Emotion, Desire and Interest: Descriptive
Simon F. McLennan
Fellow University of Chicago
After all that has been written in regard to emotion it may seem superfluous for any one to take up the subject again. But inasmuch as one can still hear a rumbling in the distance and the different parties to the strife continue it in what one might call an exegesis of what they did mean in certain of their writings, it may be permitted to bring forward a few thoughts suggested partly by the controversy. The general descriptive outline to be attempted may not contain many things new —perhaps, as isolated statements, none. But it seems to the writer that these points may easily bear a good deal more looking into and may be carried into adjacent fields with the result that new light will be thrown upon the subject. Though cheerfully acknowledging the influence of all that has of late been written upon the matter in hand, it is but fair to state that the general conclusion in regard to emotion, although the same as that maintained by Professor Dewey, yet was worked out independently by the writer and in outline was formulated at the very beginning of the late strife. Of this, Professor Baldwin, to whom the outline was first communicated, can bear testimony. But leaving this aside, I hope that what is to be said may vindicate its own appearance as regards emotion and may throw some light upon the other topics.
The problem in hand is a description of the nature and inter-relation of emotion, desire and interest.
When one begins to ask himself what concrete emotional experiences mean a difficulty at once arises. Are we dealing with emotion, desire, or with a fact of interest? At first sight our way seems clear, but a closer inspection shows that our statement must shift about. An element of desire may be contained right in the centre of the concrete whole denomi-
( 463) -nated emotion, e.g., hate. At the same time it may equally well be termed, what it really is, a matter of interest. What, then, are we to make of it? Of course the old pigeon-hole theory has been put to rest, and we know that all mental states are interconnected and should expect that no one would be shut off from the others. But this free and easy way of settling the question will scarcely do, and we shall simply be passing over something which will help us clear up our ideas. Suppose, for instance, that we enquire into two facts, ever old, ever new, facts that have caused much laughter and much pain, but which, after all, show themselves to be fundamentally interesting. I refer to the well known examples of love and hatred. These have figured often enough in description and will serve for the present as well as any others. By this time the human race should be fairly familiar with these facts, and yet when we try to make clear to ourselves what they really mean we find it no easy matter. Is either an emotion, a desire, or is it interest?
They seem to be all three. All know how interesting' for those concerned these different feelings are. They lie at the very roots of the life and stir up the whole being. How-ever, instead of being regarded primarily as facts of interest they are customarily referred to the realm of emotion. But the moment we look more closely this will not do. They are just as truly desires as any facts could well be. To make this clearer let us try and analyze the experiences somewhat.
Take love first. Before the fountains are opened up there must be some primary interest. Those who do not attract our attention in some way call out no feeling. But again, many who interest us in this primary manner open up no fountains of affection. Let the interest, as is often said, be-come deeper, and before the parties know they are in Cupid's toils; there is a general upset, and often they seem to an outsider to be beside themselves. The general turmoil of feelings has been so often dwelt upon in poetry and in prose that I need do no more than simply mention it. We see plenty Romeos and Juliets round us yet who confirm the statement, and if any are doubtful a little consideration of present or past experience will give them some light. This stage of the ex-
( 464) -perience, while most interesting, is truly described as emotional. But this is not all. In his love the youth is not satisfied with being worked up, with having his brain in a whirl, with hearing the clap-clap of his unruly heart. As part of his love he desires to possess his idol. The absence of the fair one is misery to him; his whole self demands that he should obtain and love her for his own. Love would not be the tremendous engine that it is were it not for this. Even when the emotional element predominates the element of de-sire is seen really to enter into the experience. But as the inner conflict becomes harmonized and settles down into a definite outgo, the account shifts, the emotion as such ceases, and desire becomes the prominent thing.
