A Modern Theory of Ethics, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 8

Tendency in Psychology

A. Bodily and Personal Needs

HITHERTO we have considered tendency only in the physical and the biological spheres. It is now time to deal with tendency in psychology. Some organisms at least are capable of psychical activity, of diverse modes of cognition, conation, and affection. The field upon which this psychical activity operates consists of the organism itself (objectively regarded) and the external environment. Psychology deals with the diverse modes of this psychical activity, and the relation of subjective psychical activity to the objective mental content. In the higher organisms, mental content includes cognized tendencies to psychical activity. More precisely, though many of the activities of the higher organisms have both a bodily and a mental aspect, sometimes the one aspect and sometimes the other is more important, so that for practical purposes we may distinguish between bodily and mental activities. The problem of the status of objective psychical (or mental) tendency begins now to be urgent, and I shall deal with it in the course of this chapter.

We may distinguish, then, between the needs of the organism as a physical or biological entity and the needs of the ‘person’. The needs which appear within the individual’s mental content may be classified into those which arise from the nature of his body as a system of physical organs demanding certain conditions for their free activity, and on the other hand those which entail for their existence not only physical but also psychical function. Of purely bodily needs we may distinguish the general need of the body as a whole and the special needs of particular organs. Thus the general need of the body to maintain itself in physiological equilibrium is sometimes in conflict with individual organs. For these, even if in the course of evolution they were called into being as means to fulfil the need of a unified body, have yet, in each individual, needs of their own. Their healthy functioning is necessary for the general need; but they are distinct entities with tendencies of their own. Thus in cancer certain cells, divorced from central control, regress toward the embryonic form and multiply, at the expense of the rest of the body. Similarly when the higher nerve centres are put out of action by lesion or disease, the lower, freed from inhibition by the higher, perform more readily and more vigorously those actions which depend only on their own constitution.72

Those needs, then, which entail not only bodily activity, but also psychical activity, may be called needs of the ‘person’. These are in a sense secondary needs of the ‘psycho-physical’ organism, since, like the others, they are grounded in the nature of the organism, but in its psychical, not merely in its physical, activity. They emerge from the cognitive, affective, and conative activity in its operation on the primary physiological nature of the organism in its environment. Mostly they entail cognition of the distinction between the individual and his social environment; but this social factor is not essential to the existence of personal needs. It is indeed through this social distinction that we become aware of ourselves, and come to need respect, affection, ‘understanding’, in our social intercourse. But apart from this consciousness of self in society, we need also mental activity for its own sake. We need to exercise our cognitive, affective, and conative power, just as we need to exercise our muscles. Hence, among the personal needs must be included the impulse to know for the sake of knowing, and to create imaginatively, and the impulse to seek emotional experience for its own sake, and the impulse to undertake skilled activity for its own sake.

Thus from the psychical capacity itself, and from the cognition of the relation of the individual to society, emerges a great system of needs which cannot be derived simply from physiological needs, yet are needs of the individual as individual, not needs of society cognized by the individual.

It is important to note that these needs of the person, no less than the bodily needs, are prior to the value judgments which are made in respect of them. Those personal needs which have a social aspect arise out of the cognized objective relations of the individual to society; those which have no social aspect arise out of the tendency to psychical activity. And this psychical tendency, whatever its status, is objective to any value-judgment about it. Some hold that the psychical behaviour of organisms is evidence that, besides the merely physical structure, there is also an unconscious mental structure, or self, which behaves psychically. According to this view the psychical tendencies are tendencies, not of the body, but of the self, which is conceived as a system of innate and acquired ‘dispositions’. On the other hand, it is possible to hold that the psychical tendencies are tendencies of a substance neither simply physical nor simply psychical, but manifested in physical activity and in psychical activity. This substance we may provisionally call the psycho-physical organism. On this view organisms which attain a certain complexity of physical arrangement are substances in which new characters and tendencies emerge, namely, tendencies toward psychical activity. There is thus no distinct mental structure which alone behaves mentally. There is merely a new way of behaving on the part of a whole composed of the original kinds of ‘physical’ entities in a new order. These ‘physical’ entities in a certain organization together assume a new psychical nature.

Or perhaps we should put the matter somewhat differently, by saying that the real substance of the universe manifests itself to us primarily as physical appearance, i.e. physical activity; but that it sometimes achieves, along with certain very complex physical configurations or manifestations, another kind of activity, namely, mental activity. Such a foundation is obviously very imperfect. But full discussion of the body-mind relation is not possible here. The only point that concerns us is that-the physical body is itself a system of activities and tendencies, and the mind is a system of other kinds of activities and tendencies; and that, just as what acts in the former case is not itself physical movement, so what acts in the latter case is not itself psychical process.

B. Conation of Psychical Activities

We are now in a position to face the problem of objective psychical tendency, or more precisely, objective tendency to subjective activity. But in order to do this adequately we must also discuss a more general matter which has not hitherto been squarely faced. Granted that conscious conation does involve unconscious teleological tendency, does the occurrence of conation involve also cognition of the tendency, as I have suggested, or does it emerge directly from the unconscious as conation?

