Chapter 14: Feeling and the General Principles of Affective Consciousness

James Rowland Angell

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Classifications of Feeling.-- We are now in a position to recognise the fact that all forms of the cognitive activities are characterised at times by marked affective qualities. Our feelings may, therefore, be brought for classification under any of the several main forms of the knowledge process. In point of fact the usual classifications of feeling are actually based upon these cognitive factors, and we may profitably examine some of the principal divisions which are secured in this way, although we must remember that they are very misleading groupings if they are understood as arising primarily from peculiarities of the affective element in such complex feelings.

Sensuous and Intellectual Feeling.-- Feelings are thus divided into sensuous and intellectual, depending upon whether they originate in, and chiefly terminate in, sense organ activities, or in central processes, like imagination. We have already seen that the affective part of such feelings, the agreeableness or disagreeableness, is probably one and the same, whatever their immediate occasion. It is, however, undoubtedly true, as our discussion in the early part of the previous chapter implied, that many feelings which belong to sensory processes are relatively confined in their significance. to these immediate activities, whereas the intellectual feelings commonly run out into a bearing on larger and more remote portions of our mental life. The agreeableness of the taste of candy, for instance, or the delight in the fragrance of

(271) violets, commonly exhausts itself in the moment of enjoyment; whereas the pleasure of a fine picture pervades one's life long after the picture itself has passed from one's view. This distinction must not, however, be unduly magnified if the basis for it be laid in the mere part played by the sense organ, for it must be remembered that the picture also is seen by means of a sense organ. Moreover, the feeling which the picture calls out would commonly be designated aesthetic, rather than intellectual. More often, perhaps, the term " intellectual feeling" is employed to cover such cases as wonder, surprise, curiosity, and interest, the apprehension of relations, .the feeling of ignorance, and the like. The real distinction, which is hinted at in this old division of feelings, is one that can only be stated correctly when we observe what functions various feelings subserve in the life of the organism. And to this we shall return shortly.

Aesthetic, Ethical, Social, and Religious Feeling.-- Other suggested divisions of feeling are the following: aesthetic, ethical, social, and religious. These divisions, like the immediately preceding one, are evidently based upon differences in the objects which call out the feeling, and result in different cognitive and emotional activities, rather than upon any differences among the affective elements of the feeling itself. Such classifications are undoubtedly suggestive and valuable in their indication of the great avenues along which our feelings are approached. But we must once more carefully guard ourselves against the misapprehension that the affective factor (which ostensibly constitutes, in the theory of many psychologists, the differentia of feeling from other forms of conscious process) is in any true sense the basis of the distinction from one another of the several types of so-called feeling. These classifications are really based upon the possibility of viewing all consciousness as internal in its reference, rather than on the presence of affective processes, a view to which we shall return briefly in the final chapter of this book. The specific

(272) forms of psychical experience which are peculiar to the various classes that have been mentioned can be examined more profitably in connection with our study of emotions, and we shall, therefore, postpone their further consideration until that time.

Neural Basis of the Affective Element in Feeling.-- In our discussion of sensation we observed that the various sensory qualities depend upon the action of specific end-organs. We have now seen that the affective processes may occur in connection with any of the sensational or ideational activities. And the question naturally arises as to their neural basis. Unfortunately our positive and detailed knowledge about the matter is lamentably incomplete. The theory, however, which enjoys widest currency at the present time maintains that the two antithetical forms of affection represent the fundamental modes in which any neural activity may go on. They do not depend, therefore ore, as sensations and ideas primarily do, upon the action of specific segments of the nervous system; they are rather the counterparts of the manner in which the whole nervous system is affected by the activity initiated in any segment at a particular time. From this point of view pleasure is correlated with physiologically useful and wholesome activities; pain and disagreeableness with the physiologically harmful. Thus, the theory would find the neural explanation for the unpleasant character of dazzling lights and loud, shrill sounds in the manner in which the nervous system as a whole is affected by the reaction from these violent stimulations of the optic and the auditory tracts respectively. The nervous action is conceived as being of a definite form, which is qualitatively similar for all disagreeable or injurious stimuli, but quantitatively different for stimuli of varying intensity or varying harmfulness. As these peripheral sensory tracts, when they are active, always influence more or less directly the whole nervous system, the affective reaction represents in reality the effect of the particu-

