The Freudian Wish and its Place in Ethics

Chapter 3: The Wish in Ethics

Edwin B. Holt

Table of Contents | Next | Previous

IF the wish or purpose is, so to say, the unit of conduct, it is clear that ethics ought to take the wish as its fundamental unit of discourse, whatsoever its further argument is to be as to the nature of the good or the source of moral sanction. But 'wish' is here as unfortunate a word as Freud could have chosen, since it seems to signify desire for or interest in some ' end.' I have tried to show that an analysis of Freud's wish implies nothing of the sort; that the wish is a purpose or course of action with regard to the environment and that it contemplates no end whatsoever, just as time itself infers no end. The only semblance of ' end' is found where one purpose is yoked into the service of another purpose, and here the latter might roughly be called the 'end' of the former; yet only roughly and inexactly so, since the whole is process and the subordinate purposes are only its articulate phases. Avoiding this misapprehen-

(101) -sion we have to see whether conduct, which is compounded of such purposes, has ethical significance.

An innate tendency or purpose of an infant is to put out its hand to touch fire. If the mother is by, she holds back the hand (her purpose) before it reaches the flame. There is a hint for the child, here, of right and wrong. If the mother guards the child unremittingly, and every time restrains the hand before the uncomfortable warmth begins to stimulate the child's own tendency to withdraw, the child will never be burned and may eventually (in a way to be described) acquire the habit of stopping short before reaching the flame. But this cautious conduct will not be guided by (be a function of) the heat of the flame, for the child has had no experience of this. The child's general conduct toward fire will then be partly a function of the immediate properties of fire (its color, position, shape, etc.) ; but partly also of a something else (really its mother), which may or may not figure explicitly in the child's field of consciousness. The mother has set a barrier between the child and a portion of reality; and forever after the child will be in some measure impeded in its dealings with fire. An

( 102) inhibition of which the source or sanction is thus not intrinsic is precisely, I suppose, a tabu.

Or again, if an equally unremitting mother lets the child put out its hand toward the flame and takes care only that the hand by too great momentum or an accidental lurch does not actually come into the flame, the child will not be burned and its own mechanism of withdrawal will be exercised not through the mother's interference but through the direct action of the flame's heat. The child's conduct toward fire becomes integrated, and is solely a function of the actual properties of fire. Ten years later you shall hear the first mother shouting, " Bobbie, don't you dare put your hand so near the lamp, and if you touch those matches again your father will whip you." And the second mother will be saying, " Bobbie, go get the matches now and light the lamp, and set it down on the center-table."

Here the reader may feel that I egregiously beg the question by a couple of cheap improvisations. Let us see: for here we come to the most essential point in Freud. The first mother has pushed back the child's hand before the child's own mechanism of withdrawal was stimulated (by the heat). The

( 103) child is frustrated, but not instructed; and it is in the situation where, later on in life, we say to ourselves, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again ! " The child tries and tries again, and mother is kept busy. This effectively exercises the child's tendency to move toward the flame, and leaves undeveloped its equally inborn tendency to withdraw from heat. In short, the mother is actually ingraining the very tendency which she wishes to curb. Why, then, does her method seem to her to produce caution in the child? Because if she perseveres for a year or so (as she will), the child matures and can respond to a more complicated situation, which is flame-and-mother in constellation. This conjunction it directly experiences, and it learns that when mother is around it can't touch fire. Unfortunately, however, this is for him an intrinsic property of mother, and not of fire. There is the evil. Yet this is a genuine quality of the mother, and the child learns this without tabu, so that when mother and flame are together it perceives the situation where flame cannot be touched. And now, if the mother has not succumbed to worry meanwhile, she is gratified at having ' taught' the child caution. In reality she has

( 104) done only this :—she has deepened by habit the tendency to reach out toward flame, has left unexercised the conservative tendency to withdraw from heat, has waited for the child to grow up sufficiently to learn that the non-touchability of flame is a property of herself, has worried herself into a nagging mother, and has prematurely got the child to respond to herself as an object of the environment, with qualities of her own and needing suitably to be studied and dealt with. What is worst of all, if she is spared to continue her misguided watchfulness until the youth's plastic period is passed, he will have such an insatiable tendency to play with fire, in her absence, that no amount of actual burns will ever correct it.

