A Modern Theory of Ethics, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 9

Psychical Conflict

A. The Objective Sources of Conation

SINCE we cannot admit that the acquired social tendencies of human beings are simply reducible to the inherited tendencies of social organisms, we must try to formulate another theory of conation to take the place of the instinct theory. Such a theory I have already frequently advocated. In the present chapter I shall seek to bring together and render as precise as possible all that has already been said on this subject; but my chief aim will be to formulate and solve a problem, consequent on this particular view of the nature of conation, which has not hitherto been faced. Any objective tendency, I have said, may in principle be conatively espoused for its own sake. How comes it, then, that in practice very few objective tendencies are espoused, and that those which are espoused are nearly always tendencies of the individual organism itself?

In the case of the simple organic tendencies I have argued that when the subject becomes aware of any momentary organic impulse he has at least an incipient conation of that tendency. Further, I suggested that when the subject comes to know or erroneously believe some more enduring organic tendency, he again has at least an incipient conation of that tendency. The very nature of conation seems to involve the true or erroneous cognition of some tendency objective to the act of conation itself. In the cases which we examined first the tendency was a tendency simply of the organism; but as cognition advances, (doubtless primarily in the service of the already established modes of conation), new objective regions begin to influence conation.

The awareness of an organic impulse is not different in kind from the awareness of any other objective tendency. The psychical impulse to sneeze and the psychical impulse to defend the state are alike in that in each case a tendency of a certain object within the mental content suggests a conation, simply in being cognized. In the one case the body is discovered tending to sneeze, and in the other the state is discovered tending to preserve itself. Of course, there are important differences in the two objects and tendencies in respect of complexity, and in the processes by which they are cognized. Awareness of organic impulses is immediate knowledge by acquaintance. And even a foreseeing desire for the fulfilment of an organic impulse, though it entails inference from past experience, is based upon immediate acquaintance with a present impulse. Awareness of all other kinds of objective tendencies, on the other hand, is mediated. But in each of these cases what happens is that an objective tendency is cognized and ‘lived through’ as a conation. I am suggesting, then, that the essential basis of conation is not that some tendency of the organism, or of a simple inherited mental structure, is the source (direct or indirect) of every conative act, but that every cognition of tendency may give rise to a conative act. Every tendency which is an element in the mental content suggests a conation, and is the ground of an at least incipient conation. If the tendency does not conflict with other and well-established conative ends, its fulfilment will be desired.

Of course, there are very many tendencies which are cognized as members of the mental content, yet their fulfilment is not willed. I may, for instance, be trying to drive a pig through a gate, and I may be well aware that the pig is persistently tending to go in the opposite direction. Clearly, I do not will the fulfilment of this recalcitrant tendency of the pig, although I am aware of it. The pig’s tendency, after all, is only a minor element in my mental content, and it conflicts with other more weighty and more intimate tendencies. By ‘weighty’ and ‘intimate’ I mean that for some reason or other, yet to be discussed, these tendencies do as a matter of fact bulk more largely in my mental content. But though I do not will the fulfilment of the pig’s tendency, I may yet perform an abortive or incipient conation of the tendency, a conation which, for other reasons, I do not complete in overt action. Were I to know the pig’s tendency in isolation from its consequences, I should definitely desire its fulfilment. Not, indeed, that there is any logical necessity why I should do so, but that observably this is the primary kind of relation between cognition and conation.

Thus, anyone watching a salmon persistently trying to jump a waterfall cannot but wish success to the enterprise. Anyone watching the incoming tide, as it extends its searching fingers along the mud channels, can scarcely help wishing that the runnel which he is regarding may circumvent or overwhelm all opposition. On the other hand, if he is attending rather to the land, and imagines a tendency on its part to resist invasion, he will find himself desiring that the resistance may be victorious. In fact, whenever we perceive, or think of, or image, any existent as tending to act in a certain way, and pressing against opposition, we inevitably incline to espouse the tendency to conate it. Of course, in so far as we apprehend the tendency in relation with other tendencies of our mental content, we pass a final judgment upon it, and may will either its success or its failure. But in the mere act of apprehending it, we desire its fulfilment. If, for instance, we temporarily forget everything else, and regard it alone, we may find ourselves entering, for the time, whole-heartedly into it and actually willing its fulfilment. Indeed, any vividly or constantly observed tendency may sometimes exercise a hypnotic fascination over us, and draw all our attention upon itself till all else is shut out of our mental content, and we will only the fulfilment of the one obsessive tendency.

