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Obliviscence. — From the laws of memory the general
conditions of forgetfulness can be easily deduced. The
converse of the primary laws of suggestion may be formulated
in the statement that events unconnected by either similarity or
contiguity with present mental states usually lie beyond the sphere
of recall. The correlative of the secondary law is expressed
in the proposition that the tendency of an experience to lapse out
of memory is in proportion to the feebleness of the original impres-
sion and the infrequency of its repetition. The third law of
obliviscence enunciates the general fact, that a mental impres-
sion becomes obliterated in proportion to the length of time, and the
number and vivacity of the other mental states which have inter-
vened since its last occurrence or reproduction.

The phrase, Law of Obliviscence, is also employed by
J. S. Mill to describe an important element in the law of
" inseparable" association, viz., the general fact that "when
a number of ideas suggest one another by association with
such certainty and rapidity as to coalesce together in a group
all the members of the group which remain long without
being attended to have a tendency to drop out of conscious-
ness."^^ The evanescence of the separate letters and words
of a printed page leaving us in possession only of its general
purport is the favourite illustration. The phenomenon is
merely an instance of the law of inattention. The amount
of mental energy, and consequently the depth of the impres-
sion, devoted to the individual units is reduced to a minimum,
as the whole force of our thought is concentrated on the
meaning of the entire paragraph.

Readings. — On Memory, of St. Thomas, Comm. in Arist. De Mem.
et Reminisc: also Sum. i. q. 79. a. 6 and 7 ; Suarez, De Anima, Lib. IV.
c. 10; Hamilton, Metaphysics, Lect. xxx. xxxi. ; Carpenter, Mental

^^ Exam. c. xiv. p. 259.


Physiology, c. x. On the Physiology of Memory, cf. Carpenter, op. cit.
pp. 436—448 ; Ladd, op. cit. Ft. II. c. 10, §§ 15 — 21 ; Farges, Le
Cerveau et VAme, pp. 322—328, Some good remarks on the
Materialist theory are to be found in Professor Calderwood's
Relations of Mind and Brain, pp. 272 — 84. On Mental Association,
cf. Hamilton, On Reid, notes D**, D***. On the Validity of
Memory, J. Rickaby, First Principles, Pt. II. c. vi. On Memory
and Empiricism, cf. Ward, Philosophy of Theism, pp. xiv. — xvii. and
64 — 67. For a collection of curious anecdotes illustrating various
aspects of those faculties, see Abercrombie On the Intellectual Powers,
Pt. III. sect. I.




Sensuous Appetency.— In our classification of
mental activities we have marked off as standing in
strongest opposition to the cognitive operations of
the mind the class of states embracing appetites,
desires, impulses, volitions, emotions, and the like.
There is no accepted English term which accurately
expresses what is common to them all. The desig-
nation active powers, employed by Reid and Stewart,
ought obviously to include the intellect. Orectic
faculty — the literal transcription of the Aristotelian
term — is too unfamiliar. Hamilton gave currency
to the epithet conativCf which emphasizes the idea
of effort prominent in some of these acts ; whilst
others prefer the title appetitive faculty. These two
last names seem to us on the whole exposed to
fewest objections ; however, it should be borne in
mind that the phenomena of appetency include not
only states of yearning for absent pleasures, but also
the enjoyment of gratifications attained.

Appetite. — The term appetite was used in a very wide
sense by mediaeval writers to denote all forms of internal
inclination, comprehending alike the natural tendencies or
affinities {appetiius iiaitiratis) of plants and inorganic sub-
stances, which impel them towards what is suitable to their
nature, and the feelings of conscious attraction (appetiius
elicitus) in sentient and rational beings. The formal object


of the appetitive faculty in this broad signification is the good.
Under the good is comprised, not merely the pleasant, but
everything in any fashion convenient to the nature of the
being thus attracted. Continued existence, fehcity, develop-
ment, and perfection, together with whatever is apparently
conducive to these ends, are all in so far good, and conse-
quently a possible object of appetency ; whilst whatever is
repugnant to them is a mode of evil, and therefore a ground
for aversion or the negative activity of the same faculty.