(273)-lar stimuli upon the whole organism. The agreeableness of a musical chord or a sweet odour would, on the basis of this theory, be referable to a normal and efficient reaction of the nerves; the disagreeableness of a discord or a nauseous odour would, on the other hand, find its explanation neurally in an excessive or internally mal-adapted reaction of the organism.

We shall accept the validity of the general conception underlying this theory, although we have to admit that its precise meaning is often found to be vague when we insist upon detailed facts confirmatory of its contention. Moreover, there are some facts which lend themselves to incorporation in the theory only with extreme difficulty. We can best get an insight into the more important considerations by reverting to our fundamental conception of the purpose and significance of consciousness in organic life-- a conception which we have stated so often as to render repetition superfluous.

General Significance of Affective Consciousness.-- Agreeableness and disagreeableness are the immediate indices of the significance for the organism of the various stimuli and responses which enter its experience. Evidently some such marks, or signs, in consciousness of the value of particular objects or movements are indispensable to the execution by mental processes of the part we have assigned to them. The sign in consciousness of the organically advantageous might very well have been something different from the experience we now name pleasure, and the sign of harmfulness might have been other than that which we now recognise as pain and disagreeableness. But some such symbols there must be, if consciousness is to steer successfully among new surroundings and in strange environments. If it were necessary to await the loss of one's eyesight before discovering that dazzling lights were injurious, consciousness would certainly be little more than a pernicious aggravation. As a matter of fact such stimulations are instantly felt as disagreeable, and the mind without further information has forthwith a guide to the kind

(274) of action appropriate to the occasion. Similarly as regards agreeable experiences. When one is tired and hungry after fatigue and exposure to cold, any food may seem welcome, but warm and well-flavoured food tastes best and will be preferred when choice is possible. In such cases one needs no further experience than is afforded by a specimen of the cold and the warm food to recognise which is more agreeable.

So fundamental is this significance of the affective processes in all those activities immediately connected with the maintenance of life in the individual and the race, that several psychologists of repute have defended the thesis that pleasure and displeasure are the primordial forms of consciousness, the other processes connected with the special senses being of later origin. It is interesting in this connection to note that one writer has assigned displeasure as the original form of consciousness; another, pleasure; while a third has advocated the hypothesis that the two appeared together in advance of other modes of consciousness.

If space permitted, we might examine the evidence for these several points of view, but as this is out of the question, we may remark provisionally that if our analysis of the affective features of consciousness has been thus far correct, we cannot assent to any of the theories just mentioned. It may well be that with the more rudimentary types of mind the affective factors of consciousness dominate over the distinctly sensory and ideational. It may be, too, that the first appearance of consciousness is in connection with the operation of the pain nerves, though this is wholly problematical. But affection, as we know it (and we have no right to go afield from such knowledge) is apparently not a form of consciousness independent of sensations and ideas. Quite the contrary; it invariably appears clearly in connection with them; whereas the sensations and ideas are occasionally wholly, or all but wholly, destitute of affective tone. Meantime, it should be reasonably certain that agreeableness and disagreeableness-- as signs of

(275) the immediate import for the organism of particular moments of experience -- are indispensable elements in the successful functioning of consciousness. As Bain puts it, pleasure represents a heightening, and pain a lowering, of some or all of the vital processes, and consciousness is in this way given immediate information of the nature of the situation. We may accept Bain's formula in a general way, although it is far from clear that a raising of vitality is always the immediate outcome of pleasure, and a lowering of it an immediate consequence of discomfort.