All this is a paradigm of Freudian morals. In order to introduce some convenient terms, I will put the matter more technically. The mother's hand that stays the child's hand before the child's innate tendency to withdraw from heat has been stimulated is a barrier between the child and the flame. To this barrier, the mother's hand, the child has already acquired various modes of response; it now acquires another, to draw back from the mother's hand-in-front-of-flame, just as it

( 105) learns to halt before a high fence. The mother's hand ' suppresses ' the child's innate tendency to touch the fire. But the child's withdrawal becomes a withdrawal from the mother's hand and not, as it ought to be, a response to (or function of) the flame itself. Freud, like others before him, calls this 'dissociation': The precautionary response which should be ' associated 'with fire is dissociated therefrom, and transferred to something else; in our case to the mother. Take this mother away, and the child knows no caution with regard to fire. All responses to the mother become integrated into a group or ' complex,' and those toward flame into another complex. The two complexes are not entirely out of relation to each other, yet each has more internal cohesiveness than it has cohesion with the other complex. Between the two there is relative dissociation. We are to bear in mind that the same innate tendency to " touch the pretty flame " remains, and has been strengthened by the child's trying over and over to touch it, simply because the mother prevented the child from learning on its very first trial that flame is painfully hot. And let us note also that if there is any question here of right and wrong conduct on the part of the child

(106) it rests solely on the fact that fire burns; and further, that the misguided mother has undertaken to arrogate to herself this bit of what should be her child's experience, to transfer the rôle of truth to her own person. She has not trusted the truth.

The other mother was equally tender, and far wiser. She saw to it that no accidental lurch or fall brought her child's hand into the flame. But she let the child follow its own bent of reaching toward the flame until its own other tendency to avoid heat was stimulated and exercised by the direct fact of heat in the flame. Her child will not be actually burned any more than the other. By thus trusting the truth it takes about two days to establish in a normal child cautious conduct with regard to fire. A normal child of the same age can in about two years' time be taught that you are always an obstacle between it and fire, and that fire is not hot. For the injudicious mother has in deed told this lie to the child. The wise mother, furthermore, has not put herself in the position of an alien force frustrating the child; and certainly it is desirable that for several years at least a child should not have its attention directly drawn to either mother or father as an object more distinct from itself

( 107) than its own arms or legs. Non-frustration is the condition for sympathy: frustration, obviously, for antipathy. The parent must decide whether he ever wishes to dissolve the sympathy between himself and a child.

We have now to look a little more closely at the workings of suppression. At the age of ten our boy has too freely partaken of doughnuts and is going through the motions appropriate to stomachache. He has not done 'wrong,' but is merely getting experience of a new object. The doughnuts are like the fire of his earlier days, except that their noxiousness is deferred, and not, like a burn, immediate ; and that it depends on the quantity partaken of. It will take longer than before to establish suitable behavior in the presence of doughnuts. In time, however, this would establish itself without outside interference. A new element in this situation is what we may call appetite. Since the organism requires for its continuance certain things from the environment, nature has established a mechanism such that the absence of these requisites acts as an internal stimulus, and the whole organism is caused to move restlessly about until the missing ingredient chances to impinge on

(108) a sense-organ of the animal, and is forthwith appropriated. Thus if there is too little oxygen in the surrounding medium, it necessarily comes about that there is too high a percentage of carbon dioxide in the animal's blood and this acts as a specific internal stimulus firstly to speed up the activities of heart and lungs, and secondly to irritate the nervous system generally, thus setting the animal into restless motion. As development proceeds and specific responses are established to various elements of the environment, these responses become integrated with the internal deficit stimuli, and the general nervous irritation is drawn into specific motor channels : the general motor restlessness becomes a specific course of action. And when this point is reached we say that the animal" knows what it wants." There are two elemental appetites, the nutritive (including that for oxygen) and the sexual; possibly more. Now in connection with appetites it is perfectly just to speak of 'desire' and ' end '; but this must not lead us to forget that the special conduct determined by appetite remains, equally with all other conduct, a function of environment; still less should this case mislead us, as I believe the majority of writers on ethics have

(109) been misled, into believing that desire and end reveal the general pattern of human will. This would be, I must insist, to mistake an important yet only special case for the general law. The above makes clear, I trust, how 'desire' is defined without recourse to subjective categories, and how 'desire' for ' ends ' arises through mechanical integration.

