Human Nature and Conduct

Part 3: The Place of Intelligence:
VIII. Desire and Intelligence

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Certain critics in sympathy with at least the negative contention, the critical side, of such a theory as has been advanced, regard it as placing too much emphasis upon intelligence. They find it intellectualistic, cold-blooded. They say we must change desire, love, aspiration, admiration, and then action will be transformed. A new affection, a changed appreciation, brings with it a revaluation of life and insists upon its realization. A refinement of intellect at most only figures out better ways of reaching old and accustomed ends. In fact we are lucky if intellect does not freeze the ardor of generous desire and paralyze creative endeavor. Intellect is critical, unproductive while desire is generative. In its dispassionateness intellect is aloof from humanity and its needs. It fosters detachment where sympathy is needed. It cultivates contemplation when salvation lies in liberating desire. Intellect is analytic, taking things to pieces; its devices are the scalpel and test-tube. Affection is synthetic, unifying. This argument affords an opportunity for making more explicit those respective offices of wish and thought in forming ends which have already been touched upon.

First we must undertake an independent analysis of desire. It is customary to describe desires in terms of their objects, meaning by objects the things which

(249) figure as in imagination their goals. As the object is noble or base, so, it is thought, is desire. In any case, emotions rise and cluster about the object. This stands out so conspicuously in immediate experience that it monopolizes the central position in the traditional psychological theory of desire. Barring gross self-deception or the frustration of external circumstance, the outcome, or end-result, of desire is regarded by this theory as similar to the end-in-view or object consciously desired. Such, however, is not the case, as readily appears from the analysis of deliberation. In saying that the actual outcome of desire is different in kind from the object upon which desire consciously fastens, I do not mean to repeat the old complaint about the fallibility and feebleness of mortals in virtue of which man's hopes are frustrated and twisted in realization. The difference is one of diverse dimensions, not of degree or amount.

The object desired and the attainment of desire are no more alike than a signboard on the road is like the garage to which it points and which it recommends to the traveler. Desire is the forward urge of living creatures. When the push and drive of life meets no obstacle, there is nothing which we call desire. There is just life-activity. Rut obstructions present themselves, and activity is dispersed and divided. Desire is the outcome. It is activity surging forward to break through what dams it up. The " object " which then presents itself in thought as the goal of desire is the object of the environment which, if it were present, would secure

(250) a re-unification of activity and the restoration of its ongoing unity. The end-in-view of desire is that object which were it present would link into an organized whole activities which are now partial and competing. It is no more like the actual end of desire, or the resulting state attained, than the coupling of cars which have been separated is like an ongoing single train. Yet the train cannot go on without the coupling.

Such statements may seem contrary to common sense. The pertinency of the illustration used will be denied. No man desires the signboard which he sees, he desires the garage, the objective, the ulterior thing. But does he? Or is the garage simply a means by which a divided body of activities is redintegrated or coordinated? Is it desired in any sense for itself, or only because it is the means of effective adjustment of a whole set of underlying habits? While common sense responds to the ordinary statement of the end of desire, it also responds to a statement that no one desires the object for its own sake, but only for what can be got out of it. Here is just the point at which the theory that pleasure is the real objective of desire makes its appeal. It points out that not the physical object nor even its possession is really wanted; that they are only means to something personal and experiential. And hence it is argued that they are means to pleasure. The present hypothesis offers an alternative: it says that they are means of removal of obstructions to an ongoing, unified system of activities. It is easy to see why an objective looms so large and why emotional surge

(251) and stress gather about it and lift it high above the floor of consciousness. The objective is (or is taken to be) the key to the situation. If we can attain it, lay hold of it, the trick is turned. It is like the piece of paper which carries the reprieve a condemned man waits for. Issues of life hang upon it. The desired object is in no sense the end or goal of desire, but it is the sine qua non of that end. A practical man will fig his attention upon it, and not dream about eventualities which are only dreams if the objective is not attained, but which will follow in their own natural course if it is reached. For then it becomes a factor in the system of activities. Hence the truth in the various so, called paradoxes of desire. If pleasure or perfection were the true end of desire, it would still be true that the way to attainment is not to think of them. For object thought of and object achieved exist in different dimensions.

