Psychology, General and Applied

Chapter 24: Creation

Hugo Münsterberg

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Analysis of Purposes.—The first step in purposive psychology is to analyze the tissue of purposive life into its elementary acts. We cannot emphasize too much that while the theory sounds abstract and very remote from reality to those to whom the natural sciences alone unveil reality, these purposive acts are the most familiar experiences which we know. We must always begin with such an analysis where we want to understand an individual. To be sure, the work of the causal and of the purposive psychologist may move along parallel for a time. Both the efforts to describe and to understand demand a resolving of the complex. But as soon as the first chief distinctions of characteristic emotions and volitions and thoughts are secured the two must go entirely different ways.

If the economist analyzes a captain of industry, he speaks essentially in purposive terms when he traces his love of comfort, his desire for distinction, his impulse to activity, his passion for power and mastery, and so on. ,very one of these desires can be understood as an act which has a meaning, and can also be considered as a psychophysical setting. But if the analysis is carried further it will lead to entirely different elements in the two directions. The causal psychologist would analyze that desire for comfort into images composed of reproduced sensations, into kinesthetic sensations, into feeling sensations, into facilitations of certain associations and their

( 322) psychophysical processes. The purposive psychologist would analyze the desire for comfort into desires for a beautiful house and luxuries, for travel and recreation. In short, the one would seek atomistic contents of consciousness and the other simpler and simpler purposive acts.

But this splitting of the personality into smaller and smaller groups of independent purposive acts is not sufficient for the understanding of the inner life. The experiences of the personality are not a mere sum of detached acts; but the, deepest meaning of the individual lies in those acts which bind two other acts together and thus establish ca relation not between the objects of the soul, but between its own functions. The one act is affirmed to mean the same which the other means, and this affirmation is a new act establishing sameness. In the analysis to which we just referred the desire for comfort and the desire for activity may be considered as two independent purposive functions. But when we divided the first, the desire for an ample house is not independent of the desire for comfort, but is partially identical with it. Willing the one involves willing the other. In the same way the longing for activity and for comfort are both involved in the, desire for economic success.

In our intellectual experiences we establish such a purposive connection between our acts of judgment. It makes no difference whether our thought proceeds from the judgments concerning single facts to general statements or from general statements to particular judgments. Each judgment and each statement is an act of acceptance and belief in reality, and our experience in thinking is the affirmation of the sameness of these various acts. The scientist and the philosopher alike bind their acts together by establishing identities between their various doings.

The whole experience of our selfconsciousness in the field of purposive psychology is exactly this ability to posit the identity of various acts of ours. We feel the unity of

( 323) our self not as something which lies outside of the nets, but in the interrelation of the acts. The act which affirms the sameness of two other acts binds these together and at the same time establishes the unity of the self. Every development of thoughts or volitions contains, therefore, the purposive knowledge of our self. The selfconsciousness is thus clearly to be distinguished from the idea of the soul. We know ourselves in the actual affirmation of the sameness or the non-sameness of several acts of ours. But we do not know our soul. We postulated a soul as a system of potential acts which become realized in the concrete acts of the individual. But this soul was a construction for theoretical purposes. The psychologist, not the self, demanded it. It is needed in order to understand the arising of the particular acts, but it was not found in the individual experience. It guarantees to the purposive subject himself continuity in the stream of personal experience.

The Freedom of the Will.—The purposive connection of the acts of the soul not only binds the inner experiences, but makes them agents of free creation. Creation and freedom, indeed, belong together. A mere mental mechanism cannot be free and cannot create anything, but can only produce certain effects. Let us first trace the problem of freedom. We have touched it in causal psychology, but only the contrast with purposive psychology sets it right. We speak of freedom in the midst of a causal system of psychology, too. What does it mean there 2 It certainly cannot mean an exemption from causality. Every process of thought or will must be completely explainable from its causes. The scientist claims that not because he sees himself so near to the fulfillment of this demand, but because it is the proposition with which he starts.

Yet he is not obliged entirely to dispense with the conception of freedom on the basis of his causal system. He calls those acts free which result from the normal coöperation of all parts of the psychophysical system. If this

( 324) system is disturbed and part of the mechanism out of order, the individual has lost his freedom of decision. The insane, the drunken, the hypnotized man is not free. The discrimination is not based on the fact that an action is produced by the actor himself. The insane man also acts from his own motives, and the drunken man, too. Yet they lack freedom because in the one case some brain cells may be overexcited and produce an irresistible impulse, and in the other case brain parts may be paralyzed and inefficient in producing the normal inhibition. Under such conditions the individual is not responsible, because the action is not really the product of his whole mind brain system, in which the earlier experiences are still influential. The freedom of an action, accordingly, is the absence of interference in the interplay of the psychophysical apparatus.

This conception has its significant practical importance, but it certainly has no reference to that freedom which gives meaning and value to our true purposive life. If we feel ourselves as free actors in our thoughts and decisions, in our feelings and beliefs, we certainly do not understand by this that the inner action is a necessary outcome of undisturbed brain processes. As soon as our decision is artificially forced into the time-space-causality scheme, the question can be only which causal connections constitute the free action. But if we take life as we live it, the free act is free because it has no causes. Only this carries with it the real meaning of responsibility.