According to our theory conation entails cognition of an objective tendency or activity. But surely, it may be said, this supposed objective tendency is often itself conative. What, for instance, is the objective tendency the cognition of which is the source of the desire to achieve success in business or politics? And in artistic activity what kind of tendencies are conated? In the case of sneezing and other bodily actions the theory of the cognitional sources of conation may seem plausible; for, finding ourselves sneezing, we do seem therefore to desire to sneeze. But in the case of mental activity what precisely is it that we cognize, and is the objective source of our desire? To say that even in these cases conation presupposes cognition of an objective mental activity or tendency is to say that a subjective act of conation presupposes an objective act of conation! Surely this is ridiculous. We do not first cognize a tendency to speculate on the Stock Exchange and then desire to do so. The desire springs directly into consciousness from sources not open to introspection.

Moreover, the whole trend of modem psychology, we may be told, suggests that to put cognition before conation is to put the cart before the horse. Cognition itself is consequent on conation. Because we conate certain activities, we cognize the environment in so far as it is related to those activities; and we cognize it wholly in terms of those activities. Only so far as the environment favours or thwarts conation have we cognition of it at all, and what we cognize of it is not it, but only its relation to our activities.

Let us consider this last objection first, namely, that cognition itself is a product of conation. It may be admitted that cognition is in some sense the product of teleological activity on the part of an organism in an environment. But it does not presuppose conscious conation. And it will be remembered that I have throughout meant by conation a conscious activity. Even below the level of desire, even when the goal is not foreseen, conation is an activity that is psychical. It is at the very least a conscious facilitation of some activity which, without this psychical act, would not get done. It is indeed a conscious ‘espousal’ of some activity which is, without conation, a mere tendency. We may well suppose that cognition begins as a syncretistic awareness of the activity of organism and environment, and develops as a progressively detailed act of distinguishing between the contributions of each of these factors. We may in fact recognize that cognition is always relative to the activity of organisms, that it is essentially an apprehension of the external in relation to the needs of, and from the point of view of, some teleologically active knower, (though of course that ‘point’ of view may theoretically be so widened as to become the ‘point of view’ of the universe). But while recognizing this dependence of cognition itself on teleological activity, we must also insist that the actual conative act, being mental, entails cognition, either primitive syncretistic cognition of organism and environment as a dynamic whole, or developed analytic cognition of a dynamic organism at grips with its environment.

Those who claim that conation is the direct expression of unconscious teleological tendency have omitted to introspect conation clearly. Having made a very important discovery, namely, that conation involves unconscious teleological tendency, they have failed to notice that the tendency must be cognized in order to give rise to the conation of it. Precisely in so far as the cognition is obscure or erroneous, the conation is an inadequate expression of the tendency. In morbid cases in which, through repression, true cognition of the tendency is impossible, the conation may be fantastically beside the mark.

Modern psychologists have done well to point out that introspection is very fallible. But they indulge in an extravagant dislike of introspection, and have consequently failed to do full justice to their own hormic theory. So long as the unconscious teleological activity is recognized as the starting-point of the whole process, the hormic theory is not weakened but strengthened by an admission of the part played by cognition. In my experience, at any rate, it seems clear that every kind of conation, that really is a psychical act of conation, has a cognitive side, without which it were inconceivable. To be hungry involves cognizing the organism as in a certain state of incipient or unfulfilled activity, namely, as tending to eat. To desire to have a swim involves cognizing the organism as ‘tuned up’ for a swim. In each case the cognition is vague; but in each case the agent knows, through past experience, what activity would complete the vaguely cognized incipient activity. And in these cases the conation would not occur without cognition of the organic tendency. All that could occur would be a blind restlessness, an impulse to ‘do something or other, I don’t know what’. And this impulse would be derived from a still more vague cognition of a general strain or incipient activity in the organism. Conation which does not amount to explicit desire is always either of this type, or else it is a mere acquiescence in an activity which gets itself done independently of conscious facilitation. Such, we may suppose, is the baby’s first sneeze.

The view of conation which is favoured to-day is at first sight very different from the above; but it is not, I think, essentially opposed to it. No doubt most psychologists would insist that, for instance, instinctive conations are direct responses to specific stimuli, and that they do not presuppose cognition of the significance of the stimulus for the organism. This is certainly true. Professor Field points out that we do not first learn that things are dangerous, and then fear them.73 On the contrary 'we are frightened before we know why, and before we know anything definite about the thing that frightens us except that it is frightening’. When the young blackbird first scurries from a cat it might say, ‘I am frightened, and therefore I know that there are dangerous creatures in the world.’ The emotion of fear is much more primitive than the knowledge of the dangerousness of any particular thing.

Such contentions are obviously true, but they may easily lead to error. If we are to see clearly the part played by cognition in conation we must analyse the emotional situation more fully. Let us take the normal fear reaction as typical. An external situation is cognized, and stimulates response. This response may be described as physiological preparation for flight, and a dynamic condition of the organism which constitutes the tendency to fly, or the state of incipient flight. This internal condition is also cognized. And even in objectless affect, though there is no cognition of an external situation as dangerous, there is, none the less, cognition of the state of the organism as tuned up for flight. In fact the emotion of fear would seem to be at least in part constituted by this cognition of an organic resonance and a state of incipient flight.