Of conscious appetite the schoolmen recognized two kinds
as essentially distinct — rational and sensitive. The former
has its source in intellectual, the latter in sensuous, appre-
hension. The two faculties, however, do not act in isolation;
desires and impulses in the main sensuous often embody
intellectual elements, and we therefore deem it best to
postpone the chief portion of our treatment of appetency to
Part II. of the present book.

The scholastics also divided couative states into appetiius
cvncupiscibiles and appctitiis ivascibiles. The appetitive side of
the soul was investigated by mediaeval writers mainly from
the standpoint of Ethics or Moral Theology. The modern
branch of study known as ^Esthetics, the analysis of the
mental states aroused by the contemplation of the beautiful
and the sublime, and the dissection of our emotions, which
take up so much room in psychological treatises of the present
day, found little or no space in their speculations.

Modern writers commonly confine the term appetite to
certain organic cravings. These arise from the physical
condition of the body ; they are mainly of a periodically
recurrent character, and they are essential to the preser-
vation of the individual or the species. The chief forms
usually enumerated are those of hunger, thirst, sleep, exercise,
and sex. All these activities are of the lower order of mental
life, and have their source in sensation. Thus hunger springs
from the uneasy feelings of the alimentary canal arising from
privation of the nutriment on which its appropriate functions
are exercised. The craving for sleep or physical activity is
similarly awakened by fatigue or the consciousness of an
accumulation of surplus energy. Besides these peculiarly
organic appetites there are tendencies in all sentient beings
towards objects and actions in harmony with their nature or
some part of it. The appropriate satisfaction of such incli-
nations commonly awakens pleasure, whilst excess or defect
causes pain, and thus brings into play two great protective
agencies which guard the life of the individual and the race.
The gregarious instinct, maternal affection, feelings of anger,
jealousy, and fear, may also belong to the purely sensuous



order of conscious life provided they contain no element of
reflective activity, and it is in this form they are exhibited
by lower animals.

Movement. — Appetency expresses itself in
motion. The tree pushes out its roots and opens
its leaves in search of nutriment. The animal,
stirred up by feeling, creeps, walks, runs, swims, or
flies in pursuit of its food. And man, too, is con-
stantly moving one or other of his limbs, or organs,
to gratify some need or desire. In later life, the
instant a volition is exerted, the appropriate move-
ment or chain of movements necessary for its
satisfaction follows with precision. Yet this has not
been always so. We know that our skill in hand-
writing, cricket, or skating, is the outcome of many
unsuccessful efforts ; and we have only to watch a
child of eighteen months toddling from one chair to
another to realize that even our most natural move-
ments have been very gradually acquired.

Voluntary movement analyzed. — If we analyze
any complex deliberate action of mature life, such as
tying our shoe-lace, putting a book on a shelf, or trying
to hit a ball at tennis or at cricket, we shall discover
that several distinct elements are involved. First, a
visual image of the contemplated act, its extent,
direction, and velocity, is formed. Accompanying this,
especially if the operation be unusual, there is a motor
representation, a faint imaginary rehearsal of the
movement, in which there is an estimate taken of the
quantity and quality of muscular effort to be employed.
Finally there is, at least in volitional acts, the Jiaf, or
act of the will, that discharges the motor energy into the
selected channels causing the imagined action to be
realized. The Will, of course, does not consciously pick
out the particular muscles to be exerted. It is only late


I . . . _

in life that the mind learns the existence of such
muscles. But past experience has revealed to us
different kinds of musculav feelings, and the will selects
which of these shall be re-exerted. The entire con-
sciousness arising out of volitional effort and muscular
strain has been called the feeling of innervation, and there
is much dispute as to its nature. Whatever be its
physiological accompaniments and the ingredients of
which it is composed, it is by controlling and varying
this innervation under the guidance of incoming sensa-
tions muscular, tactual, and visual, that the direction,
range, and rapidity of the movement is determined.
But how is this intelligent control of motor energy
evolved ? How does the infant come to be able to
select, not the right muscles, of which it may never know
anything, but the right muscular feelings to be stirred up
in order to accomplish a particular complex operation ?
This is the question of the development of the poi^^er of
locomotion. In order to answer it we must distinguish
several kinds of movements.