In addition to the popular notions that either the object in view or else pleasure is the end of desire, there is a less popular theory that quiescence is the actual outcome or true terminal of desire. The theory finds its most complete practical statement in Buddhism. It is nearer the psychological truth than either of the other notions. Bit it views the attained outcome simply in its negative aspect. The end readied quiets the clash and removes the discomfort attendant upon divided and obstructed activity. The uneasiness, unrest, characteristic of desire is put to sleep. For this reason, some persons resort to intoxicants and anodynes. If

(252) quiescence were the end and it could be perpetuated, this way of removing disagreeable uneasiness would be as satisfactory a way out as the way of objective effort. But in fact desire satisfied does not bring quiescence unqualifiedly, but that kind of quiescence which marks the recovery of unified activity: the absence of internal strife among habits and instincts. Equilibration of activities rather than quiescence is the actual result of satisfied desire. This names the outcome positively, rather than comparatively and negatively.

This disparity of dimensions in desire between the object thought of and the outcome reached is the explanation of those self-deceptions which psychoanalysis has brought home to us so forcibly, but of which it gives elaborately cumbrous accounts. The object thought of and the outcome never agree. There is no self-deceit in this fact. What, then, really happens when the actual outcome of satisfied revenge figures in thought as virtuous eagerness for justice? Or when the tickled vanity of social admiration is masked as pure love of learning? The trouble lies in the refusal of a person to note the quality of the outcome, not in the unavoidable disparity of desire's object and the outcome. The honest or integral mind attends to the result, and sees what it really is. For no terminal condition is exclusively terminal. Since it exists in time it has consequences as well as antecedents. In being a consummation it is also a force having causal potentialities. It is initial as well as terminal.

Self-deception originates in looking at an outcome in

(253) one direction only— as a satisfaction of what has gone before, ignoring the fact that what is attained is a state of habits which will continue in action and which will determine future results. Outcomes of desire are also beginnings of new acts and Hence are portentous. Satisfied revenge may feel like justice vindicated; the prestige of learning may feel like an enlargement and rectification of an objective outlook. But since different instincts and habits have entered into them, they are actually, that is dynamically, unlike. The function of moral judgment is to detect this unlikeness. Here, again, the belief that we car. know ourselves immediately is as disastrous to moral science as the corresponding idea regarding knowledge of nature was to physical science. Obnoxious " subjectivity" of moral judgment is due to the fact that the immediate or esthetic quality swells and swells and displaces the thought of the active potency which gives activity its moral quality.

We are all natural Jack Horners. If the plum comes when we put in and pull out our thumb we attribute the satisfactory result to personal virtue. The plum is obtained, and it is not easy to distinguish obtaining from attaining, acquisition from achieving. Jack Horner, Esq., put forth some effort; and results and efforts are always more or less incommensurate. For the result is ' always dependent to some extent upon the favor or disfavor of circumstance. Why then should not the satisfactory plum shed its halo retrospectively upon what precedes and be taken as a sign of virtue? In this way heroes and leaders are constructed. Such

(254) is the worship of success. And the evil of success worship is precisely the evil with which we have been dealing. " Success " is never merely final or terminal. Something else succeeds it, and its successors are influenced by its nature, that is by the persisting habits and impulses that enter into it. The world does not stop when the successful person pulls out his plum; nor does he stop, and the kind of success he obtains, and his attitude toward it, is a factor in what comes afterwards. By a strange turn of the wheel, the success of the ultra-practical man is psychologically like the refined enjoyment of the ultra-esthetic person. Both ignore the eventualities with which every state of experience is charged. There is no reason for not enjoying the present, but there is every reason for examination of the objective factors of what is enjoyed before we translate enjoyment into a belief in excellence. There is every reason in other words for cultivating another enjoyment, that of the habit of examining the productive potentialities of the objects enjoyed.