It is true, then, that the state of incipient flight does I not involve a judgment of dangerousness. But on the other hand every kind of affect, every conscious emotional attitude, does involve cognition of the organism as either set for a certain kind of behaviour, or at least in a general state of tension. It involves also, of course, at least an incipient conative espousal of that behaviour, or of the obscurely cognized and undirected activity.

Having defended the view that conation involves cognition, we may now deal with the other criticism, namely, that the tendency which is presupposed in conation is itself often essentially conative, and that therefore we are committed to an endless regress. In order to meet this criticism we must analyse the conative situation somewhat more precisely. Let us take the case of a man who desires to accomplish some complex psychical activity such as standing for Parliament, solving a scientific problem, or producing a work of creative art such as a picture. It is, at any rate, clear that such desires do presuppose cognition of an objective situation having certain definite potentialities. These undeniably objective sources are presumably, for the politician the requirements of his party and his constituency in relation to his own political qualifications, for the scientist the conflicting theoretical potentialities of the material which he is studying, and for the artist the conflicting aesthetic potentialities of the significant colours and forms at his disposal. In each case, then, the desire is at least a desire to fulfil certain potentialities objective to the desire itself, and apart from these objective factors the desire could not exist at all. In each case it is, at least in part, because he cognizes these unfulfilled potentialities that he is moved to the particular desire.

But of course this is no solution of our problem. It is not said to be cognition of mere possibilities, as such, that gives rise to conation, but cognition, true or false, of some activity or tendency. The particular desires that we are discussing would usually be accounted for in terms of certain sentiments, and by many psychologists would be ultimately derived from certain instincts. These would be said to be the dynamic sources of the desire. Thus perhaps each of the three cases is in part an expression of the self-regarding sentiment, and in part an expression of, respectively, sentiments for politics, science, and art. And each of these sentiments would be derived in some special and complex manner from such sources as instincts of self-assertion, sex, parenthood, curiosity, and so on. Now of course it is obvious that the individual does not first cognize a sentiment or a blend of instincts and then desire its fulfilment in relation to the particular objective situation. If this were the case, none but psychologists would ever desire anything! Sentiments and instincts do not enter into practical consciousness at all.

Yet it is very likely that in each of the three desires under discussion one factor is in some sense a more general ‘disposition toward self-fulfilment’, or self-expression, or the free activity of that which has been called the psycho-physical organism. In each case also no doubt various special dispositions playa part; but let us concentrate for the moment on the self-regarding disposition. By this ‘disposition’ is meant that in some sense there is something in the individual’s make-up in virtue of which, when he thinks of himself as one person among others, he desires, or tends to desire, the fulfilment of the activities or potencies of that one person rather than others. In fact one necessary source of the explicit desire for self-fulfilment is cognition of oneself as an active substance capable of fulfilment. Without self-consciousness there cannot be desire for self-fulfilment. But the crux of our problem lies in the fact that, to move to desire, this cognition must apparently have as its object, not merely the self as capable of these activities, but the self as in some sense actively tending to these activities, actively tending, for instance, to assert itself. In fact what is cognized must be shown to be no mere capacity but a tendency. But this cognized tendency, let us note, is not strictly a tendency to desire or will self-assertion, but a tendency to behave in self-assertive manners.

We may state our problem clearly in terms of the words ‘desire’ and ‘need ‘. Is it true, as I have maintained, that desire, even for complex psychical activity, presupposes cognition of need; or are we forced after all to admit that a need for such activity is itself but a generalization of certain particular conative activities, and that such a need thus presupposes desire? Are desires essentially based on true or false judgments of objective needs, or are needs sometimes mere generalizations about our desires? Or, again, do we in such desire for psychical activities first cognize ourselves as acting or tending to act in a certain manner, and therefore espouse the free activity; or is cognition of the tendency derived from the conation itself?

I have contended that in the conation of bodily activities, whether the conation be unforeseeing or be explicit desire, cognition of an objective activity is essential. And this formula I believe to be true of all conation, even when the activity which is conated is itself mental. In the case of the will to assert oneself in business or politics what is cognized is, in the first place, a social objective situation and, in the second place, oneself as a substance capable of certain kinds of activity (physical and mental), and actively tending to self-maintenance. Thus in fully self-conscious self-regarding behaviour it is because the individual cognizes himself as in general tending to self-maintenance, that he conates self-maintenance. And in ‘self-regarding’ behaviour of a less explicitly self-conscious kind, or of an entirely unselfconscious kind, what is cognized is some behaviour-impulse which could be classified as ‘self-regarding’ or ‘self-assertive’. But this impulse which is cognized is not a ‘tendency to desire’; it is a need. A certain possible act is cognized as a free act, or fulfilling act; and therefore it is conated. It is in fact cognized as demanded for the immediate expression of one’s nature. Without conation it will not occur; but it is required, not because of the nature of conation, but because of the nature of that which is cognized.

