There is, Bradley tells us,' no original experience of anything like activity.' 2 It is a 'secondary product, the origin of which is far from mysterious.'8 When we make 'a serious attempt to decompose it,4' we find that' the perception of activity comes from the expansion of the self against the not-self, this expansion arising from the self.' 5 What this statement means may best be seen by reminding ourselves of the psychological nature of desire. The essence of desire for an object is 'the feeling of our affirmation in the idea of something not ourself, felt against the feeling of ourself as, without the object, void and negated.'1 It follows that if the idea in question finds realisation, the tension is released, and we are conscious of self-expansion; just as, on the other hand, we are conscious of repression and contraction of the self if the idea is prevented from finding realisation. But, Bradley adds, the 'mere expansion, of course, would not be felt as activity, and its origination from within the self is of the essence of the matter.' 2
Some explanatory comments now follow in the text. In the first place Bradley warns the reader against confusing the self-expansion just referred to with 'the enlargement of the self in the sense of the whole individual.'3 It is only the 'enlargement of the self in relation to that particular change in the not-self in which it feels itself, in desire, ideally affirmed. Such enlargement is quite compatible with what, from a general point of view, is a 'narrowing.' Thus even where we desire self-destruction, the activity towards it, since it consists in the removing of something felt, in the desire, as repressive of the self, is so far an expansion or enlargement. And it is felt definitely as self-expansion (not just the expansion of a part of the self) because the self naturally identifies itself with that part of itself which for the time occupies the foreground. The idea whose actualisation, in Bradley's account, brings with it the sense of self-expansion (the idea of the desired change)'not only is felt to be a part of that self which is opposed to the not-self - it is felt also to be the main feature and the prominent element there.'4 'We may say, generally, the self here is that in which it feels its chief interest.' 5
1 See Professor A. S. Pringle-Pattison's essay 'The "New" Psychology and Automatism' in the volume entitled Man's Place in the Cosmos.
2 Appearance and Reality, p. 116.
5 Ibid., p. 96.
The second comment is mainly concerned with those cases of the perception of activity which appear to resist the application of Bradley's principle of explanation in that no 'idea' of the desired change seems to be present. The solution offered is that the requisite idea is present implicitly though not explicitly, and an account is given of the process involved. The notes added to the later edition of Appearance and Reality defend the use made of the distinction between implicit and explicit ideas, and the argument as a whole seems to me to be valid, at least in the sense that the account of perception of activity with 'implicit' ideas is no more difficult to accept than the account of it with 'explicit' ideas.
1 Ethical Studies (2nd ed.), p. 68. I have cited this passage, in preference to any in the discussion of self-activity in Appearance and Reality, as being more convenient for a condensed account of Bradley's view.
2 Appearance and Reality, pp. 96-7 (italics mine).
3 Ibid., p. 97. 4 Ibid., p. 95. 5 Ibid., p. 97.
Finally, Bradley explains a little more fully what he means by insisting that activity is experienced only if the 'expansion' is apprehended as originating 'from within the self.' If I may venture to substitute an illustration for the symbols which Bradley uses, the point may be made out as follows. Suppose I want to get hold of an apple that is just out of my normal reach. With my arm outstretched I am about to jump up to grasp it, when the branch suddenly dips in the wind and deposits the apple in my hand. With this fulfilment of my desire I experience, doubtless, an expansion of my self against the not-self. But I do not experience an activity of my self. If, on the other hand, I get hold of the apple only through jumping towards it, or perhaps rising on tiptoe, I am conscious not merely of self-expansion, but (according to Bradley) of self-activity. And what makes the difference is that whereas in the former case my self-expansion (in the realisation of the desire) is not apprehended as 'originating from within my self - it comes about through a 'chance' event in the external world - in the latter case it is so apprehended. In this latter case I experience an expansion of the self which I feel to arise from the self. And with this I do get the full perception of activity.
This I believe to be a fair account of Bradley's theory. But surely it will not do? So far as I can see, his 'explanation' will not explain any experience of self-activity, much less the experience of the effortful act of will which is our especial concern. When we look closely at the condition stressed by Bradley, that the self-expansion must be felt as 'originating from within the self,' we see that this phrase is really a way of begging the whole issue. 'Felt as originating from within the self' may mean here, broadly, either of two things. Either it means that we connect our felt self-expansion with our self simply as 'effect' with 'proximate cause.' Or it means that we connect our felt self-expansion with our self as the effect of a first cause, of a genuine origination - in short, as the effect of an act. On the former of these meanings it seems impossible that we should experience 'self-activity' at all. For in apprehending the self as 'cause,' we are apprehending it also as 'effect' of previous causes. It is just one 'link' in the causal chain. There is nothing here to generate the consciousness of self-activity. On the latter of these meanings we should experience self-activity - but just because that experience is already presupposed in the experience that is supposed to generate it. What could be meant by saying that the self-expansion is felt as originating from within the self, as an effect of self as first cause, save that in that experience we are conscious of self-activity? In no other way, so far as I can see, than by having the experience of activity in originating the self-expansion could we ever come to connect the self-expansion with the self as effect with first cause. On this meaning, therefore, the explanation of the experience of activity proceeds in terms of that which is to be explained, and must be rejected. On neither interpretation, then, as it seems to me, of the phrase 'felt as originating from within the self do we get an explanation of the experience of activity. On the one interpretation Bradley's conditions seem plainly incapable of generating the experience. On the other interpretation the experience itself is covertly introduced into the conditions. It is perhaps superfluous, therefore, to go on to consider the competence of the proposed explanation to cover the experience of effortful activity. But it may be pointed out that the description 'a felt expansion of the self, felt as originating from within the self' is just as applicable to those volitions in which we deliberately follow the 'line of least resistance,' and which are therefore experienced as effortless, as it is to effortful volitions. The description thus fails to lay hold of the specific essence of the experience of effortful activity, and cannot (apart from the earlier difficulties) be accepted as its ultimate analysis.1