Not all the 'instinct psychologists,' however, have been oblivious of the fact that there is something in the experience described as 'acting against the line of least resistance' that, on their principles, needs explaining - or explaining away. McDougall is one honourable exception whose name will occur to the mind at once in this connection. McDougall devotes the better part of a long chapter (Chapter IX.) in his Social Psychology to the attempt to discover what is really happening when, as we say, we reinforce the weaker impulse by an 'effort of will.' This is indeed matter for gratitude. And although I am unable to believe that his analysis, in spite of much that is ingenious and instructive, succeeds in avoiding the difficulties which seem to me inherent in his presuppositions, it will be worth our while to consider its main points in brief compass. It is perhaps as plausible an attempt as any in the literature of this school to show that the type of experience upon which the Libertarian rests most of his case does not, when properly interpreted, imply any 'incalculable factor'.
McDougall begins, it will be remembered, from William James's familiar statement of the situation. In certain cases of moral conflict the effort of the will appears to come in 'to determine the victory to the side of the weaker impulse.' But McDougall is not prepared to say with James that with this 'effort of the will' we come up against an 'ultimate and insoluble problem.' That, as he believes, is a conclusion which will make any genuine 'science of society' impossible. 'Some attempt must therefore be made to show that the effort of volition... involves no new principles of activity and energy, but only a more subtle and complex interplay of those impulses which actuate all animal behaviour and in which the ultimate mystery of mind and life resides.'1 His task will be, as he further expresses it, to find in our mental constitution (and in accordance with the straightforward principles already established) 'the source of that influx of energy which seems to play the decisive role in volition.' 2
There follows now a short discussion of the different types of conational process, with a view to bringing out the specific characteristic of 'volition.' The general conclusion which emerges is that the differentia of volition is the introduction of the idea of 'self.' 'In the typical case of volition a man's self, in some peculiarly intimate sense of the word "self," is thrown upon the side of the motive that is made to prevail.'3
The important thing, however, is to show in what precise way the 'idea of self functions in volition. His conclusion so far, McDougal thinks, is approved by many psychologists, notably by Stout and Bradley, both of whom make self-consciousness of the essence of volition. But these writers have not succeeded in making quite clear, he thinks, just how self-consciousness plays its role.4
It may be worth while to pause at this point, however, to notice what seems to be a misunderstanding in McDougall's references to Stout and Bradley. Stout and Bradley, when they speak of self-consciousness as a condition of 'volition,' are not thinking (as I understand them) only of what they would call the 'special' case of volition in which we seem by 'effort of will' to act in the line of greatest resistance. They are aiming at an account of volition in general, applicable to bad volitions just as much as to good volitions - to the deliberate adoption of the end of the 'lower but stronger' impulse, as well as to the deliberate rejection of it in favour of the end of the 'higher but weaker 'impulse. Thus when Bradley approves the 'obscure dictum' that' in volition we identify the self with the end of the action' (I quote McDougall's expressions), he is not thinking of the differentia of 'good, hard choices' from 'bad, easy choices,' but just of the differentia of willed action in general from impulsive action. McDougall does not appear to recognise that this is so. The assumption underlying his suggestion of defect in Stout's and Bradley's treatment is obviously that they are engaged in trying to explain what he is here going to explain better, namely, 'action in the line of greatest resistance.' If, as seems pretty evident, they are not, then the implied criticism of them for not showing how exactly self-consciousness enters into the 'hard choice' loses all point.
1 Social Psychology, p. 200 (20th edition).
2 Ibid., p. 203. 3 Ibid., p. 212. 4 Ibid.
While rejecting McDougall's claim to be advancing upon Stout and Bradley, let us go on to see, however, the solution which he offers to his own problem. How exactly does the idea of self function in making possible 'action in the line of greatest resistance'? McDougall's answer is as follows. The mere idea of self can do nothing. But round the idea of self there has gathered, in the experience of everyone, that system of emotional and conative dispositions which we call a sentiment, and in this 'self-regarding sentiment' our solution is to be found. In McDougall's own words - 'The conations, the desires and aversions, arising within this self-regarding sentiment are the motive forces which, adding themselves to the weaker ideal motive in the case of moral effort, enable it to win the mastery over some stronger, coarser desire of our primitive animal nature and to banish from consciousness the idea of the end of this desire? 1
McDougall now proceeds to illustrate his thesis by pointing out how in specific instances the 'impulses excited within the system of the self-regarding sentiment' carry out their work of reinforcement. But we need not follow him into his detailed application - fortunately, since we could hardly avoid the discussion of certain incidental difficulties which are not germane to our immediate purpose. The principle of McDougall's solution is before us, and the principle of my criticism can be expressed in direct relation to it.
1 Social Psychology, p. 213.