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The Will And Its Functions

( Originally Published 1899 )

MOTOR control has already been explained. The physical impulse furnishes the motive power for all muscular activity. As there is no motion in the steam engine without steam, so there is no motion in the body without the impulse. As the engineer directs the steam in the engine, so the intellect guides the power arising in the impulse to the execution of certain specific movements. These two elements, physical impulse and intellect, constitute the will in all voluntary bodily activity.

Will is simply the self originating and directing its own activities. The initiatory movement is always found in impulse; the selecting and directing, in the intellect. The intellect fixes upon some end to reach, some particular movement to execute, some work to perform, and regulates the motive power of the impulse in such a way as to accomplish it effectively.

The body is under control when it responds easily and promptly to the demands which the intellect makes upon it. This concrete will action, which begins in a very simple way with the child, gradually organizes and brings under control the entire locomotive machinery of the body, including impulses and the muscular and nervous systems. While he is thus gaining control of his physical powers, his mental impulses are also slowly rising into consciousness and re-enforcing the physical impulses. The latter differentiate into well-defined appetites or physical desires, while the former as clearly objectify and become distinct mental desires. So largely are bodily and mental activities moving together in the earlier years of the child's life that the control of the former means practically also the control of the latter. His mental life differentiates from his physical life very slowly. Each serves and strengthens the other as the former is attaining that high position in which it alone is, to be master. In the process physical appetites and desires gradually become subordinated to mental desires, and prudential and moral control begin to define.

Desires are impulses directed toward objects which it is thought will give pleasure or profit. Impulses, as pure felt pressure, are not consciously directed toward any object or class of objects. Through experience the child recognizes in a general way at least the character of the impulse, and recalls objects which once satisfied it. Naturally he sets them up for consideration, and the impel-lent force carries him toward one, then toward another, possibly toward all, often producing puzzling confusion. This is what is called conflict or clash of impulses or desires. The child determines the question of preference by estimating the varying abilities of the different objects to satisfy the generic impulse out of which the desires have risen. He selects that one which in his judgment possesses the greatest power, and all of the impel-lent forces press toward it, the different impulses and desires yielding at once to that one which was in the line of the choice just made. Many things affect the estimate and the choice; the child's former experiences, his education, his environments, his needs, the advice of others, etc.

The choice once made, the desire is re-enforced by the new impulse resulting from the conscious possibility of satisfaction, and thus motive power for its realization is supplied. In all the movement thus far feeling and intellect have been re-acting upon each other for the purpose of fixing definitely upon the end to be attained and in clearing the deck for action. These things being done, it now remains for the mind to select the means by which the end is to be realized. The factors that control the selection of ends also control the selection of means. Suppose the desire be for a drink : a glass of water being near, the impulse is directed through the muscles of the arm for bringing the glass to the mouth. If it be to di-vide an apple, the impulse, under similar direction in each case, moves the hand to the pocket for a knife, both hands open it, and both are used in performing the operation. If it be to utter a certain word, the impulse is directed through the appropriate muscles. This final executive act of the will is called volition.

The above analysis shows that there are two clearly defined functions of the will: they are the idealizing and realizing functions. The will sets up the ends to be attained, and proceeds to attain them also. In the above illustrations, as in all motor control, the realizing function is dependent upon the readiness with which the physical organism responds to the directive force of the mind. The object of manual training in all its branches is to develop such perfect harmony of action between the idealizing and realizing activities or functions of the will that little or no attention need be given to the latter. As skill in any line approximates perfection, the movement be-comes so nearly automatic that muscular effort is practically reduced to nothing. The mind is thus left free to attend to the formation and retention of the ideal which is realizing. The tool of the expert graver and the nimble fingers of the modeler alike work out unerringly the invisible lines which the mind busily runs for them.

The physical organism, however, is not the only part of himself which the child must control. Attention, as explained in a former chapter, is not the concentration of muscular or nervous energy, but of the mental activities. Every voluntary act of the mind is just as much an act of the will as is every voluntary physical movement. Notion building, judgment, recollection, thinking, etc., are possible only to him who controls these activities as fully as he controls the various muscles of the body. It requires an act of the will to distinguish between a pen and its holder, to put a dog and his collar together in a mental picture, to determine that one orange is larger than another, to rebuild the picture of a bird seen yesterday, to discover the cause of the withering of the rose in the vase on the table, to get the meaning of the line ---

Kind hearts are more than coronets.

Mental impulses and desires are suppressed, subordinated, and organized in the same manner as the physical, and the process needs little further explanation. One of the principal things to re-member is that time and practice are required in both cases. It is the function of physical and manual training to develop and perfect control and skill in every bodily organ. It is the function of education on the mental side to accomplish the same thing for the mental activities. Freedom in the use of the latter is just as essential as in the use of the former. The child needs to be trained so that he can do more than simply turn his attention to a subject to the exclusion of others. He must attain to that power which will enable him to bring at once to its comprehension and solution the whole of himself, his past knowledge, his past experiences, his accumulated strength.

