Hiram M. (Hiram Miner) Stanley.

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Desire is certainly a very extensive psychic _genus_ including many
varieties which are noted by common introspection, and which are even
denoted by special words. A wish is a momentary act of desire, longing
is intense form; ambition and aspiration are desires for higher order of
objects, as contrasted with desire for food or dress. The kinds as
distinguished by object are numberless since any object may be
desirable, and the realm of the desirable is coincident with the realm
of the knowable. In the course of evolution we become aware of things
and of states of consciousness, so that by feeling about them—having
emotions—there may result the advantageous action with reference to
them. This order, not consciously apprehended of course, is the natural
order of psychic events, and one which, in tendency at least, always
appears, even in latest evolutions. The desire to know what is the full
experience value of things, curiosity, is an early acquirement, since
complete cognition of object is obviously of the greatest advantage,
especially to the weaker animals, as deer, who act wholly on the
defensive. The very strong can afford to be largely indifferent to their

With reference to intensity, we can place forms from a positive to a
negative pole. Thus with a famished man desire for food is first intense
craving, becoming with continued eating moderate desire, then feeling of
satisfaction, then of repletion, then negative, as aversion in passive
form or satiety, then becoming active as disgust, and intense as
loathing. Content, or desire satisfied, is not desire extinguished,
rather it is an equilibrium wherein desire and its function are in
continual equalizing action. When desire granted means all desire
extinguished, with beings of any high tendency to activity _ennui_ is
the result. Here, as Schopenhauer notes, wish for a wish develops. Even
in complete pleasurable quiescence, there is desire for its continuance,
which is only saying that there can be no complete quiescence short of
coma, or else of a state where reality has never broken in, and
experience is wholly unformed where the being cannot anticipate or note
change. Pure and absolute content never occurs, and as a matter of fact
never will, the point of transition in the desire gamut, in passing from
positive to negative, being like a mathematical form, unreal and
theoretical. When positive desire ends, negative desire springs up
immediately, just as in the pleasure-pain gamut, where the indifference
point of transition has no existence in reality.

Desire in any of its forms may take on an altruistic, disinterested
phase, though much that is taken for altruistic is only apparently or
partially so, being really due to self-extension. If you take an
interest in anything, it becomes interesting to _you_, it is a matter of
personal concern, and becomes identified with the self. Thus in _our_
family, _our_ town, _our_ nation, _our_ race, desire plants itself; it
is in this personal extension of view that most of the pity, sympathy,
and benevolence is exercised. A well-wishing and consequent exertion for
humanity in general is very late, and still later is desire for animals
as sentient beings having a worth of being in themselves.

The remarks we have made concerning desire proper, apply equally to
aversion. We must bear constantly in mind that desire proper and
aversion are really in psychic analysis, merely phases positive and
negative of a certain definite mode of psychosis, hence we often use
desire in this large and generic sense, which instances will be apparent
from the context. Desire, like other emotions, is polar, and desire
generic has its antipodal feeling in some form of active desirelessness.

As desire is naturally and originally connected with all perception of
object, we find it closely allied with other emotions. While we must
suppose that early desire is upon idea of pleasure, upon the idea of its
realization to be attained, without any estimate of likelihood or
unlikelihood of realization, which factor is slow in evolution, yet when
through experience, sense of certainty or uncertainty is attained as to
the experienceable, this psychosis—belief—has a marked effect upon
desire, and is closely associated with it. Bare sense of the
experienceable was sufficient to generate desire, but when the measure
of probability of the experienceable actually happening is measured, we
have belief, expectation, hope, and kindred psychoses, bound up with
desire. The expression, “I hope it will be a good day to-morrow,”
indicates a wish that it would, _plus_ some confidence that it will be a
good day; “I wish it would be a good day, but I fear it will not,” shows
some lack of confidence in the realization of the event. Hope then
equals wish, _plus_ the intellectual element expectation, a desire for a
realization _plus_ some belief in it as actually to happen. A large
share of learning by experience consists in the reaction of this
expectation on the wish, in learning not to set our hearts on what we
believe to be unrealizable or extremely improbable to happen. Wish also
acts on belief, as is plainly expressed in the common phrase, “the wish
is father to the thought.” If belief tends to restrict or magnify
desire, desire also tends to determine belief. Hope, as very commonly
used, as when we say, “I hope it will turn out so,” is a passive
emotion, and does not appeal to the individual as self-determining the
event. As the primary end of emotion is to incite the organism to
determine its own experience, hope as passive seems a rather late
evolution, as having only an indirect and general value by maintaining
general pleasurable tone. The one who hopes it will be a good day
to-morrow is in a better and more advantageous frame of mind than he who
fears it will be a bad day, in so far as the events are equally beyond
self-determination, and it is of no direct use to either hope or fear.

