Human Nature and Conduct

Part 3: The Place of Intelligence:
III. The Nature of Deliberation

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So far the discussion has ignored the fact that there is an influential school of moralists (best represented in contemporary thought by the utilitarians) which also insists upon the natural, empirical character of moral judgments and beliefs. But unfortunately this school has followed a false psychology; and has tended, by calling out a reaction, actually to strengthen the hands of those who persist in assigning to morals a separate domain of action and in demanding a separate agent of moral knowledge. The essentials of this false psychology consist in two traits. The first, that knowledge originates from sensations (instead of from habits and impulses) ; and the second, that judgment about good and evil in action consists in calculation of agreeable and disagreeable consequences, of profit and loss. It is not surprising that this view seems to many to degrade morals, as well as to be false to facts. If the logical outcome of an empirical view of moral knowledge is that, all morality is concerned with calculating what is expedient, politic, prudent, measured by consequences in the ways of pleasurable and painful sensations, then, say moralists of the orthodox school, we will have naught to do with such a sordid view: It is a reduction to the absurd of its premisses. We will have a sepa-


(190) -rate department for morals and a separate organ of moral knowledge.

Our first problem is then to investigate the nature of ordinary judgments upon what it is best or wise to do, or, in ordinary language, the nature of deliberation. We begin with a summary assertion that deliberation is a dramatic rehearsal (in imagination) of various competing possible lines of action. It starts from the blocking of efficient overt action, due to that conflict of prior habit and newly released impulse to which reference has been made. Then each habit, each impulse, involved in the temporary suspense of overt action takes its turn in being tried out. Deliberation is an experiment in finding out what the various lines of possible action are really like. It is an experiment in making various combinations of selected elements of habits and impulses, to see what the resultant action would be like if it were entered upon. But the trial is in imagination, not in overt fact. The experiment is carried on by tentative rehearsals in thought which do not affect physical facts outside the body. Thought runs ahead and foresees outcomes, and thereby avoids having to await, the instruction of actual failure and disaster. An act overtly tried out is irrevocable, its consequences cannot be blotted out. An act tried out in imagination is not final or fatal. It is retrievable.

Each conflicting habit and impulse takes its turn in projecting itself upon the screen of imagination. It unrolls a picture of its future history, of the career it would have if it were given head. Although overt ex-


(191) -hibition is checked by the pressure of contrary propulsive tendencies, this very inhibition gives habit a chance at manifestation in thought. Deliberation means precisely that activity is disintegrated, and that its various elements hold one another up. While none has force enough to become the center of a re-directed activity, or to dominate a course of action, each has enough power to check others from exercising mastery. Activity does not cease in order to give way to reflection; activity is turned from execution into intra-organic channels, resulting in dramatic rehearsal.

If activity were directly exhibited it would result in certain experiences, contacts with the environment. It would succeed by making environing objects, things and persons, co-partners in its forward movement ; or else it would run against obstacles and be troubled, possibly defeated. These experiences of contact with objects and their qualities give meaning, character, to an otherwise fluid, unconscious activity. We find out what seeing means by the objects which are seen. They constitute the significance of visual activity which would otherwise remain a blank. "Pure" activity is for consciousness pure emptiness. It acquires a content or filling of meanings only in static termini, what it comes to rest in, or in the obstacles which check its onward movement, and deflect it. As has been remarked, the object is that which objects.

There is no difference in this respect between a visible course of conduct and one proposed in deliberation. We have no direct consciousness of what we purpose


( 192) to do. We can judge its nature, assign its meaning, only by following it into the situations whither it leads, noting the objects against which it runs and seeing how they rebuff or unexpectedly encourage it. In imagination as in fact we know a road only by what we see as we travel on it. Moreover the objects which prick out the course of a proposed act until we can see its design also serve to direct eventual overt activity. Every object hit upon as the habit traverses its imaginary path has a direct effect upon existing activities. It reinforces, inhibits, redirects Habits already working or stirs up others which had not previously actively entered in. In thought as well as in overt action, the objects experienced in following out a course of action attract, repel, satisfy, annoy, promote and retard. Thus deliberation proceeds. To say that at last it ceases is to say that choice, decision, takes place.