Marshall has put the matter somewhat differently, in a manner which certainly fits many of the facts most admirably. He connects pleasurable experience with the use of stored-up nervous energy in amounts less than that actually available, whereas unpleasant experience he connects with the use of nervous energy beyond the limits of the normal modes of functioning. We shall revert to this again. Munsterberg connects pleasantness and unpleasantness, respectively, with movements of extensor and flexor muscles, with expansion and contraction of the organism, a view which certainly has, despite its suggestiveness, only a very general and indefinite basis.

Physiological Expressions of Feeling-Tone.-- In connection with this general theory of agreeableness and disagreeableness as expressions respectively of the increase or decrease in organic vigour, certain investigators have reported constant and definite physiological changes accompanying the antitheses of affective tone. Pleasurable experiences are thus said to cause dilation of the peripheral blood-vessels, decreased rate in the heart beat, increased depth of breathing, and heightened tonus of all the voluntary muscles. Disagreeable experiences on the other hand are said to produce constriction of the peripheral blood-vessels, and in general a set of physiological phenomena exactly opposite to those just mentioned as arising from pleasure. Several competent ex-

(276)-perimentalists have failed to confirm these observations, and the phenomena are apparently verifiable only under certain very definite and normally infrequent conditions. Meantime, there can be no question that all the vital processes, including those of assimilation, secretion, and excretion, are profoundly influenced by intense affective conditions. The only question is whether they are always affected in the same way by the same conscious tone. We shall have occasion to emphasise certain of these phenomena when we examine the emotions.

Genesis of the Affective Elements of Consciousness.-- Following our method in previous cases we may ask, first, under what conditions affection makes its earliest appearance. So far as concerns the life history of any given individual, we may say that affection is undoubtedly coincident in its manifestations with the dawn of consciousness. The cry with which the child draws its first breath has led to the assertion that life begins, as well as ends, in pain. However this may be, there is every reason to think that the mental life of the new-born babe is for many days one of vague sensory consciousness, dominated by relatively vivid antitheses of agreeableness and disagreeableness. Certainly the earliest expressions of infants suggest nothing so strongly as pleasure and pain.

If we inquire more closely into the conditions under which expressions of satisfaction and dissatisfaction arise, we find that they align themselves very suggestively with the doctrine which we have repeatedly formulated regarding the origin of consciousness in general. When the child is cold or hungry consciousness is called into play, for the organism does not possess, in its inherited mechanism of reflexes and automatic movements, any device adequate to cope with these difficulties. But the materials of voluntary muscular control have not as yet been acquired, and so the intense dammed-up nervous currents break over into the few pervious pathways of the quasi-reflex type. The crying muscles are liberally repre-

(277)-sented here, and the child's lamentation, which summons parental assistance, is the outcome of this motor escapement. If there were no damming up of the nervous currents, if the stimulus represented by the cold immediately resulted in releasing efficient motor reactions, there is no reason to suppose consciousness would be arouse . This, however, is not the case. The stimulations are there, and they become more and more insistent. The conditions for the appearance of consciousness are, therefore, at hand, and if we may judge by external expressions it promptly comes to life. But it is confronted with a situation with which it cannot immediately deal. It is reduced to the condition of a spectator conscious of an unnamed, yet imperious need, but almost powerless to render assistance. Now, whenever we encounter such circumstances as these, we shall always find that the affective tone is one of unpleasantness.

In very young babes instances of definite pleasure are somewhat more difficult to secure. The child spends most of its time in relatively deep sleep, and the expressions of gratification which it manifests are, for several days at least, ambiguous. When such expressions do appear, they are apt to be in connection with the satisfaction of hunger. They seem to represent a kind of ratification on the part of consciousness of the activities which have been indulged to relieve hunger. Indeed, if we may judge by external appearances, supported by our knowledge of the conditions in adult life, the whole of this process of allaying hunger, as well as the final stage of satiety, is agreeable. The case is extremely interesting in the apparent contrast which it offers to the conditions of maturity. Prior to the securing of control over the voluntary muscles, the function of consciousness is necessarily in large measure that of an approving or disapproving onlooker, who has little power to make his opinions felt in action.