Analysis of desire thus reveals the falsity of theories which magnify it at the expense of intelligence. Impulse is primary and intelligence is secondary and in some sense derivative. There should be no blinking of this fact. But recognition of it as a fact exalts intelligence. For thought is not the slave of impulse to do its bidding. Impulse does not know what it is after: it cannot give orders, not even if it wants to. It rushes blindly into any opening it chances to find. Anything that expends it, satisfies it. One outlet is like another

(255) to it. It is indiscriminate. Its vagaries and excesses are the stock theme of classical moralists; and while they point the wrong moral in urging the abdication of impulse in favor of reason, their characterization of impulse is not wholly wrong. What intelligence has to do in the service of impulse is to act not as its obedient servant but as its clarifier and liberator. And this can be accomplished only by a study of the conditions and causes, the workings and consequences of the greatest possible variety of desires and combinations of desire. Intelligence converts desire into plans, systematic plans based on assembling facts, reporting events as they happen, keeping tab on them and analyzing them.

Nothing is so easy to fool as impulse and no one is deceived so readily as a person under strong emotion. Hence the idealism of man is easily brought to naught. Generous impulses are aroused; there is a vague anticipation, a burning hope, of a marvelous future. Old things are to pass speedily away and a new heavens and earth are to come into existence. But impulse burns itself up. Emotion cannot be kept at its full tide. Obstacles are encountered upon which action dashes itself into ineffectual spray. Or if it achieves, by luck, a transitory success, it is intoxicated, and plumes itself on victory while it is on the road to sudden defeat. Meantime, other men, not carried away by impulse, use established habits and a shred cold intellect that manipulates them. The outcome is the victory of baser desire directed by insight and cunning over generous desire which does not know its way.


The realistic man of the world has evolved a regular technique for dealing with idealistic outbursts that threaten his supremacy. His aims are logs, but he knows the means by which they are to be executed. His knowledge of conditions is narrow but it is effective within its confines. His foresight is limited to results that concern personal success, but is sharp, clearcut. He has no great difficulty in drafting the idealistic desire of others with its vague enthusiasms and its cloudy perceptions into canals where it will serve his own purposes. The energies excited by emotional idealism run into the materialistic reservoirs provided by the contriving thought of those who have not surrendered their minds to their sentiment.

The glorification of affection and aspiration at the expense of thought is a survival of romantic optimism. It assumes a pre-established harmony between natural impulse and natural objects. Only such a harmony justifies the belief that generous feeling will find its way illuminated by the sheer nobility of its own quality. Persons of a literary turn of mind are as subject to this fallacy as intellectual specialists are apt to the contrary fallacy that theorizing apart from force of impulse and habit will get affairs forward. They tend to fancy that things are as pliant to imagination as are words, that an emotion can compose affairs as if they were materials for a lyric poem. But if the objects of the environment were only as plastic as the materials of poetic art, men would never have been obliged to have recourse to creation in the medium of

(257) words. We idealize in fancy because our idealizations in fact are balked. And while the latter must start with imaginative idealizations instigated by release of generous impulse, they can be carried through only when the hard labor of observation, memory and foresight weds the vision of imagination to the organized efficiencies of habit.

Sometimes desire means not bare impulse but impulse which has sense of an objective. In this case desire and thought cannot be opposed, for desire includes thought within itself. The question is now how far the work of thought has been done, how adequate is its perception of its directing object. For the moving force may be a shadowy presentiment constructed by wishful hope rather than by study of conditions; it may be an emotional indulgence rather than a solid plan built upon the rocks of actuality discovered by accurate inquiries. There is no thought without the impeding of impulse. But the obstruction may merely intensify its blind surge forward; or it may divert the force of forward impulse into observation of existing conditions and forecast of their future consequences. This long way around is the short way home for desire.

