Halleck’s comment on this point is interesting. He says: “Desire is not always proportional to the idea of one’s own selfish pleasure. Many persons, after forming an idea of the vast amount of earthly distress, desire to relieve it, and the desire goes out in action, as the benevolent societies in every city testify. Here the individual pleasure is none the less, but it is secondary, coming from the pleasure of others. The desire of the _near_ often raises a stronger desire than the _remote_. A child frequently prefers a thing immediately if it is only one tenth as good as something he might have a year hence. A student often desires more the leisure of to-day than the success of future years. Though admonished to study, he wastes his time and thus loses incomparably greater future pleasure when he is tossed to the rear in the struggle for existence.”
The result of this weighing and balancing of the desire is, or should be, _decision and choice_, which then passes into action. But many persons seem unable to “make up their own mind,” and require a push or urge from without before they will act. Others decide, without proper use of the intellect, upon what they call “impulse,” but which is merely impatience. Some are like the fabled donkey which starved to death when placed at an equal distance between two equally attractive haystacks and was unable to decide towards which to move. Others follow the example of Jeppe, in the comedy, who, when given a coin with which to buy a piece of soap for his wife, stood on the corner deliberating whether to obey orders or to buy a drink with the money. He wants the drink, but realizes that his wife will beat him if he returns without the soap. “My stomach says drink; my back says soap,” says Jeppe. “But,” finally he remarks, “is not a man’s stomach more to him than his back? Yes, says I.”
The final decision depends upon the striking a balance between the desires,–the weighing of desire for and desire against,–desire for this and desire for something else. The strength of the several desires depends upon nearness and present interest arising from attention, as applied to the feelings and emotions arising from heredity, environment, experience, and education, which constitute character; and also upon the degree of intellectual clearness and power in forming correct judgments between the desires.
It must be remembered, however, that the intellect appears not as an opponent of the principle of the satisfaction of desire, but merely as an instrument of the ego in determining which course of action will result in the greatest ultimate satisfaction, direct or indirect, present or future. For, _at the last, every individual acts so as to bring himself the greatest satisfaction, immediate or future, direct or indirect, either personal or through the welfare of others, as this may appear to him at the particular moment of deliberation_. We always act in the direction of that which will greater “content our spirit.” This will be found to be the spirit of all decisions, although the motive is often hidden and difficult to find even by the individual himself, many of the strongest motives having their origin in the subconscious planes of mentality.
The third and final phase of will is that known as action–the act of volition by which the desire-idea is expressed in physical or mental activity. The old conception of the will held that the decisive phase of the will was its characteristic and final phase, ignoring the fact that the very essence or spirit of will is bound up with _action_. Even those familiar with the newer conception frequently assume that the act of decision is the final phase of will, ignoring the fact that we frequently _decide_ to do a thing and yet may never carry out the intention and decision. The act of willing is not complete unless action is expressed. There must be the manifestation of the motor element or phase of will, else the will process is incomplete.
A weakness of this last phase of will affects the entire will and renders its processes ineffective. The world is filled with persons who are able to _decide_ what is best to do, and what should be done, but who never actually _act_ upon the decision. The few persons who promptly follow up the decision with vigorous action are those who accomplish the world’s work. Without the full manifestation of this third phase of will the other two phases are useless.
TYPES OF WILL.
So far we have considered merely the highest type of will–that which is accompanied by conscious deliberation, in which the intellect takes an active part. In this process, not only do the conflicting feelings push themselves forward with opposing claims for recognition, but the intellect is active in examining the case and offering valuable testimony as to the comparative merits of the various claimants and the effect of certain courses of action upon the individual. There are, however, several lower forms of will manifestation which we should briefly consider in passing.
_Reflex Action._–The will is moved to action by the reflex activities of the nervous system which have been mentioned in the earlier chapters of this book. In this general type we find unconscious reflex action, such as that manifested when a sleeper is touched and moves away, or when the frog’s leg twitches when the nerve end is excited. We also find conscious reflex action, such as that manifested by the winking of the eye, or the performance of habitual physical motion, such as the movement in walking, operating the sewing machine or typewriter, playing the piano, etc.
_Impulsive Action._–The will is often moved to action by a dim idea or faint perception of purpose or impulse. The action is almost instinctive, although there is a vague perception of purpose. For instance, we feel an impulse to turn toward the source of a strange sound or sight, or other source of interest or curiosity. Or we may feel an impulse arising from the subconscious plane of our mind, causing a dimly-conscious idea of movement or action to relieve the tension. For instance, one may feel a desire to exercise, or to seek fresh air or green fields, although he had not been thinking of these things at the time. These impulses arise from a subconscious feeling of fatigue or desire for change, which, added to a fleeting idea, produces the impulse. Unless an impulse is inhibited by the will activities inspired by other desires, habits, ideas, or ideals, we act upon it in precisely the same way that a young child or animal does. Hoffding says of this type of action: “The psychological condition of the impulse is, that with the momentary feeling and sensation should be combined a more or less clear idea of something which may augment the pleasure or diminish the pain of the moment.”
_Instinctive Action._–The will is frequently moved to action by an instinctive stimulus. This form of will activity closely resembles the last mentioned form, and often it is impossible to distinguish between the two. The activities of the bee in building its comb and storing its honey, the work of the silkworm and caterpillar in building their resting places, are examples of this form of action. Indeed, even the building of the nest of the bird may be so classed. In these cases there is an intelligent action toward a definite end, but the animal is unconscious of that end. The experiences of the remote ancestors of these creatures recorded their impressions upon the subconscious mind of the species, and they are transmitted in some way to all of that species. The nervous system of every living thing is a record cylinder of the experiences of its early ancestors, and these cylinders tend to reproduce these impressions upon appropriate occasions. In preceding chapters we have shown that even man is under the influence of instinct to a greater extent than he imagines himself to be.