The objectivity of the source of conation is particularly well illustrated in certain abnormal states. Janet cites a young man who, when he passed a hat shop, became so exclusively aware of it as an opportunity for hat-buying that he forthwith had to enter and buy a hat of which he had no personal need. On another occasion, he passed a railway station, recognized it as a place where one goes in ‘to take a trip’, entered, saw the name ‘Marseilles’ on a time-table, took a ticket to that city, and embarked on the journey. Only after he had travelled some distance did he realize the absurdity of his behaviour, and leave the train.82 Such acts are, after all, only striking instances of a very common type of behaviour. The boy with a knife craves to cut something; the man with a gun craves to shoot something. Similarly, the man with a business under his control craves to make money. The woman who knows herself fascinating craves to make conquests. The theorist with a theory craves to apply it as widely as possible. The artist who has discovered a new beauty must express it in a thousand forms. Indeed, this principle, which might be called ‘the principle of the new toy’, is of very great importance.

It is true, of course, that we are sometimes ‘contra-suggestive’, inclining toward resistance rather than fulfilment of a cognized tendency. But this is a rare and complex reaction which is to be explained in terms of an acquired modification of self-assertiveness. When it occurs, we resist because we cognize the tendency as opposed to our personal activity. Resistance is ever consequent on a prior espousal of some active substance or other. Again we may indeed come to desire the resistance of an objective tendency or of an individual, simply as an end in itself; but such ‘disinterested hate’ is none the less causally derived from the hated individual’s antagonistic relation to something within our content which is itself cherished. This antagonism itself may be forgotten, while the habit of disinterested hate persists.

We must, of course, distinguish between the conation which is derived from an existent tendency in some object, and a conation which is derived from an imagined tendency, or, again, from a potentiality of some object. Of the former kind is our sympathy with the leaping salmon or with the nation striving for liberty, and even our sympathy with the incoming tide. Of the latter kind is the boy’s itch to use his knife, the woman’s itch to use her charms, and the striving of the theorist and the artist. In the case of the woman we must distinguish between two sources of her ‘will to conquer’, namely on the one hand her cognized organic sexual tendency and her personal self-assertive tendency, and on the other the cognized possibility of exercising her charms. In the boy also we must distinguish between the tendency of his own person, whether manipulative or sadistic, prior to his intercourse with the knife, and on the other hand the cognized possibilities of the knife itself. Similarly, in every case, we must distinguish between sources in present cognized objects and sources prior to these.

Of course, a quite different explanation is usually given for these experiences. It is generally said that, when we thus sympathetically regard the efforts of the salmon or the activity of the tide, we desire their fulfilment not for their own sakes at all, but just because they are stimuli to our own tendencies. We project ourselves into the object (so it is said) and feel resistance to the object’s tendencies as though it were resistance to our own tendencies. The only tendencies that we ever accept as conations for their own sakes are ‘our own’ tendencies. And our own tendencies are said to be all of them reducible to certain fundamental biological tendencies, such as self-maintenance, development, and procreation. All these fundamental tendencies are said to reside in the ‘psycho-physical nature’ of the organism itself. A theory which claims that all tendencies are possible sources of conation is ridiculous, we shall be told; for conation is essentially the outcome of, or expression of, the needs of the organism itself, and other tendencies are entirely foreign to the organism and the self of the organism; they can only give rise to conations in so far as they are taken as symbolical of, or have become associated with, needs of the organism.

