The activities of the will comprise the third great class of mental processes. Psychologists always have differed greatly in their conception of just what constitutes these activities. Even to-day it is difficult to obtain a dictionary definition of the will that agrees with the best opinion on the subject. The dictionaries adhere to the old classification and conception which regarded the will as “that faculty of the mind or soul by which it chooses or decides.” But with the growth of the idea that the will acts according to the strongest motive, and that the motive is supplied by the average struck between the desires of the moment, under the supervision of the intellect, the conception of will as the choosing and deciding faculty is passing from favor. In the place of the older conception has come the newer one which holds that the will is primarily concerned with _action_.
It is difficult to place the will in the category of mental processes. But it is generally agreed that it abides in the very center of the mental being, and is closely associated with what is called the ego, or self. The will seems to have at least three general phases, viz.: (1) The phase of desire, (2) the phase of deliberation or choice, and (3) the phase of expression in action. In order to understand the will, it is necessary to consider each of these three phases of its activities.
The first phase of will, which is called “desire,” is in itself somewhat complex. On its lower side it touches, and, in fact, blends into, feeling and emotion. Its center consists of a state of _tension_, akin to that of a coiled spring or a cat crouching ready for a spring. On its higher side it touches, penetrates, and blends into the other phases of the will which we have mentioned.
Desire is defined as “a feeling, emotion, or excitement of the mind directed toward the attainment, enjoyment, or possession of some object from which pleasure, profit, or gratification is expected.” Halleck gives us the following excellent conception of the moving spirit of desire: “_Desire has for its object something which will bring pleasure or get rid of pain, immediate or remote, for the individual or for some one in whom he is interested. Aversion, or a striving away from something, is merely the negative aspect of desire._”
In Halleck’s statement, above quoted, we have the explanation of the part played by the intellect in the activities of will. The intellect is able to perceive the relations between present action and future results, and is able to point the way toward the suppression of some desires in order that other and better ones may be manifested. It also serves its purposes in regulating the “striking of the average” between conflicting desires. Without the intervention of the intellect, the temporary desire of the moment would invariably be acted upon without regard to future results or consequences to one’s self and others. It also serves to point out the course of action calculated to give the most satisfactory expression of the desire.
While it is a fact that the action of will depends almost entirely upon the motive force of desire, it is likewise true that desire may be created, regulated, suppressed, and even killed by the action of the will. The will, by giving or refusing attention to a certain class of desires, may either cause them to grow and wax strong, or else die and fade away. It must be remembered, however, that this use of the will itself springs from another set of desires or feelings.
Desire is aroused by feelings or emotions rising from the subconscious planes of the mind and seeking expression and manifestation. We have considered the nature of the feelings and emotions in previous chapters, which should be read in connection with the present one. It should be remembered that the feeling or emotional side of desire arises from either inherited race memories existing as instincts, or from the memory of the past experiences of the individual. In some cases the feeling first manifests in a vague unrest caused by subconscious promptings and excitement. Then the imagination pictures the object of the feeling, or certain memory images connected with it, and the desire thus manifests on the plane of consciousness.
The entrance of the desire feeling into consciousness is accompanied by that peculiar _tension_ which marks the second phase of desire. This tension, when sufficiently strong, passes into the third phase of desire, or that in which desire blends into will action. Desire in this stage makes a demand upon will for expression and action. From mere feeling, and tension of feeling, it becomes _a call to action_. But before expression and action are given to it, the second phase of will must manifest at least for a moment; this second phase is that known as deliberation, or the weighing and balancing of desires.
The second phase of will, known as deliberation, is more than the purely intellectual process which the term would indicate. The intellect plays an important part, it is true, but there is also an almost instinctive and automatic _weighing and balancing of desires_. There is seldom only one desire presenting its claims upon the will at any particular moment. It is true that occasionally there arises an emotional desire of such dominant power and strength that it crowds out every other claimant at the bar of deliberation. But such instances are rare, and as a rule there are a host of rival claimants, each insisting upon its rights in the matter at issue. In the man of weak or undeveloped and untrained intellect, the struggle is usually little more than a brief combat between several desires, in which _the strongest at the moment wins_. But with the development of intellect new factors arise and new forces are felt. Moreover, the more complex one’s emotional nature, and the greater the development of the higher forms of feeling, the more intense is the struggle of deliberation or the fight of the desires.
We see, in Halleck’s definition, that desire has not only the object of “bringing pleasure or getting rid of pain” for the individual, but that the additional element of the welfare of “some one in whom he is interested” is added, which element is often the deciding factor. This element, of course, arises from the development and cultivation of one’s emotional nature. In the same way we also see that it is not merely the _immediate_ welfare of one’s self or those in whom one is interested that speaks before the bar, but also the more _remote_ welfare. This consideration of future welfare depends upon the intellect and cultivated imagination under its control. Moreover, the trained intellect is able to discover possible greater satisfaction in some course of action other than in the one prompted by the clamoring desire of the moment. This explains why the judgment and action of an intelligent man, as a rule, are far different from those of the unintelligent one; and also why a man of culture tends toward different action from that of the uncultured; and likewise, why the man of broad sympathies and high ideals acts in a different way from one of the opposite type. But the principle is ever the same–the feelings manifest in desire, the greatest ultimate satisfaction apparent at the moment is sought, and the strongest set of desires wins the day.