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help the suffering, makes him hasten away under the influence of
the most fantastic ideas, without allowing himself time for their
closer investigation. He is so eager to come to action that it is
only on his deathbed that he sees the world as it is. As another
contrast might be named Lassalle (as described by George Brandes),
whose force of will found no natural application or full outlet cor-
responding to its intensity, and so took a form whicli was over-
strained and conducive to his ruin. " The malady that killed him
was too much will."^ Characters such as these are instances of a
strongly marked volitional temperament, one-sidedly favoured by

1 Maudsley, The Pathology of Mind, p. 311.

- Eth. Skoiii. (Peter's trans., iii., 3, 16). This concentration or return to an active
starting-point may be etTecled with a wrench. Thus, Plutarch makes Ca;sar tear himself
away in anger from deliberation, to confide him.self to the future and to cross the Rubicon
(fitTa flu/xoO Tiro? oxrirep o.^f\<i koMtov (K toO \oyi<Ttiov irpb? to /ne'AAoi", Carsar, ch. 22).

y The indulgence in opium produces failure of initiation, cripples the faculty of
beginning and attempting. De Quincey, Confessions of an Ofiiivt Eater. " The opium-
eater loses none of his moral sensibilities or aspirations ; he wishes and longs as earnestly
as ever to realise what he believes possible and feels to be exacted by duty ; but his
intellectual apprehension of what is possible infinitely outruns his power, not of execution
only, but even of power to attempt."

■• G. Brandes, Ferdinand Lassalle.

Z 2


4. The conscioiisjtess of luill.

{a) It has appeared to be characteristic of volition proper as
compared with instinct, that we know what we will, that we are
conscious of the end and content of the volition. On the other
hand, the question still remains how we know the fact that we
will, or what it actually is that stirs in us when we will something.

In the phenomena of cognition and of feeling there was no
reason for propounding a similar question. Sensations, ideas, and
feelings are clearly evident elements of consciousness, but to
establish immediately the volitional elements is not so easy. What
we experience in consciousness when we will, can be reduced
on closer examination to cognitive and feeling elements. In
impulse is given a feeling of pleasure or of pain, a certain restless-
ness induced by faint motor-sensations, as also a more or less distinct
idea of an end of movement. In resolution, the typical expression
of will proper, there is the thought of an end selected and of the
means available to attain it, as also the feeling of pleasure at the
thought of its realization, and a more or less lively sensation of
straining and of gathering oneself together. Thus neither in im-
pulse nor in resolution are any elements presented which would
not be otherwise given. A special feature of resolution, the most
distinct form of the will, is the concentration or the bringing to a
point, which results from our regarding the possible action as our
own. Before the action is actually executed, it is recognized (per-
ceived) as a part of our self. We adopt or anticipate the action,
and that is regarded as a completed act which, looked at from
outside, appears merely as a possibility. In contrast to the inner
action expressed in resolution, the numerous changing wishes and
fancies are presented as mere possibilities.

{b) But this gives rise to the problem of reality in the province of
inner experience. W'hat criterion can be given, that a volition has
really arisen, that an inner action has taken place .'' How is the
possibility (the wish and the fancy) to be distinguished from the
reality (the resolve) ?

Concentration differs from expansion only in degree. In every
lively wish there is also a certain concentration. The wishes are
to the resolve as the nebulas to the articulate system of the stars,
but in the former it is not so easy to make sure of the extent
to which the formation has advanced. If no external action follows
upon the internal, how can I be certain that I have really willed?
Here appears the great need for a mental dynometer. — The


resolve appears as the conclusion of an inner debate, but what
security is there that the debate will not be again renewed and the
conclusion perhaps " Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought " ?
And when this happens, can that resolve be said to be anything
more than a wish ?

