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the Moral Law to the starry heavens, and found them both sublime.
It would, on the naturalistic hypothesis, be more appropriate to
compare it to the protective blotches on the beetle's back, and to
find them both ingenious, But how, on this view, is the ' beauty of


The fact that within a tribe or nation some of the moral
virtues are of evident advantage in the struj^gle with other
tribes makes no real ditterence, unless we assume, against the
whole teaching of evolution, the sudden causeless appearance
of the moral instinct throughout the majority of the indi-
viduals of the tribe. If " the weakest to the wall " is the one
supreme Law of Nature, if Natural Selection is the great
foice of evolution, then the occasional individuals varying
slightly in the direction of conscientiousness would be inevit-
ably eliminated in the perpetual struggle for existence within
the limits of their own savage tribe, before the dubious utility
of their incipient moral dispositions could be extended to the
tribe as a whole, and render it superior to other less moral
races. If an unprejudiced mind considers how intensely
difficult it is, even at the present day, when we are in posses-
sion of all the moralizing agencies of religion, education,
language, literature, public opinion, and governmental
authority, to quicken the moral sensibility of the individual
or of the nation, he must surely see that in the alleged
pre-human stage, when not a single one of these forces
were present, and when the conditions of existence com-
bined unanimously in the opposite direction, the natural
growth of conscience must have been absolutely impos-

holiness ' to retain its lustre in the minds of those who know so
much of its pedigree ? In despite of theories, mankind — even
instructed mankind— may, indeed, long preserve uninjured senti-
ments which they have learned in their most impressionable years
from those they love best ; but if, while they are being taught the
supremacy of conscience and the austere majesty of duty, they are
also to be taught that these sentiments and beliefs are merely samples
of the complicated contrivances, many of them mean and many of
them disgusting, wrought into the physical or into the social
organism by the shaping forces of selection and elimination, assur-
edly much of the efficacy of these moral lessons will be destroyed,
and the contradiction between ethical sentiment and naturalistic
theory will remain intrusive and perplexing, a constant stumbling-
block to those who endeavour to combine in one harmonious creed
the explanations of Biology and the lofty claims of Ethics." (Op.
cit. pp. 18, ig.)

i« Mr. Lecky has justly remarked that, "Whether honesty is or
is not the best policy, depends mainly on the efficiency of the
police," a social factor seemingly not very perfect in those pre-
historic times of which Herbert Spencer aftbrds us such detailed
information. Bain argues forcibly that " the Moral Sentiment is
about the least favourably situated of all mental products for trans-
mission by inheritance." The chief grounds on which he does so
are: (i) Comparative infrequency of special classes of moral acts


Intuitionalist Views. — Writers of the Intuitionalist school
subsequent to Shaftesbury and Hutcheson modified the
doctrine of the Moral Sense, so as to remove its most obvious
defects. Thus Reid and Stewart, who accept the term,
describe the faculty as of a rational character. It is a specie;!
innate power, fi^iven at first only in germ and requiring
training and cultivation, but nevertheless capable of revealing
the objective moral qualities of actions. The term Moral
Sense, however, has been used in such a variety of significa-
tions, and is so liable to suggest an erroneous view of the
nature of moral perception, that we believe Conscience will
be best described as the Moral or Practical Reason. It
should alwajs be borne in mind that while on the one hand
the moral faculty is a cognitive power identical with the
intellect, its proper object differs in kind from mathematical
relations and purely speculative truths.

Kant, identified Conscience with the Practical or Moral
Reason. It was, however, conceived by him not as a
cognitive faculty making known to us an external law pre-
scribed from without, but as an internal regulative force
which itself imposes commands on the will. Man is thus
asserted to be a law to himself. This doctrine, based on the
so-called autonomy of the reason, confounds the function of
promulgating a law with the office of legislation, and gives a
defective account of the nature of authority and of the
ultimate grounds of obligation. P>ut criticism of this theory
would lead too far into Ethics : and for a treatment of this
subject we must refer the reader to the volume on Moral
Philosophy of the present series.