And our ten-year-old has an appetite for doughnuts. We will say that his first feast with its attendant penalty occurred through a parental oversight, and that the subsequent parental injunctions coincided so exactly with the course of moderation already impressed, and through painful hours continuously deepened, by the lad's digestive apparatus, that the doughnut question never arose again. But five years later he encounters tobacco. Here the disastrous consequences (in part stunted growth) are so serious, so deferred, and so irremediable that the boy can by no means be allowed to make the trial for himself. A question of morals is going to arise; and let us again be quite clear at the outset that, whatever complications may come up, the ultimate sanction for the ' right' course of action in this regard will be nothing but the fact that tobacco does injure growing lads. The father

(110) explains to the boy the injurious action of tobacco, and that therefore it will be ' not right ' for him to use tobacco until he has attained his full growth ; after which time the effect of tobacco will be somewhat different and the lad will then decide the matter for himself. Here I assume the effective use of written and spoken ' signs.' The mechanism of signs is as yet but little understood, and it is not a thing to be merely speculated on. What is certain is that in the course of integration outer objects come to be responded to by specific gestures and modulations of the voice-responses which have a purely social significance ; that these responses become somehow integrated with the other, more practical, responses to the same objects, respectively ; and that, as a result, such signs uttered by one person and perceived by another serve to touch off, or indeed to organize, the same responses in the second person as would have been touched off or organized in the latter if he had had the same experience with the objects signified as the first person has had. It is a marvelous function and one that is susceptible of grave derangements.

The situation before us needs analysis. In the first place, tobacco appeals to no authentic appetite

( 111) of the boy, in the sense above described. But it is an object of the environment, and at the stage of development now in question it evokes complicated specific responses of a sort which we somewhat loosely call curiosity and imitation. I believe that it cannot be said with certainty whether such responses do or do not derive additional impetus from the basic appetites. In any case it will be not far wrong to consider the tendency of a boy to investigate the possibilities of tobacco and to imitate the use which others make of it, as being like the tendency which he possessed as a baby to put out his hand toward fire. After the talk with his father two tendencies in the boy are stimulated : on the one hand are the former tendencies of curiosity and imitation ; and on the other, his father's words " tobacco will injure you " and " it is not right for you to use it." (I pass over the possibility that the father has said, " I will punish you if you touch tobacco "; for this would reduce the case to precisely the type already considered, in which a mother undertook by force to restrain her child from experiencing the properties of fire.) The boy now faces a dilemma; and clearly a moral problem.

It is possible to view this as an issue between

( 112) abstract' right and wrong, that is, to view the moral sanction involved as in some manner categorical. This would be, I think, to commit the fallacy of over-abstraction; and one notes that the systems of ethics which posit an abstract sanction for right conduct, never discover what 'right' is. In this way, pathetically enough, the upshot of academic ethics is merely a very learned interrogation point. We shall revert to this matter of morals von oben herab. In any case such an abstract position would not be the Freudian; and the inferable Freudian ethics is distinctly one von unten hinauf; as follows.