No issue of morals is more far-reaching than the one herewith sketched. Historically speaking, there is point in the attacks of those who speak slightingly of science and intellect, and who would limit their moral significance to supplying incidental help to execution of purposes born of affection. Thought too often is specialized in a remote and separate pursuit, or em-

(258) -ployed in a hard way to contrive the instrumentalities of "success." Intellect is too often made a tool for a systematized apology for things as "they are," that is for customs that benefit the class in power, or else a road to an interesting occupation which accumulates facts and ideas as other men gather dollars, while priding itself on its ideal quality. No wonder that at times catastrophes that affect men in common are welcomed. For the moment they turn science away from its abstract technicalities into a servant of some human aspiration; the hard, chilly calculations of intellect are swept away by floods of sympathy and common loyalties.

But, alas, emotion without thought is unstable. It rises like the tide and subsides like the tide irrespective of what it leas accomplished. It is easily diverted into any side channel dug by old habits or provided by cool cunning, or it disperses itself aimlessly. Then comes the reaction of disillusionment, and men turn all the more fiercely to the pursuit of narrow ends where they are habituated to use observation and planning and where they have acquired some control of conditions. The separation of warm emotion and cool intelligence is the great moral tragedy. This division is perpetuated by those who deprecate science and foresight in behalf of affection as it is by those who in the name of an idol labeled reason would quench passion. The intellect is always inspired by some impulse. Even the most case-hardened scientific specialist, the most abstract philosopher, is moved by some passion. But

(259) an actuating impulse easily hardens into isolated habit. It is unavowed and disconnected. The remedy is not lapse of thought, but its quickening and extension to contemplate the continuities of existence, and restore the connection of the isolated desire to the companionship of its fellows. The glorification of "will" apart from thought turns out either a commitment to blind action which serves the purpose of those who guide their deeds by narrow plans, or else a sentimental, romantic faith in the harmonies of nature leading straight to disaster.

In words at least, the association of idealism with emotion and impulse has been repeatedly implied in the foregoing. The connection is more than verbal. Every end that man holds up, every project he entertains is ideal. It marks something wanted, rather than something existing. It is wanted because existence as it now is does not furnish it. It carries with itself, then, a sense of contrast to the achieved, to the existent. It outruns the seen and touched. It is the work of faith and hope even when it is the plan of the most hard-headed " practical " man. But though ideal in this sense it is not an ideal. Common sense revolts at calling every project, every design, every contrivance of cunning, ideal, because common sense includes above all in its conception of the ideal the quality of the plan proposed.

Idealistic revolt is blind and like every blind reaction sweeps us away. The quality of the ideal is exalted till it is something beyond all possibility of definite plan and

(260) execution. Its sublimity renders it inaccessibly remote. An ideal becomes a synonym for whatever is inspiring —  and impossible. Then, since intelligence cannot be wholly suppressed, the ideal is hardened by thought into some high, far-away object. It is so elevated and so distant that it does not belong to this world or to experience. It is in technical language, transcendental; in common speech, supernatural, of heaven not of earth. The ideal is then a goal of final exhaustive, comprehensive perfection which can be defined only by complete contrast with the actual. Although impossible of realization and of conception, it is still regarded as the source of all generous discontent with actualities and of all inspiration to progress.

This notion of the nature and office of ideals combines in one contradictory whole all that is vicious in the separation of desire and thought. It strives while retaining the vagueness of emotion to simulate the objective definiteness of thought. It follows the natural course of intelligence in demanding an object which will unify and fulfil desire, and then cancels the work of thought by treating the object as ineffable and unrelated to present action and experience. It converts the surge of present impulse into a future end only to swamp the endeavor to clarify this end in a gush of unconsidered feeling. It is supposed that the thought of the :deal is necessary to arouse dissatisfaction with the present and to arouse effort to change it. But in reality the ideal is itself the product of discontent with conditions. Instead however of serving to organize and

(261) direct effort, it operates as a compensatory dream. It becomes another ready-made world. Instead of promoting effort at concrete transformations of what exists, it constitutes another kind of existence already somewhere in being. It is a refuge, an asylum from effort. Thus the energy that might be spent in transforming present ills goes into oscillating flights into a far away perfect world and the tedium of enforced returns into the necessities of the present evil world.