What then is choice? Simply hitting in imagination upon an object which furnishes an adequate stimulus to the recovery of overt action. Choice is made as soon as some habit, or some combination of elements of habits and impulse, finds a way fully open. Then energy is released. The mind is made up, composed, unified. As long as deliberation pictures shoals or rocks or troublesome gales as marking the route of a contemplated voyage, deliberation goes on. But when the various factors in action fit harmoniously together, when imagination finds no annoying hindrance, when there is picture of open seas, filled sails and favoring winds, the. voyage is definitely entered upon. This decisive direc-


(193) -tion of action constitutes choice. It is a great error to suppose that we have no preferences until there is a choice. 'e are always biased beings, tending in one direction rather than another. The occasion of deliberation is an excess of preferences, not natural apathy or an absence of likings. We want things that are incompatible with one another; therefore we have to make a choice of what we really want, of the course of action, that is, which most fully releases activities. Choice is not the emergence of preference out of indifference. It is the emergence of a unified preference out of competing preferences. Biases that had held one another in check now, temporarily at least, reinforce one another, and constitute a unified attitude. The moment arrives when imagination pictures an objective consequence of action which supplies an adequate stimulus and releases definitive action. All deliberation is a search for a way to act, not for a final terminus. Its office is to facilitate stimulation.

Hence there is reasonable and unreasonable choice. The object thought of may simply stimulate some impulse or habit to a pitch of intensity where it is temporarily irresistible. It then overrides all competitors and secures for itself the sole right of way. The object looms large in imagination ; it swells to fill the field. It allows no room for alternatives; it absorbs us, enraptures us, carries us away, sweeps us off our feet by its own attractive force. Then choice is arbitrary, unreasonable. But the object thought of may be one which stimulates by unifying. harmonizing, different


(194) competing tendencies. It may release an activity in which all are fulfilled, not indeed, in their original form, but in a "sublimated " fashion, that is in a way which modifies the original direction of each by reducing it to a component along with others in an action of transformed quality. Nothing is more extraordinary than the delicacy, promptness and ingenuity with which deliberation is capable of making eliminations and recombinations in projecting the course of a possible activity. To every shade of imagined circumstance there is a vibrating response; and to every complex situation a sensitiveness as to its integrity, a feeling of whether it does justice to all facts, or overrides some to the advantage of others. Decision is reasonable when deliberation is so conducted. There may be error in the result, but it comes from lack of data not from ineptitude in handling them.

These facts give us the key to the old controversy as to the respective places of desire and reason in con duct. It is notorious that some moralists have deplored the influence of desire; they have found the heart of strife between good and evil in the conflict of desire with reason, in which the former has force on its side and the latter authority. But reasonableness is in fact a quality of an effective relationship among desires rather than a thing opposed to desire. It signifies the order, perspective, proportion which is achieved, during deliberation, out of a diversity of earlier incompatible preferences. Choice is reasonable when it induces us to act reasonably: that is, with regard to the claims


(195) of each of the competing habits and impulses. This implies, of course, the presence of a comprehensive object, one which coordinates, organizes and functions each factor of the situation which gave rise to conflict, suspense and deliberation. This is as true when some " bad "impulses and habits enter in as when approved ones require unification. We have already seen the effects of choking them off, of efforts at direct suppression. Bad habits can be subdued only by being utilized as elements in a new, more generous and comprehensive scheme of action, and good ones be preserved from rot only by similar use.

