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



Rational Appetency. -- We have sketched the chief manifestations of Appetency or Conation exhibited in the lower forms of life (c. x.), and we there distinguished various kinds of action as automatic, reflex, impulsive, and instinctive. We shall now resume our treatment of this activity as exercised in its higher grades. Amongst the most important of these is Desire. This term is not confined exclusively to inclinations of the super-sensuous order, for many yearnings aroused by the imagination of sensuous pleasures are so called.

Desire defined and analyzed. -- Desire may be defined as a mental state of longing or want aroused by the representation of some absent good. It is a form of consciousness superior to and more refined than that of appetite in the modern sense. Unlike the latter, it is not a blind organic craving limited to a single mode and definite range of activity. In common with appetite, it involves a species of discontent and longing, but its object is the representation of some known good. The newly-born infant is the subject of appetites and of reflex or instinctive movements; but it is incapable of forming a desire. The first step in the development of the power of desire is the awakening of the cognition. Some sense is excited by its appropriate stimulus, and the resulting experience is felt to be agreeable. A bright colour attracts the child's eye, its food tastes sweet, some reflex or instinctive movement affords relief or satisfaction; in a word, an experience is felt as good -- as in harmony with the agent's nature or some part of it -- and there is immediately evoked a tendency to prolong that experience, or to secure a fuller possession of the object. Should anything re-awaken the idea of such an experience, there will be excited a tendency to realize again the agreeable activity, and to reproduce the movements by which it was previously obtained. Here we have the fully developed state.

Analysis of Desire thus understood reveals to us three elements: (1) the representation of some object or experience not actually enjoyed, (2) the appreciation of this object or experience as good, and (3) a resulting tension or feeling of attraction towards the agreeable object. The two former elements are rather the conditions, the last the essence, of desire. Desire regards the future, and so aims at the realization of the ideal. In proportion as our acquaintance with various kinds of goods extends, so the field of desire widens and longings multiply. Whilst the physical appetites have their birth in sensation, and are satiated, at least for the time, by a definite quantity of appropriate exercise, desire emerging from the activity of the imagination is practically of indefinite range; and in a rational creature who can conceive boundless good it is incapable of being fully satisfied by any finite object.

Is Pleasure the only object of Desire? -- It has been much discussed in recent years whether all forms of appetency are only towards pleasure and from pain. Mill, Dr. Bain, and sensationists generally, maintain the affirmative. "Desiring a thing and finding it pleasant, aversion to it, and thinking of it as painful, are phenomena entirely inseparable, or rather two parts of the same phenomenon; in strictness of language two different modes of naming the same psychological fact -- to think of an object as desirable (unless for the sake of its consequences), and to think of it as pleasant are one and the same thing; and to desire anything except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant is a physical and metaphysical impossibility."{1} Seemingly unselfish impulses are merely the effect of association. Virtue, like money, originally desired solely as a means to happiness, is later on pursued as an end in itself. This doctrine has been effectively refuted by numerous philosophers from Butler to Drs. Martineau and Sidgwick: (1) Appetites proper are cravings whose primary object is the exercise of an activity, not the pleasure thence proceeding -- e.g., the formal object of hunger is food, not the subjective delight of eating; though of course by a reflex act this pleasure may be made an end. (2) Many desires proper are primarily extra-regarding, and not aiming at the agent's own pleasure -- e.g., the parental and social affections, sympathy, compassion, gratitude, wonder, the desire of knowledge, and the mental activities of pursuit. (3) The aim of rational volition is certainly not always pleasure. We can choose right for its own sake against the maximum pleasure. The formal object of appetite is the good, not solely the pleasant; it includes bonum honestum as well as bonum delectabile. We may further urge (a) the hedonistic paradox, viz., that the deliberate pursuit of pleasure -- the only rational end of egoistic ethics -- is suicidal. Thus, the pleasures attached to benevolence, self-sacrifice, pursuit of knowledge, field sports, &c. are annihilated if consciously set as the end of our act. (b) The assertion that all these now apparently disinterested impulses are originally the creation of pleasant associations is an appeal from consciousness to ignorance, and is by the nature of the case incapable of proof. (c) The most careful observation of children confirms the view that they are subjects of many extra-regarding impulses.{2}

Motive. -- With the multiplication of longings there inevitably arises conflict of desires. The attainment of an immediate gratification may clash with more remote good, or duty with interest. The various objects which thus excite desire are called motives. They include whatever moves or influences in any degree the Will. The apprehension of any object as desirable, whether it be ultimately preferred or not, thus constitutes a motive. Strictly speaking, the motive is not the physical being possessed of objective existence, but this being as apprehended by the mind, and represented as under some aspect desirable. The force of a motive consequently fluctuates, depending on the vividness with which it is realized in consciousness. Its attractiveness will depend partly on the quality of the object itself, partly on the general character of the man; but also more immediately on the extent to which he permits or causes it to absorb his attention at the time.