In practice we rely upon our immediate feeling. We believe that
we can mark immediately in ourselves, that a resolution has been
taken. We experience a specially active expectation, feel ourselves
prepared for a certain movement. Men who are constrained by
their position to make firm and unalterable decisions (as officers
and judges), acquire in this respect greater assurance than others,
though often, indeed, only in the exercise of their calling. — Absolute
assurance is never to be attained.' We can attain only to a
practical faith in ourselves, based upon self-experience and the
knowledge of our character. In any case, what is obtained is an
inference and no immediate fact, such as a sensation, a thought, or
a feeling.

Although in practice a sharp line is drawn between wishes and
resolutions, it must, on the other hand, be allowed that it is very
difficult to acquire a knowledge of self. Nowhere is there so
much danger of mistake and delusion, as in the question of possi-
bility versus reality in the province of inner nature. The antici-
pating and realizing influence of feeling (VI. F. 4a) is nowhere more
easily and dangerously manifested than here, where an external
corrective is lacking. Many people regard themselves as great
heroes of the will because they have revelled in great resolves,
although these never acquired the tangible and prosaic form of
external actions. A constant criticism must therefore be practised
here, of the same kind as that applied to the facts of external
nature (see V. D.). The consciousness of the will, of our inner
reality, is just as little immediate as the consciousness of external
reality. The mark of reality in the province both of internal and of
external nature, is the firm connection of experiences. A single
percept or a single feeling may be the result of illusion. Every
idea of activity is obtained by inference ; experience gives only

1 In the masterly psychologicai an.ilysis, which Dostojewski gives of Raskolnikow's
resolution to commit the murder, there is shown, indeed, on the one hand, that there was
one instant in which the thought of the murder appeared to him as more than a phantom
of the br.'iin ; he saw it in a new, terrible, quite unfamiliar light ; it was as a " blow on the
head." But on the other haad, it is observed as a strange property of all the "fixed "
resolutions already taken by him respecting the affair, that the more they were " hxoj "
the more terrible and impcesible they seemed in his eyes. Even immediately before
coDunitting the deed, he did not believe in his final resolution.


the results of activity. The consciousness of the will therefore is
never quite immediate and simple.

An example will make this relation clearer. A woman was
arrested in a garden, into which she had stolen one evening in
order to set the house of a rival on fire. She declared before the
court that before her arrest other thoughts had come into her
mind. But although she was able to swear with a good conscience
that she would not have set fire to the house, even if she had not
been arrested, she still did not venture to swear that she had
already positively given up her purpose, and resolved to go away
without executing it.^ Here appears clearly the difference between
a conclusion drawn from the complete mental condition with the
aid of self-knowledge, and the immediate consciousness of what
takes place at the moment. The one may be trustworthy, even if
the other is not.

The ethical view is here entirely in accord with the psycho-
logical, since it pronounces judgment upon thoughts and wishes
equally with resolutions and actions. But on the other hand,
the ethical view proceeds with equal justice on the conviction
that our innermost nature lies in the will. The difficulty of find-
ing the will clearly and distinctly in any one single phenomenon
is attributable to the very fact that the will does not begin at
one given point, but is active from the beginning of conscious
life, in all association of ideas and in all movement of feeling.
In the resolve appears, in a concentrated form, an energy, which
in a less intensive form is applied in all cognition and in all
feeling. The psychology of the will embraces therefore properly
the whole province of consciousness {cf. IV. 7 e). The phenomena
especially called volitional denote only the extreme points of a
process which extends over the whole of consciousness.

5. The will and the unconscious mental life.

(a) It is true of the will even more than of the other forms of
mental life, that it cannot be fully understood, so long as we con-
fine ourselves to the clear daylight of consciousness. Even when
our resolutions and actions are determined by motives which have
their rise in our innermost nature, it does not follow that these
motives always stand out clearly in consciousness. In such cases
we know, indeed, the fact that we will and what we will, but not
clearly why we will it.