To this objection we can only reply by insisting that, as a matter of fact, the more complex tendencies of selves have characteristics which are not logically reducible to primitive needs, whether of the physical organism or of an inherited ‘mental structure’; and that, since this is so, some other explanation is necessary. To say that our more complex conations are expressions not of a primitive but of a developed ‘self’ is doubtless true, but irrelevant. The question is, how does the primitive ‘self’ expand into the developed self. And the answer is that the most important way of expanding is by the cognition of a wider field of objective tendencies and the conative espousal of those tendencies.

B. The Problem of Irrational Choice

We are now in a position to face the problem of irrational choice. There are three kinds of mental conflict. In the first place, there is often a conflict between momentary impulse and the enduring tendency of which it purports to be a phase. Thus the impulse to eat a certain admittedly indigestible food conflicts with the enduring nutritive tendency of which it is a phase, and probably with other tendencies also. Secondly, there may be conflict between tendencies or impulses of equal rank. The impulse to eat now may conflict with the impulse to fly now from danger. Or the enduring tendency to preserve the organism may conflict with the enduring tendency to keep possession of a sexual partner. Thirdly, there may be a conflict between emergent social tendencies and the innate tendencies of the individual. Thus the tendency of the community to preserve itself may enter the mind of the individual, and give rise to a conation, which may conflict with conation of his innate tendency to feed when his stomach is empty.

The first kind of conflict, between impulse and enduring tendency, perhaps never occurs in the animal mind. For while momentary tendencies may often be known by direct acquaintance, enduring tendencies have to be inferred. The typical animal, at any rate, acts on impulse and knows nothing of enduring tendency. In man, however, both impulse and enduring tendency may give rise to conations. The toper may both desire to get drunk now, and desire to assert himself against this temptation. And he may either succumb or successfully resist the temptation. If he resists, what he wills is the greater rather than the lesser fulfilment, the fulfilment of enduring tendencies rather than the fulfilment of a momentary symptom of one of those tendencies, a symptom which, moreover, is (so to speak) a distorted or dislocated appearance,of an enduring tendency. What he wills, then, is greater in that it is something which will endure, not something evanescent; and, further, it is greater in that self-regarding or self-conscious activity is qualitatively richer, more complex, than the momentary satisfaction of an impulse; finally, it is instrumental to a more complete fulfilment of the whole field of tendencies within his mental content, and will entail less unfulfilment.

But what is it that happens when, instead of resisting temptation, he succumbs? Apparently he chooses the lesser rather than the greater fulfilment. His case is not that of the animal who knows nothing of enduring tendencies. He chooses with open eyes, and, as we say, against his better judgment. We cannot, then, simply say that a man always chooses the course from which he expects the greater fulfilment. It may be true that every tendency, which he knows or believes, gives rise to some degree of conation; but in conflict he does not always prefer the greater fulfilment.

Similarly, in the case of conflict between tendencies of equal rank, whether between organic tendencies or between emergent social tendencies, a man may choose that which he believes will afford the greater fulfilment, or he may not. Such conflicts may be reduced to the previous type. For the choice that he has to make is not simply a choice between disconnected tendencies. The one choice will (he knows) favour the general fulfilment of tendencies within his mental field, while the other will fulfil only an isolated tendency, and hinder the general fulfilment. Thus, in the individual sphere, the choice between the tendency to preserve his own organism and the tendency to keep possession of his sexual partner may involve the choice between merely a sexless spell on the one hand and sudden death on the other. The man mayor may not choose the former and more prudent course. Similarly, in the sphere of emergent social tendencies, the choice may be between an aggressive policy for his group and a pacific policy. He does not always choose that which he genuinely believes will give greatest fulfilment to his group, though he probably persuades himself that he is doing so. His choice may, of course, be biassed by private tendencies; but quite apart from this, it may also be biassed by genuinely social considerations which he knows must conflict with the goal of fulfilment. He may, for instance, choose a ‘glorious’ and hopeless war rather than prolonged development, just because of a habit of over-sensitiveness to points of group honour. And he may be thus over-sensitive to group honour even though in respect of his own private prestige as a person among others he is not over-sensitive at all.