Is Conscience a Spring- of Action ? — The confusion preva-
lent in modern ethical speculation regarding the connexion
between Conscience, Reason, Intellect, and Moral Sentiment
has given rise to a warm psychological dispute as to whether
Reason can be a spring of action. Cudworth (1617 — 88) and
Clarke (1675 — 1729), the ultra-intellectual moralists, identified
the moral faculty with Reason in its narrowest sense, assimi-
lating the activity of Conscience to the cognition of purely
speculative truths. Interpreting Reason in this restricted

" We are moralists only at long intervals, . . . we may be hours
and days without any marked moral lesson." (2) Complexity. "The
moral sentiment supposes a complicated situation between human
beings apart from whom it has neither substance nor form" [i.e.,
in the Utilitarian system). (3) Disagreeableiiess of duty. "We do
not readily acquire what we dislike, . . . mankind being naturall)
indisposed to self-denial are on that account slow in learning good
Moral habits, and are not generally in an advanced state even at
the last." (Emotions and Will, 3rd Edit. pp. 55—57 )


signification, Hume argued that it c^n have no influence over!
the will, and therefore is not a spring of action. He, conse-
quently, assigned to sentiment the chief place in the consti-
tution of the moral faculty. Later philosophers, wishing
to defend the rationality of morality, opposed this vicM
Dr. Sidgwick thus argues : (i) The chief part of moral per-
suasion appeals to Reason. (2) " Reason prescribes an end.'' ,
The judgment, "This ought to he done," stimulates the will
to action. The moral sentiment may co-operate, but the
cognition of Tightness of itself really impels to action.''-*
Dr. Martineau, on the other hand, defining a spring of action,
as "an impulse to an unselected form of action," excludes
both Prudence and Conscience from the list of active forces.
Moral Reason merely decides which of two rival impulses is
the higher, which is to be preferred. It is a "judge," not an
" advocate." The motive power lies solely in the impulses.

Criticism. — There is an element of truth contained in both
views, and the dispute seems to us to be in part verbal. Moral
perception is an act of the Reason, and this is in itself a
cognitive, not a conative or appetitive faculty. It is primarily
recipient, not impulsive. On the other hand, in apprehending
an action as right, obligatory, agreeable, or useful, the intellect
stimulates the will to action, and thereby becomes a motor
agency. The propelling force thus lies primarily in the
quality of the object apprehended, and not in the intuition
viewed merely as a cognitive state. A spring of action is thus
a mental state tending of itself to issue into action, while an
ethical cognition in virtue of the objective moral law which it
reveals is an apprehensive act which may originate or check
such an impulsive state.

Butler's Doctrine. — Among English moralists of last century
the ablest defender of the authority and rationality of Con-
science, and the writer who returned most closely to the
teaching of St. Thomas and the great Catholic philosophers
of the middle ages, was Butler (1692 — 1757). The attention
which had been devoted to the empirical study of the mind
by his immediate predecessors, however, caused him to lay
great stress on inductive arguments. And we beheve wc
may suitably close the present chapter with a passage of hi^s
which admirably epitomizes the psychological grounds b
which the existence of truly moral intuitions is established :
" That which renders beings capable of moral government
is their having a moral nature, and moral faculties of per-
ception and of action. Brute creatures are impressed and
actuated by various instincts and propensities : so also are

'9 Methods, Bk. I. c. iii. § i.



we. But additional to this we have a capacity for reflecting
upon actions and characters, and making them an object to
our thought ; and on doing this we naturally and unavoidably
approve some actions, under the peculiar view of their being
virtuous and of good desert, and disapprove others as vicious
and of ill desert. That we have this moral approving and
disapproving faculty is certain from our experiencing it in
ourselves, and recognizing it in eaCh other. It appears from
our exercising it unavoidably, in the approbation and dis-
approbation of even feigned characters : from the words right
and wrong, odious and amiable, base and worthy, with many
others of like signification in all languages. . . . It is manifest,
great part of common language and of common behaviour
over the world is formed upon supposition of such a moral
faculty, whether called conscience, moral reason, moral sense,
or Divine reason. Nor is it doubtful in general, what action
this facultv, or practical discerning power within us, approves,
and what it disapproves. For, as much as it has been dis-
puted wherein virtue consists, or whatever ground for doubt
there may be about particulars, yet, in general, there is in
reality a universally acknowledged standard of it. It is that
which all ages and all countries have made profession of in
public : it is that which every man you meet puts on tlie
show of: it is that which the primary and fundamental laws
of all civil constitutions over the face of the earth make it
their business and endeavour to enforce the practice of upon
mankind, namely, justice, veracity, and regard to the common
good." (Cf. Dissertation on the Nature of Virtue.)