Spontaneous Action and Deliberation. -- By far the greater part of man's daily actions are determined by his habits or usual modes of thought and volition. Unreflective activity, thus issuing forth as the resultant of character and present motives, may be termed spontaneous. Most of human conduct is accordingly the outcome of the spontaneous tendency of the will. The great majority of our actions are in themselves morally indifferent; and even were a man consciously to analyze his motives, he would find no sufficient reason for interfering with the normal direction of his inclination formed by habitual action. Many of these acts, moreover, escape consciousness altogether, as, for instance, the separate movements in the operations of dressing, eating, or walking; but even in regard to those of the performance of which man is aware, he is said to give a virtual or implicit consent, rather than formally to will their execution. If any of these actions have a moral aspect, he is chiefly responsible for them indirectly, in so far as they are voluntary in causa -- that is, in so far as he implicitly intended or accepted them as effects or as part of an entire operation freely initiated by him.

Occasions, however, occur when opposing motives present themselves, and the agent has to exert more explicit volition. Some fresh consideration, running counter to the natural tendency of his disposition, emerges into distinct consciousness. The new motive may be the clearer perception of some moral obligation, of some enduring worldly advantage, or of the opportunity for proximate pleasure. When in such circumstances the agent adverts to the possibility of more than one course of action, there arises deliberation; and the course adopted is said to be deliberately chosen. The word deliberation signifies a weighing or balancing. The process implies active consideration of competing motives. It is no longer a mere struggle of impulses. The agent holds the alternatives together and compares them, He dwells on each in succession, yet in some degree retains both simultaneously before consciousness. The operation thus involves the unity of consciousness possible only to a rational Self. But we must not suppose that a protracted pondering of motives is a necessary condition of every deliberate act. Two alternatives may be consciously realized and one adopted in a moment. If I advert to the moral quality of an impulse or an action, and then acquiesce in its continuance, I thereby make it my own. It is henceforth deliberately or fully consented to, and I am responsible for it.

Choice or Decision. -- The acceptance of some suggested course or its rejection constitutes the act of choice. For this exercise of choice there must be the self-conscious reflective cognizance of at least two possible alternatives, though one may be mere abstinence from action. There is then a free practical judgment by the intellect: "This is to be preferred;" and I embrace one side, or identify myself with it. I adopt it, acquiesce in it, choose it. There is a fiat or a veto, and one side is elected.

Types of Election. -- Different forms assumed by the act of choice have been distinguished by psychologists as types of election or decision.{3} When the agent, after deliberately weighing the various reasons, finds a clear balance on one side, and then freely decides in favour of this, we have what has been called the type of "reasonable decision." At other times, becoming impatient of suspense, we seek relief in the adoption of one or other eourse in a somewhat reckless manner. Here we have the impetuous decision,

Again, on other occasions the spontaneous bent of our will -- our present inclination as the resultant of our character and actual motives -- tends in a certain direction. Though perhaps not in harmony either with our moral ideal or our general interests, this way of acting offers itself as here and now the pleasantest. It is for us the line of least resistance. After some hesitation we consent or allow our will to issue into the open channel. Our attitude is passive and permissive rather than active and selective. This is an example of acquiescent decision.

Finally, there are certain acts of choice, elicited at least occasionally by all men, but far more frequently in the experience of those who are striving after a higher moral or religious life, in which we set ourselves in opposition to the spontaneous impulse of the will, There is a distinct feeling of volitional effort, an unpleasant struggle against what is apprehended as the more agreeable suggestion. Some imagined self-indulgence, or some angry or envious thought, emerges into consciousness, and a painful and prolonged endeavour is needed to expel or suppress it. In cases like these, whilst keenly aware of the greater intensity of the attractions on one side, and whilst absolutely certain that the easiest course would be to yield to the enticement, we often set ourselves to embrace the less pleasant alternative. The general character of an act of choice of this kind -- the sense of effort, the consciousness of painful struggle, and the final adoption of the less agreeable course -- distinguishes it from the previously mentioned types of decision.{4} Each of the other varieties of choice reveals to us our moral liberty, for even in the acquiescent decision consciousness assures us that we freely ratify or consent to the stronger impulse, but these experiences of struggle against preponderating attraction bring it home to us in an exceptionally vivid manner. This type may be called anti-impulsive decision.{5}

