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- The Nature of Goodness - 10/23 -

stage, then, in the formation of the purpose, where various depicted future possibilities are summoned for assessment, may be called our fashioning of an ideal.


But a second stage succeeds, the stage of desire. Indeed, though I call it a second, it is really but a special aspect of the first; for the ideal which I form always represents some improvement in myself. An ideal which did not promise to better me in some way would be no ideal at all. It would be quite inoperative. I never rise from my chair except with the hope of being better off. Without this, I should sit forever. But I feel uneasiness in my present position, and conceive the possibility of not being constrained; or I think of some needful work which remains unexecuted as long as I sit here, and that work undone I perceive will leave my life less satisfactory than it might be. And this imagined betterment must always be in some sense my own. If it is a picture of the gains of some one else quite unconnected with myself, it will not start my action.

But it will be objected that we do often act unselfishly and in behalf of other persons. Indeed we do. Perhaps our impulses are more largely derived from others than from ourselves, yet from desire our own share is never quite eliminated. I give to the poor. But it is because I hate poverty; or because I am attracted by the face, the story, or the supposed character of him who receives; or because I am unable to separate my interests from those of humanity everywhere. In some subtle form the I-element enters. Leave it out, and the action would lose its value and become mechanical. What I did would be no expression of self-conscious me. And such undoubtedly is the case with much of our conduct. The reflex actions, described in the last chapter, and many of our habits too, contain no precise reference to our self. Intelligent, purposeful, moral conduct, however, is everywhere shaped by the hope of improving the condition of him who acts. We do not act till we find something within or about us unsatisfactory. If contemplating myself in my actual conditions I could pronounce them all good, creation would for me be at an end. To start it, some sense of need is required. Accordingly I have named desire as the second state in the formation of a purpose, for desire is precisely this sense of disparity between our actual self and that possible bettered self depicted in the ideal.

Popular speech, however, does not here state the matter quite fully. We often talk as if our desires were for other things than ourselves. We say, for example, "I want a glass of water." In reality it is not the water I want. That is but a fragment of my desire. It is water plus self. Only so is the desire fully uttered. Beholding my present self, my thirsty and defective self, I perceive a side of myself requiring to be bettered. Accordingly, among imagined pictures of possible futures I identify myself with that one which represents me supplied with water. But it is not water that is the object of my desire, it is myself as bettered by water. Since, however, this betterment of self is a constant factor of all desire, we do not ordinarily name it. We say, "I desire wealth, I desire the success of my friend, or the freedom of my country," omitting the important and never absent portion of the desire, the betterment of self.

Of course a stage in the formation of the purpose so important as desire receives a multitude of names. Perhaps the simplest is appetite. In appetite I do not know what I want. I am blindly impelled in a certain direction. I do not perceive that I have a suffering self, nor know that this particular suffering would be bettered by that particular supply. Appetite is a mere instinct. In the mechanic structure of my being it is planned that without comprehension of the want I shall be impelled to the source of supply. But when appetite is permeated with a consciousness of what is lacking, I apprehend it as a need. Through needs we become persons. The capacity for dissatisfaction is the sublime thing in man. We can know our poor estate. We can say, That which I am I would not be. Passing the blind point of appetite, we come into the region of want or need; if we then can discern what is requisite to supply this need, we may be said to have a desire. That desire, if specific and urgent, we call a wish.

All these varieties of desire include the same two factors: on the one hand a recognition of present defect in ourselves, on the other imagination of possible bettered conditions. Diminish either, and personal power is narrowed. The richer a man's imagination, and the more abundant his pictures of possible futures, the more resourceful he becomes. Pondering on desire as rooted in the sense of defect, we may feel less regret that our age is one not easily satisfied. Never were there so many discontents, because there were never so many aspirations. It is true there may be a devilish discontent or a divine one. There is a discontent without definite aims, one which merely rejects what is now possessed; and there is one which seeks what is wisely attainable. Yet after all, it is a small price to pay for aspiration that it is often attended by vagueness and unwisdom.


But before the formation of the purpose is complete it must pass through a third stage, the stage of decision. Ideals and desires are not enough, or rather they are too many; for there may be a multitude of them. Certain ideals are desired for supplying certain of my wants, others for supplying others. But on examination these many desirable ideals will often prove conflicting; all cannot be attained, or at least not all at once. Among them I must pick and choose, reducing and ordering their number. This process is decision. Starting with my ambiguous future, imagination brings multifold possibilities of good before me. But before these can be allowed to issue miscellaneously into action, comparison and selection reduce them to a single best. I accordingly assess the many desirable but competing ideals and see which of them will on the whole most harmoniously supplement my imperfections. On that I fasten, and the intention is complete.