Readings. — On Judgment and Reasoning, cf. St. Thomas, Sum. i.
q. 79. a. 8; Suarez, De Aniwa, III. c. 6; Rickaby, First Principles,
Pt. I. c. ii. ; Kleutgen, op. cit. §§ 133 — 146; Clarke, Logic, Pt. II.
c. iii. On Assent and Consent, Olle ha.prune, De la Certitude Morale,
c. ii. ; Wilfrid Ward, The Wish to Believe. On Implicit Reasoning,
Newman, op. cit. cc. viii. ix. ; also Dr. W. G. Ward's Phihsophy
of Theism, Essays XV. and XVI. On Belief and Knowledge, OIU-
Laprnne, op. cit. cc. iii. — v.; Newman, op. cit. cc. iv. vi. vii.;
Rickaby, op. cit. Pt. II. cc. vii. viii. On Conscience, St. Thomas,
Sum. I. q. 79. a. 9 — 13; J. Ming, Data of Modern Ethics Examined,
c. xii. ; Moral Philosophy (present series), Pt. I. c. viii. §§ i, 2.


attp:ntion and apperception.

Attention. — We have confined the term attention
to the higher order of mental activity. The word
is, however, frequently employed to denote mere
intensification of sensuous consciousness. In this
sense a dog or a cow is said to attend when it is
excited, by the approach of some object, to watch
or listen ; increased activity of the sensuous faculties
of man may similarly be named attention. Still,
careful introspection assures us that in an act of
attention proper there is something more than
augmentation of the previous sensation.^

Attention and Sensation. — Suppose that I am
suffering from toothache ; I can advert to the pain or
try to turn my attention away from it. But this atten-
tion is not the same thing as the feeling. I can direct
my observation to the peculiarly aching character of
the latter. I can consider its likeness and unlikeness
to the sensation of a burn or a needle-prick ; I can
estimate its superiority in intensity over previous states.
In fact, I am conscious throughout of exerting a cosr-
nitive activity distinct from the mere sensation, and
this presupposes before it can operate the sensation
or its reproduced image. Increased intensity of a

^ On attention to sensuous impressions, see pp. 232, 243 — 246.


sensation is not identical with tlie act of attention,
though the former may often awake the latter. For wc
can attend to the w^eaker of two impressions, and the
vividness of a sensation occasionally obscures the re-
lation or special aspect which is at the time the formal
object of the act of attention.

Attention and Volition. — Neither is attention
merely a volition or act of will. On the contrary', it is
that upon which the conative act is exerted. It is
cognitive energy directed by the will to an existing
experience. Thus, in attending to a toothache, the act
of the will is not, " I wish to feci more pain or less
pain," but " I wish to turn my attention towards or
from this pain," " I wish to have a clearer and more
distinct consciousness of this state." Becoming an
object of thought, the feeling may subsequently become
an object of will ; and, as a rule, the increased clearness
and force of a conscious state effected by attention
augments its motive power and reacts upon the conative
activity of the mind.

Attention interrogative.— In becoming attentive
we pass into an attitude of inquiry or expectation, and
this is characteristic of the mind throughout the whole
period. Mr. G. Stout accurately describes this phase
of the mental state : " Between a protracted train of
thought which lasts for an hour and a transient act of
attention which lasts for only a few seconds, there is in
this respect only a difference of degree, not of kind.
Whenever we attend at all, we attend to some object,
and it is the essence of the process that, in and through it,
our apprehension of this object shall become, or at least
tend to become, more full and distinct. For this reason
a certain prospective attitude of the mind is charac-
teristic of attention. Attendere originally means to
expect or await. This prospective attitude is for the
most part interrogative. The interrogation in its more
primitive phases is dumb, and to express it in language
is to falsify it by giving it a fictitious definiteness. But
with this reservation we may say that it corresponds to
the question : What is that ? or simply, What ? " ^

- Analytic Psvcliolooy, Vol. I. p 1S4.