The judge can easily treat the criminal as a psycho-physical mechanism, and yet feel justified in punishing him. He will be put into jail for his assault, first because the punishment will be perceived by others and may have an inhibitory influence on the criminal impulses of other degenerates. Secondly, he may be punished because his suffering from the punishment may establish associations by which he himself will shrink from a new violation of

( 325) law in future. Thirdly, he may be trained to useful behavior in jail. And, lastly, he will be separated by the prison walls from possible victims. These causal arguments justify a punishment ; and yet if the thought which lies at the bottom is followed further, justice, responsibility and punishment in their moral sense, have vanished. The criminal's so-called free acts are to the causal psychologist necessary products of the inborn disposition of the nervous system and of the totality of influences from the surroundings. The nervous system determines the particular reaction. The violation of the law was the product of the individual, but the individual was the product of his ancestors and of the surrounding community. The misdeed was thus no different from a mental disturbance, and the prisons are nothing but asylums. A society which accepted this view consistently would give up the idea of justice and responsibility, together with the idea of non-causal freedom.

The purposive psychologist alone can remain entirely loyal to man's immediate conviction that his act is complete in itself and does not refer back to causes which determine it. To raise the question of causes would shift t he center of interest or would be meaningless as long as the interest remains the desire to understand the purpose or the act. Every act is to the outsider an appeal to grasp its meaning, and to the experiencing subject a decision to remain loyal to this meaning. It is an appeal and it is an approval; and neither approvals nor appeals can be enriched by an effort to link them with causes. It is, therefore, entirely misleading when popular philosophers not seldom claim freedom for the purposive deeds of the mind with the argument that the causes are too complex to be traced or too subtle to be discovered. That would be a freedom which is based on ignorance or laziness, and which would be shaken by every new scientific discovery of the working causes. A wave of the ocean is

( 326) just as much determined by causes as the rippling of the pond into which we throw a stone. The mere complexity of the causes and our inability to trace the detailed causes of the midocean wave make no difference. The real acts of the human soul do not have obscure causes, but they have no causes at all, because they consist only of a reality which is completely understood when its meaning is grasped.

The act as such, therefore, has no effects either. The external results of our free actions 'are first of all bodily expressions and only those expressions become physical causes of physical effects. My will to open the book does not open the book. It is my finger movement which opens the book, and this finger movement is not the effect, but the expression of my will. I may have an interest in considering that finger movement as a part of the physical processes in the world, and in that case I can trace it back in the causal series and can find that my finger movement which turns the cover of the book was caused by a process in the cortex of the brain, and I may then correlate my will as a process to this cortex excitation. But then I have taken an entirely different starting point and have given up the interest in the will as a meaning. As long as the will is a meaning to me, its bodily expression is a meaning, too, and from the standpoint of this purposive will even the opening of the book is not a mechanical effect of the muscle contraction, but the aim of the act.

The Creative Power.—While the act as a purposive meaning cannot have effects, it has and must have inner consequences. Whatever decision enters our soul joins many others and their relations themselves become the contents of new acts. The resulting total act is therefore far more than the mere sum of the single acts. It is something entirely new : it is a creation. Our whole inner life is creating richer and richer acts unceasingly. In the causal universe not only in the physical but also in the psycho-

( 327) -physical system the law of the conservation of energy is paramount: in the purposive world of our soul the meaning grows like an avalanche. From a few propositions, we may deduce a theory of widest compass; from a feeling tone we may develop a beautiful work of literature ; from one vital practical decision we may reach the decision for a thousand details; from one act of perception we may come to grasp the reality of a most complex situation. In every one of such unlike practical cases the possibility for all the accessory acts must have been potentially in our soul. The feeling tone in itself did not contain the drama in which it unfurls itself. The ideas, the memories, the knowledge, the interests, which are exhibited in the scenes of the drama must have been a possession of the soul, but the meaning of that one intense feeling brought them together into a perfectly new reality.

Our whole life is such a continuous creation. In our life reality we know no more of the soul which the purposive psychologist demands than of the brain to which the causal psychologist refers. The genuine experience is this free creation itself which in every sphere of interests reaches higher and higher acts. Modern philosophy, since the days of Fichte and Schopenhauer, has never lost sight of this fundamental fact that the true reality of our life lies in our free creative will and that the thought forms in which this world of will appears as a causal universe are the creative evolution of the will itself. In our generation this thought of idealism has found many a scintillating expression; and everywhere this creed of the free creative subject is in the ascendancy. It does not contradict the zigzag tendencies of naturalism, pragmatism, realism or neo-realism, which appeal and always have appealed to various onesided interests of man. They all express partial truths, and as such they are included in and affirmed by idealistic philosophy. Man's free creative will is the rockbed of reality.

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The doctrine of man's freedom not only leaves room for many fragmentary philosophical views of knowledge, but also for a naturalistic psychology. The scientific truth of a causal study of mind is nowhere interfered with by the recognition of the free purposive act as the condition of every thought. This is indeed the one great conquest of our own time as against the idealistic philosophy of a hundred years ago. The thinkers of that time recognized the dependence of causal physics upon the creative action of the soul. They saw that the world as nature was dependent upon forms which were needed for the purposes of the free subjects, but nature to them meant only the physical world. Since that time the natural science of psychology has grown up. Through a century of physiological psychology we have learned to master the mind as a causal system. It was the task of the idealistic philosophy of our day to recognize that mind seen as nature, like the physical world, stands under thought forms which are dependent upon purposive acts. This involved the new demand of idealism, foreign to philosophical thought before the last two decades, that two distinct accounts of inner life be recognized, causal and purposive. The naturalistic, causal view of mental life is true, but its truth is a construction needed by the purposive mind in its creative unfolding. But the full vista of this truth-creating act opens only when the purposive mind is not considered in its isolation, but in its internal relation to other individuals.


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