The Role of the Emotions
The average person greatly underestimates the part played by the emotional nature in the mental activities of the individual. He is inclined to the opinion that, with the exception of the occasional manifestation of some strong emotional feeling, the majority of persons go through life using only the reasoning and reflective faculties in deciding the problems of life and guiding the mental course of action. There can be no greater mistake concerning the mental activities. So far from being subordinate to the intellect, the emotional nature in the majority of cases dominates the reasoning faculties. There are but very few persons who are able to detach themselves, even in a small degree, from the feelings, and to decide questions cold-bloodedly by pure reason or intellectual effort. Moreover, there are but few persons whose wills are guided by pure reason; the feelings supply the motive for the majority of acts of will. The intellect, even when used, is generally employed to better carry out the dictates of feeling and desire. Much of our reasoning is performed in order to justify our feelings, or to find proofs for the position dictated by our desires, feelings, sympathies, prejudices, or sentiments. It has been said that “men seek not reasons but _excuses for their actions_.”
Moreover, in the elementary processes of the intellect the emotions play an important part. We have seen that attention largely follows interest, and interest results from feeling. Therefore our attention, and that which arises from it, is dependent largely upon the feelings. Thus feeling asserts its power in guarding the very outer gate of knowledge, and determines largely what shall or shall not enter therein. It is one of the constantly-appearing paradoxes of psychology, that while feelings have originally arisen from attention, it is equally true that attention depends largely upon the interest resulting from the feelings. This is readily admitted in the case of involuntary attention, which always goes out toward objects of interest and feeling, but is likewise true of even voluntary attention, which we direct to something of greater or more nearly ultimate interest than the things of lesser or more immediate interest.
Sully says: “By an act of will I may resolve to turn my attention to something–say a passage in a book. But if, after the preliminary process of adjustment of the mental eye the object opens up no interesting phase, all the willing in the world will not produce a calm, settled state of concentration. The will introduces mind and object; it cannot force an attachment between them. No compulsion of attention ever succeeded in making a young child cordially embrace and appropriate, by an act of concentration, an unsuitable and therefore uninteresting object. We thus see that even voluntary interest is not removed from the sway of interest. What the will _does_ is to determine _the kind of interest_ that shall prevail at the moment.”
Again, we may see that memory is largely dependent upon interest in recording and recalling its impressions. We remember and recall most easily that which most greatly interests us. In proportion to the lack of interest in a thing do we find difficulty in remembering or recalling it. This is equally true of the imagination, for it refuses to dwell upon that which is _not_ interesting. Even in the reasoning processes we find the will balking at uninteresting subjects, but galloping along, pushing before it the rolling chair of interesting intellectual application.
Our judgments are affected by our feelings. It is much easier to approve of the actions of some person we like, or whose views accord with our own, than of an individual whose personality and views are distasteful to us. It is very difficult to prevent prejudice, for or against, from influencing our judgments. It is also true that we “find that for which we look” in things and persons, and that which we expect and look for is often dependent upon our feelings. If we dislike a person or thing we are usually able to perceive no end of undesirable things in him or it; while if we are favorably inclined we easily find many admirable qualities in the same person or thing. A little change in our feeling often results in the formation of an entirely new set of judgments regarding a person or thing.
Halleck well says: “On the one hand the emotions are favorable to intellectual action, since they supply the interest one feels in study. One may feel intensely concerning a certain subject and be all the better student. Hence the emotions are not, as was formerly thought, entirely hostile to intellectual action. Emotion often quickens the perception, burns things indelibly into the memory, and doubles the rapidity of thought. On the other hand strong feelings often vitiate every operation of the intellect. They cause us to see only what we wish to, to remember only what interests our narrow feeling at the time, and to reason from selfish data only. * * * Emotion puts the magnifying end of the telescope to our intellectual eyes where our own interests are concerned, the minimizing end when we are looking at the interest of others. * * * _Thought_ _is deflected when it passes through an emotional medium, just as a sunbeam is when it strikes water._”
As for the will, the best authorities hold that it is almost if not entirely dependent upon desire for its motive force. As desire is an outgrowth and development of feeling and emotion, it is seen that even the will depends upon feeling for its inciting motives and its direction. We shall consider this point at greater detail in the chapters devoted to the activities of the will.
We would remind you again, at this point, of the great triangle of the mind, the emotional, ideative, and volitional activities–feeling, thinking, and willing–and their constant reaction upon each other and absolute interdependence. We find that our feelings arise from previous willing and ideation, and are aroused by ideas and repressed by will; again we see that our ideas are largely dependent upon the interest supplied by our feelings, and that our judgments are influenced by the emotive side of our mental life, the will also having its part to play in the matter. We also see that the will is called into activity by the feelings, and often guided or restrained by our thoughts, the will, indeed, being considered as moved entirely by our feelings and ideas. Thus is the trinity of mental forces seen ever in mutual relation–constant action and reaction ever existing between them.