Finally, in the case of conflict between emergent social tendencies and the innate tendencies of the individual it is very clear that a man may knowingly choose the course which will lead to the objectively lesser fulfilment. He may sacrifice another person to his own sexual craving, or his society’s fulfilment to his own craving for self-advancement. And he may do so, knowing that he is choosing the lesser fulfilment of tendencies in the total object of his cognition. In the first case, he may knowingly choose momentary gratification for himself even at the price of crippling another for life. In the second case, he may knowingly choose the fulfilment of one individual (himself) rather than the fulfilment of many, and of the social whole which is an emergent character of those many.

Here a word of caution is necessary. The will of an individual may sometimes embody the need of the social whole more correctly than the will of the majority with which he disagrees. For instance the tendency of his contemporaries may be to persecute and destroy an original thinker whose own tendency is to revolutionize and enrich the life and thought of the community. He, then, and not the majority, voices the real need of society. His mental content is richer than that of his fellows. He has known a wider field of tendencies and has evaluated them more accurately. His ideal constitutes a greater objective fulfilmnent than is desired by his persecutors. The first man who protested against ordeal by battle doubtless found himself in conflict with his fellows. But though they were legion and he was one, his mental horizon was the wider. His desire to abolish this practice was the expression of an objectively richer field of social needs than the contrary desire of his fellows.

But to return to our subject, in all types of conflict we do often choose that course which we believe will lead to the lesser fulfilment. We may, indeed, ‘make excuses’ for our choice, or persuade ourselves that what we are choosing really is the more prudent or more moral course, or that the fulfilment that we have chosen is, after all, the greatest fulfilment, in spite of appearances to the contrary. But, in the case to which I refer, the excuses are not the cause of our choosing; they are consequences of it. We do not choose thus because of the alleged reason; we look for a reason to support the choice that we have already made.

How, then, is this kind of behaviour to be understood? Hitherto, I have argued that conation presupposes an objective tendency as its source, and that an act of will is determined by those tendencies which ‘bulk most largely’ in the mental content at the time. But now it seems that there are very many cases in which the choice favours fulfilments which are not cognized as objectively the greatest possible fulfilments. Must we conclude that our theory of conation is false?

Let us state our problem more precisely. In every case in which a lesser fulfilment is deliberately chosen, that which is chosen is at least the fulfilment of some tendency which is cognized as a member of the objective mental content. Further, it is always either a fulfilment which has been frequently chosen in the past, or a fulfilment which has frequently presented itself for choice in the past, even though it has been rejected. Conation is not simply the outcome of present experienced tendencies. We have formed behaviour-habits in the past, and these bias our present choice. Certain tendencies, which in past mental contents were cognized as dominant, may still be favoured, even when, in the present mental content, they are cognized as in fact subordinate to other, more recently discovered, tendencies. Thus, one who has contracted a habit of exclusively local patriotism may continue to favour the interests of his locality even after he has come to recognize the importance of the interests of a wider community. On the other hand, certain tendencies, although they have been even habitually cognized as actually minor, and therefore have never been willed, may yet have forced themselves so frequently into the mental content, that they have played a greater part in the history of the individual than those other less familiar tendencies to which they have been judged subordinate. In such circumstances, choice may come to favour that which dominates by familiarity rather than that which is judged objectively dominant. Thus, in a ‘full-blooded’ nature the demands of the body, though habitually repressed because judged to be subordinate to the demands of a wider world, may, if ever circumstances accentuate them, triumph in spite of the considered judgment.