Consider the case of one whose curiosity is aroused by some intellectual puzzle. Here we have an instance of a pure impulse toward intellection, which some would derive from an ‘instinct of curiosity’. The environment presents the man with an unsolved problem, and this situation is a stimulus to intellection. It would be generally admitted that the conscious impulse or conative act of tackling the problem is an act which, in some sense, springs from, or is done by, a pre-existent structure, whether mental or physical or both or neither. This structure is not itself conscious process, though it performs acts of consciousness. Now my contention is that conation involves, not indeed cognition of an instinct or a sentiment, or of any element of an inferred unconscious mental structure, but cognition of the ‘pressure’ (so to speak) of the structure of the organism itself in a certain direction, or toward a certain activity. Thus in order to conate intellection a man must in some sense cognize a movement of his ‘unconscious nature’ toward that activity; but ‘his unconscious nature’ is simply his nature as an active organism. Or more precisely, he must cognize the activity of intellection as expressive of his nature at the moment, or as an act necessary for the free functioning of a part of his objective self at the moment, namely, that part which consists of his own organism. It must be reiterated that conation is essentially a conscious activity. And in order to act consciously, the subject must in some sense cognize, not necessarily an end to be reached, nor even an overt activity in progress, but at the very least a tendency of his own objective nature, or of some other cognized object.

The phrase ‘his own objective nature’ thus covers Dr. Drever’s system of innate dispositions, and whatever is true in the Freudian concept of ‘the unconscious’. But it must be taken to mean, not an unconscious mental structure, but an organic potentiality of physical and mental activities. What is cognized, then, is simply the organism as tending toward certain activities. Some of these activities cannot be performed without conations, which themselves entail cognition of tendency. By virtue of something in his unconscious nature, then, a man tends to act both in the primary biological manners and also in very diverse acquired manners.

To return for the moment to self-regarding activity, all conation of this type presupposes, not indeed cognition of a self-regarding sentiment, or instinct of self-assertion, but cognition of an ‘impulse’ to act in a particular manner. This ‘consciousness of impulse’ is not consciousness of a conation but consciousness of a need, of the ‘fulfillingness’ of a certain act, or of the ‘unfulfillingness’ of not acting.

Some acts, such as reflexes, get done without any conation whatever, though conation may inhibit them or modify them. Others, however, entail for their performance a conscious fiat; and without this fiat they remain mere unfulfilled tendencies of the unconscious nature of the individual: between the two extremes are all degrees of conative efficiency. Certainly all the more complex forms of mental activity entail conscious conation. In these cases the unconscious structure, however much it be pressing toward the activity, remains inactive unless there be conation. And conation involves cognition of the activity as a ‘fulfilling’ or expressive activity.

Recent work on the relation between brain lesions and disorders of speech and general behaviour reveals clearly that tendencies to perform such specific and complex .activities as we are considering may inhere in a ‘strictly neural’ mechanism '.74 The evidence suggests an incredibly complex hierarchical system of neural co-ordination centres, or ‘switch-boards’, or ‘keyboards’, related in such a manner that a ‘note’ of one will touch off a whole ‘chord’ or ‘melody’ on others. In terms of such a system we may conceive that any cognized and conated ‘tendency of our unconscious nature’ is constituted by the relationship of nerve fibres. The automatic response of such a neural mechanism (scattered throughout the brain) may be either inhibited or espoused: by the integrative psychical act of the brain as a whole.75

Thus, in the neural structure, an unconscious and objective tendency to the conscious and subjective psychical activity of intellection would be constituted by a tendency of the neural current to elaborate itself among the so-called associative centres before issuing in overt motor response. Evidence also suggests that the instinctive tendencies depend in part upon the tholamus and other special regions, including of course the autonomic and the endocrine constitution. The more complex acquired temperaments and sentiments may be conditioned also by areas in the frontal lobes. Whether this localization be correct or not in detail, it helps us to understand how the highly complex and various automatisms, innate and acquired, may inhere in the incredibly subtle inter-relations of nerve fibres. Thus the simple instinctive tendency to self-assertion, and the complex self-regarding sentiments, which involve past cognition of the individual in society, may be ingrained unconscious tendencies of neural mechanism to perform conscious activities. Similarly both primitive sexual responses and those developed sentiments in which sex is one factor, and again both primitive gregariousness and those developed sentiments in which sociability is one factor, may be regarded as strictly objective bodily tendencies to specific subjective, psychical, activities.

The nature of the conation of private needs may be clearly seen in certain psycho-neurotic symptoms. Thus in obsessive rituals an act is conated though even to the subject himself it seems irrational, (unless indeed he succeeds in ‘rationalizing’ it). Here the act is cognized as demanded by his’ unconscious nature’ at the’ moment, and is therefore conated. But in this case the activity which is cognized as demanded is, it would seem, not the precise activity which is incipient in or demanded by the ‘unconscious nature’; for this need is, owing to special causes, ‘uncognizable’ or ‘repressed’. What is cognized is an act ‘symbolical’ of the needed act, a resultant, so to speak, of the repressed tendency and the repressing forces; and for the very reason that this act cannot really fulfil the unconscious need, it does not permanently satisfy. In anxiety-neurosis and strictly objectless affect there is no cognition of an act as demanded by the’ unconscious nature’, and therefore there is no conation. But the ‘unconscious nature’ is tending toward a certain act, though the tendency is not cognized, and therefore not conated. And the unfulfilment of this tendency, owing to the lack of the necessary conative act, causes a state of strain, which appears in consciousness as general anxiety or objectless affects. Such symptoms as claustrophobia and agoraphobia, which are not strictly objectless affects, but obsessive responses to an external stimulus, are instances of the same mechanism. The external stimulus rouses a movement of escape, which is cognized and conated. If for any reason immediate escape is not possible, there endures a painful affect, which is indeed ‘irrational’, but not ‘objectless’.