As to the range of desire we must then disagree with Aristotle and later
psychologists, who suppose that desire is limited by the belief in the
possibility of realization. Desire existed before this belief was
generated; and while, after its generation, it may often affect desire,
yet often it does not. I may wish for the moon as readily as the child
to whom the notion of possibility or impossibility of realization is
beyond experience. The unrepresentable only cannot be wished, and desire
is bounded only by the power of conception and perception. Hope is a
species of desire which has to do with belief in the possibility of the
event or act: it is a joyful emotion connected with belief of
realization of the pleasurable. This distinction between hope and desire
in general is implied in the phrases, “I wish he _would_ do it,” and “I
hope he _will_.” The hope includes the desire, but the desire may exist
without the hope, as we say, “I wish he would, but know he won’t.”
Desire may be hopeless, but hope cannot be desireless.

Desire is vitally connected with ideation and volition, but properly it
is the intermediate emotional moment between these, and not idea of
pleasure—as James Mill—nor yet to be placed under will—Bain, James. It
is neither phase of ideation or volition. Desire is neither idea of, nor
striving after realization; it is not the idea of goal nor the effort to
reach goal. I may have idea of a goal without desire to reach it—at
least, analysis discriminates thus as separate mental stages—and I may
desire to reach it without trying to reach it,—impotent desire,
sometimes called wish. The striving is the consequent, and the idea the
antecedent of the desire which is the emotion wave we emphasize by the
word, longing. Desire is neither phase of volition nor ideation.
Volition is properly effort at realization, and is stimulated by the
emotion toward the realization ideally apprehended.

The relation of desire to will has been a fertile subject of discussion
from Aristotle down, but we have to take up but a single aspect, namely,
whether will and desire may with reference to the same object be
contrary or distinct. Take the example of contrariety mentioned by
Stewart. I wish a certain man not to do a certain act, but yet I
persuade him to do it at the request of a friend. If I say I will
persuade him, though I wish him not to be persuaded, this merely implies
that the wish to oblige my friend overcomes the aversion to persuading
the man. And, in general, apparent cases of conflict of will and desire
may be resolved into conflict of desires. Hence the phrase, “I will do
it, though I do not want to do it,” is inaccurate or rather an
incomplete analysis. We should always add, “because I have some
extraneous and stronger desire.” A box of bonbons is hung in a room at a
height to be had by whomsoever will jump and reach it. In any party of
persons there may be some to whom the wish for ease, the disinclination
to jump, overcomes the inclination for the bonbons, so that this
volition does not occur, others who jump even against this
disinclination, the desire for the bonbons being the stronger desire,
and others, very active, who jump without feeling any disinclination to
the act. Conflict of desires is a common and almost constant state with
many minds, and the evolution of man has been mainly through conflict of
desire in sacrificing an immediate to a future good. In lower minds with
so little self-consciousness and consciousness of a consciousness that
they do not grasp conduct as a whole, there is a simple alternation of
volitions flowing from the desires of rival goods, till one by its
intrinsic force dominates with some permanence. These are the creatures
of impulse, unreflecting and unself-directing by principle and reason.
Higher minds realize _their_ situation and consciously bring in higher
desire or motive; they form rules and principles of conduct: they become
ethical beings, having self-control and self-direction.