If the boy has hitherto found in his father a truth-telling man, the father's talk will have conveyed to the boy, not a ' father says,' but a ' tobacco is' (injurious). This item will then take its place as an integral part of the complex named tobacco. Language will have served its proper task, and there will be no dissociation, or transfer of 'injuriousness' from 'tobacco' to 'father.' The boy may still dabble with tobacco, but the first step at least is accomplished. And this step is indispensable, for if the lad is to benefit by the experience of others rather than experience the bitter

(113) truth for himself, there must be some source of information which shall be to the boy fact and not mere asseveration. This source should be preeminently the father and mother. Now Freud has shown, in an essay [1] which all parents might well read, that children are very early and very keenly cognizant of untruthfulness in their elders. This is not astonishing, although very generally ignored ; for beyond question even dogs and cats distinguish between truthfulness and untruthfulness of deed (and sometimes even of word). Freud also shows that one untruthful word of father or mother will often undermine the child's confidence forever, and he urges on parents the necessity of quite unqualified truthfulness. I have talked with many parents of young children and have found but few who trust the truth sufficiently to deem it practicable with children. But parents need not waste breath to dub the truth' sacred,' when they themselves do not trust it; and such parents have only themselves to thank when, in order to secure obedience, they have to resort to cajoleries, threats, whipping-posts,

( 114) and such superstitions as 'abstract Right." A little concrete rightness in the parent will go much further.[2] If, now, Bobbie's father is a truthful man, the next step will follow ; if not, Bobbie will get elsewhere such information as he can, and the next step will still follow. This I prefer to describe, however, on the assumption that the father is known by his son to be a truth-teller. And let us not forget that a truth-telling father, like a hypocritical father, is as much an object of the child's environment as a thermometer, a clock, a seismo-

(115) -graph, or an encyclopedia. And specific modes of response toward him are established by the same integrative mechanism.

The next step is more interesting than the first. The boy now faces a dilemma, to smoke or not to smoke ; a dilemma that is comparable with the baby's, to touch or not to touch fire after having once felt its heat, for the function of language is such that the father's truthful words are in a measure the equivalent of an unpleasant experience with tobacco. But in this case the hindrance has not quite the positive and immediate urgency of heatpain, and the second step enjoys a corresponding latitude. Now tobacco, in itself purely, appeals to no innate appetite, and I think it can be confidently asserted that the truthful father's warning will be sufficient to check the boy's passing whim of imitation, unless this latter is reënforced by other tendencies of a more intrinsic potency.

And it very possibly is so reënforced. For tobacco, like long trousers, figures in the paraphernalia of adults, and 'to act grown-up' is a very common boyish wish, or mode of behavior. This wish is one component of a large complex of interrelated responsive settings, the ' ego complex,' or,

(116) as Shand, McDougall, and Prince prefer to say, the ' self-regarding sentiment.' It is apt to have such variant forms and associates as the wish to be independent, ' to do as I like' (of which the exaggerated form is the general wish to disobey), to go with big boys, to be a sea-captain, cowboy, or pirate. Now these, which with their like are all that lend charm to tobacco as an implement of boyhood, are all the clear outgrowths of the still earlier wish to ' run away' from home, so often seen in children of ten and less. This in turn is no innate tendency and must derive its impetus from somewhere. It does, and from just such sources as that which I first mentioned—an injudicious mother (or father) undertaking to be a fence between the child and its little bauble of flame. The cautious reaction was then secured toward flame-plus-mother; but the innate tendency to reach out toward flame (which in turn gets its energy from the flame stimulus direct) was not modified, as it would have been if the mother had trusted the simple truth that flame is hot. She wished to teach the child to avoid flame; what she did teach it was to avoid her (as being the impediment, which the flame itself ought to have been, to its innate tendency). This

(117) and similar misdirections on the parents' part soon produce a child that toddles off down the street in the aim of running away from home, and that later, in the desire to act grown-up and independent, assembles a gang of street gamins behind the barn to smoke cigarettes and gulp down poison from a whisky-bottle. For these children have been taught that fire does not burn. But all this must not be, and so the father finds himself ' forced' to get a rawhide whip ; with which he adds fear to the already existing tendencies which make the child wish to act and to be 'grown-up ' and forever away from parental restraints. When such motor settings are once established in a child, almost every object in the environment tends to stimulate them to action; and so the nervous paths of disobedience are amply energized. Tobacco is notably such an object.