C. Inter-Relation of Organisms

We have considered the bodily and the strictly personal tendencies. It remains to discuss the more difficult problem of the tendencies which, entering the mental content of the individual, are derived not simply from his own bodily and personal tendencies but from the inter-relation of individuals. And in particular we must consider tendencies which emerge from the psychological inter-relation of individuals.

Tendencies which entail the inter-relation of organisms may be classified under three heads.

1) There are those tendencies which are reducible to, or are particular manifestations of, the tendencies which are essential to the nature of all organisms. Individuals’ in the same region tend to compete for food. This tendency is reducible to the nutritive tendency which is essential to the nature of an organism. Further, individuals in the same region may, under certain circumstances, co-operate in the acquirement of food. This may occur without any strictly social activity whatever; for, while each may simply make use of other individuals for the attainment of his own ends, it may happen that in doing so he also serves the ends of others. Such a case as this would clearly be reducible to the nutritive tendency of individual organisms.

2) There are also tendencies which are only reducible to the innate social nature of individual organisms. Sexual behaviour and some gregarious behaviour are of this kind. Not merely does any case of normal sexual behaviour involve the co-operation of an individual of the opposite sex; the sexual tendency involves the interaction of organisms in past generations. It is not reducible to the essential minimum which is the nature of an organism as such. Knowing merely this essential minimum, we could not deduce sexual behaviour. Roughly this minimum is the tendency of every organism .to maintain itself as an organism. In the sexual co-operation of two organisms it may be that each does as a matter of fact find health, and that without it each would become to a greater or less extent disorganized. But the fact that each is of such a nature as to need sexual activity for its own healthy maintenance must be explained. And it can only be explained in light of the biological history of sexual individuals. In the distant past certain organisms, we suppose, ‘found themselves’ in a certain relation to one another; and from this special inter-relatedness of pairs of organisms emerged a new tendency, namely the tendency of individuals, produced in this way, to seek out mates, and to be organized in such a manner as to need mates even for their own healthy maintenance. Further, our general observation of the sexual behaviour of animals suggests that the regulative end is in this case, not the maintenance and growth of the individual, but propagation. It may nevertheless be true that in the first instance sexual conjugation was simply an expression of the need of the primitive individual cell to maintain its own organic equilibrium. But after conjugation there came the necessity of fissian, and the sacrifice of individuality. And in later stages of evolution the form of sexual and of parental activity becomes more and more definitely instrumental to propagation, rather than to the maintenance of the individual in organic equilibrium. Of course the nutritive tendency and the sexual tendency may be in a sense phases of one essential tendency of all organisms, which we may name vaguely the tendency to perpetuate life. But the sexual tendency is certainly not reducible to this fundamental tendency alone; it emerges from the long-past inter-relation of organisms. And this inter-relation was strictly social in that it consisted in the subordination of each individual at certain seasons to the new regulative end.

Simple gregarious behaviour may sometimes be reducible to the strictly individual tendencies of organisms, as in the case of accidental co-operation for the acquisition of food, or for defence. But in most cases gregarious behaviour, like sexual behaviour, probably involves a social past. It must therefore be judged as not reducible to the tendencies of the organism as such, but as reducible to the innate tendencies of social organisms.

3) We now come to the last kind of tendency which entails the inter-relation of organisms. These are tendencies which emerge from the psychical relation of the individual to his own social environment, and are not reducible simply to the inherited tendencies of social individuals, though they may be influenced by inherited tendencies. In this class come all the acquired social habits of individuals, together with all those habits which, though not strictly social, since their end is not a social end, nevertheless entail for their present complex form a complex social environment. Of the former kind are all habits of political thought and activity, such as party politics, individualism, socialism, nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and all social conventions such as the customs of a city, a club, an industrial organization, or of neighbours in a street, or again the institutions of marriage, domesticity, property, and indeed all the multitudinous and scarcely-noticed customs which enable us to live in touch with each other without excessive friction. Of habits which are not strictly social, but entail a social environment, the most striking are all those manners of thought which form our culture, such as our science, art, philosophy and religions.