Desire is based by Mr. Bain on hindrance and opposition to activity, on
“a bar in the way of activity.” This is true if we understand it to
refer to sense of unreality and of lack as connected with an
apprehension of thing where the thing is really absent from the usual
correlation, and hence physiological activities are checked. We have in
the previous pages discussed this, but this is not Mr. Bain’s point of
view. The three elements he emphasizes are: deficiency, idea of
pleasure, and the hindrance. Thus, he contrasts the prisoner who looks
out on a bright day and longs to take a walk, with a perfectly free man
who looks out on a fine day and freely follows his inclination to walk.
However, it appears to me that both have desire, and that in the same
sense both are moved by the motive, though only one is free to attain
the action. So if I get thirsty in a waterless desert or in my room with
a jug of water on the table, the bodily sensations will equally lead to
desire. The conflict in desire is between state actual and state
conceived, and not between will and restraint. Mr. Bain remarks, “If all
motive impulses could be at once followed up, desire would have no
place.” (_Emotions and Will_, p. 423.) But desire is itself an original
impulse, and is more or less an ingredient in all emotion impulse; and
it is plain that emotion impulses as implying representation are the
only ones which can be “followed up.” Where every wish is gratified as
soon as formed, as with a petted child of rich parents, desire still
remains in all its characteristic quality. Such an one, however, by
having only the momentary pleasure of completed realization, misses the
joys of realizing, and loses all that happiness which has been defined
as sense of progress. If every wish were gratified as soon as formed, if
every representation of pleasure was immediately followed by
realization, desire would still exist in all its peculiar force. The
moment of gratification is always second to the moment of desire, and a
Fortunatus with his wishing-cap cannot possess in absolute coincidence
with the wish.

It may be objected that Tantalus’ desire is certainly a form where
hindrance is the main stimulant. When one is continually hindered just
on the point of realization, desire is intensified, but this
intensifying is very largely due to the increased definiteness of
presentation or representation, and to the increase of confidence in the
event. To tantalize is to bring before one an object of strong desire
into the clearest prominence and seemingly certain attainment, yet to
constantly withhold it.

We have spoken of desire as an impulse, and we would include all emotion
as impulse, for to impel is its function and action. Impulse is the will
side of emotion as interest is its intellectual side. If I fear a man,
this is my interest in him and impulse from him. True, we speak of being
driven by “blind impulse”; but emotion cannot be blind, it can only be
kindled by object imaged. Anything which actuates the will may very
broadly but wrongly be called impulse, for impulse strictly connotes an
emotion wave undirected and issuing at once in action. Where unforeseen
ends are served, as when a hen driven by sensation of heat sits on eggs,
we commonly but wrongly denominate it impulse. Without some
representation there is no emotion and no impulse. So when standing over
a precipice I say I have the impulse to throw myself down, this means
that the depth wakens in me image of falling and an awful desire to
realize the image, which impels the act. If I am merely giddy I will
fall, but if I have the emotion-impulse I will throw myself down; I am
not impelled by dizziness or any sensation, but the term denotes emotion
as desire or fear.

For the ordinary human mind desire seems in general a spontaneous and
instinctive act. We do not make an effort in desiring, though desire
like other mental functions undoubtedly arose in struggle. Originally
this psychosis was a stress and strain activity; it was a rarely
achieved emotion, just as the emotion of pleasurable appreciation of
Beethoven’s music or Michael Angelo’s sculpture is for most minds a rare
uplift of psychic force. Knowing as compound of presentation and
representation and as involving emotion and volition, is, with us,
within certain limits, an habitual spontaneous act of mind. I feel the
pain from cold, without sensation of cold, as bare pain, as
undifferentiated feeling of discomfort, I then feel cold, I feel cold
object, I desire warmth, I will to draw near the stove; here is a
progressive series of correlated psychoses which are constantly
occurring in a spontaneous way in ordinary experience. But this psychic
structure which operates so easily is really the outgrowth of ages of
psychic evolution wherein the separate steps have been achieved and the
correlation established only by the severest _nisus_.