A special and striking type of the ‘irrational’ choice which we are considering is seen in abnormal compulsive actions. A person suffering from kleptomania may be well aware that the tendency which his choice favours is in fact a minor and abnormal tendency; yet he chooses its fulfilment, and therewith he chooses the thwarting of the actually major tendencies. The tendency which he favours is perhaps emergent from a combination of his own organism, traumatic events of his own past history, and certain present objects, which he compulsively steals. The events of his past history are probably not now available to his consciousness, but they are an essential element in the whole situation from which the compulsive tendency emerges. And in spite of the fact that the sources of the tendency are in part forgotten past events, the tendency to which they have contributed is now a present cognized behaviour-tendency of the organism-in-a-certain-environment. Our problem consists in the fact that the patient’s choice favours this tendency rather than tendencies which he himself believes to be far more broadly based, such as the needs of the society in which he lives.

Evidently, we may summarize our problem in the following question. If it is true that conation is always derived from awareness of objective tendency, and that choice, in principle, favours the greatest possible fulfilment of objective tendency, how comes it that choice ever favours tendencies which, though they have played a very large part in the person’s own experience, are yet cognized as in fact subordinate to other, less familiar tendencies? Choice is, in these cases, apparently determined, not in relation to the judgment as to the greatest possible fulfilment of present objective tendencies, but in relation to either the mere frequency ox: the insistence of the tendency in the total past and present experience of the individual. Moreover, this kind of behaviour is not exceptional but very common; it is as common, in fact, as imprudence and immorality when they are committed knowingly. We may cite as a dramatic instance of this behaviour the case of a man who, having a chronic disease, deliberately chooses a course which will alleviate his suffering rather than an alternative course which he believes would greatly favour the fulfilment of his society or of mankind. His will is apparently prevented, by insistent private tendencies, from accepting those social tendencies which he himself does definitely judge to be objectively far greater needs than any needs of his own body. How, on our theory, does conation ever thus fail to develop up to the full span of cognition?

It is tempting to say that when the major objective tendency is rejected it simply is not really cognized, and that always the agent chooses what does actually seem to him the greatest objective fulfilment at the moment of choice, though sometimes in that moment he is prevented from ‘really’ cognizing the major tendency by the compulsive power of the familiar minor tendency. Were he to be able to hold the major tendency clearly in view, he would inevitably (it might be said) will its fulfilment. But such an account is simply not true to the facts of experience, and would be obviously an invention to prop up our theory. We all know quite well that we do often deliberately choose courses which we ourselves at the time admit to be imprudent or immoral, or in general to be unfavourable to the greatest possible fulfilment of known tendencies. It is true, of course, that when we act thus our choice is always for the fulfilment of some tendency; but it is not for the greatest objective fulfilment believed to be possible in the circumstances. It is noteworthy, too, that on such occasions we often deliberately cease from attending to the major tendency, just because, though we cognize it as major, we do not will its fulfilment. We shun it, lest, in cognizing more fully its nature and its implications, we should finally be captured by it and will it in spite of our present will! We thus recognize that mere cognition may influence the will, but we hope to prevent it from doing so by refusing to attend to it, and by refusing to allow it to obtain any extensive influence in our total mental content.

C. Automatism and Free Choice

Such an account of the choice of the lesser fulfilment must, then, be rejected; and we must seek some other approach. What is it precisely that happens when a man sneezes in spite of his will not to sneeze? An act which is usually serviceable is performed by certain parts of his body in spite of the cognition that, on this occasion, the act is contrary to the need of the whole organism or the person. The active tendency is a tendency of a part; and the behaviour that occurs is the act of a part uncontrolled by the whole. Owing to their general usefulness the sneezing mechanism and impulse have become an automatic response to a certain kind of stimulus. In sneezing the physiological machinery itself usually seems to act automatically, and may successfully rebel against volition. But in special circumstances possibly there might occur a true compulsive conation of sneezing. When the subject is aware that the automatic physiological tendency conflicts with some objectively more important tendency (whether organic, personal, or social) he may succeed in controlling it; or he may not. When the minor tendency is controlled, what controls it is the conation of a major tendency. When the major conation fails to control the minor (physiological) tendency, a part of the organism is working automatically. On the other hand in certain circumstances, though the minor tendency is at first successfully inhibited, it may become so urgent that finally, not merely does it function in spite of conation, but actually it ‘over-persuades’ the subject to conate its activity. This is a schematic account of all compulsive conation.

