from those of cognition and appetency.

Terms defined. -- The word feeling is used in several meanings: (1) To denote certain kinds of cognitive sensations, especially those of the faculty of touch. (2) To express the pleasurable or painful aspect of all species of mental energy. (3) To signify complex forms of mental excitement of a non-cognitive character. (4) As equivalent to a particular kind of rational cognition of an obscure character in which the mind has vivid certainty without knowledge of the grounds of this conviction. Emotion is employed as synonymous with feeling in the second and third meanings, more especially in the latter. Passion signifies an appetitive or emotional state, where the excitement reaches an intense degree. Affection usually denotes emotional states in which the element of liking or dislike is prominent; with some writers the term is confined to acts having persons for their objects. Sentiment signifies an emotion of an abstract or highly developed character. In ordinary language, especially in the adjectival form, it is contrasted with reasoned conviction and practical activity.

In dealing with this department of mental life We believe that our best course will be to give here a short treatment of feeling understood as the pleasurable or painful tone of mental activities generally; and in a later chapter we shall examine in particular a few of the more important states usually classed as emotions.

Aristotle's Theory of Feeling. -- The subject of the nature and conditions of pleasure and pain, like so many other psychological problems, was grasped by Aristotle, over two thousand years ago, with such clearness and treated with such fulness that little of substantial importance has been added by any modern thinker. The doctrine of Hamilton or Mr. Spencer, for instance, is merely the old theory in new phraseology. We shall, therefore, adhere closely to the account of the subject given by the Greek philosopher.

(1) Nature of Pleasure. -- In opposition to Plato, who held that all pleasure is merely a transition, a passage from pain, and consequently of a negative or relative character, Aristotle teaches that there are positive or absolute pleasures. Admitting that the satisfaction of certain bodily cravings, such as hunger and thirst, produces agreeable feeling, he argues: "This does not happen in all pleasures; for the pleasures of mathematical studies are without (antecedent) pain; and of the pleasures of the senses those which come by smelling are so; and so are sounds and sights, and many recollections also, and hopes. By what then will these be generated? for there have been no wants of anything to be supplied."{1} Pleasure, in fact, he repeatedly asserts, is a positive concomitant or resulting quality of the free and vigorous exercise of some vital energy. It is the efflorescence, the bloom of healthy activity. To each faculty, whether sensuous or intellectual, belongs an appropriate pleasure. Vision, hearing, and the activities of the other senses, are all productive of agreeable feeling, but still more so is intellectual speculation.

(2) Intensity. -- The intensity of the pleasure depends partly on the state of the faculty or habit which lies at the root of the activity, partly on the nature of the object which forms the stimulus. In proportion as the energy of the faculty is greater, and its object more fitted to elicit lively response, so is the pleasure the keener. The most perfect pleasure results in the greatest delight. Furthermore, pleasure is not merely an effect of the exertion of the mental power: it reacts upon the energy from which it springs, stimulates that energy, and perfects its development. Agreeable feeling, in fact, is at once the result and the final complement of vital energies.

Aristotle thus reasons: "Since every sense energizes with reference to its object, and that energizes perfectly which is well disposed with reference to the best of all the objects which fall under it, . . . this must he the most perfect and the most pleasant; for pleasure is attendant upon every sense, as it is also upon every act of intellect and contemplation; but the most perfect is the most pleasant, and the most perfect is the energy of that which is well-disposed with reference to the best of all the objects that fall under it. Pleasure, therefore, perfects the energy. But that there is a pleasure in every act of the perceptive faculty is evident; for we say that sights and sounds are pleasant; and it is also evident that this is most so, when the perceptive faculty is in the most efficient condition, and energizes on the most suitable object."{2}

(3) Duration. -- The duration of a pleasure is similarly determined by the nature of the stimulus and the condition of the faculty. So long as a harmonious relation subsists between them -- so long, in fact, as the faculty is fresh and vigorous and the action of the stimulus suitable -- the energy will be agreeable. For, there will then be an easy spontaneous activity in harmony with the nature of the mental power. But no human faculty is capable of incessant exertion, and when an energy becomes relaxed or fatigued, the corresponding pleasure decreases, and will soon pass into the state of pain.

(4) Variation. -- Hence the utility of change. It is the decay of vital force during incessant action which explains the charm of novelty. Whilst an experience is new, the efficiency with which our mental powers are applied to it is at a maximum, but as time goes on vigour diminishes, and the operation becoming less perfect, the pleasure proportionately declines. Agreeable feeling is, therefore, the concomitant of the exercise of our faculties, as long as that exercise is spontaneous and unimpeded.{3}

(5) Quality. -- Pleasures, Aristotle further teaches may be held to differ in kind in so far as they are perfections of specifically different energies. Intellect and the several senses are essentially different faculties, their operations must similarly differ, and consequently the pleasures which result from and perfect these latter must also differ in kind. Conflicting pleasures, or rather the pleasures of conflicting energies, neutralize each other, and may even result in positive pain. This follows inevitably from the nature of pleasure. For when several faculties interfere with each other, their energies are deteriorated, just as if they were improperly exerted or acted upon by an unsuitable stimulus. But when our activities are exhausted and impeded, the resulting state is necessarily disagreeable. The moral rank of the feeling is determined by that of the faculty to which it belongs, superior energies begetting nobler pleasures.

