Classics in the History of Psychology

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Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario
ISSN 1492-3173

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The Ethics of Freedom
Notes Selected, Translated, and Arranged by His Pupil James Gibson Hume

George Paxton Young (1911)
First published in Toronto: University Press

Posted October 2001





1. Resolution  "A phase of our voluntary actions." Bain 417ˇ To resolve is to will to act in a certain manner.

2. What is the phase of our voluntary actions which the term "Resolution" properly expresses? In is an act of volition having reference to something to be done hereafter.  I resolve, e.g., to go to Hamilton to-morrow.

3.ˇLook at it more particularly. Usually there has been a preceding process of deliberation longer or shorter.  The deliberative process has now come to an end, and the self-consciousness subject thinks that the most desirable thing will be to take some definite course of action, not immediately indeed but at a future time.  I resolve to amend my life next year.  Thus resolution, in the proper sense of the term, looks to the future.

4.ˇOf course you might say that a man may resolve to turn a new leaf at once. In that case I think the more proper way of expressing the fact would be to say that he turns the new leaf.  He might turn it now -- or -- he might resolve. This seems the true import of the word "resolve" he might resolve to turn it next year. [p. 37]





1. He calls resolution "A phase of voluntary actions" Correct.

2. He recognizes resolution as ensuing on a previous state of deliberation.  (Correct).  "A preliminary volition."

3. So far I am at one with Dr. Bain.  At the next step of his exposition, he and I part company.  When resolution ensues on a previous state of deliberation, what, according to Dr. Bain takes. place?  During deliberation, contending pleasures and pains were engaged in a tug of war, Buffalo vs. Toronto, but as yet Buffalo has not dragged Toronto over the line. Here existed, to use Dr. Bain's own language "A precisely adjusted equivalence of motive forces."  But now -- ah! Buffalo wins, Toronto is dragged over the line, the man resolves -- to take some definite step, say, to-morrow.  He does this by what Dr. Bain felicitously calls a "preliminary volition."  Yes, the resolution is a volition preliminary to some others.  But -- when we are told that this preliminary volition is nothing else than the success of one set of motive forces; one set of pleasures and pains; over something entering in a tug of war, I, of course reject the doctrine in tote.  The doctrine is indeed so opposed to what appears to be evident truth, that I am almost afraid you will think that I am burlesquing Dr. Bain's doctrine. I can [p. 38] only implore you to read Dr. Bain's exposition fir yourselves.

What might be called "permanent resolution," p. 418.

In order that a resolution may be "permanent" it must have some permanent ground or cause, p. 419.  "It is impossible that a volition requiring protracted labor can be sustained by the prompting of a temporary cause."

In regard to matters of duty, there is nothing more fatal than the habit or resolving to do tomorrow or at some future time what as thought should be done now.  I resolve that I will begin to lead a good course of life, after I have had some enjoyment of the world.  Hell is paved with good resolutions of this kind "Resolves and Re-Resolves and does the same.




1.ˇ A voluntary act.  Of what nature precisely?

2. Certain ends are before the mind's view.

The rational subject is unable at the moment to come to a decision as to which is the most desirable.

Therefore he does not make any one of them the object of his preference.  This however is putting the case only negatively.  He does not make any one of them the object of his preference. But this does not imply an absence of volition, on the contrary, he voluntarily chooses to consider [p. 39] the matter more fully before deciding which of the ends in question he will elect, or whether he should elect any one of them.




1. "A voluntary act--under a concurrence or complication of motive forces." p. 408ˇ

2. The motive forces are pleasures and pains (Theory will be more fully stated (note 2)[sic].

Note-- "A pleasure may be opposed to a pain with such a precisely adjusted equivalence, that we remain at rest," p. 408.

3. But this is the most essential point in the theory.  How comes it that we remain at rest? This is the result of the thought of the evil consequences that may ensue on too hastily deciding in a particular manner.  Such a thought is a new impulse; which operates in the way of restraining the impulses that tend to induce immediate action, some in one direction, others in an opposite direction.

4. That the mental attitude here described is really of the nature of volition will be apparent. Dr. Bain points out that volition is action controlled by feelings: the thought of the undesirableness of too hastily taking either this course or that is a feeling,------ a painful feeling tending to restrain action, just as the idea of the pain that would be suffered by putting your finger in the flame of a candle restrains you from doing that foolish and hurtful act. [p. 40]

"Knowing all this," from our own experience, "we come to see that it is dangerous to carry into effect the result of the first combat of opposing forces; and this apprehension of evil consequences is a stimulant of the will like any other pain." p. 408.



This theory of deliberation is exactly what we would expect from a writer holding Dr. Bain's general views on the will.  I make the following remarks on it.