We have noted the conditions -under which painfully toned

(278) consciousness is produced. It would seem at first sight as though these must be synonymous with all those circumstances in which obstacles were to be overcome, and therefore synonymous with all those cases where consciousness would be required. This position is, however, only tenable provided we disregard the obvious fact that the organism is in course of development, and that at this early stage, when voluntary movements are not yet under control, the total significance of the various factors in its life is not superficially obvious. Disagreeableness is undoubtedly the counterpart of continued inability to cope with a demand laid upon the organism, and the degree of unpleasantness is roughly paralleled by the insistence and the poignancy of the demand. Agreeableness, on the other hand, is the psychical counterpart of effective modes of reaction to a situation. When the situation is being adequately met, therefore, we may expect to find pleasure appearing, whether the successful response has come as a result of definite voluntary acts, as it may in adult life, or as a result in part of outside assistance, as it does in the early days of infancy.

Why Consciousness Is So Often Neutrally Toned. -- The question then suggests itself as to why we are not more vividly aware of agreeableness in the normal activities of every-day life. These activities involve more or less of voluntary coordinations, which for the most part go on efficiently, and should consequently, from the point of view we have adopted, produce pleasurable results in consciousness. We have intimated that as a matter of fact a large part of our mental life is neutrally toned. The reply to this query is, therefore, that in so far as we are provided with healthy bodily processes, and in so far as we are engaged in the effective solution of problems which confront us, our consciousness is agreeable in tone. But large parts of our daily undertakings are of a routine character which verges upon habit, and in consequence require little vigorous conscious attention, and

(279) therefore call out little affective reaction. Moreover, it frequently happens that although our mental operations are efficiently executed from the standpoint of practical results, some of our intra-organic processes are slightly indisposed, and inasmuch as our consciousness reflects the totality of our organic condition, we find ourselves either experiencing very little pleasure, or else feeling positive discomfort.

General Theory of Affective Processes.-It is evidently impossible, therefore, to state the conditions under which agreeableness or disagreeableness is produced, by reference to any single set of activities with which our cognitive and volitional processes may be engaged. Consciousness always reflects more than a single group of such activities, and its affective character is always dependent upon the whole gamut of physiological operations going on at any given moment. Under conditions of perfect health we may often predict with much accuracy what the affective results of a given stimulus may be, because we know that ordinarily it will stimulate moderately a well-nourished nerve tract. But unusual neural conditions in any part of the organism may lead to the falsifying of our predictions at any time. The melody which charmed us to-day may irritate us to-morrow, and this, not because the melody, or the auditory nerve, has either of them changed in the meantime, but simply because the digestive processes which yesterday were orderly are to-day chaotic. We see, therefore, that our provisional formulations in the previous chapter were too simple to account for all the facts.

The evidence thus far examined points to the belief that disagreeableness always appears in infancy, as well as in adult life, in connection either with (1) diseased conditions of the organism, or (2) with excessive neural stimulation, or (3) with the checking and impeding of consciousness in its efforts to guide action. The third point may prove to be identical with the second. It is certainly identical in some instances. The function of the unpleasant in consciousness

(280) is, then, evidently to furnish an immediate and unambiguous index of conditions which menace the welfare of the organism. Agreeableness appears in connection with (1) healthful organic conditions, (2) the stimulation of nerves inside the limits of their ability to respond with maximal vigour, and (3) the free and unobstructed flow of consciousness, whatever its object. The obvious function of agreeableness is consequently found in the furnishing of immediate exponents of organic welfare. Neither agreeableness nor disagreeableness are unambiguously prophetic. Their important function is in the present. Their meaning for the future requires the light of intelligence and experience. The frenzied delights of a Bacchanalian orgy are certainly no reliable harbingers of health, nor are the pangs of the morrow necessarily indicative of inevitable future disaster. We may now advantageously examine a few typical instances of affective consciousness, in order to test the adequacy of our principle.