The nature of the strife of reason and passion is well stated by William James. The cue of passion, he says in effect, is to keep imagination dwelling upon those objects which are congenial to it, which feed it, and which by feeding it intensify its force, until it crowds out all thought of other objects. An impulse or habit which is strongly emotional magnifies all objects that are congruous with it and smothers those which are opposed whenever they present themselves. A passionate activity learns to work itself up artificially — as Oliver Cromwell indulged in fits of anger when he wanted to do things that his conscience would not justify. A presentiment is felt that if the thought of contrary objects is allowed to get a lodgment in imagination, these objects will work and work to chill and freeze out the ardent passion of the moment.

The conclusion is not that the emotional, passionate phase of action can be or should be eliminated in be-


(196) -half of a bloodless reason. More "passions," not fewer, is the answer. To check the influence of hate there must be sympathy, while to rationalize sympathy there are needed emotions of curiosity, caution, respect for the freedom of others— dispositions which evoke objects which balance those called up by sympathy, and prevent its degeneration into maudlin sentiment and meddling interference. Rationality, once more, is not a force to evoke against impulse and habit. It is the attainment of a working harmony among diverse desires. " Reason " as a noun signifies the happy cooperation of a multitude of dispositions, such as sympathy, curiosity, exploration, experimentation, frankness, pursuit— to follow things through-circumspection, to look about at the context, etc., etc. The elaborate systems of science are born not of reason but of impulses at first slight and flickering; impulses to handle, move about, to hunt, to uncover, to mix things separated and divide things combined, to talk and to listen. Method is their effectual organization into continuous dispositions of inquiry, development and testing. It occurs after these acts and because of their consequences. Reason, the rational attitude, is the resulting disposition, not a ready-made antecedent which can be invoked at will and set into movement. The man who would intelligently cultivate intelligence will widen, not narrow, his life of strong impulses while aiming at their happy coincidence in operation.

The clew of impulse is, as we say, to start something. It is in a hurry. It rushes us off our feet. It


(197) leaves no time for examination, memory and foresight, But the clew of reason is, as the phrase also goes, to stop and think. Force, however, is required to stop the ongoing of a habit or impulse. This is supplied by another habit. The resulting period of delay, of suspended and postponed overt action, is the period in which activities that are refused direct outlet project imaginative counterparts. It signifies, in technical phrase, the mediation of impulse. For an isolated impulse is immediate, narrowing the world down to the directly present. Variety of competing tendencies enlarges the world. It brings a diversity of considerations before the mind, and enables action to take place finally in view of an object generously conceived and delicately refined, composed by a long process of selections and combinations. In popular phrase, to be deliberate is to be slow, unhurried. It takes time to put objects in order.

There are however vices of reflection as well as of impulse. We may not look far enough ahead because we are hurried into action by stress of impulse; but we may also become overinterested in the delights of reflection; we become afraid of assuming the responsibilities of decisive choice and action, and in general be sicklied over by a pale cast of thought. We may become so curious about remote tend abstract matters that we give only a begrudged, impatient attention to the things right about us. We may fancy we are glorifying the love of truth for its own sake when we are only indulging a pet occupation and slighting demands


(198) of the immediate situation. Men who devote themselves to thinking are likely to be unusually unthinking in some respects, as for example in immediate personal relationships. A man to. whom exact scholarship is an absorbing pursuit may be more than ordinarily vague in ordinary matters. Humility and impartiality may be shown in a specialized field, and pettiness and arrogance in dealing with other persons. " Reason " is not an antecedent force which serves as a panacea. It is a laborious achievement of Habit needing to be continually worked over. A balanced arrangement of propulsive activities manifested in deliberation— namely, reason— depends upon a sensitive and proportionate emotional sensitiveness. Only a one-sided, overspecialized emotion leads to thinking of it as separate from emotion. The traditional association of justice and reason has good psychology back of it. Both imply a balanced distribution of thought and energy. Deliberation is irrational in the degree in which an end is so fixed, a passion or interest so absorbing, that the foresight of consequences is warped to include only what furthers execution of its predetermined bias. Deliberation is rational in the degree in which forethought flexibly remakes old aims and habits, institutes perception and love of new ends and acts.

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