Automatism is not confined to the strictly reflex sphere. Just as certain special expressions of general biological tendencies have become fixed as innate reflexes of the organism, so also, within the lifetime of the individual, many personal and social tendencies, which have been often active, may engender automatic behaviour and compulsive conations. When, owing to an expansion of cognition, these familiar tendencies are judged to be after all subordinate to, and in conflict with, other newly-cognized and more important tendencies, this revised value-judgment mayor may not succeed in controlling the automatism, mayor may not succeed in preventing a compulsive conation. Thus habitual behaviour that springs from a self-regarding sentiment mayor may not be mastered (through conation) by the cognition of the needs of the nation as being of objectively greater importance than the needs of the person. Or behaviour and feeling that is habitually nationalistic mayor may not be mastered by the discovery of wider needs.

On the merely reflex level the automatic behaviour may take place without facilitation by conation. But on the level of instinct and habit the automatic tendencies themselves entail volition for their functioning. Also they are themselves of greater account in the mental content than mere reflexes. Consequently, when they resist control by the expanding cognition, they function, not simply as recalcitrant physical machinery, but as fully developed compulsive conations. The lower the rank of the rebellious tendency, the more easily does the subject regard it as something foreign, outside his ‘self’, something which he cannot master. On the other hand, the higher the rank of the rebellious tendency, the more does he feel that it is a part of himself that is in revolt, or that his will is divided against itself. But when the whole of his everyday habit of behaviour is threatened by the cognition of some supreme social tendency with which it conflicts, he is likely to identify ‘himself’ with the private rather than the social tendency, and to feel that ‘he’ is in conflict with a greater and foreign need, whose claim ‘he’ ought to admit. In fact, the subject regards as ‘himself’, or ‘his’ will, those tendencies which are in general the determinants of his behaviour. Those which are inferior in rank to his general determinants he regards as either fragmentary phases of himself or automatisms external to himself. Those which are superior to his general determinants he also regards as foreign to himself, though they have a ‘claim’ on him. But the truth is that if by ‘him’ we mean a process of subjective activity, all his determinants are equally foreign to him in that they are equally objective to, and prior to, the conations which they arouse; yet also they are equally internal to his ‘self’ in that they are embraced within his content, and he conates them.

We can now formulate more clearly the relation between’ free rational choice of the believed greatest fulfilment of objective tendencies and compulsive irrational choice of the believed less fulfilment. Two influences bear upon every choice, of whatever level of complexity. On the one hand, there are automatic behaviour-tendencies inherent in the organism, or (if it be preferred), in the body and the self or ‘mental structure’, But, as we have already seen, it seems unnecessary to postulate a distinct psychical structure of dispositions. It is enough to postulate an organism of a certain form in which a general psychical capacity is emergent. We may then derive the established specific ‘psychical tendencies’ from this general capacity in its relation with particular organic needs and a particular environment. These already established tendencies, then, are in part due to the history of the race and in part due to the history of the individual, On the other hand, there is the present cognition of the total objective field of tendencies, in which the established tendencies of the organism are but minor members. The automatic behaviour-tendencies are, so to speak, the momentum imparted to the organism by past rational and irrational activities on the part of the individual and his ancestors, When automatic tendencies of the organism and the rest of the cognized field come into conflict, there occurs also a conflict in conation. In rational choice, the whole cognized field is taken into account; the final act of will favours the greatest objective fulfilment. In irrational choice, only the automatic tendencies of the organism are taken into account. But there are two kinds of automatic functioning, and they are differently related to conation. If the recalcitrant tendency is purely reflex and physical, as in the case of a sneeze, there is automatic behaviour but rarely compulsive choice. But if the recalcitrant tendency is of greater complexity, such that it entails volition for its activity, it may compel the conative act without which it cannot function; in fact there will be automatic behaviour initiated by compulsive choice.

