Chapter 4.
Ideals of Conduct 1)


591. Every man has certain ideals of the general description of conduct that befits a rational animal in his particular station in life, what most accords with his total nature and relations. If you think this statement too vague, I will say, more specifically, that there are three ways in which these ideals usually recommend themselves and justly do so. In the first place certain kinds of conduct, when the man contemplates them, have an esthetic quality. He thinks that conduct fine; and though his notion may be coarse or sentimental, yet if so, it will alter in time and must tend to be brought into harmony with his nature. At any rate, his taste is his taste for the time being; that is all. In the second place, the man endeavors to shape his ideals into consistency with each other, for inconsistency is odious to him. In the third place, he imagines what the consequences of fully carrying out his ideals would be, and asks himself what the esthetic quality of those consequences would be.

592. These ideals, however, have in the main been imbibed in childhood. Still, they have gradually been shaped to his personal nature and to the ideas of his circle of society rather by a continuous process of growth than by any distinct acts of thought. Reflecting upon these ideals, he is led to intend to make his own conduct conform at least to a part of them — to that part in which he thoroughly believes. Next, he usually formulates, however vaguely, certain rules of conduct. He can hardly help doing so. Besides, such rules are convenient and serve to minimize the effects of future inadvertence and, what are well-named, the wiles of the devil within him. Reflection upon these rules, as well as upon the general ideals behind them, has a certain effect upon his disposition, so that what he naturally inclines to do becomes modified. Such being his condition, he often foresees that a special occasion is going to arise; thereupon, a certain gathering of his forces will begin to work and this working of his being will cause him to consider how he will act, and in accordance with his disposition, such as it now is, he is led to form a resolution as to how he will act upon that occasion. This resolution is of the nature of a plan; or, as one might almost say, a diagram. It is a mental formula always more or less general. Being nothing more than an idea, this resolution does not necessarily influence his conduct. But now he sits down and goes through a process similar to that of impressing a lesson upon his memory, the result of which is that the resolution, or mental formula, is converted into a determination, by which I mean a really efficient agency, such that if one knows what its special character is, one can forecast the man's conduct on the special occasion. One cannot make forecasts that will come true in the majority of trials of them by means of any figment. It must be by means of something true and real.

593. We do not know by what machinery the conversion of a resolution into a determination is brought about. Several hypotheses have been proposed; but they do not much concern us just now. Suffice it to say that the determination, or efficient agency, is something hidden in the depths of our nature. A peculiar quality of feeling accompanies the first steps of the process of forming this impression; but later we have no direct consciousness of it. We may become aware of the disposition, especially if it is pent up. In that case, we shall recognize it by a feeling of need, of desire. I must notice that a man does not always have an opportunity to form a definite resolution beforehand. But in such cases there are less definite but still well-marked determinations of his nature growing out of the general rules of conduct that he has formulated; or in case no such appropriate rule has been formulated, his ideal of fitting conduct will have produced some disposition. At length, the anticipated occasion actually arises.

594. In order to fix our ideas, let us suppose a case. In the course of my reflexions, I am led to think that it would be well for me to talk to a certain person in a certain way. I resolve that I will do so when we meet. But considering how, in the heat of conversation, I might be led to take a different tone, I proceed to impress the resolution upon my soul; with the result that when the interview takes place, although my thoughts are then occupied with the matter of the talk, and may never revert to my resolution, nevertheless the determination of my being does influence my conduct. All action in accordance with a determination is accompanied by a feeling that is pleasurable; but, whether the feeling at any instant is felt as pleasurable in that very instant or whether the recognition of it as pleasurable comes a little later is a question of fact difficult to make sure about.

595. The argument turns on the feeling of pleasure, and therefore it is necessary, in order to judge of it, to get at the facts about that feeling as accurately as we can. In beginning to perform any series of acts which had been determined upon beforehand, there is a certain sense of joy, an anticipation and commencement of a relaxation of the tension of need, which we now become more conscious of than we had been before. In the act itself taking place at any instant, it may be that we are conscious of pleasure; although that is doubtful. Before the series of acts are done, we already begin to review them, and in that review we recognize the pleasurable character of the feelings that accompanied those acts.

596. To return to my interview, as soon as it is over I begin to review it more carefully and I then ask myself whether my conduct accorded with my resolution. That resolution, as we agreed, was a mental formula. The memory of my action may be roughly described as an image. I contemplate that image and put the question to myself. Shall I say that that image satisfies the stipulations of my resolution, or not? The answer to this question, like the answer to any inward question, is necessarily of the nature of a mental formula. It is accompanied, however, by a certain quality of feeling which is related to the formula itself very much as the color of the ink in which anything is printed is related to the sense of what is printed. And just as we first become aware of the peculiar color of the ink and afterward ask ourselves whether it is agreeable or not, so in formulating the judgment that the image of our conduct does satisfy our previous resolution we are, in the very act of formulation, aware of a certain quality of feeling, the feeling of satisfaction — and directly afterward recognize that that feeling was pleasurable.


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