All this is to say that in our boy whose parents have all along trusted the truth, the second step of which I spoke will be very simple, because the tendency or ' temptation' to the precocious use of tobacco (to be prematurely grown-up) was in this boy not fed from any considerable or regular source of energy. I believe that this is true. At

( 118) least I have seen it to be true in several cases ; that is to say, in one hundred per cent. of the fearlessly honest parents whom I have been able to discover. In these cases the children, so far from wishing to anticipate their departure from the parental roof, have evinced a wistful though unvoiced regret when the time for this came. It appears that where honesty prevails in the home, kindness, too, can be trusted to make her fixed abode. Nor have the children wished to dabble with tobacco. The case just considered illustrates the way in which, as Freud so emphatically declares, the difficulties of later life derive from suppressions and dissociations established in earliest childhood.

This second step, the resolution of a dilemma between courses of action, is not always so simple, and I wish to pass at once to a typical instance, which reveals, I believe, at one stroke how the will, the intellect, and the moral sense develop ; the very pattern of the articulate integration of the soul.[3]

A young woman goes from a rural and pious home to a great city, there to earn her living. She

( 119) makes the acquaintance of other young wage-earners, differently reared, who participate eagerly and thoughtlessly in the light-hearted amusements of the town. They go often to the theater. Our young woman has been taught at home that the theater is a place of all abominations, and from the conversation of her new acquaintances she judges that to some extent at least the parental opinion is well-founded. Shall she now adopt the practice of going to the theater? This is a legitimate and serious dilemma, because sound and insistent wishes make both for going and for not going. On the one hand are the proper curiosity of youth to see life, the love of companionship and gayety, the need for relaxation ; on the other hand are the precepts of loving and trusted parents and of their religion, a sound prejudice against unbridled frivolity, and a normal shrinking from the moral contamination which the young woman sees is at work in her wage-earning friends.

We are fairly familiar with three ways in which persons behave when they meet such a dilemma. One way is to resist the present 'temptations,' which means to suppress the wish for companionship and

( 120) pleasure, to renounce the 'tree of knowledge'; eventually to drift away from social connections, and into a warped, acidulous, and (as Freud finds) nervously diseased spinsterhood. A second way is to 'forget' (i.e., to suppress) the righteous precepts learned at home, to indulge unthinkingly in every ' pleasure' offered, to become the butterfly and the riotous pleasure-lover; which means eventually to drop into any and every form of abandonment, and to die a drunken prostitute. I state extreme cases; that is, cases in which the suppression persists. For as long as the suppression is there, the person is bound to move in the direction indicated. These two ways are equivalent in point of badness. In both cases the suppressed wishes inevitably burst forth in furtive side-channels of conduct. The ascetic ' hates ' the " evils of this wicked world," despises and rankles over the frailties of his fellow-men, is seized by spasmodic impulses to kick over the traces himself, and is steadily obsessed by licentious thoughts. The abandoned pleasure-lover, similarly, has fits of ' remorse' and the haunting prick of ' conscience,' becomes maudlin and weepy at mention of 'home and mother,' asseverates with suspicious vehemence

(121) his having " always tried to do right," and calls for drink to allay his mental agony. When drunkest he babbles o' green fields, and blubbers, " See that my grave's kept green."

A third way is no better. It is the way of those who undertake to follow both of two conflicting courses ; in the present instance, to observe both the church-going traditions of home and the morally relaxed habits of town. A person in this frame of mind will sometimes go to his clerical adviser with the proposal—" I'll go to all the services, take an active part in church work on Sunday, and contribute money, if you will agree that through the week I shall do anything I like." This is, of course, the path of 'compromise' in the most reprehensible sense of the word, and the direct route to all the vilest forms of hypocrisy. A progressive dissociation of the character is established, and the person becomes two persons, one pious and one pleasure-loving; an enigmatical character is produced, given to the most contradictory courses, restless, self—impeded, and at every point of social contact undependable. The case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an extreme but not an overdrawn instance. This third way of meeting a dilemma

(122) resembles the other two in that dissociation takes place, and differs only in that neither branch of the character gains any considerable ascendency over the other. In the first two cases there is steady suppression of one set of tendencies, and a steady escape of these through furtive by—paths of thought and action ; while in the third, each set of tendencies suffers alternate suppression. In none of the three cases is the victim able to do any one thing with his whole heart ; a part of his strength has always to be spent in suppressing dissociated and antagonistic tendencies.