Volition and Desire. -- The processes of deliberation and choice exemplify free or self-determined volition in the strictest sense. This word is sometimes employed to denote any act of the rational will, whether spontaneous or reflective. Using it in the strict sense it implies: (1) the conception of some object or end as good or desirable, (2) advertence to the possibility of alternative courses of action with respect to it, (3) a judicial act of preference, and (4) the consequent active tendency or inclination of myself to that side. Volition is thus to be clearly distinguished from mere desire. The latter state is necessarily awakened by the representation of a possible gratification, but the volition is originated by the mind itself, and remains within its control. In spite of feeling drawn towards a desired object we can say, No. In the will's ratification or rejection of desire our moral freedom is manifested.{6}

Various Forms of Conative Activity distinguished. -- Now that we have analyzed the chief forms of conative activity, it may be convenient here to call the student's attention to the differences by which some of the more important of them are distinguished. Instinct is described as unconsciously purposive, impulse aimed towards an end not realized in consciousness. Impulse is a state of feeling tending to issue into any action: a striving towards any end or satisfaction obscurely felt. Dr. Bain's definition of voluntary action as "feeling-prompted movement" coincides with impulsive, but not with strictly free action. Desire is a felt tension towards an end distinctly realized in consciousness, a yearning, a mental state of uneasiness awakened by the representation of an absent known good. Motive is whatever attracts the will, the apprehension of a desirable end, an agreeable consequence of my action viewed as moving me, Intention etymologically signifies the act of tending towards something, and is commonly described by the schoolmen as the tendency of the Will towards some end through some means. It is thus opposed to choice, which refers to the selection of intermediate means. If we wish to bring out the distinction between Intention and Motive, perhaps our best definition of the former will be: the Will's conscious acceptance of or consent to a contemplated action or total series of actions. The Motive is a represented good viewed as attracting me; the Intention is the Will's act of embracing a represented future good. The intention is always free, while the desire or craving is not, unless consented to or ratified.{7} Purpose or resolution is a deliberately formed intention with regard to a future series of acts or a remote end. A wish is the conception of an end as good, but without effort or intention towards its realization.

Self-control. -- The exercise of choice when the agent makes an effort to resist the spontaneous tendency of emotion or passion is an example of Self-control, on the due cultivation of which depends in the highest degree the happiness and well-being of each of us. Under Self-control psychologists usually include the power of restraining and directing thoughts, feelings, and movements, whilst from another point of view, they have distinguished different forms of Self-control as physical, prudential, and moral.

Control of Expression. -- (1) Since emotion is intimately bound up with its external expression, the suppression of the physical manifestation often speedily extinguishes the feeling. Passion is in many cases nourished and strengthened by the gestures and signs which lend it utterance, as when a man gives way to an outburst of rage. The actor by adopting the gesticulations and frowns indicative of passion, works himself temporarily into the frame of mind of the character which he impersonates. The bodily movements apparently react on the feelings and intensify them partly by suggestion, partly by augmenting the general cerebral excitement. Consequently, energetic and sustained effort to inhibit the external expression will nearly always gradually extinguish the internal feeling. "Control your temper" is, as a rule, merely another way of saying, "Keep down the manifestation of it." But sometimes the inhibition of external manifestation only turns the mind back on itself, and leaves it to brood over the irritating cause of the emotion. In such cases superficial suppression of symptoms is by itself useless.{8} An outburst of tears may relieve the pent-up grief; and vigorous physical exercise of a neutral character may work off a fit of passion.

Control of Thought. -- (2) In instances of this kind, Control is best exerted by attacking the thought which is the root of the impulse. This may be accomplished indirectly, by withdrawing attention from the exciting idea and fixing it upon some rival object. Thus, when the recollection of a past insult awakens a feeling of anger or a desire of revenge, it would generally be extremely difficult to conquer the temptation by a direct veto or a simple "I will not be angry." The most efficacious means to restrain the malevolent impulse is to transfer the attention to some other matter. And here we may either simply endeavour to banish the irritating thought and engross our mind in something else; or we may advance and attack the evil suggestion by concentrating our attention on an Opposing motive, such as the beauty of the virtue of forgiveness, the charity of Christ, or some redeeming feature in our enemy's character. When the temptation is of a seductive character, or violent, or of frequent recurrence, the former course is generally the safer. Dr. W. B. Carpenter has judiciously observed: "The Will may put forth its utmost strength in the way of direct repression and may entirely fail; whilst by exerting the same amount of force in changing the direction, complete success may be attained. When the question is not of restraining some sudden impulse of excited passion, but of keeping down an habitual tendency to evil thoughts of some particular class, and of preventing them from gaining a dominant influence, it does not answer to be continually repeating to oneself, 'I will not allow myself to think of this,' for the repetition, by fixing the attention on the very thought or feeling from which we desire to escape, gives it an additional and even overpowering intensity, as many a poor misguided o but well-intentioned sufferer has found to his cost. The real remedy is to be found in the determined effort to think of something else, and to turn into a wholesome and useful pursuit the energy which, wrongly directed, is injurious to the individual and to society."{9}