We now pass to the third stage. When desire is realized, and the youth has attained his end, does the love then cease? When such cases come before us we feel at once that the genuine experience was not there; we feel that in the full experience that the possession but continues and strengthens the regard. Love, then, truly becomes itself, and, amid the storms and stress of life, shows that nature which fills us with wonder and reverence when we come in contact with a fair example of it. How deep and lasting is the love of a parent for a child, of a husband for the mate who has stood by him, and with him weathered the many storms in life's journey. Yet in neither of these cases do we find the strong upheaval of early days. Nor again is the present experience one of desire, for the object has long been obtained. It is neither of these forms, but it is still love, love which has , set' itself in the very citadel of life. We are brought back to interest once more, but this time not a passing interest, rather the deepest thing in life. Interest here is seen to be at the be-ginning, to underlie, and to be at the end of both emotion and desire. Out of it they arise and to it they return.
We shall next turn to the negative view. Here we shall notice the same inter-relation. Hatred arises out of a negative interest. It takes some little nagging, some little fooling about, some thwarting of purpose and treading on toes before our feelings are aroused,' as we say. When our temper is up and we hate the person, as we look at the matter from the
( 465) one side there is the same upsetting of ourselves. Our feelings storm and toss; they seem to overpower us, as swell after swell rushes on. But here, just as truly as in the case of love, we find a desire to harm or repulse the one who has injured us, bedded in the very nature of hate. As our inner life be-comes steadied, this comes quite prominently into view. The account moves over to the desire side, and the state becomes one almost entirely of wishing to get even with the offender. This truly is bad enough, but human nature has deeper depths still. The momentary desire to harm may settle down into a set line of opposition ingrained in our nature. Hatred has fully become itself, shown fully its inner nature. The rush and swirl are past and gone; there is no desire of getting even in any particular way, but a steady persistent outgo of opposition which knows no change. Such a hatred never lets up, and follows to the very grave. Here, too, we return to interest—a negative interest.
After this general description a closer analysis of these states will be of value. The relation of emotion and desire may first come up.
As we can easily see, both are organic wholes in which several aspects may be detected. Again they are dynamic things. No very great acquaintance with the nature of either is necessary to see this. The organic unity of emotions, especially as containing several aspects, has often been over-looked. In psychologies the feeling element has been made prominent. One is led to believe that it is the whole thing, and besides is simply an accompaniment of the thought process. Out of this it seems to me a great deal of the present confusion has arisen. Now let us take the concrete facts, and staying closely by them, see what they mean. Take which emotion or desire you will, and it is evident at once that it is not made up of parts set off from one another. These parts are aspects of one living whole. Further emotions and desires belong to the reactive consciousness. As distinguished from volition, they represent an involuntary reaction of our nature; as distinguished from impulse—a certain solidity or definiteness of outgo. Within this agreement as to unity, dynamic force and reflex nature we shall later on
( 466) call attention to an essential distinction between the two states. Here we note that our nature rises up without being bidden, and, more than this, it usually directs whatever bidding there may be. Whenever the stimulus is present these phenomena immediately show themselves as driving, pressing, impelling and moving. Often we strive voluntarily to hold them in check, and find trouble.
Turning to an analysis of the different aspects by each state, emotion comes first to hand.
In the nature of emotion there is inner strife and yet unity. Our nature as a whole arises in answer to some stimulus, but the answer is a conflicting one. There is a lack of equilibrium, our nature sways to and fro, seems rent asunder, but all the time seeks to come to harmony. Instinctive tendencies pull together and apart. The character of the emotion is determined by the general nature of the strife. Anger is most keenly felt when our tendency to thrash the other person is held in check by the suggestion that we are not quite equal to the task, and had better not start in. When we are badly frightened the tendency to run, and even the running itself, is inhibited by weak knee reaction, due to the thought of danger. Every time the thought of this comes with a pulse upon us we seem stopped up. Emotion would thus show itself to be an instinctive ' preparing' for action—in which there is lack of harmony or coördination. As regards the moments of emotion, we have (1) a content. That every emotion has an intellectual element is quite easily seen by examining any of the concrete states known by this name. We see it in hate, anger, joy, dread, and all the rest, readily distinguishing them from one another. We may say, indeed, that the emotion terminates upon some external aspect, and may think that it is simply an accompaniment. This may be all very true, but it is just as true that in the emotion, as part of it, there is a content or object—this very situation as it is for us as interpreted. In hatred as an experience there is the idea of ourselves injured, and of the offender as reckoned with. Take all the emotions in succession and the same thing is found.
