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Addendum

Some further remarks on the connection between belief and behaviour may help to remove difficulties in regard to what has been said about conation. It was contended that on the view that it is certain interests that know, certain feelings operating so as to secure “outlet” or relaxation of tension, an account can be given of error and other difficulties which the ordinary theories of knowledge cannot meet. In terms of the formula that we believe what eases our minds, it appears that we shall refuse to accept situations which we find intolerable. Now this attitude of opposition to situations which occasion us uneasiness or distress can operate in various ways according to personal as well as external factors (the breadth of our interests, the difficulty of the situation, etc.). The simplest case is that in which our uneasiness expresses itself simply by removing the obstacle, so that uneasiness ceases, i.e., we are satisfied with what is the case, and there is no question of error. But, since error does occur, we require a more general formulation of the position, covering all cases.

It may be said, then, that there is in general a tendency to remove obstacles; or it may be enough to say that there is striving. Now, in terms of the conational theory outlined, what is striven for will be identical with what is believed. As Alexander points out, if we will that a certain person should leave the room, then the situation we have before our minds as occurring is just that person being out of the room; the object of our judgment is identical with the objective of our willing. The success of the judging, the “click” of conviction, the “satisfaction that” the event is so, is identical with the success of the willing and the relaxation of tension.

Obviously there may be complications in the case; while having as our object the person's absence, we may recognise that he is not yet gone. But, in the first place, we can have opposing interests and thus opposing judgments. And, secondly, we can recognise phases in a situation; we can find the person's presence temporarily tolerable (and therefore admissible as a fact) because it is a stage in the process leading up to his absence, when we shall be quite satisfied. In other words, we can distinguish a main objective from subordinate objectives which are means to it or preliminary conditions of it, and on the theoretical side this is expressed by saying that we recognise not merely single situations but implications (or, more generally, the passage of one situation into another), this being the state of affairs to which the term thinking is ordinarily attached, just as conduct is commonly taken as the carrying of a line of action through a series of stages.

The general position is, then, that we regard what we want as brought about, and if our action (or simply our situation) is such as to bring it about — if we get what we want — then we have a true belief. In certain


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cases, however, our action is unsuccessful; and then, though there are various possibilities according to the variety and development of our interests or demands, our primary tendency, Alexander contends (in line with the views of the Freudian school, particularly as expressed by Freud himself and by Ferenczi), is to regard the wished-for result as brought about. That is to say, we obtain a certain satisfaction or release of tension under a condition of hallucination or illusion. Such a condition, it is to be observed, is not logically different from error in general. To suppose that it is is to suppose some objective situation of a simpler type than the proposition (hallucination being conceived, e.g., as a “datum” which does not “correspond to” reality).

One possible way of obtaining ease of mind or release of tension, then, is the false belief that the object has been achieved; but the fact that it has not may result in a continuance or re-establishment of tension. We know that this is not bound to be the case; there are people who retain false beliefs throughout their lives or at least are never disabused of certain errors — indeed, this could be said of any of us. But still there are cases where our satisfaction proves evanescent, where we are undeceived, and the demand for the thing itself, for “real” as opposed to “hallucinatory” satisfaction, is reinstated. In such cases the object may eventually be obtained or we may secure some substitute for it — in any case, the tension has to be diminished in some fashion, or the position really would be intolerable.

This process of finding substitutive satisfaction has been dealt with in detail by Freud and his followers. The point to be emphasised here is that it is just the process of developing a theory of things, so far as we do develop a theory; and it may be incidentally observed that the distinction of “illusion” from “reality”, i.e., the recognition that we are capable of falling into error, is a considerable theoretical step. But, as Freud has also shown, unsatisfied tendencies may remain in a state of subdued tension, of repression, in which they do not secure outlet but, on the one hand, draw away energy from the operation of the interests in general, leaving the person comparatively inactive, and, on the other hand, interfere with the other interests, altering the direction of their activity, and thus precipitating (a) those confusions and mistakes which Freud deals with under the heading “Psycho-Pathology of Everyday Life”, and (b) the dream form of hallucination. We can distinguish, then, a number of different types of reaction to a unsatisfactory situation — there is simple hallucination; there are various forms of self-deception and confusion, whereby we contrive to hold contradictory beliefs at the same time; there are various methods of substituting one object for another; and finally there is the possibility of such a rearrangement of tensions (i.e., such a development of the mind) that repression and dissatisfaction are overcome — though we may admit that this development will never go so far as to enable all our tendencies to find outlet.

In line with these distinctions, we may distinguish from simple error various forms of “interpretation” of the things we deal with — as when


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it is said that we interpret the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. Here, on the one hand, we can have that dictation to Nature, or looking for simple solutions, of which Heraclitus accused the Pythagoreans, and which is bound to land us in error; but we can also have simple insistence on special uses of certain things, emphasis on some aspects of them at the expense of others — a preference which need not in itself amount to misuse or confusion. Granted that we have interests and that it is these interests that operate on things and give us our knowledge, then it is naturally the case that we select certain characters of things for special attention and neglect others, and thus that we select those most familiar or easy to deal with or most satisfactory to us. This selectiveness is in fact the condition alike of error and of discovery.

Now in this connection Heraclitus upholds the replacing of desire by understanding, and similarly Freud speaks of passing from the pleasure-principle to the reality-principle, getting an interest in things as they are as contrasted with what we should want them to be. Clearly we must be wary of over-stressing such a transition, since understanding, or adherence to the reality-principle, is still the operation of an interest, and desire (or what follows the pleasure-principle) even in the first instance finds things to be the case, whether correctly or incorrectly. It is not a question, then, of a theoretical interest coming out of a non-theoretical interest. We may admit that peculiarly scientific interests can be developed, but we shall still have to say that, as interests, they have special objects, and that there are special conditions of their finding outlet. It is therefore not surprising that we find throughout the history of scientific inquiry a recurrence of that dictation to Nature (as contrasted with “expecting the unexpected”) which Heraclitus condemned in the Pythagoreans.

Of course, inquiry, confused or otherwise, expresses itself in saying that something is the case, and such an assertion must be met in the first instance by showing that it is not the case; only after that has been done can we go on to the question of how the particular inquirer came to prefer his erroneous view. But, while that is the form of argument, of refutation or proof, the carrying out of arguments or inquiries is still the work of our wants or interests, and the notion of a “dispassionate reason” rests on a confusion between the objectivity of the issue (i.e., the simple contrast between truth and falsity, occurrence and non-occurrence) and the activity of the inquirer into that issue. And along with the notion of dispassionate reason we must reject the notion of “reasonable conduct”, or conduct enjoined by reason. The most that can be meant by reasonable conduct is the thing that is to be done, i.e., what is demanded by certain interests; and, since this will obviously differ from what is demanded by other interests, we see that “what is to be done” is a relative expression and that there can be no absolute “duty”. It appears, then, that the clearing away of cognitionalist confusions is also of advantage to the ethical inquirer — as it must be to any inquirer whose field includes any part of human behaviour.

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