1 The case is fully described in BIschoff, Merkwiirdii^ Kriminal-Rechtsfdlle, i.,
PP- 457-474-


Here as everywhere (see IH.) there is a whole scale of inter-
mediate stages between the unconscious and the conscious. In
every moment, indeed, one thought, one mood, is in the centre of
consciousness, while the other thoughts and feelings experienced at
the moment fade gradually into the unconscious. Whatever is
determined by the constant thoughts, and springs from the domi-
nant feeling, is best understood both by ourselves and by others ;
but it is not necessarily the thing most deeply rooted in our nature
that is taken as the central point of consciousness in any one
moment or even in the greater number of moments. The central
point of individuality does not always coincide with the central
point of consciousness. When it becomes a question of action,
therefore, it is not to be wondered at if something happens which
astonishes both the spectator and the actor. Something may
emerge that had never previously appeared in the foreground
of consciousness, and that the individual does not properly re-
cognize as his own.

Nature gives us from the first an impetus, for we find ourselves
already active at the birth of consciousness. Consciousness only gra-
dually acquires an influence over the activity (whether inward or out-
ward), and this influence never becomes complete. The spontaneous
impulse to movement, the refle.x movements, and the half-conscious
movements accompanied by obscure feeling, preserve a certain in-
dependence, even after conscious thought has nominally taken
the direction of affairs. Similarly with involuntary series of ideas
and with emotions. The unconscious and involuntary plays a
part, to an extent varying in the individual cases, in all conscious
volition, and sometimes breaks into open revolt. Under this head
come, for example, the obscure incentives familiar, no doubt, to
everybody, to knock down different objects, to interrupt a serious
speech, or to do other senseless and motiveless things. These
phenomena have been styled the " antilogy of the will." ^ An im-
pulse, inexplicable even to ourselves, raises itself against the
rational will ; it is, as a rule, overcome, but in many cases only
with a great effort. Such phenomena show the justice of the say-
ing, that we learn to know our character only from our actions.
Since our nature, or our character, is more comprehensive than
the small part of it which consciousness clearly illumines, and
since, moreovcT, our actions can never manifest our nature to our-

1 Spitta, Die lyUUnsbesiimmun^en und ihr Verhdltnis zu den IinpuUh'cn Hand-
lungen, Tubingen, i£3i.


selves and others in its fulness and manysidedness, there remains
always the possibility of new experiences.

The unconscious tendencies to activity are not noticed so long
as they tend in the same direction as the conscious thoughts and
feelings. Their force merges with that of the conscious motives,
which receive the honour or the shame of the whole action. We
feel ourselves free and unchecked in our activity. It is only
when these tendencies work against the end of conscious endea-
vour that attention is called to the fact of a something in us, of
which we are never, or at any rate not at the moment, master.
The sense of inner division, of a contradiction, is at the same time
a feeling of constraint.

Such a feeling of constraint often denotes the transition to a
higher stage of the life of the will. It is the condition which
makes it possible for us to pronounce judgment upon our earlier
volition, for while our will works on with undivided energy there
is no room for an estimation or a judgment, but we go straight
ahead. Here is seen the great importance of the interval already
mentioned. It may conduce to a stoppage, even to a hesitation
and a discord, in the mind, but it is necessary to higher develop-
ment. It may lead to the absolute condemnation and rejection of
the previous bent of the will. Looking back in memory to times
when contending forces were at work in us, we often take the part
of the vanquished, and with chagrin and repentance recognize
that it was the better, the justified part of our self, which suc-
cumbed. And just as deliberation may lead to our losing ourselves
in endless reflection, so repentance may lead to a pathological brood-
ing over what cannot be undone. In repentance, however, there
works a natural impulse to higher development, aroused, like
every impulse, through the sense of contrast between the ideal
and the real. The self-condemnation and self-contempt to which
repentance may lead, would be unendurable, were not repentance
itself a token of nobler powers within us. What inflicts the wound,
therefore, also heals it. The great psychological and ethical im-
portance of all self-condemnation lies in its being a token of our
power of extricating ourselves from the previously dominant bent
of will, just as the patient's knowledge that he has been ill is a
token of recovery from insanity.