The agreeableness and disagreeableness which arise respectively from healthful or diseased conditions of the organism hardly require comment. The organic feelings of a strong, well-fed organism are distinctly buoyant and pleasant; whereas the depression of dyspepsia, the tedious discomfort of a severe cold, etc., are almost unmitigatedly disagreeable. The moderate stimulation of the sense organs by simple stimuli is normally agreeable, and their excessive stimulation normally disagreeable. The pleasure of exercise and the unpleasantness of extreme fatigue, the agreeableness of moderately intense simple colours and tones, and the disagreeableness of those which are very intense, afford instances which we might multiply indefinitely.[1]


The intellectual processes involved in grappling with a problem in which we are interested are normally agreeable so long as we seem to be making progress. They speedily become exasperating if we seem to be getting nowhere; and if our minds, by reason of fatigue, distraction, or any other cause, refuse to bring to our aid the ideas which we feel are needed, the operation may become intolerable.

When our emotions are vigorously enlisted in such reflective processes the agreeableness or d is agreeableness may be extremely intense. Thus to many persons reflections upon immortality, upon the mercy of God, and other religious ideas may be profoundly uplifting and deeply gratifying so long as the mind meets with no obstacle in working out its conceptions. On the other hand, the mental agony experienced in reaching the belief that immortality is unreal is to many minds all but unbearable. In aesthetic pleasures the situation is ordinarily complicated by the presence of both sensory and intellectual factors. A beautiful picture not only appeals through its richness of colouring and its grace of line to the immediately sensory activities, it, also suggests to us ideas which take hold of our sentiments, our emotions, and our intelligence, setting up in us strong tendencies to motor reactions of one or another kind.

Application of the Principles to Aesthetic Experience. -- It seems fairly certain that those aesthetic objects which we adjudge agreeable comply with the second of our principles in the moderate stimulation of neural processes which are more than adequate to the demands laid upon them. it seems also to be true that in such cases the third of our principles is justified. An object which we feel to be beautiful

(282) sets up ideational reactions which are unimpeded, focalised, and definite. The picture, if it be a picture, means some. thing fairly definite and real to us. On the other hand, pictures which displease or fail to interest us are either unpleasant as regards their colour,-- in which case we probably have either inadequate or excessive optical stimulation of some kind, -- or they are faulty in drawing, or confused in meaning, so that our minds either feel a discrepancy between what is portrayed and what is suggested or else are left thwarted and baffled.

The case of music is one in which to most of us, did we but acknowledge the truth, the sensory element, with its immediate motor effects, is at a maximum, and the ideational at a minimum. But it seems difficult to find an instance of aesthetic experience which does not readily enough conform to our principles. On the whole, then, we may accept these principles, provisionally at least, as indicative of the general facts about the conditions for the appearance of affective reactions, and as suggesting their fundamental significance. We shall now go on to see, in connection with our study of instinct, emotion, and volition, how these affective phases of our consciousness actually enter into the determination of our acts and our character. We can in that way make out most clearly the manner in which they enter into the cognitive operations which we have previously discussed.


  1. Acquired tastes and the correlative loss of liking for certain objects constitute interesting instances of the development which goes on in the organism in connection with affective phenomena. It seems probable as regards the acquirement of tastes, that in the case of gustatory sensations at least. certain organic changes in the neutral activities take place, by means of which stimuli, which originally produced excessive reaction, are subsequently adjusted to. The loss of liking for certain flavours may be due to a similar adaptation by means of which the agreeableness of the stimulation passes away, or to an excessive stimulation, which finally overflows into other neural tracts, producing reflexes of the nausea type

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