D. Objections to Instinct Psychology

Many psychologists would reject the foregoing account. They would say that tendencies which I have described as irreducible to the inherited tendencies of social organisms are, as a matter of fact, ‘derived’ from those inherited tendencies. That there are in fact such inherited tendencies to complex and specific responses, is, I should say, undeniable. The disagreement of psychologists as to what instincts there are, is to be attributed not to the unreality of instinct but to the incompleteness of psychology. We have seen in the previous chapter how these complex automatisms may be conceived as being laid down in the inter-relation of nerve fibres. Supposed instincts are sometimes classified in relation to the biological end which they are thought to achieve, but such classifications depend largely on the theories of the classifier. A more psychological classification may be made in terms of the emotional accompaniments of the behaviour. Mr. A. Campbell Garnett rejects both these criteria.76 In his view the psychological classification must be made in relation to ‘the end experience in which the conative process finds its completion and in which the creature finds satisfaction.’ Thus the conative process of hunting ends when the prey is killed, and that of eating when the food is swallowed. It is easy to see how such regulative ends might be laid down in the co-ordination of nerve cells according to the principle described by M. Piéron.77 I accept Mr. Campbell Garnett's criterion; but I would add that, since conscious conation presupposes a prior hormic tendency not itself conscious, even ‘conative completion’ and ‘satisfaction’ are not infallible guides to the subconscious teleological nature of the individual. They might perhaps sometimes be illusory expressions.

But to admit the existence of instincts is not necessarily to derive all human behaviour from such specific innate tendencies. There is a sense in which all man’s activity is ‘at bottom’ instinctive, but a more important sense in which it is not, It is true that all biological behaviour is in a sense the outcome of the organism’s own nature, and that in a sense its nature is determined innately. In a sense it can only behave within the limits of its own inherited capacity, But it is not true that its capacity includes only certain specific fixed modes of behaviour, to which all acquired behaviour can be ‘reduced’, A human being’s inheritance would seem to include a capacity for discovering and conating tendencies beyond the inherited nature of his own organism, or his own biological needs.78

Let us consider the case of a man’s sentiment of love for a woman, This is surely an instance favourable to the interpretation in terms of instinct alone, if anything is. But we must insist that what is to be discussed is a genuine case of love in the fullest sense, and not merely of sexual desire. Now all will agree that in a sense the man’s love is ‘derived’ from the sexual or reproductive tendency of a human organism. It is very probable that he would never have noticed the woman had he not been a sexual animal. But clearly his love is not simply reducible to the bare sexual tendency, which is strictly a tendency to behave in a certain manner toward certain objects, and does not involve love at all, By hypothesis he loves her; he has come to regard her not merely as an object on which to discharge his sexual interest and activity, but also as being a centre of needs which he himself conates just because they are hers, He regards her as a body and mind having certain needs, impulses and desires. In so far as he genuinely loves her, his knowledge (or opinion) of her needs invokes a system of conations in his own mind, He has accepted her tendencies, not simply because they are directly or symbolically like his own tendencies, but just because they are her tendencies.

Now his acceptance of her tendencies springs from a value-judgment which he has made with regard to her. How has he come to make this value-judgment? In relation to what demands has he made it? According to the instinct interpretation, in so far as her hold on him is not directly sexual, it is derived ‘indirectly’ from sexual or other innate tendencies. His value-judgment is made essentially in relation to his own primitive biological needs, even though it is a response subtly ‘conditioned’ by his experience. Thus some would have us believe that all love, if not all human behaviour, is reducible to the sex instinct. The source of all interests, they sometimes say, is the interest in sensory pleasure; and from this interest, by a process of 'conditioning', all others have developed. By 'affective transference'79 interest gradually spreads from the end to the means and to all that is associated with the end or the means. Thus, according to Freud, the human being passes through interest in mere sensory pleasure and pain to interest in the organs that afford pleasure and pain, and so to interest in external objects, and especially to interest in other persons for the sake of their direct or indirect sexual significance.

Now in actual ‘love’ between the sexes the purely sexual element is very often predominant; and probably it plays an important part also in homo-sexual affection. And in passing we may note that human nature is no more ‘debased’ by being reduced to sex than by being reduced to any other instinct or pattern of instincts.’ But the ingenuity of the various psycho-analytical schools has made it very clear that, with sufficient patience and skill, any piece of behaviour can be ‘derived’ from any instinct whatever. Their fatal ingenuity has afforded the reductio ad absurdum not merely of pan-sexualism but of the whole instinct theory. The mistake common to all these schools seems to lie in supposing that a mode of behaviour is sufficiently accounted for by tracing some of its historical origins. It has not been realized that at each advance a new kind of behaviour comes into being through cognition of a new kind of situation. To reduce behaviour simply to specific dispositions in the nature of the agent himself is to reduce the human quite unwarrantably to the animal, and moreover to an unduly simplified and fictitious animal.

Some eminent psychologists tell us that the main root of all love is the parental instinct, which is the tendency to behave parentally toward, and feel the tender emotion toward, offspring.80 Thus, in so far as a man’s love for a woman is not merely sexual it is said to be indirectly parental. He finds in his relations with her a satisfaction for the innate craving to have something to serve, and an object for tender emotion. But this theory ignores an important difference between parental behaviour and love, and between the tender emotion and love. Parents do, as a matter of fact, often love their children; but they do also often merely behave parentally toward them, and feel tender emotion toward them. The love of a parent for a child may be said to be ‘derived’ from the parental tendency, in the sense that this tendency first directed attention to the child, and made possible the subsequent discovery of the child as itself a living centre of tendencies. And it may well be that in all love there is something of this instinctive parental behaviour. But genuine love, for whatever kind of object, is very different from the tender emotion and from all strictly instinctive parental behaviour, The extreme of this behaviour and this emotion is perhaps seen in the bitch that devours her puppies rather than share them with other admirers. And even among human beings behaviour essentially of this type is not unknown. Genuine love, on the other hand, entails more than a value-judgment about another individual in relation to one’s private needs. It entails an espousal of the other’s needs in the same direct manner in which one espouses one’s own private needs. Perhaps no one has ever fully succeeded in loving his neighbour ‘as himself ‘. But in so far as anyone does love, that is what he does. And love is not wholly impossible to human beings. Merely instinctive behaviour is, so to speak, the conation of a tendency or complex of tendencies of the agent’s own body or person. Genuine love is the conation of tendencies of another person. Attention may be drawn to the other in the first instance as to a stimulus for instinctive behaviour; but subsequently, if love occurs, or in so far as it occurs, the other is regarded, not as a stimulus, but as a centre of tendencies demanding conation in their own right. This is a kind of behaviour which cannot be explained simply in terms of instinct.