{b) So long as we keep to the purely empirical ground of what,
before and during the action, takes place in and before conscious-
ness, it is not possible to demonstrate the validity of the causal law


in the sphere of the will or of the mental life in general. Here as
everywhere the causal law is provisionally a mere assumption,
a postulate, with which each department of research is first
approached. Where anything at all is understood, it is by our
finding a causal connection, and if the volitional life is to be under-
stood, the causal law must consequently be supposed applicable in
this as in other departments. This view justifies itself, and cannot
be gainsaid. For even where no explanation, not even a hypo-
thetical one, can be found, the most natural supposition is that the
causes lie too deep, or that the conditions under which they operate
are too complicated, to be penetrated into. This is the conclusion
drawn in every department of research, when explanation fails ;
nor can psychological observation lead to any other result. It may
very possibly present phenomena, the causes of which cannot be
found ; but from the nature of the case it can never prove that there
is no cause of that which is to us inexplicable.

Psychology, like every other science, must be deterministic ; that
is to say, it must start from the assumption that the causal law
holds good even in the life of the will, just as this law is assumed
to be valid for the remaining conscious life and for material
nature. If there are limits to this assumption, they will coincide
with the limits to psychology. — Apart from this main consideration,
it is, however, easy to show the essential importance for psychology
of maintaining the causal connection in the department of the will.

(i) Much confusion has arisen through the meaning that has
been attached to the word motive. If by motive is understood a
determining force distinct from ourselves, from our nature, it
becomes easy to prove that those who maintain the will to be
governed by motives, make it a slave to something external. This
is to be ourselves the slaves of a habit of speech, which treats the
motives as working upon us like weights set upon the balance from
outside. But the motive, the power determining the will, is in
reality always the individual himself in a definite form or from a
definite side. Our motives arc the definite ideas and feelings,
without which no definite volition is possible ;— and all volition
must proceed from something definite, must have a definite content
or aim. The content or the aim is embraced by the idea, and
determines the feeling, and what we call volition is the yielding to
this end or content, an act which — as has been seen— appears in
one of its simplest forms in the manner in which we prepare for the
execution of a certain movement (VII. A. 6 a).


The motives are, however, determined, not only by our original
nature, but also by our own earlier volition and action. The in-
voluntary and the voluntary stand, as so often set forth, in a
relation of extraordinarily complex interaction. Our acts of
will and our actions are important not merely on account of
their external effects ; they take effect also on our involuntary
and unconscious life, determining and transforming it. Merely
the fact that a feeling has once found a vent or discharge in
a certain way, may be of decisive import for the manner of its
later expression ; it may have either an inhibitive, a strengthening,
or a transforming effect. Hence the possibility of a more or less
conscious (though of course point for point determined) reaction
upon the motives. The will may, in this way, educate itself
iff. Vn. B. 2). How far in any given case the individual can
reach in this respect, must be brought to the test and can be
determined only by experiment. Any one in whom neither im-
pulse nor wish is aroused, will of course not even make the

(2) Determinism asserts the continuity of development of con-
sciousness, since it asserts the causal connection in the department
of the will. Indeterminism, which teaches the existence of cause-
less acts of will, absolutely destroys the inner connection and the
inner continuity of conscious life. Between these two conceptions
a choice must be made ; the causal law must either hold good or
not hold good, continuity must either be present or not be present.
And it does not matter whether the breach of causality is great or
small ; the question is one of principle. A weight suspended by a
string falls to the ground, whether the string is cut in one place or
in many. An act of will without a cause would be something
absolutely foreign, not pertaining to the nature of the self. Here,
as so often in the foregoing, a psychological conception is met with,
which to a smaller or less degree, with more or less consistency,
reduces the conscious life to a series or sum of members, atoms, or
forces, having nothing to do with one another. In opposition to
this we have constantly endeavoured to prove that there is such
want of causality only where consciousness has either not reached
its full development, or is on the road to dissolution. So far as the
will specially is concerned, it need only be remembered that pur-
pose and resolution are linked with memory, and that consequently
no rules and laws can be supposed to hold good for memory and
association of ideas which do not also hold good for the will.