Nature of Pain. -- From this analysis of pleasure we derive at once a correlative doctrine of pain. The latter mode of consciousness arises by excess or defect in the exercise of a faculty, or by imperfection or unsuitability in the nature of the object. Excess and defect may refer either to the duration or to the degree of the excitement. Both states are also dependent on the natural scope and efficiency of the faculty, its acquired habits, and its actual condition of health and energy.{4}

Laws. -- The above results may he enumerated in the following general statements: (1) Pleasure is an accompaniment of the spontaneous and healthy activity of our faculties, and pain is the result of either their restraint or excessive exercise. (2) Pleasure augments with increasing vigour in the operation up to a certain normal medium degree of exertion and progressively diminishes after that stage is passed: farther on the pleasure disappears altogether, and beyond this line pain takes its place.

The reader can easily justify for himself the general application of this law by reflecting on various activities, such as those of physical pursuits, of the senses, of the imagination, and of intellect. The most striking exception is found in the case of a few experiences -- e.g. disagreeable tastes and smells -- which appear to be unpleasant even in the faintest degree. This circumstance is ascribed to the fact that some stimuli have an essentially noxious or corrosive effect on the sense-organ. The excessive or painful limit is thus virtually identical with the threshold of consciousness. The number, however, of such excitants is probably much less than is commonly supposed. This is shown by the fact, that several of our worst smelling and tasting substances -- certain acids, for instance -- in diluted forms contribute to the production of very agreeable mixtures.

The laws just stated are supplemented or qualified by other subsidiary principles: (a) The Law of Change -- variatio delectat. -- Change is agreeable. There is a certain degree of relativity in most of our pleasures. The hedonic quality of an activity is increased by contrast with a previous state of consciousness. The pleasures of existence are augmented by alternations of rest and exercise. Nature has given a certain rhythmic constitution to our conscious life and the temporary repose of each faculty, or its cessation from one form of exercise gives fresh zest for another activity. (b) The Law of Accommodation. -- Continuous or frequent exorcise dulls and blunts the faculty. It becomes habituated to its stimulus unless prolongation of the stimulation results in inflammation or some new disorder. The nervous reaction grows feebler and the feeling of pleasure diminishes. Fortunately sensibility to pain is also deadened. This is particularly observable in sensations of taste. With frequent use stronger condiments and stimulants are required to produce an equal effect. (c) The Law of Repetition. -- Whilst in accordance with the principle just stated, continuous or frequent exercise tends to diminish the pleasure of an activity, on the other hand repetition of a neutral or even painful experience often endows it with a new pleasure. Sometimes, indeed, tbe reiteration of an action originally disagreeable creates a habit that results in a strong craving for its exercise.

Feeling not a third faculty. -- The explanation we have given of the nature of pleasure and pain, enables us to see the error of assuming a third faculty radically distinct from cognition and appetency, in order to account for the phenomena of feeling in this sense. Pleasure and pain are not special products of a new activity. They consist in the harmonious or inharmonious, the healthy or unhealthy working of any and every mental power. We cannot separate the agreeable or disagreeable character of our various operations from these operations, and then set it up as an act of a fresh faculty. Pleasure and pain are merely aspects of the fundamental energies of the mind. We are warranted in postulating a special perfection in the soul as a ground for tactual or gustatory consciousness, but we may not gratuitously call into existence additional faculties to inform us of the varying perfection of these activities. The pleasure which passes into pain with increase of stimulation, is but the tone of the function, not the manifestation of a new power.

Theories of Pleasure and Pain. -- The ancient Greek views on this subject, though often criticized as vague and imperfect, contain, as we have observed, the main features of all subsequent theories. Among modern writers, Spinoza insists on the relative side of the phenomena, for him pleasure is progress -- "the transition from a less to a greater perfection." Kant inclines still more to the Platonic doctrine. He defines pleasure as "a feeling of the furtherance or promotion of the life-process;" whilst pain is "the feeling of its hindrance." But as such promotion implies hindrance to be overcome, pleasure, he holds, always presupposes previous pain. Schopenhauer and modern pessimists dwell much on this negative aspect of pleasure. According to them all, agreeable feeling is merely escape from pain by the satisfaction of some want.