That is, literally, in scholastic language, it is the con-
centrated activity of the intellect seeking to apprehend
the Quidditas. Accordingly we shall wisely return to
the old definition, and define attention as : Applicatio
cogitationis ad ohjecfa, or the special application of intel-
lectual energy to any object.

Voluntary and non-voluntary Attention. — The phenomenon
of attention takes two forms according as the exciting cause
is the mind itself or something presented to the mind. In
the former case we are conscious of a certain self-direction ot
the mind towards a particular object. We interfere with the
automatic current of our thoughts, and turn them into a new
channel. This is effected by fixing upon some particular
section of the series, and dwelling upon it. This act of
attention at once increases the force of the selected idea, and
raises into consciousness other ideas of various kinds with
whivh it is connected. We then again choose which of these
new lines of thought shall be followed, and so change the
original course of the stream. This is an exercise oi voluntary
attention. The completeness of control over our own
thoughts, the success which we can command in the expul-
sion or detention of a particular mental state, varies at
different times and in regard to different objects. A represen-
tation of the imagination, a strong emotion, a worrying train
of thought, no less than some distracting external stimulus,
may at times render nugatory repeated efforts to apply our
minds to some other topic. It is tliis experience of resistance
which affords us the most convincing assurance that we have
a real power of free voluntary attention, for it reveals to us
in the clearest manner the difference between automatically
drifting with, and actively struggling against the natural
current of thought. It brings into distinct consciousness the
exertions of real personal choice. The conditions influencing
our command over attention are, accordingly, twofold. On
the one side are the varying degrees of attractiveness per-
taining to the object ; on the other is the energy of the mind.

Non-voluntary Attention. — Attention, however, is often both
awaked and continued without any effort of the mind. Ot
this non-voluntary activity we can distinguish two grades.
Sometimes the process of attention, though not due to special
volition, flows along in a smooth, facile manner, without an}-
consciousness of constraint. This is spontaneous, or automatic
attention. On the other hand, there are also occasions when
we feel our attention to he extorted from us, or constrained
against our will, when an idea forcibly intrudes into our


consciousness, and defies our best attempts to eject it. This
advertence against our will is invuluntary attention in the
strict sense. Extreme instances are the "fixed ideas," and
hallucinations of the insane. Serious enfeehlement of volun-
tary control of attention is generally among the symptoms of
approaching mental derangement.

Laws of Attention. — Intensity. — The general con-
ditions of Attention have been described by some
psychologists as Laws ; and they may be thus briefly
formulated: (i) Involuntary, automatic, or reflex
attention, is determined as regards both its force and
direction, by the comparative attractiveness of the
objects present to the mind. (2) Voluntar}' attention
is determined {a) by the energy of the mind at the
time, (h) by the inherent attractiveness of the object,
and (f) by extrinsic motives, or relations of the object
with other desirable things which may influence the
will. Thus the student's power of keeping his intellect
fixed upon his work depends on the nature of the
subject ; on the present intensity of his desire to pass
his examination ; on the fresh and healthy condition
of his brain ; on the native energy of his mind, and
on his acquired habits of steady concentration.

Duration.- — In the first stage of the exercise of
voluntary attention repeated struggles are often
necessary ; but when interest is once awakened the
activity becomes self-supporting, and further volitional
effort is needless. Still attention, whether voluntary
or involuntary, is of an essentially variable character.
It flows in waves rather than in a constant level stream,
and soon grows feeble unless revived b}" a new effort
or by a change of object. When a man is said to keep
his attention concentrated or fixed for a long time on
a single object, he really follows out a train of ideas
related to the object.

Extent. — The force of attention is limited in range
as well as in duration ; and another law supposed to
express the relation between extent and intensity of
attention was formulated in the old aphorism : Plurihus
intcutns minor est ad singula sensiiSy or the intensity of attention
varies inversely as the arc:i of objects over whicJi it ranges.