That the will is closely linked with memory implies further that it
is linked with the self, with the formal and real unity of conscious-
ness (V. B. 5). An action without a cause could not proceed from
a self; the two conceptions, self-determination and freedom from
the causal law, which are so often thought to mean the same thing,
really neutralize one another, so soon as a definite meaning is
given to the word " self."

It accords with this that a clearer understanding may be attained
of the will, the higher its development. We can understand
characters that are energetic and consistent, because every ex-
pression and action is determined by thoughts and feelings which
stamp the character ; and such strongly-marked characters as a
rule subscribe themselves to the determinist view (the Stoics, the
Calvinists, the English philosophers). The cases in which a psycho-
logical understanding cannot be attained are, as a rule, those in
which we have before us restless, fermenting characters, the savage
and the ungovernable ; consequently, phenomena which are the very
opposite of self-determination and true volition. If anything could
be found in the psychological province not subject to the causal
law, it would be above all in the disconnected ideas {Ideen-jagd)
and in the changing suggestions of lunatics and of idiots. But
in conscious life such as theirs, it is precisely constraint which
dominates and not freedom, if the word is used, not in the
sense of freedom from the causal law, but in the natural sense in
which it was employed even by Socrates, namely, of the con-
centration and independence of the will, which cause a man to be,
in his whole life and action, in harmony with his innermost con-
viction and his deepest feeling. Freedom in this sense is the end
to which mental development tends : the contrary, not to necessity,
but to chance and blindness.

(3) Indeterminism conflicts, not only with psychology, but also
with physiology, inasmuch as it enters into irreconcilable contra-
diction with the principle of conservation of energy in the organic
province. If a volition without a cause is admitted, then the
functions of the brain and of the nervous system must be allowed
to originate without a cause.

(4) These arguments are so strong, that indeterminism has more
and more renounced all claim to any theoretical basis and justifica-
tion, and in the present day appeals mainly to moral grounds. It
has been perceived that, when indeterminism explains actions, other-
wise inexplicable, through a will provided for this end and not


subject to the causal law, this is as purely a veiling of ignorance,
as was the appeal to a vital force in the explanation of organic
phenomena. On the other hand, indeterminism is laid down as a
necessary presupposition of moral responsibility and sanity. The
discussion of this assertion belongs rather to ethics than to

it may here be observed that in the feeling of responsibility and
in repentance is implied no more than that the individual recognizes
that he has willed the action, and by virtue of the better mind to
which he has come condemns himself for having done so. The
idea that it would have been equally possible to have acted in the
opposite way, does not make itself felt in all individuals, and
where manifested must be explained partly as the confusion of a
metaphysical notion with psychological experience, partly as an
illusion which is very natural when the individual with his new
conviction and with the strong desire to have acted otherwise,
vividly conceives himself at the moment of action, without, how-
ever, being able to survey and realize all the inner and outer
conditions in actual operation at the time.

C. — The Individual Character.

I. All conscious life is individual. Memory and thought,
pleasure and pain, impulse and resolution, all presuppose a
common inner centre. It is the task of psychology to set forth
the elements, forms, and laws, common to all conscious life, but as
actually presented they appear in infinitely various combinations
and shades. The general abstract individuality of which psycho-
logy treats is merely an outline, which in each given case is filled
up differently. This diversity cannot be exhaustively dealt with by
general psychology ; it is a matter for experience of life, for art, in

Online LibraryHarald HøffdingOutlines of psychology → online text (page 38 of 41)