Automatic movements. — In the first place we
find that all living animal organisms perform certain
vital actions, independently of stimulation from without.
I The pulsations of the heart and the circulation of the
^ blood are perhaps the best illustrations of this class of
movements. They are called automatic. They are the
unconscious outcome of the living mechanism.

Reflex action. — There is another class of actions
which differ from the former in that they are occasioned
by peripheral stimulation. These are movements in
response to sensory impressions without the inter-
vention of any conscious effort — the involuntary reflexion
of an afferent impulse back along an efferent nerve,
e.g., winking, sneezing, swallowing. (See p. 46.) Such
movements are styled reflex ; but they often gradually
fade into the other groups, especially in acquired habits.
Original reflex actions are unlearned and involuntary,
though they may sometimes become subject to the will,
as in the act of coughing.

Impulsive action. — Yet another class of move-
ments are apparently common to man with all the



lower animals from birth. They differ from automatic
movements in their irregularit}^, and from reflex action
in seeming to be occasioned not by external stimulation,
but by internal /^(f/mo'5. They are impulsive actions, and
chiefly out of these voluntary movements are developed.

Origin of voluntary movement. — How then are the first
impulsive acts of the infant converted into the freely directed
complex operations of later life ? Broadly speaking, two
theories prevail among modern psychologists. Primitive
impulsive action is of two kinds — random and instinctive. One
theory derives all voluntary action from the former, the other
insists on the important part played by the latter combined
with reflex movements.

Theory of random action. — Dr. Bain insists upon the exist-
ence of a fund of spontaneity in the infant organism. There
are exhibited, he urges, in children and young animals
a quantity of movements of an aimless character. Apart
from external stimulation and reflex action, when fresh and
healthy the young animal exerts its limbs, and frisks and
gambols in a purposeless manner. The living engine, in fact,
generates a surplus of motor power, which tends to relieve
itself in action of any kind. This is the source of the play-
impulse. Under the so-called " Law of Self-conservation,"
formulated in the statement that pleasure is accompanied with
heightened energy, and pain untJi lowered energy, this original
haphazard action assumes definite lines. Amongst the for-
tuitous movements some result in a pleasant experience, and
in consequence of the heightened energy tend to sustain
themselves, whilst painful actions, by the consequent lowering
of activity, become suppressed, " as when an animal moving
up to a fire encounters the scalding heat with its depressing
(sic) influence, and therefore has its locomotion suspended."^:
By repetition the lucky movements become associated with '
the pleasure attained, and after a time the mere idea of this
pleasure is able by force of this association to excite the
appropriate action to obtain it. When this stage is reached
we have, according to Dr. Bsiin, free voluntary control.

Objections to the theory. — Opponents object : (i) That both
the statement and application by Bain of the alleged Law are
untenable. Whilst pleasure commonly awakens desire for a
renewal or continuance of an act, it often tones down general
vitality. Pains, on the other hand, augment activity. Punish-
ment is a universally recognized means of stirring up energy ;'

^ Mental Science, p. 80.


whilst intense pleasures are frequently exhausting. (2) Even
granting the Law, as expounded by Dr. Bain, the fortuitous
pleasant and painful experiences arising out of random action
would be far too few to account for the rapidity of acquisition,
and for the complex character of many of the acts of ver^
early life both in animals and children. (3) Further, instinct, it
is urged, is proved to be as primordial a phenomenon as
random action, and if admitted to be a vera causa of complex
movements in the lower animals, it is unscientific to reject it
as an explanation of similar acts in man. (4) To us the most
serious error is the identification of voluntary — i.e., freely
willed movement with impulsive action merely moulded into
a definite shape by the strongest pleasure. Complex move-
ments of a well-trained dog are in this view the type of
voluntary action.^