1. Dr. Bain's statement assumes that pleasures and pains are the only motives by which a rational being can be influenced.  I do not accept this. "Two great classes of stimulants," p. 411.

2. A more important point, as regards the subject in hand, is, that the state of deliberation is supposed to arise from a concurrence of motive forces so equally balanced that one is not strong enough to carry the day against the others. Dr. Bain's words are "A pleasure may be opposed to a pain with such a precisely adjusted equivalence that we remain at rest," p. 408ˇ  This is most misleading.  Motives [identified with pleasant and painful states of feeling] are represented as forces drawing the man to the choice of this or the choice of that, forces operating apart from the acts of choice,-------- and tending to determine it without any action on the part of the self-conscious subject -- without any action in any sense of the (word) except the [p. 41] organic action in which feeling may issue.  I reject this doctrine.  No motive, properly so ˇcalled, exists, except as implicated in the volition to which it is a motive.  To represent volition as the result of a tug of war between pleasures and pains, the former dragging the arm up, the latter dragging it down, is simply to misrepresent volition.

3. The force of this objection to Dr. Bain's theory of deliberation is not removed by what he says about the thought of the evil consequences of too hastily yielding to a particular impulse. This thought he tells us, is a stimulant to the will like any other pain, and it is the stimulant which in the case of deliberation carries the day.  But the thought of the evil consequences of too hastily deciding is not a stimulant to the will like any other pain. It is not a pain. It is not a feeling at all.  It is a thought essentially -- assume it as Dr. Bain would say, "to carry the day," -- a volition.

While I thus reject Dr. Bain's theory of deliberation, his exposition contains very excellent remarks, which both for your own sakes and with a view to your examinations you would do well to consider.  Let me notice two points.

A. The first is what he says about the danger of carrying deliberation too far.  "The evil of a too quick decision being only a probable and imagined evil, there is room," (here is the kernel to the sentence) "for the perturbation [p. 42] of terror with its exaggerated influence upon the thoughts, and through them, upon the will, and the postponement of action may be carried to an absurd length.  It is one of the properties of a well-trained intellect, to make at once a decisive estimate of time and thought to be allowed for the influx of consideration on both sides of the case; and at the end of such reasonable time and thought, to give way to the side that then appears the stronger," p. 409ˇ  This is admirable, only it is impossible to avoid observing that the self-conscious subject, who alone can properly "give way" to the side which appears ("to him") the stronger, is completely ignored.

B. The second point to which I referred is the advantage incidental to deliberation, namely that "by keeping a conflict suspended new motives may successfully come into view," p. 411. Of course we have here the theory that runs through Dr. Bain's entire exposition, of deliberation being simply "A conflict of motive forces." But making allowance for that, the point brought forward is an important one.  It is of great consequence to note,  the tendency to which ordinary minds are (prone), of allowing the last solicitation that reaches the mind, a weight to which it is (relatively) not entitled. (Read Dr. Bain.)

Dr. Bain describes in this connection Franklin's "moral algebra," p. 413, suggesting [p. 43] an improvement of it. The so-called Moral Algebra of Mr. Franklin-and Dr. Rain's improvement of Franklin's (method) are alike, in my opinion, useless.  You can read and judge for yourselves.




1. What? The exercise of will by which the thoughts are directed towards a particular object.

The will, can control the thoughts. We shall afterwards ask: how?

2. Experiential theory.   Mill's Analysis of the Human Mind, Vol. II, p. 362.

To what do we attend? Sensations and ideas, p. 363ˇ

Sensations A. "The pleasurable or painful sensation ... engrosses the mind."

"But this really means no more than that it a pleasurable or painful sensation," p. 363ˇ

-- "Engrossing the mind," -- equals "Attention," p. 363ˇ

Attention -- and -- having a pleasant or painful sensation are not really distinguishable, p. 364.

"A". Attending to indifferent sensations; (Indifferent -- "not an object of attention on its own account," p. 367.  Object of attention? -- This can only mean not pleasant or painful.)

-- It may be rendered interesting through association, (i.e., "As the cause or sign of an interesting sensation, p. 367.) [p. 44]

-- "The having a sensation rendered interesting by association" and " the attending to it" cannot be regarded as two different things, p. 367.

"B". Ideas, like sensations, interesting or not interesting.

(a) An indifferent idea not an object of attention.

(b) "Attention is but another name for the interesting character of the idea," p. 368.

(c) "An indifferent idea may become interesting through association," p. 3691 i.e., what is uninteresting becomes associated with what is interesting.  The whole compound is interesting, p.369. Conclusion. Attending to an interesting idea is merely having it.

Objections: I will to retain the idea.  This is not merely having the idea. It is an action of the self-conscious subject with reference to the idea supposed to be already in the mind.

