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Observations placeholder

Reid, Gall, Mill, Bain and Hack-Tuke – On the nature of the Will



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

from Illustrations Of The Influence Of The Mind Upon The Body In Health And Disease, Designed To Elucidate The Action Of The Imagination - Daniel Hack Tuke, M.D., M.R.C.P.,


Some confusion in regard to the term [Will] itself has, no doubt, arisen from not distinguishing between the wish or desire to do a certain thing (in accordance with the etymon voluntas), and the power to perform it. A man wills to walk, but his will is powerless to move his legs ; yet the Will in the sense employed in the first clause, is in full force. It is the motor centre which is in a morbid condition or paralyzed. On the other hand, when a physician says that, in a case of hysterical paralysis, the Will is paralyzed, he means that the very wish or desire to move a limb is wanting. Indeed, Reid says that,

"as it is unusual in the operations of the mind to give the same name to the power, and to the act of that power, the term Will is often put to signify the act of determining, which more properly is called Volition. Volition, therefore, signifies the act of willing and determining, and Will is put indifferently to signify either the power of willing or the act."

Then again, there is more than the mere employment of " the Will " in two different senses ; there is a real divergence of opinion as to whether it constitutes an independent and separate mental faculty, or is the balance of all the other faculties — that which finally results from the struggle continually going for ward in the mind between the contending functions of Thought and Emotion.

Gall held that the Will resulted, not from desire alone, but from the combined operation of desire and intellect. " That man," he says, " might not be confined to desiring merely, but might will also, the concurrent action of many of the higher intellectual faculties is required ; motives must be weighed, compared, and judged. The decision resulting from this operation is called the Will"

(Gall's Works on the Functions of the Brain. 1822-26. Translated by Dr. W. Lewis. 6 vols. 1835, VI, p. 267).

James Mill observes, "The idea of an action of our own, as cause, strongly associated with the idea of a pleasure as its effect , . . . excites to action. It is called Will " (six, II, p. 328). He then points out that, with the Will as a Cause and the action as an Effect, men have not been content, but have added an item called Force or Power, which comes between the two, as itself the proximate cause of the action. The action of a muscle, according to Mill, takes place in consequent of an appropriate idea, our power of willing not being immediate over a muscle, but consisting in the power of calling the idea into existence. The only circumstance distinguishing voluntary from involuntary actions is Desire. This analysis is accepted by Mr. J. S. Mill, so far as it applies to voluntary acts produced by motives of pleasure and pain, but as insufficient to explain those bodily movements, the consequence of which is pain and not pleasure, and he refers to Bain as probably the first psychologist who has succeeded in effecting a complete and correct analysis of the Will.

Bain separates from the movements brought forward by James Mill, those which are of reflex and consensual character, and those which arise from Imitation, Expectation, and Imagination. It is among the movements excited by the last class that we sometimes observe the remarkable tendency to act even in the direction of pain, to which reference has just been made. Thus, the sight of a precipice, may, from the operation of the idea aroused, lead to the painful result of precipitation. The law at work here has been referred to when considering the tendency of ideas to result in corresponding acts, as exhibited in Sympathy and Imitation (p. 40). The automatic action of the hemispheres is the physiological aspect of the law.

Having withdrawn these three classes of cases of miscalled voluntary power, Mr. Bain considers that J. Mill's position, that there is a power in pleasure as such, and in pain as such, to stimulate muscular movements with reference to the pleasure or pain, is the nearest approach he has made to a clear statement of the law of Volition.

" The element of the Will remaining unexplained is the selection of the proper movements in each case, as when we start up and walk in the direction of a pleasing sound " (Letters to a Candid Inquirer on Animal Magnetism. By Professor Gregory. 1851, II, pp. 385, 389).

The source of the experience

Hack Tuke, Daniel

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