Theory of instinctive action.— The opposite school insist
much on reflex action, and, since evolution and the doctrine of
heredity have become popular, still more on instinct as contri-
buting the chief materials towards the voluntary movements
of later Ufe. Amongst the impulsive actions both of the lower
animals and of the human infant are to be found, they urge,
a multitude of movements which exhibit a striking uniformity
or regularity throughout the species. They involve greater
complexity than in the case of merely reflex action. They
manifest an unconsciously purposive character. Finally, they
are " unlearned,'' or at least so rapidly acquired when the
organism is sufficiently mature as to be justly considered
innate habits. These constitute instinctive actions properly so
called. Thus ducklings, on leaving the nest, take to the
water and swim ; young swallows fly, and chickens, just out of
the shell, peck at insects with perfect accuracy. Similarly,
young pigs just born trot about, and calves and lambs
scramble to their legs after a few failures, and find their
mother's udder.^ To the human infant potentially endowed
with reason, and designed to be reared and instructed by
intelligent parents, fewer definite instincts are allotted by
nature than to the young animal, and nearly all these which
he receives need a longer time to develop. Still, recently more
exact and scientific observation of children has, it is main-
tained, established a sufficient quantity of instinctive action
to account for the growth of voluntary complex movement.

The most complex operation in the power of the infant
possessed at birth is the act of sucking. In addition to this

2 See Martineau, A Study of Religion, Vol. II. pp. 206-224;
Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics, Bk. II. c. v. § 4.

3 For a fuller treatment of this subject see the section on
Instinct in the supplementary chapter on Comparative Psychology.


there are enumerated as instinctive movements, though some
of them require from three to twelve months to manifest
themselves, the actions of grasping and pointing at objects,
of carrying objects to the mouth, of biting and chewing, of
crying and smiling, of turning the head aside with a frown, of
holding the head erect, of sitting up, of standing, of creeping,
and of walking. For many of these the appropriate muscles
and nerve-centres need time to mature, but when this period
has arrived, it is maintained, that the impulse to creep,
stand, or walk, shows itself with striking suddenness, and the
new aptitude is often perfected with a rapidity quite incom-
patible with the associationist theory of fortuitous successes.
Imitation. — The instinct to utter sounds is present from
the beginning, but the impulse to imitate sounds, as well as
other actions, appears later, and often quite abruptly. The
instinct of imitation, which exhibits itself in smiling, frowning,
laughing, and other gestures, in the dramatic impulse, and
the make-believe games of childhood, in the force of fashion,
and in the contagion of enthusiasm and panic, is one of the
greatest educative forces in human life. These various forms
of instinctive movement, it is argued, account sufficiently for
man's acquisition of a complete command over his power of
movement without appealing to the hypothesis of random

Growth of control of movement. Probable
theory. — It seems to us that the arguments adduced
in support of the latter view prove the insufficienc}' of
the " random" theor}^ The fact that all men walk upright.
is the outcome not of fortuitous action in all directions,
but of an instinctive impulse hereditary in the human
race. Yet such evidence does not exclude the agencies
of pleasure and pain, nor the effect of casual or unde-
signed experience in developing our powers to perform
definite movements, as is indeed fully admitted by the
leading advocates of Instinct. Voluntary action is
freely dcsived action. But desire implies a striving
towards a hno-wn good, towards 2i preconceived end. Volun-
tary movement therefore pre-supposes a representation
of the movement, or of its separate parts, not merely in
terms of visual, but of motor sensation. In order to

* See James, Vol. II. pp. 403, ff. ; Bain, Emotions and Will, II.
c. i. ; Preyer, The Mind of the Child, Part I. cc. xi. xii.; Baldwin,
Emotions and Will, c. xiii. ; Hoffding, pp. 30S — 312.


pronounce a word, or to swim, it is not enough to be
able to imagine the sound of the word, or the picture of
a man swimming, we must be acquainted with the
muscular feelings involved in such actions, and these
must necessarily, on their first occurrence, have been
not anticipated.