During the first years of childhood, the human being is completely the creature of impulse, and only potentially separated in respect of moral action from the irrational animal. The simplest, and probably the earliest, form of Self-control consists in the inhibition of impulsive movement, in self-restraint freely put forth at the recollection of a past prohibition or a painful experience. The moral training which the child receives has a most important influence in the rapid development of this power of self-control. Judicious expressions of approval or disapprobation when he has resisted or yielded to temptation stimulate the child to the use of his moral liberty; and this faculty, like his intellectual and physical aptitudes, is gradually perfected by exercise.

Order of development. -- The precise date of the first exercise of Free-will, like that of the awakening of Self-consciousness, cannot be determined in any individual; but it implies considerable development in the power of reflexion; and is long subsequent to our chief locomotive acquisitions. In the order of development, then, physical appetites and instincts as the guardians of animal existence and well-being show themselves earliest in life. Desire proper, which is more complex, involving a representative element appears at a later stage. Its first manifestations consist in ill-defined cravings, containing only the vaguest representation of the means or end to be attained. As the child grows older, unselfish impulses, such as those of sympathy and gratitude, together with the desire to renew remembered pleasures, arise. True self-control and free volition manifest themselves last.

Habit. -- The development of the power of voluntary action proceeds concomitantly with the formation of habits. By a habit is now commonly understood an acquired aptitude for some particular mode of action. It is thus opposed to instinct, which is an inherited tendency.{10} Modern writers usually include under habit uniform modes of both bodily and mental activity. Habit has its explanation in the great general fact that any operation once performed by an agent tends to be repeated with greater facility. Under whatever shape we try to conceive the residual effect of a thought in the mind, or of a motion in the nervous substance of the organism, it is indisputable that the occurrence of such an event leaves a facility for its reproduction, and that the facility increases with each repetition. "Lines of least resistance" in the nervous tissue, or "associations" between groups of mental states become formed, and the reproduction of any part of the operation tends to call up the remainder.

The physiological basis of habit was well expressed by Carpenter in the principle that "the organism grows to the mode in which it is exercised." {11} Although a constant process of waste and reconstruction is ever going on in the living being, yet, since youth is the special period of growth, it is then that the deeper and more permanent impressions and dispositions are wrought in the organism. When maturity is reached, the flexibility of the joints and muscles and the plasticity of all parts of the system rapidly diminish, and the individual constitution becomes set and fixed.

The psychological basis of habit lies in the law of association by contiguity. Any group of mental states which have occurred together or in succession, tend to be reproduced simultaneously or in the original order. Conscious voluntary action, if reiterated, becomes automatic or reflex. (See p. 218.) It has been said that "habit is second nature," and that "man is a bundle of habits," but few recognize how much truth there is in these sayings. All the ordinary operations performed by mankind, such as walking, speaking, reading, writing, are acquired habits. The various trades, arts, professions, methods of business learned by men are products of the same force. All the knowledge which a man gathers, all the sciences of which he becomes master, the modes of thought which he cultivates, the feelings in which he indulges, are embodied as dispositions in his being. Every volitional act which he exerts, be it good or ill, is registered in the cells of his brain, and leaves a "bent" in his soul which proves its reality by the increased inclination to repeat that act.{12} "To him that hath shall be given." The more strength already acquired by a habit, whether physical, intellectual, or moral, the easier to sustain it.

Practical Rules. -- Hence the value of Professor Bain's recommendations with respect to the acquisition of moral habits -- to start with as vigorous and decided an initiative as possible, and to permit oneself no exceptions till the new habit is firmly rooted. We must never lose a battle in the beginning of the campaign. Many victories will be needed to compensate for an early defeat; and they will be more difficult to win because of it. Of even greater value are the maxims formulated by Professor James (1) Make your nervous system your ally instead of your enemy: make automatic and habitual as early as possible as many useful actions as you can. (2) Seize the very first opportunity to act on every resolution you make. (3) Finally, Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. Be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, for no other reason than that 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." {13}

