In pursuance of the duties thus imposed upon the Libertarian, let us now consider the validity of the attempts that have been made to discredit the experience of 'effortful' activity.
The first thing that strikes one, however, is the surprising paucity of direct criticism on the primary point at issue in recent psychological literature. 'Surprising' we say, for the fashionable psychology of the day is nothing if not anti-Libertarian. Most commonly, the sole moving forces of conduct are supposed to be the group of (more or less numerous) instincts which form the hereditary endowment of human nature, and each of which possesses a definitive quota of impulsive energy. All human action is, in the last analysis, a resultant of the interplay of these primitive forces. It is agreed, of course, that the original ends often undergo much elaboration and refinement in the process of experience, so that frequently a good deal of skill is required to penetrate their disguise. But it is vigorously denied that any force other than that belonging to the primitive impulses has any efficacy in human affairs. Now this is the sheer negation of freedom. It seems reasonable, therefore, to expect that the writers who so confidently discourse in this manner would pause for a moment to explain away the type of experience which, in the interpretation it naturally or commonly evokes, runs directly counter to the Determinist's hypothesis: explain away, that is, the so-called experience of 'activity'.
'But' (perhaps our psychologist will reply) 'we do not want to deny the reality of "activity." On the contrary, we are talking of' "activities" all the time. Our psychology is dynamic through and through. Is the "activity" of which you speak anything other than the "psychic energy" of which we speak, and which we assign to the instincts? Is your "experience of activity" not just the awareness accompanying the kinetic expression of such psychic energy - which awareness could no doubt easily enough generate in the agent the libertarian illusion that one "could have acted otherwise than one did." If it is anything else than this, then we do not find any trace of it in our experience, and, to be frank, do not believe that it exists'.
Should the psychologist reply in this wise, then we must be equally frank, and point out to him that his failure to recognise any awareness of activity other than the awareness of impulsive energies is due simply to a defect in introspective analysis. There is an all-important difference, which he has not appreciated, between the self's awareness of itself as a scene of activities, and its awareness of itself as active, let alone effortfully active. Consciousness of impulsive energy can give us awareness of activity only in the former of these meanings. When we are conscious merely of a strong impulse urging us in some specific direction, we are conscious of an activity going on in us (ourselves as a 'scene of activity'), not of ourselves as active. Even more markedly, when we are conscious of the presence in us of 'conflicting' impulses, urging us in mutually incompatible directions, the self appears to itself as a mere 'scene of activity.' There is all the difference in the world between such experiences and that type of experience illustrated by the successful issue of a moral conflict, in which the self seems to itself to be declining to accept the 'line of least resistance' - which is just that direction which action would take if left solely to the interplay of the impulsive energies - and by 'effort of will' to be identifying itself with that harder course which it believes to be right. In the latter we have a self conscious not of activities going on in it, but of itself as active.
The two kinds of experience are quite radically distinct. We must be on our guard against any interpretation which should admit, and yet unduly minimise, the difference. It might be suggested, for example, that the difference is just that, in the case of experience of self-activity proper, we are conscious of the operation of an energy which (for some reason) we identify in a special way with the 'self.' But this is not sufficient. It is impossible to reconstitute the genuine experience of activity in these terms. The experience described might give us the self aware of itself as displaying energy, but not the self aware of itself as creating energy, and this is what we at least seem to have in the characteristic experience of activity. The self would still be for itself (on the interpretation suggested) a mere 'scene of activity' rather than itself active. We should keep before us, if we are to judge aright in this matter, that most striking example of the experience of self-activity - the 'hard choice' in which we seem to ourselves to be reinforcing the 'weaker but higher' desire by an 'effort of will.' In such experiences we are sure that we 'could have acted otherwise.' And the indispensable condition of such assurance is the consciousness of ourselves as creating the energy in question. The consciousness of ourselves as merely displaying energy could not possibly induce in us the conviction of freedom in the sense of a capacity for alternative action. Yet the consciousness of 'displaying' energy is all that there could be if the energy is of the nature of impulsive energy, even if the impulse or complex of impulses concerned happen to be regarded by the self as somehow pre-eminently 'representative' of the self.
We dwell on this matter, because it is really not possible for the problem which the experience of activity sets, or should set, for the Detcrminist, to be understood by anyone who has not distinguished quite clearly this experience from the experience in which we are aware merely of activities going on in us. The latter experience offers no difficulties to a Determinist theory. But it is certainly not the experience to which people refer when they reject Determinism on the ground of an alleged 'immediate experience of activity.' It is, strictly speaking, no more an experience of activity than is the state of the overtaxed brain-worker who, on retiring to rest, is unable to sleep on account of the phantasmagoria of ideas that wildly and confusedly keep rushing into his mind. Here is a scene of 'activities,' if you will. But it is the very antithesis of the experience which any sensible person would select as an experience of 'self-activity'.