Associations are first achieved in experience established by numberless
reiterations before there is spontaneous tendency to re-occurrence, this
is the law of psychic evolution to-day, and is the only clue we have to
the past. The evolution of mind is not and never has been a mechanical
process, but its basis is in pure feeling as stimulating volition.
Paradoxical as the expression sounds, yet in a sense it is true that the
organism has _learned_ to know and to feel thereupon. It may even be
that in the course of psychic ages with certain species of animals some
emotions may become innate, and such advantageous psychoses as fear or
desire may occur without any integration through individual experience.
The new-born chick, when it hears the note of a hawk, is said to show
signs of fear, though what actual psychosis occurs, if any, seems almost
beyond our power to know. The whole process may be reflex nervous
action, a mere closed neural circuit being affected. It is no doubt true
that all long-continued, often recurring psychoses tend to so embody
themselves in a neural combination that the given activities are carried
on in a sub-conscious and finally in an unconscious way. It is very
probable that much that we take for emotion with lower animals is reflex
or semi-reflex action; yet it is likewise true that there is, as a
matter of advantage in struggle for existence, an inherited instinctive
tendency to certain emotions, to certain kinds of fear and desire, and
there may be a distinct awareness of the potency in things, which has
never been individually realized. In its every transaction with things
the young organism may act by reflex action or by inherited emotional
tendency. How far either or both enter into the first individual
experiences is a matter for the psychology of the future.

The general function of desire in life is obvious; it is the most potent
factor in conserving and extending life. Far back in a paleozoic psychic
period life was below desire; but once originating under the pressure of
the struggle for existence it has since developed into the most manifold
and complex forms. Human life is the outcome of desire, and the human
being is _par excellence_ the desiring psychism. As the moving factor of
humanity history is its record, and present human organization, faculty,
and achievement is its product. Desire, as the force to realize, to
convert seen potency into actuality, the idea into reality, is now in
the very highest examples of psychic development an ever increasing
power, and no prospect of a psychic stage to be reached beyond desire is
intimated in the present course of normal development. The tendency
toward extinction of desire, when it does occur, appears always as
pathologic or retrogressive symptom. It may be the dream of a
philosopher or of a cult, but with Schopenhauer himself desire was a
most forceful factor, and the devotee of desirelessness by very reason
of being a _devotee_ to an object, desires it, namely, the state of
desirelessness. We may desire to extinguish certain desires, and succeed
in accomplishing this, but to desire not to desire, as general act, is a
psychological contradiction in terms. A very low vegetative psychic
status without any desire is possible, but all teleologic activity
implies desire, hence extinction of desire can never be attained as an

Desire moves the world and is the core of psychic being. Deprived of
definite desire, we long for it, and if every wish were immediately
realized, we should desire delay in gratification. The amount and value
of life is measured by the quantity, quality, and effectiveness of
desire. Orton characterizes the Indians of the Amazon as “without
curiosity or emotion,” which must, however, be taken only as relatively
true, but yet marking them as extremely low in the psychic scale.

Education then, is a process of stimulating desire, of leading to
ambitions and aspirations. As what is imposed on consciousness without
desire is a hurtful burden, the true pedagogic method is always to
awaken the wish for knowledge and power before it is granted. Desire as
interest is assimilating power, and without it there is no mental
growth. The art of education is the art of stimulating intellectual,
æsthetic, moral and religious desires, and of providing for their
progressive gratification with the best arranged and most suggestive


The term attention is, like feeling, a word of extremely doubtful and
variable import. Like feeling, attention may be used as denominating any
stage of consciousness, or it may be restricted to some more or less
specific form. As affections of the organism all psychoses are termed
feelings; viewed as subjective-objective acts, a content being attained,
consciousness as such is termed attention. We are said to be attending
when we have any activity of mind, when we have anything in the mind or
before the mind. When consciousness has something in it, consciousness
is attending, whence attention means consciousness acting. But what is
consciousness inactive? Nothing. Hence consciousness attending, used for
consciousness acting, is a pleonasm. Consciousness, by virtue of always
being conscious of something, does not need the word attention to
qualify it.