We can recover the genuine import of ideals and idealism only by disentangling this unreal mixture of thought and emotion. The action of deliberation, as we have seen, consists in selecting some foreseen consequence to serve as a stimulus to present action. It brings future possibilities into the present scene and thereby frees anti expand, present tendencies. But the selected consequence is set in an indefinite context of other consequences just as real as it is, and many of them much more certain in fact. The "ends" that are foreseen and utilized mark out a little island in an infinite sea. This limitation would be fatal were the proper function of ends anything else than to liberate and guide present action out of its perplexities an(,: confusions. But this service constitutes the sole meaning of aims and purposes. Hence their slight extent in comparison with ignored and unforeseen consequences is of no import in itself. The "ideal" as it stands in popular thought, the notion of a complete and exhaustive realization, is remote from the true functions of ends, and would only embarrass us if it

(262) could be embraced in thought instead of being, as it is, a comment by the emotions.

For the sense of an indefinite context of consequences from among which the aim is selected enters into the present meaning of activity. The " end " is the figured pattern at the center of the field through which runs the axis of conduct. About this central figuration extends infinitely a supporting background in a vague whole, undefined and undiscriminated. At most intelligence but. throws a spotlight on that little part of the whole which marks out the axis of movement. Even if the light is flickering and the illuminated portion stands forth only dimly from the shadowy background, it suffices if we are shown the way to move. To the rest of the consequences, collateral and remote, corresponds a background of feeling, of diffused emotion. This forms the stuff of the ideal.

From the standpoint of its definite aim any act is petty in comparison with the totality of natural events. What is accomplished directly as the outcome of a turn which our action gives the course of events is infinitesimal in comparison with their total sweep. Only an illusion of conceit persuades us that cosmic difference hangs upon even our wisest and most strenuous effort. Yet discontent with this limitation is as unreasonable as relying upon an illusion of external importance to keep ourselves going. In a genuine sense every act is already possessed of infinite import. The little part of the scheme of affairs which is modifiable by our efforts is continuous with the rest of the world. The boundaries

(263) of our garden plot join it to the world of our neighbors and our neighbors' neighbors. That small effort which we can put forth is in turn connected with an infinity of events that sustain and support it. The consciousness of this encompassing infinity of connections is ideal. When a sense of the infinite reach of an act physically occurring in a small point of space and occupying a petty instant of times comes home to us, the meaning of a present act is seen to be vast, immeasurable, unthinkable. This ideal is not a goal to be attained. It is a significance to be felt, appreciated. Though consciousness of it cannot become intellectualized (identified in objects of a distinct character) yet emotional appreciation of it is won only by those willing to think.

It is the office of art and religion to evoke such appreciations and intimations, to enhance and steady them till they are wrought into the texture of our lives. Some philosophers define religious consciousness as beginning where moral and intellectual consciousness leave off. In the sense that definite purposes and methods shade off of necessity into a vast whole which is incapable of objective presentation this view is correct. But they have falsified the conception by treating the religious consciousness as something that comes after an experience in which striving, resolution and foresight are found. To them morality and science are a striving; when striving ceases a moral holiday begins, an excursion beyond the utmost flight of legitimate thought and endeavor, But there is a point in every intelligent activity where effort ceases; where thought and doing fall back upon a

(264) course of events which effort and reflection cannot touch. There is a point in deliberate action where definite thought fades into the ineffable and undefinable into emotion. If the sense of this effortless and unfathomable whole comes only in alternation with the sense of strain in action and labor in thought, then we spend our lives in oscillating between what is cramped and enforced and a brief transitory escape. The function of religion is then caricatured rather than realized. Morals, like war, is thought of as hell, and religion, like peace, as a respite. The religious experience is a reality in so far as in the midst of effort to foresee and regulate future objects we are sustained and expanded in feebleness and failure by the sense of an enveloping whole. Peace in action not after it is the contribution of the ideal to conduct.


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