But there is a fourth way of meeting a dilemma, a way that involves integration and not dissociation nor yet suppression. Oddly enough it is not distinguished by superficial observers from the third way. It consists in a free play of both the involved sets of tendencies, whereby they meet each other, and a line of conduct emerges which is dictated by both sets of motives together, and which embodies all that was not downright antagonistic in the two. This sounds like compromise, whereas its mechanism is utterly different. And it were best called reconciliation or resolution. We return to our illustration of the young woman coming from

( 123) a pious home to a great city. She is invited by a young man to go to a play. We have seen how in the interest of home piety she may suppress her natural curiosity and love of friends, and say " No "; or how in the latter interest she may suppress the home instructions, and say, " Yes." In either case only half of her has acted while the other half has been suppressed; and only half of her is active in going to the theater or, in the other case, participates in staying away. Suppose, however, that in this young woman her knowledge of the theater is not split into the two dissociated complexes of the deliciously pleasurable and the abhorrently wicked. She can view her invitation to the theater without either fascination or fear. Her knowledge, both direct and hearsay, as it accumulates, integrates around the central theme ' theater'; and her reactions toward this, the various appeals which this makes, meet one another, so that the theater's attractive and repulsive aspects, not being dissociated, work on one another directly, and this balanced interplay works itself out in a discriminating line of conduct. It is precisely like the case of fire which both pleases and yet burns the baby ; who, if not artificially deterred, learns to

(124) handle fire discriminatingly. The young woman learns to avail herself of whatever is good in the theater and to avoid what is bad. The sanction is, here as before, the easily perceivable fact that the theater is partly good and partly bad. To the young man she probably replies, " I shall be delighted to go to the theater with you, but from what I read and hear I doubt if the play you mention would be altogether interesting to us. Shall we not choose another? " Now, this is not compromise ; it is discrimination. It gives full play to all the individual's tendencies, and these are invariably to avoid evil, save when dissociation and its concomitant suppression have interfered with clear perception. Here nothing has been suppressed, and as the young woman follows out this line of action, her whole nature is actively participating. Her ' conscience,' too, is with her. And such a young woman will end neither as a careless butterfly nor as a grim ascetic. And it is to be noted that from this process of discrimination arises not merely sound moral choice in the individual, but sound moral development of the institution itself. The theater is not evolved into an instrument of civilization by either its undis—

( 125) —criminating devotees or its undiscriminating disparagers.

Here, as previously in the case of fire and of tobacco, we see that moral conduct is discriminating conduct; morality is wisdom. And as the will and the intellect are one, so they develop as one. We have seen that the element of conduct is a course of action toward the object or situation in the environment, and that such courses of action are embodied in motor attitudes of the individual toward the object or situation. Now since this Freudian point of view presents morals as nothing but the higher reaches of behavior, as in one continuous series, indeed, with natural history at large, it behooves us to inquire why and how suppression ever, rather than discrimination, comes to take place, and why suppression and dissociation are opposite to discrimination. Let us here consider the motor attitude of the average person toward mushrooms that he finds when out walking. I meet in a field near the edge of woods some clusters of low, small, light—brown mushrooms. These look like the edible Agaricus campestris, and I am inclined to eat some of them. But I have read that the very poisonous Agaricus phalloides in some of