Calderwood's Account of the manner in which through attention, an impulse gains strengthˇ, so as, at its maximum to determine action (which it can only do by determining volition.)

Even if it be conceded that previous volitions of (mine) have contributed to make the impulse what it is, yet, if the impulse being what it is determine my volition, as an antecedent necessarily causing an effect, the will cannot with any propriety be said to be self-determined. It is, on the theory in question, which is Dr. Calderwood's, determined by something foreign to itself: [p. 45] Something which by its previous acts, the Will contributed to bring about; still, by something which is foreign to itself.  It is therefore not self-determined,




1. What is called "The sense of effort" is regarded by some writers as implying that we are conscious of a causal connection between our volitions and the organic effect produced in overcoming obstacle.

2. Hume, Hamilton  and  others have conclusively shown that there can be no such consciousness.

3. What the phrase "Sense of effort" properly denotes is a certain state of feeling, partly feeling of resistance, (partly) feeling of expended energy.

4. Dr. Bain identifies the sense of effort with the feeling of expended energy, which is equivalent to a feeling of greater or less, exhaustion. There appears to be no reason for neglecting to take into account the feeling of resistance which we experience as the obstacle is being gradually overcome.

5. If the sense of effort be described as a certain sort of feeling this must not be so taken as to ignore the action of the self-conscious subject in the putting forth of the effort.

6. I am said to put forth an effort when I exercise the volition necessary to overcome an obstacle, and as a result of this experience a [p. 46] feeling of resistance as the obstacle is being overcome, and along with this a feeling of expended energy due to the effect which I have produced.

7. In Dr. Bain's exposition, the will as an action of the self-conscious subject is entirely neglected.  This is in accordance with the principles of his philosophy, but the error is a very serious one.




The subject of desire will be fully considered afterwards in the lectures on Green.  At present the following brief notes may suffice.

1. The word "Desire" is ambiguous.  It may denote merely an animal feeling, with the impulse to organic movement, or it may be used so as to imply an action of the self-conscious subject desiring.

2. By an action of self-consciousness on feeling, the feeling is radically changed.  It remains however feeling still.  If the term "Desire" be used to denote simply a feeling, even though modified through the action of self-consciousness, desire is not a phase of volition.

3. But if, when desire is spoken of, the term includes the action of the self-conscious subject desiring an action, in which he takes the end desired as, for the time, his good, then desire is a phase of volition. [p. 47]

4. What is commonly called the state of desire is one in which the object desired cannot be immediately attained, and in which therefore uneasiness occasioned by the want of an imagined good is experienced.

5. The state of desire is a state of feeling more or less painful.  It is this that Locke has in view when he identifies desire with uneasiness.

6. If the indentification[sic] of the state of desire with a mode of uneasy feeling be admitted, the admission must not be understood to imply, that, when a man desires an object in the sense of consciously making it for the time his good; he is merely experiencing a feeling.  Desire in such a case is essentially volition.

7. Desire, considered as uneasy feeling is assumed by Schopenhauer and Von Hartmann to be the ground form of volition, and, on this view they construct what has been called the "Metaphysical Argument" for their Pessimism. Will is the ultimate reality in the Universe.  The ground form of conscious volition is desire. Desire is uneasiness, therefore a life of consciousness is of necessity one of misery.

8. Apart from other objections to such reasoning, the identification of volition with desire, in the sense in which desire is a painful state of feeling is inadmissible. [p. 48]





The analysis of the state of desire brings to light three particulars:

1st. The state implies want or deficiency.

2nd. Through the presence to the mind of a definite object which is fitted to meet the want felt (and in that respect regarded as desirable) a motive to action comes into play.

3rd. There is a bar in the way of acting.  It is of course in view of this last point that (psychologists) are in the habit of teaching that the state of desire is to some extent painful.  Dr. Bain states this moderately when he says that the bar in the way of acting "renders desire a more or less painful form of mind."

I need not point out my objections to this treatment of the question of desire.

(a) First it may be admitted that the term "Desire" may with propriety be used to express an uneasy state of the mind arising from an imagined good, which we are hindered by some bar from immediately attaining.

(b) But it is an error to represent the idea of this absent good as constituting a motive to action in the proper sense of the term.  An impulse arises therefrom but animal impulse is not motive.

(c) Third and principally, Dr. Bain's exposition of Desire ignores any action of the self-conscious [p. 49] subject in desiring an end which for the time he makes his good.  He would grant that a man desires fame.  The true account of such desire is that the rational subject makes fame for the time his good. There is no place in Dr. Bain's philosophy for any such statement.




Control of the Will over the Feelings.

1. By direct action on the muscles.

(By influence on the course of the thoughts.)

In this way we can to a certain extent check those organic movements which constitute the expression of a feeling, e.g., the trembling of the limbs under the emotion of fear.