But first let me make all proper concessions. There are cases, many cases, in which a 'higher' desire, which would not be effective per se against a 'lower' desire, passes into action as the direct result of its reinforcement by an 'impulse excited within the system of the self-regarding sentiment.' A man whose inclination to spend the evening in the tavern tippling with his cronies is a good deal stronger, as it stands, than his inclination to please his wife by spending the evening at home, may call to mind the social disapproval which the former course will evoke, and the aversion which he feels to such disapproval of himself may easily be powerful enough - without our requiring to assume the introduction of any unique force like 'will-effort' or 'will-energy' - to give the victory to the latter course. Or again - to take now a motive more closely approximating to McDougall's 'higher plane' of conduct - most men have, by the time of their maturity, formulated for themselves some kind of 'ideal character' representing what in their reflective moments they feel that they really most want to be. Now every man wishes to appear well to himself. But he cannot appear well to himself if he sees himself behaving in a way that conflicts with his chosen ideal. He therefore feels an aversion to having to think of himself as so behaving - as disloyal, idle, etc. And the weight of such aversion, if introduced into a practical situation such as that above depicted, may be quite sufficient, simply as aversion, to tip the scale once more in favour of what would otherwise be the weaker impulse.
It seems to me, then, very probable that the sentiment organised round the idea of the self does, as claimed, furnish impulses which will in many cases so reinforce what would be by itself the 'weaker' impulse as to make that impulse effective. With this, as a mere statement of fact, I have no disposition to quarrel. But what 1 do most emphatically contest is McDougall's further and central contention that this is an account of what happens in those conations in which we seem to ourselves to be making an effort of will, and, in virtue of it, 'acting in the line of greatest resistance.' It is that type of experience which McDougall has set out to explain. But so far as the present writer can see, the type of experience which conforms to the conditions which McDougall has described could not possibly carry with it for the agent the appearance of effort of will or 'acting in the line of greatest resistance' at all.
How could it? Let us look carefully at McDougall's account of what happens. We have in the first place a weaker impulse, a, opposed to a stronger impulse, b. As things stand, action towards the end of a (which end we may symbolise as a) would be, and would so appear to the agent, 'action in the line of greatest resistance.' But, McDougall maintains, if the impulsive constituents of the situation remained thus, action would never in fact be directed to a. Such action is made possible only by the accession of a new impulse s (excited within the self-regarding sentiment) which ranges itself on the side of a, and is of sufficient strength to make a†s stronger than b. Action directed to à thus becomes now 'action in the line of least resistance.' And what the reader of McDougall must want to know, and what, so far as I can see, finds absolutely no explanation in McDougall's pages, is why it does not also appear to be so to the agent. If it does so appear, if the action does under the new conditions present itself as frankly 'action in the line of least resistance,' then we have here no explanation whatever of that which McDougall proposed to explain - action which seems to the agent to be in the line of greatest resistance. And if it does not so appear, one would, I repeat, very much like to know why. It would only be possible that it should not so appear, I think, if we could assume that the agent is unconscious of the contribution made to the balance of power by the new impulse s. But this would be to assume in the teeth of the evidence. There is no more reason why we should suppose ourselves unconscious of accession of impulsive strength from an impulse which happens to be connected with the self-regarding sentiment, than in the case of any other kind of impulse.
To put the matter in a nutshell. McDougall's explanation of action which appears to be in the line of greatest resistance is that it is really action in the line of least resistance. But he altogether fails to show how the factors which make it action in the line of least resistance do not also make it appear as action in the line of least resistance.
I am compelled therefore to conclude that McDougall has offered no plausible explanation of the experience which he set out to explain. There are conative experiences, we have admitted, which correspond to the conditions which he describes. But they are not, and could not be, experiences in which we appear to ourselves to be putting forth an 'effort of will,' and 'acting in the line of greatest resistance.' And so long as one confines one's explanatory hypothesis, as McDougall does, to the interplay of impulsive energies, no tenable explanation of such experiences, I venture to think, ever will be forthcoming.
On the whole (although I have to confess what may be serious limitations in my knowledge of the relevant literature) the older psychologists seem to me to have been more discriminating in their criticisms of activity. They did keep pretty clearly before them the fundamental requirements of any successful attempt to 'explain away' the experience of activity. What requires to be done is to analyse the so-called experience of activity in such a way as to make clear (1) that its constituents involve no factor of a unique kind such as could warrant the assumption that here a unique type of force is operative, and (2) why it is that the assemblage of these constituents does in fact give rise in the subject to the supposition that a unique type of force is operative. Both of these conditions seem to have been kept clearly in view by psychologists like Mnster-berg.1 They are kept clearly in view also, I think, by Bradley, whose inveterate hostility to the concept of 'activity' is very well known. Bradley's analysis of the Experience of activity' (so-called) is intended, it is true, to refer to self-activity in general, or at least to voluntary activity in general, and does not distinguish off the 'effortful' variety for special treatment. But it is made plain by many remarks that he takes the alleged ultimacy of the experience of effortful activity to be disproved at the same time - as just a rather egregious example of what is in principle the same nonsense. I think it will be profitable, therefore, if we consider, by way of complement to the explanation of the 'new' psychologists, the explanation of the experience of activity which is offered for our acceptance by Bradley in Appearance and Reality.