(126) its seven varieties strongly resembles the campestris, and I have never learned the visible marks by which the two are to be distinguished. Therefore I am also inclined not to eat them. Here, then, 'I am in front of one object which stimulates in me two antagonistic courses of action—to sit down and eat, and to walk on, taking care not even to handle. I cannot do both, for they are opposed. And they are therefore dissociated, for it is probable that opposition is the one invariable source of dissociation. Whichever course of action I follow, the other is suppressed. But this latter gives evidences of itself, for if I walk on I find myself doing so lingeringly and casting my eyes back from time to time and wondering if these really are the poisonous ones ; or if I sit down to eat some of them, I find myself only nibbling, every now and then rejecting a mouthful, and feeling a distinct tonus in my leg muscles urging me to be up and off. This is like the exquisitely logical position of one who, in throes of uncertainty whether to commit suicide, gulps down a tiny swallow of the poison. In short, my behavior toward mushrooms is thoroughly equivocal; one and the same visual stimulus excites in me two antagonistic responses,

(127) and I act as if [4] the mushrooms were both poisonous and not poisonous ; that is, if I walk on, I am visibly impeded in doing so, and if I partake I cannot do so freely. This issue here involved would hardly be called a moral one, and yet the predicate ‘wrong' would very naturally be applied to such an ambiguous attitude as the one described. We have so far one object responded to, two modes of response, their antagonism or dissociation, their interference and the partial suppression of each by the other.

But now let someone explain to me the visible marks of difference between the Agaricus phalloides and the campestris. At once my conduct is changed. Now on espying a cluster of light-brown mushrooms, I go directly up until I can see whether they are the campestris or the phalloides. And if they are the former, I sit down without compunction and eat my fill; if the latter, I resume my walk quite as if they did not exist. This is discrimination. The stimulus that formerly excited

( 128) two dissociated modes of response is now differentiated into two stimuli, each of which excites one of these modes. There is now no suppression because the other mode of response is not in the least degree stimulated. My conduct toward either mushroom is now integral; that is, the mechanism within me has taken one more step toward ' integration.' The dissociation of the two modes exists as before, but it is now harmless because the two will never again be excited by the one stimulus. In other words, it is not dissociated paths, but the simultaneous excitation of dissociated (i.e., antagonistic) paths by one stimulus that is harmful.

This makes clear, I trust, the relation between suppression, dissociation, and discrimination. My contention is that every moral failure and every moral triumph is precisely analogous to this case of the mushrooms. And we can now see how and why suppressions occur in this world of ours. It is through lack of knowledge. Our first contact with objects presents us with anomalies, contradictions, perplexities. Until further experience teaches us to discriminate further particulars within these objects, we shall be in some degree the victims of suppression, and our conduct will be to the same

( 129) extent equivocal, immoral. A person who knows the theater only as ' the theater,' without internal distinction or nuance, observes that the most patternable persons support the institution without detriment to themselves, and on the other hand that the very dregs of society also go to ' the theater' and come away as from a bath in mud. For such a person, then, 'the theater' is good and it is bad; or it may present itself as ' delightful and yet sinful,' which is equally a flat contradiction in terms. And we have already considered the four possible ways of meeting the quandary—to go or not to go? Three of those ways showed suppression instead of discrimination, and they were bad. The fourth way was good because in it discrimination did away with suppression and produced coherent, integrated conduct. And lastly, if ill conduct arises through ignorance, the prevalence of such conduct is no mystery. In the bewildering turmoil which we witness where the sentiments and aims of individuals, of nations, and of races conflict with one another, we find an inexhaustible variety of contradictory appearances. These give rise to innumerable shortsighted and contradictory opinions both in the individual and in the collective mind.

(130) And when these become crystallized in social convention, in the tenets and admonitions of the church, or in legislative enactments of the state, they constitute a bar to the progress of discrimination, an official ban (like primitive tabu) making for suppression. Thus it comes to pass that church and state often play in the adult's experience the rôle of shortsighted and injudicious parents. And these institutions, like the parent, find it advantageous to allege a moral sanction ‘from above' which authorizes them to impose their will on society. A little insight into the actual workings of church and state shows how easily this allegation, untrue in the first instance, turns into an impudent piece of cajolery. It is truth and the ever-progressive discrimination of truth which alone conduce to moral conduct.