There is another very important point that must be emphasized. It is true, as has been admitted, that the lover’s value-judgment is made in the first instance in relation to ‘his own’ needs. But it does not follow that even his own private needs consist simply of inherited instincts. Many of these present private needs are automatisms which have been grafted in him (so to speak) by his past environments, through the medium of his cognition. They were primarily needs in his environment, but by exposing them and habitually seeking their fulfilment he has moulded himself upon them. Even the private needs, then, (which first focus attention on another individual), cannot be reduced to instinct, since many of them originate in the extra-organic environment.

Further, we might go so far as to say that any actual case of love is an approximation, however distant, towards a certain type or norm. In this ideal type, the man’s love, undistorted by special limitations or automatic impulsions, would be the expression of his whole mental content, not of the merely private core of his content. And since a man’s mental content is simply his view of the world, his love would be an expression of his judgment of the nature of the world. The world, to speak metaphorically, would be loving her through him. For he would judge the world to be such that a certain attitude on the part of a woman was appropriate to it, or demanded by it. Perhaps this attitude would be one of humorous tolerance and tenderness combined with heroic stubbornness, or perhaps some other attitude. Some such ideal attitude he must, in the ideal case, find in her along with her directly sexual charm, and along with those habits and manners which happened to fulfil his own private capacity for companionship. In this fanciful case, then, love is the outcome not simply of private needs but of needs discovered by the lover through his cognition of the world. This, doubtless, is but the ideal type of love, which is never attained in practice. But it must be insisted that all actual love has something in it of this nature.

In this account, however, there is danger of overlooking the simple essential nature of love itself. It is true that in the ideal love the lover must judge that the beloved’s character is that which is demanded by, or is appropriate to, the world, and not merely that which is appropriate to his private cravings. But as was said above, love itself consists in valuing the beloved for her own sake, not for the world’s sake. It is the espousal of the needs of an active substance in the same direct manner as one espouses the needs of his own person. In extreme cases this may entail the rejection of the claims of all other active substances, just as in extreme egoism the espousal of the personal self may entail rejection of all other selves.

Neither personal affection, then, nor those more complex social conations, which entail the apprehension of society as a system of minds, can be simply reduced to any specific innate tendency of the primitive individual, or to any complex of tendencies of the primitive individual. Social conations cannot, for instance, be fully accounted for as manifestations of ‘herd instinct’, nor as symbolical fulfilment of sex instinct or parental instinct. Nor, I venture to think, can they be fully accounted for even in terms of the highly complex system of inherited dispositions expounded for instance by Dr. Drever.81

Let us, for example, briefly consider the case of Joan of Arc, as an instance of extreme, yet apparently authentic, social-mindedness. A detailed account of her life can certainly be given in terms of instinct satisfaction. Indeed, various highly coherent and mutually exclusive accounts can be offered; so many accounts, in fact, that their very plausibility should make us suspect that no one of them is the truth. We may derive her defence of France from a religious sentiment, and this, in the Freudian manner, from repressed sex-craving. Or again, her constant protagonism may be traced to a ‘freedom complex’ contracted in childhood through her relations with adults. And this, in turn, we may derive either from sex (following Freud), or from the instinct of self-assertion. Indeed (following Adler), we may very plausibly suppose that her whole career is an outstanding example of that ‘masculine protest’ which is the counterpart of a sense of inferiority and is finally reducible to an instinctive ‘will to power’, or self-assertion. Equally plausibly, however, it may be said that her behaviour was the symbolical fulfilment of a thwarted parental instinct, and that she regarded herself as standing in loco parentis toward distressed France. Or, perhaps, her religious devotion, and consequently her defence of France, was an expression of the ‘herd instinct’ in its attachment to an idealized herd-opinion which she regarded as God’s will. Or finally, and perhaps more convincingly, we may interpret her life in terms of the whole gamut of inherited dispositions suggested by Dr. Drever.

Now it need not be denied that Joan may have gained instinctive satisfaction of these kinds. But in discovering the instinctive satisfactions which a piece of behaviour affords incidentally, we do not account fully for the pattern of the behaviour. The most obvious and at the same time the most important fact about Joan’s life was that it was regulated with reference to a single end, namely the freeing of France. This supreme sentiment dominated the whole of her behaviour, selecting now one instinctive reaction and now another. Thus it is certain that her instincts must have snatched much satisfaction by the way. But what precisely was the origin of the dominant sentiment itself? How was it that she ever came to care supremely for the freedom of France?