The question here becomes interesting as to how this content arises. Is the object. (our interpretation) there immediately or is it built up? Consciousness soon makes this clear. The object is built up dynamically by our reaction ; we receive a stimulation, a suggestion ; and our progressive interpretation, our grasping of the meaning makes the situation what it is to us, as expressed in intellectual terms. Not until the interpretation is complete, till we see what the thing means is the emotion what it is for us. The emotion, as a whole, and in its aspect of content varies just as the interpretation. An act may arouse very angry feelings at the time, but seen in another light may cause joy. The joy and anger are what they are, as our way of looking at the matter is, as we perceive that the situation will or will not fit in with our life and is for our weal or woe.
(2) An Attitude. The content represented our intellectual valuing of the stimulus. Every stage of this valuing has another side which plays its part, and at every turn hands in its result for the construction of the situation for us. As we look closely at any emotional state we see that immediately, instinctively, we take up an attitude toward or against the stimulus as we make it out to be. At the suggestion of harm we are up in arms at once. When some one tramps on our toes we feel like hitting him, i. e., we have an attitude toward him. The moment, however, that we notice that it was accidental, and apology is made, our attitude sweeps round and we say that it is all right. This shows that the attitude, too, is a relative thing, varying according to the suggestion. As we study our own states it is quite wonderful to notice how our attitudes sweep about. A word, a little incident, may be sufficient to give the whole experience a different coloring. As to the character of the attitude, it is determined by the nature of the person. This shows at once. Take for example the case of grief. One person is literally crushed, and cannot stand the strain, another may explode in angry denunciation; a third, while ' cut to the quick,' as we say, takes up his burden and plods along his weary way. In fact, here all manner of natures are shown. There are those whose emotions seem like
( 468) the foam on the sea: they are all a-bubbling and a-gushing, but there is no stability, and we turn away weary. We feel that there is weakness, a lack of determination, strength, force of character. Other natures may be slow to arouse, but are firm and steady. When the emotions of such are aroused we are conscious that there is some meaning to them. If they are opposed to us we at once begin to gird ourselves for the fray. We respect if we do not love. This strength and solidity of the emotion often goes together with a keenness and fineness of reaction—complexity and stability build themselves together. Now this instinctive reaction, of what-ever character it may be, dynamically and progressively builds up as the interpretation of the situation goes on. It, too, reacts upon the suggestion and modifies it, The valuation becomes what it is as much from our attitude as from anything else. It becomes what we instinctively feel we can make of it. To one person the situation is one to be avoided; to another to be entered into as he finds he cannot or can make something of it.
Here, also, we find two great lines of cleavage—one an innate tendency to absorb the new situation, to make it part of our life; the other to avoid it, throw it off, or keep it from us altogether. These two attitudes show themselves as attraction and repulsion. In our love we naturally ' go' to persons; in our hatred we seek to keep them away or to get rid of them altogether. Whatever seems good to us and fits in with our own life we go toward; from whatever seems evil or will harm us we turn away.
(3) Beside the intellectual and attitude aspects there is something else to be considered, viz., the swell or drive of feeling. This we are all clearly conscious of. It seems as if our whole nature were boiling up, or as if a cold, frigid hand had laid its icy grip upon us. This swell or drive of feeling influences us in two distinct lines, as the others do, and con-tributes its share in a very material way to the experience in whole and in part. It seems a direct and immediate organic answer to the stimulus as it is being interpreted. When we think that some injury has been done us, and we resent it, our very blood appears to boil up within us, and
( 469) the more we think of it the worse it becomes. Every new feature stirs us up more, and our feelings are like oil added to the fire. Our whole nature flames up and becomes colored with the burning. Our attitude becomes more definite and the intellectual valuation more clearly set forth. As wave after wave of tumultuous feeling comes rolling in upon us our hands clench harder and our injury seems greater. The emotion as a whole is filled in.