Moral Discipline. -- All ethical training consists in the acquisition of moral habits; but the worth of such training lies not less in the disciplinary exercise of the Will than in the particular habits acquired. The man who, by persevering effort, conquers a bad temper or a lazy disposition, has not merely acquired a valuable disposition, such as other men possess by nature. He has done much more. He has during the process elicited a multitude of acts of free-will, he has put forth voluntary effort, he has on innumerable occasions exerted self-denial ; and this exercise is the only means in his possession of strengthening the highest and most precious faculty with which be is endowed. Order and regularity, whether in work or recreation, are amongst the most useful disciplinary agencies for youth, since they accustom the young to act and decide according to a fixed rule or plan, instead of vacillating and changing with the impulse of the moment. One of the greatest advantages of public school life is that of the discipline and regularity which the organization of a large body necessitates; and perhaps amongst the best parts of the discipline is that afforded by the general games, such as cricket and football. Where played with a good spirit, they make constant demands on the virtues of obedience, self-restraint, unselfishness, good-temper, patience, pluck, and perseverance; and, better still, this discipline is self-imposed.

Its importance. -- The chief conclusion, then, which we would draw from a consideration of this subject is the transcendent importance of moral training in early life. If the culture of the memory, of the imagination, and of the understanding form integral parts of education, more essential still is the training of the will. Even confining our view to temporal interests, upon a man's moral habits depend the happiness of himself and those around him far more than upon his intellectual capabilities. A mind possessed of due self-control may lead a peaceful contented life amid many trials, whilst even genius, if ill-regulated, will be miserable amidst the most prosperous surroundings. But if moral training is of importance to the individual, it is of still more vital interest to society. In the private morals of its citizens the robust and healthy life of the State has its source. If the former are corrtipt, diffusion of intellectual culture may only increase the rapidity of national decay. The need of insisting on the importance of the moral element in education is especially grave at the present day.

Character. -- The total collection of a man's acquired moral habits grafted into his natural temperament make tip his Character. Character is thus partly inherited, partly formed by experience. That there is given to each by nature a certain original disposition, a certain fund of qualities, both intellectual and moral, varying in different individuals, is evident from the differences which in later life mark the personality of members of the same family and of individuals reared under very similar circumstances. On the other hand, what we have just said regarding the growth of habits shows how much of the formed character is acquired. The formation of the character, however, is not merely a process of moulding wrought into the original temperament by the impress of external agencies. Under the same trials and temptations, one man by persevering resistance becomes strong, self-reliant, and solidly virtuous; whilst another by yielding becomes weak, vacillating, and vicious. From the earliest acts of free-volition there is constant reaction between personal will on the one side, and the force of motives on the other. Each solicitation conquered, each impulse to immediate gratification resisted by building up habits of self-control, goes to form a strong will, and the stronger a man's will grows, the greater the facility with which he can repress transitory impulses, and the more firmly can he adhere to a course once selected in spite of obstacles.

Types of Character. -- If such a man is wont to make his decisions on sound reason, we have the highest type of strong character. When, however, this firmness of adhesion attaches to decisions based not on reason but on impulse, or when the mere fact of having once made a decision closes the intellect to the apprehension of all opposing considerations, we have the obstinate character.

Again, there are some men who quickly form judgments on transient impulse or slight grounds, but as readily change or reverse their choice. There are others, too, who though slow and hesitating in coming to a conclusion, even after they have made the election, timidly shrink back into the previous state of doubt on the appearance of a new motive. Both of these forms are types of the weak or vacillating character. Accordingly, narrowness and rigidity are the dangers for the strong-willed, whilst excessive indecision and vacillation are liable to beset the large and liberal-minded.

Temperaments. -- Man's character, then, is partly inherited, partly acquired, -- due, as recent writers say, in part to nature, in part to nurture. The original element, in so far as it is determined by his bodily constitution, was called his temperament by the ancients. Four great types of temperament were recognized by Aristotle and Galen, and ascribed to the quality of the mixture of the chief humours of the body. They are:

(1) The choleric temperament, which typifies the energetic disposition. Men of this class were held to be prompt and vigorous in action, liable to strong passions, and inclined to ambition and pride as well as anger.

(2) The sanguine, indicating the light-hearted, imaginative, vivacious. Persons of this class are alleged to be brilliant rather than solid, enthusiastic rather than persevering.

(3) The phlegmatic, or those of slow and somnolent disposition, tardy in judgment, of tranquil mind, devoid of strong passions and incapable of great actions, whether good or evil.

(4) The melancholy, signifying those prone to sadness, envy, and suspicion; of a brooding introspective disposition; of obstinate will, and of persevering dislikes.{14}

The ancient physiological explanation is long since abandoned, but the classification has been generally retained, especially in Germany, where Kant insisted strongly on the fourfold division.