Control as related to the will and as thus far considered merely places the child in possession of himself as he may wish to serve immediate ends. He is now, as it were, familiar with his tools, and knows how to use them. A little inquiry, how-ever, will show that another class of ends has been building up out of his experience. The mastery of his physical powers is to serve a higher purpose than the immediate gratification of his impulses, the awakening of pleasurable sensations and emotions. The skillful use of his mental faculties has a higher mission than the mere satisfaction which comes from their exercise. The economic value of both has already been suggested. Control saves energy and time. It insures definiteness and accuracy. It multiplies vastly the amount of work which may be accomplished. Learning from his experiences, the child sees not only that one object or action may serve him better than an-other, but that one of two or three or many may in the end bring him all of the profit and enjoyment that all the others could have brought. In other words, he learns not only the way to accomplish a certain end with the least expenditure of mental and physical force, but he learns also to select an end which will be the most fruitful in results.

Control thus keeps advantage constantly in view. It makes one end serve as a means to an-other. It denies itself present gratification for future gratification and profit; or, better, it finds present enjoyment in the anticipation of a future enjoyment which it sets machinery in motion to insure. Control organizes itself upon a prudential basis. Everything that the child or the man does is determined beforehand by weighing its advantage or disadvantage. He buttons up his coat collar to keep from getting a sore throat; he saves his pennies that he may buy a ball; he learns his letters that he may be able to read; he is a good boy that he may win his mother's approbation; he exercises that he may grow strong; he talks respectfully to a larger boy that he may not catch a threshing; he carries in a large boxful of wood in the afternoon that he may not be compelled to go out in the dark after more; he treats his playmates kindly that they may love him; he sows that he may reap. In all of this he gradually learns how one thing depends upon others, and organizes all these means so that they mutually contribute toward higher or more far-reaching ad-vantage. He becomes somewhat of a business man, working for pay, making or raising things to sell, buying and selling, studying the laws of production and of trade, developing insight, caution, self-denial, confidence.

The discussion thus far has probably made will and control sufficiently clear to guide you more fully in your observations with the children. Verify each of the statements concerning the origin and growth of the will. Discover how largely the younger children are creatures of impulse, and what forces are each day conspiring to their control. What is the connection of the feelings in general with the various kinds of control? If any of the children have " weak wills," what is the cause? Why do some children have good physical and intellectual control and yet lack prudence? Why do others possess the latter and lack the others? How much may be attributed to poor health or to home government? How much of the control is due to outside pressure as the incentive of some reward or the fear of punishment? How much is due to the child's own desire and ability to realize the ideals for himself? What physical obstacles seem to be in the way? How far is the control natural and spontaneous? Why are some children so far behind others? Are any of them possessed of evil spirits, or do they simply need some loving, sympathetic, painstaking friend to assist them in their efforts at getting control of themselves?

This last question suggests the relationship which wills bear to one another. They are always affecting one another for better or for worse. The far-reaching influence of a child's playmates, though unconsciously directed, is known to everybody. The educational process as a whole is well defined as the influencing of one will by another in a more or less methodical way in order to assist it to an ideal development. The education of the will, the development of control in its many-sided senses, is the real end and aim of all education. The will of the child may be influenced in a purely infectious way or by intelligent counsel and assistance. It can not be accomplished by a few spasmodic efforts from time to time, but only by that same slow and regular process by which Nature produces all of her rarest creations.

In the attainment of control the same law holds as in all other mental activity. Each effort reacts upon the child, making him stronger for the succeeding experience. The gain each time may be imperceptible, but at the end of a series will manifest itself clearly enough. In that way he goes on from strength to strength, choosing more intelligently, more promptly, more accurately; executing more easily, more skillfully, more effectively; becoming more resourceful, more de-liberate, more self-reliant. The reaction upon the self affects all sides of the child's emotional nature, and gives that balance and poise to the character which insures self-possession and intelligent action even under unexpected and trying difficulties.

Will reaches its highest function in moral control that is, control of the self in accord with an ideal of right. Pure advantage as a motive here yields to a higher desire that of right doing. Some children very early distinguish between right and wrong; others long confuse the idea of advantage with that of right. They are apt to think that whatever gives them or gives their friends pleasure is right, and that whatever gives them pain is wrong. All are moved quickly by the incentive of advantage, particularly if the ad-vantage is immediate, but the incentive to be true affects many of them very slowly. The child naturally thinks more about getting and having than about doing and being. The general movement by which moral control is obtained is the same as that just explained in prudential control. Its further discussion will be found in the chapter on Manners and Morals.

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