This carries us to (4) the color tone. We have noted that emotion was a state in which we were in unstable equilibrium, various tendencies were at war with one another, and gave the qualitative determination to the state. In all the three aspects which we found within this dynamic whole two great lines of cleavage show up. In the intellectual side there was the suggestion of weal or woe; as to attitude, an impulse toward or away from, for or against; on the side of feeling, elevation or depression, expansion or contraction of life. When we turn to the pleasure and pain coloring the same appears. Pleasure attaches to those states in which we find an idea of good, an attitude toward, a feeling of expansion, while pain attaches to the opposite. These various states fluctuate a great deal, and emotions may rapidly alternate or mix up. But if we watch closely we can easily see that as the - cue' of the emotion is so is the tone.
Enough has been said to place before us the nature of emotion. The next thing to call attention to is its transformation. When emotion has been aroused in any individual we always notice that attention is called out. We endeavor to harmonize the conflicting elements, so that in unrestrained action they may pour forth. A deliberative state of affairs is at once brought on. When this is ended, and harmony has come, when we know what we are going to do, the state passes over into volition. Now, if the action is one which we may immediately carry out, the subjective determination is made objective by gripping on, by our fulfilling the conditions upon which our past experience has shown that the expression depends, or in searching for new combinations whereby expression may be brought about. But if we cannot immediately put our determination into effect the volition becomes
( 470) a harmonized way in which we are prepared to react on stimulation. As such it passes over into desire. Emotions then tend to pass into harmonized immediate action or volition, and into desire as instinctive , preparedness' for action. We must note, however, that this preparedness does not set' immediately, and any new suggestion may bring about the old turmoil. Perhaps, after the strain of some severe conflict, in which our inner life seems torn to pieces, we arrive at some conclusion. We seem to be settled down, and suppose that our nature will at once answer in a steady outgo. How often we are deceived. A new point of view will start up the whole turmoil again. Until desire is - set' it may pass back into emotion, and we find a continual vibration between the two.
It is now time for us to pass from the consideration of emotion to that of desire. Many things which have been said .above have already given the outlines of what must now be set forth in fuller form.
Desire, like emotion, is a dynamic whole. Our nature in strong, definite lines goes surging and charging forth. Here,, too, we have a good example of reflex activity. Upon the presence of a stimulus there is an immediate outgo of ourselves—a pressing, driving outward, often in such tumultuous fashion, indeed, that it seems impossible to hold the reins over the steeds in their wild career. In emotion we found inhibition. Here, too, it is found, but not in the same place. In emotion there was inhibition within the state itself: There was simply a preparing for action. In desire there is no lack of harmony within the experience. Our nature pours forth in harmonized, though often tumultuous swell. The inhibition is to the reaction seeking to express itself. We instinctively know what we want to do—our nature pours out to this, but there is some stoppage, some hindrance, and we feel pent up, our reaction cannot discharge itself. The stronger the inhibition the stronger our desire waxes, swelling and pressing forward until a limit of impossibility is reached and the whole is violently crushed. To take a simple case. When we are far from home, and the thought of those there, is borne, in with. force upon us, our nature reacts and we
( 471) go forth to them. But something stops us. At such moments our longing grows stronger, and we can scarcely contain ourselves. These facts show us the essential distinction. and relation of desire and emotion. In the latter the inhibition is markedly within, there is simply a preparing for. definite reaction; in the former the preparing has passed into preparedness, but to the preparedness there is some outer inhibition which prevents discharge.
Following along the lines marked out in emotion, we shall pass on to an analysis of desire.
(I) In desire, as in emotion, there is a content object. In this case, as in the other, the content is dynamically built up by our reaction upon some stimulus, and represents our intellectual valuation or interpretation of the situation. This situation, as interpreted by us, is what we want, and our. interpretation viewed from the intellectual side is the object as it is for us. Here, too, the old law of relativity reigns. What is desirable to one person is not desirable to another. There are great variations. In fact, here, as in emotion, we see the expression of the inner character or nature of each individual. To one material things alone have value and are desirable; to another the great centre of life may be in the realm of art. In presence of these the soul rises up in all its power and seems striving to burst the limits imposed upon it. Here, also, we find two great lines of cleavage. Those things which appear to fit into the life of the individual, as expanding or enlarging, become goods to be sought. On the other hand, things which have a sinister import, which would cause contraction or suppression of our life, in whole or in part, become aspects of aversion—we loathe them.