When all is said and done, the actual life of the will does consist of one long series of dilemmas, decisions to be made between two (or more) alternative courses of action : and the moral life consists in settling these issues 'rightly.' But then, we ask, what is 'right'? The answer indicated by the doctrine of the wish is simple and directly applicable in practice. Right is that conduct, at-

(131) -tained through discrimination of the facts, which fulfils all of a man's wishes at once, suppressing none. The moral sanction is fact. The dilemma is always presented really to the intellect and the will together; which latter are in the last analysis one and inseparable. It is mental doubt as well as volitional indecision. It is not more the question, Shall I, or shall I not, eat this mushroom? than it is the question, Is this mushroom the edible or the poisonous one? And the moral failure is to act as if it were both edible and poisonous at once; which is just as clearly a confusion of the mind as it is of the will. The man who is secretly untrue to his friend is acting as if the latter at one time were, and at another time were not, his friend (this though the latter has not correspondingly altered) : and this is an inconstancy or confusion of mind as well as of conduct. He is trying to keep his friend as friend (i.e., as an ally for purposes of mutual support) and yet trying to exploit his friend as victim (i.e., to the latter's undoing) : and he is in the case of the fool who hopes to eat his pudding and yet to have it. Of course there are cute little arguments, propounded by Machiavelli and others, that the maximum advantage has to be

( 132) squeezed out of any enterprise by judiciously-timed infidelities, betrayals, and so forth and so on. And these all hinge on the fallacy of ends: for a certain desirable end' a man will do this 'in itself objectionable' deed. But then when the end is obtained he is grieved to discover that it turns out to be undesirable, and he finds that it is rendered undesirable because of the very deed by which he attained it. This has been through all the ages the dying plaint of unprincipled and ' successful' men. It is only a question, once more, of being wise and observant enough to foresee that the taint attaching to the means is going to linger on and infect the end. The doctrine of the wish shows us that life is not lived for ends. Life is a process; it is a game to be played on the checkerboard of facts. Its motion is forward ; yet its motive power comes not from in front (from 'ends') but from behind, from the wishes which are in ourselves. We shall play the game rightly if, instead of so painfully scrutinizing and trying to suppress our wishes, we turn about and lucidly discriminate the facts.

That is ethics 'from below.' The ethics ' from above' are a very different story. There Someone exhorts or obliges us to suppress our wishes, and

(133) if we observe Someone a bit carefully we shall all too often find that he generously busies himself with suppressing the facts. Ethics from above come indeed from above, from the man or the institution ' higher up.' And for this there is a very frail and human reason, which no one need go very far to discover. According to the ethics from below, the unassuming ethics of the dust, facts are the sole moral sanction: and facts impose the most inexorable moral penalties.


  1. " Zur sexuellen Aufklärung der Kinder," in " Sammlung kleiner Schriften zur Neurosenlehre," 2te Folge. Deuticke, Leipzig, 1909, S. 151.
  2. Such pious perjury as the following, for instance, will never do. In regard to the instruction of children in matters of sex, one may read in a recent book—" a full insight into the psychology of sex is highly dangerous. Surely the boy should know only part of the facts! Surely it is permissible to lead him to believe that all women are more or less as we would have them be in an ideal world, and to allow men to appear to him as rather better in these respects than they actually are! The tree of knowledge cannot be robbed of its dangers," etc. (William McDougall: " An Introduction to Social Psychology," 8th edition. Methuen, London, 1914, pp. 420-421.) And then we wonder why our little lambs do not graze guilelessly beneath this parental Tree of Deliberate Misinformation; why Bobbie consults street gamins on many matters rather than his father; and why Bobbie soon says to himself, " Surely it is permissible to lead father to believe that I am rather better than I actually am, in fact that I am just as he would have me be in an ideal world ! " Freud, at least, earnestly deplores such treachery in parents. A diet of untruth does not equip a child for the realities of life.
  3. The case of tobacco is not the one which I should like to call typical. Although not particularly apposite to my ultimate purpose, I chose it to illustrate a knotty and not uncommon special type of moral problem.
  4. This is not a bad instance of the 'as if' relation, a relation which deserves more analysis than it has received. The employment of 'as if' and 'qua' by philosophers gives the psychologist a certain clew as to the state of their cerebration.

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2