Surely, we shall be told, she would never have troubled about it at all had it not offered fulfilment to some deep needs of her own personality. And surely these personal needs, however much they may have been modified by her experience, were essentially just the fundamental biological needs which she inherited. Joan’s behaviour was the behaviour of a certain organism; and the sources of that behaviour must be found in the nature of the organism itself, not in its environment.

The first point to note in answer to this contention is that whatever the origin of Joan’s will to free France, when once it had come into being, there it was — a conative attitude distinct from and dominant over all simply instinctive impulses. By one means or another the freeing of France became for her an end in itself. It is not to be supposed that she willed the fulfilment of France’s need merely in those respects in which it would afford direct or indirect satisfaction to her own instincts. She willed it, at whatever cost to her instincts. Thus, if we believe that the real motive source was sexual, we must yet admit that she had come to care more for this symbolical sexual fulfilment than for direct sexual activity. If it was parental, she cared more for the service of the symbolical child, France, than for having real children of her own. The ‘instinct’ psychologist might, of course, point out that it was merely owing to the impossibility of direct parental satisfaction that she sought the symbolical satisfaction of mothering France. And similarly with her other instinctive cravings, patriotic behaviour was the only possible way of satisfying them all, though it could afford only symbolical satisfaction. But why was direct satisfaction ‘impossible’? Surely all save those who are obsessed with the instinct theory must see that what prevented her from seeking mere instinct satisfaction was no mere indirectly instinctive motive, but just her cognition of needs objectively more important than the needs of herself as a private person. She cognized France as demanding liberation. Whatever the sources which directed her attention on France and initiated her dominant sentiment, that sentiment certainly did become the ruling factor of her life. And further, whatever its instinctive sources, her cognition of her social environment turned it into something essentially different from any mere blend of instinctive impulses.

The chief weakness of instinct psychology is that it fails, in spite of all its efforts to the contrary, to do justice to the part played in behaviour by the environment. And this failure is most obvious in human behaviour. The theory starts with the assumption that all behaviour must necessarily be traced finally to specific ‘dispositions’ inherited in the nature of the agent, and that the environment, though it may modify these pre-formed dispositions, can never bring essentially new dispositions into being. Such an account is fairly plausible in the case of animal behaviour; but in the human case it entails one of two most unbelievable corollaries. Either human nature must be supposed to include ‘inherited dispositions’ to play golf, turn bolshevic or fascist, serve God, and indeed to perform all those highly complex acts which are in fact performed by civilized men. (In this case, the environment is credited only with ‘releasing’ the complex pre-formed dispositions.) Or, on the ‘other hand, if this view seems extravagant, the attempt must be made to ‘derive’ all the more complex activities of man from the simple inherited dispositions of the typical mammal. This has been, in fact, undertaken by our instinct psychologists. They have performed the task with great ingenuity; but in. doing so they have left out the really distinctive feature of human behaviour.

Of course, in a sense, every man throughout his life acts only in those manners in which his type of organism can act. And these manners are inherited. Thus he gets angry, frightened, elated, inquisitive, and so on. But this system of innate modes of behaviour has been fitly described as but the ground plan of his developed nature. It is that on which he is built, not a limiting framework within which he is imprisoned. Nor is it a system of specific ‘energies’ which alone are the source of his ‘motive power’. These modes of activity are in a sense the only possible modes of activity alike for animal and man. But the ends in relation to which these are exercised in the human adult are not simply the ends to which his inherited nature was adapted. Nor can they be simply ‘derived’ from those ends.

We may distinguish three ways in which in man innate behaviour is modified, namely: (a) Innate responses may be ‘conditioned’ to new stimuli. This is doubtless extremely important. (b) He may intelligently devise new methods for the better attainment of innate ends. (c) Through intelligent cognition of the total objective field, old ends may be modified and new ends discovered, and in consequence behaviour may be radically changed. To ignore this is to ignore what is distinctively human.

72 Cf. H. Piéron, Thought and the Brain, p. 10

73 G. C. Field, 'Some Modern Proofs of the Existence of God,' Journal of Philosophical Studies, July 1928.

74 Cf. H. Piéron, Thought and the Brain, especially Chapter I; also pp. 176 and 177.

75 This sentence, however, expresses an idea which M. Piéron would probably condemn.

76 'A Conative Criterion for Discrimination of the Instincts,' British Journal of Psychology, January 1928.

77 Op. cit.

78 In the following criticism of instinct I am greatly indebted to Prof. G, C. Field's article in Mind, Vol. XXX, N.S., p, 257, and to Mr, B, M. Laing’s article in The Monist, January 1925, and to Dr. Ginsberg’s The Psychology of Society.

79 I borrow the phrase from Prof. Rignano, who derives all conation, by means of this principle, from the organisms’ tendency toward ‘physiological invariability’. Cf. The Psychology of Reasoning, Chapter I.

80 Cf. McDougall, An Outline of Psychology, p. 422.

81 Cf. Instinct in Man, p. 169.


Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30