The child, subject to obscure feelings and cravings,
seeks relief in movements, some of a purely haphazard,
others of a vaguely purposive, or instinctive character.
Part of these actions turn out pleasant, whether acci-
dentally or because they satisfy an instinct, matters
not ; part of them result in pain. Whatever be the true
expression of Dr. Bain's Laii^ of self -conservation, and
whatever be the real effect of pleasure and pain on
general vitality, there is indisputably a tendency in the
living organism to prolong and repeat movements
which afford satisfaction, and to check those which
prove disagreeable. The infant rejoices to reiterate the
same sound, and the same movement of its arm or leg
again and again. With each successive repetition the
force of association between the muscular feeling and
the pleasant result increases, and each tends more and
more to suggest the other.^ However, the motor
feeling is less easily pictured by the imagination, and
much less interesting in itself than the agreeable result.
Accordingly its force in consciousness diminishes, and
after a time the wish for the effect results in the per-

^ As suggestion acts in the oi-der of the original experience, it
has been objected that an agreeable effect caitnot suggest the action
which caused it. But the original tendency to reiteration solves the
difficulty. Thus, suppose an impulse {a) finds vent in a motor'
feeling [b) which causes an agreeable experience [c) auditory-
tactual, gustatory, or visual. If the process is repeated in succes
sion a few times (as when an infant cries la, la, la) we have {a) [b) [c)
{a) (b) {c), Sec, in which, at every repetition, the agreeable effect (c),
precedes (a), and so tends in the future to suggest it. That is, the
representation of the pleasant effect will excite the impulse which
will in turn awaken the motor feeling, and so on, until a new presen-
tation intervenes, and inhibits the process. The tendency to
repetition may be due physiologically to the facility of adhering to
a nervous path once opened, or to the lively sensibility and unstable
condition of nerve-centres recently excited. Cf. Martineau, Vol. II.
pp. 208, 2og ; and James, Vol. 11. pp. 582 — 592.


formance of the action without any advertence to the
muscular feelings.

The earliest motor exertions will, of course, be very
simple, and the connexion between action and the
pleasing effect immediate. The child touches a smooth
object, and finds the experience agreeable ; or he utters
a cry, and rejoices in the discovery of his power of
noise. Later on his vague tentative efforts will result
in the combination of t\\o or more actions, and,
encouraged by his successes, he will gradually come to
perform more and more complex c perations, to conceive
more distant ends, and to be incited by the anticipation
of more remote results. As Professor Dewey remarks :
" The infant begins with a very simple and immediate
idea. His first efforts are limited to movements con-
taining very few elements, and the end of which is
directly present. The consciousness of an end which is
remote, and which can be reached only by the systematic
regulation of a large number of acts, cannot be formed
until the combination of motor impulses has realized
some such end."*'

Voluntary Action. — Freedom, however, means more
than complexity. So long as we merely have feeling
tending to issue into action, even though that action be
complex and towards a pre- conceived object, we have
not voluntary action strictly so called.*' Under the
influence of such unreflecting desires the somnambulist,
and in simpler cases the lower animals, perform elaborate
operations which are nevertheless involuniavy, not free.
In the earlier years of childhood all action is, of this
kind, completely determined by feelings and tempera-
ment. But later on, as experience extends and intellect
IS developed, conflicting motives and rival courses of
possible action emerge into consciousness. The child
finds himself able to inhibit particular impulses. The
power of reflexion awakens within him, and he becomes
aware that he can cJioose or decide which of the impulsive
tendencies he will approve, which of the competing
desires within him he will adopt and identify with

^ Psychologv, 3rd Edit. p. 381.
' That is in the modern sense — deliberate or free action.


himself.^ When this stage is reached, we have
voliintavy action in the true sense. But it should not be
forgotten that in such voluntary action the physical
movement is really carried out by the mechanism of
the organism working substantially in the same manner
as in purely impulsiva or automatic action, save in so
far as the discharge of physical energy is initiated or
modified by volition. Bodily movement is, in the
language of the schoolmen, actus imperatus, not acttts
elicitus — action commanded or sanctioned^ but not actually
exerted by the will.

A kindred treatment of this subject is thus sum-
marized by Professor Ladd : " The voluntary movements
of the body presuppose the impulsive, and yet they reach
far back into the obscurity of the earlier development
of consciousness. Strictly speaking, they imply the
presence in consciousness of two or more different or
conflicting ideas of mction, one of which rather than
the others is realized as a sequence of an act of

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 21 of 63)