The case is really precisely analogous to that of strong acquired propensities of a bad kind. Here, too, the onlooker is apt to say (as, e.g., of the confirmed drug-taker) that the agent 'has no will-power left'; the only difference in the two cases being that the defect of will in the second case is believed to be an acquired defect, not congenital, and therefore one for which the agent must accept a certain responsibility. But the mistake in interpretation is the same. The agent (as he himself well knows) retains his capacity for energising, but (as he also knows only too well) the same effort that would once have achieved total abstention now achieves only a relatively insignificant mitigation of the full demands of his craving. External results, it is important to bear in mind, are no clue at all to the effort of will expended, save where we know the relative power of the competing tendencies.
Now exactly the same principle is, I think, sufficient to dispose of the second form of the criticism, that which rests upon the appearance of 'external modifiability,' of will-capacity. It does not follow that because it is possible to starve or torture a man into submission, that starvation or torture, or any analogous external influence, have the effect of weakening the agent's will-power. What happens is not that the will-power is weakening, but that the forces to be overcome are progressively strengthened, so that an ever-greater effort is required to maintain the same external result - e.g. refusal to betray a secret. This, I submit, is the natural interpretation of the phenomena in question, and its accuracy can readily be confirmed by the interrogation of our experience. The case of the growing consolidation of a bad habit brings out the crucial point clearly enough. We sometimes speak as if with the process of consolidation the will was becoming progressively weaker. But it is surely evident that we do not mean by that that we are less and less able to put forth effort. On the contrary, the extreme demands which the increasingly 'difficult' situation comes to make upon our will may be the occasion of our putting forth what we feel to be a greater effort than we have ever made before. All that we should mean when we speak of the will 'becoming weaker' in these cases is that the same amount of effort or will-energy is progressively less effective in bringing about the external result that is aimed at.
I think, then, that the facts upon which these criticisms are based do not, when closely inspected, really jeopardise the doctrine that the individual self is solely responsible for the degree of will-energy expended, both in specific situations and throughout life as a whole. There are other forms which the criticisms might take. The most impressive, 1 think, would be that based upon the phenomena of what is called 'moral education,' which, like the phenomena previously considered, do suggest prima facie a dependence of will-energy upon factors not under the self's complete control. I shall touch upon this topic when we come to deal in a later chapter with the criterion of morality, but I think it will be plain that no new difficulty of principle is involved. So far as we have gone at present, I venture to assert that nothing has appeared to show that the doctrine I defend is in conflict with the findings of a sound psychology.