All behaviour is behaviour on the part of the organism. And the organism has in its own nature certain innate and acquired tendencies to behave in relation to organic, personal, and social ends, But in the mental content at any time there are, besides these automatic behaviour-tendencies inherent in the organism, many other tendencies external to the organism. Rationally, the will should favour the greatest objective fulfilment. Actually, it is often a compulsive acquiescence in the functioning of some automatic behaviour-tendency of one part of the total objective field, namely, the organism. But sometimes, on the other hand, the cognition of the objective ideal succeeds in mastering the automatic tendency, and even in establishing new and rational automatic tendencies.

D. Repression

One point must yet be made more precise in this account of choice of the less fulfilment. It seems that, quite apart from the impetus of familiar tendencies, the conation of simpler tendencies is sometimes intrinsically easier than the conation of the more complex tendencies. We may imagine the case of a man who, though he has habitually, over a long period, chosen social fulfilments at the expense of private or instinctive fulfilments, yet at last collapses into the more crude forms of conation. Since this failure is not to be attributed to habit, how shall we explain it? In such a case it is possible merely that the man’s cognition has deteriorated, that he has ceased to know, and therefore to conate, those more complex tendencies which do, as a matter of fact, demand high cognitive powers. But, on the other hand, we must admit that, even though his cognition remain intact, his conation itself may deteriorate. It is not only in the cruder kind of fiction that the established saint or social enthusiast may unexpectedly succumb to the temptations (let us say) of a disastrous sexual adventure.

Such cases are sometimes explained in terms of repression. The man, it is said, has not granted his more primitive self its due fulfilment. Hence, there has been generated, under pressure, ‘psychic energy’ at high tension straining toward release. Finally, this ‘head of energy’ has broken down resistance and carried all before it. How shall we interpret these metaphorical expressions in terms of our theory? Evidently, just as over-exercise of the more primitive tendencies may set up habits capable of resisting: the appeal of the ideal, so also rigorous resistance of them may, in some sense, cause them in the end to capture the will. Evidently the higher, more impersonal, kinds of conation are only permanently possible so long as the more primitive tendencies are allowed a moderate fulfilment.

This impracticability of the higher conations while primitive tendencies are permanently repressed has been the main support of instinct psychology. For it has seemed that the higher conations were but luxuries embroidered upon the essential needs of the organism. But this argument from repression cuts both ways. Repression, when it breaks down, shows the primitive tendencies victorious; but before it breaks down it shows them mastered in open battle by the cognition of higher tendencies. Consequently, it is no more reasonable to say that the outbreak of the primitive proves the primitive to be the real source of all conation, than to say that the control of the primitive by the higher conations proves that the primitive is but a blind approximation to the fully developed rational conation.

However this be, a sudden revolt against long-standing repression is quite intelligible on our theory of conation. We cannot, indeed, explain it in terms of the momentum of habitual choice; but we can point to the fact that, though the repressed tendencies have not been espoused (owing to their antagonism with the dominant tendencies of the mental content), yet they have all along existed. Not familiarity of choice, but the insistence of the tendency itself, finally persuades conation. The repressed tendency may be an innate tendency which has been prominent in the history of the race, and in relation to which the present individual organism is fashioned. Or it may be an acquired tendency which, though perhaps it has never been willed, has been imposed upon the nature of the organism (or the person) by circumstances, whether in infancy or at some later stage. In either case the organism itself as a physiological machine has been all along tending to act in a certain manner, and has been prevented by the cognition of major tendencies. As this repression advances, the organism gets into a more and more unhealthy state; the resisted tendency becomes more nearly irresistible, and finally breaks into action and compels the will. All behaviour is behaviour on the part of an organism. Cognition of the objective field of tendencies cannot issue in behaviour unless it has mastered the organism’s automatisms; nor can it issue in a completely unified will.