All this is obvious. But one part of the process, and perhaps the most important part, is apt to receive less attention than it deserves. In decision we easily become engrossed with the single selected ideal, and do not so fully perceive that our choice implies a rejection of all else. Yet this it is--this cutting off--which rightly gives a name to the whole operation. The best is arrived at only by a process of exclusion in which we successively cut off such ideals as do not tend to the largest supply of our contemplated defects. Walking by the candy-shop, and seeing the tempting chocolates, I feel a strong desire for them. My mouth waters. I hurry into the shop and deposit my five- cent piece. In the evening I find that by spending five cents for the chocolates I am cut off from obtaining my newspaper, a loss unconsidered at the time. But to decide for anything is to decide against a multitude of other things. Taking is still more largely leaving. The full extent of this negative decision often escapes our notice, and through the very fact of choosing a good we blindly neglect a best.


Here, then, are the three steps in the formation of the purpose,--the ideal, the desire, and the decision,--each earlier one preparing the way for that which is to follow. But an intention is altogether useless if it pauses here. It was formed to be sent forth, to he entrusted to forces stretching beyond the intending mind. The laws of nature are to take it in charge. The Germans have a good proverb: "A stone once thrown belongs to the devil." When once it parts from our hands, it is no longer ours. It is taken up, for evil or for good, by agencies other than our own. If we mistake the agency to which we intrust it, enormous mischief may ensue, and we shall he helpless. These agencies, accordingly, need careful scrutiny before being called on to work their will. The business of scrutinizing them and of turning over the purpose to their keeping, forms the second half (B) of self-direction. In contrast with (A), the formation of the purpose or the intention, this may be called the realization of the purpose, or volition. Volition, it is true, is often employed more comprehensively, but we shall do the term no violence if we confine its meaning to the discharge of our subjective purpose into the objective world. Volition then will also, under our scheme, have three subordinate stages.


The first of them I will call deliberation, in order to approximate it as closely as possible to the preceding decision. Having now my purpose decisively formed, I have to ask myself what physical means will best carry it out. I summon before my mind as complete a list as possible of nature's conveyances, and judge which of them will with the greatest efficiency and economy execute my intention. Here I am at a friend's house, but I have decided to go to my own. I must compare, then, the different modes of getting there, so as to pick out just that one which involves the least expenditure and the most certain result. One way occurs to me which I have never tried before, a swift and interesting way. I might go by balloon. In that balloon I could sail at my ease over the tops of the houses and across the beautiful river. When the tower of Memorial Hall comes in sight, I could pull a cord and drop gently down at my own door, having meanwhile had the seclusion and exaltation of an unusual ride. What a delightful experience! But there is one disadvantage. Balloons are not always at hand. I might be obliged to wait here for hours, for days, before getting one. I dismiss the thought of a balloon. It does not altogether suit my purpose.

Or, I might call a carriage. So I should secure solitude and a certain speed, but should pay for these with noise, jolting, and more money than I can well spare. There would be waiting, too, before the carriage comes. Perhaps I had better ask my friend to lend me his arm and to escort me home. In this there would be dignity and a saving of my strength. We could talk by the way, and I always find him interesting. But should I be willing to be so much beholden to him, and would not the wind to-day make our walk and talk difficult? Better postpone till summer weather. And after all there is Boston's most common mode of locomotion right at hand, the electric car. Strange it was not thought of before! The five-cent piece saved from the chocolates will carry me, swiftly, safely, and with independence.

It is in this way that we go through the process of deliberation. All the possible means of effecting our purpose are summoned for judgment. The feasibility of each is examined, and the cost involved in its employment. Comparison is made between the advantages offered by different agencies; and oftentimes at the close we are in a sad puzzle, finding these advantages and disadvantages so nearly balanced. One, however, is finally judged superior in fitness. To this we tie ourselves, making it the channel for our out-go. The whole process, then, in its detailed comparison and final fixation, is identical with that to which I have given the name of decision, except that the comparisons of decision refer to inner facts, those of deliberation to outer.

The Nature of Goodness - 10/23

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