On the other side, Descartes, followed by Leibnitz, teaches that pleasure consists in the consciousness of perfection possessed. Hamilton, adhering more closely to Aristotle, defines pleasure as "the reflex of the spontaneous and unimpeded activity of a power of whose energy we are conscious;" and pain as "the reflex of over-strained or repressed exertion." Bain formulates his doctrine in the "Law of Self-Conservation:" Pleasure is the concomitant of an increase, pain of an abatement of some or all vital functions. Recent physiological psychologists adopt the Aristotelian conception of pleasure and pain, but emphasize in their definitions what they assume to be the underlying organic process -- the integration or disintegration of the neural elements employed, and the adjustment or maladjustment of the organ to the stimulus or general environment. Thus Grant Allen describes pain, as "the subjective concomitant of destructive action or insufficient nutrition in any sentient tissue;" and pleasure, as "the subjective concomitant of the normal amount of function in any such tissue." Whilst Herbert Spencer would enlarge the generalization and adapt it to the evolutionist hypothesis.{5} With him pleasure is the outcome of organic equilibrium, harmonious functioning. It is the accompaniment of normal medium activity of an organ, and is, consequently, beneficial. Excessive or defective exercise, on the other hand, results in pain and so tends to cause a return to equilibrium. The protective influence of pleasure and pain is, therefore, he maintains, an agency of the first importance in the struggle for life.

Criticism. -- Whilst fully acknowledging the value of any light to be gathered from physiology concerning the organic conditions of pleasure and pain, especially of the sensuous faculties, the psychologist may yet fairly object that the account of the phenomena given by Aristotle in terms of consciousness is both more appropriate in this science and more defensible in itself, than these later physiological theories on the subject. Aristotle's doctrine receives immediate support and confirmation from introspective observation, whereas these "scientific" descriptions are still, to say the least, in great part hypothetical. It is far from being proved that even sensuous pleasure is invariably accompanied by integration or nutrition of the nervous mechanism, and that pain always means physiological waste and injury. A large class of pleasant stimulants may be injurious to vital functions; several kinds of agreeable food are not wholesome, or at all events not so in proportion to their pleasantness. Many exciting pleasures are not beneficial, and they would seem to involve disintegration and injury of neural tissue rather than its reparation; whilst other experiences and exercises not immediately pleasurable are found to be wholesome. The cerebral conditions of the higher rational and aesthetic feelings are still more obscure. When the generalization is enlarged in the interests of the theory of evolution, the exceptions become still more numerous, and the asserted coincidence between immediate pleasure and ultimate profit in the struggle for existence can only be maintained by the introduction of so many qualifications to meet each conflicting instance, that our confidence in the universality of the alleged law, and in the deductions derived from it, is seriously diminished. Still the broad fact observed by Aristotle, and reiterated by Christian philosophers from the earliest times, that pleasure in general accompanies energies in harmony with the well-being of the organism whilst pain results from what is injurious cannot be gainsaid.

Readings. -- For Aristotle's theory of Pleasure and Pain, see his Ethics, Lib. X. cc. 1-5 St. Thomas, Comment. ll. 1-9; Fargos, Le Cerveau, &c., pp. 412-419; and Hamilton, Metaphysics, Lect. xliii. The fullest exposition of the scholastic doctrine is given by M. J. Gardair, Les Passions et la Volonté, pp. 117-190. On Feeling, cf. Jungmann, Das Gemüth, §§ 53-60. 83, seq.

{1} Ethics, Lib. X. c. 3.

{2} Ethics, Lib. X. c. iv.

{3} St. Thomas thus paraphrases Aristotle: Quaelibet operatio sensus maxime est delectabilis quando et sensus est potentissimus id est optime vigens in sua virtute, et quando operatur respectu talis objecti, id est maxime convenientis. Et quamdiu in tali dispositione manet et ipsum sensibile et animal habens sensum, tamdiu manet delectatio. . . . Tamdiu erit delectatio in operatione quamdiu ex una parte objectum quod est sensibile vel intelligibile est in debita dispositione, et ex alia parte, ipsum operans, quod est discernans per sensum vel speculans per intellectum. . . . Et nullus continue delectatur, quia laboret in operatione quam consequitur delectatio." (Ethics, Lib. X. lect. 6.)

{4} "Operationes sunt delectabiles, in quantum sunt proportionatae et connataturales operanti: cum autem virtus humana sit finita, secundum aliquam mensuram operatio est sibi proportionata; unde si excedat illam mensuram jam non erit sibi proportionata, nec delectabilis, sed magis laboriosa et attaedians." (Sum. I-II, q. 32. a. I.

{5} Cf. Baldwin, Emotions and Will, c. v. and Spencer, Principles of Psychology, Vol I. Part II. c. ix.

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