(2) Looking inward again, we find an attitude as in emotion. But as we have seen, it is an attitude harmonious in itself, so that the various elements fall together in one outgoing stream. Reflexly we pour out toward or against the situation. Those things which have become objects of desire we are immediately impelled toward. In aversion we cannot help but be conscious of repelling the object—it has become one to be got out of the way, and at once we seek to relieve .ourselves of
( 472) its presence. Here again the two great lines of discharge are seen and it is also to be noted that, as in emotion, our immediate attitude toward an object goes to make it what it is for us. Without using more detail we shall pass to the third element.
(3) We shall term this, as the same aspect in emotion has been termed, the , feel.' In desire, as notably as in emotion, our inner springs are opened up and pour forth in tumultuous fashion. The more the reaction is hindered and we are shut off from some object dear to us, or something hateful is forced upon us, the more our nature surges and boils until it sometimes seems as if all barriers would be burst and we could contain ourselves no longer. Also, as this storm of feeling boils up and rolls in upon us, the intellectual valuation is enhanced, the more powerful becomes the strain upon our reaction. The desire as a whole is increased and rapidly passes on to its climax.
We now turn to (4) the color-tone of desire. As connected with the striving or straining this is always painful, but as regards the suggestion of satisfaction in the object and the impulse thereto it is pleasurable. Pleasure attaches to the prospective side and pain to the present. On the prospective side pleasure attaches to that which fits in with the life, sustaining and expanding it, and also to the suggested state of freed life when the contracting or damaging object of aversion is removed. Summing up these, we may say here as elsewhere that pleasure as color-tone indicates that which ideally or organically makes or appears to make for the expansion of life, while pain attaches to that which appears to contract or destroy our life in any department.
In emotion it was noted that the upheaval called forth active attention. So here we find that the craving of desire or the impulsion of aversion calls out our attention strongly, so that slowly or rapidly we seek to know what to do. This state is often one quite perturbed but nevertheless in its nature it is one of deliberation. When our minds are made up and we determine to act, the desire passes over into volition in which for the time being our keenest interest is centred. As our whole self, reflex and active, is engaged or
( 473) absorbed in the gaining of our end, the state is pre-eminently one of interest. True, in so far as one cannot attain one's end at once, desire remains and crops out in full force whenever our attention reverts to it particularly; but in so far as we are bound up in our action, interest is at its maximum. Where this is so, even when our action is directed to the overcoming of some hateful thing, we find the keenest pleasure. When our action is paralyzed and nothing can be done the color-tone becomes painful in the extreme. Free unimpeded action is interesting and pleasurable—impeded action or lack of it is painful and disinteresting.
Something farther is to be said. If our action is directed simply to one end it soon becomes monotonous. On the other hand the more we exercise in regard to anything the more interesting it becomes. Some line of action which perhaps was not very interesting at first but which has become set in our lives, connected and bound up with all that makes life worthful to us, shows itself to be a matter of deepest interest. The momentary interests pass over into the deep life interests, and, as such, constitute those things upon which we habitually react.
In gathering up what has been said we notice that those things which in any way come within the realm of our well-being, become matters of interest to us positively or negatively. Momentary interests, if continually reacted upon, pass gradually out of the immediate focus of the attention and become set in our nature. As they become set they become most interesting. When some new element of experience appears and it cannot be immediately assimilated but sets up different modes of reaction not yet harmonized within themselves, we have emotion. When the reaction immediately arises and is harmonized within itself but is inhibited in discharging, we have desire. These when attended to pass over into the immediate interest of action and although for a time vibrating from one to another, emotion tends to pass over into desire, which is interest inhibited. When inhibition is removed and the set reaction pours forth and calls out the active attention we have deepest interest.
Fundamental to all as the beginning and end we have. interest immediate, or life. Also the two great courses of cleavage are seen to lie along the lines which make for the contraction or expansion of life. Wherever there is contraction of life the color-tone is pain ; where expansion, pleasure.