Familiarity, then, is not the real source of compulsive conation. The essential point is that the agent is the organism itself. And the organism itself at any moment has certain behaviour tendencies of its own, due in part to its own innate form, and in part to modifications brought about in its form by the operation of its past cognition and activity. Often, then, there is conflict between these established modes of behaviour and the demands of the total cognized field. And since conation is essentially conation by the organism (in its psychical capacity), not by the external world, any advance in conation has to be achieved in opposition to the organism’s own established nature.

Another aspect of this matter may here be noted, though it must be more fully developed at a later stage. When we are tired or in ill-health the more complex mental processes are apt to give way to the simpler. Cognition which is precise, and takes into account a wide field, dwindles into vague and narrow cognition. Similarly, then, conation which takes much of the objective field into account apparently entails more ‘energy’ (physical energy, perhaps) than conation which takes into account only the primitive and central part of the objective field, namely, the established organic tendencies. It is only when we are ‘wide awake’ that we can approximate our will to ‘the good will’.

E. Summary of Discussion of Tendency in Psychology

Our whole discussion of tendency may be summarized as follows. All that can be meant by saying that an inorganic object has a tendency to behave in a certain manner is that it does in fact so behave if nothing extraneous interferes with it, or that it would so behave if it were not prevented. But, in the case of organisms, we rightly say that they have intrinsic tendencies to behave in teleological manners which entail the co-operation of a certain kind of environment; and that, if they are prevented from this natural behaviour, they will if possible behave in some manner which approximates thereto. Further, at any rate in the case of organisms, we are justified in saying that resistance of tendency involves a condition of tension or strain.

Conation presupposes awareness of a tendency objective to the conative act. Thus organic tendencies enter the mental content as impulses, or are known as enduring tendencies, and thus afford motives for conation. Beyond the strictly organic tendencies there emerges from the psychical activities of the organism a more complex class of needs which may be called needs of the person, or the psychical needs of the organism itself. From the cognition of society yet another class of tendencies enters the individual’s mental content and may determine his will. And cosmic tendencies may in principle do so also. It is mistaken to derive the more complex conations wholly from an innate set of primitive tendencies. Any objective tendency may enter the mental content and influence the will in its own right.

Such in brief is the theory of the objectivity of need which I have sought to work out in the three preceding chapters. This theory is strongly suggested by the experience of the objectivity of moral obligation. But, apart from that, it seems to be involved in combining the assumption of epistemological realism with a critical acceptance of the hormic principle in psychology, according to which all conscious striving presupposes some teleological activity prior to the consciousness of it. My aim has been to criticize and elucidate the hormic theory. It is a disputable theory; so is epistemological realism. But my claim is that when hormic psychology is purged of an animism which is wholly unnecessary to it, what is left is the theory of objective teleological tendencies. Thus though it would be rash to assert of plants that they are conscious, we cannot avoid regarding their behaviour as teleological. Whether they are conscious or not, there is an important sense in which they may be said to need light, air, and so on. Similarly in our own bodies teleological activity does seem to occur independently of our consciousness. Moreover, conscious desire in its simplest form is introspected as conscious ‘espousal’ of some organic process which, to be espoused, must first be cognized. And even in the case of more complex and mental activities careful observation seems to show that the same principle applies.

Having worked out in some detail the theory of the objectivity of need, I went on to consider, in terms of the theory, the problem of mental conflict and irrational choice. My conclusions on this subject may be summarized as follows. Within the mental content there is conflict of objective tendencies. In principle choice favours the greatest possible objective fulfilment. But behaviour is behaviour of the organism, and conation is conation by the organism. And the established behaviour-tendencies of the organism may resist control. Either they may function independently, as in an uncontrollable reflex, or they may cause irrational conation, as in imprudent or immoral conduct.

82 P. Janet, Principles of Psychotherapy, p. 125


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