This statement refers rather to sensuous than to intel-
lectual cognition. In so far as it applies to the latter,
it defines not the force of a single act of attention,
but the general efficiency of mental energy during a
longer or shorter period.

Whether we can attend simultaneously to more than
one object has been much disputed ; and, as is usual
in such cases, the disputants often differ as to what
they mean by ** attend " and *' one object." Experiments
like those of Hamilton, indicating how many pebbles a
man can perceive at a single glance, obviously have to
do with the perfection of eyesight, rather than with
the range of attention. It is clear that we can be
sentiently aware of sounds, colours, temperature, and
pressure at the same time. But intellectual attention,
even when engaged in comparison, apprehends its
objects in the form of a unity of some sort. The focus
of attention seems to be at any moment a single thought,
though that thought may carry a fringe of relations
and a nucleus of elements dimly felt to be distinct from
each other ; ^ and in the process of analysis the mind
passes from one to another in rapid succession.

Effects of Attention. — Intensification. — The most
obvious eftect of an act of attention is to intensify the
mental state towards which it is directed, whether that
state be a sensation, an idea, or an emotion. At any
moment of our waking life we are subject to a mass
of impressions, tactual, auditory, and visual, pouring
into the mind through the several senses. Most of
them are so feeble as to escape notice in the crowd.
But when I direct my attention, for instance, to the
pressure of the ground, or of the chair, or to the colour
of the table on which I am writing, the sensation

^ This seems to be the view of St. Thomas : " Intellectus
cjuidem potest simul multa intelhgere/^r modum unius non autem
per modum multorum. . . . Partes, e.g., domus, simul cognoscuntur
suh qiiadiim confnsionc, prout sunt in toto." {Sum. i. q. 85, ad 3.)
Compared objects, he teaches, are simultaneously apprehended
"sub rationc ipsius comparationis." Similarly Mr. Stout: "The
essential is that, however manifold or heterogeneous the objects
of my thought may be, I must, in thinking of them, simultaneously
think of some relation between them." (loc. cit. p. 195.)


emerges at once into vivid consciousness. The possible
augmentation of the feeling is, however, limited. We
cannot increase the blueness of the sky, nor the loud-
ness of a sound, nor the weight of a pound above what
corresponds to full normal stimulation. But it is
probable that organic pain may be increased by a
certain physical effect of attention which seems to
react on the nerves and blood-vessels of the locality
on which observation is concentrated.

Expectant Attention. — The intensification of the force
of phantasms of the imagination is still more remark-
able ; and, as we have already indicated, is often the
cause of illusion. Since the reproduced images probably
occupy the same cerebral centres as the original motor,
visual, or auditory sensations, revival of the image
involves a rehearsal of the former neural tremor, and
in proportion as the representation becomes more vivid
the nervous excitation grows in strength until it may
issue into an actual repetition of the former experience.
This also explains the shortening of reaction-time in
psychometrical experiments when a definitely known
event is looked for. Thus, if I am expecting to per-
ceive a particular colour, the visual faculty is adjusted
for its immediate reception and the appropriate brain
cells under the action of the imagination are in a con-
dition of nascent excitement ready to respond like hair-
trigger pistols to the faintest stimulation. In fact " pre-
perception," or the ante-dating of a phenomenon, is not
an uncommon illusion when expectation of a particular
event is in an acute stage.

Distinctness. — But more important from an intel-
lectual point of view is the increased distinctness which
attention sheds upon its objects. It affects this by
clarifying the relations of which the observed phenomenon
is the centre. It brings under our notice the various
threads by which this object is interwoven with the
web of our already acquired knowledge. Relations of
similarity and contrast, of causality and dependence,
of action and reaction, rational connexions of every
kind to which mere sensuous intuition is blind, reveal
themselves beneath the light of this higlier mental


energy, and what was before a confused mass of
sensuous impression, becomes now a consciously unified
object — a well defined thing.

Attention and Genius. — This illuminating power of atten-
tion by which the obscure and dimly discerned relations of
certain ideas are elevated into vivid consciousness is the great

Online LibraryMichael MaherPsychology: empirical and rational → online text (page 35 of 63)