The attention of consciousness is called, attracted, or engaged, when
any mental act occurs, whether a pain, pleasure, perception, or whatever
form it may be. When the mind is occupied with anything, _i.e._, is
active, it is thereby attending to the thing. If I am conscious, I am,
of course, conscious of something, hence attending to that something.
But all these expressions are incompatible with a purely psychological
point of view. In psychics, as opposed to physics, the thing exists only
as perceived and in perceiving, _esse_ is _percipi_; the object or
content of consciousness exists neither beyond consciousness nor in it;
it is consciousness and consciousness is it, it is nothing more than
objectifying fact. Consciousness does not, like a pail, have contents,
but it is merely a name for the sum of activities we term conscious.
Such a phrase, then, as, attending to something, may be radically
misleading. We do not have both consciousness and a field of
consciousness, a presentation field. A tolerably constant part of human
consciousness is an activity which is a constituting a world of external
and internal objects. This objectifying activity, which may or may not
be object for higher activity—apperception or attention in one
sense—does not, however, persist and subsist as a more or less
mechanical _continuum_, as Mr. James Ward and that school maintain.
Still the word attention may in a vague and general way denote both the
realizing force and will effort therein of every act of consciousness.
But yet as thus a general term for certain aspects or general qualities,
it is liable to misconstruction, and we do not propose to employ it
either as denoting any act of consciousness as such, or any aspect

Attention may also denote dominancy in consciousness. When any one
factor is pre-eminent, we say the mind is therewith attentive. When any
element has a marked ascendency, so that all others are much feebler and
subservient, thereby is constituted a state of attention; as when sight
perception monopolizes consciousness in an eagle watching for prey, or
hearing commands all the mental powers of a deer listening to a strange
sound. However, practically all states are in reality complexes in which
some one factor is and must be dominant, and this universal phenomenon
of dominancy scarcely deserves the specific name, attention.
Consciousness is always more or less concentrated in some single
channel; the factors in any state of consciousness are never perfectly
equal in intensity, and so are never in perfect balance. But attention
is not this fact of dominancy, but rather that of consciously sustained
dominancy, as we shall note later.

If attention is not a proper term to denote simple dominancy, may it not
denote that complete form, engrossment, or absorption, where one element
predominates to the exclusion of all others, and so occupies all of
consciousness—that is, more exactly, is all the consciousness—and also
tests the capacity for consciousness to the full? The fixed idea is an
instance in point, and in a certain way also preoccupation or
absent-mindedness. Still, in this last there are manifold elements and
often great complexity—_e.g._, train of thought—hence dominances of
different forms, but yet a persistence of a certain mode with
consciousness running at its full capacity, and the result being that
the general trend is not easily altered. In cases of fixed idea and
brown study we say, “his attention is fully occupied,” which means
nothing more than his mind or consciousness capacity is fully taken. I
do not see that we gain anything by using attention in the same sense as
these two general terms, mind and consciousness, which are surely
sufficient. Further, when one “loses himself in a subject,” the power of
self-activity, and hence power of real attention, is lost. Mental
activity which has slipped beyond the control of will is not in any true
and high sense an attending, nor is attention good term for
consciousness at saturation point.

Again, attention is often used to denote consciousness in its change
aspect. When a new consciousness comes in and supplants a former state,
we say, in popular but misleading phrase, “it takes or attracts his
attention,” as if attention were entity rather than activity. But when

Online LibraryHiram M. (Hiram Miner) StanleyStudies in the Evolutionary Psychology of Feeling → online text (page 18 of 32)