But before passing on to new matter it will perhaps be helpful if I bring together into a sequence of propositions the main points that have emerged, either directly or by implication, with regard to the notion of will-effort or will-energy: adding one or two further observations on points of interest in order that no dubiety may remain as to what it is that I hold to be true of the nature, range, and function of this fundamental reality.
I am prepared, then, to stand by the following propositions.
(1) Will-energy is made known to us in direct experience, and in no other way. Only by actually or imaginatively 'living through' the kind of situation in which it functions can we hope to appreciate its character.
(2) If we do 'live it through,' one thing that we find it means for us is that in that situation we could have acted otherwise. That conviction is spontaneously evoked by the experience as part of its ideal significance. We are certain that we need not have made the effort, could have made a lesser effort, or, if the situation was such as to require it, could have made a greater effort - with corresponding differences in the act in each case.
(3) The onus of proof lies upon those who deny that this experience, variously referred to as experience of 'activity,' 'effort,' or 'energy' of will, really means what it is naturally taken by the subject of it to mean. But the actual attempts to resolve the experience into a complex of elements which do not justify the unsophisticated interpretation, which show it to be in fact an avoidable misinterpretation, carry no conviction.
(4) There is no good reason for supposing that the native capacity for energising varies between persons.
(5) There is no good reason for supposing that the capacity for energising can be either increased or diminished by external agencies.
(6) The function of will-energy is, in any particular case, to reinforce a desire recognised as weaker but higher, against a desire recognised as stronger but lower; or, taking it in its general significance, to make it possible for the agent to rise in the direction of his ideal above the level of conduct which the actual 'set' of his desires would per se determine. It is inherent in the nature of a rational being (we must content ourselves here with a dogmatic statement, which will be justified in the ensuing chapters) to have present to it the concept of an obligatory ideal of conduct, which frequently contrasts more or less sharply, according to circumstances, with the conduct which it is felt would be the direct expression of the agent's existing conative disposition. Where this contrast is present, action towards the ideal is felt to be possible only through 'effort' of will, a type of action which the agent opposes abruptly to that seemingly 'effortless' action which obtains if he merely follows out the bias of his desires. The 'prospective' consciousness of required effort is, I think, a constant concomitant of the presented contrast of ideal with desire. And, on the other hand, save when there is this presented contrast, in some form, of ideal with desire, there is no consciousness of effort required, nor is any effort put forth. Naturally, the 'moral ideal' of the agent need not be present in its full-fledged character. It is enough, for the eliciting of the consciousness of effort required, that there should be an apprehended 'higher against lower' - action more, against action less, in the direction of the ideal - and that the existing conative tendencies should be felt as 'set' towards the lower. But save in relation to this contrast, effort of will has no raison d'ˆtre, and never in fact takes place.
There is one set of cases, indeed, which seems at first sight to conflict with the doctrine that effort of will can function only in repressing a recognised 'lower.' Sometimes we deliberately set ourselves to act against a strong conative disposition, not because we morally disapprove it, but because we wish to 'test' our will-power, or because (influenced by what is, I think, a mistaken psychological doctrine) we imagine that by practising 'doing what we don't like' we can improve our general will-power or will-capacity. Will-effort may undoubtedly here be produced. And it does not seem to be reinforcing a 'recognised higher' against a 'recognised lower.' But I think we can see, if we look closely, that it really is doing so. Prior to our proposing to ourselves this experiment, the conative disposition, let us say the 'tobacco habit,' is not disapproved, not recognised as a 'lower.' But after we have taken the decision, the situation is altered. From the new standpoint, that of the desire to strengthen our will-power by practising in a specific situation, the refraining from tobacco becomes a 'higher' by contrast with 'indulgence.' The effort that we make - if we make it, for the decision may have been made in advance of the incidence of the temptation - is thus still against something recognised as lower in that specific situation. The present case, therefore, does not seem to be a genuine exception to the principle maintained.
(7) Finally - this is a point we have not yet touched upon - it may be asked whether there is a limit to the degree of will-energy which it is possible for a man to put forth; whether, to put a practical case, there may not be situations in which the resistance offered to the 'ought' by the lower tendencies is so strong that there is literally not sufficient will-energy available to break it down. Now, in spite of 'reasonable expectations,' the grounds for which have been already discussed, that in these 'extreme' cases the resistance will, in fact, prove too great to be overcome, I do not think that there can ever be ground for absolute certainty. It is at least very difficult, when we consider the experience of effort from the inside, to see how any maximum of possible achievement can be assigned. Just as, in the experience of activity or effort, we are certain that we are introducing an energy which we could have forborne to introduce, or could have introduced in smaller measure, so too, I think, we are certain that (if the situation demanded it) we could (whether or not we would) have introduced energy in greater measure than we actually do. Is it not true that however great be the effort we make at any time, we can always conceive ourselves making a greater effort still? I think that it is. And if it is, it does not appear that, from the standpoint of the experience itself, there is evidence of a definite 'limit.' Short of pathological cases, I am pretty sure that the victim of the most deeply engrained habit never really believes that even the immediate act of complete abstention is impossible. (I say the 'immediate' act, because ultimate abstention, following upon a gradual passage through intermediate stages, is, in my opinion, quite obviously possible, and is indeed the normal course of 'regeneration'). He may believe it to be almost indefinitely 'hard,' but he would, I think, utterly decline to accept the word 'impossible.' 1